I Completed a 30-Day Yoga Challenge & It Reinforced Everything I Believe about Effective Teaching
Updated: May 1, 2020
So about a week into the stay-at-home order and outside shutting down ya girl started to have a wee bit of a breakdown. I’m a homebody and a self-proclaimed extroverted introvert, and while I LOVE being in the house, I also LOVE the freedom to leave said house and go be amongst the good people. If you’ve spent ANY time on my social media you know that I’m a frequent patron at Starbucks & Panera and any other little coffee shop I can find that will let me sip on one coffee or mint tea for a 2-4 hour work session. I don’t know why, but there is just something about a busy coffee shop, playing either top 40 hits or some obscure Spotify playlist that gets me in my work zone.
I also really missed teaching my classes. This year I taught the most face-to-face classes of my professor career thus far and I REALLY hit my stride. I was trying new things, bringing my FULL personality into space and the whole experience was exciting and therapeutic at the same time. Then it all just got ripped away from me…in fact, as I walked into my Wednesday evening class students shouted the news of the school closures at me before I was even fully in the door.
So here I was stuck at home, with none of my normal releases available to me…and I was not doing well. I’d been toying around with the idea of doing yoga for a while and after one good family yoga session, I decided to find a channel that had some sort of 30-day thing and commit to it. I settled on Yoga With Adriene’s 30-day Yoga Challenge. I don’t know why…but after watching snippets of a couple of her videos and a review from someone who’d completed the challenge it seemed like a good fit and a nice and gentle way to ease myself into the practice.
Having done yoga before, I expected to get more in tune with my body & feel a bit less anxious and stressed, which I did. However, now that I've completed the 30 days there are some very useful, and unexpected, lessons that apply directly to my practice as an educator. Those of you who've been here before know I LOVE a list...soooo here we go.
Lesson 1: Start Where You Are, But Don't Stay There
For my education folks, and particularly my teacher education folks, you know the phrase I selected for this lesson is an homage to H. Richard Milner, IV's incredible text on preparing teachers to effectively work with racially and culturally diverse students. It's fitting because often throughout the yoga journey, Adriene would remind us that we may not be "there" yet, we may be far from the goal but that continued practice or the use of additional equipment (blocks, towel, blanket, etc.) could help give the same outcome (more on that in a bit). When it came to my yoga practice specifically, this reminder helped me to remain focused on coming to know my body-how it worked and what it needed-in such an intimate way. I also learned the best approaches to gradually push it to new limits without frustrating or hurting myself.
Educators can apply this same approach to their practice. When facilitating my teacher ed courses, I tell my students that they'll spend a lot more time reflecting on who they ARE and who they want to BECOME as people and educators. Our identities inform how we see the world and interact with people around us and so an important part of building your instructional practice is to first understand where you are now and all of the interactions and experiences that shaped you along the way. Otherwise, we may overlook the ways in which we are complicit in the perpetuation of the damaging narratives and practices that limit not only our students' capacity for growth, development, creativity & passion but our own as well.
However, just as with yoga it's important to identify and HONESTLY ACKNOWLEDGE your limitations and barriers, your knowledge and skills gaps, your areas of strength and your areas for growth. Doing so will help you to find resources and approaches that can help you to gradually transform your practice and avoid aimlessly plowing through in a way that causes more frustration and damage.
Lesson 2: Admit When You Need Help & Take It
Part of what I mentioned in the last lesson was that a lot of times when doing yoga, instructors will tell you to use a block, cushion, strap, towel or blanket to create space, bring the ground closer, ease discomfort or deepen the stretch/experience. This enables people to get as much out of the practice as they can until they build strength and flexibility. It also acknowledges that we all have different bodies that will respond differently to certain movements and sometimes need a modification or accommodation to ensure we can participate safely and comfortably while continuing to reach new limits.
One level of this lesson's connection to effective teaching is pretty straightforward here...well at least in my opinion. When working to meet students' diverse learning needs, it's important to find accommodations and modifications through varied instructional delivery and assessment practices. One size will NEVER fit all and so teaching to the middle will guarantee that you lose some on either end. However, the second layer of this is the one that I pull directly from my work and research in Hip-Hop Pedagogy, which is that sometimes we need to recognize that WE, the educators, need some assistance to bridge the gaps and make the experience easier and safer to endure for our students...and again, ourselves, by extension. The hardest thing for teachers to recognize sometimes is that as they develop and transform their practice, they will need to reach out to those who ALREADY HAVE THE KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS or who can at least help them to think through the process more critically. Who are these people?
Well, first and foremost, the students themselves. Frequent bi-directional dialogue between student and teacher is like the yoga block-bringing the space between the teachers' intentions and the students' needs closer together. I post 2-3 teacher reflective journal prompts each week that always include a collaborative reflection activity incorporating dialogue with students, which you can find on my IG account, @drcourtneyrose. Other resources are parents/families, community leaders and individuals who share or represent students' out-of-school identities, interests and cultural expressions. These individuals can also act as blocks bridging the knowledge gap, but they can also act as the towel or strap in that they help you to stretch your practice further than your previous limitations allowed because you have someone there to do the things that your current positionality or knowledge/skills-base does not adequately, effectively or respectfully do alone. z
Lesson 3: Alignment & Balance Are Key
Above anything else, the toughest yoga poses for me are the balance poses. They require perfect alignment, so much strength, and clear focus. Every instructor I've taken a class from, including Adriene throughout the 30-day series that I completed, always says not to rush things, to build a strong foundation first, and ease into it step-by-step.
This, to me, is the key take away to truly developing ANY effective practice--ALIGNMENT & BALANCE. These two components tie the other two spoken about above together and create a process that one can continuously reflect on and develop.
No matter how hard you work at infusing more inclusive, culturally-relevant, social justice-oriented and/or anti-racist practices into your instruction, if your personal perspectives and beliefs on ANY of these issues do not align with the work, you will most likely find yourself off-balance and it just won't work. This is why it is so IMPORTANT to do the self-work from the first lesson in this list. Additionally, your focus has to be clear, which is where the second lesson where sometimes you need something to focus on, something to help you to see and feel things more clearly, find the points that are misaligned or need strengthening and work on them with support.
Misalignment can also apply to the environment where you are trying to build your practice. A lot of people have a very specific place where they do their yoga, because the energy is more conducive to a peaceful practice where they can clearly focus and have enough space and room move and grow. As educators, it's important to recognize when who you are does not fit or work within the environment in which you are trying to build and grow. Perhaps YOU are not the right fit for the space and someone who has the necessary passion, commitment, and focus is better suited to meet the needs of the students in that environment. Or perhaps you are skipping the step in building your foundation and instead could be using your voice to advocate for and work towards a more supportive environment.
Often times when we commit to something with the intention of self-improvement, we find lessons that apply to other areas of our lives. Going into my yoga journey, which I'm happy to say I've continued beyond the 30 days, I didn't have the explicit intention of writing a blog or walking away with deeper understandings of myself as an educator, but these thoughts started wandering into my head during my sessions or in my post-yoga meditation. As I continue on in this journey I'm sure I'll find more lessons, more moments for growth and development, more opportunities to come to know myself on deeper levels. I challenge you all to do the same. Find that thing that pushes you out of your comfort zone and into yourself.