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Trauma-Informed Mindfulness as a Self-Care Tool Teachers and Students in the Classroom

Updated: Apr 3



Self-care is essential for anyone who experiences stress on a regular basis, and that includes teachers, school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists, and other educators. In the education field, self-care is often put on the back-burner, but the truth is that educators need to take care of themselves in order to be able to effectively take care of their students.


One way to practice self-care is through mindfulness. Mindfulness is a tool that can be used to help people cope with stress and trauma, and it is especially helpful for those who work in stressful environments like schools.


By taking some time each day to be mindful of your thoughts and emotions, you can help to reduce stress levels and improve your overall well-being. In addition, mindfulness can also help you to be more present with your students so you are better able to meet their needs. For teachers, self-care is not a luxury; it's a necessity. And mindfulness can be a vital part of an effective self-care routine.


In this blog post I will address mindfulness as a self-care tool, why we should use mindfulness in the classroom, benefits of mindfulness for both teachers and students, using trauma-informed mindfulness strategies, a tip to help you set boundaries and shift from work to home, and some self-care professional development.




Why use mindfulness in the classroom?


Let’s be honest, education is one of the most demanding professions out there! Not only do you have to contend with students and families, but you also have to deal with the immense pressures of standardized testing, state demands, and making sure your students are academically successful. It's no wonder that so many teachers report feeling stressed and burnt out.


Thankfully, there are ways to help alleviate some of the stress in your job: mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of present-moment awareness. It involves paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a non-judgmental way. That means you are aware of your thoughts and not judging them as good, bad, right, or wrong. Research has shown that mindfulness can help reduce stress, improve mood, and increase focus and concentration. Here are four ways that mindfulness can help both teachers and students in the classroom:


And if you want to read a helpful book about burnout, check out the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking The Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. In this book, you'll learn tools to complete the biological stress cycle.




Mindfulness can help reduce stress


One of the benefits of mindfulness is that it can help reduce stress. This is especially important for educators, who often report high levels of stress, and students who often have a lot of demands on them.


Mindfulness not only reduces feelings of stress, but it also improves anxiety and distress when people are placed in stressful social situations (Mindful Schools, as cited in Chieasa & Serretti, 2009 & Hoge, et. al, 2013). In a similar study, lower secondary school teachers who participated in a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program reported significant reductions in self-reported levels of stress (Bonde, et. al, 2022).






Mindfulness can improve mood


Mindfulness can also improve mood. In a study by Mindful Schools (2020), researchers found that teachers who participated in a mindfulness program had significantly improved self-reported well-being and job satisfaction at the end of the program. Having a good mood is important because a good mood can make a big difference in how you show up for your job and interact with students and colleagues.


I am reminded by the inspirational quote by Haim Ginott quote from the book Teacher and Child that talks about the impact of the teacher’s mood on the classroom:


“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized” (1972).



Mindfulness can increase focus and concentration


Mindfulness can also help increase focus and concentration. This is important because it can help you be more effective in the classroom (not to mention less likely to lose your cool if you’re upset). Multiple studies have shown that people have improved attention (Chiesa & Seretti, 2009 & Sedlmeier, et. al, 2012), and better performance on tasks that need extensive concentration when they engage in mindfulness exercises (Jha, et. al, 2007). In addition, if your students are improving their own focus and concentration, it will be easier for them to attend to academic tasks. Another study found that teachers who participated in a mindfulness program had improved working memory, as well as lower stress and burnout (Roeser et al, 2013).



Mindfulness can help teachers AND students


Teachers and educators who lead their classrooms and students in guided relaxations, often report a decrease in their own level of stress as well. My book, Skills for Big Feelings, includes trauma-informed guided relaxation scripts and MP3’s you can easily incorporate into your school day.


Not only will your students benefit from guided relaxation scripts, but you’ll find yourself looking forward to the time of day when it’s time to practice your mindful moment too!


There is so much research about the benefits of mindfulness for both students and teachers and in my own personal experience, it has a positive impact on the person leading the practice too! In a

study that looked at the impact of mindfulness on both teachers and students, the researchers noted that students engaging in mindfulness had improvements in levels of

stress, self-regulation, school-specific self-efficacy, and interpersonal problems. And teachers engaging in mindfulness showed significantly higher self-reported mindfulness levels and reduced interpersonal problems (Gouda, et al, 2016).


With all of these benefits, it's no wonder that more and more educators are turning to mindfulness to help them cope with the demands of the profession. If you're feeling stressed out or burnt out, consider giving mindfulness a try in your classroom to benefit both you and your students.



Trauma Informed mindfulness scripts


Skills for Big Feelings uses trauma-informed mindfulness scripts and MP3’s. The wording includes the use of invitational language. So, you’re not telling students what to do with their bodies, but giving them choices and suggestions. For example, we use phrases such as, “If you feel comfortable, you can close your eyes” and then give them other options if they don’t want to close their eyes. Or we might say “stretch your body in any way that feels good for you.” If you want to learn more about trauma-informed mindfulness, be sure to check out the book Trauma Informed Mindfulness by Treleaven. Treleaven discusses the window of tolerance, and it’s a helpful read!


