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Practicing Ritual as a Way to Build Community in the Classroom

The workshop I have organized, “Practicing Ritual as a Way to Build Community in the Classroom,” will highlight the usefulness of practicing ritual by engaging participants in reflective activities. Building community is more difficult during these times, and this workshop will highlight how ritual can deepen connection in the classroom and work to improve student participation and investment.

This workshop was offered as part of the TLC’s 2021 Mid-Winter Institute. The workshop took place via Zoom as an online, synchronous workshop. The workshop and materials were developed by Chy Sprauve.

Materials

All materials on this page and in the linked google folder are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) 4.0 International Public License.

This folder contains the workshop plan, included in full below.

Materials Folder: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1qQqm-OnZimjBTQ9PvQVX5nW1brSYqhqo

Workshop Agenda

Ritual Workshop (Agenda) (length: 1 hr. 30 min)

  1. Introduction + workshop (theory) rationale
  2. Block 1: “Draw Your Feelings” activity + discussion
  3. Block 2: Journaling activity: What are your own ritual objects / activities? Why have you made these particular objects / activities habitual? How do they (objects / activities) make you feel? Discussion to follow.
  4. Block 3: Choose one sensation (joy, energy, focus, calm, safety, strength) you discussed in the previous activity (journaling). How might you generate this feeling via ritual in your own classroom? Discuss.

1. Intro + rationale:

    • In her book, Living a Feminist Life, independent scholar Sara Ahmed introduces to her audience the notion of a “feminist toolkit.” A feminist toolkit, for Ahmed, is a collection of objects, writings, and / or practices that she collected in order to ensure her survival in the academy (and in life). For our purposes, think of toolkits as a collection of ritual items (physical objects and/or writings and thoughts) that our classrooms can access in order to deepen their ties to one another.
    • Building teaching and learning communities is not that different from building other kinds of communities. We often think of learning communities in the university as distinct from other communities, but building values like trust, care and safety are important in any community. Our classrooms function as (educational) communities. Developing a sense of connection among members of a community can build feelings of safety and comfort, which can lead to more engaged classroom participants—especially vital during these times. One of the ways we as instructors can build a sense of community in the classroom is by developing rituals with (and perhaps among) our students.
    • In this workshop, I invite you all to participate in two activities (rituals!) followed by discussions about those activities. So, part of this workshop is us feeling our way through ritual as well as discussing it.¹
    • Building teaching and learning communities is not that different from building other kinds of communities. We often think of learning communities in the university as distinct from other communities, but building values like trust, care and safety are important in any community. Our classrooms function as (educational) communities.
    • Developing a sense of connection among members of a community can build feelings of safety and comfort, which can lead to more engaged classroom participants—especially vital during these times. One of the ways we as instructors can build a sense of community in the classroom is by developing rituals with (and perhaps among) our students.
    • In this workshop, I invite you all to participate in two activities (rituals!) followed by discussions about those activities. So, part of this workshop is us feeling our way through ritual as well as discussing it.

¹ “To be committed to a feminist life means we cannot not do this work; we cannot not fight for this cause, whatever it causes, so we have to find a way of sharing the costs of that work. Survival thus becomes a shared feminist project. So this tool kit contains my personal stuff, what I have accumulated over time; things I know I need to do and to have around me to keep on going on. We will accumulate different things, have our own stuff; we can peer into each other’s kits and find in there someone else’s feminist story. But I think the point of the kit is not just what we put in it; it is the kit itself, having some- where to deposit those things that are necessary for your survival. Feminism is a killjoy

 

2. Block one:

Background: “Draw Your Feelings” – I find this activity to be a great icebreaker in any group setting. For this exercise, participants are asked to draw any immediate emotion they feel, using any / all materials for a period of up to five minutes. (Another option is to just write a description.) After drawing, participants are invited (completely optional) to describe their drawing. What I like about this activity is that it engages a creative means to examine one’s emotional state. I think checking in with one’s emotional state can be helpful in understanding the “bandwidth” one has that day regarding completing tasks, engaging socially, etc. It can help the instructor in a classroom setting take a kind of “temperature” of the classroom and it can also help students understand the (emotional, academic) availabilities they and their peers have during class. Possible drawbacks of this activity: though I think this activity inherently includes a distancing component when it comes to emotions (describing one’s emotions as opposed to being asked to immediately be with them in a way that may be uncomfortable), this activity may be triggering for some participants. Modifications to this activity include asking participants to write down their feelings instead of drawing them. It is also important to let participants know that describing their feelings in the discussion portion of the activity is completely optional. I find that many students / participants often do not share their work in this activity but have still expressed appreciation for the practice.

