Fourth Shift: Setting an Intention For Learning and Living

Fourth Shift: Setting an Intention for Learning Living

Yesterday in my yoga class, the teacher asked us to set an intention for our practice. While we rested in child’s pose, she provided some suggestions: breath, gratitude, focus, strength, etc. She explained that the purpose of setting an intention is to anchor your practice. When your mind begins to wander, and you become distracted, you can come back to your intention and refocus.

As we flowed through each vinyasa, I did find my mind drifting at times. Often, I would think about the work week ahead, my to do list or I would get distracted by another student or the room. It’s so hot in here! How does she bend her back like that? What time is it? My chosen intention was: be here now. Like the refrain in a song, I came back to it again, and again. Be here now. My intention became a thread that weaved together my energy during the class. I felt grounded in the present moment, and connected to myself and my body. Be here now. My refrain. My intention.

As I was leaving the class, my mind shifted to a coaching session I had with a teacher the week before. I usually begin each meeting with the questions,” What is something that you observed your students doing this week that you were proud of? What role did you play in making this happen?”

She responded immediately and said, “The students were working on their choice board, and even though they were doing different activities, they were more focused than I expected.”

“That great,” I said. “What did you do to support your students to engage in their work?”

“I told them I was grading their focus.”

“What do you think would have happened if you hadn’t told them that you were grading them based on their ability to stay focused?” I asked.

“They would have been off task. They would have been talking to each other about their weekend or asking me to repeat the directions for the third time,” she said.

“Do you feel like grading focus aligns with what you hope to teach your students? I asked.

She frowned. I want them to see the value in seeing a task through until the end. The constant interruptions are exhausting, and I feel like we never get into a rhythm or flow. I’m putting out fires when I need to meet with individual students or small groups.

I could empathize with her immediately. There were so many times in my classroom where I felt like if I didn’t stand in front of the room and teach to the whole group that I would lose control, and no one would learn anything. I often talked constantly at my students to prevent them from cross-talking or interrupting me. This fear of chaos, and my concern that my students couldn’t maintain focus on their own kept me away from integrating blended and personalized learning into my classroom. Even though my teaching values and beliefs held that this model would provide the framework for differentiation, student ownership, and independence, I didn’t see how the theory would work in practice. It took many small steps until I got there, but I did, and I knew this teacher could too.

“If your students were in a rhythm or flow, what would you see them doing? What would you hear them saying?”

She described a classroom that I think most teachers dream of. A classroom where students are seeking help from each other before interrupting the teacher. A classroom where other than the soft shuffle of feet as students get supplies and transition to their next activity and the buzz of discussion and collaboration, is quiet. A classroom where the teacher is re-teaching a small group of students. A classroom with a rhythm and a flow.

“Do you think our work might start with this vision in mind,” I asked?

She looked skeptical.

“How will we get there? I’m not sure where to start.”

We began by generating a list of skills that students would need to be taught and practice in order to focus and fall into a rhythm and flow.

The list included active listening, strategies for re-focusing, how to ask for help without interrupting, strategies for dealing with frustration, and many more.

“Do you think the students know what focus is and how being focused can help them learn and be successful at the task?” Let’s find a strategy to support them with that.

I shared the practice of setting an intention in my yoga class.

“What if you asked your students to set an intention for their work, and modeled for them how they could use that intention to refocus on the task at hand?”

We mocked up a visual to support students with this process, and then we used it to prepare her next class.

We can:
We will:
Ongoing Task or Limited Task (Time):
Tasks (Choose one):



Focus First: Today’s Class

We can use our understanding of the novel in order to develop and discuss our ideas
We will use Accountable Talk stems in order to engage with our peers in a discussion
Intention: Choose a word or phrase to refocus

Options (If you are stuck): Back to it, Begin Again, Here and Now, Reset
Ongoing Task or Limited Task (Time): 20 minutes
Tasks: Choose One Task From Below.


Do you want to work silently and on your own?

Graffiti Walk Discussion
Visit each poster once, and answer the question. Once you have visited each, visit the posters a second time, and use the Accountable Talk Stems to respond to your peers’ posts.
Do you want to talk through your ideas with a partner?


Piggybacking Discussion
Use this graphic organizer (link organizer) to document your conversation with your partner. Use the Accountable Talk Stems to keep talking.

Do you want to work on the computer and collaborate with your peers?

Padlet Discussion
Visit these Padlet walls. Post your response. Read your peers’ responses and post additional responses, using the Accountable Talk Stems to keep the conversation moving.


Accountable Talk Stems

Tell me more about…
Can you explain what you mean?
Can you support your idea with an example from the text?
I disagree with you because…
I agree with you because…
Another way to think about that might be…

One of the most important steps in using this strategy was to provide students with the opportunity to self-assess whether or not setting the intention, and using it helped anchor their focus, and redirect their engagement. She created a Google Form, which students filled out at the end of class, and asked questions like:

Rate your level of focus in today’s class: distracted, somewhat focused, focused, very focused. Then, write a sentence explaining the rationale for your choice.

What was your intention word or phrase?

Did you use it to help you refocus?

Once she tries the strategy, we will look at the students’ responses together and determine if intention setting was a helpful strategy to teach students how to regain focus. From there, we will modify the strategy, try it again, or try something new, and in doing so, find our rhythm and flow.

Shift Small: Small Steps For Teachers And All Of Us To Start Shifting

1. Model and Explain:

Be transparent with your students about why you are asking them to set an intention, and how you think it may help them focus and why. Use the yoga class example or an example from your own experience to share with them how this strategy has worked well for you, and how you use it.

2. Practice Builds Stamina

Trying a new strategy takes practice. Tell your students that their intention may not work every time. We all have days where we are more distracted than others. There are many yoga classes where I find my mind wandering no matter what I try. Give students ample opportunities to practice using this strategy, and to reflect on their experience with it.

3. Use the Collective “We

Support your students to understand that they are part of a learning community, and that everyone is trying a new strategy together. Using “we” instead of “I” and “you” in your can statements will take some of the pressure off, and hopefully, alleviate some anxiety for students who are worried they will remain distracted.

4. Practice What You Preach
Use this strategy yourself. Whether you set an intention for your teaching each day or try intention setting for managing your to do list or completing a task at home, see if it works for you. Reflect on your experience with it, and share your observations with your students.

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