trusting our intentions

connectingI haven’t had much time recently for blogging, or thinking about blogging, but I came across a quote this evening that sums up where my head is at these days, in the classroom and in the world.

Remember that you don’t have to like or admire someone to feel compassion for that person. All you have to do is to wish for that person to be happy. The more you can develop this attitude toward people you KNOW have misbehaved, the more you’ll be able to trust your intentions in any situation. -Thanissaro Bhikku

Image by Eastop

One Minute of Solitude

Two of my three classes this term have been, so far, focused yet energetic, respectful yet lively. The third has been a bit of a pain in the ass.

This class meets from 4-6 in the afternoon – the worst possible time. They’re tired. I’m tired. Their brains are buzzing from a day’s worth of Red Bull and adolescent drama. They’re so done with learning.

What’s more, there’s a little gang of boys who seem to find a lot of stuff funny. I’m not sure, but from a couple of murmured, oblique exchanges that I’ve caught in passing, I’m beginning to think this has something to do with physical attributes of mine that they like.

Also: this is a remedial English class, and so far the work we’ve been doing has foundational (read: pretty easy.) Some of them are bored.

All this makes for a frenetic, nervous and silly atmosphere. After our second meeting, it became clear that this was going to be a continual problem if I didn’t do something to nip it in the bud.

What? I wondered. I stewed about it for a while. Should I throw people out? Should I give a speech? (Past experience suggests that speeches don’t work.) Should I separate the silly boys to the four corners of the room? Should I barrel through material that some students need to focus on so that other students won’t be bored?

And then I remembered something that my friend Lorri mentioned a while ago – I think she wrote it in a comment to a specific post, but I’ve searched and can’t find it. (Lorri, if you’re reading, and you remember, maybe you can point me to it…) Lorri said that begins her classes by allowing the students to shuffle around, chatter, etc. for about five minutes. Then she asks them to sit for one minute in complete silence before they take a deep breath and begin.

This, I thought, seems like a way to, if not eradicate the squirms and giggles, at least keep them more or less in check – to start on a calmer ground, so that escalation will be minimal.

So yesterday afternoon, when I was writing the class agenda on the board, I called the first item “One Minute of Solitude.” I then asked the students to make sure their desks were separated into rows and their cell phones were turned off and put out of sight.

“Last class,” I explained, “I was observing you. I noticed that there was a lot of very nervous energy in the room. It’s late in the day, people are tired , it’s hard to focus, people can’t stop laughing. So I want to do an exercise with you that I sometimes do with late classes. I want you to close your eyes. You can put your head down on your desk if you want. I’m going to turn out the light. And I want you to sit silently for 60 seconds. I’m going to time it, and if there are any distractions – if anyone speaks, if anyone’s cell phone goes off, if someone knocks on the door because they’re late – we’re going to start again.”

“Are we do this for a reason?” Khawar asked.

“Yes,” I said. “A nervous, agitated mind is not a good learning mind. Energy and enthusiasm are good; agitation is not. You’ve all been very busy all day, and your minds are busy too. This is a way to settle our minds so we can learn better.”

I turned out the light. I flicked my iPod stopwatch and said, “Go.”

60 seconds of silence is long. At about the 40 second mark, a couple of students shifted impatiently and looked around, but no one made any noise. And when the minute was up, I quietly said, “That’s it,” and turned the lights back on. They lifted their heads blurrily.

“How did that feel?” I asked.

“Calm,” Khawar said.

“Long,” Philippe said.

“We’re going to do this every class,” I said. “For some of you, it might be the only 60 seconds of calm you have all day. I hope maybe you’ll come to enjoy it.”

Did it help? I think it did, a bit. The major failing was that two of the boys who most needed this exercise came late, and so didn’t do it; as soon as they walked in, the energy in the room ramped up again. However, it never quite reached the height of foolishness that it had the class before, and overall, the work got done and the wasted time was minimal.

I’m a bit nervous about starting every class this way, but I’m hoping that, instead of becoming tedious, it really will be a tiny oasis of peace for some of them. And perhaps some of them will learn that if they can’t sit still and quiet for 60 seconds, it’s probably causing them some problems that they should really address…

Image by barunpatro

how I saved my teaching career part 7: meditate!

