A wonderful new resource for people wanting to share yoga in schools has been published: Best Practices for Yoga in Schools edited by Traci Childress and Jennifer Cohen Harper of Little Flower Yoga. 27 leaders in field of Yoga in School (both practice and research) came together to offer best practices on:
- Staffing and Training
- Safety, Legal, and Logistics,
- Culture and Communication
Some key highlights:
- How we communicate about yoga and mindfulness programs to schools and caregivers is essential. Programs must be secular, transparent, and participation must be voluntary (for teachers and students). Send home a letter to caregivers that clearly outlines the program content and goals. Trying to disguise a yoga program under another name may upset parents, and potentially result in a lawsuit. In a school-wide program, having an information session where stakeholders can ask questions can be helpful. Allow all stakeholders access to curriculum and invite them to observe, or even better, participate if they would like to.
- Practices need to be developmentally appropriate on all levels – physical, cognitive, social, and emotional. Classes for young children will look very different from those for adolescents. Adult-style classes are not appropriate for children or teens.
- Teachers need to have training in teaching yoga to children and adolescents. This includes understanding which practices are appropriate, sequencing of classes, and how to instruct classes so that they are safe, fun, effective, and engaging. Having training as an adult yoga teacher or a classroom teacher who practices adult yoga is not sufficient to teach yoga programs with integrity. Also, having an actual yoga teacher present in the room is important – yoga videos cannot take an individualized approach to meet the needs of the students in the room.
- Consider school needs: Be flexible and adapt to meet the needs of schools. This might mean doing yoga as part of a PE class, or integrating it into a classroom space. Tie your program into Learning Outcomes when appropriate. Be ever respectful and understanding of staff and teacher needs. If you need to relocate the class because your regular yoga space is needed, do so graciously. Make sure to be clear about your cancellation policy upfront. It is not unusual for things to come up last minute that school teachers hadn’t planned for that may require rescheduling your yoga class. The more flexible you can be, the better.
- Meet with teachers in advance to share your teaching philosophy, and how you approach disruptions and challenges. Ask the teacher for any information that you may need to know about students and what kinds of practices work to keep them on track. Decide in advance who will address disruptions if they arise. Let teachers know that everything in yoga is voluntary, so if students choose to sit out part or the full class, that’s okay. Have another quiet activity on hand (inspiring books, colouring) for children who may not want to participate.
- Encourage classroom teachers to participate not only for their own benefit, but also to encourage their students. Just as you do with your students, encourage teachers to listen to their bodies, take a break when they need it, and offer variations for them when they require them. Encourage classroom teachers to continue practicing what they’ve learned in yoga class throughout the week if they are comfortable and confident.
- Behaviour is communication. Do not judge, scold, or shame students because they may be behaving differently than you expect. Their behaviours are messages about what they need, and every student has different needs that they may not be able to express in words. Approach behaviour as a language, and do your best to understand what students are trying to communicate so you can meet their needs. Respond to all behaviours with kindness, compassion, respect, and patience. When you cannot decode students’ behaviour, ask for help from other supports: parents, teachers, behavioural aides, and school counsellors.
- Support positive body development. Unfortunately, yoga has been used as a marketing tool, giving the message that only certain body types can “do” yoga, and that you need expensive yoga clothes to participate. We need to share the message that yoga is available to everyone regardless of body shape, and for bodies of all different abilities. As teachers, wear simple, non-revealing, non-brandname clothing that is comfortable to move in so as not to become a walking advertisement.
- Be aware of your biases and assumptions and how they may affect your yoga classes. Avoid making general statements referring to what male and female bodies are capable of. Be careful not to assume the gender or sexual orientation of your students. Do not make assumptions based on demographics. Be aware of cultural references that may marginalize some students. Teach to what you see, and not what you expect to see. Yoga should be a safe and inclusive space where everyone is welcome and all experiences are valid.