What’s Your Number Today? Practicing the Skills of Well-being

By Jennifer J. Stanigar, PhD, Program Evaluation Specialist, OFD and Mary Michaels Estrada, Lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

When Mary Estrada and I met recently in Zoom, the first thing she asked was, “What’s your number today, on a scale of 1 to 10?” I had observed Professor Estrada do this with her FLE students and as it turns out, practicing Mindfulness Check-in allows us to pause and reflect on our current state of mind, which builds self-awareness, social awareness, compassion and empathy, all important skills of well-being (CASEL, 2017). It’s like learning anything; the more we practice, the better we get. Well-being is a skill that can be taught, which is why these practices have a place in our classrooms now.

Professor Estrada felt concerned when her international students expressed feelings of loneliness and isolation. She shared a story about a graduate student who worked in a research lab on campus, and who said that her class was the only time she talked all day. Seeing the need to build community, Professor Estrada started Mindfulness Check-in at the beginning of each class and recently presented on the results, which I wrote about here. Professor Estrada’s ‘Why’ is to give students a feeling that they belong.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an “on ramp” for learning, and lets students take responsibility for shaping their own mindset. Self-inquiry practices are a “vehicle for training our attention”, in ways that can literally shape our brains. There is neuroscientific evidence that the brain’s neural circuits exhibit plasticity, meaning they can be shaped through training and experience (Davidson, 2016) to create lasting change in our minds. Furthermore, facilitating these experiences with students promotes inclusion, equity and belonging.

You may be thinking, “Why should I do this? This sort of thing doesn’t work in all courses”. Professor Estrada insists that even modest efforts can pay off for you and your students. Even a simple check-in gives you better data about your students, and gives students the message that the experience of your day matters to me. Professor Estrada summed it up, “This is a transformative exercise – as you do it, you realize how it elicits an authentic response.”

Just start and see what happens! Start class with a 2-minute ritual of a mindful check-in. As an experiment, in your next Zoom call, ask, “What is your number today? On a scale of 1 to 10, put your number in the Chat, and add a “Two-word Why” (finished paper; two exams; positive feedback; etc.). Having a moment to think and reflect is great training for all of us. Practice by asking at your family dinner table, or when meeting with colleagues or friends. Think about alternative ways to check-in. Be creative with a visual and a prompt such as, “How full is your battery today?”

In the words of one of Professor Estrada’s students, “Check-ins with music really wake and cheer you up for an 8:30 class! You can also find out how your classmates are feeling or undergoing, which will always be an excellent topic to talk about when you try to make friends. All students in our class remained in a good relationship.”

To learn more about the use of this approach in a non-humanities course, stay tuned! In a future post, we will hear from Dr. Erica Kosal, a STEM faculty who conducted research in the use of mindfulness practices during class with her first-year students.