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The City Journals

A minute a day keeps the stress away: Taylorsville Elementary teachers lower stress with mindfulness breaks

Oct 07, 2019 12:03PM ● By Jet Burnham

Yoga poses help teachers and their students reduce their stress. (Photo courtesy Lauren Stivers)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

At Taylorsville Elementary School, teachers take breaks several times a day. The one-minute breaks aren’t to sip coffee or to check their social media accounts. Their frequent mindfulness breaks help to increase their focus and reduce their stress levels. Principal Andrea McMillan said teachers are under constant pressure to meet testing requirements and to show improvement and growth in their students.

“We get so focused on those things and forget that sometimes we just need to stop and smell the roses on the way,” she said.

Taylorsville Elementary students have been learning about mindfulness for the past three years and participated in weekly yoga classes last year. This summer, their teachers learned helpful mindfulness techniques such as brain breaks, yoga and focused-breathing exercises. McMillan also invited instructors from Yoga Forward to a summer professional development meeting. It provided her staff members an effective way to reduce their stress levels.

“Teachers are in with their classes for seven hours a day, every day,” said school social worker Lauren Stivers. She said even a short mindfulness break can change the atmosphere of a classroom that can be chaotic with so much going on at once. “I think that taking a minute—it's just one minute—and saying ‘We're all going to be mindful together for a minute’ is so important.”

McMillan uses mindfulness techniques as a principal when dealing with students with behavior problems or trauma at home that is affecting their school performance.

“They can come in my office, and we do some of that mindfulness before we talk about the decisions made or before we talk about consequences,” she said. “And sometimes I'm doing it right with them so that I can also take a minute to prepare myself. It helps calm that brain down and get it out of that ‘fight or flight’ and opens it back up to be more reasonable and rational thinking.”

McMillan said when teachers react to a stressful situation by taking a mindfulness break, they are modeling a better way for students to deal with their own emotions.

“We came into education because we wanted to teach kids and to give them the tools they needed to have a really successful adult life,” she said. “We need to allow kids to be kids and learn how to grow socially and emotionally as well, not just their reading and math growth.”

Third grade teacher Ben Meredith is aware of the benefits of the mindfulness techniques his students have been learning the past few years.

“I really believe in it—I think it's great,” he said. But striking a yoga pose in front of his students feels strange to him. “It's something that I struggle with, personally—to get out of my comfort zone and do it with the kids.”

In addition to training classes, McMillan has also provided teachers resources they can use in their classrooms. Each teacher has a set of chimes to use for focused-listening activities. They also have a set of flashcards with suggestions for mindful breaks.

“They can literally just reach into the box and pull out a card and say, ‘We are going to do this one together,’” Stivers said.

McMillan said her teachers are using the training and resources that work best for them.

“Teachers can experiment with what works, what they liked, what speaks to them, what kind they're most comfortable teaching,” she said.

Meredith said these resources have been helpful.

“It's really good to get some ideas of how to implement it,” he said. “I definitely feel supported in the mindfulness journey.”