Reflections on our day at Emerson

Our day at Emerson College was wonderfully varied providing the opportunity for connection, debate and sharing experience. Learning about Robert-Louis’s five step approach to understanding literary texts has sparked off ideas about the value of contemplation in qualitative data analysis. Being asked by Jennifer to consider who I needed to be as a teacher with regards to contemplative pedagogy was particularly insightful and it was nice to hear the thoughts of others in this regard. Having to enter a room full of people with a red nose and a funny hat on taught me much about my insecurities, my desire to be ‘taken seriously’ and how transformative real presence can be. I was also touched and learnt a lot watching the other ‘clowns’ – from their humanity, vulnerability, joy and humour.

As part of the day we wrote down the things that most inspired us on post it notes and stuck them on the board so that we could also see what had been meaningful for others. I took these away at the end and have chosen a few of those thoughts to help me reflect on the day.

‘From knowing to not knowing…’
One of the themes that spread throughout the day was being able to be present and become more comfortable with the space of ‘not knowing’ so that something new can arise for us as teachers and for our students. I hate not knowing and love plans and routine, so this was particularly valuable for me! Through our discussion and particularly through our clowning activities in the afternoon, I came to appreciate that allowing ourselves to be in the space of ‘not knowing’ and the openness that this creates, is central to contemplative education. If we as teachers are to walk next to our students and encourage them to come to their own understanding and awareness, our preparedness to seek out and value their knowledge is crucial.

‘Aim not to cover the content, but aim to uncover part of it’
I love this idea as did others in the group. For me this idea emphasises the importance of depth and understanding as opposed to superficial content coverage. Since returning home I have realised that using a flipped classroom could really help address this point. Using this model, class time is not about covering content, students should have become acquainted with the content beforehand, it becomes about exploration, discussion and understanding. I am not aware of contemplative practices being used in conjunction with the model of the flipped classroom but they could fit quite well.

This is it…
Near the start of the day one attendee recalled how a friend had ‘this is it’ written on a post it stuck to his rear view mirror. The attendee now used the phrase to remind himself before entering a classroom that whatever happened, however is went, that is just how it is, life, unfolding. When teaching veers off course, when the students ask the most unexpected of questions, when the power point slides that made perfect sense the night before seem devoid of meaning – are we able to shrug our shoulders and let go of the grasping and think – ‘this is it’? I find this a challenging, heart swelling invitation for courageous, vulnerable teaching that would serve us, our students and the wider world.

Overall the day has left me feeling supported, encouraged and slightly braver. I appreciated the opportunity to visit beautiful Emerson College. It was great to work in a space in which the values of contemplative practice and interconnectedness are appreciated and embedded. I also finally learnt how to pronounce Goethe!

With much gratitude, Caroline

One thought on “Reflections on our day at Emerson

  1. And thanks, of course, to you too, Caroline.

    It occurs to me that I forgot the all-important sixth step for that sequence: articulating the experience with the text. “What you see in the dark you must speak in the light.” This is where the academic assignment can come in, and the teaching then becomes helping students speak honestly about their deep encounters with the material being “taught” – so that coursework does not become just some sort of essay about the material, as something out there, separate from us, but an essay about the students’ relationship with the material.

    I hope to write up the talk in a form I could post here. But give me a few days.



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