What if? Yoga in Schools by NGY Teacher and Trainer Michelle Gunnell

Teaching has always been a part of me. When I went to college, there was no question about what major I would choose. Fast forward a few years and a major devastating natural (and man-made) disaster later, I found myself in a teaching position exactly where I wanted to be. I was an elementary school teacher in my home town of New Orleans, with 99% of our students who qualified for free and reduced lunch and were personally affected by Hurricane Katrina. The landscape of education in New Orleans at the time, and still today, was different than any other city in America. People came together from across the globe to make a difference in the lives of these kids.

When you go to school to be an educator, you learn about all of the different ways students learn best. You learn to approach curriculum so that you are able to reach each of the students in your classroom. You daydream about the difference you are going to make in the lives of your students. And then…you step into a classroom, and most of what you have learned goes out the door. You are given strict orders on how to teach by the school. The level of stress teachers and students face is crazy. Why does this happen?

You can imagine my utter disappointment when I felt that I was failing as a teacher. I was struggling with classroom management. I had more stress in my life than ever before, and it was affecting every part of my life. The students were struggling, and I felt I had let them, my coworkers, family, and myself down. I could see the desire these kids had to do well. But I knew there was something we weren’t doing right. I left the classroom feeling defeated.

I knew I had to figure out a different way. I took up Yoga again. This time, I fell in love with the practice on a deeper level. I began to hear what was going on in my body by feeling it! I was learning how to respond to the cues my body was giving me in more appropriate and healthy ways: by breathing, moving, and being still.

As I began to recognize the benefits for myself, I realized that Yoga and Mindfulness could benefit kids too! Yoga was my way back into teaching. I was so excited! I found Next Generation Yoga and dove into the trainings. I also acquired my 200hr RYT, opened Yoga Krewe with my hubby and sis-in-law, and began teaching Yoga to adults and kids. I remember thinking to myself one night: “What if? What if I had this training before I began teaching in the classroom? How would it have affected the students ability to learn? How would my stress level have been different?” The thoughts were powerful and honestly made me a bit teary eyed. What if? Immediately, I knew I had to figure out a way to get these Yoga tools into the hands of educators. That was the beginning of the Next Generation Yoga Teacher Training for School-Based Educators.

A year was spent developing this training and the super user-friendly NGY Cards for School-Based Educators. These cards were designed specifically for those Educators who have never done Yoga but want to use Yoga and Mindfulness exercises with their students. The Yoga Cards are a wonderful tool, but you have to make the connections by paying attention to the cues from your students. Listen with your eyes and your ears! When students are feeling wiggly after sitting, it’s time for them to MOVE! Grab a Move card and spend 1-5 minutes letting students get their blood pumping so that they can continue to retain information. When students are arriving in the morning or transitioning between classes, they need a moment to ground themselves and settle in. Pick a Calm card to help them check in with themselves so they can let go and be present.

Once students get started with these Yoga and Mindfulness tools, they will be able to make the connections for themselves. They will be empowered with the knowledge of listening and responding to the cues their own bodies are giving them. They will be better learners and listeners. As teachers, you will learn from your students. When you use the cards, you will be able to know when students are feeling anxious, or scared because they are afraid to miss breakfast at school, as was the experience of a child in Michigan. You will give those students with active tendencies a chance to move so they can release excess energy, much like with my kiddo.

Watching mindfulness take place is worth a thousand pictures, that for me, is hard to clearly explain using words. All I can do is smile from ear to ear and embrace the moment as it unfolds. As we move into 2018, I wish for each of you to have these experiences with your students. I wish for all of us to have a Yoga and Mindfully filled new year!

Michelle Gunnell
Next Generation Yoga Teacher & Trainer
New Orleans, LA

Michelle has worked with children since 2005 teaching dance, volunteering at the Louisiana Children’s Museum and eventually becoming a certified Elementary School Teacher in 2007. After receiving her 200-Hour Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) certification, she began teaching Yoga to adults & kids drawing upon her experiences and knowledge as a classroom teacher. She was then inspired to open a family-friendly Yoga studio with her own family in 2014. Michelle took her first Next Generation Yoga Teacher Training for 2-7 year olds the same year and has since also graduated from the NGY Teacher Training for 8-13 year olds. She immediately felt a connection to Jodi Komitor, NGY Founder, and the methodology that makes an NGY class so fun & successful!

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