Download Conversation #48

Jane Compson

A conversation with Dr. Jane Compson of UW-Tacoma, on implementing a contemplative pedagogy in an online course.

Dr. Compson got her PhD in Comparative Religion from the University of Bristol, and more recently got her second Masters in Philosophy, concentrating on bioethics, from Colorado State. She currently teaches classes in Comparative Religion; Philosophy, Religion and the Environment; Environmental Ethics; Biomedical Ethics and Introduction to Ethics. She’s working on projects related to self-care and stress management for healthcare professionals as well as documenting local efforts for environmental justice, as well as mindfulness theory.

Links for this episode:

2

...exhale through your mouth counting to 10.  Gaze at the floor or ceiling during this deep breath.  Then roll your shoulders back and look ahead.  This one breath will do wonders to center you and prepare you to be present for the upcoming meeting or event that you're about to join.  In her blog post, Kate Nugent of The Ariel Group calls this a "doorway moment" in that she recommends this quick vertical centering exercise before entering each meeting.  (The Ariel Group offers corporate training in communicating and establishing relationships.  They employ actors and acting coaches who give seminars to demonstrate the importance of good communication as well as techniques for achieving it.)

The Ariel Group has also been sharing various techniques at education webinars and conferences such as Pearson's CITE 2015.  It was through a webinar actually conducted by Kate Nugent that I learned the benefits of taking a deep breath before taking part in meetings and such.  Why would I, as the distance education coordinator, be writing about the "doorway moment"?  Well, we can use this centering, getting to the present technique when we're going to meet our students online in a Blackboard Collaborate session, for example.  We can also employ this technique before we record a video for our students in order to help us really focus on them and what we want to say to them.  Finally, we can insert this deep breath technique into our online courses (I'm thinking at the beginning of the study guides for their tests maybe?) and recommend that the students take a deep breath before plunging into the module.

This first step, right before we begin communicating with our students, may be the most important one in establishing our virtual presence.  We're shaking off whatever came before and moving into the present moment, fully engaged and ready to engage the students.

deep breath

Text

Two years ago, we hosted a session on lectio divina which married two prominent themes in CAT programming: our campus-wide initiative, "Read Today Lead Tomorrow," and contemplative practice. The session was well-received but only hinted at the rich possibilities of contemplative reading, and some participants expressed a desire for more information.

Therefore we are pleased to report that noted scholar Robert-Louis Abrahamson has published a guide on "contemplative engagement with a text." This is not a technique per se; it's more of an attitude. Nevertheless, Abrahamson does prescribe six steps in a clear pattern, with plenty of substantive advice for teachers.

Download the PDF guide from this page.

Photo by Chase Clow

Here's a workshop/retreat for which combines two current CAT themes: contemplative pedagogy and the quest for sustainability.

Contemplative Environmental Studies: Pedagogy for Self and Planet
July 26 - August 1, 2015 Location: Lama Foundation, San Cristobal, New Mexico

How can higher education best address global environmental challenges? How can we most meaningfully teach and research about environmental issues? How can we cultivate our inner lives through active engagement with environmental challenges?

This workshop explores the contribution of contemplative practices to scholarly inquiry and teaching in environmental studies. Through discussions with distinguished scholars, focused conversations among colleagues, artistic exercises, and regular contemplative practice (meditation, yoga, journaling, and nature walks), participants will investigate ways to deepen their teaching, research, and lives at this historic moment of environmental intensification.

Part workshop and part retreat, this 6-day summer institute provides an opportunity to step back from the frenetic pace of our lives, and cultivate our inner resources and nurture the resiliency we need as teachers committed to education on a fragile and wild planet.

Learn more

(Photo by Chase Clow)

A webinar with David Sable, Religious Studies, Saint Mary's University
Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 2:30-3:30pm CST
Free and open to the public

REGISTER

In this interactive presentation, participants will be introduced to a set of mindfulness-based reflective practices for the classroom that were the subject of mixed methods research with university students over five years. The practices apply basic mindfulness principles and guided instruction for individual contemplation, journal writing, listening, inquiry, and dialogue in a student-centered learning format.

Taken together, this set of practices becomes reflective interaction; however the elements are also useful individually or in any combination. These practices and the results of the research were described in the first issue of The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry, published by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.

