How To Increase Your Mindfulness When Working with Youth

By: Pamela Nicholas-Hoff


  • Back-to-school is full of hope and promises, but how can educators stay true to these good intentions throughout the school year?
  • Mindfulness is one solution in education that helps educators and youth-serving professionals be emotionally well regulated, and respond to students with compassion.
  • Included in this blog are tips and strategies for increasing mindfulness in your work with students and youth.
Source: Adobe

For educators, the first day of school is similar to New Year’s Day, full of hope, promises and good intentions. For our students, we may commit to providing the best learning experiences, cultivating the most positive classroom climate, and responding with equanimity to others no matter the circumstances. For ourselves, we may also commit to self-care.

But similar to New Year’s resolutions, those beginning of the school year promises and resolutions are often overshadowed/overtaken by reality and the demands of our job. Students have traumatic experiences. Our classrooms are overcrowded. Schools are understaffed and have limited resources. So how do we maintain the commitments we make to ourselves and our students? Many educators are turning to mindfulness.

Importance of Mindfulness

Though not a solution to all problems, mindfulness has many well-documented benefits. Even brief mindful awareness practices have been shown to decrease stress1, and reduce implicit biases2 and discriminatory behavior3​, and increase emotional regulation4​. In addition, only eight-weeks of participating in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that included 30 to 40 minutes of daily mediation practice resulted in positive changes in areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, emotion regulation, perspective-taking, empathy, compassion, and reduced reactivity.

Interventions targeting educators show promising results. Within the classroom, results from the Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) professional development program5​ may translate into educators listening more attentively to others, maintaining more present-centered, non-judgmental acceptance and receptivity to others’ thoughts and feelings, practicing greater self-regulation (i.e., lower reactivity and lower automaticity in reaction to normative child and adolescent behavior), maintaining greater awareness of and responsiveness to others’ individual needs, and maintaining greater compassion for self and others.

Educators who possess and demonstrate the aforementioned attributes and abilities are less likely to personalize student behavior thus reducing the chance that challenging classroom situations will escalate and result in negative outcomes (for students and teachers). 

However, how do we establish and maintain a consistent mindfulness practice?

Practicing Mindfulness

People often mistakenly perceive that they do not have the time to practice. However, we make time for other types of self-care such as brushing our teeth, because we know the benefits of good oral hygiene and the adverse effects of poor oral hygiene. With this in mind, I suggest you view  your practice as a visiting guest. Prioritize and intentionally make space and time for your mindfulness practice. If possible, practice in a space where you will not be disturbed and at a time when you will not be interrupted. Practice self-compassion and patience–the mind is structured to think; therefore, distractions are inevitable.  When distractions occur, notice, and perhaps label the distraction, and return your attention to the target of your practice (e.g., the sensations of the breath).

If interested in MBSR, I invite you to visit Palouse Mindfulness which offers the complete program via an online, self-paced course at no cost. Imagine Mindfulness is another affordable, online option. The UVA Mindfulness Center also offers MBSR online.

If committing to 30 to 40 minutes of daily mindfulness practice is overwhelming, please take heart. Even a few minutes of consistent time in practice provides benefits. For example, try:

  • Breathing: Taking three deep, full, diaphragmatic breaths can calm the nervous system and provide time to respond versus react to a situation. Box breathing is another option. Inhale deeply, hold the inhaled breath, exhale completely, and hold the exhaled breath. Maintain each phase for a count of four.
  • Set an Intention: An intention acts as a navigation system that helps align our behavior and speech with our values. This practice involves identifying an intention for a given period of time (e.g., a class period, a day, etc.) and envisioning acting and speaking in a way that reflects that intention. After visualizing the intention, write and post your intention in a prominent place as a reminder of your commitment to your intention.
  • Journaling: Reflecting upon and recording your experiences (either while engaging in your mindfulness practice or at other times) is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness. You can also generate and savor gratitude and positive emotions by recalling a positive experience and focusing on the physical sensations you experienced during that positive experience.
  • Body Scan: A quick body scan helps us become aware of the way our emotions manifest physically. Being aware of the physical sensation associated with our emotions helps us better identify those emotions and respond to others with equanimity. Longer body scans are also beneficial.
  • Leverage Technology: Use apps to support your practice–as a reminder to practice and/or to facilitate your practice. If affiliated with UVA, you may have access to the premium version of Insight Timer through the UVA Contemplative Sciences Center.

As educators, we have an obligation to keep our students safe and ensure they are treated justly. Through the practice of mindfulness, we can reduce implicit racial biases, cultivate social emotional competency and assess situations with nonjudgmental awareness, curiosity, empathy, and compassion thus helping to ensure the safety and just treatment of our students.


