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Dharma Education teaching

Being Present for Our Students

Bed of Flowers

Being present for our students is a true gift we can offer and these experiences with students are one of the reasons why I’ve loved teaching and being part of an academic environment my entire professional career. As teachers, we have the capacity to change lives in ways that we may not always be fully aware of in the moment. I’m certain we’ve all experienced that moment when a student returns to share some action or word we said that had a deep impact. Our engagement with students can be a big responsibility that can be fostered in many ways: a kind word, a thoughtful smile, a note of encouragement, and even a criticism that comes from a place of wanting to push a student to learn something new.

For those who have taught classes in person, we may have an easier time being in touch with our students and the energy of the classroom. I may notice when a student is having a difficult day or week or even the entire semester. I can linger after class, arrive early, or have a student crying in our office. In those moments, my hope is I am able to practice with empathy and with understanding.

Beginners’ Mind

This being present for students may come naturally for you, and for others it may take some effort. But I know we all have this capacity for empathy and understanding. In my life, I have found cultivating this for myself first has allowed me to extend this more easily to my students. It has been through 25-years of meditation practice, allowing for a deeper understanding of my mind, that I’ve been able to bring this directly into the classroom. And just like our students, a beginners’  mind in myself can keep things fresh and help me to discover new ways to work with students.

How does this all extend into my online classroom? Do I know my students in the same way I might as if we are spending three hours per week in person? Am I able to identify a student in need or crisis through the work posted online so that I might reach out and connect to the student? And, within a primarily written medium, how am I being present for my students? We can create the conditions in our online classes that allows us to know our students better and be tuned into their overall learning experience.

Creating the Conditions for Learning

It’s the humanizing work. It’s the touchy-feely stuff that can help the student feel connected to the course material, to me, and to the college as a whole. The classes I’ve taught online – library science, technology, social media and marketing – are not necessarily touchy-feely topics. But as the teacher, we set the tone. In the online environment we need to offer a little bit more of ourselves explicitly. With in-person  classes, students know I have a deep sense of humor, that I always wear black, that I like to pause in class and listen to student sharing, and that I like using the white board. These characteristics are part of my character. Online students don’t easily get this part of me, but these characteristics are critical for building a classroom relationship for our semester journey.

Creating a space where communication can be open and responsive to both student learning and student needs is key to building instructor-student relationships online. This means taking risks, and it certainly means taking more time. I write about myself, I share photos or videos so they know who I am as a person, and I incorporate personal life antidotes into the learning materials. More importantly, I create as many opportunities for students to interact with me so that I know who they are as humans. This can achieved through  discussion, writing assignments, or video posts. I encourage students to share content they find that is exciting for them. Anything we, as instructors, can do to bring regular, meaningful student interactions into our online class is valuable. And we can build on this foundation to create a learning environment that is grounded in communication and trust. Creating an online classroom that is similar to how I spend 3-hours a week engaging with my students in a classroom is what I try to cultivate. My goal as an online instructor is to foster these human connections to inspire learning. In the end, when I support, guide, and inspire my students, I am nourished by our deep connections as they experience life’s difficulties and joys.

Originally posted on @ONE: Online Network of Educators

Categories
Dharma

An Antique Rocking Chair

This year I wanted to cultivate more reflection and inspiration in my meditation practice. For the past several months, I’ve been reading a few poems by Wendell Berry each morning (from A Timbered Choir). And though I’ve been married to a poet for a quarter century, it’s not a source of material I often turn toward.

A few mornings ago, these words arrived as I sat with my morning coffee. Looking to capture it here.

Trees and forest. Oh
the many days and nights.
Of cold, of rain, of sunshine.
The birds and squirrels. Hands and
vehicles. Sawmill and finisher.
Restored with love.
To hold me each morning.
With coffee and reflection.
An antique rocking chair.
In the morning darkness.

Trying to have fun and not be to serious.

Categories
Dharma

The Pot Shatters

When the precious pot shatters and all our valuables roll away like marbles on a table, reality as we thought we knew is disrupted and the game of contriving an ideal self is suddenly irrelevant. 
~ Pema Khandro Rinpoche

Categories
Dharma Family

Surfing our Relationships

Cultivating a deep and intimate relationship over a period of decades means there will be times of transcendent happiness and also times of suffering and unhappiness. There is this duality in a relationship. 

Learning how to stick it out is an art. John Welwood’s article “Intimate Relationship as a Spiritual Crucible” in Lion’s Roar (September 2017) offers some guidance. 

This involves learning to ride the waves of our feelings rather than becoming submerged by them. This requires mindfulness of where we are in the cycle of emotional experience. A skilled surfer is aware of exactly where he is on the wave, whereas an unskilled surfer winds up getting creamed. By their very nature, waves are rising fifty percent of the time and falling the other fifty percent. Instead of fighting the down cycles of our emotional life, we need to learn to keep our seat on the surfboard and have a full, conscious experience going down. 

Can you live and practice with the ups and downs of our relationships? My experience is that it’s possible and offers a richness to life that can’t be compared. 

Categories
Buddhism Dharma

Injustice and the Four Noble Truths

This morning I spent time revisiting the Tenth Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing. This training sometimes causes confusion for practitioners who are uncertain how to engage in public action and discourse. The text from the book Interbeing is quite clear. 

A spiritual community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. This should be done with a clear voice, based on the principles of the Four Noble Truths. The truth concerning the unjust situation should be fully exposed (the First Noble Truth: suffering). The various causes of injustice should be enumerated (the Second Noble Truth: the causes of suffering). The purpose and desire for removing the injustice should be made obvious (the Third Noble Truth: the removal of suffering). The measures for removing the injustice should be proposed (the Fourth Noble Truth: the way to end suffering). 

We can do this and transcend partisan politics. I can think of numerous opportunities in today’s social and political environment. 

 

Categories
Dharma

Insight Gatha


The partner, child, and parent are the teacher.

Clouds and mountains teach the student.

The seed of diligence supports marriage, family and sangha.

The fruit springs forth from love and understanding.

Categories
Dharma

Coffee Arrives. Looking Deeply. 

Appreciating a cup of coffee from Burundi and roasted by Blue Bottle – they call the roast Burundi Kayanza MpangaWhat do I know if where my coffee comes? Not much! It is quite amazing that I can sit here on a bright and sunny morning in the Ojai Valley drinking a cup of coffee from across the planet and not even know exactly where Burundi is located. 


Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 80% living in poverty and a majority of the children malnourished. I can’t even begin to understand this statement. It’s a tiny country in east Africa with coffee being its main export – though exports aren’t even a large part of their GDP. Agriculture and rural living dominates. 

On a windless day the flapping wings of thousands of birds pass between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria. Fed by the same waters and agile as a feather, the Mpanga also takes flight.

This poetic digression from Blue Bottle also helps me touch the beauty and majesty of this tiny country. Burundi is the source of the Nile and they also have the 2nd largest freshwater lake in the world – Lake Tanganyika. I can see the natural beauty and the people living to take care of their daily needs where they make crafts, drum, play soccer, and drink beer by the side of the road. 

The planet is small and yet a life experience in Southern California compared to a life in Burundi could be another planet. 

Thank you for my coffee today. I hope it lends some support to the people of Burundi in a fair and supportive manner. Appreciating the apricot and cane sugar flavored of Burundi.