The same set of practices will be applied in this interactive webinar to help you develop indicators for what matters most in introducing any contemplative practices in your teaching. Participants will explore their intentions, including what matters most to them as the instructor, what matters most to their students, and how they can know if contemplative pedagogy is effective. Results will be shared online and documented by the recording.

Note: This webinar is being offered by the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education.

Attention faculty (and students): For three days (January 16, 17 and 18) the ebook version of The Mindful Way to Study is being offered free of charge from Amazon.

If you have a Kindle or other compatible reader, grab this book now, and by all means let us know what you think.

"Compassion grows out of the things we are..." (366/315 Nov. 10, 2012)

CAT is pleased to announce that our grant proposal to the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society has been funded. Now we're turning it back around to you. We invite all Xavier faculty to consider applying for support in developing a contemplative curriculum. Download the RFP to learn more.

Photo: "Compassion grows out of the things we are..." / Irmeli Aro / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Download Conversation #17

Daniel Barbezat

A conversation with Daniel Barbezat of Amherst College, on teaching, learning and contemplative pedagogy.

People ask, "What does a liberal arts college do? What does a good education do? It teaches people how to think." It's kind of a ridiculous claim in a way, because people know how to think. But we're giving them tools to think more deeply, clarifying what they're thinking about. That process can be deepened and expanded by a reflective process: not only of an abstract reflection, but a reflection on the inner life of the student... This inner life is being directly nurtured and sustained in an inquiry of the material that's being learned. The students now see how their inner life connects to what they're learning, and... that deepens both their curiosity and interest and their understanding of the material.

Links for this episode:

I sat next to empty seats on my two flights up to Hartford (changing planes in Charlotte) so I didn't talk to much of anyone until I got on the shuttle I'd reserved. I was sharing the vehicle with three young folks who looked to be in their mid-twenties. As we pulled away from the airport, I said, "Hey, I noticed y'all had instruments. Are you musicians then?"

The reply: "No, we're not, we just enjoy carrying musical instruments with us wherever we go."
...continue reading "Contemplative Academy"

Earlier this semester, after eleven years working in faculty development, I led my first session that didn't have anything to do with technology.

The subject? A moment of silence.

We began the session with a brief moment of silence, then I asked some questions to prompt a short discussion.

What mindset is most conducive to learning? What mental states might actually obstruct learning? What do we do as teachers that encourages the latter or the former?

We went around the table and talked about these things for a bit.

Then I took us back to the beginning and asked how the prefatory silence shaped the discussion. Did it foster a better mindset? The consensus seemed to be that it did. It provided a transition that allowed people to let go of their previous tasks and focus on the matter at hand.

Then I asked the faculty present to consider if such a technique could work in their classrooms. In fact one person (a Dominican brother) has been doing this for thirty years. Another person tried it for one semester a while ago with seemingly good results. Another has just started practicing a moment of silence this week, inspired by this very session.

After we talked about the potential challenges and pitfalls this technique presents, I distributed copies of the Tree of Contemplative Practices and noted that silence was but one practice of many. At this point I asked if anyone sitting around the table engaged in any sort of contemplative practice that they'd care to share with the group. Interestingly all three faculty who have used silence to open class also are regular practitioners. But the balance of attendees did not seem to engage in any regular practice. Or perhaps they just didn't want to share at this point.

I threw out the phrase "contemplative pedagogy" as a blanket term for using contemplative practices in teaching, which linked with integrative learning seems to be part of a emergent trend in the academy today. I mentioned the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education which I joined this summer. I also hyped the faculty book club which I'll be leading this semester. We're reading The Heart of Higher Education. I also referenced Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry, a book I just finished and am still digesting.

And then I talked about why I think all of this is potentially important to the University and its mission, and asked what the group thought. I also confessed myself remarkably unqualified to be promulgating this topic, since I know so little about it, but I just feel it's so important. And of course I had to mention that contemplation was not just a means to an end, but a worthwhile end to itself — if you can call something inherently transformative an "end."

I let the group know I was interested in collaborating if anyone wanted to study the effects of a moment of silence on classroom learning.

Finally we talked about possible future directions for the conversation which we'd begun. Indeed, the main purpose of this session, to my mind, was to gauge faculty interest in contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. I hope this is the beginning of a sustained dialog on the topic. I take it as my responsibility to nurture that dialog and expand the circle.