Prof integrating meditation into the classroom

Health Sciences Assistant Professor Paula Gardner didn’t set out to incorporate mindfulness into her teaching practices. Rather, she stumbled into it after a particularly frantic commute through New York City.

“With my heart racing, mind spinning, sweat dripping down my back and 60 undergraduate students staring at me on my first day of class as a new teacher, I thought to myself, I need a minute,” recalls Gardner.

To take the minute she needed, Gardner found herself guiding the entire class through some yoga breathing techniques which she had recently learned. This began the practice of beginning all of her classes with meditation.

There is a mental health crisis on university campuses across Canada as students and faculty struggle to balance the many demands of academic life.

Gardner is one of five individuals who have been selected for the Brock University Chancellor’s Chair for Teaching Excellence. Her project, A Focus on Faculty: Building a Contemplative Campus One Classroom at a Time is aimed at understanding the challenges of integrating mindfulness into post-secondary classrooms.

In this phase of the project, Gardner will build on feedback from students and faculty using already collected data to design a set of tools, strategies and resources to help make integrating meditation into classrooms possible.

“There is a mental health crisis on university campuses across Canada as students and faculty struggle to balance the many demands of academic life,” says Gardner.

“While campuses increase efforts to support those in crisis, there is a growing need for preventative approaches that build resilience and positive mental health among the campus community,” she says.

Through her research and the practice of beginning each class with a short meditation, Gardner is finding the classroom environment has become more enhanced.

“We often arrive in our classrooms in chaos and what the meditation practice serves to do is really bring all of us, myself included, into the classroom and remind us what we are trying to do,” says Gardner.

Findings suggest the practice of meditation has a positive impact on student learning and mental health.

“Mindfulness and contemplative practices assist students, faculty and staff to become more resilient in the day-to-day pressures of academia,” says Gardner.

The Brock Chancellor’s Chair for Teaching Excellence provides recipients with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) funding to support projects to run for three years with an annual grant of $5,000 each year.

Sport Management professors Kirsty Spence and Shannon Kerwin were also selected as Chair-holders. Their SoTL project, Assessing Sport Management Students’ Ego Development and Occupational Leadership Efficacy (OLE) is a four-year longitudinal study, which will begin its second year in September.

“Being recognized as Chair-holders by the Brock community is extremely gratifying. Receiving the funding which accompanies this award ensures our research costs are covered for the remaining three years of the study,” says Spence.

The findings of this research will be disseminated to help enhance students’ leadership development toward a career within the sport industry. This research has also recently received funding through the Janet B. Parks Research Grant from the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM).

Brock Chancellor’s Chair-holders are individuals who have demonstrated exceptional promise of outstanding contributions to post-secondary teaching, learning, and/or educational technology and/or have established an exemplary record of achievement.

In the video below, Gardner discusses mindfulness in the classroom and shows how it works.

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