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Midwinter Mojo: Intentionality in the Classroom

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This is the scene outside my campus office right now. The phrase “bleak midwinter” comes to mind while I dwell on the absurdity of typing “Spring 2019” on my syllabi. No matter the weather on your campus, it can be tough to summon the mojo for new classes in the middle of the teaching year. But, as I tell my students every snowy January: We may begin in a deep freeze, but we’ll end in flowers.

 

So, with a New Year’s buzzword – “intentionality” – in mind, I’ve appreciated posts like Miriam Moore’s “Be It Hereby Resolved” on what to commit to in the coming semester.

 

It might even be worth reflecting on our late-summer teaching goals, as in Traci Gardner’s stimulating post, “My New School Year Resolutions.”

 

Both of these posts remind us that being an effective teacher doesn’t always mean doing one more new thing. Instead, it may mean doing the things we do best, but with more intention.

 

So, I’ll share a short list of classroom practices I’m re-committing to this semester that ask little more of me than being intentional. I’d love to hear yours.

 

  • Coming to class a little early to chat with students informally. It’s easy to forget how much more quickly this fosters community. At the end of each class, I’m making an effort to hang by the door and say goodbye to students individually, and by name, if possible. (For online classes, a chat space can offer room for informal community-building.)
  • Learning students names early and using them often, both aloud and in written comments. It’s a simple, effective way to let students know they are seen and valued.
  • And speaking of seeing: In face-to-face classes, I’m intentional about making solid, clear eye-contact with every single student during the class period. Rather than just repeatedly scanning the room, I am deliberate about making a real connection that says “I see you.” I remember how much this meant to me as a student. Students sit up when I really “see” them, and they often speak after I’ve engaged with them visually. They know I’m paying attention to them, and they pay attention to the class.
  • Ensuring every student speaks right away, every day. Breaking the silence in the first five minutes makes it more likely students will participate during the rest of the class. This might mean a lightening round of “Question of the Day” — something silly to get to know one another (“What’s your favorite candy?”), or something more pedagogically nutritious (“Two words to describe your reactions to today’s reading,” or “Read a sentence you’d like to talk about from today’s text.”).
  • Including reflection opportunities for students as often as possible. I wrote last fall about incorporating student journals into my class. This semester, I’m duplicating this effort but with a lighter touch — more consistent written reflection at the end of a class, or in the middle for five minutes after we’ve addressed a challenging concept. I’m trying to teach self-reflection as a habit, rather than an assignment.

 

Unsurprisingly, these intentions feel good and help me do good beyond the classroom, too.

 

Snowflakes may be flying, but these practices remind me that teaching well can feel like bursting into bloom.

 

Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

3 Comments
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I really like that view outside your office, Dr. Lidinsky!  I'm a "cold & snow" guy, so I might just sit there with a cup of coffee...staring out the window for hours, miss class, etc., lol.  I know what you mean, though.  For 18+ years I taught in Utah and 'Spring term' was really the middle of Winter.   

Loved the “What’s your favorite candy?” (icebreaker)...I have to use that one!  Smiley Happy  

Smiley Happy I'm from Colorado, so I like that view, too. After a few model ice breakers, it's fun to let students come up with them, too.  (Pie or cake? Favorite Halloween costume? Favorite Thanksgiving side dish?  Those were some from my students last semester ...) Stay warm!

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I've heard some 'canned' ice breakers over the years, at various training/conferences, etc. ...but those are GOOD ONES!  Smiley Happy 

About the Author
April Lidinsky (PhD, Literatures in English, Rutgers) is Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Indiana University South Bend. She has published and delivered numerous conference papers on writing pedagogy, women's autobiography, and creative nonfiction, and has contributed to several textbooks on writing. She has served as acting director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame and has won several awards for her teaching and research including the 2015 Indiana University South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award, the 2017 Indiana University South Bend Eldon F. Lundquist Award for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement, and the All-Indiana University 2017 Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence.