Don Miguel Ruiz has a simple and truthful book titled The Four Agreements that I believe teachers of all disciplines and ages need to read. The third agreement, “Don’t Make Assumptions”, revealed its importance to me, yet again, last week. I have an eight-week series after school Yoga class at a public school and we are now several weeks into the winter session. I have a super-active kindergarten boy in my class this session. My class is exactly the class he needs, though he has had trouble in the class. He gets very upset and cries after I ask him to return to the front of his mat, to follow the poses I’m teaching, or with any other instruction. When he cries, I have tried several different tactics such as asking if he wanted a hug from me or getting the whole group laughing with silly jokes. (The jokes helped the best!)
After each class, I wondered what was going on with him. Fortunately, his father picked him up after the third class. I shared with his father about this pattern and asked him if he had any suggestions. He kindly listened and then shared that they had just moved here to Chicago from a small town in Wisconsin the exact week the Yoga classes started!
What a dramatic life change for this kindergartener, to move from a small town to a massive city. All the other kindergarteners had already developed relationships with one another, too, his father shared. To top it off, he was academically behind due to the different standards in his hometown.
I shared my surprise and understanding. I responded to the father and student that he is welcome in our class and that it is the perfect place to make new friends.
Previous times that I have talked with parents and teachers about their children or students, I have gotten instant dismissal of any patterns. I have gotten anger. I have gotten many reactions that made me not want to bring this situation up with this father. I knew I needed to not become stuck in my previous experiences with other parents and I decided to bring it up with curiosity and concern, which brought me to the truth. I got to actually know what’s going on with this boy outside of the one hour a week I have with him.
Assumptions are not good to have in the classroom. As teachers, we need to remain curious, open to learning and not get set in our ways and our past experiences. Every student’s experiences at school, at home, and in previous Yoga classes are different. I had all of my own ideas about what was going on with this boy. However, I’d much rather know the truth than circle around in my own ideas based on experiences I have had with other students. Another student might be getting upset because of a bad experience with another Yoga class. I would handle that situation much differently than how I will proceed with this sweet boy.
Now knowing the truth, I get to bring more lessons about friendship and building community into my class. Since my class is made up of kindergarten, first, and second graders from different classes, I’ve already made the effort to introduce students to one another and develop an inclusive and welcoming classroom. However, understanding the reality for one of my students, I know I need to intentionally bring in more activities and ask questions of my students regarding how we make new friends and are inclusive in our class and outside of our class.
As Yoga teachers specifically, we get to share with our students that everyone can practice Yoga, no matter your age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, physical or mental ability. Everyone can learn Yoga at their own paces because it is all about one’s own individual connection with the practice of Yoga. All that matters is one’s commitment and enjoyment of the practice!
I am excited to plant these seeds within my students so that as they grow in their Yoga practice and as children into teenagers into adults, they remember that they can learn anything, and they can learn it at their own pace. I am grateful for this reminder to not make assumptions. Learning the truth about my students brings me more juicy lessons to share with them, and with myself as a teacher.