Teaching with Tenderness: Toward an Embodied Practice

Imagine a classroom that explores the twinned ideas of embodied teaching and a pedagogy of tenderness. Becky Thompson envisions such a curriculum–and a way of being–that promises to bring about a sea change in education.

Teaching with Tenderness follows in the tradition of bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, inviting us to draw upon contemplative practices (yoga, meditation, free writing, mindfulness, ritual) to keep our hearts open as we reckon with multiple injustices. Teaching with Tenderness makes room for emotion, offer a witness for experiences people have buried, welcomes silence, breath and movement, and sees justice as key to our survival. It allows us to rethink our relationship to grading, office hours, desks, and faculty meetings, sees paradox as a constant companion, moves us beyond binaries; and praises self and community care.

Tenderness examines contemporary challenges to teaching about race, gender, class, nationality, sexuality, religion, and other hierarchies. It examines the ethical, emotional, political, and spiritual challenges of teaching power-laden, charged issues and the consequences of shifting power relations in the classroom and in the community. Attention to current contributions in the areas of contemplative practices, trauma theory, multiracial feminist pedagogy, and activism enable us to envision steps toward a pedagogy of liberation. The book encourages active engagement and makes room for self-reflective learning, teaching, and scholarship.

Read an excerpt from the book, “Teaching With Tenderness: Toward An Embodied Practice” in Anchor Magazine, Where Spirituality and Social Justice Meet, Issue 7, 2017.


This keynote address by Becky Thompson, at the University of Denver, focuses on contemplative techniques for teaching about racism and other forms of oppression with an emphasis on making the classroom a space for multiracial community building, accountability, and wholeness.

Praise for Teaching With Tenderness

“In bold and lyrical prose, Becky Thompson offers a practical model for embodied teaching, for a classroom where painful realities like genocide, slavery, colonization, and rape culture can become the subject of fearless–or fear transcending–study. The word ‘tenderness,’ for contemporary Americans, may softens the lens of inquiry, Thompson retrieves its etymology for a pedagogy of silent witness, contemplation, attention, presence, patience, skillful confrontation and perseverance of heroic proportions. This is how the word is used in my own (Quaker) tradition, as (to paraphrase Adrienne Rich) an ‘instrument to touch the wound beyond the wound.’ And, as an experienced yoga teacher, she invites the body and its stories into the classroom, using both asanas and Vedic philosophy to help students awaken, rest, cool off, even nap. Thompson’s experience is deep and her exposition infinitely subtle. I love this radical book down to its tiniest footnote.”
Mary Rose O'Reilley, Author of The Peaceable Classroom
“Drawing on women-of-colors theories, multiracial feminist pedagogy; contemplative practices; trauma studies; yoga; and a wide array of additional scholarship from diverse disciplines, Thompson develops innovative pedagogies of tenderness–radically inclusive, relational, generous, visionary modes of interacting with others.”
AnaLouise Keating , Author of Teaching Transformation: Transcultural Classroom Dialogues

Amazon Reviews

As a psychologist in practice for over 40 years, I am amazed and heartened by Teaching with Tenderness, How can one become a competent citizen or competent adult without exploring our history from the standpoint of human vulnerability and social justice?
Becky argues convincingly that this kind of learning must integrate all levels at which we humans are affected by what we encounter: the levels of body, heart, mind and spirit. Otherwise teaching can feel like rhetoric, operating by external persuasion, without engaging growth.

First, Becky’s resources are astounding. She assigns and shares the works of artists of enormous diversity, creating in words, images, movement, sounds. Second, she is a highly skilled teacher of yoga and group process, and illustrates how a classroom can be transformed by timely movement and ritual from a duller place with less engaged individuals into a lively community of engaged learners.

Her examples are plenty and deeply touching. This is a significant academic endeavor requiring a great deal of both teachers and students. It is surely a challenge–and hopefully a welcome one–for teachers, administrators, and students alike.

Dr. Cathy Colman, Psychologist

It turns out I am not reading Tenderness so fast. It took me two days to get through staring at the front cover! Smile. Reading it for me has evolved into a very slow process of reflection and memories. Although I don’t teach classes on a regular basis, I do teach – sometimes as a guest, sometimes intensely with an intern. The fostering of connectedness is something I am always striving to improve. Reading takes me to Maya Angelou saying that it is not what you do that people will remember, not what you say that people will remember, but how you make them feel. Tenderness is beautiful and I am wallowing happily in every word. Much love and esteem for this journey.

Bonnie Kerness, American Friends Service Committee Criminal Justice Project, Newark New Jersey