“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way — on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.



Jon Kabat-Zinn


Last week I joined a group of educators interested in mindfulness as a tool in the classroom.  Our group leader, Kate Janke of the Heart-Mind Education Project has been working to bring mindfulness to schools for years.

Makes sense.  We ask our students to pay attention all the time while they often struggle to focus and concentrate without the tools to help.

But mindfulness isn’t just for students.  One of my favorite articles makes a connection to teachers’ need for mindfulness:  Mindful Reflection as a Process for Developing Culturally Responsive Practices by Barbara J. Dray and Debora Basler Wisneski.

As teachers, in the busyness of our day, we are not always fully present in the moment and rely on habits and routines to move us through the class period, especially with classroom management. Too often that leads to unequal discipline.  The data highlights that reality.

  • African-American students nearly 3 times as likely to be suspended and 3.5 times as likely to be expelled as white peers.
  • Latino students 1.5 times as likely to be suspended and twice as likely to be expelled as white peers.
  • White students are usually disciplined for “objective” offenses – smoking, cutting class, using obscene language, vandalism
  • African American and Latino students are disciplined for “subjective” offenses – being too loud, disrespect, loitering.

To shift these patterns, the authors suggest we start with our own mindfulness. They define it as a particular quality of attention in which you’re present to the experience of the moment without going directly to autopilot and becoming reactive– interpreting and evaluating what’s going on prematurely.

Dray and Wisneski point out that mindfulness makes space for alternative interpretations of student behavior and opens the opportunity to respond differently.  What makes this article powerful is the process they offer to help us do this.

They frame their protocol around the three cognitive processes involved in how we make sense of what’s going on around us:  description, interpretation, and evaluation.

They use the example of an imaginary student, Enrique’s behavior during a reading activity.

“Enrique raised his hand 10 times during the story read-aloud” is a description of what occurred in the classroom.  Description is an account of what a person observed or experienced that does not attribute social significance to the behavior.  It is simply what you heard and saw.

“Enrique raised his hand 10 times during story read-a-loud.” That can mean: (a) Enrique was disruptive during story read-aloud; (b) Enrique enjoyed the story; or (c) Enrique wanted attention.  This is interpretation, the process of inferring what the behavior meant, by attributing social significance to the behavior.

“Enrique wants attention” could be either a positive or negative thing.  The evaluation of that statement could vary from “I don’t like that; Enrique needs to learn better turn-taking skills” to “I like that Enrique takes initiative during read alouds. Evaluation is the process of attributing positive or negative social significance to a behavior.”

Interpretation and evaluation is strongly influenced by our own cultural lens and experiences.  It is the place where shift must happen.

The authors skillfully lay out steps for cultivating what they call “mindful reflection” to help any teacher check her assumptions about what a student’s behavior might mean.

It is one of my to-go articles when supporting teachers working on their cultural responsiveness.

Read it and tell me what you think.  Be sure to pass it on.