What Am I Doing Here?

I force my students to reflect. The clinical students must submit a written piece at Orientation entitled “What Am I Doing Here?” and in my lecture course, I give written assignments early in the semester forcing them to ponder the theories behind Supreme Court decisions and the relevance to those in their own lives.  But what about me? What good is reflective learning without reflective teaching?

Like many of you, I suspect, reflection is an implicit and sometimes even explicit aspect of my pedagogy. I set learning outcomes.  I review best practices scholarship and refine my plans accordingly. I explore new material. I google. It’s a large, messy, fun sandbox we play in.

But as summer draws to its inevitable close, I find myself more drawn to the pause that reflection can invite. As teachers, we are encouraged to pause, at least ostensibly.  Semesters have endings, followed by “breaks”.  Education is full of built-in pauses.  What we do during those pauses, I think, matters much more than we realize. And I say that knowing that many of you, also like me, don’t have the “full stop” experience during the summer that some have.  Clinical teaching means client work, and direct representation of individual clients in state trial court litigation means no full stops.  Summer is just a season like the other three. Also it’s family law–enough said.

So when comes the pause?  Whenever it can.  In my world, it comes in the space between my deep inhales and exhales during tough moments in court.  Some days this summer it came early in the day, with coffee and the newspaper on my front porch.  And sometimes the pause was several days long, as vacations should be.  But at some point, every day, I pause deliberately to practice mindful movement or stillness, or a little of both.  Simply put, I practice yoga and meditation.  New Age? Maybe.  Relevant to my health? Absolutely.  Related to law teaching? Well, that’s the thing.

I found myself this past week adding more and more references to mindfulness, to reflection, and to just slowing down and pausing to savor moments, to my syllabus and my PowerPoints for class. My students are getting a little neuroscience about brain chemistry’s link to mindful reflection with their Family Law this semester.

I’ve been passionate about this for several years, but my clarity about the links between science and law grows constantly.  Aren’t we better students of anything when we harness our brain’s maximum power?  And that’s what mindfulness does–the science clearly shows it changes your brain for the better.  You’re a better learner, and a better teacher.  And what about stewards of the law–aren’t we better legal advocates if we are calmer, more open to legal theory, and more effective at conflict resolution?

This week I’ll share some of the science with my students, and then I’ll explain my new classroom rules: no phones, no computers, and we start each class with a moment of silence.  Then we’ll crack the new edition of the Bluebook and be off to the races.  That’s what we’re doing here.

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