Last month I had the pleasure of teaching Professional Development for Little Flower Yoga and working with educators at Smith Clove Elementary school in Central Valley, NY. This PD was appropriately titled a “Lesson Study” and gave teachers the opportunity to practice different yoga and mindfulness activities that they could share with their students. The Lesson Studies were broken into two 75 minute sessions: one for kindergarten teachers and one for first grade teachers. Below are some of the main talking points from our time together.
Why Yoga & Mindfulness in the Classroom?
Yoga and mindfulness activities help manage energy levels, increase the ability to sustain focus and teach students how to self-regulate. Simply stated, when students practice mindfulness they are able to recognize what they need and have different tools to meet those needs or know when to ask someone for support.
The Five Elements
The Little Flower Yoga methodology includes 5 elements: Connect, Breathe, Move, Focus and Relax. I shared at least one activity for each element with the teachers at Smith Clove and then after we completed the activity, I reflected on ways they may want to implement the activity in their classes and how they might be useful in different situations.
What Did You Notice?
Any activity can be a mindful activity when students are asked the question, “What did you notice?” or “How did that feel?” Any question that asks them to reflect on their experience, creates an opportunity for them to check in with themselves. This builds awareness and agency.
Implement Activities You Can Make Time For!
It is important to implement activities that you can fit into your already packed agenda. Some examples of simple yet effective activities are:
Three super slow breaths in and out of the nose
Resting the forehead on the hands or on the desk for 30 seconds
Checking in and noticing how the body feels: i.e. warm or cold, heavy or light, soft or hard, tense or relaxed
Simple stretches and twists
Focusing on the breath, noticing when the mind wanders and bringing the focus back to the breath as many times as necessary
Asking the Right Questions & Cultivating Practice
The sample class that I taught the educators at Smith Clove had a theme based on Energy Level. For example, I asked the class to notice what their energy level was before we did any yoga. Then after each activity I asked them to check back in and notice if their energy level went up down or stayed the same. My follow up questions for class participants were, “If your energy level went up, when might it be useful to practice this activity?” or “If your energy level went down, when might it be useful to practice this activity?” The key is to ask students questions that offer them an opportunity to figure out on their own how and when it would be useful to practice. The goal is always to get the students to practice these tools when they are needed, not just during a yoga lesson.
Notice What Your Students Need
What would be useful for your students to practice? One of the main principles to keep in mind when sharing these practices with students is that you are better off teaching the activities when the students need them. For example, if you’ve tried a movement exercise with your students and you noticed that it made the energy level of the class go up, you might want to practice that at the beginning of the day when the students are tired. Be flexible with your class plan and be willing to adapt to what the students need in the moment. It will better serve them which will ultimately better serve you and your day’s agenda.
“Is it a problem for me or the students?”
One of the teachers asked me what to do about a student who was constantly wiggling around during relaxation time. She said that she wants her students to understand the importance of being still. While there are so many benefits to being still, for that particular student, being still in that moment may not be what he or she needs. Participation looks different for every student. There have been times when a student of mine was lying on the mat the entire class and seemed completely checked out and then told me all about what she learned and how happy yoga made her feel. As long as the student’s behavior isn’t disrupting the rest of the class, then it isn’t a problem for the students. If it’s not a problem for the students, I recognize it is only a problem for me and I move on from it.
Personal Practice Matters
You don’t need to do an hour long yoga practice every day to have a personal practice. A personal practice can look like sitting quietly for a few minutes before a big meeting to focus on your breath. It could be taking a deep breath before managing a student’s challenging behavior. It could be noticing if your mind is in a million places at once and bringing your focus back to the task at hand. Personal practice means you check in with yourself daily and take care of yourself so that your needs are getting met. When you have a personal practice, it gives you a real experience to pull from when teaching your students. You will be able to relate to your students better and they will be able to feel your authenticity.
If you are an educator or work in a school setting with children, I hope that some of this was helpful for you. I loved teaching this style of PD because it was super digestible and gave teachers the opportunity to really experience what they would be sharing with their students. The people at this site were such a pleasure to work with and the students of Smith Clove Elementary school are so lucky to have such wonderful teachers to learn from.