Explorations and Reflections

on awakening the true self  in education

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  • Mick Scott

Engaging a Student's Inner Life

I’ve been really enjoying Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach, and I’m borrowing this next idea from him and modifying it slightly along the way. (Please note that though I write about teachers, students, and classrooms, these ideas can be applied to life more broadly.)


Classrooms where students engage and learn balance the seeming dualism between a student’s inner and outer life.


When the classroom is reliably calm and safe enough and the teacher has adequately invited it, the student’s inner life is engaged more fully in the work of the classroom. For example, the student can:

  • better practice techniques for remembering information

  • contemplatively explore ideas and concepts within her own mind

  • allow the focused conversation around her to broaden her understanding and her own possibly limited perspective

  • open her creative gateways to see lessons in new and inventive contexts and scenarios

Likewise, the student’s outer life is engaged in an environment and classroom culture that welcomes and fosters an exploration in community. For example, the student can:

  • identify and engage the internal aspects of himself through exposure to the authentic internal aspects of others

  • more fully engage with the truth and beauty of the course material

  • express himself authentically, unbounded by the constraints of fear, insecurity, and self-judgement

  • allow his personal thinking to tussle with and propel the classroom community’s thinking

The teacher has an opportunity to dance with and counterbalance the dynamic internal and external forces in the classroom and its inhabitants, and when we do, students engage and learn.


There are many strategies and techniques to engage the inner and outer aspects of our students in the classroom. I recommend checking out one Montessori school's guiding principles for accomplishing this as a pedagogical approach.


What I want to specifically point to right now, however, are two self-focused approaches to connecting with the student's inner world.


Approach #1. Pay attention.

It's helpful for teachers to understand where students are in their psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical development. And we're not all at the same level at the same age (check out Montessori's age groupings for a more adequate approach).


But it doesn't take a degree in developmental psychology to understand where our students are in their development. It actually only takes paying attention.


When we pay attention to where our students are, we inevitably engage their inner life. Interact with the person actually right in front of you.


Paying attention is connecting authentically with a student in the present moment, without expectation, desire, fear, insecurity, or a lesson plan getting us to pull or push the student to be somewhere else. In other words, pay attention to where the student is, and forget, for a few moments anyway, about where you want them to get.


Approach #2. Continually lift the veil

The engaging teacher is grounded in an understanding of the nature of human being. This means that while we engage with a class or a student, we know and recognize that most of their focus is on the objects of their own mind: their thinking, feelings, judgments, hopes, self-criticisms, memories, fantasies, fears, and so on.


As teachers, we don't have to engage with those objects of their minds. We only have to engage with the unbreakable, untarnishable, and whole core of students' being.


As adults, we're distracted most of the time too. We focus on the objects of our minds, soaring through la la land and only stopping at those thoughts that pique the interest of our desires and fears. In fact, we're usually not even interacting with the actual students in front of us, we're interacting with our own filters about those students.


So of course students are the same way.


And just like us, when we engage them in an authentic, clear, and understanding way, their focus is invited back to the present moment. BAM!, the student is reengaged with the conversation. And so are we.


Thanks for reading ❤️.

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