The lived experience of teaching mindfully in tertiary education. A hermeneutic phenomenological study
This study explores the lived experience of teaching mindfully, as shared in the stories of tertiary teachers from two universities in Auckland, New Zealand. The project was informed by the hermeneutic phenomenological writings of Heidegger and Gadamer. This methodology was chosen in order to uncover potentially taken for granted and hidden meanings; and because it has resonance with teaching mindfully, the phenomenon under investigation. Seven participants, four women and three men, from mindfulness special interest groups in tertiary education and health-related contexts were purposively recruited. The participants were already bringing their own informal mindfulness practice from various backgrounds into their teaching; their experience with mindfulness practice ranged from two to 42 years. Research information was gathered through in-depth conversational interviews which focused on specific everyday experiences of, and participants’ own reflections on, the phenomenon of teaching mindfully. The interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim by the researcher. Distinct anecdotes, which became the research text, were identified from the transcripts. Interpretive data analysis was guided by a parallel process of dwelling deeply with participants’ stories, alongside readings of Heidegger, Gadamer and van Manen, and through the researcher’s own mindfulness meditation practice, at times via the emergence of poetry. The interpretive findings in this project revealed three main themes of meaning. Teaching mindfully showed as reflectively attending to ‘noticing’, ‘being open’, and ‘being caring’ within the educational relationship with students and with the teachers themselves. The subthemes were that teachers responded to ‘what is needed’ in the teaching context, that teaching mindfully is a multidimensional relational practice, and that teaching mindfully supported teachers to grow into ‘authenticity’. While most of the multiple layers of meaning of teaching mindfully point to it being a positive relational education experience, the challenge of turning towards, and working with, students’ and teachers’ own emotional vulnerability during teaching are also evident. The conclusion of this research is that a teacher’s own informal mindfulness practice may assist in developing a relational approach to tertiary teaching and that the meaning of teaching mindfully in its depth, multidimensionality, and relationality is hidden from external observation and can only be known from within in a teacher’s own everyday practice.