I am certainly someone who has no problem reaching into a bag of elementary teacher tricks to build engagement in class. In fact, I love to find a time or two in the term when I can get students to roll up their sleeves and have a little hands-on fun with the content. One of these moments is always in the fall, right around when Thanksgiving break is about to arrive.
Those who know me know that a constant motto of mine is to give oneself grace. Grace to fail. Grace to succeed. Grace to breathe. It is a core philosophy of my work-life balance. But it also is permission to extend thanks to oneself and others meaningfully. I encourage you all to borrow from this lesson and implement some of that gratitude and grace as you enter into an extended break.
Thinking about self
I don’t believe acknowledgment of self is selfish. Instead, I think it is an important part of self-care. Helping our students, especially later in the term, find ways to give themselves grace and practice self-care is essential. To do this, I often like to integrate guided meditations and free-write reflections to have students talk to themselves about what they like about themselves and what they are proud of personally.
Guided meditations are easy to find with a quick Google search, like any musical accompaniment. Or you can write a script on your own that possibly brings students into conversation with the course themes as well. While this is difficult for larger courses, it isn’t impossible. In smaller classes, I encourage students to find a place of comfort, even if that means using the floor to become more relaxed. In all circumstances, I start with helping students to center themselves on their breath by closing their eyes and walking them through concentrating on relaxing.
I also like to have students write letters to themselves. While I don’t read the letters, especially as they are incredibly personal, the students are encouraged to think about what they would love to tell themselves about how good they are and can be. Some students find this activity difficult, especially since they live in a world that often tells them how bad or wrong they may be. But the goal is to celebrate and give oneself a chance to give oneself grace. Grace to fail. Grace to succeed. Grace to breathe.
Thinking about others
Shifting from self to others is an important practice. Even though it takes so much of me to not have students trace their hands to make thank-you turkeys, the sentiment stands when I approach having students take class time to write to someone they are thankful for in their lives.
This activity is simple. Students get a prompt and respond to it: write a letter to someone thanking them for impacting your life somehow.
What you do after this depends on the type of work you want to do. I’ve asked students to fill out an envelope with the person’s address and then I send the letters through snail mail. I’ve also more often had students give the letter directly to the person (or encouraged them to mail it if they could). I don’t allow students to type the letter, although I am willing to accommodate them. Having the students handwrite the letter is important; it gives a certain amount of finesse and personalization. It also requires a different type of attention. I put on music, ask the students to clear all items in front of them except a pen and paper, and then tell them to write for a song or two to this person.
Interestingly, this activity has often come up in teaching evaluations as an impactful activity.