Using Mindfulness to Support SEL High Leverage Practices: Part One

“If it’s out of your hands, it deserves freedom from your mind too.”

Ivan Nuru

This blog explores how mindfulness can support SEL high leverage practices. But first, let’s break down what SEL high leverage practices are. High leverage practices help special educators address SEL needs of students with disabilities (McLeskey et al., 2019). This means effective special educators provide and practice strategies that support the academic and behavioral needs of their students in a classroom setting. And one of those practices is developing “consistent, organized, and respectful learning environments” (McLeskey et al., 2019, p. 95). Promoting a positive teacher-student relationship and establishing clear behavioral expectations in the classroom are included in this practice. These, and among others, help promote a respectful and predictable classroom experience (McLeskey et al., 2019).

But how can mindfulness support this SEL high leverage practice for special educators and their students? There are several strategies that a special educator can use, such as classroom procedures and explicit instruction, to establish a consistent, organized, and respectful learning environment. However, practicing mindfulness can facilitate and help with problem behaviors that students are displaying and that could be causing disruption in the classroom. When students are feeling overwhelmed and are displaying problem behaviors, such as refusal or defiance of teacher directions, helping them to recognize and understand their feelings can be helpful. This is where the RAIN mindfulness practice can come in handy. There are four steps to this mindfulness practice. First, “R” stands for recognizing what’s going on. Special educators can sit down with their student and help them recognize the feelings and emotions they are experiencing. The “A” stands for allow. This provides the opportunity for the student to accept the feeling and allow it to simply be. The “I” represents investigating with kindness. The student can explore their feelings and emotions with a sense of openness and curiosity. It can be all too easy to get wrapped up in our feelings and emotions, which can lead to problem behaviors. However, approaching them with an attitude of curiosity can help foster being non-reactive to them. The “N” stands for nurture and non-identify. This step is all about having the feelings and emotions, but not being defined by them. This provides an opportunity for the student to disentangle themselves from the feelings and emotions they are experiencing, so they can return to themselves. Another mindfulness strategy that can support a consistent, organized, and respectful classroom setting is practicing the five senses. When a student is displaying problem behaviors, have them take a pause and focus on an object in the classroom. Then, direct them to use their five senses on the object and see what they come up with. This can be a picture, a plant, or even a school-approved food item. Having them re-direct their attention to the object can provide a nice reset and a chance to discuss the problem behavior in a mindful way.

Mindfulness Activity

Feel free to participate in this short two minute Mindfulness activity led by Amanda McMahon, Ph.D. from Washington State University.