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College infuses ‘mindful meditation’ into classroom instruction

Santa Barbara City College has launched a new initiative to include meditation and mindfulness practices in many classrooms.

English professor and initiative leader Michele Peterson told The College Fix via email that “these practices cultivate awareness and wisdom … in my classes we meditate (a stillness practice) at the beginning of class and, sometimes, before an activity that requires a quiet mind.”

Peterson’s initiative has expanded at Santa Barbara City College, as a Faculty Inquiry Group of 16 professors chosen through an application process is working to implement meditation and mindfulness practices in their classrooms. They each earn $300 total for attending the group’s four scheduled meetings, the funding for which comes from the President’s Foundation fund.

“There was funding this academic year for just sixteen members,” Peterson said. “Ideally, the initiative will expand.”

As for how the meditation and mindfulness will manifest itself in classrooms, Peterson said there are many forms it can take, some of which she draws from the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education’s “Tree of Practices.”

“When my students meditate, I keep it simple,” Peterson said in an email to The Fix. “We just ground (feet on the floor, back straight, shoulders relaxed, jaw relaxed, eyes closed, take a couple of deep breaths, and so on) and follow the breath.”

“I’ve embellished this basic form to give them options,” she said, “eyes open and cast down, making a mantra of their choice the focus, numbering their exhales and inhales and so on. We do no chanting. What we do resembles a moment of silence, though it would look like we were meditating to anyone who walked in. When we come out of meditation, the energy shift is palpable.”

The practices which other teachers may choose to incorporate from the Tree of Practices depends on their academic discipline and the aim of their lesson, Peterson said.

Peterson notes she frequently encourages the mindfulness practices of playing music, journaling and lectio divina (on the creative and generative branches of the Tree of Practices, respectively) at the start of her classes. She said she was inspired to incorporate these mindfulness practices into her classes because of “the speed with which everything is moving.”

“Students sat in front of me appearing to pay attention, though it was clear they were mentally elsewhere; their fragmentation was palpable,” Peterson stated. “I wanted them to focus so they could not only learn the skills I was teaching them but also deepen and expand their understanding of content in ways that cultivated their personal and social awareness.”

For her, mindfulness is “both a process and a product,” as integrating contemplative practices into conventional lessons and assignments has the potential to create more mindful learners.

Feedback from her students has been overwhelmingly positive, Peterson added. She conducted a formative evaluation last spring asking if students believed contemplative practices belonged in the classroom, and more than 87 percent of students approved of meditation and mindfulness practices in the classroom and 100 percent thought the habits positively affected their learning.

Peterson also said there is a comprehensive body of research about the benefits of introducing contemplative practices into classrooms, citing the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education.

The main point is to widen the lens “of what we traditionally think of as learning,” she said, quoting the ACMHE philosophy that “an education that enables and enhances personal introspection and contemplation leads to the realization of our inextricable connection to each other, opening the heart and mind to true community, deeper insight, sustainable living, and a more just society.”

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About the Author
Kate Hardiman -- University of Notre Dame