Mindfulness and Creativity: Q and A with Pages Teachers

In my role as Educator-in-Residence in the wonderful and amazing Pages program with the inspirational Dionne Custer-Edwards I have been teaching Mindful Creativity.  We began on day one with an introduction to mindfulness, and I received some good questions from teachers about personal mindful practice, implementing mindfulness for students in the classroom, and how to talk to people about mindfulness in order to build more acceptance.  Here are some questions from teachers and the responses I gave with links for further information.


How do you teach students mindfulness if you struggle with it yourself?

It is easiest to teach mindfulness by practicing mindfulness. This allows you to be honest about the struggles and the realities of what it is (not a cure all). In addition, you will be able to speak honestly with students struggling to be mindful.

Where is the best place to start if you are teaching yourself mindfulness?

Start with the practice of silence- five minutes a day, focusing on the breath. I started with ten minutes of silence, followed by ten minutes of journaling. Reflection enhances learning, so it will help one to reap benefits. Also, you can choose to come back to the moment at any time. Remind yourself of this throughout the day.

Have you used this with the high school population?

I have taught neuroplasticity and growth to students, but not mindfulness directly. However, there are a number of high schools that use mindfulness as a “school wide strategy. Here is an example from Edutopia, the article “Implementing a School-Wide Mindfulness Program” for how mindfulness is being used in high schools.

Would parents or administrators see this as too “new agey” or “spiritual”?

Exposing parents and administrators to research on mindfulness practice, its relevance to education, its value for the brain can help with this. Mindfulness is a secular, science-based practice that is well researched for its benefits. UC Berkeley’s The Greater Good provides a wealth of varied, research-based articles on mindfulness and related topics.

What strategies could be practiced to create mindfulness in daily to create mindfulness in writing practices?

Creating a “mindful space” and “mindful time” for writing can be helpful. I write/journal every day as part of my mindfulness practice, after my 10-20 minutes of silence. I provide a focus for myself through use of specific strategies. For example, the “Beautiful moments” practice is one I use often to guide my journaling.    

What is the difference between mindfulness or blank/static thought?

Mindfulness includes awareness of the present moment. In “blank thought”, or free thought, one might be totally unaware of what is happening in the moment. For example, if you have ever been driving and then realized you missed your exit and have no idea where you are because you are “in another world,” this would be the opposite of mindfulness.   If you are driving: noticing the color of blue in the sky, the changing of the clouds, the shifting in the weather patterns, the green waves of the long grass along the side of the road, you are present and mindful.

How does mindfulness differ when looking at manufactured versus natural objects?

Good question! I think this would be something with which to experiment.

How can I integrate mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be implemented through purposeful moments of silence, use of wait time, use of silent observation, and implementing formal mindfulness practice. More of this to come soon!

How can I integrate mindfulness into my teaching of art criticism?

Extended looking is a perfect strategy to teach mindfulness in art criticism.  

How do I get kids to buy into it, set aside giggles, cynicism, etc.?

Teaching neuroplasticity and growth first is one strategy. Also, you don’t have to call it mindfulness, especially at first. I would start with silent looking and observation activities before moving into a “formal practice” (meditation). I had taught “looking” for years before ever knowing about mindfulness.    

How often do I want to practice mindfulness with my students?

Mindful teaching and learning can be implemented on a daily basis; it is about presence and engagement in a task. If you wanted to do formal mindfulness practice with students, maybe just one minute of silence before students begin writing or before responding to something could be a strategy. It could be a five-minute practice one to three times a week. Some people use a bell timer that goes off once every hour, and at which time they stop and have 30 seconds to one minute of silence.    

Why wouldn’t I want my students to connect with themselves and the world?

Agreed. : )

I have trouble focusing on breathing- feels unnatural, gets stuck in throat etc. How can I get beyond this?

FA practice, focused attention, does not need to be focused on the breath. It could be focused on a particular point of the body instead. In addition, OM, open monitoring practice, does not require any point of particular focus. It is instead being present for all stimuli equally.

How does one slow down in real life enough to react mindfully, not reflexively?

Mindfulness practice is helpful in “slowing down.” It is a time dedicated to silence. In addition, it changes the brain to be less reactive in stressful situations and more resilient in general.  

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