Thanks and reflections

I have had a busy week back at my desk following the Contemplative Pedagogy Weekend at Emerson College but I think it  is really important to take time to reflect before the event disappears into the distance. I’ll share some of my own experiences and thoughts from the weekend in this blog and then next week, once I have had chance to collate feedback, I will share some of the feedback from others who attended. I hope that those of you who didn’t attend will still get a flavour of the event.

I have to admit to feeling a little under pressure in the run up to the weekend. Much to my surprise and with no arm twisting involved, six colleagues from the University of Essex had signed up. Whilst they are a supportive and friendly bunch I suddenly felt very responsible and a need to ‘impress’!

However I didn’t need to be concerned. The weekend ran very smoothly helped by the facilities and atmosphere at Emerson College and the enthusiasm and commitment of the attendees. One thing I was very struck by over the weekend was the willingness of everyone to give things a go, often things that were challenging and new. This applied to those who led workshops – Robert Louis Abrahamson, Tom Ravetz, Louise Coigley, Steven Stanley, George Perry and Alasdair Honeyman as well as those who participated.

The atmosphere over the course of the weekend was ‘hospitable but charged’ (to borrow one of Parker Palmer’s phrases). Participants were very supportive and open to the experience of others but challenging questions were asked. Not everyone agreed and this led to refreshing and insightful discussions and questions particularly around language and application. I learnt as much from the content of others’ presentations as from how they delivered it. I felt the weekend really benefitted from the presence of those more established in contemplative practice and those who were really new.

I intend to draw out the pedagogical implications of some of the individual sessions in future blogs. One colleague has said that she found it difficult to make the pedagogical links between what we were doing and her classroom practice so this is something I will attempt over coming weeks.

I have come away from the weekend with a stronger sense of myself as an educator and a deeper commitment to working with contemplative pedagogy both in my own teaching and its promotion and exploration more broadly. In particular I feel that educators who are new to these ideas need more help to develop suitable teaching material and ways of deciding when might contemplative practice be appropriate. I am particularly excited about the potential to gain momentum within my own university and look forward to continuing those conversations with colleagues. However, I also found it very grounding and realised how I had underestimated the difficulties that some lecturers are currently facing in HE.

For me this poem by Mary Oliver really encapsulates the educational challenge to which contemplative pedagogy can help us respond.

The poet dreams of the classroom

I dreamed I stood up in class
And I said aloud:

Teacher,
Why is algebra important?

Sit down, he said.

Then I dreamed
I stood up
And I said:

Teacher, I’m weary of the turkeys
That we have to draw every fall.
May I draw a fox instead?

Sit down, he said.

Then I dreamed
I stood up once more and said:

Teacher,
My heart is falling asleep
And it wants to wake up.
It needs to be outside.

Sit down, he said.

The weekend has reminded me that we constantly need to ask how we keep our students’ hearts awake as well as be aware enough not to doze off ourselves!

More pedagogical stuff to follow I promise.

With huge gratitude for all who contributed to the weekend.

Caroline

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