Mary Barnett: Former athlete and current assistant principal at Orchard Knob Middle School [in Chattanooga, TN] LaKesha Carson said she was used to employing a variety of techniques to de-stress and unwind after a particularly crazy day.
But what she learned last week during the first day of faculty in-service at the middle school was the opposite of everything she has ever done or thought to do.
“As a former athlete I have been all about a good hard workout. So I think of de-stressing as going hard, pumping the weights, running, running, and getting that sweat up,” Carson said.
Slowing down, breathing correctly and just sitting quietly were just a few of the techniques Carson and the entire teaching staff were taught during a full day workshop facilitated by two Chattanooga-based yoga and meditation practitioners, Jayne Cagle and Lisa Willard.
The program was introduced by the school’s new principal, Crystal Sorrells, who said she thought of the idea after participating in the Principal Leadership Academy at the Public Education Foundation.
The academy pairs emerging school principals with mentors from the business community while studying 21st century leadership techniques.
“Corporate America puts a lot of time and energy into wellness programs. They have corporate gyms on their campuses and wellness events and activities. I decided to build that idea into our first day of in-service,” Sorrells said.
During the workshops the faculty, classroom facilitators and certified staff were taught various ways to de-stress at their desks and at home by using simple techniques based on yoga and meditation practices.
“Ms. Willard demonstrated use of foam rollers for releasing muscular stress and I taught practical meditation techniques designed to transform or recycle mental and emotional stress into productive energy,” Jayne Cagle said in an email.
Breathing exercises including a simple “8 X 16” were introduced. Breathing in for 8 seconds and breathing out for 16 seconds is something that can be done in the moment of stress, even while standing in front of a group of rowdy teenagers.
Ethan Evans, who will be teaching 7th grade science, is a first time teacher entering the challenging environment of a middle school. Evans said he knows the stress will be coming this year, as it does for most working professionals, and appreciates having some simple tools “in his pocket” as the need arises.
“I like having something I can do right at my desk. What do you need in that moment? It’s good to have something you can look to right then and it takes 24 seconds. I can’t imagine not using these techniques in the middle of the day,” Evans said.
“Middle school is a tough transition. Its a tough transition no matter what middle school you are in. And so the best way to be the most effective is to take care of yourself and keep yourself balanced,” Sorrells said.
Carson said the long term goal is to find similar activities that the faculty can do together after school on a weekly basis.
“We ask our faculty to expose our kids to different activities, so we want to also do that for each other as educators,” Carson said.
The hope is that the methods picked up by the teachers to keep themselves in balance can also be shared with the students.
“We want to help find ways to teach students how to bring themselves out of a difficult situation. We can train them what to do when they are feeling overwhelmed, when the work is too hard, or when they feel like giving up,” Sorrells said.
Both Willard and Cagle said that they felt training the faculty using these de-stressing tools could be the start of a new trend for school systems.
“It’s a bold move for Principal Sorrels. It shows her creativity and willingness to raise the bar in trying new ways to empower her faculty and students,” Cagle said.