Volume VIII, Issue II




Heather Clayton, the author of Making the Standards Come Alive!, is the principal of Mendon Center Elementary School in Pittsford Central School District, New York. She is also a co-author of Creating a Culture for Learning published by Just ASK.



Mindfulness for Students

“The mind is just like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets and the more it can expand.”

Idowu Koyenikan

There is an ever growing body of research that supports the benefits of mindfulness practices in the classroom. Mindfulness is a reflective practice that requires one to pay attention on purpose and in the present moment, without judgment.  When we consider the outcomes of social emotional learning, mindfulness practices support self-awareness and self-management, precisely the skills our students need to meet the demands of academic standards and next generation expectations.

Mindfulness practices in the classroom have many beneficial outcomes for our students.  For instance, mindfulness improves stress management, social and emotional health and well-being, and academic performance.  Mindfulness can also increase empathy, strengthen perspective taking skills, improve behavior, reduce anxiety, and enhance social skills. 

Researchers have also learned that in just eight weeks of practicing mindfulness, there are positive transformations in the brain all correlating with emotional regulation, attentional control, and self-awareness.

Emotional Regulation
How we read and respond to our emotions is a key component of our well-being.  Students learn that while they can’t control what others think, feel, say or do, they can control how they think, feel, do and how they respond to others. 

When students practice mindfulness, the goal is not for them to suppress their own feelings, but rather to notice them and then use tools to manage their emotions and respond appropriately.  Having students focus on their breathing and take breaths that they blow out slow and long is helpful for emotional regulation.   

Attentional Control
In almost every task, the ability to attend is important.  When our students practice mindfulness they learn how to sustain focus and come back into focus when they are distracted. This is particularly important with all goal-directed and academic work.

When our students have present moment awareness of their body and emotional cues, they are better prepared to handle situations and be flexible.

Mindfulness looks different depending on where are students are in their development. Young children begin by developing strong sense of self, then in later year’s practices expand to include ways for students to be selfless.


Mindfulness Through the Ages


Grades K-2

Grades 3-5 Grades 6-8 Grades 9-12

Focus on self-regulation, attention, and empathy

Practices are shorter and taught through games, stories, and experiential lessons

Lessons utilize fun movements such as moving slow motion, shaking, and being still

Lessons also invite students to share what they are experiencing



Focus on empathy and emotional regulation

Practices promote reflection and help student develop tools for dealing with thoughts and stressors

Lessons include sharing with students the rationale behind what they are doing


Focus on thoughts and emotions and using them to understand the world

Practices help students to expand compassion and understanding and increase their awareness of assumptions and judgments

Practices aim to help students witness negative thoughts and avoid getting wrapped up in them

Lessons allow time for reflection and dialogue

Lessons help students see how their actions affect the world around them

Focus on connecting with greater authenticity

Practices drive to improve students’ interactions with others and gain an understanding of how their actions affect others

Lessons include the use of mindfulness journals for independent reflection

Lessons designed to help students own the practices and initiate them independently, applying them to all aspects of life

Students use the  practices to help others through service projects

The table above summarizes extensive research cited by Daniel Rechtschaffen in The Mindful Education Workbook: Lessons for Teaching Mindfulness to Students.

Tips for Teaching Mindfulness

When teaching mindfulness practices, educators become facilitators and companions, that guide and support students.  Listed below are some tips for increasing the effectiveness of mindfulness instruction. 

Be Mindful
Greet each student with care and remain accessible to your students.  Being present will not only strengthen relationships with your students, but will model for them the importance of mindfulness.  Don’t be afraid to “be real” with your students, name your feelings, and model the strategies that help you to take care of yourself throughout each day.  When you share how you practice mindfulness in your own life, students see the value in it for themselves.     

Create the Right Conditions
The classroom should be a safe space where students feel comfortable and willing to take risks.  Set the stage for mindfulness practice by having students clear their desks and their minds, or possibly moving to a group meeting area, sitting with chairs in a circle, or having all chairs facing the same direction.  This is a time when students should be quiet and reflective, and allow themselves and others the space to be introspective. 

Pay Attention to Language
When practicing mindfulness, use language that invites students to practice.  It is important to give our students choice and empower them to be attentive and insightful about their needs.  By making some practices optional, or allowing modifications, it allows our students to own it for themselves and to do what is comfortable for them. Mindfulness practices should not be exclusionary or forced on any student.

Be Consistent
Carve out the time to practice mindfulness each day, and keep the time of day consistent.  For instance, students may need to practice mindfulness upon arrival, during key transitions, or late in the day when they need a boost.  In addition to scheduled times, it is also important to weave mindful moments throughout the day as they are needed.  

Create Norms
It is important that all students understand the non-negotiables for practicing mindfulness.  As a class, create the expectations for these times with input from your students.  For instance, it may be important to include things like be kind, be non-judgmental, and support classmates.

Involve the Students
Students are much more engaged and motivated in classroom practices when they are involved. Gather student input around times of day it would be helpful to practice mindfulness, have students signal the class or ring the mindfulness bell, and put them in charge of getting themselves ready for mindfulness. At the end of each practice invite students to share what they noticed or experienced, or things that were distracting or challenging for them. 

