Reposted for the benefit of your students and your own well-being: The eight-week mindfulness course I completed over the summer had several components, which made it an effective and transformative experience.
One, the guided meditations, led by the strong, but gentle voice of our facilitator, proved invaluable to me. It helped create a psychological anchor; one which I can always return to as I continue to develop a personal meditation practice.
Two, the MBSR CDs, (mindfulness based stress reduction) which we received as part of the course, mirror the class work and are the cornerstones of the home training I do now. They tie me back to the mental accomplishments achieved in the eight-week course. There is a third component of my mindfulness training experience, which may be overlooked for its perceived value. It is one which classroom teachers often forget, or tend to keep low on the educational priority list. That third component and the focus of this blog is mindful feedback.
Making space for students to voice their experiences and to share their perceptions can become a powerful form of feedback. Getting feedback can help to inform and inspire the teacher, the other students in the room, and the person who summoned the courage to share out loud.
My mindfulness teacher, Janet Curry, made a safe environment for reflecting out loud. She often spoke freely about her own challenges and triumphs, feelings, and perceptions. This encouraged others to open up, trust, and to share their stories. The experiences of real people who ran the gamut of stress related issues helped inspire me, and allowed my own internal struggles to feel less foreign, and thus easier to address.
In academic teaching, and in the instruction of meditation, allow space for students to voice their experiences. We can easily get caught up in the production of quality work and achieving high-test scores, that we might not always save time to share out. Both in my MBSR course and in the mindfulness class I teach in middle school, sharing reflections has helped to validate individual’s experiences, normalize often-secret struggles, allow for a human connection, and give inspiration to not give up.
I began to check in with students during the first week of class, but everyone was hesitant. I tried my best to keep up with the habit of checking in, simply chiming the group out of meditation, waiting a minute, and then asking, “What did you just experience, would anyone like to share?” This was often met with silence. A silent response is a fine answer, because it leaves space for everyone to reflect on their observations, and sometimes to realize the helpful effects a few minutes of sitting still can have. I continued with the practice and remained ready to welcome any voice that chose to break the silence.
One student, a very quiet young lady, broke the silence one day to say,
“When I do mindfulness before bed it helps me sleep, because I usually have trouble sleeping. I’m up to four minutes of practice now.”
“Wow!” was my response, “thanks for sharing. I’m inspired by your nightly practice.”
An eighth grade student, one who dons his football jersey just about every Friday before a game let me know that, “I do it and my legs don’t get tired in practice. I see the ocean, the waves going in and out, whenever I concentrate on my breathing and close my eyes. It makes me feel light when I play.”
“Thank you,” was my reply, “it sounds like mindfulness might help me in Judo matches.”
And just recently a sixth grader let me know that, “My mom and my sister actually do mindfulness and I never knew what it was until now.”
“Very cool, would you guys ever consider meditating together at home?” I asked.
She giggled loudly at my inquiry, but that was answer enough for me. Sharing out and asking for feedback in a no pressure environment allows for validation, connection, normalization, and inspiration. It’s such an obvious step in any educational environment that it’s easy to dismiss as unnecessary. Feedback is essential, in your student’s practices as well as in your own. Create the space and be ready to be amazed.
Thank you for reading and for sharing. Stay tuned for part 4 of creating a mindful classroom.
Nicholas Philliou, 7th grade humanities teacher in Durango, Colorado