One of the most gratifying things we hear from teachers who bring Yoga Calm into their classrooms is how it changes their own lives – personally and professionally – as well as their students’. They say they find it revitalizing their teaching and rekindling the fire that led them to education in the first place – no mean feat in an era in which teacher burnout is rampant.
They describe a transformation in their teaching as they bring new tools, strategies, and perspectives to their work with children – things not taught in the standard education curriculum.
This was certainly the case for Iowa school counselor Karah Spahn, who recently blogged about her experience. Her story is beautiful. And powerful. And we’re grateful she said yes to our sharing it here with you now…
This Is What It’s All About
In grad school, we learned how to create lesson plans.
I learned how to choose an appropriate lesson name (or more specifically a unit and a title). I learned how to identify a learning objective, followed by a bunch of letters with colons and numbers to signify the standards and benchmarks (or excuse me, the mindsets and behaviors). We were taught about the importance of lesson organization and how to create content and process questions after reading a picture book. I learned that reading picture books and talking about them in counseling is fancy and called “bibliotherapy.” I learned about classroom management and how to get 2nd graders to sit quietly, legs criss-cross applesauce, spoons in their bowls.. wearing their listening ears. I learned all this and then went out into the world and applied it.
And it was fine. Really! It was fine. But really, it was just…fine.
A few years ago (2013 to be exact), I had an extremely rough professional year. I felt stuck and uncertain and confused about what the hell I was doing in school counseling. I knew I loved my job – or at least I loved aspects of it. I loved my kids. I loved my families. I loved all my work wives. I loved the idea of helping and wanted to…but the vehicle to do this (my counseling skills) felt a little forced.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I admit to being pretty damn good with the puppets, and I can build rapport with even our toughest clients…but I still felt like something was missing. Something wasn’t clicking.
So, fast forward two years. I received some grant money to attend a training about utilizing yoga and mindfulness in the schools…and though it sounds incredibly cliché, something finally clicked.
Now, 18 months later, I realize that Yoga Calm has not only changed the way I do pretty much everything in school counseling, but it has revitalized me – and helped me fall in love with my profession all over again. Now, when I do classroom lessons, I don’t necessarily focus on a specific objective. Instead, I focus on one of five principles (Stillness, Grounding, Strength, Listening, Community), and I keep my focus on the pint-sized people in my audience. We sit quietly; we practice breathing; we give thanks; we give compliments; we set intentions – all this within the first five minutes of class. We use our bodies to show that we are strong for ourselves and our friends. We use our bodies to show that we are here; we are present; we are focused. We use our words to connect with each other; we use our minds to connect to ourselves; and we use our breath in unison to send well wishes and love to classmates or loved ones.
I’m much less concerned with the objectives of class now – and though I enter each room with a general idea in mind, rather than directing the class, I now let the class gently steer me. I listen to what students are really saying and follow their lead. It’s a delicate thread to walk upon – giving and having control – but it’s proving to be quite powerful…which brings me to the story I needed to share today.
On Wednesday, I entered the second grade classroom, and many faces lit up when they saw my surprise: a student helper that some had been introduced to the year before. Several kids eagerly said her name, and another immediately approached her with a shy little hug. Students quickly bundled up their reading boxes and scrambled to the carpet, where we began with what has become my signature “start of class”: the Chime Challenge.
I asked students to focus on their breath, rang my chime, and sat in total silence (in a room full of 8 year olds!) for 50 seconds. Then another student helper led us in taking 10 breaths, while Terri Anne followed along. Before my breathing helper sat down, we thanked him, and then he called on three people with raised hands – who each gave him a compliment about his leadership. “I like how you were calm.” “You stood nice and tall.” “I like your smile.” Cormick beamed and then sat down.
Then we did the same for Terri Anne. The class thanked her and then gave her compliments. “You were nice and calm.” “Thank you for coming to our class.” “You were breathing calm.” And I’d be lying if I said that chills didn’t run down my spine when Terri Anne smiled wide, made a loud-excited shriek, and lunged back in her chair. This is it! I thought. This is what “guidance class” is about! THIS is inclusion! THIS is friendship! THIS is the opposite of bullying! This is it!!
Before I could allow my eyes to fill with tears, I began to reintroduce Terri Anne to the class. We spent a little time discussing the ways in which she is different from us (she uses a wheelchair, she doesn’t speak, she moves her body differently than ours, etc.) and then spent time (a loooong time) discussing the many ways she’s the same. I actually found it funny that I needed to cut the conversation off so we could continue with class. Some kids had questions – so full of sincere, sweet curiosity – which we answered as simply and truthfully as possible. Does she sleep in her wheelchair? How does she change clothes? Does she like to go swimming? (She sleeps in a bed, someone helps her change her clothes – just like your mom or dad might help you – and she doesn’t really like swimming unless the water is nice and warm.)
We finished class with a few yoga poses that focused on strength and community. We stood in star pose, formed a circle with hands touching – and created a galaxy, right there in the 2nd grade classroom, full of positive energy for the day ahead. As our hands dropped back to our own bodies, a little girl approached me and asked if she could hold Terri Anne’s hand next time. I smiled. Yes, definitely. This is it. That day, I left the 2nd grade classroom with a full heart. I was so proud of my students for embracing Terri and so proud of Terri for giving these kids the gift of getting to know her. This is what it’s all about.
Edited; Original post