Contemplative Pedagogy Initiative

The information on this page was initially developed out of a Teaching Circle grant from BSU's Office of Teaching and Learning. For additional resources, please contact the director of Teaching and Learning, Roben Torosyan.

What is Contemplative Pedagogy?

Contemplative pedagogy offers a potential means by which faculty can help students achieve a balance in their lives: both within and beyond the classroom. It is commonly accepted that Bridgewater State University students have limited time and face significant demands on their emotional, intellectual and economic resources.  Many BSU students are managing multiple responsibilities and obligations including:    
1) employment to financially support themselves and their families;
2) managing household responsibilities and providing intergenerational care to children, elders and other family members;
3) commuting to attend classes and engage in community-based professional practica and service-learning experiences; as well as being involved in or leading co-curricular activities.

Along with these real-life obligations and demands, the challenge for BSU faculty and staff is to help BSU students be as fully present and engaged with their academic goals and responsibilities as is possible. The integration of contemplative pedagogy and practices into courses can provide students with methods for the development of awareness, attentiveness and empathy through mindfulness practices. Higher education has traditionally been grounded in a detached approach to learning, done in the service of fostering critical thinking. While objective analysis is a vital skill, such an approach may leave out the lived experience of both the student and the faculty member. Incorporating contemplative practices fosters a student’s development of self- knowledge, compassion, empathy and the ability to embody theory in practice.   These techniques are therefore applicable to all academic disciplines and to the campus community and beyond.

Contemplative Pedagogy also encourages the use of these practices by faculty and staff themselves.  Faculty, librarians and staff frequently express that such practices promote a more sustainable teaching and learning environment and community.  These responses are also noted by other scholars and researchers involved with contemplative pedagogy. According to Dr. Arthur Zajonc, a professor of Physics at Amherst College, contemplative pedagogy makes conscious use of a wide range of practices with two essential ends: 1) the cultivation of attention and emotional balance and 2) improved capacity for insight and creativity (Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education, 2007).  Key research findings from Shapiro, Brown and Astin (2008) indicate that contemplative pedagogy and practices have been found to be positively correlated with:

How has Contemplative Pedagogy impacted our campus?

In the spring semester of 2010, a group of graduate and undergraduate faculty from across disciplines at Bridgewater State University began to collaborate regarding their shared interest and use of contemplative pedagogy. Contemplative pedagogies can include the use of a variety of approaches and techniques which include but are not limited to: arrival moments to begin class, insight-oriented journaling, reflective listening, reflective writing, guided imagery, and guided meditative practices (e.g. focusing on the breath, body scan, etc.). These faculty have been using contemplative practices and teaching techniques in a variety of their classes to enhance their effectiveness and improve their students’ learning.  Following a CART Celebration Roundtable (presented by Mark Brenner, Maggie Lowe, Michelle Mamberg, and David O'Malley and moderated by Sue Todd) in May 2010, the overwhelming response from 22 attendees convinced us to expand our faculty and professional development efforts at BSU.  This informal initiative has grown to include a larger network of 56 faculty and 13 staff.  These colleagues represent 22 academic disciplines and 6 administrative departments.  The initiative’s efforts to date total eleven programs or presentations which have been made on-campus and off-campus.

Based on formal and informal feedback received from various programs offered (see list below), participants indicate that they appreciate learning the theoretical contributions and classroom interventions based in this approach, as well as the opportunities to practice contemplative techniques. Many commented on the value of discussing how best to adapt this approach and content to their own academic discipline and personal teaching style.  In various programs, both on-campus and at academic conferences, participants indicated that resource-sharing was one of the most valuable elements they took away.  One of our shared goals has been to integrate the variety of Bridgewater State University initiatives including sustainability, global engagement, service-learning, diversity and inclusion, and social justice; these efforts have yielded collaboration from across disciplines. Our intention is that these efforts will continue to strengthen our campus learning community to benefit all who work and learn here.

BSU Teaching and Pedagogy workshops

A main focus of these interested parties has been on faculty development initiatives. These include: faculty/staff development workshops, panels, roundtable discussions, individual consultations, resource sharing, book selection and purchases, and participation in regional and national conferences (see below for details).

In one of the annual Teacher-Scholar Summer Institutes run by Bridgewater in recent years, an entire cohort of faculty chose a theme entitled "Teaching Reflectively" in addition to one of the other themes (Engaged Pedagogy or Quantitative Reasoning). Facilitators for Teaching Reflectively were Maggie Lowe (History) and Michelle Mamberg (Psychology). This theme explored the art of reflective teaching: utilizing practices which increase student and faculty concentration and awareness. Through the process of defining, practicing and examining such techniques, faculty had the opportunity to integrate contemplative pedagogy into their discipline-specific teaching styles and their individual courses. Faculty involved in this track discussed common readings and, in a workshop format, learned as much from each other as from facilitators' demonstrations. Of particular note were the revised syllabi created by participants in the BSU Summer Institute which demonstrated their application of these ideas and techniques. Features of the institute theme included:

You can view Dr. Barbezat's entire one-hour workshop on YouTube here.

Other Faculty Development Events

Professional Academic Conference Presentations by BSU faculty

Contemplative Pedagogy workshops at BSU's CARS Celebrations

Mamberg, M. H., Brenner, M., O’Malley, D. & McAlinden, L.  (2012, May).  Contemplative practices:  Supporting faculty self-care and professional development.  Workshop presented at the annual CARS Celebration, Bridgewater State University.

Lowe, M., Mamberg, M. H.  & O’Malley, D. (2011, May).  Plenary Session: Engaged Student Learning Across Disciplines: Reflection Within and Beyond the Classroom.  Panel presented at the annual CART Celebration, Bridgewater State University.

Brenner, M., Lowe, M., O’Malley, D. & Mamberg, M. H.  (2010, May).  “Contemplative Pedagogy” Roundtable.  Workshop presented at the annual CART Celebration, Bridgewater State College. Dr. Susan Todd, Discussant.

Specific recommendations for videos and academic resources are located on Blackboard's vc 818 page for internal access by BSU faculty.