I was recently invited into a Math Teacher’s classes to lead her students in meditation. The teacher has been working with me over several months and has introduced a ritual of silence and stillness at the beginning of her classes. While her classes appreciate the still time before their lesson they had requested I do a repeat visit with a longer meditation.
During the day I led about sixty students in total. In the last group of the day the students bounded into the room, obviously ready for their Christmas break. As it was the last period before their break two students were asked to leave the room to complete missed tests. I began the meditation asking the students what they remembered from our previous session. I then talked briefly about how strongly we are affected by compulsions to be always busy and doing something. They agreed this was the case and were looking forward to managing their compulsions. We dimmed the lights and began.
I led a fifteen meditation encouraging them to be still and silent. I encouraged the students to notice any compulsions as they arise, and instead of doing something relax their body and watch their breath instead. After the meditation the class was very still and silent. The two girls who had been outside crept in and sat down without disturbing the silence in the room.
I asked the class who had felt compulsions to move their hands, scratch, tap or look around? Most of the class raised their hands. I noticed one student at the front of the room who looked very calm "How was it?" She said it was torture. “What is your name?” I asked. She said Nancy. I asked the rest of the group "Who else had the same experience as Nancy?" About 2/3rds of the group raised their hands. I asked the class "What normally happens in a group of teenagers who are feeling tortured?" A boy called out "It's chaos!"
I asked "How is it possible so many of you are feeling tortured and yet the class is so still and silent?" No answer.
I turned to one of the girls who had entered the room at the end of the meditation. I asked her why she had sat down so quietly. She said because it was so peaceful she did not want to disturb the room. Nancy whirled around in surprise and blurted “I didn’t even hear you come into the room!”
I left the group with one final question to ponder: “How is it that so many of you felt tortured on the inside, yet when someone comes in the room they felt you were calm and peaceful?”
Despite the torturous experience the group applauded and beamed at me as the bell rang. I looked at their teacher who was smiling and lit up like a Christmas tree.
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How many new teachers arrive into the profession to find they were not prepared for the relationships with their students in the classroom? If data is any gauge many! Over fifty percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years. A growing concern and major reason is they feel students are unmotivated, disrespectful and even threatening.
Indeed when one reads the Education Evaluation Guide from the Massachusetts Department of Education teacher metrics include such core issues as creating a safe environment, respecting differences and quality work.
But how do you, as a teaching professional, create these qualities in your classroom?
When I began teaching in the United States in 2006 I was shocked at how my unmotivated and disrespectful my students were toward me. I had taught for ten years in Australia from 1976 to 1986 but I felt there was a general decline in work ethics and tolerance with young people. It seemed more students were suffering from malaise and discontent with school and perhaps life.
It was at this point, two years into my second teaching career I decided to explore the question how can I capture the hearts and minds of my students? From my reflection and research I came up with two powerful methodologies that transformed my experience and reinvigorated my pedagogical practice.
I presented a paper at the Oxford Round Table in August 2013 on the methodology of silence called “The Phenomenology of Silence: Educing Learning and Creativity in the Classroom” (click here).
This blog explains how and why my second methodology works. It was designed out of a need for me to feel respected and happy as a teacher. The two together have made me not only happier but my students and in some cases my colleagues who have adopted similar versions of what I have introduced.
WHAT IS C.O.R.E.?
C.O.R.E. is an acronym to help students and teachers remain focused on how to create developmental and dynamic independence and co-operation in the classroom. It is a way to address behavior in students, but more importantly it is a model for building personal attributes that will enhance a student’s ability to learn and succeed both in and out of the classroom. Each teacher will have their own priorities for what they deem optimal classroom management. In such a case I suggest you create a set of class principles that suit you.
C = Communication with Care O = Organization for Optimization R = Respect builds Relationships E = Effort in Everything
When you define C.O.R.E. for your students, you are actually allowing them to become acquainted with you and your expectations. Each one of us as teachers approaches our classes in a unique way and students have many different teachers. Take a few minutes to contemplate: What behaviors in students do I most struggle with? What qualities in my students do I most appreciate?
