According to our school's course evaluation instrument, all categories of my 2013 course improved in relation to the 2012 course from 3% to 33%. The following categories received the highest upgrades: “Was receptive to student's ideas and viewpoints” (+27%) and “Communicated course content in ways you understood” (+33%). By normalizing the anxiety interns feel in their new role of practitioner and the critical need for self-soothing, the person of the practitioner has become a legitimate subject for learning and development. As beginning workers, they experience the acute vulnerability inherent in grappling with a new role.
Simultaneously, my own vulnerability as an instructor comes from introducing new approaches and revealing more sides to the person of the instructor. Increased vulnerability and the challenge of self-soothing are part of a parallel process that I share with the students. We are both traveling a path toward greater authenticity whereby inner functioning is reflected in outer functioning. Their inner development will be reflected in their ability to remain open and tuned in to their clients. My inner development and authenticity will be reflected in the course design and my ability to remain open and attuned to my students.
Indeed, I believe that students long for the relational embodiment of course content. Such animation serves not as a model of perfection but, rather, as an accessible reference point for their own progress and development. In a professional school, this constitutes legitimate course content equivalent to the ostensible curriculum (see Fox, 2011). This year, my mindfulness content is expanded; it includes an assignment geared toward this content, and it is taught by a more confident instructor. Before class, I often challenge myself with a personal slogan: How slow can you go? During class, I remind myself to breathe deeply. Sometimes facing the white board I hear a small voice inside reminding me that I do not have to write so fast.
Heinz Meyer and David Locher both had transformative experiences when they freed themselves to be more fully present with students. By subordinating content and becoming more relational, the educational experience became more meaningful for all parties (Rodgers & Raider-Roth, 2006). It seems to be a development process with no end in sight.
Mirabai Bush (2010) believes that synthetic (i.e., holistic) thinking (Barbezat & Bush, 2013) is key to a new way of teaching, learning, and knowing that both complements and challenges critical thinking and the scientific method. We may be turning a corner in academic history whereby the dualistic tradition that “alienates body from mind, emotion from intellect, humans from nature and art from science” is in need of balance and completion from a contemplative understanding that emphasizes wholeness, unity, and integration (Bush, 2010, p. 3). As Arthur Zajonc (2006) states, “Our conventional epistemology hands us a dangerous counterfeit in truth's place, one that may pass for truth, but is in fact partial and impoverished” (p. 1744) (see also Bugental, 1987). Furthermore, Tobin Hart says that the contemplative teacher invites students to the inside of the subject matter (Bush, 2010). This sentiment is echoed by Zajonc (2006), who speaks of inwardly assuming the shape and meaning of the contemplative object—inhabiting it not as a spy but as a lover.
I find the contemplative movement in higher education very encouraging as a social work instructor. By reuniting more integrative and holistic ways of knowing with traditional scientific methods, we have the opportunity to create pedagogies that are more versatile and complete and encourage the development of responsive and reflective social workers. By making a place at the table for experience, creativity, imagination, and intuition, we have the possibility, as Shelagh Larkin (2010) says, of “bringing life and livelihood back together” (p. 453).