Recent research shows mindfulness training can prevent burnout and improve teachers’ performance in the classroom.
How do we make life meaningful? That question is at the core of a growing multidisciplinary movement focused on empathy, compassion, gratitude, and how to invite them into our daily lives. At the close of 2013, a crew at Greater Good—the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center—culled and summarized the findings of ten notable happiness studies published last year. “The Top 10 Insights from the ‘Science of a Meaningful Life’ in 2013” originally appeared at Greater Good. This is part five of ten (parts four and six).
For educators grappling with students’ behavioral problems and other sources of stress, new research suggested an effective response: mindfulness.
Although mindfulness-based programs are not uncommon in schools these days, they’ve mainly been deployed to enhance students’ social, emotional, and cognitive skills; only a handful of programs and studies have examined the benefits of mindfulness for teachers, and in those cases, the research has focused largely on the general benefits for teachers’ mental health.
But in 2013, researchers at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds broke new ground when they studied the impact of an eight-week mindfulness course developed specifically for teachers, looking not only at its effects on the teachers’ emotional well-being and levels of stress but also on their performance in the classroom.
They found that teachers randomly assigned to take the course felt less anxious, depressed, and burned out afterward, and felt more compassionate toward themselves. What’s more, according to experts who watched the teachers in action, these teachers ran more productive classrooms after completing the course and improved at managing their students’ behavior as well. The results, published in Mind, Brain, and Education, show that stress and burnout levels actually increased among teachers who didn’t take the course.
The researchers speculate that mindfulness may carry these benefits for teachers because it helps them cope with classroom stress and stay focused on their work. “Mindfulness-based practices offer promise as a tool for enhancing teaching quality,” write the researchers, “which may, in turn, promote positive student outcomes and school success.”