1 Carson et al., 2005

2 Fabbro et al., 2017; Lueke & Gibson, 2015; Stell & Farsides, 2016

3 Lueke & Gibson, 2016

4 Guendelman et al., 2017

5 Jennings et al., 2017

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Pamela Nicholas-Hoff is a triple Hoo and postdoctoral research associate supporting work in Youth-Nex and the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education. Before earning her Ph.D., Pam spent 17 years teaching at the middle school level (five of those years were spent teaching at an alternative middle school serving students who were pushed out of traditional schools) and seven years teaching health and physical education teacher preparation courses. Pam is also a certified CARE facilitator and is working toward her certification to facilitate Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses. Her research focuses on using mindful- and compassion-based practices to mitigate teacher-based implicit biases, stress, and automatic responses and to eliminate exclusionary discipline disparities for historically marginalized students. In her spare time, Pam enjoys spending time with her family and reading.

Why YPAR Matters: Youth Are “Looking at the World Differently”

By: Britney, Justus & Jessica, youth from the Teen Wellness Team

This post is the 8th publication in a YPAR series, which aims to explain participatory research, youth-led measurement and evaluation approaches, and strategies for youth-adult collaborations in YPAR.


  • Through the YPAR Series, adults and youth have described what youth participatory action research is and why youth should be engaged in processes like it.
  • This post highlights themes from this series with youth voices who have participated in Youth Participatory Action Research (or YPAR) as part of a program on mental health. 
  • Britney, Jessica, and Justus talk about their experiences in YPAR, what they’ve learned, how they are looking at the world differently, and more as this series concludes.
Source: WAYS Lab

As part of the Wellness And Youth Social action (WAYS) Lab, several local high school students have been working with UVA adult researchers since March to identify a research question that addresses disparities in the youth mental health crisis. They are known as the Teen Wellness Team (TWT). Their goal is to conduct research that will shape community-based actions to promote youth mental health.

The youth team members have learned about how to conduct research, engaged in discussions about the mental health needs of young people in our community, and heard from guest speakers about different careers in health care and research. Together, the TWT has identified a research question of interest and is currently in the process of making a research plan to collect data this fall.

Dr. Irène​ P. Mathieu (an Assistant Professor of General Pediatrics and Principal Investigator of the WAYS Lab) and team sat down with three TWT members to ask about their experiences and what they want others to know about the YPAR process. These youth voices are shared by themes that have been presented throughout this YPAR series.


Unlike other ways of working with young people, YPAR centers youth as experts with their own agency in the research process.

  • Britney says, “a lot of people should be introduced to YPAR and learn more about what YPAR is.”
  • Jessica says that YPAR “…could help our community, and it would help a lot of teens.”

Benefits from YPAR

Youth benefit from engaging in participatory approaches to research and other activities.

  • Justus comments, “YPAR has made me look at the world differently. Every person I see- I wonder what they’re going through. And not just youth, but adults, too. I jotted down a lot of things in my notebook. I think about things around town, places that are out of business. We don’t have a lot of teen hangout spots. I see a building and think, ‘This could be a mental health clinic.’ I really wish that youth here would do something about it, but there’s not a lot of people that would advocate for change. We need motivation. An adult running it would bring things back to where it is now. There are a lot of places that have potential, but we need agency.”
  • Britney says, “it makes me think there are so many little things that contribute to a greater idea. It encourages me to think outside the box and consider the smaller parts contributing to one big thing.”

Learning in YPAR

A part of YPAR is breaking down the power structures so youth can learn in new and different ways and feel that adults are truly listening to them.

  • Britney says being in a YPAR group “…changed how I think of people around me, and if people have bad attitudes or don’t look the best, maybe they had a bad day. It makes me think that we don’t know what’s going on with people. This group talking about confidential stuff, it makes me feel like I’m not alone talking about mental health. We just need a safe place to talk about this and deal with it together.”
  • Justus says she’s changed by “being in the group and us talking about mental health and how to help the community. I think about people around me and wonder what they’re thinking or feeling. I normally don’t think like that.”

Advice after YPAR

Any adult working with youth can use YPAR strategies to think about the collaboration process.

  • Britney says, “I think adults should know that this research is basically a bubble where people can have a safe place to talk about issues and give their opinions on stuff that matters to them. I think it’s a great opportunity for students and teenagers to be able to experience how to do research and how to just be more creative. And it just opens up their mind and makes them think more regarding issues around them and issues locally. Makes them think not only about themselves but people around them and how these issues affect their communities. They should know that this is great for their child or students if they’re interested.”
  • Justus says if another student is interested in YPAR to “maybe just go for it. Don’t be nervous going into it. It’s not only a life thing, be comfortable to say your opinion. Be yourself and don’t be nervous being around new people. Have an open mind.”

YPAR Research Experiences

YPAR provides experiences for youth in research that may include understanding their community and forming questions they can test. 

  • Jessica says that sometimes parts of the research process were “hard. It’s hard to think of how to make up a question based on the topic or how to make the question related to the topic.”
  • Britney says, “it has been a long process to choose a perfect question. It surprised me that so much has to be done to even start a research question. But I think it will turn out great. [I started to] notice that there are small things that we have to be attentive to.”

Reflections on YPAR

Other youth who have participated in YPAR also shared their reflections in this series.

  • Justus says, “at first it was nerve-wracking because I’m not the type of person to really talk to people let alone talk about my feelings or opinions. Being in this group has helped me come out of my shell and not only see and hear other people’s opinions. Being in this group is cool.”
  • Britney says “YPAR made me think more about the connections to everything. Usually, we think about a general idea rather than the little parts that tie the idea. YPAR has helped me think even greater outside the box and think of those little parts that tie the idea together.”

