Mindful and Contemplative Pedagogy

Mindful and Contemplative Pedagogy

Table of Contents

Mindfulness in the classroom, sometimes called “contemplative pedagogy” involves teaching methods designed to cultivate deepened awareness, concentration, and insight.

The Pedagogical Role of Mindfulness

Mindful and Contemplative Pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning which encourages instructors and learners to be in the present moment, to fully engage in teaching and learning, and to achieve focus and attention in the classroom. Regardless of discipline and educational context, contemplative practices can complement classroom activities to transform the way students learn information and transform the learning environment. Many of the activities that instructors already use in the classroom–writing, deep listening, reflection–may be intentionally (re)designed to emphasize mindful and contemplative practices.

Mindful and contemplative practices benefit both instructors and students in the following ways: 

  • Improves focus and awareness
  • Increases responsiveness to students’ needs
  • Supports stress reduction
  • Enhances learning environment
  • Strengthens attention and concentration
  • Reduces anxiety before testing
  • Promotes academic performance
  • Promotes self-reflection and self-calming

Getting Started in Your Course

If you’re wondering, “how do I start?” consider the following suggestions as you develop your course: 

  • Learn about contemplative pedagogical practices or consider using a practice you are already familiar with. This will allow you to confidently guide your learners through the practice and process the experience.
  • Small changes can take place in the moments before class starts or as a transition between activities. Add small tweaks to your pedagogical approach that are aligned with your learning objectives.
  • Have a clear pedagogical purpose for the practice, so that you can lead the session toward the goal and properly assess its impact.
  • Plan the structure of the practice selected, but allow for flexibility and improvisation so you can be responsive to students in the moment.
  • Time the activity appropriately (e.g., start-of-class, mid-class, end-of-class).

During Class

  • Be transparent and intentional with students so that they understand the purpose of the practice and how it relates to their learning.
    • Share the purpose of the practice with your students so they can decide if they would like to participate.
    • Contextualize it in the course so that students understand how it is affecting their learning.
  • Provide an opportunity for students to opt-out during any practice and reassure them that they continue to be part of the group whether they participate or not
  • If appropriate, give students an opportunity to discuss their experiences with each other.

Most importantly – incorporating mindful and contemplative practices cannot be a one-time occurrence. Include them on a regular basis within your learning space to witness their benefits.

Common Teaching and Learning Challenges

There are a number of common teaching and learning challenges where mindful and contemplative practices may be helpful. Consider these examples of practices, their impact, and how much time is required to implement them in a learning environment. You can use these practices in an online or traditional, face-to-face setting.

For those with a low time commitment, those activities should take 5 minutes or less. Medium time commitments are 5-10 minutes, and high time commitments are 10+ minutes.

  • “My students are distracted and unfocused in class.”
  • “How do I help my students take notice of detail in the material presented?’
  • “My students do not remember what they read.”

Lack of Focus and Concentration

Name of PracticeDescription of ActivityTime Commitment
Breathing meditation

Students take time to breathe mindfully. Trace a box in your mind as you inhale for a count of 4, hold a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold a count of 4. Repeat a few times. You will have more focus to continue your day.

Low
Gentle Stretch

Use mindful movement to refocus. Position yourself relaxed and attentive in a chair. Place both hands on your knees and close your eyes or soften your gaze. Take in two slow deep breaths. Turn to your right side and place your hands on the side of your right thigh. Twist into a comfortable stretch while breathing in. Then release the breath and return to the center. Repeat on the other side. To end, return to the center and do two or three grounding deep breaths.

Low
Energy release

Rub hands together, clap, and shake out your hands. Immediately releases built-up tension

Low
  • My students are grade-motivated rather than learning-motivated
  • I want to help my students develop new perspectives on a topic
  • I want my students to make connections between class experiences and their everyday lives.

Students Not Connecting to Course Materials

Name of PracticeDescription of ActivityTime Commitment
Mindful Listening

Students practice attention building. Pick a song. Close your eyes and listen to the music. Follow the lyrics, notice the different instruments, or take in the song as a whole experience. Did you hear anything new if you've heard the song before? Or pick a song with repetitive lyrics, phrases, or melodies. Count how many times you hear the recurring detail.

Medium
Journaling

Students write about their experiences from a first-person perspective. Instructors can share a specific prompt with students

Medium-High
Free Writing

Write continuously (no stopping to fix grammar, spelling, etc..) for a predetermined period. Prompts can be based on a specific question, more general, or by asking students to incorporate a specific word.

Low-High
  • How can I help create a supportive class climate?
  • My students are anxious in class
  • My attendance is dwindling. How can I get students to attend class?

Lack of Community in the Learning Space

Name of PracticeDescription of ActivityTime Commitment
One-word check-in

This allows people to be present. Ask participants to share one word about how they are feeling. They also have the opportunity to pass.

Low-medium
Include Creative Arts

Use creative elements to build community and connection in the class. Have music playing in the background when students join class in-person or online. Ask students for music suggestions and compile a playlist of the music to share with students when the semester is over.

Low
Class Expectations

Students assist in the development of their classroom climate. The first week of classes ask students to share what they need to feel in a safe learning space. Have a rolling document that can be added to throughout the semester with resources, etc

Medium-High

Mindful and Contemplative Pedagogy, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Mindful and Contemplative Pedagogy, is a derivative of Mindfulness in the Classroom developed by Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching (retrieved on February 13, 2020) from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/contemplative-pedagogy/. 

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