“Cooling Down” the Classroom with Fit to Learn Facilitator Carla Tantillo

August 16, 2011 | Written By:

Today we have a guest blog by Carla Tantillo, founder of Mindful Practices and one of the wonderful facilitators at HSC’s Fit to Learn professional development training. Thanks to Carla for sharing this post!

As one of my favorite graduate school professors used to say, “As educators, it is our job to tend the flock we are given.” Often, the direction our “flock” is heading can be frustrating. It is very easy to point out myriad factors why our classroom may not be following the path we had hoped. We find ourselves lamenting, “If only my students’ parents would do x, y, z,” or “I could do x, if my school administrator would only follow through with y.” We can easily end up stuck in a place of stress and inactivity. As a result, our classroom culture can become nebulous or stressful.

Just as we ask our students to set goals for their academic progress, it is important that we also set tangible and meaningful goals for the shape we want our classroom to take. To make progress, we need to set these goals today, not tomorrow when x, y or z may or may not happen.

One of the goals that I’ve found can make a real difference right away is a commitment to “cooling down” the classroom and keeping energy at a productive level.

Teaching students to cool down and be aware of how their level of energy affects their behavioral choices gives them the life-long learning tools to succeed. When students and teachers are aware of the effects of energy levels in their classroom, they understand that frantic and lethargic energy often prevent authentic learning from taking place. Once this energetic awareness is created, it empowers students and teachers with knowledge and they are able to modify their energy level with relaxation, breathing and physical activity. These tools help restore focus and concentration to the classroom, creating a cool and productive learning environment.

By including breathing, yoga or physical activity into a students’ daily routine, teachers empower themselves and their students to make the connection between energy and learning. If students realize that being tired or hungry negatively impacts their learning, with time they will be more inclined to go to bed a bit earlier or arrive in the morning for the school breakfast program. If you, as an educator, understand that angrily reprimanding overly energetic students after lunch is often ineffective, perhaps you will be more inclined to change your classroom routine to include a yoga pose or breathing activity.

One of my favorite activities that combines mindful breathing with a math experiment is called “cotton ball breathing.” The steps are simple:

  1. Pass out one cotton ball per student and assign each student a partner.
  2. Place two yard sticks end to end. Have one student stand at the end of the yard sticks, with a cotton ball. (He or she should place the cotton ball in the palm of his or her hand, remembering to always keep the palm flat.)
  3. The other partner makes an estimate of the distance the student can blow the cotton ball.
  4. The student blows the cotton ball five times. Each time, the partner records the distance.
  5. The two partners work together to find the mean, median, mode and range for the set of values recorded.
  6. The partners switch places.

You can check out some of the other fun classroom exercises that we recently shared at Fit to Learn here [pdf].

Yes, changing your classroom routine is scary and maybe even out of your comfort zone. But, to quote a famous yoga teacher, “If you wait until you feel 100 percent prepared, you will be frozen in immobility. The time to try your best is now.”

Plus! Hear from Carla and other Fit to Learn facilitators in this recent segment on WGN news about HSC's professional development program for teachers!


Carla Tantillo, MA, CYI, is the founder of Mindful Practices, an organization dedicated to putting wellness in the hands of students and teachers from all walks of life.  She is the author of Cooling Down Your Classroom, provides Professional Development workshops across the country and offers Hip-HopYoga to schools locally in Chicago.  Carla can be reached via email at admin@MindfulPracticesYoga.com.

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