Yesterday, a colleague pointed me to Microsoft Reflect, “A well-being app to support connection, expression, and learning”, and I had a quick play. It’s a tool to support reflection in educational settings (something that I am thinking about a lot in the context of teaching sustainability). Since it is not designed specifically for use in higher education it feels a bit unconventional in my context, but on the other hand, many of the tools offered in there are similar to what I do anyway, but now they are all collected in one place and can (allegedly, I
haven’t tried yet) be easily integrated with for example Canvas (our learning management system) or Kahoot (an online voting/quiz tool), which we use regularly.
The first thing I checked out were different breathing exercises (I’ve talked about benefits of breathing breaks here). I often already use playful methods to re-activate and re-focus participants both online and offline, so why not breathing? And the exercises I tried (Five finger breathing and balloon breathing) were nicely done: a pretty screen of a landscape with a calm voice-over. I can totally imagine spending the 2.5 minutes on this kind of exercise when I feel that there is anxiety in the room, or I want people to calm down before changing topic or something.
One tool that is used a lot are “feelings monster”, drawn monster figures that display different emotions and that help you describe how you feel. We use something very similar with Pip Wilson’s Blob Tree in the debriefing phase of serious games, although the blob people feel a bit less geared towards children. For people who are perhaps not used to talk about their emotions and might have difficulties articulating how they are feeling, these are definitely worth a try. And maybe the monsters also lighten the mood even when talking about serious topics?
Another suggested activity are check-ins where you “take the temperature” of the group before, during, or after a teaching unit. Participants answer a question that you decide — could be about how they are feeling that day, or how they feel about their school’s expectations, or about friendships in school, or their learning. There are many good suggestions here, and I really like that they also have suggestions for check-ins on educator well-being — how are your feeling about your ability to manage work-related stuff effectively? About your team meetings? About the support you received? Of course, that kind of check-in circles are fairly common in educational development, but I know already where I will try this tool (both in a workshop setting and in a team meeting!). The data acquired here can be linked to specific persons or be anonymous, and you can collect statistics over time to see if anything changes.
The worksheets are definitely made with a younger audience in mind, but on the other hand, maybe setting up a SMART goal is a bit more fun and engaging on a worksheet with a drawn monster holding a pencil in the corner of the sheet? And maybe even the “kindness balloons”, a monster holding heart-shaped balloons where your peers fill in kind words (and you return the favor!) are not so wrong in certain settings? Maybe I’ll try this at some point, too, though probably not at the exact same occasions as the temperature checks… And what I thought was seriously a cool idea was a “feelings monster coloring book”, where you can get an editable ppt file. Maybe not for higher education, but I love the editable aspect of it!
What I also looked into is the educator training provided with the tool, especially the parts about an “inclusive classroom”, where they motivate how taking temperature checks, seeing each student as an individuum, helping students connect with each other etc contributes to student well-being, sense of belonging, and ultimately learning. The definition of an “inclusive classroom” might not be exactly the one I would use, but there are definitely good ideas there.
So total verdict? A lot of good ideas which are nicely packaged and presented. Definitely worth trying, even in higher education! Just maybe not everything at once, and a little selectively (the exercise about the erupting emotion volcano for example seems great, but not everybody might be ready to make the sounds of an erupting volcano in a professional context…), but then any activity you see somewhere needs to be adapted to your context anyway, and this is a great basis to pick ideas and start from!
P.S.: Not a sponsored post, just playing around with the tool and reporting on that. I have access to Reflect through my employer