On Friday, I presented to a group of students identified as at risk in a district near where I teach. For an hour, we explored what it means to have our reactive, distracted minds in the age of technology, and how mindfulness can support our well-being given the reality of our minds.
When I came in, all fifteen students had their phones out. At my request to put them away, 13/15 did so for the entire presentation. As we talked, I noticed students checking in and out at various points. A student with his head down in the corner piped in at one point with a comment about technology. A girl from the other corner of the room who was occasionally pulled into quiet conversation with her peers would redirect back to the task at hand. A few got up to use the bathroom. Throughout, I watched them tuning in and out.
At the end of the presentation, I checked in with the teachers. “You had them at their best,” one said, clearly dismayed at their behavior. And the other, “I was really moved by how you thanked them for coming back with their attention. Sometimes we get so focused on what they are doing wrong we forget to acknowledge them.”
It can be so hard for us to see and acknowledge the goodness in our students when we become focused on them being “better.” (As I told them, it is easier for me to come to their classroom and see this than in my own. I lose that perspective all the time when it is my students who are in front of me.) I could more easily see all of them listened attentively for some stretch of time, while their teachers noticed when they weren’t. I saw that the majority of them followed a difficult request to keep their phones away, while they saw the two who didn’t. I noticed many of them chimed into the class discussion at one point or another, while they may have felt dismayed by those who stay silent.
This is not blind optimism: I did notice the students who struggled, but I did not take it personally. I noticed when the energy in the room sank, and had us get up and play a quick game. When a student took out his math homework, I observed out loud that it suggested to me that he was getting bored, but I only had a short while left with him, and asked him reengage his attention. He did.
I invite you to set an intention to actively look for the good in your room: the inspiring interactions, the students who are giving their complete attention, the work that exceeds expectations. Name those things out loud for those students.
Then, try responding to the “misbehavior” as information: what needs of that student are not being met right now? Is there a way I can help them reengage? What’s my next, most effective move?
I’ll join you in this effort when I see my students next.