In Conversation with Shelley Murphy

Blog Post created by teachontario.team on Jul 3, 2020


Shelley Murphy has authored a book titled “Fostering Mindfulness: Building Skills That Students Need to Manage Their Attention, Emotions, and Behavior in Classrooms and Beyond.” Published by Pembroke Publishers, the book provides readers with an essential guide to mindfulness activities and practices that help students develop the skills they need for self-regulation, stress management, learning and more.


Here is TVO TeachOntario In Conversation with Shelley Murphy


1) What is mindfulness and how does it work for children?


Mindfulness is a disposition or trait and it’s a practice. As a trait, it’s the quality of presence we bring to our experience in the moment. It turns out, though, that our ability to focus on what’s happening in the moment is not very good. This is where the practice of mindfulness can help. We get better at being mindful when we purposely practice every day. We can think of it as a skill that can be strengthened over time, much like strength training for our brains. Children, like adults, can learn to become more aware of their internal and external experiences. They can learn to better manage their attention, emotions and responses, and be more compassionate and kind towards themselves and others through mindfulness-based activities.


2) It seems that educators are becoming increasingly interested in implementing ways to foster mindfulness in the classroom. Why do you think this is?


I think interest in fostering mindfulness in classroom settings has grown because there’s now a depth and breadth of research showing the benefits of mindfulness for strengthening habits of mind central to learning, emotion regulation and well-being. Teachers are concerned about rising levels of stress and anxiety that seem to be pervasive amongst students. When students are in a heightened state of stress, the part of their brain that is necessary for thinking, reasoning, emotion regulation, and learning is less readily available to them. Teachers want to provide children with opportunities to cultivate the skills they need to manage their stress and meet each moment of their school day and beyond with greater awareness, attention and resilience. Mindfulness helps them do that.


3) For educators thinking about bringing mindfulness into the classroom, where should they start?


I believe it is important for teachers to begin with a personal mindfulness practice before introducing it to their students. I often get asked: “what is the most powerful mindfulness strategy for the classroom?” My answer is always: “your own practice”. Even if teachers never introduce mindfulness to their students, if they commit to their own practice, there is almost always a positive ripple effect in the classroom. Furthermore, findings from my experience in the field and my own research align with the wider body of studies that have found when teachers practice mindfulness, they have decreased levels of stress, improved relationships with students, and greater resilience.

If educators are interested in taking the next step of introducing mindfulness to their students, activities and practices should align with current scientific understanding and be offered in trauma sensitive ways. By doing so, mindfulness will be designed to support the safety and stability of their students.


4) What do you think the role of mindfulness is in contributing to equitable and just environments both within our schools and within wider communities?


Emerging research shows that mindfulness can reduce prejudice, implicit bias and biased behaviours. It can also help us respond with more empathy, compassion and awareness of our interconnectedness. While a growing body of research shows the benefits of mindfulness for improving students’ social, emotional and cognitive development and well-being, it is important to understand the larger frame around the social conditions that influence these. Mindfulness helps to teach skills and competencies so that students are better able to manage what is challenging them. However, it should not be understood as a way for students to more easily accept experiences of racism, discrimination, oppression, marginalization, etc.


For educators who are interested in bringing mindfulness into their classrooms, it is important that it’s integrated into a culturally responsive and antiracist approach to teaching. My hope is that mindfulness would be offered in tandem with a commitment to teaching about, responding to, and taking action toward access, equity, and social justice in school systems and beyond.



More about our guest on In Conversation with ...


Shelley Murphy, PhD is a lecturer and researcher at OISE/University of Toronto. She teaches graduate courses in Special Education, Mental Health, and Mindfulness in Education in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning. She is a former elementary teacher and has been a mindfulness practitioner and educator for over 20 years. She has extensive training in the science and practice of trauma-sensitive mindfulness. Her research interests include teacher education, wellbeing, and mindfulness in education settings. Shelley is the recipient of A Mindful Society’s 2019 Michele Chaban Spirit of Leadership Award for her work and research in the field.


Click here for a link to Shelley Murphy's page at the University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.



Continue Your Learning


Click here for a link to Shelley Murphy's website Fostering Mindfulness.


Click here to order or for more information on “Fostering Mindfulness: Building Skills That Students Need to Manage Their Attention, Emotions, and Behavior in Classrooms and Beyond.” from Pembrooke Publishers