I recently did my first in-service presentation on mindfulness and yoga to the entire faculty at a local elementary school. I hadn't done this before, but I have a great relationship with the school, and was asked to do it by the principal. She's incredibly open to new ideas, and is trying like hell, under tough circumstances, to improve her students' lives.
So, drawing on a decade of my own experience, plus compelling research I learned at The National Kids' Yoga conference, I began by presenting a case study of an elementary school in the Midwest which had not only turned its test scores around, but changed the overall culture of the school for the better, by carefully, consistently implementing mindfulness practices. (An aside: I'm completely comfortable singing in front of a theater full of families, fine in front of three hundred wiggly six-year-olds in an enormous gym, but in this school library in front of a group of teachers, I will say I was a bit nervous. They're in the trenches with these kids day in, and day out, who am I to swoop in and tell them I have the answers?)
But as I talked about the huge number of children with anxiety issues, the percentage of adolescents with mental-health disorders, and the issue of most kids being plugged in way too much--and then described some simple, effective ways they can address these things--they got it. Heads began nodding, ideas started to percolate around how and when to bring these techniques into the school day; requests came for yoga for the teaching staff! I didn't realize just how desperately they're looking for tools to help not only the kids, but themselves.
Then I asked them to put down their coffee cups and come to the edges of their seats, sit up tall, close their eyes, and breathe. I led the group through a few simple mindfulness exercises; calm settled in the room. At the end, the principal called for volunteers to be on the school's "yoga committee." Quite a few teachers expressed interest, and we're putting a plan in place to do these mindfulness breaks school wide, every single day. We're going to track data: visits to the principal's office, test scores, disciplinary actions. This is a school where, when I was trying to get the principal on the phone the other day, she sent me a text: “all hell broke loose.” Maybe we can make those incidents a thing of the past.
It's a work in progress, for sure. But I was absolutely thrilled when the principal sent me the photo above--this is what the 5th graders are now doing instead of watching a video, on days when bad weather prevents them from going outside for recess. Woo-hoo!!