I recently did a post about what classroom teachers could learn from the way that yoga teachers run their class. Here are some more lessons that come from my experience doing a ton of yoga over the summer. (I have to give a shout out to Yoga on High, which is where I’ve been practicing. They have great instructors and a fabulous studio.)
1. Set an Intention
At the beginning of yoga class, the teacher will ask you to set an intention for the practice. You may need to get rid of stress, get something troubling you off of your mind for a bit, or celebrate all the good that has happened to you. There are lots of ways you can dedicate your practice to something. The idea is that you have a reason for doing what you’re doing beyond just going through the yoga sequence, and this allows you to gain more from your practice.
Frequently I come to school with a solid lesson plan and a clear idea of what the students will be doing. However, just as frequently I don’t start with a clear idea of what I want students to know by the end of our time together. It is helpful for me to set an intention for the class before I began. What do I want students to leaving knowing?
Of course the standards could be my intention, but maybe I want them to get a life lesson. Or maybe a question to ponder before class the next day. Also, an intention could be completely for me as well – I want to give my students my fullest attention today, or I want to engage the students that haven’t been engaged. Regardless, setting an intention can help you frame your instruction for the day in meaningful ways.
I recently attended a workshop with Erica Jago, a yoga teacher who journals every morning for ten minutes as a way to think through her classes for the day. Ten minutes seems like a lot to give up – that’s a trip to the copier and one essay graded – but I’m going to try this as a well to find my intention for the day.
2. Give the Students Their Own Experience, Not Yours
Every yoga teacher I’ve practiced with tells me to “make the experience your own.” Don’t push myself beyond what I can do and really listen to your what your body and mind: they will tell you what you need that day. The yoga instructor always has a sequence for the course, but you are always encouraged to deviate from the sequence if it makes sense for you to do that with any sort of variations in poses. You could sit there and meditate for the entire class and the instructor wouldn’t have a problem with that.
Of course in the classroom we too have a “sequence” that we would like students to follow. And a lot of the time we do have a specific place that we want students to be at the end of the class. But there are plenty of opportunities to encourage students to find their own experience with something.
For instance, I recently did a post on using a Tolstoy story in class. I find that when students are asked to read something, some will quite naturally pick up a pencil and begin to annotate and other will not. If annotation were the goal, I might ask them all to annotate, but in this case it doesn’t really matter. I can tell them to find their own experience with the story, and that will encourage them to “make the practice their own.”
In fact, when you ask students why they don’t like to annotate many of them say that annotation is something that they do for the teacher and not for themselves. If I were to teach students my method of annotation, they would only get where I want them to be, and miss the much more profound experience of creating the knowledge with a text that they need.
Why is this important? Because we want students to own their “practice.” I have been doing yoga for long enough that I have a keen awareness of my strengths and limitations, but have also developed an ability to make my experience my own. Similarly, we want students to have enough knowledge to be able to find a path through their education that leads them to where to they need to go. Our task as educators is to equip students with the “poses” that allow them to get there.
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