Empathy and Gratitude in the classroom

Our college classrooms are filled with young adults, ready and eager to go out into the world and make a difference. Do we help them develop the skill sets they need to achieve that goal? We certainly try to give them the academic basis for success, and we acknowledge that it takes more than that to prepare them to play an active role as a leader and a member of the community. Mindful pedagogy includes the importance of empathy and gratitude, so how can we create school environments that teach empathy and gratitude as leadership skills?

You may be familiar with TED Talks, a series of short yet powerful talks on various innovative and inspiring ideas. TED-Ed talks are specifically aimed at teachers and students. Here is a short video from Chris Muller describing some unexpected ideas of gratitude and how we can encourage empathy in the classroom through activism. It’s certainly something to think about.

If you’d like to learn more about Chris Muller click this link: https://www.aaieinstitute.org/about/institute-team/chris-muller/

What do rice crispies and Glacier have in common?

I was looking for silence (in all the wrong places apparently!) in the middle of New York City and desperately needing to regenerate my sense of calm. The screaming sirens and endless whirl of cars, trucks and busses, in addition to the endless throngs of people talking loudly into their cell phones created an exhausting daily environment. My usual antidote was a dose of nature, but in some parts of the city there is little of that to be found. So I turned my search for silence to the internet. Can’t everything be Googled? Surely I will find silence in the depths of the ‘net.

My search was rewarded with a stunning soundtrack and pictures of glacier from a Brooklyn-based artist, Zaria Forman, whose work deals with disappearing ice.

Check out this website featuring her amazing soundtrack of rice crispies, uh, I mean Glacier melt!

https://earther.gizmodo.com/melting-glaciers-sound-surprisingly-like-rice-crispies-1822133144

Intentions: What are yours?

A discussion about intentions can open many doors to such a very broad topic. When I wanted to explore this topic I came upon a thought-provoking article by Ed Halliwell in the wonderful web site www.mindful.org . (Click to go directly to the full article). He starts off by looking at the difference between goals and intentions. We are in a goal-driven society where we are expected to achieve certain milestones such as completing college courses, getting a promotion, buying a house, and so on. But how do these goals co-exist with our intentions? Do the goals drive us forward or create tension that holds us back? Should we make a mindfulness goal or an intention?

Here is Ed’s deceptively simple sounding answer:

“When we make mindfulness a goal, however, we turn it into a commodity, the benefits conditional on our having to “get it.” The implication being that we don’t currently have what we need—there is something missing, and we might miss out. This is a recipe for tension since we are struggling to attain this goal directly, rather than through creating the conditions for it to happen through grace. mindfulness a goal, however, we turn it into a commodity, the benefits conditional on our having to “get it.” The implication being that we don’t currently have what we need—there is something missing, and we might miss out. This is a recipe for tension since we are struggling to attain this goal directly, rather than through creating the conditions for it to happen through grace.”

https://www.mindful.org/meditate-with-intention-not-goals/

I was particularly moved by the idea of creating the conditions to allow something to happen through grace. We can have an intention to create the space in our lives for mindful moments without setting a goal of 20-minute meditations every day (which is stress-inducing since we know we will struggle with trying to squeeze in 20 minutes for ourselves). But an intention doesn’t give us free reign to just say “I intend to…” A true intention is made with thoughtfulness and genuine desire. Another pithy quote from Ed’s article:

Intentions come from inside, whereas goals are external. In connecting to an intention, we don’t have to look elsewhere for satisfaction—what we desire is already here as a seed within us.

Intentions can be supple and can shift as we gather new insights and experiences. They are already within us; we just need to awaken to them.

With gratitude to the author Ed Halliwell

Contemplative Pedagogy

Contemplative pedagogy involves the instructor, the students and the changes created by their interaction. The students and the instructor bring their own personal history, experiences, and beliefs into the classroom. The interaction begins with those individual pieces of the puzzle but is soon flavored with bits of new perspectives from each other’s personal context. Tiny slivers of light are cast into the recesses of our own experiences and there can be room for questioning and re-assessing. Eventually we leave the classroom with more context and perhaps a slightly different picture woven from the elements of conversation that took place. In our role as instructor, what should we consider? This quote, from the Contemplative Pedagogy website, may be of interest:

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.

https://contemplativepedagogynetwork.com/what-is-contemplative-pedagogy/

Resources

Contemplative Pedagogy Associations and Websites

The Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE) https://www.contemplativemind.org/

The ACMHE promotes a culture of contemplation in the academy by connects a broad network of academic professionals with online resources, and stimulates scholarship and research concerning contemplative pedagogy, methodology and epistemology within and across disciplines through initiatives and events including the annual ACMHE national conference.


Mindfulness in Higher Education, by Mirabai Bush https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0950/55b065a2552e3fc223a77b6df4a0aa81e496.pdf

This is a survey paper reviewing the introduction of mindfulness into courses in a diverse group of colleges and institutions across a wide array of disciplines. A valuable resource for anyone considering applying these techniques in their classroom.


Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/contemplative-pedagogy/

A general resource for mindful classroom exercises and more.

