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Sustaining the Dialog

Building Core Expertise in Contemplative Pedagogy at Xavier University of Louisiana

Tree of Contemplative Practices

The "Sustaining the Dialog" initiative is funded by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society to support faculty in developing a contemplative curriculum. The expected outcomes of the initiative include deepening faculty understanding of contemplative pedagogy, sharing expertise with colleagues, and ultimately enhancing student learning experiences.

We aim to develop a learning community of faculty through travel to the Summer Seminar in Contemplative Curriculum Development, who can share their expertise with colleagues on campus. As such this grant will allow for faculty to become faculty developers themselves, focusing on the theme of contemplative teaching.


St. Katharine Drexel's desire was for a contemplative way of life, but her discernment led her to believe God's "call" was to provide quality educational opportunities for Native Americans and African Americans, eventually founding Xavier University of Louisiana. Yet she never neglected the contemplative aspect; she consistently described her mission (she used the term "apostolate") and that of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament as being two-fold, i.e. prayer and work. Today at Xavier we recognize the need to extend our foundress' vision into the classroom and emphasize that vita activa and vita contempliva are not mutually exclusive but in fact necessary correlates that support and inform one another. In pursuit of Xavier's mission to "contribute to the promotion of a more just and humane society," the University community would do well to stay grounded in a thoughtful and considered approach to teaching, learning and life.

CAT staff first began thinking about the role of contemplative practices in higher education when we interviewed Arthur Zajonc for our podcast, Teaching, Learning & Everything Else, in 2009. Sessions at the 2009 conference of the Professional and Organizational Developers (POD) Network gave us further encouragement to explore these ideas. Thus, since 2010 we have been actively programming events which invite faculty to consider the value of contemplative practices both in their own lives and in their teaching.

Our first program, "A Moment of Silence," conducted on August 25, 2010, was an invitation for faculty to share a moment of silent contemplation at the beginning of the semester, followed by a discussion of the use of silence in teaching.

Since that time we have sustained a dialog on the topics of contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. In a session titled "Who Are You? Your Vocation & Our Shared Mission" we invited faculty to discuss their deepest values and motivations, to get at the heart of what we're doing. As a part of our annual book club series, we read and discussed The Heart of Higher Education by Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc. In a session titled "Cultivating a Reflective Classroom" one faculty member described how she has integrated various contemplative practices into her Advanced Research class in psychology. She shared student responses to these techniques. Participants discussed the utility of such techniques in their own courses and disciplines.

More recently, in a session titled "Mindfulness for You & Your Students," CAT staff gave an overview of what "mindfulness" is, how it can be cultivated through a variety of formal practices, and how this can inform one's teaching. Faculty were invited to adopt a simple daily personal mindfulness meditation practice and try it for one month as an experiment.

According to our follow-up survey, which garnered 21 total responses, nine faculty never got started with the experiment; of the twelve who did, seven completed the month. Interestingly, all seven faculty who completed the experiment indicated that they are continuing with daily practice. With a third of participants making a permanent change to their behavior, we deemed this workshop to be a success. Of the remaining fourteen respondents, thirteen said they wanted to try the experiment again. Also of interest: Half of respondents indicated they were "very interested" in learning more about topics such as mindfulness, meditation, and contemplative pedagogy; a quarter said they were "moderately interested."

Additionally, we have integrated contemplative elements into much of our faculty development programming across diverse topics. For example, our annual institute, Faculty Communities of Teaching Scholars, has included contemplative practices as an integral part of the program. In 2011 our theme was "Promoting Critical Thinking and Self-Authorship in the First Two Years," and faculty participated in a metta bhavana meditation to foster feelings of goodwill toward their students. In 2012 our theme was "Teaching for Social Responsibility," and we included contemplative pedagogy as a thread, with practices integrated into each day's activities.

Although we have started a dialog on the topics of contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning, through the "Sustaining the Dialog" initative we hope to take this to the next level and create a more continuous and sustained environment for our faculty.

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