Faculty Explore Mindful Teaching Practices
“Being present” is a popular goal in this day of electronic distractions, and educators at Appalachian State University are taking it to a whole new level. They are studying and embracing the practice of mindfulness and especially its links to Universal Design for Learning.
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment and is generally considered to have positive effects on a person’s sense of well-being.
A Faculty Learning Community (FLC) called The Mindful College Classroom received support last year from the College STAR program. It is under the direction of Dr. Elaine Gray, adjunct assistant professor in the University College and Watauga Residential College.
Gray said the group focused on the question “how do I intentionally bring myself more fully to the experience of the classroom both as a student and teacher?” A related question, Gray said, is “what aspects of my energy and senses are not there?”
"I see a great need for more spaciousness in the classroom and less stress,” Gray said. “I want to give my students more space for reflection, which can be a challenge since as a teacher I have a tendency to fill up all the space with content."
There were about 10 members in the FLC, many of whom will continue this year as well. Early on, the FLC reached out to Still Point, Appalachian’s contemplative faculty/staff organization. They found an ally in one of its leaders, Dr. Linda Coutant, a writer/editor in the University Communications office who is also an adjunct instructor. She had recently completed her dissertation on the organizational structure and culture of a public liberal arts college that functions as a mindful campus.
Coutant readily saw the connection between The Tree of Contemplative Practices (created by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and used by many educators across the globe) and the goals of UDL. She mapped the connections and discussed her chart (provide link here) with other faculty members.
"I see strong ways that UDL and mindfulness pedagogies can blend to help students learn," Coutant said. She added that members of the FLC were surprised at how many connections there were, and they seemed to see things they hadn't been able to notice before.
For example, she said, encouraging students to engage in improvisation and storytelling is a fit with the UDL goal of allowing students to have multiple means of action and expression to demonstrate their knowledge of material.
Gray said that, in addition to incorporating mindfulness practices into their courses, some faculty are interested in doing further research on the connections to UDL.
"We all have the shared goal of creating the best education experience for students," Coutant said, "and this is facilitated by personal mindfulness practices and a sense of collegiality and community."