Meditation in the College Classroom (Guest Blogger: Kathy Sheridan)

meditationImage from: http://listsurge.com/10-interesting-ways-to-pass-time-during-boring-class-lecture/

When I was asked to prepare a newly developed course in Child Development, Health and Wellness this fall, I was immediately energized to think about the concept of what it means for a child to be healthy and “well” in this world, and how that concept of wellness translated to my adult students’ own “wellness”. My students are a mix of graduate and undergraduate students and almost all of them come to class at 5 pm on Wednesday nights after a full day of work. When they get to campus, they are expected to sit in their seats for the next 3 hours ready to learn together.

From previous experience, I knew that it would be hard for them to jump right into learning each Wednesday night because most of them did not have even a moment to unwind from the stresses of their day. I was frustrated that in the past, it often took 5 to 10 minutes for students to close or shutdown electronics and to silence chatter so that we could begin class in earnest. I contemplated solutions during my daily jogs along the lake Michigan shoreline. I brainstormed ways that would allow me and my students to be quickly focused and energized to learn together each Wednesday night.

My research and readings, along with my daily musings while running, led me to examine the possibility of engaging in a short meditation at the start of each class period. In a study by Gryffin, Chen and Erenguc (2014), college students at a public university in the Midwest were given surveys to determine their perceptions regarding the use of meditation. About 50% of the respondents stated that not having enough time to meditate was a barrier to engaging in the practice. However, 86% of them indicated that calmness and stress reduction was a benefit of meditation and 10% indicated that they believed that meditation enhanced the ability to focus on tasks and learning. This was encouraging to me because the kind of meditation I was thinking of having my students engage in was “mindful meditation”. It would not take outside class time and would not use up valuable learning time. Instead we would engage in it at the start of each class. I envisioned that it would be short and involve a 3-minute guided meditation (I would be the guide). The purpose of the meditation would be to focus on “being present” and in the moment so that we could be fully available in class to learn.

I decided to try it! I found some meditation music online that I liked and I developed a guided meditation script that I would say at the start of each class. I was nervous, because I knew that in order for it to be effective and useful for the students, I needed to believe that it was important and I needed to believe that it would help us to become a community of learners. I knew that I needed to be serious about it and routinize it for all of us. After weeks of research and reading and practicing guided meditation myself and seeing the benefits, I felt committed to it.

On our first night of class about 40 students piled into the classroom and were talking and laughing and were on their computers and phones. When the 5:00 start time came I turned down the lights and explained that we would be engaging in a short 3-minute meditation to start each class period. I let them know that the purpose of the meditation was to help us all be present and that my research led me to believe that it would contribute to our own overall wellness.

I asked them to close their eyes and in the darkened room I played some meditative and calming music over the speaker system. I started my guided meditation script by inviting them to take a breath and to simply be more conscious. I asked them to allow their breath to bring them to the present moment. I explained that as they breathed out through their nose, they should expel any stress and negative emotion they had built up over the day, and as they breathed in, to inhale cool air to nurture themselves. We established that as we breathed in we would say “I” to ourselves and as we breathed out, we would say “AM”. We continued breathing in this fashion while adjusting our posture so that our feet were firmly rooting us to the ground and the present moment. We quieted our minds and disengaged from the past and future and enjoyed the present moment in the safe space of our classroom. As we cultivated inner peace I asked them to come back to the room and set an intention for their class time that night. Finally, I asked them to open their eyes and I welcomed them to class. I expressed my gratitude that I was able to be with them to learn and grow together that night.

All of this took only 3-5 minutes and when I turned up the lights, the silence and focus was astounding to me. Since that first class, we have started each class with this focused energy and it has been transformative for me as a teacher. I have found that the short meditation that I led allowed ME to become more focused and ready to teach and learn. I quickly realized that I too was busy all day before class and often entered class frenzied and a bit discombobulated. All of that ended during the meditation and I now start each class with a clear and focused mind.

I asked my students to give me some feedback after 8 weeks of weekly meditation at the start of class and below are a few examples of what I heard.

I like the meditation in class, it refreshes the mind to focus on what we will be working on in the present. It’s like a restart or reprogramming the body’s system.

Meditation helps me to transition to school from work. It helps me by staying focused and getting rid of all the stress from work. It makes me feel welcomed to the classroom and I get rid of any negativity I might have

I think meditation is a great way to start class. It brings you in the moment and takes outside factors away. It prepares my mind for class and I really enjoy it. I wish we could do it longer honestly

The meditation before class has been great. It helps me to focus my attention on this class and reminds me that everything else outside this class is not important for the next 2-3 hours of class. I feel more relaxed during class and look forward to the beginning of class each week

Meditating before class is a wonderful and unique tool to begin or session for the day. I usually get to class super rushed from work and stressed. So, being able to relax before getting started is so relieving. I also have tried to meditate before and was never able to really clear my mind, so I feel like I am learning how to slowly

Personally, I have become a firm believer of this type of mindful meditation to start class. This is a simple way to practice meditation and does not take years of meditation practice in order to be successful with it. All of us are able to lead this type of guided meditation practice in our classrooms, even those of us that are novices and new to meditation. It has enabled me to become a more focused and better teacher, and it has enabled our class time to be more productive because we are all focused, energized and present. I encourage you to be brave and even step outside of your own comfort zone to try this technique. I would love to hear about your experiences.

References

Gryffin, Peter, William Chen, and Naz Erenguc. “Knowledge, Attitudes and Beliefs of Meditation in College Students: Barriers and Opportunities.”American Journal of Educational Research” 2.4 (2014): 189-192.

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Kathleen M. Sheridan is an associate professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She is also a visiting scholar at the Institute for Government and Public Affairs and coordinates the Human Development and Learning Program.

 

 

 

 

Let There Be Light!

