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A Practical Pilot Experience of a Mindfulness Program in University Teacher—Researcher Training

  • Julio Eduardo Mazorco SalasEmail author
  • Andrea Carolina Cuenca Botero
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Abstract

This paper is aimed at relating a practical pilot experience of mindfulness meditation in a university context. This pilot experience aims to acquire an incipient understanding of the potential of this practice as a training mechanism for teaching staff. A qualitative method was used to record the mindfulness meditation practice experiences of teachers and instructors being trained; the trainees comprise the teaching staff that coordinates a learning environment called Context and region: Introduction to systemic thinking at Ibague University. A qualitative record and analysis process of the narratives of the practice experience were conducted based on the voices of the participants. Categories demonstrating aspects perceived as favorable or annoying with regard to the practice of mindfulness emerged. Benefits are perceived by participants in the following order: awareness, well-being, gratitude, and attention toward the other and oneself in the relationship. The annoyances are referred to as perceptions of physical discomfort present at the time of practicing mindfulness. The experience allowed a practical pilot that was shared with the team supporting the incorporation of attitudes related to the teaching role, personal experience, and the composition of teaching staff.

Keywords

Mindfulness meditation Teacher training University 

This paper addresses the learning experience of teachers with regard to an experimental pilot practice of mindfulness meditation in teacher training. This document includes an introduction, the location of the experience, the methodology used, the results, and conclusions.

Mindfulness meditation is a tool being introduced to teaching (Mañas et al. 2014) as a lifestyle that fosters attention to mind, body, and emotion and improves inner conditions related to the meaning of the world conceived by participants—teachers and students—in teaching–learning processes (Roeser et al. 2012; Weare 2014).

Mindfulness meditation is a well-known and verified practice within the learning environment. Since Jhon Kabat-Zinn (2003, 2004) introduction of mindfulness meditation into Western medicine, he has contributed several studies that have been able to determine that the use of this practice allows the abilities of metacognition and mindful awareness to be inculcated in the educational context (Mañas et al. 2014; Semple 2010; Raffone et al. 2014; Lutz et al. 2007; Kerr et al. 2013).

During a review of cases in which mindfulness meditation was applied in the educational context, verified results were found in four areas of interest in teaching, all measured transversely and associated with managing emotions, which will be called emotional or affective intelligence (Salcido 2014). Also, results on group influence, confidence, sense of safety and belongingness (Russo 2019; Cormack et al. 2018), and the cultivation of psychological and interpersonal well-being in different contexts (Siegel 2007; Lomas et al. 2017; Weare 2014; Brown and Ryan 2003; Lutz et al. 2007) were found.

Colombia has conducted several research experiences that have sought to understand the benefits of the application of mindfulness in the field of teaching. Among them, university students in Barranquilla were subjected to the self-monitoring of attention method (mindfulness) to study their self-awareness of changes in intermediary attention deficits (Barragán et al. 2007). Since 2013, a nongovernmental organization called RESPIRA has sought to introduce mindfulness meditation into the educational field in vulnerable and violence-exposed schools throughout the country (Nieto 2015).

The Experience

The application of mindfulness meditation was carried out in a university context of systemic teacher–researcher training. The need to develop abilities from the perspective of the teacher’s role, as well as that of affective intelligence, in easing the training of others and oneself arose in a learning environment of systemic thinking from a constructivist approach, which seeks the development of transversal competences and integral training, an approach to learning by doing. This course is oriented from teaching active methodologies, teaching teams, and project-based approaches to problem-oriented learning.

This context of teaching and learning is mediated by constant interactions between students and teachers. The need to develop new capacities for the teaching role aimed at facilitating affective intelligence, empathy, mindfulness awareness, and self-knowledge as mediators in constructivist training is pointed out. This experience was based on a central idea, there can’t be an integral education without an integral teacher.

The Mindfulness Meditation Practice

This university teacher team’s mindfulness meditation experience was design based on tools by the Kabat-Zinn 8-week stress reduction program (Stahl and Goldstein 2010) and other’s mindfulness education setting programs (Salcido 2014; Sánchez 2016; Bonilla and Padilla 2015; Franco Justo et al. 2010; Franco Justo 2010; Save the Children.org 2015; Arias et al. 2010; Barragán et al. 2007; Crane et al. 2010; Lustyk et al. 2009; Kabat-Zinn 2003). For the implementation and viability of the program, the availability of teachers’ time and cultural resistance to meditation in the academic field were taken into account. A program with a structure of formal practices was adjusted using attention in breathing, attentive listening, body scan, observation of thoughts, observation of emotions, and practice of loving kindness.

