What is contemplative pedagogy?

Higher education is currently dominated by ‘third person’, didactic approaches which focus on teaching students new information. Contemplative pedagogy shifts the focus of teaching and learning to incorporate ‘first person’ approaches which connect students to their lived, embodied experience of their own learning. Students are encouraged to become more aware of their internal world and connect their learning to their own values and sense of meaning which in turn enables them to form richer deeper, relationships with their peers, their communities and the world around them.

The forms that contemplative practice can take within the classroom are numerous, including: the use of meditation or mindfulness techniques which improve concentration and allow deeper contemplation of the material being taught; writing techniques such as free writing and journaling and reading exercises derived from the spiritual traditions of Lectio Divina which can lead to a much richer understanding of the course content; Deep listening activities which encourage students to find a voice for their own thoughts and connect more deeply with their peers; and the use of ceremony and ritual to incorporate an element of the sacred into teaching and encourage fresh perspectives.

Contemplative pedagogy not only provides a way of helping students to concentrate more effectively, it incorporates ways of teaching and learning that can provide a very different learning experience by opening up new ways of knowing. This is achieved by moving beyond a technical, scientific training to incorporate body, mind and spirit by allowing the space for students to incorporate who they are and to understand how they are changed by what they learn. The importance of this was stated clearly by Daniel Barbezat (Speaking at Syracuse University 15th October 2013) in his discussion about how science and technology have often been applied in ways which create harm:

‘The consequences of our unwillingness to bring into the classroom our own students sense of meaning and have them begin to build and exercise a sense of discernment about that meaning and the implications in the world are quite frankly horrifying’

Contemplative pedagogy not only offers fresh challenges and perspectives to students. As educators contemplative pedagogy provides us with a beautiful yet formidable challenge – to really turn up and be present. If we are to encourage our students to bring themselves more fully into the classroom, to be there not just as students but as human beings, with all the complexity that entails, we have no choice but to show up too. It is imperative that if we are to bring contemplative pedagogy into the classroom that we have some knowledge of our own internal lives and the beauty and fear that can arise from deepening self-awareness. It would be irresponsible to encourage students into deeper self-awareness if we have not started to explore this ourselves. Furthermore contemplative pedagogy blurs the line of traditional educational power arrangements and insists that as educators we are also prepared to remain students, open to the wisdom and knowledge of those we teach.

And this is where the network comes into its own. It provides a space for the exploration of ideas about, and experiences of working with, contemplative pedagogy. It is a place where people are able to provide support to each other – where those with less experience of contemplative pathways, either personally or in the classroom, can learn from those with more.

Thank you for joining us. You are welcome.

Contemplative Pedagogy Network

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