Mindfulness in Education: The 4th Annual GWATFL Fall Fest

On November 4, 2017, I had the honor to participate at the GWATFL (Greater Washington Association of  Teachers of Foreign Languages) Fall Fest in Washington, D.C. with a session on Mindfulness in Education. I was delighted to see so many enthusiastic educators, including my former professor and long-time mentor, Dr. Margaret Ann Kassen, embrace the power of Mindfulness. By taking the time to practice loving kindness towards ourselves and others, we can transform education, one student at a time.  Thank you, all, for your support. I’m looking forward to our next event!

Here are a few images of the event and the materials.

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Creativity Seminar in Bayamo, Cuba

Cuba 2017

Dr. Monica Mulholland, Ph.D., ESL professor at the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute, National Capital Region, had the honor to spend the week of July 24-28 in Bayamo, Cuba facilitating a seminar on Creativity and Multiple Intelligences in collaboration with Dr. Ana Lado, Ph.D., Applied Linguistics professor at Marymount University. The video below features snapshots of the seminar, in which the participants engaged in group-work to debate, role-play, and use body-language and art to express themselves in the target language. It was a most rewarding and inspiring experience of intercultural exchange in the context of the “Escuelas de verano para educadores” (Summer School for teachers) carried out in several Cuban cities every year both in English and in Spanish. The creativity workshop was attended by more than thirty enthusiastic English instructors and advanced students from the Granma province.

Mindfulness Practice to Enhance Well-Being and Learning by Monica Mulholland, Ph.D.

Published in the VATESOL Summer 2017 Newsletter, Vol. 20, Issue 2.


Can we carve 5 minutes out of our class to invite our students to sit still focusing on their breathing? Most educators in today’s hectic world would most likely think they can’t, but giving this practice a try might be worth it, and even transformative. The information gathered from several schools in the United States shows that this approach known as mindfulness certainly pays off. According to Siegel (2007), attending to the richness of our here-and-now experiences creates scientifically recognized enhancements in our physiology, our mental functions, and our interpersonal relationships.  Within this framework, the purpose of this essay is to provide an overview of the field of mindfulness by focusing on its definition and origin, and featuring an example of its application in an Intensive English Program in the United States.

What mindfulness means

Mindful Schools, a nonprofit training organization dedicated to the exploration of mindfulness, describes this concept as a state, a trait or a practice. We can have a moment of mindfulness (state) but also have a general ‘set-point’ of mindfulness (trait). Additionally, we can do intentional formal practice of mindfulness using different postures and activities such as seating mindfulness, mindful walking, and mindful eating. During formal practice, mindfulness is said to be simple but not easy. It is simple in that the only thing it requires from us is to be attentive. In seating mindfulness, for instance, we are encouraged to set aside some time of our day to intentionally focus awareness on the present moment. This can become complex because, as soon as we set out on this endeavor, we realize our mind starts to wander into the past and into the future. This is completely natural and, therefore, to be expected as our brain is wired to do exactly that. However, by gently bringing our thoughts back to the here and now over and over again, we give our mind a much-needed break that frequently results in feeling vibrant, alive, and at peace. The cultivation of this practice enhances reflection and compassion towards ourselves and others because mindfulness means being aware, being conscientious, with kindness and love.

The origins of mindfulness

Mindfulness has attracted a lot of buzz lately. Nevertheless, it is not a new fad. Although it is usually associated with Buddhism, Siegel (2007) wisely points out that direct experience in the present moment is a fundamental part of Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, and Taoist teaching. Therefore, mindful awareness has a long tradition in the history of religion and contemplative practices. At the same time, mindfulness as is defined in the scope of this article is completely secular.

In the 1970’s, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, developed a mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) for adults with certain clinical conditions that is still used today. The program consists of an eight-week course that teaches participants how to regulate pain, anxiety, and chronic pain, among other physically and psychologically intense situations. Almost five decades of research have led Kabat-Zinn (2012) to conclude that the practice of mindfulness holds the possibility of not just a fleeting sense of contentment, but a true embracing of a deeper unity that envelops and permeates our lives.

