Moving Forward by Looking Back: Encouraging Students to Practice Mindfulness and Reflection

By: Abigail L. Perdue

Encourage honest and productive self-exploration.

During the first semester of law school, 1Ls process a tremendous quantity of information in an incredibly short and hectic period of time. Hopefully, they also gain discernment as they evolve from analytical surface-dwellers to deep thinkers. For these reasons, a positive and productive 1L year provides an unparalleled opportunity for growth.

Yet to optimize the benefits of the first semester of law school, it is critical for students to practice mindfulness. Thus, throughout the year and again as we commence the spring semester, I encourage my 1Ls to engage in contemplative lawyering and to thoughtfully reflect upon their goals and performance. Below are some suggested ways that you can create a more mindful 1L experience for your students and thus, maximize their learning.[1]

  1. Set goals: Before the spring semester commences, send an email to your students, asking them to think deeply about their personal learning goals for the upcoming term. At the beginning of your first class, instruct students to list their top three learning goals and to jot down at least one tangible step to accomplish each one. Advise students to revise the list during the semester and track their progress.
  2. Meditate:[2] Law school is stressful, and stress can hinder performance. So encourage students to begin each day with a mindfulness minute, devoting at least one minute to meditation. Consider using a mindfulness meditation script to begin class, inviting students to close their eyes, breathe deeply, and imagine themselves pushing distractions out of their minds and clearing a space for new ideas.
  3. Eliminate unnecessary distractions: To further enhance student productivity, require students to turn off their smartphones, laptops, and other electronic devices during class. Encourage them to also practice mindful studying. This involves closing their email, turning off smartphone notifications, and silencing any other noisy accessories while studying to promote deep concentration and enhance productivity. Challenge students to work in this distraction-free setting for at least one hour before taking a break.
  4. Take periodic mental and physical breaks: Advise students to concentrate for at least one hour before allowing themselves to take a ten minute mental break to refresh and refocus. During this break, they can use the restroom, grab a drink, enjoy a snack, or even take a stroll. The important thing is that they will return to their work with rested eyes and a fresh perspective.
  5. Consistently engage in meaningful self-reflection: Perhaps most importantly, after each new task and especially at the outset of the spring semester, provide students with an opportunity to meaningfully reflect on what they have learned and how they can apply those lessons in the future. For example, before our first spring class, I assign a pass/fail anonymous reflection, which asks my students to consider the following:
  • Think back on your top three expectations and goals for our course during the fall semester. Did you accomplish all or most of them? Why or why not?
  • Considering your performance in our course during the fall, which three learning tools and strategies proved most effective? Why? How will you continue to use them this semester?
  • What are the three most important lessons you learned from our course during the fall term? How will you apply them this semester?
  • Considering your course performance during the fall, which three learning tools and strategies proved least effective? Why? How will you avoid repeating them?
  • What are three areas in our course that you would like to improve upon this term? Now list one action you can take to improve in each area.
  • In the fall, did you manage your time effectively? Why or why not? If no, list one step you can take to more effectively manage your time this spring.
  • In the fall, did you manage your stress effectively? Why or why not? If no, list one step you can take to more effectively manage your stress this spring.
  • In the fall, were you always professional and positive in your interactions with others? Did you consistently engage in positive self-talk and peer talk? If no, list one step you can take to be more professional and positive this semester.
  • List three learning goals or expectations you have for yourself in our course this spring. Now list one action item for each that you can use to accomplish it.

In addition, I consistently discuss the pedagogical value of mindfulness and facilitate class discussion regarding questions contained in reflections. How do you help your students maximize their learning?

[1] Many of these suggestions are inspired by the excellent scholarship of Professor Shailini George at Suffolk University Law School. See generally Shailini J. George, The Cure for the Distracted Mind: Why Law Schools Should Teach Mindfulness, 53 Duq. L. Rev. 215 (2015).

[2] These suggestions are adapted from Shailini J. George, Easy Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness in the Legal Writing Classroom, 29 The Second Draft 2, 34-35 (Fall 2016).


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