Meditation can be a potent practice for creating focus and facilitating learning in the classroom. This is true for kindergarteners, grad students, and everyone in between. Longtime schoolteacher William Meyer has taught a variety of meditation techniques to students, fellow teachers, and parents with remarkable results. In Three Breaths and Begin: A Guide to Meditation in the Classroom, Meyer details how teachers can incorporate mindfulness into their curricula every day. He covers every aspect of teaching meditation, from creating a dedicated space in the classroom to meditating on field trips, during sports, and even in the midst of tragedy. Offering numerous ready-to-use scripted meditations, this insightful, practical, and loving guide will benefit anyone interested in the well-being of students — and, most of all, the students themselves.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book’s Introduction.
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Today, I spend my days teaching history to adolescents in a high school just outside of New York City. As part of my pedagogical practice I meditate almost every morning. It is as important to my work as the lesson plan I drafted the night before or the cup of coffee I carry into school each morning. I find that meditation brings my life and my teaching into focus. It gives me access to clarity and insight. I can sense when a student isn’t feeling well, and I have a greater empathetic capacity to sit with them and work through it. On a more basic level, students just appear when I need them, and my to-do list seems to take care of itself. And on the days I don’t meditate, I still struggle to find my footing. I have less patience with my students, my peers, and especially myself. Meditation seems to bring the whole day into focus in a way that nothing else does, not even the coffee.
Since 2012 I have introduced meditation to my classroom as a tool to deal with the growing stresses of the school day, but also as a lens by which to facilitate greater connection between the students and the curriculum. What started out as part of a student research experiment involving a small group of six students sitting in the corner of a science classroom has grown into a club, a common occurrence in my classroom, and now an integral part of the community. As a result of the growth of this practice in the school over the years, students can be found meditating before tests, performances, speeches, sports games, and even assemblies. The meditation bug has not only bitten the students, but it has also caught the attention of the administration, faculty, and community. It has been incorporated into weekly department meetings and has become a part of professional development workshops, book studies, and even faculty wellness programs of the school. The parents have been equally enthusiastic, embracing meditation in the form of a weekly Thursday evening circle.
The breadth and variability of this ancient practice is what makes it so useful in schools. Whether a meditation is just a simple set of breaths before a major assignment or a longer visualization around a challenging personal issue, the flexibility of the form is what allows the whole community to access it wherever they stand (or in this case, sit).
This book is not an academic discourse on mindfulness or a psychologist’s treatise on social-emotional learning; instead it’s a teacher’s perspective on the principles and practices of meditation and how they can be infused into the heart of the classroom. The purpose of this work is to show how meditation can help students better process their own lived experience so they may be more empathetic to others and of greater service to the world.
The first four chapters of the book open things up with a brief overview of the recent history of schools and the mindfulness movement, key tools for running a meditation, and finally the foundational components of space, silence, solitude, and story. The rest of the book looks at specific situations and strategies, such as leading meditations in high schools; starting clubs; meditating on field trips and with sports teams; meditating with younger students, teachers, and parents; dealing with tragedy; and implementing a meditation-centered curriculum.
Some of the chapters begin with or are centered on stories from my own experience. Traveling during the summer has helped me renew, recharge, and reconnect with myself as a teacher. I think, in many ways, it is in the act of disconnecting from the routines and rituals of the everyday that I suddenly connect to the extraordinary experiences and opportunities of the world around me. Drawing from some of those experiences and the inspiration they have provided serves as an entry point for several of the chapters that follow. While I hope that you find these stories engaging, I also hope they remind you of those personal and professional experiences that have enriched your own teaching.
At the end of each chapter I’ve also added a guided meditation. The majority of these are visual, while one or two focus specifically on breathing techniques and the use of silence. Like the opening stories in each chapter, I hope the meditations will provide a practical means to introduce one of the conceptual ideas and recommendations from the text. With the appropriate setup and timing, these meditations could be read as a script to a group of meditating students or simply as a guidepost of suggestions and imagery from which you can create and author your own meditations. There is no right or wrong way to use these scripts, as there is no right or wrong way to meditate. As I often joke with my students, as long as you are breathing you are doing it correctly. The most important attribute of a successful guided meditation is your level of comfort as the teacher. Trust your gut and the rest will take care of itself.
Although the underlying components of a successful meditation are fundamentally the same regardless of the context, the ins and outs of navigating disparate communities and implementing a guided meditation in a variety of situations require flexibility and a willingness to try new things. There are many forms of meditation, just like there are many different learning styles: auditory, visual, movement-based, and silent. Touching on a variety of these practices while helping students and teachers understand their own practice is a key element of this book. In some chapters I’ve even included student and adult reflections that I feel speak directly to the power of this practice.
By the end of this book, I hope you will have heard multiple voices and found useful activities for your classroom, tips for shifting the culture and space of your school, and lastly, guided meditations to use in your professional and personal practice wherever you might find yourself. I hope the stories in these pages also enrich your understanding, expand your curriculum, and awaken a sense of peace in your life. In whatever way this book speaks to you, may it be an invitation to a deeper conversation with your classes, as well as a more transformative experience for your students.
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William Meyer, author of Three Breaths and Begin, has taught history, economics, and humanities in urban and suburban high schools, where he has also led meditation in a variety of forms. He works with other educators to incorporate meditation into the classroom. He holds an MA in education from Harvard and is finishing his PhD at NYU. Find out more about his work at BillPMeyer.com.
Excerpted from the book Three Breaths and Begin. Copyright © 2019 by William Meyer.