Find Your Flashlight – Illuminating Mindfulness
Just how many times a day do teachers work to capture students’ attention? How do teachers know when students are paying attention?
On the March 21, 2022, recording of her Dare to Lead podcast, Brené Brown, talked to Dr. Amishi Jha about attention, focus, alertness, and executive control. According to her Amazon.com bio:
Dr. Amishi P. Jha is professor of psychology at the University of Miami. She serves as the Director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, which she co-founded in 2010. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California–Davis and postdoctoral training at the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center at Duke University. Dr. Jha’s work has been featured at NATO, the World Economic Forum, and The Pentagon. She has received coverage for The New York Times, NPR, TIME, Forbes and more.
Neuroscience expert, Dr. David Sousa defines student engagement as the “amount of attention, interest, curiosity, and positive emotional connections that students have when they are learning, whether in the classroom or on their own” (2016, p.17). In his Learning Sciences International blog entry, Michael Toth outlines five student-driven engagement strategies as: time for active collaboration, student roles and responsibilities, structures for student ownership, student engagement monitoring, and rigor of academic tasks (2021). Dr. Jha explained that attention is the umbrella and describes the brain’s ability to prioritize information. Teachers certainly ask students to prioritize information, what might happen if students learned to self-assess their engagement and think about how they think?
Dr. Jha used a flashlight as an analogy for focus. We can intentionally shine our attention where we want to prioritize our attention (at the same time, a loud sound can swing our attention away from our focus). Focus is about privileging some information by paying a higher quality of attention on where we want our focus to be. Our flashlight is finite, we only have one, but it can shine internally or externally. An example is when asked a question about something that happened the previous day, our flashlights focus internally to shift through the information for recall. The crux is what we pay attention to is how we remember – attention is limited, but it gets fully utilized at any moment. Attention is necessary for cognitive functioning, feeling, connection, and performance.
Mindfulness is noticing what our flashlight is focusing on without judgment – simply notice. Many mindfulness practices start with focusing on breath. In this case, it would be shining your flashlight on your breathing. Your mind will wonder! Jha says “the brain is built for distractibility and mental meandering” (2022). Being mindful is simply to notice the wander and recognize that you have found your flashlight. Win, win! Attention “kryptonite” is stress, overwhelm, threat, and negative mood. Jha shared that practicing mindfulness for 12 minutes a day is the one thing that keeps attention from being compromised.
You can listen to the whole podcast here:
Dr. Jha also has a TEDTalk:
Sousa, D. A. (2016). Engaging the rewired brain. Learning Sciences International.
Toth, M. D. (March 17, 2021) Why student engagement is important in a post-COVID world and 5 strategies to improve it. Learning Sciences International. Retrieved from https://www.learningsciences.com/blog/why-is-student-engagement-important/