Stories from the Field, Part V: When student first becomes teacher.

Stories from the Field are small moments about how mindfulness is impacting the students I am working with, in hopes of capturing what it means to learn and use mindfulness. This story comes from a large high school resource room in Portland, Maine:

Passing the vibratone

Passing the vibratone

On Tuesday, we came back from break, and I immediately hit the students with script writing.  The capstone project for our 8 weeks together was going to be delivering mindfulness curriculum to students in nearby elementary and middle schools.  After reviewing all the lessons and content we covered, I gave them highly structured script templates to fill in introductions, the definition of mindfulness, an interesting hook, a practice section, debrief questions, and a conclusion. I thought they were ready to go.

The response?  Stonewalling. Students looked straight ahead, looked down at their desks, looked out the window. My questions about their response were met with resounding silence.  I went and sat with one group, as the classroom teacher sat with the other, and we both pushed desperately for what they knew and wanted to add. By the end of an 80 minute period, we had some half written notes to show.  

The classroom teacher and I were, at first, panicked. Why don't they want to do this? Do they really dislike it so much? Should we just roll it back to being voluntary and send only students who step forward to do it?  But we knew there were some students who would opt out who would be successful, if they just carried it through, so we didn't want to deter them.

Throughout the time working with students that day, I also had gathered some insight. When speaking with an eleventh grader, Cassie, about how I was surprised it was so hard to do, she shared: it was one thing to learn, but another to teach. She said she didn't really feel like she fully understood it yet, and that's why it was so hard for them to come up with ideas. 

They weren't being defiant or sullen, they just really didn't feel ready. And that's fair. I went through hundreds of hours of training in order to feel confident generating and delivering this material, and here I was asking them to come up with something on the spot.  I realized the whole point was that we wanted them to share the experience, not necessarily create it, so I ended up taking what they had come up with and putting in the strong curriculum I have access to (and draw upon regularly, I must add). 

When I went in today with scripts in hand, the students were happy to read through them with me and practice. A few even got excited about putting what was there into their own words, and we worked to make them true to their voices. It wasn't that they didn't want to do it, it's just that they needed support to make it happen. 

My students are always my teachers, and as I formally pass the reigns on to them, I want them to be successful in that endeavor. This time, it meant listening to them to hear the root cause of their behavior and responding to that. It meant being mindful of where they were in their learning, and meeting them there, to help them step into their new roles as teachers of mindfulness.