Contemplative Pedagogy: Preparing Faculty for Deep Teaching during Crisis
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: because of COVID-19, higher education has been changed forever. Or this one: this is our new normal. If you are like me, you have heard these platitudes almost daily for what seems like an eternity. In reality, though, our world has changed, if not forever, then at least for now. You know how our world has changed. For one, remote work now permeates our campus for both faculty and staff. The student experience has also changed as on-campus housing and events have been replaced by at-home study and virtual social encounters. And, most important for this article, teaching and learning shifted as face-to-face or blended courses were moved, rapidly, online. This rapid transition to online learning in spring 2020 necessitated quick-thinking pedagogy. I believe we are now at a place where we can replace our quick-thinking pedagogy with deep-thinking pedagogy.
To encourage faculty to engage in deeper pedagogy, my institution will be conducting a small group instructional cohort in spring 2021 that focuses on contemplative pedagogy. In short, contemplative pedagogy, according to Zajonc (2013), “offers to its practitioners a wide range of educational methods that support the development of student attention, emotional balance, empathetic connection, compassion, and altruistic behavior, while also providing new pedagogical techniques that support creativity and the learning of course content” (p. 83). As a pedagogical method, contemplative pedagogy encourages mindfulness, concentration, open awareness, and sustaining contradictions. I’m sure you would agree those are educational characteristics in short supply in a COVID-19 context.
Our small group instructional cohort will focus on a four-session sequence that presents contemplative pedagogy as one option for teaching in today’s high-stress environment. We want to help our faculty think deeply about the current situation and, probably more importantly, think about how to transcend the quick online pivot from spring 2020 and engage students at a deeper level moving forward. My hope is that a brief description of our contemplative pedagogy curriculum will administrators and academic leaders think deeply about encouraging your faculty to practice pedagogy that encourages deeper engagement with the course content.
Our curriculum focuses on four central themes:
- Crisis and pandemic pedagogy
- What is contemplative pedagogy?
- Contemplative pedagogy practices
We focused on this particular scaffolded concept to encourage a contemplative approach for our cohort. By starting with crisis and pandemic pedagogy, we strategically emphasize our current situation, and while we believe contemplative pedagogy is applicable in non-COVID education and was even entering a quiet revolution phase earlier this decade, it is still valuable for faculty members to reflect on their current reality. Crisis and pandemic pedagogy have become key phrases and central features of our institutions, but we are now almost a year removed from the initial COVID diagnoses and have an opportunity to reflect and strategize without designating a quick pivot. This session will focus on pedagogy during crisis situations and major developments that have happened since March 2020 with attention paid to data-driven teaching and learning initiatives that have arisen in the past year.
Our awareness module focuses on awareness of self (the faculty member) and others (students) to consider how our current situation has affected our view of teaching, our mental health, and any other outstanding concerns. Personally, I have found my energy depleted as I struggle to navigate working from home, staring at a computer screen, and Zooming my life away. A recognition of these realities and a renewed awareness of the role of the instructor is a valuable foundation for contemplative pedagogy content.
Our third module will dig deeper into contemplative pedagogy and will provide a clear framework for related principles. A few resources are especially helpful as you inform your faculty about contemplative pedagogy:
Benefiel, M., & Lee, B. K. (2019). The soul of higher education: Contemplative pedagogy, research, and institutional life for the twenty-first century. Information Age Publishing.
Dorman, E. H., Byrnes, K., & Dalton, J. E. (2018). Impacting teaching and learning: Contemplative practices, pedagogy, and research in education. Rowman and Littlefield.
Barbezat, D. P., & Bush, M. (2014). Contemplative practices in higher education: Powerful methods to transform teaching and learning. Jossey-Bass.
Zajonc, A. (2013). Contemplative pedagogy: A quiet revolution in higher education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 134, 83–94. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.20057
The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society: https://www.contemplativemind.org
Contemplative Pedagogy Network: https://contemplativepedagogynetwork.com
The Center for Contemplative Practices: http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices
Our final module will explore specific strategies related to contemplative pedagogy. This is where we will equip our faculty to use concepts such as mindfulness, concentration, and open awareness. Through teaching squares, where faculty members engage in peer review, contemplative practice–focused lesson planning, and microteaching, our faculty members will develop contemplative strategies that are course and discipline specific and then practice those strategies in our cohort and in their own classes.
Logistically, our cohort will feature faculty members across varied disciplines. Faculty members complete a brief application where they primarily focus on why this content would be valuable for their courses. Depending on the budget, we will accept roughly 12–15 applicants and all participants, pending full completion of the program, will receive a $200 stipend. We will have four interactive sessions, each two hours, over Zoom during the semester, and these will focus not only on “content” but on reflection, engagement, mutual encourage, and strategy building.
Generally, we believe faculty members will be well served by refocusing on contemplation and contemplative practices. There are benefits for students—including improved attention, cognitive flexibility, and cognition—but faculty also would seem to benefit from a renewed focus on deep exploration of the content we are passionate about and want to teach. Instead of reverting back to old practices, we believe the pandemic has positioned us to now think strategically about the future of teaching and learning, and we believe a helpful framework for future practices centers on contemplative teaching.
Michael G. Strawser, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Nicholson School of Communication and Media at the University of Central Florida. He is also the managing editor for the Journal of Faculty Development.