Divya Seshadri is Head Teacher in the lower school’s Dunbar Room.
I started at Mary McDowell Friends School in 2019, thrilled to be working in an institution that had a mission and vision that I wanted to work to further. Then, COVID-19 hit and spread changes no one could have foreseen. The impact of the shutdown on myself and my students was a stark difference from just months before. There were restrictions we were placed under, and restrictions we placed on ourselves, further decreasing much-needed personal and community connection.
It is easy to see how much children and adults both are impacted in physical, emotional and social ways by the challenges of our current life. A wide variety of outcomes, ranging from behavior challenges to learning difficulties and more, predictably follow, and of course, we at Mary McDowell are much closer than others to these challenges. For children and teachers specifically, within the larger social dynamic of a COVID-19 world, we have to grapple with pervasive levels of trauma, and navigate rising stress and anxiety. This in turn affects our mental, emotional, and physical states, and interventions are critical to support and address these issues. For children, it is so they can balance their inner and outer worlds in order to make space for learning and growth. For teachers, it is so we can make space to nurture both ourselves and our students.
Seeing first-hand how SEL supported my students, over the 2020-2021 school year, I took a course with Breathe For Change that introduced me to the practice of bringing mindfulness, yoga, and self-awareness into the classroom. Daily mindfulness practices have been tied to increased student attendance rates, decreased suspension rate, and reductions in stress and anxiety. Wellness practices have been shown to increase student confidence and performance, especially for those who have experienced trauma.
However, time and pedagogical constraints prevented me from introducing a consistent practice into the classroom. I received my certification mid-way through the second semester, and consequently it was challenging for students to integrate a new practice into their routine so late into the year. While I did incorporate pieces of my learning of mindfulness, breath awareness, and meditation into our weekly mindfulness time, I wanted to put into place a curriculum arc that would unfold over the course of a full semester.
This past summer, with the support of the MMFS PA grant, I was able to take a course in “Designing a Mindfulness and Yoga Based Curriculum” with Little Flower Yoga. The course guided me in the development of a customized yoga and mindfulness curriculum that I hoped would meet the needs of my students. Using the materials and concepts from both Breath For Change as well as from Little Flower Yoga, I put together a plan for weekly mindfulness practices in the classroom.
While the curriculum has looked much different when put into practice in the classroom these past few months, it has built community amongst my students. There is a growing awareness of what mindfulness is and what it means to be mindful of one’s body. The students are slowly learning how to use breathing techniques and body movements to develop awareness of their body and their emotions. The continued goal is that they will one day soon be able to use these techniques to calm themselves or center themselves, regardless whether they are in situations that demand it or not.