In the past couple of years, I’ve tried to embrace mindfulness more frequently in my life. I tend to be on the go a lot, and have multiple to-do lists and things going on at any one time; I do a lot of different things, and when you teach, this is just the way of things. Even without anything else taken into account, on an average day I could go from teaching a background to Latin American independence, to reviewing US history content, to leading a discussion on the Middle East.
You can probably guess where this is going, right?
This school year, I took one particular step to help me move towards a more mindful approach to my school day: closing my classroom door. Let me explain…
Last year, I started to realize how frequently I was…not my best self at the start of class periods. It wasn’t that I disliked teaching or the students – it was that I was trying to do too much. The transitional moments between class periods were stressing me out, whether that was the half-hour before the school day started, or the 5- or 10-minute passing period between classes.
For several years, I’d tried to have students leave their phones in a basket at the door when they entered, hoping that if they came in before class started, people would have conversations, engage with one another (with me…). But on this angle, sometimes things slipped by: if I didn’t remind someone as they entered, the phone would come out. Or students would bury themselves in their laptops, trying to carve out a few moments for themselves. I’d run to the restroom, and come back to find a gaggle of people all looking at their devices.
Or, in more stressful mode – I’d get half a dozen students clamoring for something as soon as they entered the room. They didn’t stop to see what was going on; they didn’t pause to read the room – they stormed in and needed something from me, and I didn’t always handle that well.
Late last year, I remembered a strategy I’d heard about years earlier: meeting students at the door. I made that one of my goals for this school year, and it’s made such a difference.
I’ve set the expectation with each of my classes that I will welcome them into the classroom when I come and open the door. I ask them to remain in the hallway (or gather in other areas) prior to that time.
Then, when it’s time for class to begin, I open the door, greet my students, and everyone enters.
It’s so simple, but it makes such a difference.
I tell my students that this ensures I’m ready for them and I’m my best self in that moment: by inviting my students to enter, I place myself in the moment, being more thoughtfully ready for the learning we’re about to engage in together. This doesn’t mean I’m never stressed, but I find I’m calmer and speak at a more reasonable pace, for example, and I’m better able to roll with what comes, and less likely to react negatively to surprising news (student is not feeling well and can’t take the test? someone forgot to do the homework? something’s gone wrong? Whatever it is, I’m more likely to take it in stride).
Next week, I’ll start a new academic trimester and my final new class of the year. It will mean it’s time to reinforce this practice, but it’s also a chance for me to continue to get better at it. For example, while I’m trying to greet everyone as they enter, I also need to do a better job at helping guide everyone into the room at a reasonable pace (some people want to try to sneak past without saying hello, but that’s important to me).
One small change. It’s helped me be more aware of how I’m engaging with my students, the atmosphere I’m creating at the start of each period, and more aware of my students as they arrive. As I look to the final months of the year, I hope to make this practice even more effective and find myself in a more mindful place, even beyond the opening minutes of class.
What strategies do you have to make your days more mindful?