Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Study: Mindfulness training for teachers can result in a better learning environment for students

No one would argue with the fact that teach­ing is stress­ful. Not only is the work high­ly chal­leng­ing, teach­ers are also fre­quent­ly under­paid, under­val­ued, and sub­ject to harsh scruti­ny. No won­der teacher burnout is on the rise and that many feel like leav­ing their pro­fes­sion.

But teacher stress is not only a prob­lem for teach­ers; it can also be a prob­lem for stu­dents. Stressed teach­ers impact stu­dents’ stress lev­els through a con­ta­gion effect, and since stu­dent stress impacts learn­ing, this can hurt the qual­i­ty of edu­ca­tion in the class­room. Stu­dents learn bet­ter in a cli­mate that is more emo­tion­al­ly pos­i­tive and less stress­ful, and past stud­ies have shown a clear link between pos­i­tive emo­tion­al class­room cli­mates and aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment.

The Study

Now, a new study (details below) from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia pro­vides strong evi­dence that mind­ful­ness train­ing for teach­ers can help them cope bet­ter with stress on the job while also mak­ing the class­room envi­ron­ment more pro­duc­tive for learn­ing.

Two hun­dred and twen­ty-four teach­ers from 36 urban ele­men­tary schools in New York City with pri­mar­i­ly low-income/high-risk stu­dents were ran­dom­ly assigned to receive instruc­tion via a pro­gram called Cul­ti­vat­ing Aware­ness and Resilience in Edu­ca­tion (CARE), a 30-hour mind­ful­ness-based train­ing for teach­ers spread out over a four-month peri­od. The pro­gram involved train­ing in mind­ful aware­ness, stress reduc­tion, and emo­tion skills aimed pri­mar­i­ly at increas­ing teacher well­ness rather than improv­ing teach­ing, per se.

Teach­ers report­ed on their lev­els of well-being, mind­ful­ness, con­fi­dence in their teach­ing abil­i­ty, phys­i­cal health, and psy­cho­log­i­cal health before and after the pro­gram. In addi­tion, their teach­ing qual­i­ty was inde­pen­dent­ly mea­sured before and after­ward by raters who didn’t know which group of teach­ers they were observ­ing.

The Findings

Analy­ses showed that receiv­ing the CARE train­ing improved the teach­ers’ mind­ful­ness and their abil­i­ty to man­age anger and oth­er dif­fi­cult emo­tions, and low­ered their psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress and sense of time urgency—particularly impor­tant ben­e­fits in such stress­ful con­di­tions.

If you’re a teacher, you can’t walk out while you’re teach­ing; and if you’re a stu­dent, you can’t walk out, either—it puts a lev­el of pres­sure on teach­ers that I don’t think many peo­ple rec­og­nize,” says Patri­cia Jen­nings, the lead author of the study.

Per­haps more sur­pris­ing­ly, the study also found improve­ments in the emo­tion­al cli­mate of the class­room and increased class orga­ni­za­tion for those teach­ers who’d been through the train­ing. Those trained via CARE behaved dif­fer­ent­ly in the classroom—smiling more, ask­ing more ques­tions, remain­ing curi­ous about stu­dent mis­be­hav­ior rather than mov­ing toward pun­ish­ment, and tak­ing deep breaths and slow­ing down encoun­ters with stu­dents when annoyed rather than yelling.

After train­ing in CARE, you might see teach­ers take things less per­son­al­ly,” says Jen­nings.

But what’s most excit­ing to her is that these changes were accom­plished by train­ing teach­ers, not the stu­dents them­selves.

The inter­ven­tion total­ly focused on the teacher—we didn’t do any­thing for the kids at all,” says Jen­nings. “While we may want our kids to be mind­ful, tak­ing time out of the day to do mind­ful­ness with kids with­out inte­grat­ing it into the gen­er­al cur­ricu­lum is real­ly hard.”

Jennings’s study is the largest study to date look­ing at how mind­ful­ness train­ing impacts teacher well-being and the emo­tion­al cli­mate of their class­rooms. It adds to a grow­ing body of research sug­gest­ing that mind­ful­ness affects not only teacher stress, but also inter­per­son­al inter­ac­tions that can have an impor­tant impact on learn­ing.

I had a very strong sus­pi­cion that emo­tion­al reac­tiv­i­ty was inter­fer­ing with a teacher’s abil­i­ty to be their best, and that the solu­tion wasn’t just a mat­ter of teach­ing more skills, it was real­ly a mat­ter of teach­ing them to self-reg­u­late so they could be their best,” says Jen­nings.

Her future research plans include increas­ing the capac­i­ty for this kind of train­ing in schools, study­ing the impacts of com­bin­ing CARE with stu­dent-focused mind­ful­ness or social-emo­tion­al learn­ing train­ing, and look­ing at whether or not mind­ful­ness train­ing impacts implic­it bias or oth­er bar­ri­ers to effec­tive teach­ing. She hopes that stud­ies like hers will focus more atten­tion on the issue of teacher well-being.

I think it’s real­ly impor­tant for peo­ple to rec­og­nize that teach­ers need all of the sup­port they can get and that they need our help and not crit­i­cism,” says Jen­nings. “If we don’t turn the cor­ner on how we’re help­ing our teach­ers, we’re not going to have enough teach­ers to do the job.”

The studyImpacts of the CARE for Teach­ers Pro­gram on Teach­ers’ Social and Emo­tion­al Com­pe­tence and Class­room Inter­ac­tions (Jour­nal of Edu­ca­tion­al Psy­chol­o­gy)

  • Abstract: Under­stand­ing teach­ers’ stress is of crit­i­cal impor­tance to address the chal­lenges in today’s edu­ca­tion­al cli­mate. Grow­ing num­bers of teach­ers are report­ing high lev­els of occu­pa­tion­al stress, and high lev­els of teacher turnover are hav­ing a neg­a­tive impact on edu­ca­tion qual­i­ty. Cul­ti­vat­ing Aware­ness and Resilience in Edu­ca­tion (CARE for Teach­ers) is a mind­ful­ness-based pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment pro­gram designed to pro­mote teach­ers’ social and emo­tion­al com­pe­tence and improve the qual­i­ty of class­room inter­ac­tions. The effi­ca­cy of the pro­gram was assessed using a clus­ter ran­dom­ized tri­al design involv­ing 36 urban ele­men­tary schools and 224 teach­ers. The CARE for Teach­ers pro­gram involved 30 hr of in-per­son train­ing in addi­tion to inter­s­es­sion phone coach­ing. At both pre- and postin­ter­ven­tion, teach­ers com­plet­ed self-report mea­sures and assess­ments of their par­tic­i­pat­ing stu­dents. Teach­ers’ class­rooms were observed and cod­ed using the Class­room Assess­ment Scor­ing Sys­tem (CLASS). Analy­ses showed that CARE for Teach­ers had sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant direct pos­i­tive effects on adap­tive emo­tion reg­u­la­tion, mind­ful­ness, psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress, and time urgency. CARE for Teach­ers also had a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive effect on the emo­tion­al sup­port domain of the CLASS. The present find­ings indi­cate that CARE for Teach­ers is an effec­tive pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment both for pro­mot­ing teach­ers’ social and emo­tion­al com­pe­tence and increas­ing the qual­i­ty of their class­room inter­ac­tions.


Jill Sut­tie, Psy.D., is a book review edi­tor and a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Greater Good. Based at UC-Berke­ley, Greater Good high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tific research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altru­ism. Copy­right Greater Good.

To learn more: 

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

All Slidedecks & Recordings Available — click image below

Search for anything brain-related in our article archives

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm and think tank tracking health and performance applications of brain science.