English language learners experience mindfulness

English language learners in the United States often face multiple challenges that test their ability to cope with stress and build resilience. Mindfulness practice can certainly be instrumental in this scenario. Just as an example, in the classes I teach for the Intensive English Program in the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute (VTLCI), National Capital Region, I have offered a mindfulness-based approach over the last several months. This has taken on different forms depending on the course and the needs of the students. For instance, during the fall of 2017, VTLCI featured an 8-week elective class that focused on mindfulness and brain-friendly strategies for improved learning. Upon the completion of the course, the participating students shared reflections like these:

“At the end of the journey, I feel reenergized and with positive thoughts. In fact, my childhood dreams have come back to my busy mind. The young kid who spent all his early life dreaming is now playing in front of my eyes. As a result, I am thinking about taking a sabbatical to restore my dreams. This mindfulness journey is the break I should have taken before” (Wael).

“After this course, I feel lucky for the opportunity to learn, and I feel passionate about learning more. This course has inspired me to try new, relaxing ways of learning and experiencing new knowledge” (Sultan).

“I really liked this class because it taught me how to be alert and focused. My classmates were very friendly; we shared our feelings, opened our hearts to each other, and released anxiety by letting off the steam. The relaxation part was the most exciting part to me because we learned how to calm our mind and keep a clear head. Mindfulness is a very interesting subject that everyone should be aware of in order to be content and focused” (Majed).

A 5 minute guided seating meditation

MarcoPhoto courtesy of Sergio Guerrero

Guided seating meditation exercises can vary in terms of allotted time and the specific task the students are invited to do. The following description simply prompts the posture that most likely enables the student to focus on breathing for 5 minutes. The script reads like this: “Let your chair support you; allow your eyes to close; take a deep breath through your nose and gradually let the air out through your nose; make sure your feet press firmly on the ground and your back is straight but comfortable; your arms can relax alongside the body or with hands resting easily in your lap. In this position, you are going to spend five minutes paying attention to your breath as it goes in and out of your body. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. Finally, when you hear three chimes, allow your eyes to open slowly.” For more detailed guided meditation exercises, see Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness for Beginners (2012), and many other resources readily available online.


As an educator with over thirty years of experience in Argentina and the United States combined, I have often encountered among my students cases of apathy, anxiety, and depression, which often result in school drop-outs or even more serious outcomes. Consequently, I consider it my duty to introduce tools the learners can use to connect with themselves and others more deeply and, perhaps, achieve greater emotional balance. Over the last couple of years, in the field of mindfulness I have found multiple resources based on the most current scientific research to make this task more effective and rewarding. Ultimately, and regardless of our subject area, mindfulness can transform our approach to teaching. It is not a “quick fix” to make everything around us look rosy. Rather, it is a tool that develops self-awareness and awareness of those around us through the power of observation. Mindfulness practice, just like physical exercise, builds strength, flexibility and endurance, all of which is necessary to face life’s challenges, be they academic or otherwise. Mindfulness can be a gift that we humbly offer our students and that may touch their lives in powerful ways.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2000). Cultivating Positive Emotions to Optimize Health and Well-Being. Prevention and Treatment, 3.

Harrison, Paul. The Mindfulness Movie: How You See Can Change Your Life. Fargo, ND: Media Productions, 2013. DVD.

Jennings, P. (2015). Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012). Mindfulness for Beginners. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.

Siegel, D. (2007). The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

 About the author

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Mines

Dr. Monica Mulholland is an ESL instructor at the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute, National Capital Region. She holds a Ph.D. in Spanish Literature, a Master’s degree in Foreign Languages and a Graduate Certificate in TESOL. Dr. Mulholland is also a free-lance educational consultant. She can be reached at mdmulholl@gmail.com and www.monicamulholland.com



Mindfulness Workshop for Language Teachers

Leading a workshop with Washington D.C. language teachers was a true honor and an enriching learning experience. Thank you, GWATFL (Greater Washington Association of Teachers of Foreign Languages), for inviting me to your 2017 Spring Conference. The venue was inspiring and the participants a joy to be with.  I appreciate all the effort you put into making the conference possible. Looking forward to the next event!


Multiple Intelligences: The Theory behind the Myths

I wrote this article in July 2001, and it was published by “The Buenos Aires Herald”, a non academic paper. The topic is still relevant, and, as a matter of fact, it isn’t nearly as exploited as it should be for the benefit of all.

