A 15-year practitioner of yoga and meditation, Darden lecturer Shizuka Modica has come to believe that integrating contemplative pedagogy into her classroom would also enhance the development of leadership skills in her students.
“Meaningful leadership requires deep self-reflection,” she says.
But until recently, she had been basing her instruction on what she had learned on her own.
“While I had adopted teaching methods, readings, exercises, and projects that promote engagement of students’ hearts and minds—thus flourishing, well-being—these efforts had been very solitary and intuitive,” Modica says.
Last summer she enrolled in the Contemplative Institute for Teaching & Learning co-facilitated Karolyn Kinane
of the Contemplative Sciences Center (CSC) and Dorothe Bach of the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE).
“I joined the institute hoping to find a community of practitioners and to find effective contemplative approaches that appeal universally to all students of diverse backgrounds.”
Modica was inspired by a statement from Thich Naht Hanh defining equanimity as inclusion.
“If you can be equanimous in the face of difference, you can accept it,” Modica says. “I build activities that help students notice their reactivity to difference, examine it, and perhaps shift into equanimity to facilitate inclusive mind-sets.”
Nearly a year after attending the Institute, Modica says that she is more confident bringing contemplative pedagogy into her classes and has been able to utilize more inclusive methods. She credits these changes to the amount of support she has received and the depth of the curriculum provided by the Contemplative Institute.
“I think I have become more confident in leading these exercises because of working with other people who are teaching mindfulness courses or facilitating similar exercises. I am part of a group, a community, a movement. It has been a tremendous support system for me.”
“My own contemplative practice is helping me sense where students are, to think about what I can do. I can be intentional beforehand, present with them during the course, and engage in reflection afterwards.”
Another takeaway from attending the institute has been her identity as instructor and how she presents herself.
“I am more aware of what I am doing in class. I learned I don’t have to use specific techniques or formal meditation practice to engage contemplative pedagogy. What really matters is how I show up in any course that I teach.”
Rather than asking how she can get students to engage in mindfulness practices, she now asks: “How can I be the best teacher, using skillful actions in interacting with or designing for students,” she says. This has been the biggest change and challenge for me, which I welcome. To be here in the moment is the same as meeting students where they are, which is the best place for students to learn.”
One example Modica provided in a monthly community gathering, was that she had experienced “classroom disasters.” However, through conversation and reflection, she realized that these were not disastrous at all.
“I was teaching Chinese students in a Japanese classroom over Zoom. I didn’t always know what was going on—what students were saying to one another in Chinese or what was happening in each of the breakout rooms,” she says.
What she eventually realized through presence, patiences, and student feedback was that students were actually engaged and understanding the material. Now Modica says she is much more comfortable with less control and the unknown.
“I just have to completely let go of wanting to know and control every moment of the class,” she says.
Part of this process has been trusting herself as well as relinquishing control.
“Sometimes I have no idea what kind of difference I am making in students’ lives and that is part of the practice—letting go of being able to know and capture everything.
Students get to choose their own takeaways from Modica’s courses. “In any course, students will only take what they are ready for,” she notes. “As a teacher you can have all of these things on the table, and you don’t know who is going to take what. All you can do is offer a rich buffet and trust to students to taste, decide, and make something their own.”
Modica reports that her journey to integrate contemplative practice in her teaching has been very meaningful and joyous.
“As a result of the Institute I have been able to deeply and systematically reflect on my assumptions, biases, and dispositions that are unconsciously embedded in my courses. Further, it helped me to explore new ways to create a community of engagement and learning toward human and planetary flourishing and well-being at this critical juncture of the global economy,” she says.