University of Waterloo lecturer Dr. Wade Wilson incorporates mindfulness practices into class structure
Wade Wilson’s approach to teaching is a little different than many students may be used to. “My approach to lecturing is to try to have an impact on students that is beyond just the content,” he says. In addition to Wade’s values of being respectful, open, and transparent; in his classes, students can expect to also learn life skills that can help them even beyond the classroom.
Wade, a lecturer in Kinesiology, a sports psychology researcher, and a mental performance consultant opens each lecture with a mindfulness exercise and discusses with his students how they can incorporate this strategy into their day-to-day lives. These exercises take very little time out from the classroom content and the feedback from his students so far has been great. Many students send him email thanking him for incorporating the exercises into their lecture time.
When asked whether this strategy was something other lecturers could incorporate into their classrooms, Wade thought the idea was easily transportable “because it is simple and user-friendly.” The idea started with a Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) project and grant to find an exercise that could be easily delivered in a classroom but didn’t require the lecturer to be an expert to incorporate it. CTE was specifically interested in finding exercises that could alleviate student stress and anxiety. Since then Wade has co-published a paper in the Journal for Innovations in Education and Teaching International, which shows that “studies suggest mindfulness practices contribute to an array of cognitive and emotional outcomes – including increased attention while learning.”
"We aren't going to be able to perform our fullest on everything and that's ok! Be confident in what you know. Be confident of your processes for learning."
The strategies Wade employs in the classroom aren’t limited to mindfulness, he encourages them to remember that they all have “multiple courses and demands – we aren’t going to be able to perform to our fullest on everything and the same time and that’s ok! Be confident in what you know. Be confident of your processes for learning.” Wade also encourages his students to reflect on their experiences in ways that are built right into classes, assignments, and tests. For example, on tests he will include self-reflections on how they prepared (did the student create study notes? Did they visit the TA? Did they go to office hours?) These types of metacognition questions gets students “thinking about their process to get ready for the test, not just the results of the test.” This type of self-reflection can help minimize social comparisons, help students focus on themselves, and develop self-regulation.
In class Wade prompts students to think ahead about whether they have the tools to do the work effectively. Then he talks about what tools exist at the University to support the work, including the Library and Librarians, TA’s, office hours, the Student Success Office (SSO), and the Writing Centre to name a few, and encourages students to access these resources, including in some cases making a visit to a specific resource part of the class marking rubric. He also integrates “success snippets” from the SSO into his courses, which are slides provided by the SSO to instructors on topics such as time management, exam preparation, test anxiety, and resiliency.
"We have a unique opportunity to impact the learning experience of our students."
Wade is passionate about his teaching and hopes others might adopt some of these techniques, “we have a unique opportunity to impact the learning experience of our students.” But the potential impacts are not only limited to the classroom. If these life skills and behaviours can be systematically integrated and students are regularly exposed to them, eventually they could become a habit and students could carry them into their post-school life.
Wade’s story is one of many University of Waterloo community members who are finding new and interesting ways to foster wellness on campus. To learn more about how you can be involved in initiatives that aim to increase wellness in our community or read other inspiring stories, visit the Wellness Collaborative website.