Guest Blog Post: Exploring the “Spirit” of My Writing Center - by Neihan Yaqoob
Ma Salaam, said my undergrad senior, Ahmed with a cheerful smile as we ended our 45-min Zoom consultation last week. I, instinctively, repeated the same words and then wished him the very best for his final submission.
Although I have been working with Ahmed for almost six years now, his casual, monotonous, Ma Salaam didn’t strike me the way it did on that particular day. For those who may not know, Ma Salaam literally means “with peace” or “peace be on you” in the Arabic language, but this little phrase is also commonly used to bid farewell or say “goodbye” in day to day conversations.
So, what struck me about Ahmed’s Ma Salaam that day was how it immediately reminded me of a public annotation I recently made on a book chapter titled, “Namaste: Mindfulness and Respect as Foundation for the Workshop Classroom” via Hypothes.is, a social annotation tool. This chapter is from The Mindful Writing Workshop: Teaching in the Age of Stress and Trauma by Richard Koch.
Before we dive into the Namaste concept, here is a video with Namaste-inspired meditation music, if you are interested.
According to Koch, Namaste is a mindfulness concept that establishes a shared understanding of a safe relationship. In teaching contexts, this concept serves as a solid foundation for responding and offering feedback to student writers in writing groups/circles (p. 29).
In Sanskrit, namaste literally means, “I bow to you” and this meaning can also be stretched and understood as “The spirit in me bows to the spirit in you.” One of Koch’s students from Brazil translated namaste as “The light in me is the same as the light in you.”
In a writing classroom, Koch translates the Namaste concept by stating:
"I recognize that you are a sacred child of the universe—that you are special and valuable to the universe. And I know that the universe expects me to help take care of you."
How warm, beautiful and empathetic, isn’t it?
Koch’s rationale for using this concept in his writing classroom is that “it is necessary for us to feel respect and appreciation—and this caretaking responsibility—for each other if we are to be the most helpful writing community for one another” (p. 30). What stood out for me the most in Koch’s explanation is that kindness and respect is critical for success in “dialogic relationships” in classrooms. As soon as I read the word, dialogic relationships, I immediately started thinking about my writing center for it functions on a dialogic pedagogy. And I started wondering what can I take away from Koch’s ideas, and most importantly, how can I interpret the Namaste concept to reimagine my center’s spirit or conceptual underpinning.
“But, what is my center’s spirit to begin with?” I repeatedly asked myself most of last week. I thought hard about this question but couldn’t really nail anything down. I went back to our mission statementbut found nothing that was close to a mindfulness concept. I concluded that our pedagogy, interactions and relationships in the writing center lacked a real spirit.
This frustrated me at the beginning, but my desire to find answers directed me toward research. One of the first articles I came across was titled “Understanding “Spirit” in the Writing Center” by Lynne Briggs. In this article, Briggs talks about understanding writing center pedagogy from a “spiritual” perspective and highlights the “possibility of “aha” moments, a sense of connection, and mutual growth” as important characteristics under this perspective.
She suggests that “viewing center pedagogy from this perspective opens up rewarding possibilities for explaining the previously inexplicable sense of “flow” that we’ve all experienced when working with writers” (p. 96). Yes, what Briggs’s claims here makes good sense, but what she seems to emphasize is only the “spirituality” in writing center practice and not necessarily the “spirit” of writing centers.
I did some more research and ran into an article titled “Mark Hall and the Spirit of the Writing Center” on Imprint, a UCF student magazine. In this article, the author equates a writing center spirit with its functional qualities, in that a writing center is a place of Opportunity, Learning and Possibility. Again, I didn’t find ideas that would define what a writing center’s mindful spirit looks or should look like.
And the more I thought about Koch’s Namaste concept and how it establishes the idea of safe relationships in learning contexts., the more I realized that my center lacked a mindful concept.
Truth be told, it’s in the presence of Namaste that I realized the lack of Salaam in my teaching context.
Now what’s the Salaam concept, you may be wondering?
Taking inspiration from the Namaste concept, Salaam is a “peace-based” mindfulness concept that carries intentional respect and kindness towards people. It recognizes that each individual is unique and therefore worthy of being honored and celebrated every day.
Here is how I translate the Salaam concept for my Writing Center:
"I recognize that you are a gifted student writer in our school—that you are special and valuable to our school. And I know that the school expects me to help take care of you.”
In one-on-one consultations, the Salaam concept encourages safe, healthy, respectful dialogue and discourages verbal or written “attack” on a student’s writing. Once implemented, the Salaam concept promises the following:
Student writers are treated with utmost kindness;
Student writers belong to the Writing Center family that maintains safe relationships;
Student writers are engaged in mutually respectful conversations during consultations; and
Student writing is responded by friendly Readers using Richard Koch’s PQS Positive Response Protocol (PQS means Praise, Question and Suggestion).
Under the Salaam concept, the “spirit” of my writing center will therefore be the peaceful spirit of intentional Respect, Kindness and Empathy!
Until next time, Ma Salaam, Friends!
Neihan Yaqoob - October 25, 2021