Study shows mindfulness training can help reduce teacher stress and burnout

August 28, 2013 by Jill Ladwig

Teachers who practice "mindfulness" are better able to reduce their own levels of stress and prevent burnout, according to a new study conducted by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Waisman Center.

The results of the study, led by Assistant Scientist Lisa Flook, were recently published in the journal Mind, Brain and Education.

Mindfulness, a notion that stems from centuries-old meditative traditions and is now taught in a secular way, is a technique to heighten attention, empathy and other pro- through an awareness of thoughts, , or such as breath.

While play a critical role in nurturing children's well-being, progress in addressing teacher stress has been elusive. Stress and among teachers is a major concern for nationwide, affecting the quality of education and incurring increased costs in recruiting and sustaining teachers.

For the study, a group of 18 teachers was recruited to take part in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, a well-established and well-studied method of mindfulness training. The project team adapted the MBSR training to fit the particular needs and time demands of . It was among the first efforts to train teachers, in addition to students, in mindfulness techniques and to examine the effects of this training in the classroom.

"We wanted to offer training to teachers in a format that would be engaging and address the concerns that were specifically relevant to their role as teachers," says Flook, who has advanced degrees in education and psychology and whose primary interest is in exploring strategies to reduce stress and promote well-being in children and adolescents.

The teachers who received the training were randomly assigned and asked to practice a guided meditation at home for at least 15 minutes per day. They also learned to use specific strategies for preventing and dealing with stressors in the classroom, such as "dropping in," a term to describe the process of bringing attention to the sensations of breath and other physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions for brief periods of time. The training also included caring practices to bring kind awareness to their experiences, especially those that are challenging.

One of the goals of the study was to evaluate outcomes using measures that could be affected by mindfulness training. The researchers found that those who received the mindfulness training displayed reductions in psychological stress, improvements in classroom organization and increases in self-compassion. In comparison, the group that did not receive the training showed signs of increased stress and burnout over the course of the school year. These results provide objective evidence that MBSR techniques are beneficial to teachers.

"The most important outcome that we observed is the consistent pattern of results, across a range of self-report and objective measures used in this pilot study, that indicate benefits from practicing mindfulness," says Flook, who also leads CIHM's "Kindness Curriculum" study involving 4-year-old preschoolers.

Madison teacher Elizabeth Miller discovered that mindfulness is a meditative technique that does not require "just sitting still and trying to observe your thoughts," which she said was difficult for her. The course showed her that mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, at any time.

Although Miller had practiced meditation before participating in the study, it had never occurred to her to use some of the mindfulness techniques, such as focusing on the breath, in the classroom. Now Miller uses this tool throughout the day, such as between subject areas or after recess, to refocus her students' attention, inviting them to pause and take three deep breaths together before beginning math, for example.

"Breath awareness was just one part of the training, but it was something that I was able to consistently put into practice," says Miller. "Now I spend more time getting students to notice how they're feeling, physically and emotionally, before reacting to something. I think this act of self-monitoring was the biggest long-term benefit for both students and teachers."

Next, Flook would like to work on replicating the study's initial findings through a larger-scale, national project that also connects students. "We want to explore how the teacher practice can be sustained, and how that affects the students, she says. "Can we train the teachers to also teach mindfulness? What effect does that have on the students?"

Richard J. Davidson, the study's senior author and CIHM founder and chair, added that "in the future, the group will explore the synergistic impact of teacher and student training on a variety of individual and classroom outcomes."

Explore further: Process of mindfulness may help children focus in the classroom

Related Stories

Process of mindfulness may help children focus in the classroom

August 7, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A Kansas State University child/adolescent counselor says a process used to help adults with anxiety disorders may also have a place in the classroom, helping children keep their focus on the subject at ...

Mindfulness at school reduces likelihood of depression-related symptoms in adolescents

March 15, 2013
Secondary school students who follow an in-class mindfulness program report reduced indications of depression, anxiety and stress up to six months later. Moreover, these students were less likely to develop pronounced depression-like ...

Mindfulness meditation may relieve chronic inflammation

January 16, 2013
People suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma—in which psychological stress plays a major role—may benefit from mindfulness meditation techniques, ...

Meditation technique enhances children's mental health

March 27, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Teachers in schools across the globe are turning to a new philosophy to help improve the behaviour and well-being of students.

Mindfulness can increase wellbeing and reduce stress in school children

June 19, 2013
Mindfulness – a mental training that develops sustained attention that can change the ways people think, act and feel – could reduce symptoms of stress and depression and promote wellbeing among school children, according ...

Mindfulness therapy might help veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder

April 17, 2013
Mindfulness exercises that include meditation, stretching, and acceptance of thoughts and emotions might help veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder find relief from their symptoms.

Recommended for you

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

Precision medicine opens the door to scientific wellness preventive approaches to suicide

August 15, 2017
Researchers have developed a more precise way of diagnosing suicide risk, by developing blood tests that work in everybody, as well as more personalized blood tests for different subtypes of suicidality that they have newly ...

US antidepressant use jumps 65 percent in 15 years

August 15, 2017
(HealthDay)—The number of Americans who say they've taken an antidepressant over the past month rose by 65 percent between 1999 and 2014, a new government survey finds.

Child's home learning environment predicts 5th grade academic skills

August 15, 2017
Children whose parents provide them with learning materials like books and toys and engage them in learning activities and meaningful conversations in infancy and toddlerhood are likely to develop early cognitive skills that ...

Obesity and depression are entwined, yet scientists don't know why

August 15, 2017
About 15 years ago, Dr. Sue McElroy, a psychiatrist in Mason, Ohio, started noticing a pattern. People came to see her because they were depressed, but they frequently had a more visible ailment as well: They were heavy.

Givers really are happier than takers

August 15, 2017
(HealthDay)—Generosity really is its own reward, with the brain seemingly hardwired for happiness in response to giving, new research suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.