August 12, 2014

3 Mindful Classroom Teaching Strategies

No Tricks or Gimmicks: 3 Mindful Classroom Teaching Strategies

Guest post by Shelley of the Write Stuff Teaching Blog

If you are anything like me, you have tried every class management trick in the book. After 20+ years of teaching, that adds up to a lot of time spent on tricks and gimmicks to be able to run your classroom smoothly and effectively. I've tried group points, individual strategies, treats, moving desks around (a lot), classroom bucks, phone calls to parents (both positive and when students are struggling) and many, many more. Even though classroom management is a strength of mine, it is still a difficult challenge, especially now, as our students enter the room with more and more challenges.

Unfortunately, support is not as good as it used to be and teachers are left to deal with the consequences. The trend is towards differentiated learning for each one of our students.  How can we possibly do that when we spend so much of our time on getting kids to focus and learn and less time teaching curriculum? I would like to share with you 3 teaching strategies that I use together that incorporate three popular programs. It can be used with kids from K-8 by adapting these strategies for your own grade level.

I always knew that "intrinsic" motivation (doing something because you want to not because you will get a reward) was more effective than "extrinsic" motivation (earning prizes and points) based on research I had read during my student teaching. But just how do you do this when there are 24+ students who all come from different backgrounds and families with different values and expectations?

1. Teaching Self Awareness

I was watching a program on TV one day and Goldie Hawn (the actress) was on talking about her days in school. At the time, the Vietnam War was on and she became scared and worried. She began to realize that because she was worried, she couldn't learn to her potential. As a result of her experience she created the MindUP program. (This is available at Scholastic for grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8). I knew that this was something near and dear to my heart as I watched many of my learners suffer through episodes of anxiety. I did the training and realized very quickly that implementing it in my classroom would be an easy fit into everything I do and not just another program I didn't have time for.

So, the first mindful strategy I implemented was MindUP. I started by teaching the students about their brains. I didn't know much about that myself but after doing lots of reading and providing books for the kids to read – we all got very excited about this!

I began creating things that would help the students learn about their brains more and to be self aware of their learning. Here is a free Brain Lift the Flap Book that I created that you can have students put together to celebrate their strengths in learning. It’s a great back to school or #geniushour activity.

Every day we do brain breaks. Not the “get up and move around” brain break but a true “let yourself go and be still” brain break. We use a resonating chime and we find a comfortable position to sit and we just breathe with our eyes closed so that our brains aren't working. Kids love how good this feels. Even the “busiest” kids finally have this figured out by the end of the year.

After students learn about their own brains, I move to their 5 senses. I give students opportunities to smell, taste, see, hear and touch items to have them really hone their observations skills. (Not only is this a Science concept but it works great at Writer’s Workshop when I am having students learn about Word Choice and improving their colorful adjectives and vivid verbs – bonus!) Once students got the hang of self-awareness, I moved to awareness of others.

2. Teaching Kids to Become Bucket Fillers

The 2nd mindful strategy was to find a way to encourage students to look beyond themselves and outward toward others. I wanted them to be kind, compassionate and empathetic. I had to teach them this. Enter Have You Filled Someone’s Bucket Today?, a book by Carol McLoud and David Messing and a very popular book and program today. The intermediate version is called Growing up With a Bucket Full of Happiness: 3 Rules For a Happy Life.

I read the students this book and they kept a mindful journal of thoughtful things and new learning about themselves and their brains. They fill out “fill a bucket” coupons to give to their friends and one student a day writes a compliment to the VIP on the whiteboard daily as part of our morning message. Once they understand the classroom kindness, I extend it further.  Have you filled your Mom’s bucket? Your Dad’s? The school custodian or secretary? Truly, the students are really genuine and honest and really get it! Afterwards, we learn about multiculturalism and people around the world to extend their thinking even farther.

So now, my students are becoming self aware and aware of others.  But something was still missing.  It was the knowledge of who they are as a person and how their feelings, emotions and behaviors can affect and impact themselves and others.

3. Fostering Flexible Thinking

Enter strategy number 3 – SUPERFLEX! Superflex is a program that was developed by Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner and is a very popular program for all elementary grades. I love to introduce this program after MindUP and Bucket Filling because you really need to be able to be open and understanding and willing to accept things about their own personality in order to grow.

Superflex is a superhero that is a “super flexible thinker.” He defeats Rockbrain (stubbornness) and other Unthinkables by using social strategies. Examples of some Unthinkables that I introduce them to are:  Worry Wall (great for students with anxiety), Energy Harry (you know the ones!) Mean Jean (a hard one to admit), Brain Eater (students really relate to this one because there are SO many distractors) and Glassman (students who cry or get really angry for minor things).

For primary learners, I have the students create their own version of themselves as Superflex. This seems to empower them to want to learn more and to feel in control of their own actions.

We do roleplaying based on the suggestions for strategies in the book. One student wears a cape and is Superflex and one or two others are the Unthinkable of the day. Students LOVE watching these skits because they either see themselves in them or they see them as ridiculous but true.

Mindfulness and Classroom Management

So what do mindful and brain based learning, bucket filling and kindness and being a flexible thinker have to do with classroom management? All of these strategies provide a framework for self-awareness that allow a learner to really understand themselves and work with the strengths they have and work on the areas of difficulty they experience by giving them the tools they need. Talking about uncomfortable things really helps students to become better versions of themselves and leads to happier learners. Happier learners are more efficient learners. Check out this link from Edutopia on the neuro science behind this:

This all adds up to a team of classmates who are all supporting each other which helps the teacher to free him or herself up to teach more effectively and add rigor to their lessons while also helping to differentiate for those in need.

When your students can learn efficiently and are aware of their skills, they are more able to set goals, self assess and prepare portfolios of their learning journey to share with others.

I created a set of mindful posters that you can grab for free by clicking here or clicking the image on the right. One shows mindful students and the other shows the mindful teacher.

Remember that if you teach your students to be mindful, you won't need any tricks or gimmicks for classroom management!

Shelley Rolston teaches in a suburb outside of Vancouver, BC. She loves to teach literacy and enjoys adding a social learning and character piece to most things she teaches. Visit her blog, The Write Stuff Teaching, to learn more about mindfulness in the classroom.


  1. I love this!!! Especially how you do brain breaks.

    1. Thank Heather. My students get to really love those breaks and if I forget they are sure to remind me!

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  3. I love the notion of teaching students about how their brain works. The more they understand how it works, the more they understand themselves and who they are as individuals. Great post!

  4. Thank you for sharing these free resources. It is greatly appreciated. I will be teaching Mind-up this year in my 3rd grade Spanish Immersion classroom, and wondered if I could get an editable copy of the mindful poster set so that I could translate it to Spanish? Thank you! B

  5. Hi Christine,
    Thank you for reading my post and I wish you the best of luck this year as you teach Mindup. Those kids are lucky! Please contact me at regarding the poster set. Thanks!

  6. Wow..what a fantastic article! You're brilliant! I have good classroom management but I know exactly what you mean when you say "something's always missing"....I can't wait to try this....Over the years I've lost the enthusiasm I had for teaching when I first started. I believe the steps you listed will help me refocus and get some of that spark back! :) Thanks so much for sharing this. The children in your class must feel so important and loved. :)

  7. Hi girlonpark,
    Thank you so much for your kind words. I was a little taken aback when I read them! It has definitely changed my teaching and increased my "spark" because I am spending less and less time on management and more time empowering individual students! If you have any questions along the way, please feel free to send them to my email at I will be blogging about literacy and mindfulness all year and would love your input.

    :) Shelley

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