This week we’ll hear from a teacher new to the Inner Strength teaching cohort, who recently completed her training practicum, the final level of the Inner Strength Teacher Training.
The Inner Strength Practicum gives participants real-world experience under the guidance of an experienced instructor. They get to see how the lessons are taught live and learn how to adapt lesson plans to the actual class situation. In real-time, participants observe how rapport is built with the students and classroom teachers over the semester.
An equally important component of the practicum is student teaching, where trainees are paired with a senior Inner Strength instructor. The trainee is responsible for carrying the classroom, instructing and guiding the students, with the senior instructor there to support and assist.
The practicum is usually completed in-person but because of the pandemic, all instruction was delivered virtually, a real challenge for a new instructor!
Let’s hear from Helena Showell about her experience:
An Interview: Helena Showell on Student Teaching for Inner Strength
Q: What was one of the most challenging things about student teaching virtually?
Helena: One of the most challenging things was figuring out how to engage students and maintain their interest. Students were allowed to have their cameras off, so it was difficult to get to know the students without seeing their faces. It was hard, at times, to gauge their participation levels.
Q: How did you navigate that challenge?
Helena: Well, we tried to get them to open up and engage in a few different ways. For example, we made use of the chat functions in the virtual classrooms and asked the students yes or no questions. Another way was to start the class off with an activity called Rose, Bud, and Thorn. We’d ask the students about their Rose – something good currently happening to them, their Bud – something they were looking forward to in the future, and their Thorn – a trial or difficulty that they were facing. It was a great way to break the ice and make them feel more comfortable about participating and engaging.
Q: Were you able to eventually get students to use their cameras?
Helena: At times. We kept in mind that the virtual environment was – is – very difficult on the students for a myriad of reasons, so we would use low pressure tactics such as saying, “Turn your camera on for 5 seconds and say hello” or “If you don’t want to show your face, point the camera at the ceiling” – things that might help the students engage better without making them feel uncomfortable or singled out.
Q: What were the benefits of teaching and completing the practicum virtually?
Helena: Well, the biggest benefit, of course, was safety. There was also no travel time coupled with the convenience and enjoyment of working from home. I also really enjoyed getting to know new people – other trainees from my cohort, ISF instructors, students, and the teachers from the host schools.
Getting the opportunity to learn new technology (Zoom, Google Classroom, Blue Jeans, Spotify, Amazon music, larger use of YouTube) was really beneficial as well.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment?
H: I have a lot of favorite moments but one that really sticks out for me is our Week 12 open discussion in the (virtual) breakout room. We really got a chance to see how the students had flourished and how they had grown. The most memorable part of that, for me, was experiencing the student-led mindfulness activities. As a teacher, it was very fulfilling and rewarding to be a part of that process.
Q: Lastly, what is one piece of advice that you would give to future trainees?
H: A teacher must be honest, authentic, and show interest in what they are doing – because the young people can spot fakes.