Missed a post in the YPAR series? Check out all the tips and resources:

  1. The Benefits of Engaging in Participatory Approaches to Research
  2. Why Young Investigators Are Important
  3. Youth Voices in YPAR (includes youth)
  4. Strategies for the YPAR Collaboration Process (includes downloadable resources)
  5. How Can Youth Voice Amplify Research? Listening & Leadership Are Key
  6. 4 Universal Facilitation Tips for YPAR Collaboration
  7. Asset & Power Mapping as Tools for Youth-Led Research (includes downloadable resources)
  8. Why YPAR Matters: Youth Are “Looking at the World Differently” (includes youth)

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Justus is a recent 2023 graduate of Charlottesville High School (CHS). She was a student in the CATEC EMT program, and is a current member of the TWT. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, traveling, listening to music, and learning new languages. She is open minded and understanding.

Author Bio: Britney is a freshman at James Madison University and majoring in psychology. She is involved in mental health research as a member of the Teen Wellness Team to find resources to help my community.


Author Bio: Jessica is currently attending Charlottesville High School and attended CAYIP last summer. She likes to get involved in programs that offer new experiences. Jessica is also a member of Teen Wellness Team. She loves to spend time with family, painting, listening to music, and organizing.

Youth Voices from the Pass the Mic Series

By: Wintre Foxworth Johnson


  • In fall 2022, Youth-Nex hosted their 8th conference entitled Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency, co-chaired by Drs. Wintre Foxworth Johnson and Nancy Deutsch.
  • In this Pass the Mic blog series, we highlighted each of the sessions from the conference and included youth voices to summarize and reflect on what was discussed.
  • For this conclusion blog, co-chair Dr. Johnson highlights the key advice and thoughts from the youth who participated in the series and summarized the conference panel discussions.
Source: Youth-Nex

Throughout the Pass the Mic blog series and Youth-Nex’s 8th conference, we heard from young people who are actively working to amplify their peers’ voices within and across the systems that shape and inform their lives. Youth are the present as much as they are the future, and we need their ideas! I have been inspired reading the posts in this series and wanted to feature their voices once more as we take a comprehensive look across their blogs.

Youth Voices in Shaping Systems

Zaharra, a 13-year-old conference panelist, reflected on what was shared about social and justice systems. She wrote about adults that “break out a box” (i.e., the criminal legal system) that should not be there for youth. She says, “By taking a risk [Andy Block] changed the system and helped to save lives; this is what educators and other people should be doing when building relationships… [with young people].”

Maya, a 2nd year at UVA and conference volunteer, summarized the panel talking about youth empowerment in schools. She declares,

“Students’ voices should and need to be not only heard, but also given genuine space during the school decision making process.”

She summarized panelists’ suggestions about how teachers and administrators can support and empower youth voices in schools. Maya also took over the Youth-Nex Instagram handle (see profile highlights) to share more videos about her blog!

Kiara, a senior in high school and conference panelist, reflected on the panel about health and well-being. She states, “Giving youth the opportunity to speak to someone about the things that they see every day could be the first step to healing childhood trauma (that they would have to tackle one day in their adulthood).” She felt inspired hearing from other youth about how they feel they can advocate for not only themselves, but their families as well.

Isabel, a 1st year at UVA and conference panelist, summarized the session about politics, organizing, and civic engagement. She asserts,

“a young Black person cannot speak up in the same ways that a young White person can speak up, so it is important to teach Black and Brown youth to be an advocate in their own way and not force them to emulate the actions of young White activists.”

Isabel highlighted important takeaways about empowering youth voices, engagement, activism, and education. She also took over the Youth-Nex Instagram handle (see profile highlights) to share more videos about her blog!

Liz, a 16-year-old conference panelist, shares more about youth programs that elevates voice and agency. She writes, “Young people should be uplifted by those around them, especially our mentors because they are considered the ‘knowers.’ Mentors and other adults should affirm youth and help us to feel like we are actually heard.” She also shares more about her personal experiences in a youth program that works to amplify her voice.

Pass the Mic

The goal of the convening was for everyone to approach the issues affecting youth with new eyes because they are complex and require all our experiences, expertise, and ideas. We want adults to not only see, but also engage, youth as true partners in working for change!

So as we conclude this Pass the Mic blog series, please take with you the thoughts and advice from the young people who were essential to the conference as you continue to “pass the mic”!

Did you miss one of our six sessions from the Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency conference? Go back and watch these panels with youth voices, and read the summaries, primarily written by the youth participants, on the following topics:

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Dr. Wintre Foxworth Johnson’s scholarship lies at the nexus of sociocultural literacy studies, critical race scholarship, and critical pedagogies for and with young children. Her research has two primary aims: to examine the relationship between literacy teaching and learning in race-conscious and social justice-oriented elementary educational contexts; to investigate the sociopolitical development of children from historically marginalized communities, with a particular focus on Black children’s educational experiences, racial awareness, and experiential knowledge.