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Mindfulness and Teaching

Like perhaps many of us, I struggle to stay in the moment. I have been working on that for the past six months, trying to spend a few moments each day meditating. It helps to center me. At first I was concerned that it would not really help, that all these thoughts that I really do need to remember would come and then go and then I would forget them all again, raising my level of anxiety, which, I am pretty sure, is the opposite of meditation. That actually has not happened.

Today I am thinking about meditation and mindfulness in teaching. I am always careful about time in my classes but I worry that constantly checking the time to make sure we're moving along actually keeps me from being in the moment with my students. And I want to make sure that I really listen to them.

I try to do that, of course, but my classes are also about going on a journey. I want to take them where I want them to go and not just tell them the facts/opinions. I invite them along and eventually we all, collectively, come to an answer/interpretation. To do that well, I must be thinking ahead at all times: “What’s the next step?” Is this the opposite of mindfulness, of being in the present moment, if I am constantly thinking of what comes next?

Thus, as embark this week on a new semester, I am thinking of how to keep moving us collectively forward as a class, but how also to stay more mindful in the process and in the moment as the class session progresses.

I believe that this is likely to be very challenging, but I plan to come to class with the intention of being mindful of what is happening. I need to remind myself to keep looking at each student, really take in his or her attitude, body language, listen to his or her comments, all while keeping the conversation and class moving.

I also plan to chronicle for this semester the experiences of my Medieval art course. This is the first time I will have a class of 30 students, 20 of whom are on the football team. I will be writing weekly about the challenges and the exciting discoveries of teaching this large a number of students, who I am lovingly referring to as my Medieval Mongol Horde. I meet them for the first time tomorrow morning. Follow along!

And in the meantime, do any of you practice mindfulness in the classroom in order to really spend time focusing on your students, while at the same time moving the class forward in terms of learning? If you do, leave some tips in comments below.

4 thoughts on “Mindfulness and Teaching

  1. Gretchen G

    This is only second-hand, but two colleagues regularly use mindfulness in their classrooms and have had really great, appreciative responses from their students. It will be great to hear about how it works for you and your students.

    1. Gretchen McKay

      I was thinking more about *my* mindfulness in the classroom, rather than practicing it with students. I was thinking about it more from the point of view of as the instructor not rushing, being with them, being present with the learning that is happening as it is unfolding. But thank you for a new idea, Gretchen!

  2. Jim K

    I try (but usually fail) to be guided by Ira Zepp's conception of the classroom as a sacred space ("Pedagogy of the Heart: a Teacher's Credo"). He meditated before every class he taught, as a way to remain mindful during class. If you don't have the book, I can pass along some passages here (or lend the book to you). Just need to find it, somewhere on this bookshelf.

    1. Gretchen McKay

      Jim, I would love to see a copy (if you find it). I love the idea of meditating before class, thinking of each student as I do so. The difficulty will be that I'm always in such an excited rush for class...imagining sitting That will be a trick!


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