This article was originally published in March 30, 2018 and updated on December 9, 2019.
As more and more teaching and learning moves online, contemplative teaching is transferring to the digital environment in the service of accessibility, low cost and development of international communities of practice. Because of the reliance on interpersonal relationships and a sense of safety and trust in these kinds of communities, there are some special challenges teachers of online contemplative material face that are different to those faced in the onsite/in-person environment.
Cultivating compassionate teaching methods is important in contemplative programs. Compassionate teaching methods recruit tools for connecting in a way that enhances learning and a sense of belonging for participants. When we feel as if we belong and can trust those around us, we are more likely to relax away from a stress response and toward a more receptive way of being that enhances learning and growth.
Contemplative teaching onsite
Compassionate teaching methods in-person and onsite are cultivated through a trauma-informed approach and skills and behaviors like:
- facial expressions that convey curiosity, compassion and concern,
- supportive gestures,
- appropriate touch,
- soothing voice,
- compassionate listening,
- compassionate dialogue,
- maintaining eye contact,
- inclining toward someone,
- appropriate pacing of teaching,
- adapting material to the needs of the group,
- responding in the moment to any special needs of an individual or the group,
- taking breaks when needed,
- tuning in to the needs of the group and noticing affect in individuals.
In-person, these practices will tend to develop naturally as a teacher becomes more and more skilled and experienced.
Compassionate teaching online
Teachers in online environments have access to a decreased number of opportunities to connect and share like those listed above, so they need to collect some extra tools that fall under three components of online teaching. You might like to check out this paper by Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009) to read about these three components. Compassionate teaching online is practiced at the intersection of two of those components, pedagogical and technical knowledge: practicing skillful methods for enhancing learning opportunities, and utilizing creative adaptations of online and digital functions in service of learning.
Pedagogy and Technology
Practicing skillful pedagogy means that the variety of methods and practices being used to teach are those that help our participants learn what we are wanting them to learn.
Utilizing creative adaptations of online and digital technology means that we skillfully explore and use the full complement of online and digital tools available to us in service of supporting learning in a number of different ways.
Practicing skillful pedagogy and creative use of technology happens through taking into account these points:
- Thorough training for participants in how to use online technology at the start of a program.
- Regular, timely and thoughtful emails.
- In the early days of a course before participants are engaging fully with each other, the teacher should respond to every discussion board post to acknowledge a participant’s presence and their contribution – to help breathe life into the social connection until it has a life of its own.
- Acknowledging participants who miss a session by letting them know that we missed them and reaching out to check in with them.
- Timely, regular and personalized discussion board posts (thanking a participant for posting, acknowledging and validating at least one point they made in their post).
- Alternating between large group and small group discussions to allow participants to feel seen and heard.
- Exploring material in both synchronous verbal and chat box discussions during a live gathering and asynchronous discussions via a discussion board.
- Being available for private conversations with participants via email, phone or video conference where appropriate.
- Enhanced facial expressions and in-camera hand gestures while in synchronous meetings.
- Sharing appropriate personal anecdotes in response to discussion board posts.
- A calming and appropriate background in a video window – teachers should try to use the same background throughout the course for consistency.
- Utilizing discussion boards as a place to connect and also reinforce learning through relating posts to material covered in the course.
- Adjusting content type and duration to help support participants’ attention through alternating between topic talks, contemplative practices, discussions, reflection and exercises.
In conclusion, online programs can be a wonderful addition to our program offerings. And when we focus on developing a sense of comfort and connection for our participants from the beginning, we can offer accessible training that folks might not be able to explore in any other way.
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