“Wiggle your eyebrows. Wiggle your nose. Blink your eyes. Open your mouth. Stick your tongue to the right, to the left. Great job! Is your face awake boys and girls?”
Walking into Ms. Alers’ kindergarten class at Dawson Elementary School in Riverview may look a little odd as they make silly faces or practice “flower breathing” hand in hand with partners. In a first grade classroom Mrs. Errity leads 6 and 7 year olds as they shake out their hands and stand tall like trees with arms reaching overhead.
But the purpose behind these mindful movements is just that… Mindful.
“Movement is good for the body and good for the brain,” said Ashley Wiese, Assistant Principal at Dawson. “We believe the key to academic progress is seeing that kids have the social and emotional tools they need so they can grow emotionally and academically.”
At Dawson many teachers begin the day with breathing and stretching exercises. It’s all age appropriate. While kindergarten students are waking up their faces and learning to take calming breaths, third grade students are more advanced.
In Mrs. Latimore’s class, the lights are low, calm music is playing and students are bent at the waist reaching to the ground. Slowly they raise up high to the sky. For the next movement they sit in a circle, stretching their feet in front of them. Together, they sway to the right and the left.
At the end, Mrs. Latimore asks them how they feel. A girl named Cassidy raises her hand. “I was sleepy this morning and rushed to get the bus,” she said. “But now I feel relaxed and awake.”
Dawson has only been around for three years and social and emotional learning has been at its core from the beginning. “Our first year, we wanted a strong social and emotional foundation. Our entire school family had just gone through a huge transition by changing schools. We all came from someplace else,” Wiese explained.
From there, mindful movements became a way of life—for students, but also teachers and staff.
Mrs. Wiese and Principal Derrick Mclaughlin want to make it clear that taking care of the staff is a priority for them. Dawson holds weekly yoga classes for its staff and they both believe that teachers perform their best when they feel calm and cared for.
And they believe students perform at their best when they feel relaxed and safe.
“Social and emotional learning is our foundation but we have high expectations for academics,” stressed Wiese. “Practicing mindful movements helps our students academically to set the stage for learning. It also helps them daily—we are giving the kids the skills to self-regulate.”
And those skills are something Dawson Elementary students will carry with them throughout their young lives, and hopefully into the future.
“Our district’s vision is Preparing Students for Life. This is absolutely preparing them… For the group projects in high school where no one will agree and for the workforce when they face pushback. This is preparing them for living.”