Do you dare to pause? Hearts and minds together: a contemplative approach to fostering effective inclusive academic practice

Sarah Rhodes

What is the idea?

This approach consists of a series of structured ‘pauses’ within an Inclusive Curriculum Design module on a PG Academic Practice course for students (staff new to teaching in higher education). The structured pauses in the pre, during and post module phases are designed for students to contemplate the anticipated, current and future impact of their learning journey towards more equitable and inclusive practises within their own teaching, learning and assessment approaches. The aim of this approach in our very fast paced ever changing landscape of Higher Education is to provide opportunities for staff to engage both their hearts and minds when designing inclusive curriculums for the future.

Why this idea?

The value and importance of fostering inclusive practice in education, specifically higher education, is at the heart of Initial Teacher Education provision (Coffield et al., 2008). However, the design of the curriculum often isolates inclusive learning and teaching as discrete sessions or modules (Forlin, 2010; Symeonidou, 2017) rather than as an integral thread and holistic approach throughout the course. Into baking? Think of inclusion like the ‘sticky sugary syrup’ continually found throughout a lemon drizzle cake! Therefore, a key area is to reframe inclusion in Initial Teacher Education learning and teaching within a social justice framework to engage both hearts (attitudes and behaviours) and minds (knowledge and skills).

John Dewey consistently criticised the segmentation of seemingly opposing themes into dualistic relationships. Dewey particularly loathed the mind/body dualism and advocated for treating the mind-body as an ‘integral whole’ (Boydston, 2008, p. 27). Based on this philosophy, Dewey proposed that experience (body) is key to learning (mind). Contemplative practises offer faculty, students, and staff tools for working productively with the mind and emotions. These tools can become an important aid to sustained reflection and capacity building. Students and staff are encouraged to engage in contemplative practice then step back and appraise for meaning and significance. In recent years, such practises have lost their explicit place in education in favour of reasoning and evidence especially during the recent pandemic (Jayman, 2020) that has focused mainly on problem solving and reactive approaches.

Rendon (2009) has researched more recently this debate that heart and spirit are becoming more absent from teaching. She makes a persuasive case for ending the segregation of heart and spirit from traditional teaching to sensing and thinking pedagogy: educating for wholeness, social justice, and liberation. Based on her research and experiences she argues that inner and outer, learning are connected, and that contemplative practises are imperative to ensure learners are engaged and associate deeper levels of meaning with course content. Inner learning encompasses emotion and reflection, while outer learning refers to intellect, reasoning, and academic concepts; recognising the need to integrate these two learning approaches, rather than have them operate singularly.

In previous iterations of the Inclusive Curriculum Design module, student feedback has focused on wanting to ‘know’ how to respond to diverse student needs. Practically, this is possible with real life case studies and scenarios yet the skills, attitudes and attributes to respond to a range of needs (often complex) are far more challenging and less well developed in the student teachers enrolled on these courses. The opportunities for inner learning experiences (reflective practice, reflexivity in our curriculum) specifically related to inclusion, are needed more than ever in our continuously changing and diverse student cohorts (Ashwin et al., 2015; Sharma, 2010).

How could others implement this idea?

Step 1

The pre module pause requires students to visualise their own learning journey as a film narrative and position themselves as the viewer. Their contemplation forms part of a pre module task in the form of an autobiography (in a format of their choice; video, poster, artefact or written piece) whereby they critically reflect upon the how/why/what/where and when of this journey. Students are also invited to share aspects of their autobiography on a virtual discussion forum. This enables students to reflect and offer compassionate and supportive comments on others’ perspectives, lived experiences and learning journeys.

Step 2

Secondly, during the module students engage in regular fortnightly ‘pause’ activities that promote contemplation throughout the five mandatory scheduled sessions. These include:

1. Consideration of how their own background, education and upbringing has influenced them as a learner and educator;

2. Mindfulness practices to promote mindful awareness of emotions in relation to inclusivity;

3. Small group tutorial ‘safe and brave’ spaces where they are encouraged to reflect on their current academic practice within a specific theme such as online learning, student transitions, large group teaching with peers and a SFHEA accredited tutor.

