Contemplative pedagogy retreat

I attended a contemplative pedagogy retreat last month and returned home feeling nourished, grateful, and serene. I’m sharing some thoughts and notes from the retreat here to help me organize my thoughts and create a space that can help me tap into this feeling again as I need it in the weeks and months to come. I wrote most of this down in a physical journal during the retreat, but I’m also sharing them with the wider world in the hope that it helps or inspires other educators.

What is contemplative pedagogy?

Contemplation is an act that creates pause.

  • a space for noticing and reflecting
  • a pause from mental habits like information consumption, production, rumination, autopilot
  • a pause in which wisdom can be created

Contemplative practices can be active or passive, done in solitude or with others, include stillness or movement, silence or sound.

Contemplative pedagogy encourages the inclusion of contemplative practices into teaching and learning.

Contemplative pedagogy resists default educational modes, including the production and consumption of information, learning as isolated and individual-focused, and operating on autopilot, including conformity to and complicity in systems of oppression.

Contemplative pedagogy values the individual beyond what we produce; encourages awareness and inquiry; offers experiences of interconnectedness.

Example strategies

  • Writing to tap into our own thoughts and practice metacognition.
  • Yoga as a practice of embodiment and interoception.
  • Meditation to cultivate stillness and presence, and to interrupt autopilot.
  • Music and film clips that evoke emotion. Experiencing emotion is a great way of drawing one’s attention to the present.
  • Creating art and poetry to offer a different way of exploring a topic, to practice non-judgment, and to lower our inhibitions.
  • Deep listening with others where the goal is to understand rather than to think about what one wants to say in response. Creates connectedness and empowers us to trust our own voice.
  • Make things relevant by asking for examples and drawing from real life.
  • Be authentic.
  • Practice gratitude, e.g., anonymous gratitude notes to other people in the class.
  • Challenge and interrupt automatic habits, e.g., phone use. For example, turning not using our phones during class into a game with a prize for lasting the longest, or encouraging explicitly checking and reflecting on one’s own screen time.

Reflection on my teaching practice

My default orientation is to be more externally focused. For example, I enjoy talking through ideas with others to clarify them in my own head, and seeking feedback and validation that others are understanding as I explain my thoughts (including while lecturing). I am possibly too comfortable being blunt and speaking my mind; in fact, sometimes I would benefit from thinking more before speaking. Contemplative practices help me slow down and attune more to my inner voice.

My teaching philosophy has for many years revolved around building enthusiasm and community among my students. I have long believed in the meaning behind the quote, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” This ‘fiery’ orientation comes so naturally to me in many aspects of my work, so I’m now curious about developing the quiet inquiry side as a way of rebalancing and inviting students who don’t necessarily learn best by talking. I’d like to give more space in my classes for students to quietly sit with their thoughts and formulate their ideas.

Increasing the use of contemplative practices in my teaching will help students slow down, trust themselves, recognize their own value and worth, gain confidence, and increase emotional intelligence by helping them notice and attune to their own inner processes.

I have used mindfulness in my classes since attending yoga teacher training in 2017. I love that mindfulness encourages responding rather than reacting. It encourages students to slow down, think things through, and be intentional. In my personal life, mindfulness also helps me be present as opposed to distracted or caught in one of the traps of modern suffering — social comparison, FOMO, hypertasking, and busyness as an indicator of worth or value. These are themes that come up a lot in my classes, especially Happiness and Connection and Consciousness in the Digital Age. These topics are also ones I have wrestled with a lot in the last year. I have been inspired by several books — Digital Minimalism, Deep Work, Essentialism, BusyOriginals, and more — which have encouraged me to focus my time and energy where it has the greatest impact and personal meaning.

Vision statement

My classes will be characterized by connection, realized through presence and intention. Students will find connections with the self, others, and the world. These types of connection will create experiences such as flow, embodiment, clarity, joy, and love.

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