Contemplative Pedagogy: Care, Community, and Social Change
“You could feel the presence from one another even over Zoom,” says Genevieve Brackins. “There was a lot of care.”
Brackins, an education and outreach specialist at UVA’s Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, was speaking about the inaugural Contemplative Institute for Teaching and Learning she attended in June 2021, co-facilitated by the Contemplative Sciences Center (CSC) and the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE).
“What stays with me now, nearly a year after the institute, is how much it filled my cup. Every day for a week, showing up with intention, holding space for one another—I really cherished that.”
Brackins teaches the courses, "Frontlines of Social Change" and "Fostering Leadership in Teenage Boys." She says she aims to “support students’ wellness, thriving, and bonding within the respective cohorts while delivering the content they need to engage in scholarship throughout UVA and in the larger community.”
At one point in class when students looked weary she spontaneously led a meditation and also offered yoga throughout the term.
“It seemed useful because when it came time for student presentations, virtually every student started their time with a contemplative pause, even just pulling up a short guided meditation on Youtube.”
Another practice Brackins implemented was discussing positive world news.
“That practice combats negativity bias and builds people’s resilience so that they can engage in social change,” says Karolyn Kinane, CSC’s associate director of pedagogy and faculty engagement.
“Sharing good news builds students’ skills to stay with the work of social change long-term and in that way the activity contributes to the field and students’ professional development,” Kinane says.
In attending the institute Brackins was reminded that how we show up for one another is as important as what we do.
She says the way faculty participants treated each other with care and understanding created a sense of nourishment for her; she wanted to share that sense with students.
“Some students say they [feel] they are expected to perform to levels of perfection. They are well trained for that. But the human aspect comes first. You are here for the education but we also have to attend to wholeness from that place. They don’t need to practice perfection everywhere all of the time," Brackin says.
Brackins realizes she is teaching what she also needs to learn.
“The reason I can extend compassion to students is because of how critical I can be on myself. I’m making a commitment to be compassionate with myself when I realize I am being overly critical. It is a work in progress but something I am committed to practicing daily,” she says.
“Brackins' pedagogy bears out her values and hopes for social change,” Kinane observes. “If we want to live in more humane systems, we can start by creating more humane systems.”
The second annual Contemplative Institute for Teaching & Learning will be held August 8-12, 2022. As with last year's event, it will be led jointly by CSC’s Karolyn Kinane and CTE’s Dorothe Bach.
"Contemplative and Open Pedagogies: Trusting Ourselves and One Another," Claire Lyu, Department of French, UVA
“Inclusive Contemplative Pedagogy,” Shizuka Modica, Darden School of Business, UVA
"Promoting Kindness, Community, and an Exploration of Imperfection to Enhance Learning," Ran Zhao, East Asian Languages, Literatures & Cultures, UVA
"Redesigning Academic Courses to Support Connection, Values, & Well-Being" — Six instructors speak about how the 2021 summer institute positively impacted their personal and professional lives.
“Reflection and Transformation,” Indu Ohri Department of English, UVA / College of General Studies - Humanities, Boston University