Include the Essentials
Each mindfulness lesson, no matter how short, should allow time for providing a rationale for the practice, engaging in the practice, and a brief reflection time. When introducing a practice, the job of the teacher is not to tell students what experience will feel like but rather why the practice is beneficial.  When first introducing mindfulness begin with simple breathing, awareness, and attention practices then later move into deeper explorations of emotion.  Lastly, giving students the opportunity to share how the experience unfolded for them is valuable not only for other students but for you to learn about your students. 

Mindfulness Practices for the Classroom

Mindful Listening
Students practice being mindful of sounds by paying attention from the first moment they hear a sound until they can no longer hear it.  For instance, using a singing bowl, rain stick, or vibratone have your students close their eyes and raise their hand when they can no longer hear the sound.  Students can also practice closing their eyes and listening to other classroom sounds for up to one minute.  After students reflect on their experience, they can be encouraged to listen to sounds around them for the rest of the day.  This link provides a complete introductory lesson on mindful listening: www.mindfulschools.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/starter-lesson.pdf

Mindful Moments
During a mindful moment, students are invited to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths.  When breathing students should notice what it feels like to breath in and out and notice their thoughts.  These simple moments to pause and take a breath will help students to settle their nerves and refocus on learning.

Attention Check-In’s
Either before, during, or after a lesson the teacher can announce an attention check.  This is a time for students to check in with themselves and ask “Are my thoughts and attention here in class?  Was my mind on something else?  If so, what was I thinking about?”  Students learn that it is perfectly normal for their minds to wander and that when they are aware of what their mind is doing they can redirect their attentions.  The more consistently we check-in with students’ attention, the more skilled they become at monitoring and redirecting it for themselves.

Mindful Breathing
Students breathe normally and pay attention to their breath moving in and out of their lungs.  Another way to explain it is to notice how their chests rise and fall as the breath moves in and out.  Students should be asked to notice times they lose awareness of their breathing because they are thinking about something else, then prompted to bring their attention back to their breathing.  The practice of mindful breathing helps students to pay attention. When we continually ask our students to refocus on their breath they learn how to focus and refocus their attention, and how to re-engage if they are lost. Go to www.mindfulschools.org/inspiration/3-mindful-breathing-activities-class-transitions/  to access three different breathing activities to use during class transitions or to https://www.mindful.org/two-simple-mindfulness-back-to-school/ for two more great breathing exercise that work well in school.

Ending Mindfully
Incorporate mindfulness into the end of every lesson to promote reflection.  At the end of a class period, take 2 minutes and have your students focus on their breathing and think about what they have learned. 

Mindful Journals
When our students get into the habit of recording their observations and reflections, they strengthen their mindfulness skills.  This helps them to remain present and think about things with an absence of judgement. Possible mindful journaling prompts include:

  • When I take deep breaths, I can feel my body…
  • Today I am grateful for…
  • If how I feel right now was a color, it would be ________ because….
  • If my body could talk, it would say…
  • I feel content when…
  • Imagine yourself on a walk in the woods. What do you notice?  What do you feel?
  • Today I noticed…
  • My peaceful place is ___________ because _______________. When I am there I feel….
  • What does it mean to be present? What does it look like when I are being present?
  • How have I shown kindness today?


Ten Mindfulness Quotes to Use with Students


“Your actions are your only true belongings.”
Allan Lokos

“Our own worst enemy cannot harm us as much as our unwise thoughts. No one can help us as much as our own compassionate thoughts.”

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn

“The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh

“Respond; don’t react. Listen; don’t talk. Think; don’t assume.”
Raji Lukkoor

“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts.”
Allan Lokos

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
Pema Chödrönv

“In this moment, there is plenty of time. In this moment, you are precisely as you should be. In this moment, there is infinite possibility.”
Victoria Moran

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
James Baraz

“Treat everyone you meet as if they were you.”
Doug Dillon


Get Started!

Equipping our students with the tools necessary to pause and recognize their thoughts, feelings, and environment is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. Mindfulness practices will empower their minds and transform their inner lives, positioning them to be their best.

Mindfulness practices can begin with just one or two minutes a day. The sooner you begin; the sooner mindfulness will become an integral part of your classroom routine.

Resources and References

This article includes five simple mindfulness practices to bring to the classroom.

In this link The Making Caring Common Project from Harvard Graduate School of Education includes short mindfulness exercises that can serve as an introduction to mindfulness.

This link includes tips for teaching mindfulness to high school students.

This Teaching Channel video shows mindfulness in action with a lesson on “being present.”  The video also includes a lesson plan and a transcript for mindfulness in the classroom. 

Rechtschaffen, Daniel. The Mindful Education Workbook: Lessons for Teaching Mindfulness to Students. New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.




Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:

Clayton, Heather. “Mindfulness for Students.” Making the Standards Come Alive! Volume VIII, Issue II 2019. Available at www.justaskpublications.com. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. ©2019. All rights reserved.