The penultimate post in my series “How I Saved My Teaching Career” appeared on School Gate this morning.  In this post, I describe how learning to meditate made me a better teacher.

changing the world one comment at a time

buildSome of my Twitter contacts (particularly Shelley S. Terrell, or @ShellTerrell, who keeps the great blog Teacher Reboot Camp) have been encouraging me to sign up for the “One Comment a Day” project.

This project was developed by Andrew Marcinek, who posts about it here. The premise: once a day, leave a constructive comment on an education blog and tweet about your comment, using the hashtag #ocp to signal that your comment is a part of the project.

When I first read Marcinek’s post, I thought, Well, that’s a great idea, but I already leave many comments on blogs, and tweet (and blog) about some of them; why should I sign on to systematize something I’m already doing?

My attention was called back to the project by a tweeter today, and my perspective has changed a little.

In particular, in rereading Marcinek’s post, I was struck by the emphasis on positivity. For example:

I read the post, processed the information and responded constructively. Simple. Painless. Helpful.

…pick one blog a day…and leave a positive, insightful comment for the blogger.

Post a comment that is insightful and constructive.

Last week I had a trying guest blogging experience with a load of commenters who, despite their intelligence, expertise, and genuinely interesting perspectives, were not constructive or positive in their comments.

It got me thinking about the methods of argument, criticism and interaction that I value and that I try to foster in my classroom. (A subsequent post tried to elucidate my views on those topics; coincidental, because that post had already been planned, but timely.)

So when I went back to Marcinek’s post today, it struck me that the One Comment Project is an invaluable exercise for teachers. After all, isn’t this what we try to do for our students – to give them feedback that opens them up to learning? Point out what they did right, and suggest ways that they could do even righter? Ask sincere questions about what we don’t understand or agree with, and listen, with attention and curiosity, to their answers?

So I’m going to participate in the One Comment Project, and I encourage other teacher bloggers out there to do the same. Think of it as warming up for the new school year.

My first comment will be on the One Comment Project post, and it will be to tell Andrew Marcinek what a great service he is asking us to do for one another.

Image by Carsten Schlipf

Dear Auntie Siobhan #7: Helicopter Parent. Help!

My final guest post at’s education blog went up this morning. Today: what do I do when my (college) student’s parent won’t leave me alone?

Big thanks to Clay Burell for inviting me to guest blog this week while he’s moving to Singapore and writing a (no doubt fabulous) book.

“Dear Auntie Siobhan” will be a continued, if irregular, feature here at Classroom at Microcosm, so if you have questions you’d like to see discussed, send them to me at

And thanks so much for all your support, feedback and general participation!

Ask Auntie Siobhan #6: My Students are Passionate, but It Can Get Out of Hand

This morning at, Auntie Siobhan gives her thoughts on the question, “How can I encourage passionate engagement in my classroom without encouraging aggression?”

It’s been quite a ride! My stint at ends tomorrow, but if you have questions for Auntie Siobhan, feel free to send them along, and she will respond here in the coming weeks.

Ask Auntie Siobhan #4: My Students Won’t Put Their Phones Away

Today at, Auntie Siobhan addresses the question: What do I do about the scourge of cell phones in my classroom?

Please come visit and leave your own advice. And if you have a question you’d like Auntie Siobhan to answer, write to me at

Ask Auntie Siobhan #3: The Administration Says I’m to Blame for Student Problems

The third installment of Auntie Siobhan’s advice column appeared on’s education blog this morning. Today’s question: what do I do if the administration blames me for irrational student behavior?

Go check it out, and leave your own advice!

If you have questions for Auntie Siobhan, please email me at

dear Auntie Siobhan, installment 2: an absent student is making me crazy

Today on’s education blog, Auntie Siobhan expounds on what to do when a student refuses to come to class (and thus ruins other people’s lives.)

Please visit and leave your thoughts! And if you have a question for Auntie Siobhan, write to me at

ask Auntie Siobhan, 1st installment: “All My Students Are Cheating!”

My new advice column, “Ask Auntie Siobhan,” debuted on’s education blog this morning. Today’s topic: why are so many of my students plagiarizing their papers?

Please go visit and leave your reactions! And if you have a question for Auntie Siobhan, email me at I’ll be answering one or two questions a day, now through Sunday.