Guided Meditations

Meditation for Lovingkindness

This meditation expresses loving kindness to all beings. Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India and Burma and has taught meditation internationally since 1974. He is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. https://jackkornfield.com/meditation-on-lovingkindness/


Mind Like Ocean Audio Meditation

This is an guided audio meditation for relaxing the mind using the imagery of a vast ocean where experiences occur and disappear. https://jackkornfield.com/mind-like-ocean/


Meditation with Tara Brach: Developing Self-Compassion

Tara Brach is a psychologist and a Buddhist meditation practitioner. This is a 17- minute guided meditation for developing self-compassion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYk-MldGDWA


How To Meditate With Noise: A 3-Minute Practice

Noise is non-negotiable if you live in an urban environment. This short practice may be helpful as you try to navigate the road to meditation while on the noisy highway we call life! https://soundcloud.com/mindfulmagazine/how-to-meditate-with-noise-a-3-minute-practice-for-anywhere

Mindful Pedagogy – One Step at a Time

A SHORT FRAMEWORK FOR BEGINNING THE JOURNEY TO A MINDFUL CLASSROOM.


So much has been written about mindfulness within the past few years.  The sudden interest in an ancient topic seems to coincide with the increased pace of daily life.  Technology often bears the brunt of the accusation for this lifestyle change; however, technology itself is an inanimate object.  It is how we choose to use it that underlies the shift in our lifestyle.   Information is at our fingertips and we can access it whenever and wherever we choose to do so.  We can accomplish more tasks in less time which should mean we have more time to spend with family and friends as well as quiet introspection. 

Instead we have  chosen to communicate more often through the technology then directly with each other.    All of these choices have created an environment  where we are now expected to do more in less time, with less personal interaction and to conduct multiple tasks simultaneously. 

So much has been written about mindfulness within the past few years.  The sudden interest in an ancient topic seems to coincide with the increased pace of daily life.  Technology often bears the brunt of the accusation for this lifestyle change; however, technology itself is an inanimate object.  It is how we choose to use it that underlies the shift in our lifestyle.   Information is at our fingertips and we can access it whenever and wherever we choose to do so.  We can accomplish more tasks in less time which should mean we have more time to spend with family and friends as well as quiet introspection.  Instead we have  chosen to communicate more often through the technology then directly with each other.    All of these choices have created an environment  where we are now expected to do more in less time, with less personal interaction and to conduct multiple tasks simultaneously. 

Mindfulness is one approach to balancing the bombardment of stimuli we face.  An operational definition of “mindfulness” was proposed by Bishop as referring “to attending to present moment experience without judging occurring feelings or thoughts”. (S. Bishop, 2004).

The students in our classrooms face a particularly difficult challenge combining the need to multi-task which managing responsibilities in their homelife, their work place as well as their studies.  Historically, physical exercise was seen as the way to release stress and heal our bodies. Now we can also turn to mindfulness to help heal our minds and spirits.

 “Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.” 

-St. Francis of Assisi

This booklet provides a framework for taking the first steps to nurture mindfulness in the classroom.

Step 1: The Intention____________________________

To think about…..

What is the motivation behind your mindful pedagogy project? Are there certain challenges you hope to address using mindfulness pedagogy? These are some of the reasons that often are associated with the decision to develop a mindful classroom:

  • Providing a safe, inclusive environment for learning to take place
  • Calming the fears, anxiety and emotional stress related to college-level studies
  • Encouraging students to listen and understand multiple points of view
  • Focusing student attention on the present moment and reducing the distractions from social media

Why are you interested in developing a mindful pedagogy?  This is an important question because the answer will be the foundation for the success of your endeavor.  Intention is a critical element in many aspects of human behavior.  Intention underlies the rationale for a decision.  For example, you may have made a New Year’s resolution to lose 15 pounds.  Why?  Did your doctor recommend the weight loss?  Do your favorite pants feel too tight and you don’t want the expense of buying new clothing in a different size?  Are you feeling competitive because your neighbor was successful in their own weight loss program and you want to do the same?  The intention behind the resolution is a key factor in how successful you will be. [1]

With that in mind, the first step is to develop a statement of intention similar to the way training sessions often begin with a statement of “What we will learn today”.   To help you with this decision here are some of the core values often associated with contemplative practice [2]


[1] (Using the Science of Intention Setting for Success at Work)

[2] (The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, 2018)

Reflect on these values and determine which of them are important to your endeavor.  It is tempting to want to achieve them all but start slowly so you can have a better sense of what is working in the classroom and what might need to be adjusted.

Step 2: The Community____________________________

To think about…..

How does your work impact others?   As teachers or administrators, does our work only impact the students at our school?  How does our work impact our colleagues, our department or the college’s broader geographical community?

John Donne, in 1623, wrote the words: “No man is an island”.   It could not be more relevant today as we consider our impact on others.   And as our perspective becomes more global, how can we grow our small communities of mindfulness and compassion to include this aspect?

It starts with the seed planted in a small community with a common goal.

