Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 41 seconds
I always enjoy reading through my students’ reflections towards the end of the semester. Seeing the course through their eyes opens my eyes to things they value I may not have realized were that important to them. For example, last semester, I realized that the “snack time” was a really central aspect of the course for many of them, and it had significant meaning to them beyond the nutritional value and the “break” from learning – they used the time to build stronger connections with their colleagues and build community.
This semester, I read reflections where students talked about how the open (oval-ish) seating arrangement with node chairs and no tables made it easier to have discussions: but that in the beginning it made them feel a little uncomfortable, possibly too “open”, then eventually made them realize they could see and hear each other better. I saw them talk about how some of the most talkative and eloquent students in my clear were actaully not so brave and confident at the beginning of the semester, but developed it over time in the class. As teachers, we are not always sure how much of students’ learning comes from their previous education and upbringing and other factors, and how much comes from our intentional designs and adaptations in our teaching. What they notice and choose to tell me helps a lot.
I also think we under-rate the importance of joy and enjoyment. I’ll admit that I don’t directly teach students how to write well, nor do I overly comment on problems in their writing unless it’s really really bad to the point of being incomprehensible. However, I do always hope that they’ll grow to enjoy writing in my class and learn to develop their writing voice, grow confident in expressing their opinions and making themselves vulnerable in ways that help them develop as human beings.
One student’s reflection is really sticking with me. They talked about how in the very beginning of the semester with the ALTCV, where they were invited to introduce themselves to the world on their own terms, they were still a bit conservative, as everyone in class were strangers… and yet towards the end of the semester, with the “wellness gift basket”, they felt more comfortable making themselve vulnerable and saying more about what truly contributes to their wellbeing.
I noticed students reflect on the little things: that I asked how they were feeling, that we chatted about FIFA world cup matches on Slack. You’re thinking, what’s that got to do with learning? And I’ll tell you that it’s got everything to do with learning. Wherever they end up beyond this class, they’ve seen how relationships and rapport with any team they work with can benefit from genuinely caring about how people feel, and that no matter how professional our context, we can benefit from sometimes talking about some common interest completely outside of our purpose for being together. Like football. And they’ve learned about the impact of snacking together.
So in a future syllabus, I’d love to put joy, courage, compassion, confidence, vulnerability into the course learning goals! I think I may already have compassion in there somewhere 🙂