Cooling Down with Carla Tantillo: Bringing Mindfulness to the Classroom

September 26, 2012 | Written By:

Carla Tantillo leads a yoga exercise for teachers as part of HSC's Fit to Learn professional development program

This post is the first part of a Q&A with Carla Tantillo, owner/founder of Mindful Practices, author of Cooling Down Your Classroom, and a frequent facilitator in HSC's Fit to Learn professional development program.  A former teacher in the Chicago Public School system, Carla has experience working with youth from low-income communities.  Both her private yoga practice and her occupation as an educator inspired Carla to start a business that combines her two passions.  Now she works closely with Chicago schools, demonstrating how to incorporate mindfulness techniques into the regular school day.  

How did you become interested in mindfulness?

It happened as a result of my yoga practice. I hadn’t thought about mindfulness truly and really until I started practicing yoga, and I noticed the energy that I was bringing to my mat. And this is just my personal practice, prior to when I started the business.  I think it’s really interesting when in the beginning, you learn the poses and you feel like, “Okay! I’ve got this down, I know how to do triangle.  I’m in, next!” But it’s not just about getting your body into the actual yoga poses… how you’re moving to and from the pose has almost as much importance as the asana itself. Are you taking necessary steps between poses? You notice these pieces, at least for me, because you are confined to this mat.

And then you notice how it translates to how you are when you are at the grocery store.  How you are walking through the store? If you're in a hurry, what energy are you putting out there? And how you reach for that box of tea, how does that energy affect the person who’s just kind of strolling through the store, kind of browsing the tea?  I noticed it for myself with my own physical movements, and how those physical movements impact the integrity of the action—whether it’s grocery shopping, whether it’s a yoga pose, whether it’s writing—and the quality of the action.  So that’s how it began for me on a personal level.

Why is mindfulness so important for the modern classroom?

Because we are producing — not intentionally, but — we are producing angry adults as a society. We’re producing adults who feel powerless and out of control, and often it is something that is overlooked in their elementary and secondary school education. It's the ability to control one’s behavior for one’s own sake.

So, when I’m a classroom teacher, I want my students to settle down, and calm down, and cool down because I have a lesson that needs to be taught. So, my objective is teaching my lesson on Haiku poetry. But, should there be a different objective? Should the objective be that I want that student to be empowered to cool themselves down for their own sake? Not because of my lesson, but because I need to teach them these tools. These are lifelong learning tools they need to be successful adults. Often, no one teaches students not only the techniques of mindfulness relaxation (breathing, perhaps yoga), but also models it for them and practices it with them.

If that’s not happening in the classroom with the same amount of fervor as practicing multiplication tables, then how do we expect an adult to be able to access that when needed? So, if I ask you right now “What’s three times five?” you would spit out fifteen, and you wouldn’t even know why. With the knowledge of multiplication tables, the practice was drilled into you because someone somewhere said, “That’s a really important ability to have.” We need to prioritize students’ social and emotional learning and wellness with that same amount of integrity and practice. We need to see this as a skill that’s necessary for adults to have. 

Thanks to Carla for sharing her experience; stay posted for the next in this series on mindfulness in the classroom.

Plus! Hear from Carla and other Fit to Learn facilitators on mindfulness, yoga and physical activity in the classroom in this segment from WGN News:


For an example of a classroom exercise that focuses on mindfulness, check out this post.

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