Identifying the behaviors that are supportive or adverse to classroom harmony and development is the first critical step in the process of creating a meaningful framework for effective classroom management. C.O.R.E represents the student attributes that, in my observation, generate the greatest harmony and development to my classroom.
Cultivation of these qualities does not happen overnight. Only through consistent reminders over time, with clear consequences, can students understand how powerful these living skills are.
C.O.R.E. represents principles to live by, not rules to follow. Principles have greater flexibility and allow for differences. For example if Scott, a very dedicated student starts handing in poor quality homework then he is compromising his “effort” ethic. However if Sally, who rarely does homework, starts handing in work, even if it is minimal, she is making progress with her “effort” and is graded accordingly within the C.O.R.E. rubric. In other words not all progress looks the same for each student. This can be very subtle and is one reason I have my students grade themselves.
Having class principles is also a way to speak about classroom behaviors in an impersonal way to your students. It avoids the feeling of blaming, accusing or judging someone as bad in any given situation. Principles allow you, as a teacher, to refer to standards that work in developing independence and co-operation within a group.
For many years I belonged to a spiritual cult. At the beginning, I had a euphoric sense of independence. But with time, that was followed by an experience of "group mind" - namely, I was influenced too much by the beliefs of the leader and those around me. The pressures of living in this situation led to a fragmented sense of identity.
After fifteen years in this cult, I began teaching again in 2006. I started to reconnect with the world I had left. I desperately sought agency to function independently once again. It has taken years to recover from this extreme experience, but it has left me with a heightened sensitivity to entering into any collective situation.
While it was a bumpy re-entry I soon noticed familiar symptoms in my students and in many cases, their parents.
I was witnessing the cyber cult, up close and personal. Gaming, Facebook, texting and general inter-netting was now a way of being. My students exuded self confidence, fast access to knowledge and endless friends at their finger tips. It was a virtual world that left me, their teacher, an outsider to their lives.
Over the next seven years of teaching, I was spellbound as I watched my teenage students, as their minds developed, spend countless hours looking at a screen. They were being seduced into a cyber universe. This cyber reality often offers time-saving ways to navigate the complexity of life as well as giving one an entire social life. It leads you to believe that you are in charge of your own life, that a student does not need adult guidance, direction or leadership.
This is what I think of as A.I. (artificial independence). It's being offered at a dizzying rate of form and function. Technology has given us: unending virtual entertainment, short-hand language, access to thousands of superficial friends and a place to escape to so we don't have to engage in real-world intimacy. The cyber world blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, allowing us to adopt distorted ideas of ourselves and our abilities, live sedentary unhealthy lifestyles and harbor symptoms of addiction, mental instability and even post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Unfortunately parents and teachers like myself, have also jumped onto the cyber band wagon. It relieves us of our struggle to face each other through conversation and encounter. It is far easier to bury ourselves in our i-Phones while the kids focus on theirs! The cyber world functions as a cheap baby sitter. But at what cost?
What kind of independence are our children gaining from this cyber universe? True human agency is found and cultivated within. Original thought arises from reflection, introspection and often takes place away from outer stimulus. Like cults, the cyber world's influence has to be made conscious. We're all drawn into this virtual world, but at what cost?
 Roberts, Kevin. Cyber Junkie: Escape the Gaming and Internet Trap. Hazelden, Center City, Minnesota. 2010
 Carroll, Lawrence. The Phenomenology of Silence: Educing Learning and Creativity in the Classroom. August, 2013, Oxford Round Table, Merton College https://www.academia.edu/5287098/The_Phenomenology_of_Silence_Educing_Learning_and_Creativity_in_the_Classroom (Accessed December 3, 2013.)
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"Lawrence Carroll's workshop on personal stress management, which he conducted with my Columbia Grad School class
was a huge success."
Neal Pilson, Columbia University, Former President, CBS Sports