Today I sat in my office and breathed.
This was not a planned activity; my feet grounding me to the rug on my cubicle floor, I noticed that I was breathing. I noticed that it felt good. So I kept at it.
I let my breath inhabit my body. I listened to it. I allowed my breath to calm the thousand honey bees of things needing doing. And I just sat there.
Then, I resumed my work.
A few hours later my 4 o’clock class began. This was our last meeting before Fall Break. I realized they might need a little bit of breathing, too. Rather than lead them through a guided breathing activity like this one my doctor gave me a few years ago, I gave them ten minutes of space. They wrote their names on a piece of paper, which they deposited into a small green tin pail, and then picked out a partner. I told them they had ten minutes to discuss whatever was on their minds. “You are welcome to discuss this class, but not required to. You are welcome to discuss your deep, dark secrets that are emerging, but not expected to. You can talk about anything. These are your ten minutes.” And then I put some Louis Armstrong on, set my timer, and let them have at it.
The room quickly filled with the musical sound of the kind of engaged conversation that seems only to happen when people are truly interested in learning about each other. Phrases filtered over to where I waited. I heard discussions on music, books, assignments in other classes, plans for their class teaching project, frustrations, anxieties, jokes, current events.
Sometimes I forget what community looks like in my classes. I take it for granted. These ten minutes allowed me to see if anyone was left out of the conversation or if a student was overtaking her/his space. I did a quick mental head count of my introverts–all were sharing the space of talking and listening. I checked my extroverts–they were asking questions, listening, waiting for their partner. And then, this really cool thing happened. . . the pairs of students began to merge together so that instead of twos, the students were sitting in groups. They naturally gravitated to opening their space to the others so that a large conversation could form.
At the end of ten minutes I joined their circle. We began our conversation on the day’s material with energy. And, most wonderfully, my most introverted student who suffers through Socratic Seminars without ever saying anything, knowing this means she’ll only receive half-credit, raised her hand and spoke.