At professional development trainings at our school, Kelly Young shares pictures of classrooms that he visits. One of the features he often highlights are images of students “leaning-in” at their desks working on a project and/or speaking with other students in small groups.

I used this concept in a short lesson earlier this month that seemed to work well.

First, I asked students to think of an important event in their life, and why it was important. They then jotted down a few notes.

Then, I had students divide into pairs and move their desks so they were facing each other. I asked one student to lean back — a lot. We had a lot of fun modeling and competing how far back a student could lean back in their seat without slipping through to the floor.

Next, the other student told their story to the student leaning-back. Then we reversed roles.

Then, students repeated their stories to each other, but this time, instead of leaning back, each student “leaned-in” on their desks.

I then asked students if they were listening more attentively when they were leaning-back or when they were learning forward. I didn’t get the answer I wanted (which was when they were leaning forward), and everybody said they were listening the same in both positions. However, I then asked in which position the listener was in did they feel most “listened to” when they spoke, and several students said when the other person was leaning-in. I asked students in which position they felt most alert, and practically everybody said when they were leaning-in.

We talked a bit about what advantages there might be to people feeling more listened-to — both in class and outside of school. We also talked about our natural tendencies to lean back when we’re feeling tired or sleepy, and how learning-in might help wake us up.

It wasn’t a “home-run” lesson, but since that time I’ve included “Lean-In’ in instructions for all small group activities, and it seems to me that it’s made a difference — more students seem to be “leaning-in.”

Any ideas on how I could improve it?