LEA podcasts

RRR heading

 

Mindfulness: Kidshealth.org

Bible journaling: Dayspring

Journal of Peace Education T and F Online

Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback

 

other STF links

New Hope for Lutheran Education (Feature)

Yes! Change Is Possible
(Even at a Lutheran School) (AMDnet)

Y4Life Teams: Creating Leaders 4 Life (AMDnet)

See the LEA Podcast: “There’s Hope…for a Peaceful Classroom” by Tina Kassebaum

 

LEA is looking for writers

LEA is looking for writers in front-line ministries for articles in future ShapingtheFuture magazine pieces. If you would like to write, contact ed.grube@lea.org (do not reply to this publication) to express and discuss your interests.

 

MIDnet

Creating a Peaceful
Middle School Environment

Take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine the most peaceful place you can think of. What sounds do you hear? What sounds do you not hear? What things do you see? What things do you not see? Did you imagine an empty beach on a sunny, summer day? Or browsing a museum on a snowy afternoon? Or wearing your pajamas reading a book and enjoying a nice cup of hot tea?

A middle school classroom or hallway probably didn’t make your top ten list of peaceful places.A middle school classroom or hallway probably didn’t make your top ten list of peaceful places. It likely didn’t even make your top 100 list of peaceful places! However, creating a peaceful middle school environment is key to the academic, mental, and social success of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. In fact, two 2019 research studies from MIT published in the journals Behavioral Neuroscience and Mind, Brain and Education, suggest that a peaceful middle school environment can reduce student conduct issues, reduce school suspensions, decrease student stress, and increase academic performance. The practice of creating a peaceful classroom is called mindfulness or the practice of focusing one’s awareness on what is happening in the present.

Integrating mindfulness into the middle school classroom is essentially teaching students self-control while also equipping them with the tools necessary to apply self-control to their everyday school lives. When students are completely focused on their teacher and the lesson, they are less likely to let outside disruptions interfere with their learning. This kind of single-minded focus increases academic performance, but it also reduces the kind of student behavior that creates chaos. For example, when students are making eye contact with the teacher and looking at what the teacher is showing them, they cannot also be talking to one another, messing with each other’s supplies, passing notes, or engaging in other noisy and/or distracting behaviors. As a result, the classroom environment is calm, quiet, and conducive to learning, discussion, classroom projects, and student collaboration.

Practicing mindfulness helps create a peaceful middle school environment because when students are not stressed or anxious, they are less likely to be reactive and more likely to regulate emotions when working on academic tasks.Adolescents who practice mindfulness techniques also report reduced feelings of stress and anxiety. Practicing mindfulness helps create a peaceful middle school environment because when students are not stressed or anxious, they are less likely to be reactive and more likely to regulate emotions when working on academic tasks, according to a study published in Emotion. Further, mindfulness increases the chances that students will respond to each other with compassion. Children who can exhibit compassion are more likely to get along well and form close relationships with one another, which strongly correlates to a peaceful school environment. In addition to helping to protect mental health, a peaceful school environment can also correlate to an improvement in the physical health and well-being of students.

What a wonderful picture of peace and calm these research studies portray! You might wonder how likely mindfulness is actually going to help promote a peaceful middle school environment. The good news is that with a few simple adjustments or additions to your daily routine and curriculum, you’ll be well on your way to a new sense of calm. Bible journaling is a powerful way to help adolescents make sense of the world and their place in it. It also allows them a place to apply biblical teaching to their everyday lives, which can encourage them to have compassion and demonstrate integrity, both of which translate to a more peaceful learning environment. Journaling also works because it allows students to express their emotions in a safe place, which reduces the risk of negative expression in the form of rude words, lack of self-control, and inappropriate conversations and interactions with peers. Poetry can also be a powerful way to promote a peaceful middle school classroom, according to a study published in the Journal of Peace Education. The study suggests that writing poetry gives children a way to regulate their emotions and find ways to resolve conflict. Reading and discussing poetry can be equally powerful in your quest to promote peace in your classroom.

Incorporating silence into your classroom is another important way to bring about a sense of peace and calm. Even 60 seconds of complete silence for students to pray, or just think, can center your students and prepare them to pay attention and have positive learning interactions with teachers and peers. Breathing exercises are also useful techniques for bringing about a sense of peace and calm. Breathing techniques can help calm negative emotions while also increasing the ability to pay attention. A 2015 study published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback discovered that breathing techniques could effectively counteract the emotions and physical changes associated with stress, anxiety, and depression. Counteracting these types of negative emotions is likely to increase the happiness of students, which can correlate to a more peaceful and calmer classroom environment.

Sharing joy changes the atmosphere of your classroom from one that could be harboring anxiety and boredom to one of happiness and hope.Encourage your students to share moments of joy. Sharing joy changes the atmosphere of your classroom from one that could be harboring anxiety and boredom to one of happiness and hope. Along those same lines, celebrate your students’ successes by sharing them during these times of joy. Students who are recognized are less likely to be anxious and worried and more likely to be excited about learning and hopeful about what is to come. Force joy in your classroom by playing music, encouraging dancing, telling jokes, sharing funny memes, and giving your students permission to be their goofy, authentic selves.

The key to any of these strategies is the mindfulness component. For mindfulness to work well in your middle school, students must pay close attention to what they are experiencing from moment to moment while also ignoring what else is going on around them. Students must think in the present without worrying about what has already happened and what they think might happen in the future.

The Bible is an essential resource as you incorporate mindfulness into your middle school classroom. After all, looking to Jesus is infinitely more effective at creating peace and calm than any human-created mindfulness program. While encouraging your students to think only about the present, also remind them that Jesus is the most important part of their present. Jesus tells us this in John 14:6 when he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” When all else fails, teach your students to look to Jesus; more mindful students are sure to be the result!

Sara Ipatenco has been writing for 14 years about a variety of topics, including mental health, parenting, education, and physical well-being. Sara teaches first grade at Bethlehem Lutheran School in Lakewood, Colo., but also has a heart for middle school students and their overall health and well-being.

Photos © iStock/rawpixel, monkeybusinessimages, Kimbrosz, Ridofranz