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Asynchronous for All: Mindful Strategies that Support All Learners

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

On March 12th of 2020, I walked into my classroom as if it were any other day. I began class by greeting students with paper worksheets at the door. They grabbed their physical books, and Chromebooks weren't required to access learning. As I took attendance, I sighed with disappointment knowing the students who are not physically with me in the room did not have access to the learning- I thought that's just the way it was. I had no reason to believe that things would change. I was wrong. March 13th, 2020, was the beginning of a new chapter of not only my teaching career, but education itself. Access to education has moved to a virtual platform- and there's no going back.

As painful as this transition was for educators, there's a lot of good that comes with moving content to learning management systems. We've created accessibility regardless of circumstances. I've had students my whole career who, for one reason or another, can't physically be in the building. They now have access to learning and ways that were not possible before. This is a beautiful step towards equity in education. The general education teachers work extremely hard creating content and meaningful lessons that are aligned to learning targets. They collaborate and carefully craft our Learning Management Systems. Special education teachers are not part of this process in my district, so I had to get creative about providing support in scaffolds for our most vulnerable learners. I buckled down, did hours and hours of research, came up with a plan, and took a risk. So far, it is serving me well.

I created digital notebooks that include resources and videos of myself doing the general education teacher’s assignment from start to finish as if I were a student. I show them exactly where to click, what to type, examples of how the work is done, and real-time resources just a click away. On Mondays, I lock myself in my classroom to do paperwork, contact families and record these videos for the week for both math and language arts. This ensures students have access to the learning at any time. Students can re-watch and slow down the video; parents also have access to this notebook and can actually help their students. I used this as a tool for the rest of the week when I co-teach. I take struggling students into a breakout room and watch the video with them, pausing and explaining as needed.

The strangest phenomenon of all of this is my eighth graders genuinely don't realize that I'm not talking to them in person. When I teach during my independently taught classes, I greet them and start playing videos that I have pre-recorded. I'll watch the chat to see any questions, and I pause myself to clarify along the way. This really makes me my own assistant. The weird thing is my students don't always know which videos are live or pre-recorded. Perhaps this is also because I wear the same thing to work every day, but as long as I am talking to them in the video, they feel connected to me. I suppose this makes sense because on some level I feel connected to my favorite TV show characters or YouTubers that I enjoy. It really isn't that different for students to feel connected as long as they are seeing us.

The extra help digital notebooks have saved me so much time and provide quality supports and scaffolds for my students. Parents are thankful for this resource and report feeling empowered to help the student in ways that weren’t before possible. Once I got the hang of creating these resources, it has saved me an incredible amount of time. I'm also protected against special education lawsuits that we see popping up all over the country. I am providing a digital- yet tangible resource accessible at any time.

This creates time for the most important thing we can teach in these difficult times-mindfulness. Mindful Teaching is the single greatest tool we have that empowers students to reduce stress, regulate emotions, and break through the unmanageable barriers that prevent learning. At this point in my teaching, because my lessons are asynchronous, any time I spend with students is spent bridging the learning gap and promoting wellness.

As the bell rings, I begin a Mindful Message for middle-level students. There are resources out there, but I

make my own. I record them in advance, and they always include a short mindfulness practice such as affirmations, breathing exercises, quick journaling, etc. I post them on Youtube, so they are ready to go. I play this while I take attendance and do other beginning of class housekeeping things. I don’t feel I’m losing any instructional time doing this, but instead gaining time to incorporate mindfulness for students and time to take a moment to breathe before teaching. This moment sets the tone for the rest of the class period.

Next is my general student check-in. I ask how they are doing and expect them all to respond in some way. Sometimes I use a meme mood board; sometimes I ask how they are on a 1-5 scale, sometimes it’s just a thumbs up/thumbs down. I spend no more than two minutes checking on their wellbeing, but I gain so much valuable information from this practice.

Next, we move onto the asynchronous lesson. 2020 taught me that I can’t expect all my scholars to be mentally or physically present during the designated instructional time. Instead, I pre-record all my lessons and place videos and resources in a digital notebook to make it easy. I also hyperlink images in the notebook to my learning

management system, so students don’t have to navigate multiple platforms. My students work on lessons at their own pace, so I use personal learning plans to manage grading and student progress.

About halfway through independent work time, I like to take a mindfulness break. I use Digital Take a Break Rooms. Take a Break Rooms, sometimes known as emotional regulation rooms, are great for teaching mindfulness in a blended learning environment. These are virtual learning spaces made on a platform such as Google slides that link to mindfulness activities. I also ask students to check in with themselves based on the Zones of Regulation. The mindfulness activities I use for my middle-level students are mini-workouts, yoga, coloring, meditation, satisfying video (ASMR, soap cutting, slime, etc.).

After our mindfulness break, we continue with independent work and the asynchronous lesson. When we

reach the end of class, I ask students to do a daily check-out to check in with themselves. Using the wheel of emotions, students identify their primary emotion in a Google Form that then leads them to a secondary emotion, then to a very specific emotion. The exit ticket then asks students to identify their basic needs such as the amount of sleep, hydration habits, eating patterns, you know, the things teachers often neglect themselves. The last question asked if there's anything else the student wants to share with the teacher that day. The information is automatically generated in a google form, and I can then use this data to make sure I understand my student’s needs.

I believe mindfulness in education and asynchronous supports are the key to a successful learning environment- especially in a post-2020 world. This past year has taught me that teaching mental health care is no longer optional. It's no longer something we can comfortably push to make room for bell-to-bell teacher lead instruction proven to be less effective. It's time to practice proven methods of improving adolescent mental health.

We owe it to our students.

We owe it to ourselves.

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