In our teaching practice, we dedicate such energy and time and commitment to our students, to the learning community, to the pursuit of knowing or truth. Perhaps we are quite content to simply rest in the effort, enjoying the journey and paying attention to all that arises in our classrooms, in dialogues, in relationships. Or perhaps we have hopes that something is happening, that through the experiences and the modeling and the inquiry there are in fact changes taking place in our students, in ourselves. During the full, rich busy time of teaching through the academic year, I often find I am quite immersed, up close and deeply into the details of what we are creating. I have come to appreciate more and more the intentional ways that we can listen in to what is taking place in the subtle realms, what is changing, what is happening in the dynamic territory of learning.
One of the practices I have tried to maintain is an invitation for students to come speak with me about anything that is coming up for them in their lives at school (or outside of it). While I have a full schedule of meetings to review course material and give support and guidance to specific students who are seeking it, I try to keep open and encourage those visits that are just check-ins where I might listen in to the experiences, challenges and perspectives of different students at different points on their paths through our school. These visits have become so interesting and so valuable to me as an educator, for in these unscripted conversations, I hear a great deal about the fabric of what is happening and how it feels to students. I hear about the college admissions process, about the interplay between friends, family, and coursework. I hear about dreams and hopes, frustrations and disappointments, worries and fears. I get suggestions, ideas, feedback, and inspiration too.
In my school, we have a particular process that is designed to invite senior students to share feedback with any members of the faculty during their final weeks with us before commencement. These “exit interviews” are informally scheduled and can be guided by a set of framing questions or left completely open-ended. I always look forward to the layered and far-reaching conversations that these interviews provoke, and I learn much about our school community through the thoughtful insights brought forward by those students who are moving on. Here are a few comments that came up at the end of a year long program we undertook during the past school year:
“I can say confidently it is these programs, people and experiences that have made this time such an incredible source of knowledge, joy and truth for me and my family.”
“Everything is connected and every choice and action has a consequence whether or not it is foreseen – this has made me rethink how I look at society and how I live my life…”
“Being willing to be open this way allows us to change as intellectual beings and grow as a person….the more we understand things and have the wisdom, the better we can find our true selves.. always changing, learning and growing.”
For me, there is no greater validation and confirmation of the role played by integrally-informed education than the spoken and written words of students who are quietly expressing what they have found along the way.