During most of the twentieth century, psychologists’ ideas about intelligence derived from statistical analysis of short-answer tests, which considered intelligence as being only one: “g” or general intelligence. Using these instruments and analysis, psychologists considered a person intelligent or not on the basis of his or her ability to solve logical-mathematical, linguistic and some spatial problems. In “Frames of Mind” (1983) and in “Multiple Intelligences, the Theory in Practice” (1993), Howard Gardner argues that using these instruments and methods does not adequately capture human problem-solving capabilities. Instead, he defines intelligence as the ability to solve problems in real-life contexts, or to create something of value for the community. He then coins the term Multiple Intelligences (MI), which draws from psychology, neurology, biology, sociology, anthropology, the arts and humanities, to identify eight intelligences (originally seven as the naturalist intelligence was added a few years later). To the three skills originally occupying the rank of “intelligence”, Gardner adds musical, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, interpersonal and naturalist.

It may be helpful to clear up some common misconceptions with regard to MI: the first one is the confusion between an intelligence and a domain of knowledge or discipline. In Gardner’s perspective, an intelligence is a biological and psychological potential: a capacity that resides in each person. A domain or discipline is an arena or body of knowledge that gives people the opportunity to use their intelligence in different ways and in which varying degrees of expertise can be developed. Examples of disciplines or domains in our culture are mathematics, medicine, gardening, engineering, sports. Carrying out work in a domain requires a person to use several different intelligences. For instance, gardening requires naturalist, bodily-kinesthetic and spatial intelligences. Similarly, each intelligence can be used in a variety of domains. Just as an example, linguistic ability can be used in writing, reading, acting, teaching, journalism and public speaking among other areas or domains.

Another source of misunderstanding is the equation of multiple intelligences with learning styles. Learning styles refer to the different approaches that individuals take when trying to make sense of diverse kinds of content. Typically, a learning style is thought to cut across all content areas. So, if a person is a kinesthetic or tactile learner, she will learn best when learning new material –whether history or cooking- by using her hands or sense of touch. In contrast, the intelligences represent potentials or capacities that are linked to neurological functions and structures and that respond to particular content in the world. One thing is to demonstrate a good memory or ability to remember what one has heard or listened to (auditory learner) and quite another thing is to have the ability to appreciate, play or compose music (musical intelligence).

Moreover, traditional conceptions of intelligence hold that intelligence remains the same in all situations. That is to say, one’s intelligence does not change, whether one is solving a math problem, learning how to ski, or finding one’s way around a new city. Modern conceptions point out that the thinking and learning required outside of school are often situated and contextualized. Most intellectual work does not occur in isolation: when people work in different kinds of settings, their abilities to solve problems differ. Apart from traditional test settings, problem solving is usually tied to certain goals and tasks and often aided by other people and an assortment of tools and resources.

At first glance, MI appears to be just a repetition of many other educational philosophies and approaches such as educating the “whole child”, “project-based learning”, an “interdisciplinary curriculum”, and so on. But this leads to the question of whether adopting the theory simply becomes a new label to describe existing practices and beliefs. Although MI may sometimes serve this purpose, it can also provide a theoretical foundation and validation for teachers’ beliefs and practices, deepening and extending them to new domains. The theory can become a framework for thinking about the students we teach and how to teach them, helping teachers become more reflective and explicit about the pedagogical choices they make. As with any other theory, people may initially use MI in superficial ways, and some may continue to do so for years. But if educational goals and criteria for reaching those goals can be articulated, then MI can become an ally to rigorous learning. In all cases, it is useful to bear in mind that MI does not prescribe any particular approach or activities. It is not a technique; it is certainly not about labeling students. It is much deeper and safer than that. It is a “mind set” ensured both by the sound knowledge of the theory and a caring attitude towards learning.

In the view of many educators, authors and researchers, the Multiple Intelligences Theory enriches education in so far as it incorporates aspects of real life that are not always included. Thus, an MI-oriented educational environment strives to allow each and every student thrive and express himself or herself in a plethora of ways for the benefit of the entire society.


Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: BasicBooks.

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: BasicBooks.