At a recent conference on contemplative education, I welcomed being in a community of colleagues who are exploring and implementing contemplative practices in the classroom, both K-12 and Higher Education. In today’s society with endless task lists, objectives to complete and non-stop sensory input, moving at a slow, thoughtful and balanced pace is difficult to achieve. Yet, numerous teachers are finding practices to integrate the content of the subjects they teach mindfully and provide students methods to integrate new information in a mindful manner. The Google dictionary defines contemplation as “the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time.” In a world where predictable outcomes on which standardized tests are built, contemplative practices can be exploratory, unpredictable and discovery-oriented that leads to a new point of discovery than otherwise planned. With this in mind, as curriculum is designed there must be a trajectory in mind leading students to a place worth going. I now teach higher education, but I’ve also taught art and Spanish at the high school level for a number of years. In all of these settings, I took risks and experimented and explored designing curriculum that met content standards, but also allowed students to become more aware of their emotional and spiritual lives through thoughtful and deliberate practices, such as silent drawing, reading and writing poetry, silence, breathing and effective listening. After one such experience, a high school student came up to me after class and said, “Thank you for allowing me time to think about myself.” It was in that moment I became committed to integrated education, where all aspects of the student are welcome and supported: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Contemplative practice provides something for students to do rather than simply acquire or believe, while fostering their capacity for deep knowledge, compassion, sustained attention, and self-reflection. The goal is to develop those skills and relation to learning content. The path has been unclear, sometimes messy, but always worthwhile and revelatory. And, as a teacher, I find more enjoyment and reward when teaching embraces intellectual and emotional understanding allowing the student a space for increased self-discovery and awareness; I have found these results are deeper and more authentic.
What would a contemplative classroom look like for you? How would it feel? What lessons have you tried and what were the outcomes. (Please share photos of your work or students if possible) What benefits would you or your students reap from creating a space for learning that allows for deep thought and space for reflection?
If you’d like to learn more about some of the practices I’ve done in secondary classrooms you can find them in: The Compassionate Classroom: Lessons that Nurture Empathy and Wisdom.
If you want to know more about contemplative education I can direct you to two excellent sources:
- Association of Contemplative Mind in Higher Education http://www.contemplativemind.org/
- Garrison Institute, Contemplative Teaching and Learning http://www.garrisoninstitute.org/contemplation-and-education
Cover image was created by a North Carolina teacher renewal workshop I offered entitled: The Transformative Power of the Arts.