Sunday, March 27, 2011

Routine or Ritual?

Guest Blogger: Mel Leaman

Is it routine or ritual? The former suggests the mundane; merely a thoughtless “it’s just something you have to do” expense of energy. Its purpose is lost in its practice. However, if those first five minutes hold a sense of the sacramental, the seemingly routine is alive with an auspicious presence. It sets the stage for wonder; a mystery of the moment. Someone notices. Something is missed in the absence of the ritual. So it is that everyday I walk into the classroom I share a word of welcome. A half-hearted response by the few who do not have their ears muffed with headphones or their eyes skimming texts messages is a sufficient connection. Someone would notice if the class was not greeted with a smiling face and a “Good morning, class.” The absence of presence would bring a cause for pause: “What’s wrong with Dr. Leaman today?” The ritual plays on as I state the objectives for the day and then remind them that as I take attendance they should be sure to make their last minute calls or text messages. Frequently, as they acknowledge their presence I will say “welcome” to each student. When the final name is called the students anticipate, not necessarily appreciate, the professor’s next line: “Ok, we are ready for the day. Let’s put everything away that is not pertinent to the educational process and get started.”

Since midterm I inserted another part of the ritual. On the first day of class the students were given an information form. In addition to name, major, birthday, and hometown they were invited to list hobbies, a color that represents an aspect of their personality, and a favorite movie and song. They used these forms to introduce themselves to their nearest neighbor. A few weeks ago I started to feature a student and his/her favorite song while I took attendance. Pertinent and appropriate information from the student’s form is flashed on the screen and the You Tube version of his/her favorite song is played. It was stated on the first day of this exercise that if a student did not want to be featured or wanted to change his/her song, it was not too late to notify me of these wishes. One student took advantage of this opportunity. She selected a different song.

Is it routine or ritual? Is it just something you have to do or a sacred, celebrative act that creates connection and community- an auspicious moment of meaning and belonging? Yesterday, the ritual was affirmed. It was test day. We all know the usual anxiety that accompanies exams. Students want to quickly regurgitate what they had crammed down their throats prior to the class. In that light, the professor decided to forego the feature student and song. The test was distributed and instructions were beginning when a student interrupted, “Dr. Leaman, you forgot the song!” I smiled to myself and mused about how religious we had already become in regard to this ritual. My heart was warmed.


  1. I'm waiting for an assessment to answer the question "Is it routine or ritual?" It may not matter whether what you do in class is a routine or a ritual, if it helps achieve your SLOs and there are direct measures to prove it!

  2. While I don't think we should raise it to the level of sacrament, certainly celebratory ritual in piqueing students' interest and involvement is laudable and necessary, and transcends anything that can be measured by SLOs.