At first they were resistant. Ask a sixth grader to do something, and they might put up a fight. Ask them to sit there and do nothing, and they’ll look at you like you’ve lost your mind.

I tried all of the different methods of coercion: reasoning, scientific research, videos of meditation in the NBA. Finally, they started settling in. When I tried to read a script and guide them through the meditations myself, they giggled and accused me of using my “hippie voice," so we turned to Smiling Mind, an app that has free guided meditation programs broken down by age group and designed specifically for the classroom. My students decided that the guy’s cool Australian accent was much more soothing than mine (and I didn’t mind, because it meant I got to meditate right along with them!)

We began this regular meditation practice in all of my middle school classes three years ago. For five minutes or so at the beginning of every other class, we dim the lights, find a comfortable seat, and just unwind for a bit. The shift in the classroom dynamics could almost be felt immediately, and over the years, my students and I have become more focused, centered, and engaged.

This year’s eighth graders are now in their third year of a regular meditation practice, so when it came time to write a column about how meditation has benefitted my students, I figured I should just go ahead and ask them. Rather than share their thoughts only with me, I had them use our class’s online discussion board, and their responses—as well as the corresponding ‘likes’ they received from each other—confirmed what I already knew; this seemingly small shift had become one of the most important of my teaching career.

Here’s what they had to say:

"When I’m feeling stressed out, meditation helps me calm down, take a step back, and look at the situation with more perspective." -Christine

"The benefits of meditation is that you can get super calm, you won’t get angry, you will calm down and you will forgive people, and lastly, you will be more creative." -Leo

"It’s a way to get out of technology, social media, etc. Some time to spend with yourself." -Rachel

"To me, meditation is an escape from the world and I can focus on me instead of things that are worrying me." -Elena

Not only have they become more self-aware, but they’ve also become advocates for themselves, requesting meditation on days when they have big tests or presentations in other classes. I feel confident in knowing that they now have a healthy coping skill they can use even after they leave my classroom at the end of the year. In fact, as they were scrolling through each other’s comments and thoughts, one of them shut his laptop, turned to the rest of us and said, “Maybe we should give this to the high school principal. I hear they don’t have meditation up there, and I think we’re going to need it.”

For ideas on getting meditation into your class, check out How Can I Keep My Cool?