by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center
I recently attended a workshop* on contemplative pedagogy at the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD) conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Facilitated by Dr. Michael Sweet from Northeastern University, participants were invited to practice, discuss, and develop mindfulness activities for any teaching situation.
Contemplative pedagogy emphasizes “the natural human capacity for knowing through silence, pondering deeply, beholding, witnessing the contents of consciousness and so forth” (Hart, 2004, pp. 29-30). Situated in the context of higher education, studies suggest it improves cognitive and academic performance by fostering “the development of the whole person, including capacities such as creativity, empathy, compassion, interpersonal skills and self-awareness” (“Contemplative Pedagogy,” 2016). During the workshop, I learned that many instructors who use mindfulness techniques in their classrooms are being affirmed by their students (e.g., through course evaluations) that these moments of contemplation aid in “focusing attention, improving concentration and accessing self-knowledge” (“Contemplative Pedagogy,” 2016). Moreover, several participants in the workshop said they developed deeper, more transformative relationships with their students through classroom mindfulness practices.
For those interested in trying contemplative pedagogy with their students, Dr. Sweet suggests beginning each class with mindful minutes (anywhere from 1-5 minutes). He communicates the following instructions before (but not during) the mindful awareness practice:
- Be quiet and intentional (phones on silent/no-vibrate)
- Relaxed, good posture (“lifted from the crown of the head”)
- Eyes closed to the extent that you are comfortable
- Focus on body relaxation, breath sensation (“count”)
- Accept distraction as it occurs (“thinking”)
- Re-focus on relaxation, breath-sensation
- Re-focus on relaxation, breath sensation (“repeat until end of practice”)
Consider setting a timer on your laptop or phone to chime when the mindful minute is over. Then, continue with your course plan for the day. If time permits, you could also try using a mindful minute at the end of class. Simple practices like this are increasingly “considered a vital complement to critical reasoning, rebalancing liberal education to include head and heart, mind and body” (“Contemplative Pedagogy,” 2016). It is important to note that not all students will want to participate in this type of activity, so be sure to offer an alternative option. Dr. Sweet recommends asking them to be respectfully quiet during the mindful minute but engaged in the conscious practice of preparing to learn.
If you would like to discuss strategies for practicing contemplative pedagogy with your students, contact the Reinert Center to schedule a teaching consultation. To learn more about contemplative pedagogy and mindfulness practices, explore some of the references and resources listed below. Please also share your experiences using contemplative pedagogy in the comments section of this post.
*Sweet, M. (2016). Classroom mindfulness practices to increase attention, creativity, and deep engagement. Workshop facilitated at the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education Conference, Louisville, KY.
Hart, T. (2014). Opening the contemplative mind in the classroom. Journal of Transformative Education, 2, 28-46.
Contemplative pedagogy (2016, November 15). Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/2010/04/contemplative-pedagogy/
Barbezat, D. P., & Bush, M. (2014). Contemplative practices in higher education: Powerful methods to transform teaching and learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.