by Elizabeth Shepardson
Positive and healthy relationships among students and teachers in a classroom play an integral role in the level of success in the academic arena. Teachers are obligated to prepare students for the real world, and provide them with opportunities to learn and master 21st-century skills to help them achieve their dreams.
As a paraprofessional at Positive Options, an alternative high school education program in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, I was recently given the unique opportunity to attend a 15-week Kripalu Yoga in the Schools program along with the students. The Kripalu instructors, led by Janna Delgado, came to our school and worked with us each week, training our minds and bodies to become better equipped to focus on everyday tasks, and better prepared to face the challenges that life throws our way.
Janna created a space of safety within in a setting that pushed our minds and bodies to new limits. The general consensus among the students and myself after the first session was that, even though Janna made the environment as safe and comfortable as possible, we all felt a sense of vulnerability as we entered the unknown territory of yoga practice. We found out quickly that, in order to make this activity successful, we had to trust each other and work together as a class.
For instance, the first time we attempted Side Plank, which requires a great deal of shoulder and upper-body strength, my muscles immediately began to tremble uncontrollably. I was in the front row, and I glanced up quickly to check in with the students. I wanted to see how they were managing the challenge at hand, but I think I was also looking for a hint of support and reassurance. In those few seconds, I made eye contact with many of the students, and I noticed something profound in the looks we exchanged. That was when I first felt what it means to be “in it together” with the students. We were all riding the wave, totally engaged in the effort, noticing our different strengths and weaknesses. We were fully aware of ourselves in the moment.
As time progressed, everything seemed to come together. The anxiety disappeared, and yoga became one of the activities we most looked forward to each week. I learned that there was a gift in sharing my weaknesses with the students, and having them observe me struggle at times. We laughed. We talked. We opened up, but never blurred any boundaries. The program gave us a new perspective on how we each tend to handle stress, and what we look for in other people when we need additional support.
When the students and I talk about our experiences with yoga this year, we tap into those times when we knew our class felt connected. We had the opportunity to relate to each other on a level that rarely happens inside a classroom. The students appreciated my commitment to practice what they were practicing, and we respected each other’s efforts unconditionally. That alone has improved the quality of my relationships with them—and all I did was show up and practice yoga.
Elizabeth Shepardson is a paraprofessional at the Positive Options program in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.