The framework in this post was created by Megan San Miguel.

Teaching remotely during Covid has caused me to reflect more deeply on how I teach and what makes a class work or not. There is a lot of information about the kinds of activities that teachers can use to create  teacher presence in the remote environment. All of these may well be useful – but maybe they are only useful if we also pay attention to ourselves as teachers.

Recently, I was chatting with my daughter (Megan San Miguel) about a workshop I had taught that I felt hadn’t gone as well as usual. It was a weekly assessment writing workshop for first year nursing students, taught via Zoom with about 30-40 students.

One of the main things I reflected on during our chat was how I behaved as a teacher – not so much which activities I chose but how I felt during the workshop. Usually, as a teacher, I am ‘present’ in the classroom, what could be called a ‘mindful teacher’. That is, not teaching mindfulness but being mindful myself. I pay attention to the students, to what they are saying and not saying, to the questions they ask, and the silences, to body language and facial expressions. I also pay attention to myself, whether I am focused, whether my attention is wandering, whether I am curious about the questions students ask. In this particular workshop, I had felt that I wasn’t fully present. I had been in a Zoom meeting until a couple of minutes before the workshop and felt distracted. I think that affected the way I taught that day – not quite able to manage the different needs of students in the group.

A four step framework

Meg came up with a framework to describe what I was talking about –

Arriving:

How, as a teacher, do I get myself in the right headspace to begin teaching?

Scoping:

How do I find out who is in my class, what they are expecting to learn, what they already know?

Focusing:

How do I make sure I pay attention to the information I get from scoping and align it with what I had planned for the day?

Adapting:

How do I adapt the materials I had prepared to suit what is needed in the class?

Applying the framework for mindful teaching

At first, I was cynical – how could four bullet points be a useful way to think about how I teach. But I tried applying it during the next few workshops I ran and found it useful. It seemed to me that the four points rested on the first, arriving. Before the workshops I took time, even just five minutes, to focus on what I had planned, to switch off distractions and to be in my ‘teaching space’. As a long-time yoga practitioner, it reminded me of the first yoga poses we do at the beginning of a class to deliberately put aside the rest of the day and to focus on the yoga we are about to do.

Scoping, focusing and adapting occur in a cyclical motion throughout the session. In the Zoom environment, my initial scoping is often done with a poll, finding out how confident students feel, and how well they understand the assessment. Other activities throughout the session allow me to continually scope, focus and adapt to make sure I am paying attention to what is happening in the class. Adapting doesn’t mean creating a whole new lesson but I might skip a few slides, I might jump to what I was planning to do at the end of the session, or I might spend more time on some activities and less on others. However, in order to be able to make these decisions to adapt, I have to pay attention  – to be mindful.

These are by no means new ideas. Scoping and adapting fit well with notions of scaffolding and working in students’ Zones of Proximal Development. There is no shortage of activities to engage students online, but what there does seem to be a shortage of is how to make sure that we as teachers are ready to teach and can focus our attention on what is happening in the classroom. For some great ideas on how you can develop your mindful teaching, see this article in the New York Times.

Feature image by Linus Nyland.

  • Thanks for your thoughtful piece, Caroline. There are too many distractions in this remote environment, and your framework will definitely help me focus and pay attention.

  • This is such a useful reminder, Caroline. I find sitting down in a quiet space before class starts is essential when teaching from home. There are other distractions and your mind can easily wander-there may be other family members at home, house renovations next door or deliveries being made. Having 5 or preferably 10 minutes getting myself into the “teaching zone” is essential for me.

  • Very useful post, thanks for sharing. Perhaps a further step to add [step 5] is to ‘mindfully reflect’. This obviously is to consider what went well and what can be bettered next time’ and how to be more mindful and present when engaging students. I think this framework offers a very useful approach. Cheers!

    • Great point, Jonny! I guess that is what made me write the blog in the first place – but I didn’t think about adding that step 🙂

  • Thanks Caroline. This is a really thoughtful and much needed piece. How do we prepare ourselves to ‘land’ in the teaching space, and how can we help our students do that too? The 5-10 minutes before class is probably critical for us, and then the first 5-10 minutes of each class is critical for the students. I’d love to hear what strategies people use for themselves and their students to bring presence and mindfulness to the quality of their engagement.

  • Thanks for this very candid post and your insights into how to apply these strategies. It’s such a good reminder towards the end of the semester. Thanks Caroline!

  • Thanks Caroline, what an interesting perspective on mindfulness. I’d never thought of it this way.
    I’ve also been reflecting on my own implicit biases (including the idea often held that only international students need academic language support). It’s good to know that mindfulness, focusing on our own presence, can reduce implicit bias. I also feel that slowing down during covid helps this.

  • Fab post Caroline! I love this framework and how you’ve applied it. It’s a really helpful tool to keep us mentally and emotionally present with the students and their needs, rather than focusing too much on content and what needs to be ‘covered’ next. Looking forward to applying these ideas when I teach next.

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