To coincide with University Mental Health Day on 3rd March 2022, this blog post explores the role of multisensory, mindful learning in nurturing positive mental health for educators, researchers and students.
Here I'm sharing a diverse collection of resources, both theoretical and pragmatic, to support the development and adoption of creative, contemplative pedagogic practices.
Growing concern about levels of poor mental health within university staff and students have led to an increased focus on this area, with the recently launched Advance HE toolkit for embedding mental health into the curriculum being one example (see video below). The QAA Embedding Mental Wellbeing: Methods and Benefits resources were highlighted in my previous post and the findings of a recent survey on the mental health of Doctoral students are discussed in 'Is doing a PhD bad for your mental health?'.
Institutions have extended their programmes and resources for mental health support to include online videos, mindfulness sessions and opportunities for social connection, for example, De Montfort University's Healthy DMU Hub.
But how can we embed a more mindful approach into our teaching? This was the question posed by a recent #LTHEchat led by NTF Dr Sam Elkington : 'A time for mindful academic practices?'. During the resulting online dialogue, this article by Ann Webster-Wright was shared: 'The eye of the storm: A mindful inquiry into reflective practices in higher education'. I found the discussion of 'mindful inquiry' as a problem-solving tool for both educators and learners fascinating, especially how a more mindful state might foster creativity: "This state of still and mindful openness may be crucial for developing fresh insights and creative sparks".
Ira Rabois takes this a step further, proposing the use of imaginative mindful inquiry in his post for the excellent imaginationED blog: exploring philosophy via a combination of mindful breathing, creative thinking, journalling and discussion.
In my article 'Compassionate Play: why playful teaching is a prescription for good mental health (for you and your students)' I argue for a combination of playful, compassionate and contemplative pedagogies to support positive mental health for teachers and students alike: contemplative pedagogy involves looking inward rather than outward for answers to questions and focusing on the present moment. I share some practical pedagogic tools including a Mindful LEGO® Meditation (see image below) which combines elements of mindfulness meditation with a quiet, multisensory activity using white and clear LEGO® bricks. I also discuss mindful uses of collage including Collage for Self-Compassion, described in an earlier blog post: an individual, reflective, step by step application of free association collage.
Creating a sense of community and connection is an essential part of supporting positive mental health for ourselves and our learners. Sandra Sinfield, Sandra Abegglen and Tom Burns shared their use of Collective Collage Making as Higher Education Practice in a webinar for the PUP (Playful University Platform) community. Some lovely, thoughtful exercises are included as part of the webinar (not all requiring scissors!) and there is lots of food for thought for playful, reflective staff development and teaching.
Supporting learners to focus on their learning and reducing their anxiety is important in fostering good mental health within the teaching environment. Some educators suggest using a short mindfulness meditation at the beginning and end of teaching sessions to help learners to feel centred and fully present: 'Mindfulness practice as a teaching-learning strategy in higher education: A qualitative exploratory pilot study'. Another way of doing this is through a multisensory activity such as mindful drawing. In a previous post I mentioned some mindful drawing resources which described activities such as 'mirror drawing'. This series of videos from Turner Contemporary guide you through a series of staged mindful drawing techniques, including this one where learners are asked to draw an object for one minute without looking at the paper.
Some further useful resources relating to mindful/multisensory learning and mental health in higher education and beyond:
I hope you found something helpful here,
See you soon,