My Conception of Contemplative Learning

This post has been a difficult one for me. I think that there is something elusive about it that is hard to convey in words. It is best understood through experience.

I’ll start with a few words I heard somewhere: “Listening is the most profound expression of love.” Funny how a simple statement can capture so much meaning. Listening  underpins contemplative learning.

A contemplative learner listens to and for silence. Embracing silence can be tough for adults (and even harder for children). A lot of our daily lives is consumed by near-constant noise and stimulation. Letting that go, even momentarily, is a big ask. I remember my first encounter with this practice. I was a sophomore at Wesleyan University and had just enrolled in Marilyn Nelson’s poetry seminar, “African American Poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to Cave Canem.” Her class changed my life. The first night of class (there were only four of us) and she explained her philosophy of education. Over the next two semesters, I’d sit down with her and my classmates for five to ten minute meditation and an intense three hour writing workshop. I’ll be the first to admit, at first, I thought it was kind of a weird practice and didn’t take it very seriously. I came to realize my first impression was wholly inaccurate. I found myself looking forward to class each week because I treasured the ten minute reprieve. Listening to and for silence, I found myself present in a way I don’t think I’d been before.

Presence. We all take it for granted. It’s fleeting. I know that I am always trying to grab my students’ attention (see my post “Ideas to Get Class Going”). Educators and researches alike have devoted copious amounts of their time to developing our understanding of “presence,” “active engagement,” or whatever term you prefer to use. Contemplative learning nurtures a fundamentally different perspective and a meaningful, self-aware presence.

I decided to name this site “The Contemplative Learner: Inquiry. Technology. Practice.” because I believe that we cannot lose sight of contemplative learning. It is important to balance the constant stimulation of a high tech life with periods of reflection. As I learn and my views evolve, I will publish them

Further Reading

In her piece, “The Fruit of Silence,” Marilyn discusses at length her experience with contemplative learning in the classroom. “The Fruit of Silence” delves into her experience as an educator at West Point.

On neuroscience and brain science, John Medina’s “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School” is a must-read. It’s edifying and a good read.

PBS Learning Media has a documentary (entitled “The Buddha”) complete with lesson plans, a teacher’s guide and many educational resources that holds a lot of promise. It’s worth exploring if you have the time.

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society is also a good place to start. They regularly publish work by educators practicing contemplative learning in their classrooms. There are also retreats for educators looking to learn more.

The Association for Mindfulness in Education collaborates with organizations, teachers and individuals to support mindfulness and contemplative learning in K-12 Education. For more information about the organization, follow this link to their page.



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