In response to the duration of the 16-week academic semester and the available time of the teaching team to meet and meditate together (Russo 2019; Cormack et al. 2018), a 16-week program was conducted with 2 weekly group meditation sessions lasting between 15 and 30 min. An incremental practice process was carried out, starting with observation breathing practices in the first and second week; the third and fourth week with observation breathing practices, attentive listening, and body scanning; the fifth and sixth week with body scan and observation of thoughts and emotions; the seventh and eighth week combined all practices; and from the ninth to the sixteenth, the process was repeated. In weeks 12, 14, and 16, practices of loving kindness were implemented, linked to classroom experiences, students, teaching staff, family, society, nature, and life.

During the 16 weeks after each meditation, the experience was recorded and there was a space for questions or comments about the experience. Informal practices were incorporated at home randomly. Due to the university context and availability of physical spaces and disposition of the teaching team, it was not favorable to incorporate yoga practice.

Methodology

This research activity was aimed at transforming pedagogical practices with the intervention of a mindfulness meditation program. A qualitative process of recording narrative experiences was conducted, seeking to explore and describe the experiences of six teachers and four instructors upon practicing a mindfulness meditation routine derived from the Kabat-Zinn 8-week program (Stahl and Goldstein 2010; Mañas et al. 2014; Barragán et al. 2007) in spaces related to a teaching course on systemic thinking.

Participants

The process was carried out with a teaching team, a group of three teachers who together design, investigate, and accompany the class with the support of young students in the role of monitors. The participants were between the ages of 18 and 29 years and were students and professionals in design, sociology, phycology, philosophy, and civil and industrial engineering. Two of the participants assumed the role of researcher, being part of both the teacher–researcher team and the mindfulness meditation participants.

Gathering Information

The information was gathered in three stages: at the time of self-diagnosis prior to the practice, during the practice, and at the end of the program. These stages were completed in 8 months in two cycles with two weekly meetings in which participants practiced for a duration of 30 min.

A written and oral narrative of the experience was recorded after classes, after class-planning meetings, and in participants’ daily lives. The generating questions in each case were as follows: what was my experience during meditation? What do I realize after meditation? What do I realize in my daily life of meditation practices?

Information Analysis

A qualitative method was applied to analyze the information, using the constant comparative method of grounded theory in its descriptive and interpretative moments.

Results of the Experience

The findings of the study on the practice of mindfulness meditation in teachers and instructors are presented. These findings allow an understanding of meditation practice as a training mechanism for teachers in a constructivist teaching–learning environment.

Product of the comparative analysis is demonstrated by means of a list of four categories of the effects of practicing mindfulness and the awareness of breathing on easing the process of metacognition in teachers through training in the mindfulness mechanisms, regarding the following: (a) attentive awareness, (b) subjective well-being, (c) cultivation of relationships, and (d) discomfort.
  1. a.

    Attentive awareness

     
This refers to noticing an aspect of the internal or external reality of the participant and is related to something that is obvious or evident at the moment of practicing, without the participant distinguishing between annoyance and well-being. This category is the most comprehensive. Most of the records refer to physical awareness or awareness of the way of thinking, as well as noticing the environment, particularly manifestations of nature. For example, a participant said “Understanding and waiting for what my body has prepared for me” (Participant statement). Another participant states about his attention to mind and body “Performing the practice of mindfulness allowed me to know aspects of my body and mind that I did not know until today. Identify that my breathing is normally very fast and that I need to learn to handle it in times of anxiety that will be one of my challenges to learn to breathe.” (Participant statement).
  1. b.

    Subjective well-being

     
This category appeared when referring to the presence of feelings related to ideas such as the following: peace, tranquility, connection, well-being, love, and gratitude. These ideas are considered to be related to the awareness of the states of subjective well-being achieved by means of practicing. In the record, expressions such as the following appear, “I felt calm,” “I felt relaxed,” and “I was able to connect almost completely during the practice. I transported myself to a quiet place full of natural things” (Participant statements). Another participant states about her feeling of well-being after the meditation, “the formal practice allowed me to have peace of mind and the class environment was great in general terms, I feel very relaxed after doing the practice.” (Participant statements).
  1. c.

