Contemplative Pedagogies: Expanding the Field

The Tree illustrates the range of contemplative practices in use in secular organizational and academic settings…Centre for Contemplative Mind

Contemplative Practices can be found in all the world’s diverse wisdom traditions: they are ways of focusing the mind and expanding perception, as such they are intrinsically pedagogical. But until recently they have not been studied as a form of pedagogy that has application across disciplines.

However contemporary research in contemplative pedagogies is now an expanding and robust field. This is in no small part due to the pioneering work of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Society who began a scholarship program for academics in 1996 and went on to form the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE) ten years later.

ACMHE now holds a series of annual events that gather educators from around the world to discuss the way a variety of contemplative practices can be used across the curriculum. Recently a Contemplative Pedagogy Network was also begun in the UK after a successful conference in 2015.

One of the strengths of the approach adopted by the ACMHE was to focus on a broad suite of practices that go beyond simply introducing mindfulness meditation into the classroom.  They call this approach “The tree of contemplative practices“.

Arthur Zajonc one of the founders of ACMHE has called the gradual development of contemplative education across higher education “a quiet revolution”:

Nearly every area of higher and professional education from poetry to  biology and from medicine to law is now being taught with contemplative  exercises. Appreciation of secular contemplative exercises for stress reduction (Shapiro, Schwartz, and Bonner 1998) is growing fast as is the acknowledgment of their value for general capacity building (such as strengthening attention or cultivating emotional balance), as well as for mastery of course material…..Contemplative pedagogy serves several educational goals. Research shows that contemplative practice, even if performed for short periods,  improves attention (Jha 2007; Tang et al. 2007), cognition (Zeidan 2010),  and cognitive  exibility (Moore 2009). At Stanford University James Doty  (2012) has established the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research  and Education, whose research shows that compassion can be strengthened.

This rich body of research, with a twenty plus year history, has begun to both gather data on the relative effectiveness of various practices and develop conceptual work which maps the theoretical landscape of the field.

In Australia the field is relatively underdeveloped although there is burgeoning enthusiasm. The OLT Project University Student Success, Resilience and Well Being brought together a group in 2014 to share their experience of contemplative practice and this has led to an ongoing informal network.

The purpose of the Contemplative Pedagogies Network Australia is to develop and expand this network and to support members in developing a range of contemplative and reflective approaches in their courses.