Loving, Connected Presence (LCP) is a pedagogical tool used by embodied teachers of contemplative programs. LCP recruits psychosocial tools for connecting in a way that enhances learning and a sense of belonging in a teaching environment. LCP is cultivated through:
- facial expressions that convey curiosity, compassion and concern,
- supportive gestures,
- appropriate touch,
- soothing voice,
- compassionate listening,
- 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 tend to come naturally as a teacher becomes more and more experienced.
Teachers in online environments have access to only a small number of these tools to express LCP, so they need to develop some extra tools in order to complete the suite, if you will, of teaching tools in the contemplative environment. LCP is expressed at the intersection of pedagogical and technical knowledge through:
- regular, timely and thoughtful emails,
- 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),
- 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 breath life into the social connection until it has a life of its own,
- 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 behind them in their video presence – teachers should try to use the same background throughout the course for consistency.
LCP is also facilitated between participants via discussions. It is important that participants have as many opportunities as is pragmatic during synchronous gatherings to break out into small groups so that they have an opportunity to be seen and heard by each other.
Pedagogy and technology also interact in determining how content will be presented in an online contemplative environment. For example, teachers need to gauge when to use large group inquiry/discussion, small group sharing, or chat box contributions to share information within the group. Online teachers can gauge how successful each of these are in a particular group and adapt accordingly (for example, similarly to in-person settings, if participants are reticent to share in the large group, more break-out groups might be used).
Discussion boards are an important connecting piece for an online program, and a second important goal of discussion boards (as well as expressing LCP) is to teach material through responding to participants’ posts with relevant information about research, theory and practice suggestions. Material from the course might be offered in response to a discussion board post, as well as any relevant material the teacher has access to outside of the course content itself. The beauty of the discussion board is that a teacher can easily provide links to online resources (books, websites, apps) in response to a participant’s post. Teachers have the opportunity to research material themselves, then offer it to participants, in a methodical and time-easeful way they wouldn’t be able to do so easily in an in-person environment.
Content presentation online needs to also be adapted to avoid too much “talking head” presentation. About 20 minutes of the teacher offer didactic material is the maximum that should be planned. After this point participants need to be given the opportunity to change their mode of learning, eg moving from a didactic piece to a meditation then to a large group discussion, or from a didactic piece to an exercise to break-out groups.