    Cultivation of relationships

     
This category gathers the statements indicating that practicing mindfulness was useful in viewing and dealing with certain aspects related to a participant’s relationships. The connection to the other or to the idea of “oneself” is focused, which is evident when paying attention to, or observing, a memory or an emotion. The manner in which the relationship dimension is cultivated with practice was demonstrated, and it was found to be associated with a body expression, the presence of a memory, or the evocation of an aspect related to another (family, students, team, and “oneself”). For example, “Today I could feel my stress and pain, but I also listened to myself. The practice reminded me of the closeness with some students” (Participant statements). Regarding the team of teachers and the class, one participant comments “I felt responsibility for the emotions of my classmates, I consider that this type of practice helps us to find ourselves, to reassess our criteria, to see how we are working within the team and how it has been our work in the classroom” (Participant statements).
  1. d.

    Discomfort

     

This category references the unease or annoyances perceived. It appears to be related to something during practice that allows the participant to feel unpleasant feelings; during the practice, there is a misalignment regarding body, thought, attention, and emotions. In this category, some notes regarding physical awareness are included; however, these are not recorded with “negative” words. The notes refer to something that is not aligned. For example, “Today’s practice wasn’t as great as the previous one, I felt I was a little bit more tired” and “today’s practice was a little bit different, I allowed myself to move with the purpose of feeling more comfortable. But these movements caused other types of feelings, not entirely uncomfortable but there were moments that were not so comfortable” (Participant statements).

Conclusions

In this experience, the value of practicing mindfulness meditation in the university context during comprehensive training and in the process of forging self-knowledge of teacher–researchers is demonstrated. Moreover, it shows that this practice favors the cultivation of a coherent teacher role with constructivist pedagogy, a participant states “sharing knowledge is difficult, mindfulness having experience as its center allows knowledge not to be transmitted, it is found and shared” (Participant statements). In turn, it was noted that a team practicing together showed cohesion and willingness between teacher and student. This way, the mindfulness experience is received, and it permeates the actions that the group is focusing on (Lindsay et al. 2019; Grabovac et al. 2011).

Care is one of the aspects dealt with in the research experience. This is noticeable in the narratives, in which the reflections were related to tranquility, body awareness (Kerr et al. 2013), and improvement of subjective levels of well-being (Siegel 2007; Lomas et al. 2017; Weare 2014; Brown and Ryan 2003; Lutz et al. 2007).

With regard to the participants, the dimension of recording demonstrated a difficulty or initial blocking that was related to expressing and narrating internal aspects of each subject as the tendency to talk about the outside and self-reflexive ability grew. On the other hand, it is not possible to prove that the mindfulness meditation program was applied in the participants’ daily lives in a constant manner. The meditation was biased from the contexts of the experience of each participant, their prejudices, expectations, wishes, and frustrations, which were seen in the participants. Therefore, it is important to reflect on the understanding of the concept of meditation and the steps that need to be taken when meditating by mixing experience and adding, as well as remembering, the sense of practice.

It is a necessary challenge to make room for the potential of mindfulness meditation as a training mechanism. Moreover, to develop methods of creating spaces of introduction to the 8-week program with students, it is important to realize that this environment of practice may be connected to teacher–trainee life in much the same way with that of a university course and university life.

The training processes between teachers and students are connected. The importance of continuing research on the potential of applying mindfulness as an alternative to pedagogical practice in humans and teachers and the need to understand mental models in education are highlighted.

Finally, we note the value of continuing with this line of research aimed at examining the participatory activity research methodology as a transformative method that may allow for the continuation of demonstrating and understanding the underlying processes of practicing mindfulness in the university context. The challenge accompanying comprehensive training processes in teachers and instructors that support the ability to face complex class environments should be also considered.

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Ibagué University for the time, subjects, and in kind resources to develop the research and the Systemic Thinking Unit from Ibagué University, unit which researchers belong.

Author Contributions

Julio Mazorco Salas y Andrea Cuenca are the co-first authors and contributed equally to this work.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee. Also, the Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.System Thinking Research Group MYSCOUniversidad de IbaguéIbaguéColombia
  2. 2.Pontificia Bolivariana UniversityMedellínColombia

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