10 tips for mindful teaching

Mindfulness, defined as the basic human ability to be fully present and aware of where you are and what you’re doing, can be a way of tackling the growing problem of physician burnout that can lead to a loss of passion for education. In the context of teaching, mindfulness means recognizing learners’ challenges and supporting them to overcome them and—in doing so—promotes effective learning. Practicing mindful teaching requires deliberate focus, reflection, and inquiry (Burks and Kobus 2012; Epstein 2017). It helps educators become more caring in their teaching, establish deeper connections with their learners, and set an example to learners to develop mindfulness.

1. Develop awareness of environment—both personal and external.

Mindfulness necessitates awareness; without self-awareness, mindful teaching cannot proceed (Dobkin and Laliberte 2014). The teacher should contemplate:

  • What do I know about my learners today?
  • Am I ready to facilitate their learning?
  • Are there distractions (eg, noisy emergency room, covering a busy service) that need to be removed in order to focus on the learner and make the environment favorable to learning?

2. Develop awareness of your own thoughts, biases, and feelings and communicate these to the learner.

Recognition of your own biases can help you as faculty avoid minimizing issues of importance to the learner and to reduce potential discrimination during assessment and providing feedback. Ask yourself and reflect on:

  • Do I want to teach this learner (search for implicit biases that might affect your teaching)?
  • Do I want to teach this content (eg, discomfort as inexperienced in the topic or with culture of debate)?
  • Clinical teachers balance the roles of caregiver, leader, mentor, and instructor; mindful educators further model empathetic behaviors by sharing their emotions, bringing learners closer to practicing the art of mindfulness themselves.

3. Be curious about the learner.

Treat your learners as individuals, demonstrating genuine interest and curiosity and in this way inspiring them to grow personally and professionally (Branch et al. 2014).

  • Ask learners about their goals, which will encourage connection (Branch et al. 2014), ease tensions, and create a positive learning environment.
  • Actively make learners comfortable and show interest in them as individuals, providing them greater security to admit their limitations:
  1. Address them by name
  2. Make eye contact
  3. Ask about your learners about themselves (eg, where they are from, their support systems)
  4. Listen carefully to their responses

4. Practice acceptance.

As a faculty, practicing acceptance will not only strengthen your resilience but also give you a sense of humor lightness, and flexibility (Branch et al. 2017). Acceptance in the learning process can take different forms:

  • Acknowledge that learners interact with educational content in different ways with different expectations, skills, and background.
  • Group dynamics may divert  the course of the educational activity away from what you had planned—recognize the majority need and tailor the way you facilitate learning.
  • For learners, mindfulness may contribute to both effective learning and more caring practice (Scheepers et al. 2020) so help learners embody mindfulness by modeling mindful practices—tips 5–8 have a direct influence on this.

5. Guide learners to develop self-awareness.

Mindful teachers are not successful just by chance (Epstein 2017). Adapt the content based on learner engagement. Ask your learners: Do you want to learn? Are you ready to learn? The idea is not to force learning on unreceptive learners, but to support them in becoming receptive. Inquire about learners' own willingness and readiness to learn, prompting them to develop their own self-awareness.

6. Promote learners' awareness of their own thoughts, biases, and feelings.

As facilitators of the learning process, you can set an example: Deliberately confronting your biases contributes to the fight against bias and can also reduce learners' resistance and discomfort with facing their own biases. Increasingly talking about bias will also make it less of a taboo (Dumenco et al. 2019). Learners need to recognize how bias shapes their learning and how awareness thereof can help them provide compassionate care (Masters et al. 2019).

7. Encourage learners to practice acceptance.

By inspiring learners to practice awareness, acceptance, and adaptability, you will help them develop resiliency, mental flexibility, and patient-centered care (see tips 1, 5, and 6). The methods below can aid the process of guided reflection to this end:

  • PEARLS: partnering, showing empathy, apologizing, demonstrating respect, legitimizing emotion, and providing support
  • NURSE: naming, understanding, respecting, supporting, and exploring

8. Support learners’ curiosity.

It is well known that curiosity is critical for learning (Dyche and Epstein 2011). The role of a teacher to instill a culture of inquiry:

  • Invite learners to ask provocative questions
  • Be sure to follow-up on all questions, even those left unanswered due to time constraints
  • Highlight the unknown
  • Recognize that ambiguity and doubt can be effective stimulators of new approaches and new ways of thought (Dobkin and Laliberte 2014)
  • Praise learners who demonstrate curiosity

9. Adapt to learners’ values and declared goals.

Have you applied tip 3 to establish your learners' goals? You probably also have an agenda or objectives of your own—or those stipulated by the curriculum—and it is crucial that you share these with the learner. Goals can be discussed, negotiated, prioritized, so fostering learner accountability (French et al. 2015). This partnership changes the culture of feedback to concentrate on the promotion of learner behavior toward change and growth.

10. Share awareness of learner performance.

Openly share assessments of learners in person, ideally as close in time to the educational interaction as possible.

Provide this feedback in a nonjudgmental manner, focusing on learner behaviors and actions (Skeff et al. 1997; Ramani et al. 2019) by applying the 4 steps of giving feedback:

  1. Ask the learner what went well.
  2. Share with the learner what you think went well.
  3. Ask the learner what he/she would do differently next time.
  4. Share with the learner what you think he/she could do differently next time.

Ensure that adequate time is allotted for the learners to additionally share their own self-assessment and discuss their reflection and reaction to your assessment. Learners who have developed mindfulness are receptive and more likely to have a similar awareness of their performance as their mindful evaluator.

Adapted from:
Elisa Sottile Twelve tips for mindful teaching, University of Florida College of Medicine Jacksonville, Jacksonville, FL, USA

FacultyFocus 2 | 2021

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