Let the Students Be the Teachers


This photo is my eleven year old son. In November, him and his fellow 5th grade classmates did a variety of activities ranging from creating artifacts to writing and performing a small play…all to entertain and educate the students in 1st grade. Here, he’s showing his Iroquois Longhouse artifact and teaching the younger students how life was for the Indians during the time of the First Thanksgiving. He loved every minute of it. This child is very much an old soul and heart and relishes any opportunity to serve children younger than him. Our family is actively involved in BSA at multiple levels (my youngest is a cub scout, I am a former committee chair, currently a unit commissioner and crew advisor), and I’ve witnessed the same mentoring from older scouts to younger scouts, and leader to scout interaction as well.

During my experience as a 200 hour Yoga Lifestyle and Teacher Training in Kunga Yoga at the Wilmington Yoga Center, myself and my peers were all expected practice teach. How else can your mentors gauge your knowledge level, proficiency, progress, without seeing you in action and providing feedback?  That part I dreaded. Every.Single.Time. I’ve been practicing yoga for many years, in many different ways, in different studios and at home, with a variety of teachers. Our partners were our fellow trainees, which you think would add an extra level of comfort. Not for me. I cried. Literally. I tried to prepare well, come in confident, and allow my authentic desire to deliver the gift of yoga to my student shine through. And she didn’t like it. I was crushed. I cried the entire hour drive south to my mom’s house to spend the weekend with my boys. I didn’t want to speak to anyone, I just wanted to hug my boys, my mom, my papaw, and enjoy the solace of a comfortable and familiar place. After letting the moment pass and processing, I realized it was absolutely essential for my growth as a yoga teacher, to go through that experience. I still dreaded every practice teach after that. Yet I chose to let the constructive feedback (it was constructive…I cried because I’m very sensitive and felt awful for not meeting my student’s needs) guide me to a place of greater awareness.

So often, as adults, we think we “know better.” We’ve been there, experienced that, and want to help children (ours or otherwise) from making the same mistakes we did, or having heartache of any kids, or failing. We WANT our children to be successful, to be healthy, to be happy. But at what expense? Where is that line in the sand that says “Stop here, let her try it on her own. Even if she stumbles, she will learn”? That’s a tough question, and it’s different with every child and every situation. It’s much easier to follow educational standards. Deviation from plans and ‘suggestions’ makes more work for the teacher and often, more work for the student. Thankfully there are so many amazing educators out there that choose to go the extra mile, creating chances for students explore in their own way: yoga in the classroom, student council, peer mediation, odyssey of the mind, and more.

One thing I think we can all try to be more open to is the idea of letting the student be the teacher, and make mistakes, fall sometimes, grow stronger and more authentic through those experiences. I teach between 15 and 20 classes each week to children ages 18 months to 18 years old and not a class goes by that I don’t enter with the aim to deliver another tool for their development and well-being. On the same token, not a class goes by that I don’t walk out with some new nugget of wisdom gleaned from these budding young super kids.

Last week’s classes for the older set (3rd grade and up), included the opportunity for the students to be the teachers. Each class was broken into small groups of 3-5 yogis and yoginis who were then assigned to create a mini class for some sort of focus…Yoga for CONCENTRATION, Yoga for STRENGTH, Yoga for HAPPINESS, etc. They were asked to create a class include one breathing technique they’d learned, two poses (either ones I’d taught, or ones they chose to make up), and one relaxation technique. It was inspiring and exciting to see the creations the students came up with through a process of respectful listening and sharing, cooperation, and creativity. There were plenty of smiles and laughs to go around, and it gave each and every child the opportunity to stand up and be a leader.

In the elementary school, I have the opportunity to work in 11 different classrooms, many which are cluster (differently abled students grouped into normal learning classrooms, sometimes with aides). The dynamic ebbs and flows from session to session, requiring flexibility to be paramount in planning. Last week I had a grand set of plans for all my school-day sessions…which promptly went awry when I began losing my voice. Enter the student created and led yoga (based on Lisa Flynn’s Yoga4Classrooms development activities) that proved to be perfectly suited for all the students.

The culmination of the variety of benefits of children’s yoga is the development of the whole child. Allowing for alternative learning and sharing opportunities in the classroom can only serve to increase confidence in ability to discover what inspires each individual and encourages them to go out and share that spark with others. Yoga is a nonjudgmental, non-competitive activity where students are applauded not on their ability to perform well on tests or be completely still and silent, but rather on their ability to gaze inward, really listen to what’s going on in their mind and heart, and express that in an evolving way. Give them an inch, they’ll not take a mile…but give you a mile in return!

How can we continue to incorporate empowering our youth with teaching their peers, and teaching us? We must continue to think outside the box and break the model of standardization. More to come on the theory of allowing each child to be an individual when we discuss Multiple Intelligences.