Last Spring, I was having a bit of a professional dilemma. I wanted to reach more children but didn't necessarily want to add to their after-school and weekend schedules on a regular basis. As much as I loved teaching my students I was yearning to teach children to practice in a better way. That, to me, meant a little bit every single day rather than an occasional yoga session. I contacted three schools (I have strong connections at all of them and love them all) and pitched ideas to them that had been stirring in my head. The school that bit first happens to be the largest independent school in Kansas City, The Pembroke Hill School. It was not a complete surprise since the school spent last year working with Dave Mochel.
Working for 15 years in schools and being able to identify with the classroom teachers as well as the administrators helped me navigate this pilot program so much better than if I had to approach this as strictly a mindfulness expert. It is always a good idea to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the people you are consulting. During one of our first planning meetings, one of the principals used the term "vertical alignment" and I confirmed I was working with a top notch organization--this was a dream project! We made a solid plan to create a program that would use the same language across five grade levels and did not skimp on any of the necessary details.
The "Mindful Moments" program officially kicked off in August before the students returned. It began with 30-minute individual sessions for each teacher with a licensed massage therapist. In addition to a little bit of bodywork, he focused on posture and breathing patterns with each teacher. This helped set the tone for all breathing exercises going forward. It was also a special "welcome back" treat for the teachers! Let me back up....before these wonderful sessions the school stocked up on all of the tools needed for the classrooms...everything from yoga mats to Tibetan cymbals. We call these our "Mindful Moments Toolkits" and the program would not be the same without them.
The bulk of the program lies in the professional development. I get to meet with the staff monthly to share a few Mindful Moments for the students and one for the teachers. These Mindful Moments come from my experience as a former classroom teacher, children's yoga teacher and yoga practitioner. The students' moments generally consist of a yoga pose, a breathing exercise and a meditation (all age-appropriate, of course). The teachers' moments vary by month but all promote well-being and mindfulness for the adults. In addition to the monthly meetings, I have a few other opportunities to work with the staff as a whole during scheduled "no school" days. The teachers have free rein to contact me with any follow-up questions or concerns before and after these meetings (or any time really).
The final piece to the program is classroom yoga. I am going into each classroom and teaching a yoga session to the students. I meet with the teachers beforehand to learn about the classroom dynamics, the teachers' personalities and any special needs. This helps me plan a session that will benefit the class with the goal of finding at least a few things in the session that the teachers will be comfortable recreating without me in the room in the future (they get to video and take pics!). If I HAD to choose my favorite part of the program, this would be it because teaching the children gives me so much joy...and they all LOVE yoga so much.
There are so many mindfulness curriculum options out there for schools to choose from (more popping up every day it seems), but what is making this so special is the personal attention and the differentiated instruction. We are encouraging autonomy with the teachers and it is so fun to see them put their own spin on the Mindful Moments. It is definitely not a one-size-fits-all program. Stay tuned for more updates!