Educators have one of the most important jobs in our country—shaping the next generation. Yet teaching can be an incredibly stressful profession. Between the increasing pressure on students’ performances on standardized tests, decreasing teacher prep time and funding for schools, and never-ending lists of priorities, educators often stretch themselves too thin going the extra mile for their students. Not to mention the secondary traumatic stress that takes a toll on them while meeting the needs of their students who have experienced trauma. Too often the well-being of educators falls to the wayside.
All of these factors directly lead to teacher burnout. Up to 50 percent of teachers will leave the profession within their first five years. This type of turnover costs states billions of dollars every year and dramatically impacts academic performance among students. Educators themselves are not at fault, but rather the education system as a whole. Unfortunately, the systemic changes are happening slowly at best, and it will take years to actually implement a large shift. With the well-being of our educators, students, and communities on the line, it’s not an option to wait for change to come. The question becomes what can we do right now?
This was the question that Breathe For Change (B4C) Founder and CEO Dr. Ilana Nankin began to explore after her time as a prekindergarten teacher in San Francisco. As a new teacher, she felt the immense amounts of stress and pressure that ride on the shoulders of educators. She began practicing yoga on a regular basis to manage her stress. She then started to incorporate mindfulness practices, such as breathing exercises and mindful movement, into her classroom and noticed a difference among her students. She knew there was something there and wanted to dig deeper.
She came to the University of Wisconsin–Madison to earn her PhD in curriculum and instruction. For her dissertation research, Dr. Nankin created a community of practice to support the preservice teachers she had taught in translating their social justice ideals into action in diverse classrooms during their first year as teachers. She found that these teachers were stressed and overwhelmed, yet had few to no tools to take care of themselves. This diminishing cycle of well-being revealed the critical connection between teacher well-being and effective teaching. Her dissertation demonstrated the negative impact of educator stress on teaching and learning, and the positive impact that enhancing teacher well-being can have on student social-emotional and academic outcomes.
Inspired by her research and her teaching experiences, Dr. Nankin created B4C to empower and train educators to use yoga, wellness, and social-emotional learning as a vehicle for social change. Her approach was to offer a life-changing training for educators that gives them the means to practice self-care and enhance the well-being of themselves, their students, and communities with a curriculum rooted in core components of social-emotional learning.
In June 2015, B4C brought 34 educators from around the world to Madison for the first ever 200-hour yoga and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) teacher training designed specifically for educators. The powerful and transformational stories that these educators shared after the training gave testimony to the impactful outcomes that were possible. They were finding that students who often fought with each other or had tantrums were now doing mindful movement to make better decisions, and those who struggled with test taking were using breathing techniques to calm themselves down and, as a result, scoring higher.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social-emotional learning as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Research indicates that there is a positive connection between mindful movement and social-emotional learning. It has been found that practicing mindful movement in schools can be an effective way to develop self-regulation, mind-body awareness, and physical fitness which may, in turn, foster additional SEL competencies and positive student outcomes.
After the first training in 2015, Dr. Nankin and B4C Co-founder Michael Fenchel decided to expand B4C into a movement. The B4C team has grown, and their 200-hour yoga training is now offered in 14 major cities across the nation, including Madison. Over 2,500 educators have gone through B4C’s training, which, as a result, has impacted hundreds of thousands of students’ and educators’ lives.
Upon completion of B4C’s 200-hour training, trainees earn their CYT-200 yoga instructor certification from the largest international nonprofit association in the yoga community, Yoga Alliance. Trainees receive instruction on a variety of social-emotional learning practices and how to implement them across a range of different ages and developmental abilities. Plus, graduates of the program become part of a movement of educators who are inspired to create social change through wellness. B4C offers need-based scholarships to make their training more accessible and inclusive as possible for diverse educators and communities.
Although B4C’s training is geared toward educators, they welcome those from all professions, especially those who serve others, like social workers, coaches, counselors, and healthcare workers. They hosted their first Two-Day Wellness & SEL training in Boston this past December in an effort to expand their training options. Breathe For Change is gaining momentum in their mission to change the world, one teacher at a time.
For more information on the upcoming training happening in Madison this summer, check breatheforchange.com .
Emily Locke is the marketing coordinator at Breathe For Change.