What educators can learn from yoga

April 9, 2012

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Rather than food, animals or Dr. Seuss characters, perhaps the alphabet strips over grammar school whiteboards should illustrate the letters with yoga poses.

Certainly, apples, bears and cats in hats would better engage students, but contorted bodies would prod teachers to follow Baltimore city schools’ Jess Gartner‘s sage advice: That school should be less like school and more like Bikram yoga.

At once rigid — every yogi does the same series of 26 postures (just enough for our alphabet strip!) every class — and loose — there are no levels or grades and the instructor does not lead the routine — Bikram yoga, Gartner explains, empowers students and teachers to pursue personal mastery, rather than arbitrary standards, and to pursue that mastery together, rather than in isolation — or worse, in opposition.

The middle school social studies teacher applies the yoga metaphor to fundamental challenges and opportunities facing educators in the accountability and digital age, from the limits of one-off, all-or-nothing tests to the seemingly limitless applications of new technological tools.

In the information age, many teachers are rightly moving away from direct instruction models that position teachers as the sole arbiters of information. With increased instantaneous access to information, the purpose of school is shifting away from memorizing finite amounts of knowledge and beginning to focus more on the skills of finding, analyzing, manipulating, and creating content. With the new function of education, so to should develop a new function of teachers as guides and facilitators on the educational journey, rather than solitary gatekeepers of knowledge.

If you’re at all vested in K-12 education (and from its effects on property values to crime rates to economic growth, who isn’t?) Gartner’s blog post a must-read, both for all it says about the current state of schools and for the clever way it says it. Even if you don’t have an interest in schools (again, hard to believe) you’re sure to find parallels in your own work and life and how you define and encourage success from yourself and from those around you.

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user lululemon athletica

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