Thankfully, many schools are more frequently becoming trauma-informed or trauma-sensitive. This refers to the process of becoming more aware of how trauma can impact one's life and taking steps to mindfully respond to other people’s trauma triggers and symptoms.


For example, someone who has experienced trauma may be worried about returning to school after a difficult event. A trauma-informed approach would not be punitive. It would start with building a healthy and safe relationship with that student by showing empathy and caring toward them. Next, one would help them to understand that their reaction is typical, and provide them with resources (such as mindful relaxation scripts or other tools) to help them feel more comfortable and safe in the classroom environment. By using trauma-informed language, trauma-sensitive practices, and mindfulness techniques, we can begin to build more resilient communities. For more information on trauma sensitive schools, be sure to check out the Trauma and Learning Policy Initative.



Being mindful and setting boundaries when going home


When I was working from home during the early days of the pandemic, I found it was very hard for me to set boundaries between work and home. Even when I went back to my building full time, it was still a struggle at times. Sometimes, after a busy day at work, it can be hard to shift gears and move from a work mindset to a home mindset.


A friend of mine went to a training, and they encouraged each staff member to pick a certain landmark on their way home, and then train themselves to be aware (mindful) when they pass that landmark and to take a deep breath and let go of their thoughts about work once they pass by that spot. I thought that was a good technique!


Another way to help you be more mindful of the work/home boundary is to listen to this guided relaxation. You could listen to this at the end of the day. I also have this available in a printable format if you want to keep it by your desk to read at the end of your day.



Shifting gears from work to home


This is the end of the day reflection I use, which was inspired by a flyer I saw for NHS nurses.


To get a downloadable PDF of this, just subscribe to my resource library. You'll need to confirm the opt-in email and you'll get sent the code to unlock the SEL subscriber library! When signing up, try using a personal email, as schools or agencies sometimes block emails. By signing up, you'll gain access to my monthly emails and my whole free SEL library! Here is a transcript of the script:


Take a moment to check in with yourself and reflect on today. If there were any hard parts of your day, pause for a minute to acknowledge them. Were there any lessons to be learned from today?


Now breathe in and as you breathe out, let those hard situations fade away. Let them go. Imagine them on clouds, softening and then floating away out of your mind. If you are having a hard time letting them go, please check in with someone.


Now take three slow deep breaths and visualize or write down at least three things that went well today.


Lastly, shift your attention to think about what you will do after work. How will you take care of yourself today?




Staff training on self-care


In addition, to guiding your class in trauma-informed relaxation, you can also do some professional development with your staff on self-care. If you want to encourage your staff with reflecting on and learning some additional self-care strategies, I’ve got a professional development presentation to share with you. This resource includes a Google Slides™ presentation with 61 slides and notes for the presenter. The presentation offers simple and actionable self-care strategies that teachers can begin implementing right away. In addition to the presentation, you’ll receive these supplemental materials to help you carry out a well-rounded staff presentation:

  • A Self-Care Assessment

  • A Self-Care Plan Worksheet

  • What Brings You Joy Worksheet

  • Shifting From Work to Home Visual Poster (in color and B&W versions)

  • An MP3 Guided Meditation for Helping you Shift from Work to Home (also embedded as a video in the presentation)


By the end of the presentation, participants will:


  • Identify what brings them joy

  • Identify how common educator stress is

  • Identify impacts and sources of educator stress

  • Identify the benefits of self-care

  • Identify the 6 aspects of self-care

  • Complete a self-care assessment

  • Create a self-care plan

  • Identify seven strategies to complete the stress cycle

  • Discuss how boundaries are related to self-care

  • Participate in a guided relaxation regarding shifting from work to home

  • Identify micro-moves for self-care

  • Discuss helpful wellness habits







References


Bonde, E. H., Fjorback, L. O., Frydenberg, M., & Juul, L. (2022). The effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction for school teachers: A cluster-randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Public Health, 32(2), 246–253.

https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckab223


Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: a review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5), 593–600.


Ginott, H. G. (1972). Between teacher and child. Scribner Book Company.


Gouda, S., Luong, M. T., Schmidt, S., & Bauer, J. (2016). Students and teachers benefit from mindfulness-based stress reduction in a school-embedded pilot study. Frontiers in Psychology, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00590


Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Marques, L., Metcalf, C. A., Morris, L. K., Robinaugh, D. J., … Simon, N. M. (2013). Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(8), 786–792.


Jha, A. P., Krompinger, J., & Baime, M. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7(2), 109–119.


Mindful Schools. (2020). Research on mindfulness. Retrieved from


Roeser, R. W., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Jha, A., Cullen, M., Wallace, L., Wilensky, R., Oberle, E., Thomson, K., Taylor, C., & Harrison, J. (2013). Mindfulness training and reductions in teacher stress and burnout: Results from two randomized, waitlist-control field trials. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(3), 787–804. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0032093


Sedlmeier, P., Eberth, J., Schwarz, M., Zimmermann, D., Haarig, F., Jaeger, S., & Kunze, S. (2012). The psychological effects of meditation: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138(6), 1139.







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