Let there be light! And there is in the Reggio Emilia preschools and the Loris Malaguzzi Center. Light has been associated with Reggio Emilia Schools for many years. Americans, in jumping on the Reggio bandwagon, bought light tables when Reggio first became “the thing” to do. But for Reggio Emilia teachers, light is so much more than just that simple light table.

On my trip to Reggio Emilia, Italy, last spring, I saw light represented, interacted with, and manipulated in so many different ways. Light has been a focus of investigation for children in the Reggio schools for many years and is illustrative of how the teachers there encourage the children to look beyond the simple concept of illumination emanating from a source. Look at the display pictured below that accompanied an exhibition at the Loris Malaguzzi Center. The teachers of Reggio see light as foundational to life.

light-explanation-croppedSome light interactions are simple such as the light table. Others are more complex. Mirrors are often used in conjunction with light. The example below is a more elaborate structure than may be found in most preschools, but does show how the refraction of light can be manipulated in many ways and how, if given access to such larger structures, children can truly experience being inside of light.

mirror-reggioAnother example of being immersed in light is the picture below, Light sheets of opaque plastic hang from the ceiling at the Loris Malaguzzi Center. Children (and the adults I traveled with as well!) moved through these ever-changing environments of light.

light-reggioChildren use “found objects” to make patterns of light on the walls as well as experiment with how different objects affect light. The Reggio Emilia schools have a “recycling center” associated with them. Teachers can go there to get a wide variety of materials collected from industry – end rolls of plastic, punch-outs of many colors, pvc-type pipe, etc. These materials are made available to the children to interact with as they wish. In fact in one school I visited, the 4-5-year-old class had only the blocks, books, and art materials normally found in American preschools. All the other materials in the classroom were from the “recycling center” and the children used them as they saw fit to build structures, create artwork, or experiment with light.

light-on-wall-reggioThe last thing I noticed about the incorporation of light into the preschool curriculum was that the use of technology ranged from the simple (flashlight), to the going-out-of-style (overhead projectors), to more high tech (computers and LED/LCD projectors). The photo below shows a child constructing a life-size scene on the wall using found objects and small animal figures.

projector-2-reggioThe fascination with light is still very much a part of the Reggio Emilia schools. The exploration of light continues to evolve as new materials are discovered, new technologies used.

Have you seen excellent examples of using light as a medium of exploration in American schools? If so, share what you have seen in the comment section.

NOTE: Visitors are not allowed to take photos in the schools, even when children were not present. The photos included in this blog were either pictures of postcards bought there or photos found online to illustrate what was seen at the schools.

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Debbie Lee is an associate professor of early childhood education at Western Illinois University and webmaster for ILAECTE. She has worked in the field of early childhood for more than 44 years, doing everything from running a licensed day care home to teaching on the college level. Her particular interest at the moment is the pedagogy of college teaching.

Supporting Diverse Teacher Candidates: How Are We Doing, Really? (Guest Blogger: Rebecca Pruitt)

diversityThis week, I had an experience with a student that impacted me deeply. I continue to process this encounter, and will not soon forget it. Earlier in the week, I had been alerted by one of my field experience supervisors that there were difficulties arising between this candidate and her mentor teacher. Without divulging the details, I will share that some close to the situation were making connections to recent high profile news stories. Knowing this candidate as her mentor and advisor for several semesters, I sensed that this situation was a bit more complex. Sure enough, as we sat down to talk, she was very emotional in expressing her high level of discomfort as the only person of color in the school, including teachers and students. Her description of the school was confirmed by my clinical coordinator who had made the placement when all other options had been exhausted for this semester. Needless to say, this is the first time this particular situation has arisen, as the vast majority of our placements are in diverse settings. As you can imagine, all hands are on deck as we are now working together to support our candidate and her mentor teacher together to provide a meaningful growth experience for all. This includes a full commitment to the voice of the candidate herself, as she takes an active role in the discussions and problem solving. We believe that there are many opportunities for positive results for this candidate as well as for her mentor teacher and students. As my dean pointed out, it is an important experience for the students to have her as their student teacher.

implicit-biasThe phrase “implicit bias” is getting a lot of press lately. Hillary Clinton’s discussion of this concept in the recent debate drew some criticism, with one news publication proposing that this idea should “scare every American.” (1) Receiving less attention by popular media is a study released this past week by the Yale Child Study Center. The primary goal of the study, according to principal investigator Walter Gilliam, was to get a more accurate view of implicit bias in preschool teachers. In short, the study found that teachers spent undue time focusing on the behaviors of their African American students, and expected bad behavior. The study revealed that they identified problematic behavior from these students even when there was none. This study should come as no surprise to those of us who are familiar with similar previous studies, and there are obvious ways that it should inform our preparation of teacher candidates for their work with students. But how does it inform other elements of our teaching? That is to say, how does it inform how we teach in the context of our own diverse classrooms? How does it inform our mentoring and advising? Our work as coordinators of field experiences and student teaching? Reflecting on the experience of my teacher candidate this week in light of this research report, I am left with some questions that are not new, but have resurfaced with a greater sense of urgency:

  • As we continue to recruit more diverse teacher candidates, what tangible supports have we put in place to support them in their movement throughout the program, and into their first few years of teaching?
  • How seriously do we take our commitment to identifying and recruiting a more diverse cadre of mentor teachers and teaching faculty?
  • How authentically do we seek to personally connect with the past experiences of our candidates in ways that acknowledge the impact of implicit bias? How then does this acknowledgement shape our programming and teaching? How does it inform the work of our mentor teachers?

How are you and your colleagues answering these questions? What resources or personal experiences can you share?
(1) “Hillary’s Talk of ‘Implicit Bias’ Should Scare Every American”
David French, National Review, September 28, 2016