The Garrison Institute’s Contemplative Teaching and Learning (CTL) initiative provides ongoing updates to anyone interested in the widely-expanding field of contemplative education. Included in these updates is information on CTL events and programs, as well as links to articles and other resources supporting the advancement of contemplative education. We are presently featuring teachers’ stories of their experiences bringing contemplative practices to their work, as part of our series "Coming to Care: Collecting Stories for Teachers by Teachers."
My interest in contemplative activities began in 1991 when I was in China. There I observed the entire student body of a high school doing the morning exercise which was a form of Tai Chi. They were calm, focused, relaxed and strong. Moving in silence together was the perfect way to begin the school day. Short breaks for mindful exercise were also incorporated throughout the day.
I served for over twenty years as a high school chaplain. During the last decade of my service I organized field trips for senior students into the inner city of Ottawa as a way to provide contemplative learning experiences that would complement the curriculum of the Catholic high schools I served. These inner city retreats were based upon the Jesuit pedagogy of contemplation-in-action. The twin strategies of contemplation and action were just as essential to the success of these retreats as was the location of these retreats within the inner city of Ottawa, Canada where many of the homeless and marginalized congregated.
My name is Bonnie Levine. I am an educator, artist and yogi. I have been an elementary school classroom teacher for more than 15 years. Mindful awareness practices have been an integral part of the daily life of my classroom for many of those years. During a yearlong school-building renovation, mindfulness became a central tenet of the classroom experience. The practice and its power to soothe the nervous system and anchor the mind and body in the present moment became a haven in the midst of the daily sensory turmoil.
Hi I’m Patricia Morgan, I’ve recently received my PhD in Philosophy in which I examined foundations of Contemplative Education at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) here in Sydney, Australia. I currently work on an academic enabling program at UNSW called the University Preparation Program (UPP), which is for adults wanting to enter university but who don’t have formal qualifications, or whose academic qualifications do not satisfy the minimum entry level for university admission. I am very lucky to work on the UPP because I am able to empathise with my students as I was in a similar position when I first started university in my late thirties. Because of this I had a sense starting work on the UPP that like me their strong desire for Higher Education might be partnered with an uncertainty about their academic ability.
Soon after beginning teaching I came to understand that educational practice was not just about strategies for obtaining skills and content knowledge. When my work transitioned from Early Childhood to Special Education my first job was providing in-home services to families having blind infants and toddlers. This work required me to be aware of the complex cultural and socio-emotional networks surrounding students and their families… and learning with them how to navigate in positive ways the challenges of coming to understand.
At the Empathy and Compassion in Society Youth Gathering last October, I found myself standing on stage beneath the glare of several spotlights, gazing out towards a sea of dimly-lit teenagers. While guiding everyone in a contemplation on connecting with oneself, an atmosphere of connection and solidarity dawned throughout the auditorium. It was as if by each individually tuning-in to our own situation, we all became slightly more open to each other.
As a practicing Buddhist, I have ironically been reluctant to bring mindful and/or contemplative activities to my school. Coming from an area and school known to be very liberal and sometimes mistrustful of organized religion, I was fearful that my intentions would be seen as more proselytizing than looking after my students’ well-being, that anything I tried would be dismissed by the school community as “Sarah just doing her Buddhist thing”.
When I was nine, playing in the garden, I picked up an old window frame and discovered that the “pictures” went on beyond the frame! African daisies poked their heads over the top of the frame. My dog, Bessie, made a perfect portrait, but her tail wagged outside the frame. Oleander blooms filled the frame, lady-like, but rampaged left and right outside the frame. The tall Casuarina trees disdained the frame, allowing only a branch or two inside. I made scores of “pictures” all through my garden, each one breaking the frame.
‘…one’s destination is never a place but a new way of looking at things.’ Henry Miller.
Mine is a story of “Moving into Mindfulness”. It is a story about how wanting to help a troubled student led me along a path that I had not travelled, indeed didn’t know existed. It has become a mind-expanding journey of discovery. Following this path, travelling towards mindfulness, has exposed me to a new way of living and learning, each little event a milestone, a crumb of sustenance on the way. As I followed each marker laid out before me on the path, the vehicle of mindfulness became the driver and is transporting me to success in showing others the way.
I am a bilingual educator in Watsonville, California, an agricultural community near my home in Santa Cruz. Over the past two decades I have been a classroom teacher, a mentor for beginning teachers, a reading specialist, and currently work as an English Learner Specialist at a Middle School. In these roles I advocate for students and parents whose voices often go unheard. My pedagogy is directed towards empowering young people to be critical thinkers and reflective participants in their lives and world.
I am Dana Schneider, PhD, a social work professor in a state university with close to 20 years of clinical social work practice. In 2010 I entered a social work contemplative practice program. We explored how a relational approach creates a unique space for knowing our clients and understanding where spirituality, contemplation, or meaning may reside in their lives. Applying sacred texts to clinical material, as well as engaging in our own contemplative practices, became the fertile ground for learning.
My work as a volunteer, teaching Expressive arts and Mindfulness Education for 10 years at the Boys and Girls Club Washington DC, an after school program helping at risk students become responsible, caring, Mindful citizens. It is a career that has given me many pleasurable and satisfying moments. I began bringing mindfulness practices in to my teaching when I was introduced to Mindfulness as a calming practice in my own life. As I investigated Mindfulness and Education, I believed that we needed to introduce children to this idea at a very young age so they will have the habits of knowing how to call on themselves for comfort and self-regulation.