With so much to focus on in the classroom it can be easy to switch into auto-pilot when it comes to giving your students feedback. Unfortunately this often cheats you and them out of a meaningful learning experience. So what can we do to be fully present in the classroom?
Engage the Body and the Brain
Your mind and body must work together so if you're going to be mentally engaged with your class you need to be physically engaged as well. Try to exercise before or after work, this will improve your sleep and overall health which will make it easier to focus during the day. You can also include your students in your exercise by starting each class with a brief physical warm-up. This will bring the same benefits to your students!
Learn to Compartmentalize
The better you get at separating your work-life from your home-life the better the classroom experience will be for you, your students, and your family. This doesn't mean you shouldn't share elements of each world with the other. It simply means you deserve to have quality time away from each. The art of teaching requires balance in all aspects of your life. Explore hobbies, go on trips, spend time with people outside of work - these activities will keep you fresh when you're in school.
Listen and Repeat
If you're having trouble focusing on what your students have to say, practice listening and repeating what you hear. You can say things like, "So what you're saying is..." "Am I understanding this correctly?..." This makes the speaker feel heard and ensures that you understand what they've said.
Focus on the Details
Pay specific attention to your students' body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc. If you're focusing on these things you're less likely to get distracted. Try to remember details and practice recalling things your students said at the end of the day. If you can remember these things, chances are good you've been fully present during the day.
With so many ways for people to get in touch with us during the day it's easy to be distracted, even when we're teaching, by the world outside. Confine the use of your email, cell phone, pager, ipod, blackberry, etc. to times when students are not present. Even though its tempting to stay connected all day long, you'll find that you can enjoy the moments in your classroom more when they have your undivided attention.
Be Prepared, Be Organized
It goes without saying that a well planned day goes much better than one planned on the fly. It's not always easy to have everything planned in advance but doing so greatly reduces the stress on you and your students. Try to always be prepared at least one day ahead and have all the materials you'll need for a lesson ready before class begins. At the end of the day take 20 minutes to put everything in order for tomorrow. This ensures a calm start to the morning and a calm morning bodes well for the many hours that follow.
Be Gentle with Yourself
Making an effort to be fully present in your classroom is like any exercise, it takes time to build up the muscles that eventually make it easy. So, don't beat yourself up for daydreaming now and then or having an "off" day. Nobody is perfect, not even teachers. (Though we do come closer than most.)