Step 3

Thirdly, students complete a case study summative assessment asking them to contemplate their own academic practice in relation to inclusivity. The assessment invites students to critically reflect on their own academic practice (grounding these with underpinning theory and concepts) and apply inclusive curriculum design to their own setting within a chosen thematic area.

Step 4

Finally, students that successfully complete the Inclusive Curriculum Design module are invited to record a brief 5-minute audio or video chat with the Module Leader about their inclusive practises since undertaking the module (approximately 6 months after completion). The recorded conversation is an opportunity for graduating students to reflect and contemplate how the design of their sessions/courses/activities are more inclusive because of the module learning. Graduates consent to share these recorded conversations alongside their summative case study with the new student cohort for the following academic year. This activity is really powerful and promotes engagement and deeper levels of meaning with the flipped course content for the new students.

Transferability to different contexts

Directly, this approach would be relevant to all teacher educator courses within Higher Education settings. Alongside this, a significant number of courses within the Education, Health and Social Sciences sectors would easily benefit from consideration of this approach within their curriculum offering. This approach would certainly have transferability to forward thinking institutions that place value on the social, emotional and spiritual development of graduates. Furthermore, there is also potential for cognitive transformation promoting attention, working memory, long-term memory, meaning to interconnections on the path to wisdom of contemplative practises (Bush, 2013) so the approach could be an attractive option to adapt for institutions with diverse student populations, specifically those having neurodiversity needs.

Links to tools and resources



Ashwin, P., Boud, D., Coate, K., Hallett, F., Keane, E., Krause, K-L., Leibowitz, B., MacLaren, I., McArthur, J., McCune, V., & Tooher, M. (2015). Reflective teaching in higher education. Bloomsbury Academic.

Boydston, J. A. (Ed.). (2008). The later works of John Dewey, Volume 3, 1925-1953: 1927-1928 essays, reviews, miscellany, and ‘impressions of Soviet Russia’. Southern Illinois Press.

Bush, M. (2013). Mindfulness in higher education. In J. M. G. Williams & J. Kabat-Zinn (Eds.). Mindfulness: Diverse perspectives on its meaning, origins and applications (pp. 183-197). Mental Health, Wellbeing and Education Special Interest Group. Routledge.

Coffield, F., Edward, S., Finlay, I., Spours, K., Steer, R., & Hodgson, A. (2008). Improving learning, skills and inclusion: the impact of policy on post-compulsory education. Improving learning TLRP series. Routledge.

Forlin, C. (2010). Reframing teacher education for inclusion. In C. Forlin (Ed.), Teacher education for inclusion: changing paradigms and innovative approaches (1st ed., pp. 3-12). Routledge.

Jayman, M. (2020, 3 July). Teaching, Learning and Wellbeing during Covid: Reflections from HE Professionals (BERA impact of Covid series). BERA Mental Health, Wellbeing and Education Special Interest Group.

Rendón, L. I. (2009). Sentipensante (sensing/thinking) pedagogy: Educating for wholeness, social justice and liberation. Stylus Pub.

Sharma, U. (2010). Using reflective practices for the preparation of pre-service teachers for inclusive classrooms. In C. Forlin (Ed.), Teacher education for inclusion: changing paradigms and innovative approaches (1st ed., pp. 102-111).

Symeonidou, S. (2017). Initial teacher education for inclusion: a review of the literature, Disability & Society, 32(3), 401-422.

About the author

Sarah Rhodes teaches on a range of teacher educator courses: PGCE PCE and PG Cert Academic Practice. Key areas include inclusive curriculum design, SEND and aspects of designing online learning. Her scholarly activities focus on AT engagement and inclusive practices. Sarah is currently studying for a PG coaching and mentoring qualification.


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100 Ideas for Active Learning Copyright © 2022 by Sarah Rhodes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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