Contemplative Course Design Beyond Technique

While many practitioners and advocates of contemplative pedagogy focus on implementing Mindfulness, Yoga, or Buddhist-inspired techniques aimed at relieving suffering in their classrooms, I, professionally, have some apprehension around that narrow focus in public educational spaces.

My personal life may feature such practices but in terms of public educational spaces I am more interested in how contemplative inquiry and pedagogy can enrich our critical and creative capacities and develop more caring communities.  

For me, a contemplative approach to course design would include two steps: 1) Faculty’s contemplative inquiry into the practices, habits, and values their courses cultivate 2) Development of context-appropriate practices (assignments, activities) for students that are values-aligned.

In my world, “traditional” education features indoctrination into particular kinds of values (i.e. consumerist) and requires students to engage in certain embodied and cognitive practices (i.e. sit still, be quiet, work alone) to shape dispositions (comply, compete).  

Contemplative approach to teaching and learning “Beowulf”! (2018)

I first work with faculty to explore those hidden values so that we may be intentional about what we are cultivating—what our classroom practices and habits (which include assignments and activities) are developing in students. The contemplative precedes the critical. We look at what is happening in our classes in a non-reactive way so we can be honest about what, why, and how we are teaching and how we may wish to change it.

Next, I work with faculty to develop context-appropriate assignments and activities that offer students tools, vocabulary, and space for practicing

  1. RECEPTIVITY AND GENEROSITY towards other people, ideas, and situations to precede critique and critical analysis
  2. FOCUSED ATTENTION and OPEN AWARENESS, to facilitate problem solving and creativity; to explore the ethics of attentional practices
  3. REFLECTION, to turn experience into wisdom; to interrogate values-alignment and practice meaning-making
  4. CARING for self, other, planet; exploring ways to express care cross-culturally

This is not an exhaustive list—just some of my current favorites.

The specific tools, vocabulary, and space will look different from instructor to instructor, discipline to discipline, course to course. (I am working on gathering and circulating these kinds of materials from instructors so that we can learn from one another what contemplative pedagogy can be beyond teaching meditative “techniques.”)

Contemplative pedagogues don’t need merely to import practices from American Yoga or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction into their public-school classrooms, nor should we limit ourselves by looking merely to neuroscience for “approval” of contemplative approaches to living and learning.

May we continue to study contemplative, creative, and critical processes from a variety of historical, cultural, and disciplinary contexts to encourage flourishing in our lives, classrooms, and communities.

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