At the college where I teach, we’re at the end of our spring 2020 semester and it seemed we had two endings this semester; one was the end of the March and spring break and a new one after spring break.
When I heard the news that we’re going to a distant learning/teaching mode, two things were important to me: (a) learning the technology to deliver my courses and, (b) how do I keep students engaged and get them to the finish line powerfully.
I reached out to my ServiceSpace family for guidance and I received plenty of heartfelt stories
to be inspired. I heard from students about their disappointments, fears, challenges and thoughts of abandoning their education all together to support their recently laid-off families.
This I could not be a witness. I don’t mind students going away to find themselves, to experience the world, but going away from a place of disempowerment, feeling of not belonging, or giving up before you start doesn’t feel fair to me. Again, the "haves" knew how to adjust themselves to the new circumstances, but the "have nots" were going away.
I ultimately realized that students need my being
, and not just my skills and expertise in the matter (that’s important too), but what they needed from me was to stand for them and fill in the blanks for those times they felt, "Why me?" and "Why this time?"
So, I became an advocate for myself to make my own energy stable and bright. I realized that ultimately, they’ll be looking at me every day and see if she’s ok, I can be too! So I devoted everyday first thing in the morning to sincerely do my bowing exercise, followed by meditation.
Our trainer everyday reminded us:
- (1) Wake up and pay attention.
- (2) Good news makes a good brain!
- (3) If you choose it, it’ll happen.
- (4) Be the master of time and space and
- (5) Design every environment!
So, first thing in the morning I trained myself.
Then, I tuned into KarunaVirus
website and my brain got brightened up. I shared the stories with my students. Everyday, I checked in to the classroom virtual space and played real nice music. As they came into the virtual room, I greeted each and everyone of them with real loving energy. Acknowledged them one by one. I really felt it.
We did a one-minute silent meditation and wrote a word in the chat box about how we felt, what we were present to at the moment. Then we began to work. At the end, we finished again with one word in the chat box to complete the session.
I stayed in tune with them throughout the class and used more of the current events to connect to the concepts. I made myself available more than ever. My office hours were a lot more utilized! And we went beyond those hours. We definitely felt the connection throughout the semester. At the end we finished with the gratitude towards each other and all the wisdom this moment of history brought to us. A possibility for pause and redirection. Seeing ourselves as stewards of the earth, and how our actions have gotten us to this point, and how we can impact our own future with the wisdom of inter-being.
Reflection from a student:
“Being in your class was truly a pleasure despite the complexity of the content. I was able to learn a lot of things that won't just assist me as knowledge but through this knowledge I will be able to do great things and promote a balance to most aspects in my life. I definitely look to take part in the club and apply all my skill in the world within live situations. But that is down the road from this point on, keep inspiring young minds and changing the world. To most people it would seem that a teacher can't be more than a mentor, yet it's almost like having academic parents if it could be put like that. Because great professors like you not only set up a foundation for us to build our future on but you also care for us and are willing to give a minute of your time to truly talk upon important subjects or even about how we feel as individuals. Thank you so much for everything! and I look forward to visiting you once we are able to go back to campus.”
So, as I got the hang of distance learning after a few weeks, I thought to work on our 14th Annual Peace Conference. It was canceled due to the COVID-19 situation, but I thought I should do it virtually and of course I turned to my ServiceSpace family again and asked a friend to speak about the power of compassion. After talking to them, every speaker I asked was a “Yes”! So we did it!
The title was “Global Equity in a post Covid-19". The conference featured
lectures and presentations from experts in a variety of fields, including politics, poetry, art, ecology, and disability studies, among them a lecture on the Covid-19 crisis by Dr. Douglas Haynes, Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at UCI, and a lecture on local poverty by Santa Ana artist Brian Peterson.
Throughout the entirety of the conference, artist and environmentalist Ann Brantingham created artistic sketches in real time which were live-streamed to the audience. Students collected inspirational messages from the chat box and created a collage of the globe, capturing the essence of the conference. We unexpectedly had interpreters that volunteered to offer sign language throughout the conference. We had about 177 attendees and held on to 125 for most part. We got so many compliments and demand to do this on a monthly basis.
It was truly a lesson, again, to design every environment and then let things emerge!