When principal Jodie Carrigan looked at the data for detention at her school, she noticed a pattern. Week after week, the same children were being sent to detention. It was clear to Carrigan and the rest of Doull Elementary School’s senior leadership team that this consequence wasn’t really changing students’ behavior. Doull administrators decided to get creative and try something totally different—why not offer yoga sessions, called “after-school reflection,” instead? With a grant from Denver Public Schools, the school hired an experienced children’s yoga instructor. Students who would’ve been sent to detention were, instead, asked to take yoga.
Why yoga for student behavioral issues?
Yoga teaches students to understand their emotions and provides them with strategies for getting their feelings under control. “Our end game is always, ‘How are we creating kids that are ready to contribute to society and to their community?’” Carrigan said. “The more strategies we can equip them with, the better.”
There’s no cure-all for school culture.
Though yoga can help transform students’ feelings about school, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to students. The school has morning greeting stations so that each student is welcomed before they reach their classroom. Each day starts with a mindful moment, and the school also works with a mindfulness coach. In addition, Doull created two small cool-down rooms for students who get upset in the classroom, complete with comfy bean bag chairs, soft fabrics, and calming music.
“In the past, when a kid [got] frustrated or upset in the classroom, we would send up someone from administration and ask, ‘What’s wrong? What happened? What do you need?’” said Carla Graeber, Doull’s school psychologist. “We were using so many words trying to figure out what’s wrong, and what they really need is some time to cool off before they can talk about it.”
Don’t forget to consider your outside environments.
The school began working with Playworks, a nonprofit that organizes games and activities, which has helped drastically decrease the number of recess incidents. Teachers have also made more than 300 home visits this year in an effort to build relationships with parents. “We keep adding different layers, and we keep not being disappointed,” Graeber said. “Based on our data, it’s having an impact.”
Be sure to track your results.
For the last two years, Doull has received high marks from its students on a district-wide whole-child survey that measures how supported students feel, among other things. The district has been so impressed that it’s sent administrators to Doull to learn more about what the school is doing right.
Make sure everyone is on board.
The school district’s focus on students’ social and emotional needs helps keep administrators focused. But Carrigan gives major credit to her staff for embracing the initiatives that have created Doull’s culture. “They’re not just saying it—they believe it,” Carrigan said. “They’re walking the walk. When you do get that buy-in and you’ve got everybody on board, the impact can be huge. It can be life-changing for our kids.”
Be flexible in how your culture shifts over time.
It’s also important for school leaders to understand that a project might morph and change over time—and that’s OK. “It’s important to know you’re not locked into something being a certain way, knowing that you can change things as they go,” she said. “You can let things evolve naturally.”
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