Classrooms as Sacred Spaces
A recent OTL faculty showcase featured Paul Michalec, Clinical Professor in the Morgridge College of Education and recipient of DU’s 2014-15 Distinguished Teaching Professor Award.
Paul chose the theme Classrooms as Sacred Spaces to engage the audience in a discussion about how we might think about the ways we treat the learning spaces and environments in which we teach. He discussed the elements of sacred spaces in religious and spiritual contexts (mosques, synagogues, churches, etc.) and challenged us to find similarities with the classroom space while honoring the secular ideal of learning in higher education.
Many of the similarities seemed to really resonate with those in attendance. For example, exploring a relationship to something greater than oneself, the need for silence and deep listening, and respect for diverse ways of knowing. The group also discussed the need for a transitional area or time as one enters a sacred space. In the classroom this could be done in many ways, including simply taking a few moments to calmly recenter students around the learning at hand or to read an inspirational quote to center everyone, including the professor, around the learning potential in the upcoming class.
The discussion also centered around the idea that sacred spaces embody rituals, practices, and traditions. How do we honor and respect the traditions and practices of teaching, and how can we best help students understand and know how engage in the unique practices in our classrooms? Each classroom is different, and especially as we move towards new ways of teaching, we may need to give extra attention to helping students understand and appreciate our rituals which often means being explicit in our norms and expectations.
Paul shared many of his own classroom practices, including starting class with a relevant poem to encourage reflection (as he did in this session by reading a poem Two Kinds of Intelligence by Rumi). In his classes, he sets the norm that every person is an asset to the class. Sometimes an idea or some logic needs correcting, but the focus should be on the thinking and expanding knowledge rather than criticizing the person, this helps avoid the temptation to save the person as if they are broken and in need of fixing.
Paul’s philosophy about teaching is not about filling empty vessels with his knowledge, but rather calling out the learning that is inside everyone, which he illustrated through this thoughtful faculty showcase session.
A recording of this session is available upon request, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.