Mindfulness in the Classroom
Katherine Segal, Ph.D., LCSW, Adjunct Faculty, School of Social Work
Since beginning as an online instructor at Columbia’s School of Social Work in Fall 2019, I have been leading 3-minute mindfulness activities near the start of each class session. I have taught the MSW first-year Social Work Research course and the second-year Adult Psychopathology and Pathways to Wellness course several times, with class sizes ranging from 14-42 students.
After experiencing the first practice, the students discuss the benefits of using mindfulness as graduate students as well as the applicability of using it in their future research efforts and work with clients. While these activities have generally been well received, the student responses to these practices have shifted throughout the pandemic.
Following each practice, I invite students to share their feedback in a poll “How are you feeling after the mindfulness activity” (Segal, 2022). In Fall 2019 and the start of Spring 2020, student responses to the mindfulness activities centered around transitioning to class, acknowledging their busy schedule, and feeling more ready to engage in class. For example, “really helped me acknowledge how much my mind has been wandering to my to-dos”, “super relaxing after such a hectic day”, and “ready to learn”. Beginning the week of 3/25/20 the responses began and continue to center around stress management. For example, feeling “a sense of peace”, “like a weight has been lifted”, and “I feel supported and safe”. Despite these positive reactions it is also important to acknowledge that these practices are not magical cure-alls with some students also sharing “still emotionally fragile with current circumstances” and “still anxious”.
Even after the conclusion of the courses, the mindfulness practices stayed with the students as demonstrated by these excerpts from course evaluations:
- Fall 2019, the mindfulness practices “were very welcomed to bring focus before class began and set the tone for a social work based/informed research course. Amazing.”
- Summer 2020, “Recognizing our stress levels, [Dr. Segal] started each class with a mindfulness moment which set a calming tone enabling us to listen and contribute at a higher level.”
- Fall 2021, “I also really appreciated the weekly mindfulness practice, it was both calming for individuals but also fostered this collective experience that made me feel connected with my classmates.”
Although, the mindfulness activities were not universally loved, as one student shared, “I really dislike doing mindfulness in class or with others as a group, and that’s fine, so I could just skip that and put my headphones back on when it was done”. However, based on the feedback as a whole I will continue to incorporate mindfulness activities into my classes.
If you would like to add mindfulness to your classes here are a few points that might help you prepare:
- Designate time for the mindfulness practice so it doesn’t feel squished in or rushed.
- Lead the practices yourself, invite students to lead, or share a YouTube video.
- If possible, display a timer on the screen and honor the time blocked out for the practice.
- Keep the practice relatively simple. Here are a few of my favorites: mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and brief guided imagery practices.
- Additional practices can be used following difficult discussions, following a tech disruption, and during breaks.
Instructors and students do not need to be mindfulness experts to lead or benefit from the practices. Each engagement with mindfulness can have an immediate impact as well as add to a cumulative effect. I hope mindfulness can support your students’ success in and out of the classroom.
Reference: Segal, K. A. (2022). Using Mindfulness Routinely and As Needed in Online Classes. [PowerPoint Slides]. https://doi.org/10.7916/8gt1-5p69
Voices of Hybrid and Online Teaching and Learning
Learn about the perspectives and experiences of teaching and learning during the pandemic.