Boulder's Naropa University is endeavoring to spread its own teaching methods far and wide to tackle teacher burnout and other modern-day education plights with the 2018 launch of a new bachelor's degree in elementary education.
The Buddhist-inspired liberal arts university described the Colorado State Board of Education- and Higher Learning Commission-approved program as "the first of its kind in the nation."
In addition to traditional teachings, the Naropa courses providing licensure and credentials needed to teach kindergarten through sixth grade will incorporate the contemplative education the university is known for: instructing teachers how to de-stress, address current events in the classroom and bring empathy into lessons, said Barb Catbagan, associate professor and chair of Naropa's contemplative education department.
"The idea of Naropa graduates out there teaching in the world with openness and humor is exciting and rather inspiring," said Catbagan, who has 17 years of experience as a public school teacher in Fort Collins.
Rose Cowan is currently enrolled in Naropa's contemplative education program studying early childhood education.
Cowan studied elementary education at another higher education institution and felt stifled.
"I was studying during 2014 when Michael Brown was shot (in Ferguson, Mo.) and all this discourse about race and society was taking place, and we weren't talking about this in my classes," Cowan said. "We weren't talking about what to do when these things came up in the classroom. In Naropa, we learn how to bring the broader social perspectives into the classroom."
In addition to obtaining a teacher's license, the program will equip Naropa graduates with an endorsement in culturally and linguistically diverse teaching.
To gain experience teaching in a diverse classroom, Catbagan said Naropa students spend time tutoring youth at Boulder nonprofit Family Learning Center, among other learning institutions. These non-traditional learning environments teach resiliency and prepare future educators for "the different ways things can crash," Catbagan said.
"The growth I've felt being here has really prepared me go out and do this work," Cowan said. "I didn't feel this prepared before at my other institution."
Catbagan believes the program, launching in the fall of 2018, will bolster the teaching profession and better equip teachers so they don't burn out as quickly.
"The program will also help address the dramatic and growing teacher shortage in Colorado and across the U.S.," Naropa officials said in a news release. "That shortage is driven in part by high turnover resulting from professional stress and burnout, issues that educators will solve with essential learning embedded in the Naropa program."
One example of this is an emphasis on humor and compassion in the classroom to counter an angry overreaction to poor classroom behavior, Catbagan said.
"We teach pause practice," Catbagan said. "This is just taking a deep breath, moving beyond the state of stress or at least being aware of your reaction and being able to take a little chuckle at yourself."
Cowan said the priority on self-reflection in teaching has made her realize faults within her own educational upbringing. She remembered learning about Rosa Parks in elementary school as a woman who was too tired from a long day of work to get up and move to the back of the bus, rather than in a more accurate context of civil rights protests.
"That was a disturbing realization," Cowan said. "I can look back on things like that and decide that's not how I want to teach, and these are the things we're taught to question and think critically about here."