Discussion is the art of encouraging and directing students to exchange ideas freely with one another to construct knowledge and is a critical skill of a proficient or distinguished teacher (Danielson Framework, Domain 3 – Instruction). The practice of mindfulness, such as through the traits of engagement, novelty seeking and producing, and flexibility all directly relate to improving communication and discussion skills. For example, a mindful teacher provides many perspectives, scaffolding, and a bridge to a student’s prior knowledge by using clear purposeful language expressed through imaginative analogies and metaphors. Mindfulness also allows a teacher to notice subtle details of self and students to help guide the engagement of all towards connecting new (novel) ideas in a flexible and non-judgmental manner.
A mindful teacher, one that is truly self-aware (strong intra-personal reasoning), would be more in touch to freely express and explain details through stories to better communicate ideas and concepts within the given learning context. For instance, a teacher might pause in the middle of a lecture to add a personal story or remind students of another connection to another topic, word, or even take that moment to teach about prefixes (even though they are not a language arts teacher) as the teacher monitors the students’ level of engagement. This would deepen the students understanding of the content and build on common connections to other classes.
A mindfully skilled teacher can use a variety of questions and prompts to cognitively challenge the class and individual student perspectives, while also promoting thought flexibility, and open-mindedness to address higher-level thinking, leading to metacognition. This free and open exchange of ideas, while challenging personal and group thought, ultimately promotes awareness and reflection of thought. For example, a teacher that is aware and models the process of thinking about their own thoughts can help other students reflect and also help construct knowledge. This process of metacognition, thinking skills, reflection, self-awareness, active monitoring, and regulation of your own thought can be productive in many contexts, and does so through engagement.
There is a fine line between inviting open dialog and changeling students cognitively. It is imperative to create an empathic and compassionate atmosphere that values all students and their ideas in order to produce student lead logical reasoning and sharing. If done well, students take over the whole process of formulating questions themselves, invite each other to build on responses, or even contradict each other to develop constructive, connective knowledge. Besides empathy and compassion, one of the main concepts needing to be taught, in order for this type of exchange is to happen is, non-attachment.
A mindful teacher above all, models that all thoughts, ideas, concepts, and emotions are welcome by demonstrating non-attachment to any one side of an argument, case, or cause. Much of the fun in cultivating a deep, rich conversation, or discussion is lovingly taking the opposition. When a teacher or student is not held to one argument or element of a discussion, and practices non-attachment by doing so through active engagement with novel ideas, that cognitive flexibility builds the understanding and knowledge of all involved. This demonstrates just a few points about how the practice of mindfulness can have an impact on conversations and discussions positively contributing to constructing knowledge.
Mindful Communication and Discussion Tips:
- Become more aware of your breath as you communicate. Your emotions are tied to your respiration. It changes as you interact.
- Observe and notice, with non-judgment, subtle and small things you and others do while communicating, such as hand movements, facial expressions, nervous twitches.
- Practice the PAUSE technique.
- Be an active listener, paraphrase the other, and reflect.
- Take your time to think about your response. Wait until the other person is finished before you start to think about your response.
- Use metacognition, think about your own thoughts, where did they come from, how do they connect, where is it going?
- Investigate or take the opposite view point or other side of the argument before speaking.
- Practice (Metta) compassion, and empathy. Always care and respect others even if they think differently. We humans and society make right and wrong.
- You always have the option to be silent. Sometimes passive engagement is the best choice. You might not be a need to get involved, stir the pot, or perpetuate negative conversations. Just send the other person or group loving thoughts.
- Practice patience. Be forgiving and let go. Everyone and everything changes… Enjoy this time.
How do you construct knowledge?