When the pandemic hit last year, I decided to dedicate a little bit of class time each day to mindfulness practices. I don’t really meditate or anything, but I’m aware of the benefits that mindfulness practices can support. For me, I was mostly interested in helping my students navigate a really challenging academic year. While I’d typically be able to support them in our face-to-face class, when the classes were moved online, I adopted a series of strategies to make our Zoom classes a little warmer and more social. I wrote about some of these strategies in a post last October.
I’m excited to say that I’m back in my face-to-face classroom this fall. Sure, we’re all wearing masks and trying to social distance as best we can, but I’m excited to interact with my students outside of Zoom again. As I started preparing for my first classes a few weeks ago, I couldn’t bring myself to take the mindfulness strategies out of our classroom discussions. Initially, I thought that maybe the students wouldn’t need them anymore. We were back on campus. We were back in a face-to-face classroom. Things were (kind of) returning to normal.
But then I thought about it a little more. Maybe the students still needed a few minutes of mindfulness at the start of class? Maybe they could use five minutes of class time being present and tending to their thoughts, feelings, and experiences? So, I kept them in. Before anyone worries that I’m burning incense in my classroom or having my students contort into some downward-facing dog pose, it’s nothing like that. Most days, I simply start the class by asking my students to identify a rose, a thorn, and a bud from their life. For their rose, students need to think about the best part of their week and what they’d like to celebrate. For their thorn, students need to consider the most challenging part of their week. For their bud, students have to identify something on the horizon about which they’re excited. That’s it. A rose. A thorn. And a bud. Nothing too complicated. Nothing too groundbreaking. But it’s clear that the students find the questions beneficial. In a mid-semester reflection, one of my students wrote, “I love the rose and thorn. Reflecting really helps me be a better student.”
And that’s the point. I know this whole “rose and thorn” business may sound hokey to some of my colleagues, but my goal is to support student learning. And I’m keenly aware of the affective dimensions of learning and the power of reflection. Taking a “mindful moment” helps my students be present and reflect on their lives. It also helps me communicate to my students that I’m not there to just teach content. I’m there to teach them as people, too.
I’m sure many people hope that things return to their pre-pandemic ways soon. For me, I’ve realized that the pandemic has taught me a few things about connecting with my students that I hope I’ll remember years from now. That’s certainly one of my roses from this thorny COVID time.