Focusing the Mind, Practicing Attention in the One-Shot Library Session

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Jill E. Luedke, Reference & Instruction Librarian at Temple University.

Scenario: Students arrive at the library instruction session, get seated, and log on to a computer. Where is their attention? Is it on what I have to teach them? More likely, they’re distracted by competing priorities like assignments, rent, relationships, work, or the allure of some electronic device. It seemed no matter how I would package the content, many of them were still unable or unwilling to receive what I was presenting. I realized that to be more effective, I first needed to focus the students’ attention.

As a teacher of lifelong research skills, it’s part of my responsibility to give students tools to help them handle their frustrations and preconceptions about research. How could I expect students to process what I was saying if their brains weren’t ready to receive the information? I began the experiment of devoting a few minutes of my sessions to guided mindful meditation. My intention by having students meditate at the beginning of class was not to turn them all into Buddhists. It was to help clear their mind-clutter and reduce their research stress. This practice in mindfulness was about preparing them to be receptive learners.

That may sound like quite a feat, but as a practitioner of yoga and meditation I had experience with the immediate and lasting benefits of these types of practices. Whenever I was stressed or feeling overwhelmed, I could take a few moments in my office to close my eyes, breathe, and “let go” before heading out the door to teach a class.

In class, I avoid the stigmas and stereotypes associated with meditation by referring to it as an “exercise” or a “practice.” I frame it in the context of addressing research stress. Watching the students, sitting with their eyes closed, is sometimes my only opportunity to know whether or not they are actually paying attention to me. Afterwards, we’re more ready to move forward with the rest of the curriculum.

I’ve noticed that engagement in my classroom activities has improved through the incorporation of meditation, especially when they notice their instructor participating. I’ve also found it to be a useful way to form a connection with students in the one-shot class. The responses I’ve received so far have been anecdotal, but positive. I frequently have one or two students who thank me or comment how much they liked the “meditation” (they give it that name). Inevitably, one or two students don’t participate in the activity, but they still sit, quietly, waiting patiently. One instructor told me, “At first, I thought, this is way too hippy dippy for me, but then I just went with it, and it was awesome.”

Good instruction may require incorporating unconventional pedagogical practices. For me, my teaching was influenced by a learning environment that wasn’t a traditional classroom. Trying something off-beat could appear misplaced. However, if this new technique is applied with authentic intention it can transform the classroom experience for both the teacher and the student.

I discovered that by leading meditation, my authentic self is a little brighter in these instructional sessions. Conducting something so “hippy dippy” in this unexpected context leaves me a bit exposed, but I’ve noticed it’s been a way for me to offer a little of myself to my students. I’ve found that this type of vulnerable offering says more about me than a story I could tell about myself in an effort to “connect” with my audience. I continue the personal mindful practices that help me be more present for my students. Complementing this, I’ve found the more I lead mindful practices for my students, the more focused and attentive we all are to each other. If deviating from the traditional notion of class time results in a more productive learning experience, then this is an experiment I intend to continue.

Further Reading:

Brown, P.L. (June 16, 2007). In the classroom, a new focus on quieting the mind. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/16/us/16mindful.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Parry, M. (March 24, 2013). You’re distracted. This Professor can help. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Youre-Distracted-This/138079/.

Tugend, A. (March 22, 2013). In mindfulness, a method to sharpen focus and open minds. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/23/your-money/mindfulness-requires-practice-and-purpose.html?smid=pl-share

8 thoughts on “Focusing the Mind, Practicing Attention in the One-Shot Library Session

  1. Jill, thank you so much for this piece. As an almost finished MLIS student I love hearing about what practicing librarians are doing and thinking about how I could use them both now and in the future.

    I recently went to the ACRL Washington and Oregon chapters joint conference where the theme was taking care of ourselves, our users, and our collections, so your ideas and suggestions speak perfectly to so many things that are on my mind. The keynote speaker at the conference was David Levy, who does work on information overload and information + contemplation, he may have some work that would be of interest to you.

  2. Excellent. Thank you for sharing your experience of blending meditation into instruction. Though I haven’t tried with the short library sessions, I often visit other instructors classes to teach these mindful moments. I’ve also offered “Meditation in the Library” (my words) weekly the past 8-years. Very fruitful and appreciated.

  3. I have been interested in finding a first steps in meditation workshop for librarians for a year or so. There is so much value that meditation practice could bring to all aspects of librarianship, from the front line service point of the reference desk to the thorny issues of library management.

  4. Alex, that is super you were able to attend the ACRL WA/OR joint conference and bonus that you got to hear David Levey speak. He absolutely does work that interests me. There’s quite a bit of literature on the subject of contemplative pedagogy in higher education and Levy provides a good cross over to what we do as teaching librarians.

  5. Johanna, I’m happy to hear about your interest in meditation for librarians. I agree, it could be very helpful in achieving many of our service goals. Mindfulness in librarianship has been a growing movement over the past several years . Kristen Mastel’s and Genevieve Innes’ article “Insights and Practical Tips on Practicing Mindful Librarianship to Manage Stress ” in the March 2013 issue of LIBRES provides some good insight on the subject. Librarians can begin by attending “How to Meditate” workshops offered at various types of institutions and centers. Many universities have mindfulness or contemplative centers and offer meditation and mindfulness courses for educators. Additionally, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses are taught across the country.

  6. Jill,
    Such a lovely piece! I’m a practicing meditator and have never thought to build the bridge into my professional pracitces, so thank you. I’d be interested in hearing more about the actual words you choose to use during the “guiding”. I’ve been working with improving my own guided sessions and I’m always interested in the language, the visualizations, and always looking to improve.
    karl
    @kinderone1

  7. Thanks for your post, Jill. I am sorry I missed your LOEX 2014 session, but I just finished a retreat on Contemplative Practices in Higher Education. One of the others asked if there were any libguides(!) on this, so I found your session at LOEX. Would you be willing to share your presentation notes if they’re significantly different from the post here?

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