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Using Mindfulness for Teacher Wellbeing


Benefits of Mindfulness for Teachers

Christa Turksma likens mindfulness practice for teachers to nurturing the roots of a tree.  She says that the resilience, compassion for self, and self-awareness that

mindfulness practice brings, are the inner resources (the roots) that help a teacher experience growth and sustain the fruit that the teacher’s work will bear.  She likens a teacher’s mindful presence in the classroom to the trunk of the tree, which can be seen, and which has the capacity to move and sway, as opposed to standing rigid and unbending, and is fed by the wide network of well-nurtured roots that provide a strong foundation on which to stand.  And quoting an estimated $50,000 as being the cost to the U.S. system when a teacher leaves, Turksma asks “Why aren’t we nurturing the roots of teachers, before they choose to leave?”.

Acknowledging that cultivating mindfulness-based approaches to teaching is complex, Dr Greenberg said  “…it is very difficult for a teacher to have interpersonal awareness when they are teaching…yet we think it is possible for teachers to practice mindfulness, even though they have 30 kids in the classroom.”.  And this possibility is confirmed by the results from a pilot study by Pennsylvania State University Prevention Research Center of 50 teachers participating in a professional development program facilitated by CARE. The study showed  that having mindfulness practice in the classroom  helped teachers to achieve goals in the classroom, regulate their emotions better, and relate better to students. One participant gave this feedback: “I think what helps me is when I get frustrated on my way to school, I just stop myself and set an intention. What do I really want to do today? What’s really important that I do today? It’s more freeing than setting a goal or a to-do list.”

Teachers Giving the Gift of Attention to Students

Listening attentively and without judgement, part of being mindful, “is the fullest gift you can give someone,” says Dr Greenberg.  Turksma adds, “To really listen generously gives the speaker the opportunity to listen to the truth within themselves.”  Relating the story of a teacher who was continually frustrated with a young student who routinely started school late, even missing the breakfast that was provided for students, Turskma gave an example of how the teacher used full attention to solve the situation.  Annoyed with her student, the teacher would relegate her to a corner of the classroom for disrupting the class with her late arrival.  Deciding to try out her mindfulness practice with this student, whom she found the most difficult to relate to, the teacher sat with her and asked her why she was always late.  The student eventually opened up, and told her that she was responsible for getting her younger brother ready in the morning and taking him to preschool, because her mother worked night shift.  From then on, the teacher told her student she could arrive at school whenever she needed to, and she was no longer punished.  She found that her student’s engagement with school improved, as did their relationship. 

Turksma also says that it is important for teachers to have compassion for themselves; it brings attention to their inner judgements - Yes, sometimes I react without listening - and the self-awareness also opens the door to changing behaviours.  This poem by Rumi was share by Turksma, as capturing the essence of what it is to be mindful:-

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

The ultimate goal, says Turksma, is that teachers and schools are healthier, and that children are performing in the outside world with social and emotional competence.

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