Hi! I’m Meredith Farkas, ACRL-Oregon’s VP/President-Elect and a librarian at Portland Community College. Like many of my colleagues on the ACRL-OR Board, I attended the ACRL-PNW Conference at Pack Forest in October. For me, the highlight of the conference was a session entitled “Contemplative Pedagogy: An Ancient Solution for a Modern Problem” presented by Nicole Gustavsen of UW-Bothell/Cascadia College and Heather Newcomer of Olympic College. The session described mindfulness practice and how it can benefit us — both professionally and personally — and our students in our continuous-partial-attention-driven, technology-filled world. Nicole and Heather had attendees participate in a breath and body guided mindfulness exercise and then described how they used mindfulness exercises at the start of some of their classes and the benefits of doing so. You can view their slides as well as their list of resources which include the breath and body scan script they used with conference attendees.
I was inspired by the idea of using brief (2-5 minute) mindfulness exercises at the start of class to better connect with students and help them focus on what we’re doing. I recognize the challenges we have as librarians in building rapport within the context of a one-shot instruction session and this activity seemed like a small change I could make that might help students see that I recognize research can be challenging and am here to support them. That week, I had a Reading 115 class coming in and I thought this would be the perfect group to try this with because a lot of students I’ve worked with in Reading 115 classes in the past have had issues with self-confidence around their academic abilities. I hoped that this might bring their stress level down or at least help them let go temporarily of some of the other things on their minds.
I made a few minor changes to the breath and body scan script Heather and Nicole used so it would fit my own presentation style and then tried it with the class. When I first came into the classroom, students were chatting, texting, sending emails, and all the usual things we see students doing before class. I started by introducing myself and talking a bit about how research can be stressful, how I’m here to support them in that, and that we’re going to do a quick breathing exercise to help us focus on the task at hand. As I read the script, every student participated and the room was silent. Once I’d finished, I found that the class was focused in a way I’d never seen before in my teaching. I don’t know whether or not it brought students’ stress levels down, but it definitely facilitated a solid transition between what they were doing before and what we were all working on together. I also found that when I gave students time in the second half of class to work on their own research, more students in the class asked me for help than usually do. Whether that was a fluke or they really felt more comfortable seeking help from me after the exercise I don’t know for sure, but I feel like it was well worth sacrificing a few minutes of class time to do.
Winter term has recently started at Portland Community College, and I’m excited to start more of my classes this term with a breath and body scan. It’s always exciting to go to a conference and be able to apply something from it to your own work, and I want to thank Heather, Nicole, and the ACRL-WA Board for providing us with the opportunity to learn all this!