Developing self-awareness using mindfulness meditation with preservice teachers: reflections on practice

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2020

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 41:2, 183-196

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The overarching question during this study was how do mindfulness practices used in an early childhood education undergraduate course impact early childhood preservice teachers’ self-awareness.
To examine how mindfulness meditation affected preservice teachers enrolled in an early childhood course, the first author asked students to write in their journals what they learned from the practice of mindfulness during class time.
Then she and two colleagues analyzed the journals at the end of semester.
This article reports on the outcomes of the students’ mindfulness meditation.
This article discusses the major findings that emerged from the students’ journals regarding their mindfulness meditation and concludes with implications for teacher educators and further directions for inquiry.

Method
The first author believed practicing mindfulness mediation, particularly focusing on gratitude and strengths, helps preservice teachers to shift their self-perceptions from negative to positive and to increase the possibilities for positive outcomes and successful changes (Wilding & Griffey, 2015).
Previous research suggests individuals must identify their strengths and use them to cope with challenges or problems and combining the use of mindfulness techniques with the strengths-based approach could support students’ agency (Wilding & Griffey, 2015).
For preservice early childhood teachers, mindfulness meditation may be shown to be effective to increase personal and professional growth when used in relationship to strengths-based approach.

Participants
This mindfulness meditation practice was implemented with 25 undergraduate students during an Introduction to Kindergarten course.
This course provided knowledge and skills to teach kindergarten children while requiring them to teach in a public elementary school.

Procedures
During a five minute session each class, the students engaged in mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation refers to “an integrative form of meditation that aims to cultivate awareness of the participants’ current experience (notably their thoughts and feelings), as well as an attitude of non-judgement towards this experience” (Lea, Cadman, & Philo, 2015, p. 53).
The students reported they had no previous experiences regarding mindfulness meditation.
The first author asked the students to pay close attention to the present moment and be aware of their emotional states, thoughts, and body sensations and to accept their awareness without judgment.
After each five minute mindfulness session, the participants were asked to reflect on their immediate bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings about themselves.
Students recorded their immediate awareness of their feeling, thoughts, and bodily sensations, as well as one thing they appreciated about themselves in their weekly journal entries.
Written documentation guided the participants to engage with their inner selves and allowed them to trace their thought processes throughout the semester.
At the end of the semester, the students had a 20 minute session to reflect on their mindfulness meditation and wrote a final reflective journal entry about how practicing mindfulness meditation influenced them.
At the end of class, the students submitted their journals to the first author.
Data analysis was conducted through constant comparative method, originally formulated by Glaser and Strauss (1967).

Findings and discussion
Mindfulness meditation guided participants toward examining their self-awareness of perceived strengths and weaknesses, increasing a sense of confidence about themselves, and thinking in new ways about their perceived areas for growth to view them as opportunities for self-improvement.
These findings are important because they provide evidence of a potential connection between the use of mindfulness meditation and self-awareness for early childhood preservice teachers.
According to Baum and King (2006), self-awareness could help preservice teachers pave the way for meaningful personal and professional growth because self-awareness and conscious efforts to reframe their weaknesses are two facets of professional growth paths.
Thus, the transference of self-awareness developed through mindfulness to other areas of growth (e.g., confidence in teaching) needs further study.
As shown in this article, one of the effective ways to help preservice teachers develop their active agency is to give opportunities for them to learn about themselves, develop their voices, and apply what they have learned about themselves including their strengths and weaknesses to their life and future classrooms.
Self-improvement and self-empowerment comes from learning about and applying their self-awareness into classrooms.
If predetermined, idealized qualities are imparted to preservice teachers, these qualities may prevent them from viewing who they are and who they could become in a dynamic, diverse, complex educational context.
Thus, teacher educators need to move away from notions of “filling” teachers or “molding” them with certain types of characteristics of effective teachers.
Instead, teacher educators need to focus on how to support preservice teachers’ self-awareness about themselves.
One example of this is for teacher educators to facilitate preservice teachers to discuss their perceived strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement in a supportive environment.
In this environment, the role of teacher educators becomes less about being a corrector of identified weakness and more about being a facilitator of areas for improvement (Ramani, Könings, Mann, & van der Vleuten, 2017).
Teacher educators need to facilitate discussions with preservice teachers to expand their new and previously unknown knowledge about themselves for their professional growth.
Teacher educators should use “effective feedback as an interpersonal communication facilitated or inhibited by the institutional culture, rather than a unidirectional top-down process” (Ramani et al., 2017, p. 1069).
This literature indicates preservice teachers can develop their self-awareness through communication with others.
Rather than ignoring weaknesses that make preservice teachers uncomfortable, teacher educators can listen to preservice teachers and offer spaces for them to talk about their feelings and emotions (Ramani et al., 2017).
If preservice teachers’ self-awareness is cultivated and valued, they may feel autonomy to develop their own teaching strategies that are authentic expressions of themselves.
Therefore, the findings of this article suggest teacher educators should not think of self-awareness as an “add-on” for their students to do during the teacher preparation programs.
Instead, self-awareness should be an integral part of teacher preparation programs to provide ongoing support to preservice teachers.
Providing continuous opportunities throughout their course work can develop preservice teachers’ self-awareness and recognition of their personal qualities to reach their potential.

References
Baum, A. C., & King, M. A. (2006). Creating a climate of self-awareness in early childhood teacher preparation programs. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(4), 217–222.
Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago, IL: Aldine.
Lea, J., Cadman, L., & Philo, C. (2015). Changing the habits of a lifetime? Mindfulness meditation and habitual geographies. Cultural Geographies, 22(1), 49–65.
Ramani, S., Könings, K., Mann, K. V., & van der Vleuten, C. (2017). Uncovering the unknown: A grounded theory study exploring the impact of self-awareness on the culture of feedback in residency education. Medical Teacher, 39(10), 1065–1073.
Wilding, L., & Griffey, S. (2015). The strength-based approach to educational psychology practice: A critique from social constructionist and systemic perspectives. Educational Psychology in Practice, 31(1), 43–55.

Updated: Nov. 03, 2020
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