For today: Take five (5) minutes to draw how you feel in the present moment. Please draw anything that comes to mind. Do not worry about form or structure. After five minutes of drawing, I ask that you take another five (5) minutes to discuss your drawing / feelings amongst your group. This activity can put us in touch with strong feelings. Remember that there is no obligation to share your drawings or discuss them. If there is silence in the group, this is completely acceptable. ☺

Main Room Discussion: Each group discusses their experience / takeaways: ten (10) minutes

 

3. Block 2: 

Background: Journaling activity – I have assigned reflection essays (also known as “exit tickets”) to my students at the close of each class session for the past few years. What I like about the essays is that I get to take a temperature of the classroom regarding how students feel about course content (are we going too slowly / quickly?) and how they feel about their own status in the class. It provides an opportunity for me to check-in with students and address possible problems before they snowball. I find this activity useful for me and the students. Though this activity is not exactly an exit ticket, as we’re not doing it at the end of this workshop, it does provide similar reflective opportunities. In general, giving a group the chance to process their feelings via reflective work (in this case, in the form of “essays” – which tend to be a few lines on an index card when I assign them in the classroom) can be an illuminating process for both the teacher and student.

For today: Think about an object or habit that you engage – a special jacket or book, a short regular trip you might make—that makes you feel a deep emotion or helps to establish a sense of calm or stability. Take the time to describe the action or object as well as the sensation. Why is this action or object important to you? Can you describe its essentiality? Take ten (10) minutes to respond to these prompts in writing. After the time is up, take another ten (10) minutes to discuss your responses with your group. Perhaps focus on the action or object you described and why you chose it, or discuss anything you wrote that was salient for you.

Main Room Discussion: Each group discusses their experience / takeaways: ten (10) minutes

 

4. Block 3: 

Background: I hope that thinking about how ritual might be important to you helps to establish an understanding of how ritual might be helpful and generative in the classroom setting. Establishing regular habits with a group one is in constant contact with can help to establish feelings of trust among its members and can help to increase “buy-in” or participation, which is obviously increasingly important in our physically-distant landscape.

For today: Choose a sensation you described in the previous journaling activity. How might you create this sensation via a (regular) activity in the classroom? For example, if you described feelings of calm in your writing, how might you conceive of a “calming” ritualistic activity in your classroom? The ambiguousness in this activity is meant to invite us not to stymie ourselves in our ideas. You can always pare down or add more parameters later. This activity is not meant to be fully-formed at the end of this workshop. Note that what is calming to one person may not be calming for others, but the point of this exercise is to inspire us to dream up community rituals that effectively capture sensations that help us to continue to create, to teach, to learn, to contribute, to support…Take ten (10) minutes to develop the bones of a possible classroom ritual and ten (10) minutes to discuss.

Main Room Discussion: Each group discusses their experience / takeaways: ten (10) minutes


  1. Hello + read introductory paragraphs (3 min)
  2. Note to workshop participants: Meant to be jumping-off point, no worries if assignments are incomplete – if interested, can always pick them back up and take more time to do them (2 min)
  3. Agenda description: introduce DYF + paste instructions into chat, talk about breakout rooms (activities will be done in breakout rooms; after each activity, we will return to main room to discuss) / introduce journaling practice + paste instructions into chat / introduce reflective discussion activity + paste instructions into chat (5 min)
  4. Add “background info” section to chat when doing main room discussion at the close of each activity
  5. At end of workshop add this:
    Thank you all for sharing your time (and emotional bandwidth!) with us today. For a comprehensive list of ritual ideas to explore in your classrooms / communal spaces, read my blog post here: https://vp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2020/11/12/how-ritual-can-inspire-connection-in-the-classroom/

Texts for Reference: