Promising Practices, Research, Well at Work, Well-being

How can mindfulness support K-12 teaching and learning?

The benefits of mindfulness for both students and teachers have led to a growing interest in mindfulness practice within school settings over the last decade. Mindfulness is our ability to bring full attention to our experience in the present moment. However, a Harvard study found that our minds wander 47% of the time, disrupting our ability to remain focused on the present moment. This study also found that a wandering mind tends to be an unhappy mind (i.e. fewer experiences of positive emotions and a reduced sense that life is meaningful, worthwhile, and has purpose). Over time, this can have a negative impact on our resilience, learning, and overall well-being. Yet, recent research has demonstrated that daily mindfulness practice (e.g. focusing on the breath or mindful movement) can change the structure and function of the brain in highly beneficial ways.


  • Increased levels of caring, enhanced relationships with students, and strengthened resilience
  • Decreased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and teacher burnout
  • Improved attention, executive functioning (e.g. planning, problem-solving, self-regulation, etc.), kindness, compassion, empathy, and perspective-taking
  • Increased academic achievement and Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Decreased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression


1. Begin with yourself. When teachers commit to a personal mindfulness practice and apply it to their teaching, there is often a positive ripple effect in the classroom. Practicing also provides the embodied experience necessary to teach and lead mindfulness in ways that are sensitive to students’ experiences.

2. Ensure mindfulness practices are introduced in secular ways. By introducing research-based mindfulness practices, teaching will be consistent with current scientific understanding and inclusive for all students.

3. Offer mindfulness practices that are trauma-sensitive. Mindfulness practices should be designed to support the safety and stability of students – particularly for students who are experiencing high levels of stress and/or who have a history of trauma.

4. Integrate mindfulness into a culturally responsive and inclusive approach to teaching. With equity at the centre, teachers are more likely to be responsive to the identities, contexts, backgrounds, histories, abilities, and needs of students as they develop their own mindfulness practices.

Cultivating mindfulness is beneficial for both teachers and students. When mindfulness is intentionally embedded in teaching and learning, entire school communities can experience improved well-being including lower levels of teacher stress and burnout, more positive teacher-student relationships, and improved student learning outcomes.

Murphy, S. (2019). Fostering Mindfulness: Building skills that students need to manage their attention, emotions, and behavior in classrooms and beyond. Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers.  

Greater Good in Education (GGIE) of the University of California, Berkeley offers free research-based and informed strategies and practices for the social, emotional, and ethical development of students, for the well-being of the adults who work with them, and for cultivating positive school cultures.

Edutopia is a website and online community dedicated to sharing evidence and practitioner-based learning strategies for educating the whole child in K-12 classrooms.

UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Centre (MARC) is a centre devoted to fostering mindful awareness across the lifespan through education and research. There are a number of free guided mindfulness practices on this page.

Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness is a website (created by Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness expert David Treleaven, PhD) devoted to resources for learning how to teach and lead mindfulness with an understanding of trauma. 

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL).

The Handbook of Mindfulness in Education is a publication that addresses the science and educational uses of mindfulness in schools. 

Mindfulness Journal is a peer-reviewed journal that publishes papers that examine the latest research findings and best practices in mindfulness.

The Best Meditation Apps of 2019 is a list of 12 Mindfulness Apps rated the best of 2019 based on quality, reliability, and reviews. (All but one have a free version).

American Mindfulness Research Association (2020). “Figure 1. Mindfulness journal publications by year, 1980-2019”. Retrieved from American Mindfulness Research Association website. https://goamra.org/resources/

Abenavoli, Rachel & Jennings, Patricia & Harris, Alexis & Greenberg, Mark & Katz, Deirdre. (2013). The protective effects of mindfulness against burnout among educators. The Psychology of Education Review. ISSN 0262-4087. 

Black, D. S., & Fernando, R. (2014). Mindfulness Training and Classroom Behaviour among Lower Income and Ethnic Minority Elementary School Children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23(7), 1242-1246.

Braun, S.S., Roeser, R.W., Mashburn, A.J. et al. (2019). Middle School Teachers’ Mindfulness, Occupational Health and Well-Being, and the Quality of Teacher-Student Interactions. Mindfulness 10, 245–255.

Brown, K. W. & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and Its Role in Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822– 848.