 A mindfulness community strengthens the resource base for every individual and provides a place to share, learn and grow.   The community usually begins with a small number of dedicated people who share the same goal.  The community may simply want to explore ways of providing a more meaningful experience to the classroom.  Each member may have different skill sets: there may be those whose strength lies in their knowledge of their discipline, those who excel at relaying information to others, and individuals who are familiar with the psychosocial aspects of a classroom setting.  While each member of the community shares the same purpose, the diversity of individual skills will enrich the overall knowledge of the community.

The community also serves as the seed for compassion which is a close relative of mindfulness.  By connecting with each other over our same goals, we begin to see the struggles, joys and desires of each individual member, forming an environment where we can see more clearly how interwoven our actions are.  What we do impacts others.  The communal tapestry is the catalyst for compassion which encourage others to explore the potential of mindful living.

Undoubtedly the community will grow as others become more aware of how the goals align with the overall mission of the College.   There is no need to actively seek to add members, it is a natural evolution.  Sharing success stories, providing opportunities for everyone to view the progress of contemplative pedagogy as well as hosting social gatherings for informal discussion and learning will be sufficient to engage those who wish to pursue a mindful approach to the classroom.

The Contemplative Community should be welcoming and inclusive.  Since it has no ties to a specific ethnicity or religion it reflects a spirit of universal humanity.  Rather than focus on diversity which, as etymolists will tell us, stems from the Latin diversitatem “contrariety, contradiction, disagreement” (Diversity, 2018)[1], using a unifying approach with emphasis on commonality is the gateway to an open and welcoming community.  We can all agree that everyone wants to be free from pain and suffering, we all want to find happiness and contentment.  We bring our diversity to the table, but not as the focus; instead, let us create a universal quilt that comforts all humanity.


[1] (Diversity, 2018)

Community is not a goal to be achieved but a gift to be received. — Parker Palmer

Step 3: The Action _________________________________

To think about…..

Can stress be contagious?  A recent study has found a link between teachers’ occupational stress and their student’s physiological stress level in the classroom.

Try a few calming exercises before you enter the classroom to set your intention and clear your mind. 

Just as the familiar pre-flight reminder to “put on your own oxygen mask first before helping someone else”, we need to develop our own sense of mindfulness before we bring that sensibility to our students. That first step to a contemplative classroom begins with you and a long, slow, deep breath.

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Contemplation begins with one second of time.  Then perhaps, one more second.  It does not start with an hour and certainly not an entire semester.  And so we should approach a contemplative pedagogy with small mindful moments.     

A hundred-mile journey begins when you take the first step.  This quote has often been misattributed and poorly translated[1], but despite those issues, it is an excellent concept.   When you first read it, you probably put the emphasis on “first step”.  Let’s consider changing the emphasis to an even more critical element of this process, the word “you”.

When you walk into your classroom, or open the digital learning tools, or begin a video session, you will be the first element that projects mindfulness to your students.   Any other contemplative tool that you choose to use is enveloped in the context of how you present it and how you portray it in your own actions. 

“Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education” (CARE) is a mindfulness professional development program offered to teachers in NYC public schools.  The CARE program  reduced teachers’ personal stress which in turn improved emotion regulation.  Teachers also found they were able to identify how their own biases were impacting their reaction to students. [2]  The CARE program did not provide any teaching strategies or classroom skills; it only focused on teachers’ own well-being and social/emotional skills using breathing and movement to calm the body and mind.  Can stress be contagious?  According to research, teachers’ occupational stress is linked to students’ physiological stress reaction in the classroom throughout the school day.[3] 

What you are feeling and thinking when you are in the classroom really does matter.

We instinctively respond with “Take a deep breath” when we want to comfort someone in emotional distress. It’s a good place for educators to start when assessing their personal distress baseline.  Are we feeling like we could use a good “deep breath” before we walk into that classroom?  Before we sit down at a meeting?  Before we prepare for a difficult conversation?  Then do it!  You deserve a moment to just breathe.


[1] ( The Quotations Page)

[2] (Breen, 2016)

[3] (Oberle & Schonert-Reichl, 2016)


Works Cited

The Quotations Page. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.quotationspage.com: http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/24004.html

Breen, A. (2016, May 2). Retrieved from Curry Study: Reducing Teachers’ Stress Leads to Higher-Quality Classrooms: https://news.virginia.edu/content/curry-study-reducing-teachers-stress-leads-higher-quality-classrooms

Diversity. (2018). Retrieved 2018, from Online Etymology Dictionary: https://www.etymonline.com/word/diversity

Oberle, E., & Schonert-Reichl, K. (2016). Stress contagion in the classroom? Social Science & Medicine, 159, 30-37.

S. Bishop, e. a. (2004). Mindfulness: a proposed operational defintion. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11, 230-241. Retrieved from Mindfulness: a proposed operational definition.

Sadd, T. W. (2018). Learning from Each Other. (K.-K. a. Chin, Ed.)

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. (2018). Contemplative Community in Higher Education: A Toolkit.

Using the Science of Intention Setting for Success at Work. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.gaia.com: https://www.gaia.com/article/how-intention-setting-success-work