What We Pay Attention to Grows
In March of 2020, just before widespread quarantine, I serendipitously attended a silent meditation retreat in the mountains of Tennessee. It was my first real introduction to the teachings of meditation. Throughout the weekend, I learned to set the cognitive stage for my meditation practice by recalling a very specific positive event. More importantly, while I replayed the memory with vivid detail, I internally acknowledged my appreciation and gratitude for that experience. My memory reel was simple: sipping a delicious cup of coffee, noticing the unfolding of a spring blossom, watching birds enjoying seeds at the feeder. Savoring the positive micro-moments of my life through intentional recollection brought a state of calm, gratitude, and ease which has significantly helped me navigate more challenging times.
As I drove away from the retreat and back into cell service, my phone buzzed with dozens of messages that my school would be shifting to remote learning. The timing of my mindfulness retreat could not have been better. Throughout the many unknowns I’ve experienced from that moment until today, I have grounded myself in a practice of acknowledging positive moments with gratitude.
Upon reflection on the teachings from the retreat, I noticed the parallels to a powerful Responsive Classroom practice, reinforcing teacher language. Reinforcing language is the opportunity to recognize concrete positive academic and social-emotional behaviors occurring in the classroom. When we offer students specific and detailed feedback and link those behaviors to desired outcomes, we enhance the learning experience for our students and ourselves.
What Reinforcing Language Sounds Like in a Classroom:
- “Fifth-graders, as I popped into each one of your breakout rooms, I noticed every group was on-topic and fully engaged in the discussion question. It was clear you were all having thoughtful conversations to deepen your understanding of the text.”
- “I see you lined up your numbers in the columns just like we have been practicing, that will help you when it’s time to add them all up!”
- “I noticed quiet voices and all eyes on Mariana as she shared about her weekend. You were all helping us meet our class goal of respecting others.”
Similar to setting the mind’s stage for meditation, the power of reinforcing language comes when we really slow down to observe and authentically notice what our students are doing well. I liken reinforcing language to a feedback loop: the more we use it the more positive experiences will arise for us to acknowledge. As an added bonus, I feel more joy as a teacher because I spend my energy watching for the good. What we pay attention to grows; and as we continue to navigate the darker days of winter and the challenges of teaching in a pandemic, we all benefit from these moments of light.
Written by Alicia Cardina, consultant for the Center for Responsive Schools