“The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
This blog continues our discussion of how practicing mindfulness can support SEL high leverage practices. Another SEL high leverage practice is teaching social skills. Students with disabilities can have trouble expressing themselves in certain social settings or may not know how to respond in a positive manner (McLeskey et al., 2019). However, special education teachers can help their students when they are displaying social/behavioral difficulties by providing strategies to their students that promote prosocial skills (McLeskey et al., 2019). Elements of these prosocial strategies include creating an instructional logic and providing feedback and engaging approaches that students can use outside of the classroom (McLeskey et al., 2019). Following these guidelines can provide students the necessary strategies and tools they need to express themselves in an acceptable manner inside and outside of the classroom.
Using certain elements of mindfulness can support this SEL high leverage practice. Sometimes when students are displaying social difficulties, it can be challenging for them to stay in the present moment. There could be several thoughts racing through their heads, such as ruminating about how to interact and respond to a classmate or worrying about the social situation itself. But all these thoughts can be happening at once, which can influence how they connect and engage with their fellow peers and others. Teaching students to stay in the present moment can help them stay in the now and to not be influenced by the numerous thoughts racing through their head. This in turn can help strengthen students’ social skills and support them in engaging and responding to social situations in an effective manner. Living in the present moment can lead to less distractions and not missing valuable cues from others that can help students avoid unnecessary conflict. However, like practicing a nonjudgmental attitude, staying in the present moment can be challenging as well. Luckily, there are some strategies that special educators can teach to their students. If a student is having difficulty with certain social skills, try using breathing exercises with them. This will allow the student time to recenter themselves and encourage them to come back to the present moment. Taking deep breaths or using apps, such as Breathing Bubbles and Smiling Minds, can help students feel more grounded and able to practice social skills in a positive manner. Another strategy is to have the student pick an object in the classroom to focus on. This can be a book, plant, or even a picture. Whatever the object is, have the student direct their attention to this object and focus on what the object looks like, perhaps what it even feels, smells, or tastes like. Redirecting the student back to the present moment by having them pay attention to a certain object can remove them from the situation that could be causing them to display social/behavioral difficulties.
Feel free to participate in this short two minute Mindfulness activity led by Amanda McMahon, Ph.D. from Washington State University.