Saturday, August 22, 2020
Consecrating the Classroom Space – in a Pandemic
A few years ago, as I was checking out my new classroom space prior to the first day of class, I ran into one of my IT colleagues who making sure all systems were go. Something about the way he moved made me realize that he was carrying a heavy weight. When we both pressed pause on our checklist of tasks, he was very relieved to connect beyond “how are you / I’m fine,” and we calendared a lunch to continue the conversation. As I left the classroom that morning, I could feel there was a shift in me. This tiny gesture of attention helped me to feel ready to work in that space to receive a new group of students.
Perhaps because at that moment I was working with Ed Pellegrino’s wonderful 1983 article, Professional Studies and Catholic Universities: The Consecration of Expertise for a book chapter on Catholic education, what came to mind was the image of pouring oil over an altar, as part of consecrating a new sacred space. The altar was ready.
In DC our local regulations are such that I am not starting the semester in a new physical space. What might it mean to “consecrate” a Zoom space to receive a new group of students this Fall? My Religion & the Work of a Lawyer seminar is not tiny, but it is manageable enough (24) to at least offer to meet and begin to get to know each student individually before the official start of classes. So far, to a person the students have been deeply appreciative of the chance for us to “see” each other in almost regular size (rather than as one among many squares) and to have a conversation beyond “how are you / I’m fine.” And with each meeting, I have felt a growing sense of calm with the idea of starting a very interactive discussion-based seminar online.
I have also been exploring new tech options to help the class as a whole process student input after breakout discussions. As part of an online orientation program, I did a test run of “Jamboard,” and made a mess of it. The little post-its rolled into the shared board too fast, and were too many and too small for me to process. But felix colpa: reflecting on exactly what went wrong, I realized that this was the “shift” that I needed. I had been overly focused on the question of how technology could help me to consolidate student input and to communicate that in an efficient and effective way. The shift? To foreground the question of how to honor each person as they give their input – which probably also means slowing down everything (the input and the discussion of the input).
Again, Pellegrino: “For the authentic Christian, no sphere of life can be isolated from faith. All work, however mundane or humble, becomes a ministry, and in that sense, consecrated.” I am not sure how long we will be online. But I am sure that we can continue to find ways not only to humanize the Zoom space, but even to consecrate our work in this platform.