As teachers we live from lesson plan to lesson plan and from one report deadline to the next report deadline. But there are moments that make us stop. And reflect. For me one such moment – or rather, episode – was a mini-project that I set up for my highly diverse group of immigrant students: a guided imagery meditation.
Within this specific programme – an intensive Dutch course for students aged 12-18, supplemented with other subjects, such as English – my English teacher colleagues and I have the privilege of designing our own curriculum. We chose to work with units centered around the school’s core values, among them Open-mindedness.
As the main focus of the Open-mindedness unit, we decided to let our students conduct a cultural interview with a peer, and write it up as a magazine article. In order to prepare our students for asking relevant questions, we first wanted them to reflect on their own culture(s). But then again, to enable them to reflect on their own culture(s), we had to help them contrast their culture(s) with another culture. Here, Dutch culture lent itself naturally. And then we faced the real challenge: how to compare and contrast cultures without slipping into stereotyping? Well, by using guided imagery meditations, as it turns out!
You might wonder: What is a guided imagery meditation and how could it serve our purpose? Simply put, a guided imagery is a form of meditation, during which people listen to a script that guides them through an imagined landscape step by step, typically a beach or a forest. As meditations in general, guided imagery helps people connect with their breath and hence has a soothing effect. For my project there was a big added value: a guided imagery has the potential to transfer you to any corner of the world and let you experience it like a local. In short: you get a free trip around the world by local guides with the fringe benefit of calm students. I was sold.
So what I did was look up a guided imagery meditation, and changed it so it started with a general relaxation:
Get comfortable, sitting on a chair or on the floor. Relax your body by releasing any areas of tension. Allow your arms to go limp… then your legs….Feel your arms and legs becoming loose and relaxed…, etc.
but then continued by describing places in Amsterdam and asking my students to imagine what sights/smells/sounds/tastes/senses of touch they could discern:
The waves are gently rolling the boat and you doze off. When you wake up, your boat is in the city centre on one of the main canals. You open your eyes wide. What do you see? What do you notice? What colours dominate the picture?
What sounds can you hear? Which sounds are dominant and which are more difficult to detect? Try to notice them all…