Reflections on Contemplative Pedagogy and Open Space Technology at Queen Margaret University

Sorry for the delay in getting to this blog it has been rather hectic since returning from a  ‘Growing Contemplative Practices in HE?’ at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh on 22nd April but I did want to share some thoughts on it.

Iddo Oberski let me know a few months before the event that he had chosen to use Open Space Technology to frame the day. No formal presentations, no pre-planned events, no specific topics to cover – everything would manifest on the day depending on who was there and what they wanted to get from the day. I admit to initally being nervous about this – would people attend an event without an explicit objective asked my inner strategic learner? Would the day be productive for me?

I needn’t have worried. I enjoyed making deicions about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to learn, not having to sit politely through presentations that weren’t relevant, able to take time out as I wished to walk around the lake without considering myself to be ‘lazy’.

What stood out from the day for me was everyone’s wholehearted commitment. I had many very valuable conversations that have deepened my appreciation of the applicability and potential of contemplative pedagogy in higher education as well as the challenges that we face and the questions that accompany this pedagogic approach. I was particuarly excited by the number of people with an interest in health professional education.

Having thought about my own experience and reflected on some of the notes from the day that Iddo has shared, these are the key points and questions I am taking away with me:

  • The importance of not isolating contemplative pedagogy from other ways of teaching but seeing it as an important addition and counterbalance. Ensuring that the decision to use contemplative practice in teaching has a sound pedagogical underpinning – why is this way of teaching this the most appropriate?
  • What is the relevance of contemplative pedagogy for higher education staff? This was discussed in relation to wellbeing as well as its possible impact on creativity in teaching and curriculum development, by creating the space to think and explore often lacking in modern HE. I also think that it may help facilitate relationships and dialogue between colleagues by allowing for meaningful connection. Furthermore, it was mentioned in several different discussion groups that if we are going to start asking students to engage in contemplative practice we need to be willing to do so ourselves.
  • How can contempative pedagogy create space for the heart in the HE classroom? This aspect if very important to me because through focusing on the development of the intellect and critical thinking  the emotional reality of people’s lives are left outside of the classroom despite how important our emotions are for guiding our decision making and for how we experience our lives. I had a bit of a revelation during this discussion about how far I have to go in this regard, how often I resort to certain ways of being in my work environment and in the classroom that don’t reflect the values I would like to see emerge in HE! But I guess we have to start where we are, and I increasingly realise that if I can be more accepting of myself and the system I work within, I will see both more clearly and then stand a better chance of creating positive change.
  • How is contemplative pedagogy relevant to health professional education? This is something I am keen to explore as I think it could help us address some pertinent issues. For example – how do we improve the resilience of future health professionals? How can we teach compassion?

There are many points to pick up on – I would love it if people would comment below or even write a short blog that I can post.

Lastly, I had several discussions about organising some kind of longer event, maybe over a few days next year that would include more open space time as well as workshops and presentations on contemplative pedagogy. Do let me know if this would be of interest.

If you have any particular resources that were mentioned on the day that you would like me to add to the resource page I’d also like to hear from you.

Warm wishes Caroline






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