Pilot programs support mindfulness practice

Two pilot programs this semester support a national trend on campuses: practicing mindfulness.

At its simplest, mindfulness means intentional focusing and being present in the moment. It does not mean, for example, walking to a class or a meeting with eyes glued to your phone, or talking on the phone while checking email.

The Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center began exploring ways to incorporate mindfulness in the classroom two years ago when Grand Valley and Ferris State University faculty members established a learning community. Christine Rener, vice provost for Instructional Development and Innovation and director of FTLC, said the science behind contemplative pedagogy, or mindfulness, enhances learning.

“There is evidence on how people who practice mindfulness are better learners and better listeners,” Rener said. “There are neurological changes, it reduces your heart rate and stress level.”

The FTLC and Health and Wellness have teamed to established a six-week pilot program for College of Health Professions faculty members, who are working with Carol Hendershot, co-founder of the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness; and a six-week course for faculty and staff members will begin in October. “Learning the Art of Mindfulness” will be led by Sue Dilsworth; visit www.gvsu.edu/healthwellness to learn more.

Kathryn Stieler, associate professor of music, said while she practices mindfulness, she was at first skeptical of its benefits in the classroom.

“They enjoyed it,” said Stieler, also a FTLC faculty fellow. “The students told me they rarely have any quiet time.”

In five-minute mindfulness sessions, Stieler would ask her students to “silence their voice and listen.” Sometimes, she led them with questions about stage performance.

Abigail Hollenbeck was in Stieler’s master class and said she enjoyed those sessions. “Professor Stieler also asked reflective questions that encouraged a deeper level of learning,” Hollenbeck said.

Joe Gibson took a physics course last year taught by Karen Gipson, professor of physics. He said Gipson’s mindfulness sessions sometimes focused on awareness of breath and others were topic driven.

“Our class topics were pretty abstract, when we would discuss black holes, or theories about time and space,” Gibson said.

Gibson found the sessions calming, and practiced mindfulness before he took the GRE and before a successful internship interview with NASA last year.

“I enjoyed it and I think other students in the class did, too,” Gibson said. “It really puts you in a different state of mind.”