Joining in

Little rituals help me start class. I’m always nervous to start, and the rituals ground me until my nerves calm. I walk into the classroom with a smile, and say “Hi folks! How’s everyone doing?” I turn on the projector, and I open the websites we’ll need for class. I go over the day’s learning goals—text that I can read word-for-word as I transition to a more improvisational, conversational style that I prefer, but that is hard to adopt when I’m nervous.

Over the last few years, I’ve added to these rituals by incorporating specific mindfulness practices into the classroom. If I need little rituals to get started, some students might, too. I unpack some of these in another blog. It’s taken time to develop mindfulness practices that tie into the scientific content of my courses. I’ve learned to invite folks in, but also explain that they don’t have to participate. In a paleontology course, the opening ritual has become sharing a photo of a really cool fossil, and to have students share observations and questions about that fossil.

Simple drawing of people sitting around a table.I’ve begun to add a rituals to end class, too, bringing ideas together to reflect on and celebrate what we’ve learned. Now, across all my courses, I like to conclude by asking students to share on a Padlet “what did you appreciate about today’s class?”—a prompt that I picked up from my colleague and performance arts professor Anida Y Ali. This question ends class on a high note, acknowledging that, while some of our work might have been challenging, we can recognize what we have gained from the challenge.

In my last class, though, the “what did you appreciate?” wasn’t working. Usually only about a third of the class responded. I went through my mental checklist of ways to set up the activity: I ensured that they had enough time, I shared the Padlet on the projector screen, I explained why their feedback was helpful to me. And then I realized what was missing. I hadn’t been participating in the mindfulness exercise. This question is an exchange of ideas, but I hadn’t been exchanging. Mindfulness with a group requires reciprocity, trust, and respect. I began to make a concerted effort to, once again, tell students what I appreciated about working with them, writing my ideas in Padlet, too. “I appreciated your willingness to help each other learn statistics.” “I appreciated that you spent time revising your work.” “I appreciated that you completed so many different activities today.” “I appreciate the care with which you completed your peer reviews.” “I appreciate the questions you asked.” “I appreciate the feedback you gave me.”

Once I started participating fully, more students joined in. My participation has got to be part of the ritual.

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