Caballero, C. Scherer, E., West, M.R, Mrazek, M.D., Gabrieli, C.F.O., & Gabrieli, J.D.E. (2019). Greater Mindfulness is Associated With better Academic achievement in Middle School. Mind, Brain, and Education. 13(3): 157-166.

Cannon, J. (2016). Education as the Practice of Freedom: A Social Justice Proposal for Mindfulness Educators. Purser, R.E., et al (Eds.). In Handbook of Mindfulness. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. pp. 397-409. 

DeMauro, A.A., Jennings, P.A., Cunningham, T. et al. (2019). Mindfulness and Caring in Professional Practice: an Interdisciplinary Review of Qualitative Research. Mindfulness 10, 1969–1984.

Eva, A. & Thayer, N. (2017). The Mindful Teacher: Translating Research into Daily Well-Being. The Clearing House. Vol .90, No. 1, pp. 18-25.

Feuerborn, L.L., Gueldner, B. (2019). Mindfulness and Social-Emotional Competencies: Proposing Connections through a Review of the Research. Mindfulness, 10, 1707–1720.

Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Promoting prosocial behavior and self-regulatory skills in preschool children through a mindfulness-based kindness curriculum. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 44–51.

Flook, L., Goldberg, S., Pinger, L., Bonus, K., & Davidson, R. (2013). Mindfulness for Teachers: A Pilot Study to Assess Effects on Stress, Burnout, and Teaching Efficacy. International Mind, Brain, and Education. 7(3): 182-195.

Flook, L., Susan L. Smalley, M. Jennifer Kitil, Brian M. Galla, Susan Kaiser-Greenland, Jill Locke, Eric Ishijima, and Connie Kasari. (2010). “Effects of Mindful Awareness Practices on Executive Functions in Elementary School Children.” Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26: 70–95. 

Fritz M.M., Walsh L.C., Lyubomirsky S. (2017) Staying Happier. In: Robinson M., Eid M. (eds) The Happy Mind: Cognitive Contributions to Well-Being. Springer, Cham.

Greenberg M., Brown J, & Abenavoli R. (2016). Teacher Stress and Health: Effects on Teachers, Students, and Schools. Social emotional learning. The Pennsylvania State University, Issue Brief, 1-12. 

John Meiklejohn, Catherine Phillips, M. Lee Freedman, Mary Lee Griffin, Gina Biegel, Andy Roach, Jenny Frank, Christine Burke, Laura Pinger, et al. (2012). Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education: Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students. Mindfulness, 3, 291-307.

Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind. Science, 330(6006): 932.

Leyland, A., Rowse, G., & Emerson, L. (2018). Experimental Effects of Mindfulness Inductions on Self-Regulation: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Emotion, 1-15.

MacDonald, H.Z. & Price, J.L. (2017) Emotional Understanding: Examining Alexithymia as a Mediator of the Relationship Between Mindfulness and Empathy. Mindfulness, 8(6): 1644-1652.

Magee, R. V. (2019). The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.

Murphy, S. (2019). Fostering Mindfulness: Building skills that students need to manage their attention, emotions, and behavior in classrooms and beyond. Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers.

Murphy, S. (2018). Preparing Teachers for the Classroom: Mindful Awareness Practice in Preservice Education Curriculum. In Byrnes, K., Dalton, J. & Dorman, B. (Eds.), Impacting Teaching and Learning: Contemplative Practices, Pedagogy, and Research in Education (pp. 41-51). Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.

Ryan, S. V., von der Embse, N. P., Pendergast, L. L., Saeki, E., Segool, N., & Schwing, S. (2017). Leaving the teaching profession: The role of teacher stress and educational accountability policies on turnover intent. Teaching and Teacher Education66, 1–11.

Sibinga, E. M. S., Webb, L., Ghazarian, S. R., & Ellen, J. M. (2016). School-­Based Mindfulness Instruction: An RCT. Pediatrics, 137(1), 1-­8.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.

Treleaven, D.A. (2018). Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for safe and transformative healing. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 

Zarate, K. Maggin, D.M., & Passmore, A. (2018). Meta-analysis of mindfulness training on teacher well-being. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 56(10): 1700-1715.



Meet the Expert(s)

Dr. Shelley Murphy

Lecturer and Course Lead in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, OISE/ University of Toronto

Shelley Murphy is a former elementary teacher and current Lecturer and Course Lead in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at OISE/ University of Toronto. She teaches in the Master of Teaching Program and in the Wellbeing Emphasis of the Curriculum and Pedagogy Program.

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