Authored by Katya Koubek, VATESOL Teacher Education SIG Leader
As we are slowly emerging from a three-year pandemic, the topic of social-emotional learning continues to play an important role in the TESOL field. No matter where we teach, many educators and students have experienced the effect of the pandemic, especially on their mental health. In many schools, mindfulness has become an essential topic of educators’ professional development. In an overview of top 8 TESOL PD topics from the 2022 year, Dr. Laura Baecher has revealed the topics of mindfulness and overcoming teacher burnout as part of this list.
As a teacher educator, I remember attending a virtual TESOL 2021 conference in which Dr. Janet Zadina discussed the pandemic brain and science behind optimal learning. As a result of her mindfulness practices with her virtual audience, I learned the techniques to help my students and myself rewire our brains and mitigate anxiety, which in the long run can help with a more positive outlook on life. These techniques adaptable to other educational contexts outside of higher education include the following steps:
Play 60-beat instrumental music as students come to class and have it on during the next mindfulness steps. YouTube is an excellent free source for such music, especially coffee shop jazz..
Ask students to sit straight with feet down on the floor and one hand on their chest and the other on the stomach to do some breathing techniques. Encourage them to close or partially close their eyes to practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique (four seconds inhale through one’s nose, 7 second to hold one’s breath, and 8 seconds exhale through one’s mouth). Repeat this technique 6 times. This technique is suitable for adults, but not for younger children. In addition, if students cannot hold their breath or have heart problems, encourage them to breathe naturally instead.
Switch to natural breathing for an additional minute or two. Continue to sit straight with partially closed or fully closed eyes.
The final step involves gratitude where students write down three gratitude notes. By varying these gratitude notes, students help rewire their brains to mitigate their anxiety and stress, which in the long run will improve their sleep, health, and learning in general. While these gratitude notes are private, students are encouraged to share them with the whole class if desired.
As someone who has been practicing mindfulness in all my undergraduate and graduate courses, I can attest that students perceive them as beneficial to their learning and overall health based on survey results gathered over several years (Koubek, 2021, 2022). By teaching our students mindfulness techniques, we can help our students develop better coping mechanisms to deal with the effects of the pandemic and have a brighter outlook on their lives.
Baecher, L. (2022, December 27). Top 8 PD topics for English language teachers in 2022. TESOL blog.
Koubek, E. (2021). (Re)Imagining remote teaching and learning: Meeting students where they are. In J. Davis & C. Irish (Eds.), Lessons from the pivot: Higher education’s response to the pandemic. https://scholar.umw.edu/education/11/
Koubek, E. (2022). Enacting an ethic of care as a TESOL teacher educator. In M. Shoffner and A. Webb (Eds.), Reconstructing care in teacher education after COVID-19. Routledge.
Zadina, J. (2021, March). The pandemic brain: Science and strategies for optimal learning. Keynote. Virtual TESOL Convention.