Center for Learning and Teaching

Michael Finkelstein

Health and Wellness

Pedagogical Showcase Method: Mindfulness, Active Learning

Showcase Description: Teaching the Art of Mindfulness for Goal Setting and Educational Success

  • Briefly Describe your Course (i.e. goals, pedagogical approaches, etc.) 

    It is abundantly clear that students are under a lot of pressure to perform. And, that pressure for performance is not limited to the academic arena. Indeed, there are familial, social and cultural pressures that contribute to a sense of overwhelm that is acutely palpable on campus. At their best, these pressures motivate students to learn and to grow. But, as we understand, they also contribute to substantial personal suffering. While not historically the role of academic institutions to address, it is growing more common for teaching professionals to consider the balance between personal and academic success. In a nutshell, the course, Balancing Health and Success is designed to embrace students as precious human beings who are cared for in the university setting, normalize the feelings that they have in response to these pressures, and to begin to sort out the ways in which they may build greater resiliency, ultimately redesigning their approach to learning that includes self-care. In fact, the primary tenet of the course is that the healthier one is -- in body, mind and spirit -- the better they will do academically.

    The course has been developed to engage students in dialogue. Initially they are encouraged to share their experience and to reflection on the paths that brought them to where they are, including the pressure to “succeed” and advance to the next level. Health and success are the key terms that are redefined, and the remainder of the course unveils a process of learning, discovery and experiential activities that help them formulate a clearer path for themselves that is more sustainable, and will ultimately lead to success in its broadest sense. The principle text is Slow Medicine, describing an approach to living that connects dots between our mind, our bodies and our relationships. The role of community is epitomized by the emphasis on sharing feelings with the group. Each student is continuously reminded to reflect on the meaning and value of their own life, and their personal life’s purpose and passion. The focus remains on process, not outcome. Indeed, the original title for the course, Beyond the Grade, reflects the object lesson that quality trumps quantity.

  • Have you seen any results in your students based on your course learning objectives, your teaching style, their application of learning?   Essentially, how do you know that your students are learning? 

    The final assignment for the course is a blog. Students are asked to reflect on what they experienced throughout the semester and what they have learned, and what one “pearl” they would share with others. Here are some quotes:

    “When I first enrolled in HWS 120, I’m not sure that I knew what to expect from an “integrative learning” course.  Being “healthy” and “successful” sounded appealing, but I didn’t really know what I would need to do to achieve both.  Now, at the end of the semester, I believe that I have begun to develop an understanding of how to balance health and success.  I learned that our relationships have far reaching implications on our health, and that they contribute as much to our health as they do to our success.  
    As a result of having taken this course, something I will do differently, and continue to do in the future, is be more conscious of my relationships with others.  I will view my relationships with others not merely as a social aspect of my life, but from a health perspective.

    Evaluating your relationship with others is important because your relationships and your health are inextricably linked.  I am more conscious now of my relationships with others, and how our relationship can affect their health as well.”

    “Personally, I found myself wearing-down from a repetitive life away of college. That being waking up at the same time for the same classes every day, and eating at the same dining hall, then going downtown Friday and Saturday, week to week to week. 

    I didn’t expect much from the class, just like you’re probably not expecting some revolutionary change from this blog. However, I think by the end of this, and the end of the course material if you go on to read it, you’ll find yourself mistaken, as I was.

    What I’m saying is, as I’ve taken away from this class, you’ve got to knock money and fame and other parts of the “American dream” down aways on your priority list, pick up the phone, and reach out to relatives, family, and friends. For example, I’ve found myself passing up a lunch out with friends while trying to save up some cash for a new watch, or shoes, or whatever else its been, but after what this book has opened my eyes up to regarding relationships, I’m going to take the lunch 9 times out of 10.”

    “Initially, when I signed up for this course, titled “Balancing Health and Success”, I just needed the extra credits. I did not know what to expect and didn’t even think I was going to get much out of it. I was very wrong though.

    One thing I learned this year is that YOU are important, not your grades, not your popularity, and not your looks. Nothing else really matters if you are unhappy or unhealthy, and taking time to yourself to realize these things and give your body and mind what they need is so incredibly important.

    This process was extremely valuable and I don't think even one hour of this class was a waste of my time. Whether you’re an incoming freshman with no idea what to expect at college, or a second semester sophomore on the fast track to becoming a rich and successful CEO, this course is worth it. Not only is it a nice break from all of the intense and hard classes that many of us have to take here at Binghamton, but will also teach you valuable lessons that will stay with you throughout your college career, and further on into life. This course will help you to take a step back and look at your life to determine how genuinely happy and healthy you are, what kind of relationships you have, and what you need to achieve your highest potential.”

  • Can you describe one specific piece of content or exercise that your learners found very impactful on their lives in higher education?

    As one student clearly illustrated, there is a “rut” they get into in college: working, partying, catching up on sleep. Typical of our 24/7/365 culture, there isn’t clear separation between the days, nights, weeks or months. The fast, fast, fast, rush, rush life is the reason why Slow Medicine was written. The frenetic relentless rhythm (or absence of rhythm) contributes to ailments across the board, from the individual to the collective. I reviewed with them the history of the “Sabbath” ritual that predates the bible -- the idea that there is essential value, essentially an imperative, to take time be to rest -- enough time, with a regular frequency, that punctuates the intense busy lives we lead on the other days. The exercise was simply called; “Sabbath” and I encouraged students to experiment with a day of unplugging, resting, and relaxing with friends, reconnecting with the often ignored rhythms and cycles of the natural world. This had profound effects on their body and minds. Unanimously they were encouraged by how simple and how available such restoration was. Indeed, they are desperate for such relief.

  • How can other faculty promote mindfulness and other health (body/mind) practices into their learning and teaching?

    In truth, the first step is for faculty to take care of themselves in this way. We all need it. The pressures that students face are not unique to them. Indeed, our students will be most influenced and benefit from healthy and balanced role models in this regard. Once inspired by personal experience, the lesson plan is obvious. Slow down, take the time to connect – to connect people to people, learning to people, work to people, people (students) to themselves, their inner truth, passions and purpose.

  • What is a good starting book that faculty can read to learn more about mindfulness practices and/or incorporating them into learning and teaching?

    Slow Medicine was written for people who are inquisitive and seek an understanding of how the dots of our lives actually connect so that they may achieve the fullest and meaningful life possible. Those dots include our bodies, our mind, our relationship -- to ourselves and others, the earth, and the universe -- our communities and our roles in those communities. Ultimately, with more complete understanding a better approach can be designed. This approach, of course, would include personal well-being as well as professional success. Mindfulness is simply the caring and deliberate application of this understanding.

    There are many ways to teach and many skills that teachers possess; but, among the most powerful is the influence of someone who gets the big picture, and commits themselves to the subject of humanity by leading as an example. The subject of the course, though interesting and important, is secondary.



Last Updated: 3/1/17