Over this past year of remote teaching, I have taken a series of classes on mindfulness focused on both the personal practice and on the application of mindfulness to teaching. Mindful Schools offers a powerfully comprehensive credential that has given me the chance to reflect on this new world of distance learning and to meet my students in more meaningful ways.
Each week, we explore a deeper dimension of mindful practice through formal mediation, informal sensory tracking and through reflection on how these practices impact our work with students.
What follows is a teacher’s tale of survival in the virtual classroom shared with the intention of cultivating greater consciousness and the hope of better serving her students.
First, some context on my teaching practice before a story that delights me and more importantly helped one of my students make a significant shift in these last few weeks of an intense school year.
My students and I are completing our first full year of remote instruction. I work 1:1 facilitating structured literacy for 15 students (grades 3-5) within a project based STEM curriculum.
Currently, my students are working on completing a capstone project. Our focus together has been on the creative writing process-- something I enjoy and am very passionate about.
While some of them are ready for this level of work, I can sense a low-grade burnout for most of them. This week, while working with an exceptionally bright, curious, and hilarious 3rd grader (who struggles through big bouts of perfectionism), I noticed that his energy level was much lower than usual. He is usually engaged, but seemed very distracted and disinterested.
I paused to feel my own momentary feeling of frustration and tightness in my shoulders (accompanied with thoughts along the lines of: "Come on, dude! We've got 3 more weeks for you to get this done. You're so capable of this. Just power through.") Taking some mindful breaths to note this line of thought as my own agenda, I stood up (bless you inventor of the standing desk) and grounded myself for a few breaths, allowing us to hover in this space.
I reflected back to him what I was seeing and sensing. I contrasted this observation to the engagement he usually brings. I asked him what was happening to cause this shift and what we could do to help him find his usual spark. He was stunned.
His face brightened. "You are literally the first teacher to notice this all week!" he exclaimed. "I'm tired and I can't focus because what if the other kids think my project is stupid? Or worse what if I think it's terrible? I don't want them to tease me like the kids at my last school did. It makes me not even want to try."
So unfolded a meaningful and layered conversation about how these fears and perceptions were blocking him from engaging with writing at the level he is ready for.
We didn't get through everything I had planned for him, but we did unpack a lot of emotions and thoughts that were blocking him from be willing to try. We were also able to build a deeper connection that bolstered his confidence and rejuvenated his energy level during our time together. He seemed willing to try the work independently and return with it next week.
Sure enough, the following week he had created a brainstorm with some winning ideas that went on to become a brilliant story unlike anything I've ever read.
Embodiment and attunement for the win.