By Kelly White
With the stress and disconnect teachers are feeling this school year, one high school principal found a way to bring a sense of peace to the remote classroom.
Dr. Michael Jacobson, principal at Richards High School, organized a weekly yoga class for his staff taking place on Wednesday afternoons at the school football field, 10601 S. Central Ave., Oak Lawn.
“This is a good way to get people centered and more able to approach their job with focus and empathy,” Jacobson said. “The teachers here are now working more and differently and we want to help them with that. Since everything is online, the teachers need to be available way past the end of the day because the students reach out with tech issues and for clarity on assignments. The bell no longer means the school day has ended. I think that things like yoga allow the teachers to unplug for about an hour and rejuvenate themselves.”
The school partnered with Revival Yoga Wellness Studio in Palos Heights for the class and the instructor varies on who is available each week. Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India.
The class takes place outside of the football field on Wednesday for 45 minutes. Wednesday was chosen because the day serves as an independent learning day for students at the school, where teachers remain available for questions or extra help.
“I am grateful to have the opportunity to step away from the computer to enjoy a staff yoga class,” said Karen Lavin, math teacher at Richards High School. “It is a time to connect with other teachers, stretch our bodies and calm our minds. Teaching remotely puts a heavy weight on our shoulders. Yoga provides an outlet for us to make space in our bodies and minds so that we can more deliberately and confidently engage with ourselves and our students.”
“Yoga helps me find a calm inner space,” Corrie Azem, teacher’s assistant at Richards High School, agreed. “It also helps me to be flexible towards the changing situations at work.”
Jacobson said the current professional reality for the teachers is more dynamic, fluid and stressful than it has ever began since he started working in the field. For him, the weekly yoga class also serves as a way to relieve stress.
“I don’t have the body type to be a world class yoga guy; however, I participate because I found it lowered my stress and focused my mind on being there for this community,” Jacobson said. “I had never done yoga before, but I found it to be a highlight of the week. The yoga helps ground me in the importance of making this the best it can be for the kids.”
The class is also growing in popularity among Richards’ faculty members, beginning with 25 educators and increasing to more than 40 every week. Staff members had nothing but positive things to say about Jacobson’s yoga initiative.
“In the midst of all of the chaos and uncertainty, I tried something new — something I haven’t done before — and the positive reaction from the staff and the positive reaction for myself have been amazing during these tough times,” said Mike Badger, English teacher at Richards High School. “I really appreciate our administration taking a thoughtful approach to our mental health and giving us this opportunity.”
“It’s awesome that our school is recognizing the importance and need to make time for staff wellness. Remote learning has teachers everywhere, doing things that are uncomfortable for them,” said Troy Grevengoed, physical educator teacher at Richards High School. “The fact that we’ve been given time in our work day to do yoga together as has staff has been fantastic. It’s personally been a great experience, and I think it’s been great for staff morale and overall wellness in our community at Richards.”
In an attempt to address the health and mental well-being of its staff, Richards will also be trying several other activities on Wednesdays as the year progresses. Yoga was the first one chosen because it meets the needs of both a healthy mind and a body, Jacobson said.
The outdoor weekly yoga class will continue until the weather turns cold or until students return to the traditional classroom setting.