Contemplative Practices in Israeli Schools of Education

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Project History

The Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Haifa, Ofra Mayseless, requested expertise and guidance from The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society to introduce contemplative pedagogy into Israeli schools. Professor Mayseless leads the largest School of Education in Israel and is the elected Head of the Israeli Forum of Deans of Schools of Education for all eight universities in Israel.

All secondary school educators in Israel study to be teachers in these Schools of Education, and changes to teacher education will have wide effects. Due to its small size, geographically and in terms of numbers, Israel offers a unique opportunity to leverage a modest investment in introducing contemplative methods with the prospect of making a great difference.

 

Initial Workshops

From July 12-14, 2011, Tobin Hart, Professor of Psychology at the University of West Georgia and co-founder of the ChildSpirit Institute, and Rona Wilensky, Fellow at the Spencer Foundation in Chicago, represented the Center and presented two workshops through the School of Education at the University of Haifa, including a retreat/workshop for the faculty of the Teach First/Teach for Israel program prior to the beginning of the their summer training.

Both the three-hour workshop and the two day retreat/workshop integrated experiential activities with theoretical frameworks, applications and discussion. Practices that were introduced in both settings included contemplative listening and short periods of silent reflection.

Feedback from both workshops was extremely positive. Participants were eager for more and deeper opportunities to work with this material and to find the myriad ways to incorporate it into their personal lives, the ongoing work of higher education in general, and teacher preparation in particular. For those who already had a personal contemplative practice, the presentations legitimized, normalized and demonstrated how to make a crossover into the classroom.

 

Further Development

A workshop on Contemplative Pedagogy was held February 6 – 9, 2012 at Neve Shalom, Israel. Neve Shalom, which means “oasis of peace,” is a unique community where Jews and Palestinians have chosen to live side-by-side. This was the first gathering of its kind in Israel and it was moving and inspiring to see the interest and commitment of all those who attended.

Organized by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society in coordination with Professor Ofra Mayseless, Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Haifa, the workshop introduced a diverse group of 17 Israeli educators to the field of contemplative education. Through presentations, informal discussion, and contemplative practices, participants shared their experience and explored how contemplative practices can help educators. The group included university professors and researchers, teacher and counselor educators, adjunct faculty, post-doctoral fellows, teachers in technical institutes, teachers working with youth outside of formal schooling, the coordinator of a national movement for spirituality in education as well as two primary school teachers. What they had in common was personal experience with contemplation and strong interest in how to connect their personal practice with their work as educators.

The varied components of the workshop’s design were intended to perturb the mind, emotions and bodies of those attending in order to “break up” their current habitual patterns of thought and behavior and to allow for the emergence of a deeper alignment with their highest aspirations.

What began as a collection of individuals, few of whom knew each other, ended in the formation of a collaborative network held together by the bonds of common experience a desire to work toward common goals. At the last session they created an Agenda for Change (see below) and over half the participants signed up to bring it to fruition.

The workshop was seen as a way to begin building a national network to support contemplative practices within this secular sphere of Israeli society. It brought together participants from different sectors of the educational system who have now committed to work together for the future, and there is a potential for significant change that a small, tightly knit country offers. In the closing circle, one of the participants suggested that in 10 years we might look back at the gathering as a major turning point in the movement for a more mindful, compassionate and contemplative society. May it be so.

Following is a brief overview of some of the activities and presentations:

The World Café

On the first afternoon Rona Wilensky hosted a World Café, a social technology that invites people to participant in small group discussions, rotating around café tables. The café was a good way to begin as it serves to build community and surface common themes. The questions posed to the group were: • What outcomes do you most want for your students? • How do you connect classroom practices to those outcomes and your values? • How would you imagine bringing contemplative practices to your classroom?

Contemplative Pedagogy: Principles and Design

Arthur Zajonc This opening presentation gave an overview of the field of contemplative education and recent research on the science of meditation, and went on to address the pedagogical rationale for bringing practice into the classroom.

Contemplative Education in the USA

Rona Wilensky This presentation was an overview of the ecology of the emerging field of contemplative education in the US, and reviewed a comprehensive list of available resources including organizations offering skill building for educators, curriculum, on line networks, conferences, books and articles, and research on education.

What Does Contemplative Practice Cultivate?

On the last day of the workshop Rona led a discussion on what it means to become a contemplative teacher and deepen one’s presence in the classroom. Sharing a framework developed by Richard Brown, Director of the MA in Contemplative Education at Naropa University, she emphasized the importance of an educator’s own practice as the foundation for using contemplative pedagogy.

Guest Speakers

“Meditation and the Brain” Dr. Nava Levit Binnun, Unit of Applied Neuroscience and The Muda Israeli Center for Mindfulness, Science and Society, School of Psychology, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, offered an overview of current neuroscience research and findings on meditation effects.

“Buddhism and education, or what can the teacher learn?”

Jacob Raz, Professor of Buddhism and Japanese Culture, Department of East Asian Studies, Tel Aviv University, addressed the potential for transformation for both teacher and student when learning is a collaborative act.

“Discovering the learning in one’s inner world: Mind-Body skills and mindfulness in the scholastic environment – Outcomes, observations and insights from a ten years long project”

Dr. Nimrod Sheinman, founder of the Mindful Language Program and Einat Berger, principal of Tel Hai School in south Tel Aviv, spoke about the Mindful Language program taught at over 10 elementary schools in Israel.

“Contemplative learning and teaching via art”

Dr. Michal Bat Or, art therapist and lecturer at The Graduate School of Creative Art Therapies, University of Haifa, gave a short presentation on her work and then led the group in a contemplative art practice.

 

Agenda for Change (in order of priority)

1. Develop a program of professional training in contemplative practice and pedagogy for current and prospective teachers. 2. Organize Workshops/Retreats like this one so that others may learn what we have learned. Aim for one in summer 2012. 3. Organize a conference on the applications of mindfulness in various professional domains, with a separate conference on education in particular. 4. Organize peer groups of support, learning and practice to help program participants and others to integrate new practices into our personal and professional lives. 5. Organize networks of researchers on topics such as spirituality in education; mindfulness in education; effectiveness of contemplative pedagogical practices, etc.

Above: Workshop participants

Top: The Sea of Galilee, from freeisraelphotos.com