“What do I want my life to feel like on a daily basis and how do I get there?”
I was asked this very question several years ago while attending a women’s yoga retreat in the Berkshires. It was the midway part of the weekend; we all had our journals in hand and were given time to take that question in and write. I am not one to usually raise my hand and share, but on this occasion, I did, and this is what I said, “I want to wake up and have waltz for breakfast, cha-cha for lunch and tango for dinner.” After I read it, I was asked to read it again as I witnessed many of the participants writing it down. I received a lot of positive feedback, so much so that I made a t-shirt out of it.
Six years after that retreat, I am still reflecting on that question — and others — with a much different lens from having experienced all that we have been living. Here are the questions I want to pose for reflection: “How has this past year impacted your teaching? What is one positive insight you have gained?
During this past February, 2021, I was going through my inbox and noticed some upcoming classes going on over our winter break at Kripalu.
One caught my eye, “The Body Keeps The Score” presented by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of him before, so I made a few Google searches and phone calls, quickly finding out that he has been at the forefront of trauma research and education. I registered and attended the virtual event.
I was pleasantly surprised that after attending this workshop and 28 years of teaching, I was motivated to learn more about how I could contribute to help support my students. I need to pause here and share that my curiosity with this work has always been in me. I had my own childhood trauma, and I also made a few u-turns in college. After getting my AB in Human Development, I actually ended up going back to school, and enrolling in a post baccaleareate program for physical education and health, before getting my M.Ed.
A couple weeks went by, and I had an idea about trying to put some of this new found knowledge into practice. I have always loved dancing, but must confess I was a “closet dancer” when I was in high school because I didn’t think it was cool. Thankfully I got over that and have been enjoying competitive ballroom dance for several years.
I incorporate dance in all of my classes. It’s a great way to facilitate and practice conversations around boundary setting and consent, while we are moving. What a bonus! In my Self Care class and my other PE classes, we discuss the way we feel after just 15 minutes of dancing and the happy hormones that get released. I encourage students to go home and close their door and try some salsa, and if they aren’t closeted like I was, I encourage them to grab a family member and teach them in the kitchen as they make dinner.
I was curious about this whole moving trauma through our body, and listened to Bessel share his research around the benefits of yoga on trauma.
I reached out to a colleague, and asked her if she would like to try this experiment with me. I asked her if she would be willing to choreograph a dance piece for me that tells my story. I already had the music, and I knew who all the players needed to be. She was so open and honored to be a part of it. I then reached out to four other colleagues that I trusted as this project was building into this really cool collaboration. We were about to embark on a major interdisciplinary endeavor with fitness & health, ELA, dance, and counseling professionals.
A bit later, another email caught my eye. It was a notification that the deadline for all WEF (Wellesley Education Foundation) grants were due in a few days. Right about this time, one of my colleagues suggested that we should write a WEF grant, and Stories that Move Us was born. We are hoping to offer workshops to students next year (21-22) to:
1) Enable students to express themselves through the power of movement. We want students to develop empathy skills in a safe and supportive environment.
2) Encourage students to tell their own stories through movement
3) Heal trauma from the isolation of the pandemic
4) Unlock the power of student emotions by identifying the variety of emotions they experience
5) Experience the joy received through movement and music
6) Aid students in self-reflection, recovery, and developing resilience
The grant money will help fund professional development in trauma, specifically for educators, and also allow us to learn from experts in the field of dance therapy. We are also planning to use funding to purchase these books: Writing to Heal, by James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D.; The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D; and Childhood Disrupted by Donna Jackson Nakazawa.
Here are some other recommended resources:
Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Patricia A. Jennings
Fostering Resilient Learners by Kristin Souers with Pete Hall
We are still waiting to hear about the grant, but all of us know that the work will continue in some capacity either way. There is a shared sentiment amongst our group of enthusiasm and excitement. There is no final performance, nor will there be an audience. It’s about a group of colleagues that have come together to support one another. The impact? A program called Stories that Move Us.
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