A little over 10 years ago, I stepped into a classroom for the first time as not only a student, but an educator. I was a teaching assistant and “reading buddy” for first graders in one of the lowest performing public schools in New Orleans. One of the (many) blessings of starting my work in public education as part of a service-learning class is that I have my reflection paper that tells me EXACTLY what I thought and how I felt on that first day:

Working with the first graders has inspired me to take on a bigger role in improving education in New Orleans…

And, it did. I like to joke that during my tenure at Tulane University, I spent more time in K-8 classrooms than higher education ones. In truth, I probably did. And, thank god because it was my experience working with students and teachers in the post-Katrina New Orleans Recovery School District that sparked my passion for creating positive changes in education and inspired me to go on and pursue my Ph.D. in education policy.

When I graduated and left New Orleans back in 2010, I had a bone to pick with education policies. I saw them as an incredibly powerful force that was mostly restrictive and hurtful — something that MUST radically change in order to improve our schools and public education systems. But, after six intense years of studying education policy — where it comes from and why, how it is implemented, and how to evaluate it — I have a decidedly different approach to creating change in public education. One that doesn’t lead with research or data (yikes! crazy right?). My approach is this:

Breathe it in. Love it out. Let it go.

I’m oversimplifying, but here’s the gist: It may take months, years, DECADES to change our education policies so that they are more human-centered — less obsessed with test scores and more focused on creating inspired, happy, and healthy students; less concerned about credentials and evaluation criteria and more focused on compassionately supporting the development and growth of teachers; and perhaps most importantly, less driven by the data and numbers and more informed by the people on the ground who know more than any statistic could possibly capture.

Why wait?

We can each (and ALL) chose to take a mindful approach education and create our own calm, compassion, and inspiration no matter what crazy policy happenings are going on around us.

I learned a great deal of things during my graduate studies, but the most life-changing is this: I learned to breathe. I learned to take care of myself. I learned (and embraced) yoga and meditation to get me through those days when it felt like my world was crumbling around me and that nothing I did would ever be enough. And, if you work in education, you know that there are a lot of those days.

Now, 10 years and 1 Ph.D. in education policy later, I find myself back in New Orleans working with students and strategizing about how to improve education. I now “know” research, data, and statistics; and, they are great. Truly. But, I’ll tell you what … there is a bigger picture and, in my humble opinion, far more powerful tools. In the year that I have been back in NOLA, I did not turn to research or statistics to creative positive changes in schools as I thought I would six years ago. Instead, I turned to yoga and meditation. I got certified in children’s and adolescent yoga and started teaching with Project Peaceful Warriors, a local non-profit dedicated to bringing the tools of trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness into our local schools. My experience working with Project Peaceful Warriors and teaching others about the power of yoga and mindfulness, has validated my beliefs about creating positive changes in education. It has affirmed that we don’t have to wait for epic shifts in public policy to see positive changes in our classrooms and our schools. We can take action NOW to improve education in spite of what policy may dictate.

How? By being mindful. As I said before:

Breathe it in. Love it out. Let it go.

Mindfulness is defined many ways, by many people, but there are some common threads: Mindfulness is (1) intentionally being in the (2) present moment, practicing (3) nonjudgmental (4) awareness.


If you are practicing mindfulness, you are right here. Right now. You are immersed in the present moment, allowing all the thoughts and feelings of your experience to wash over you WITHOUT letting your mental chatter pipe up: nothing is wrong or right, good or bad, it just is.

What does a mindful approach to education look like?

less stress.
more bliss.

How can this change our schools?

When you are mindful you move from a place of reaction to observation. You breathe. You create time and space to be thoughtful and plan and meaningfully engage and connect with others. You feel more relaxed and at ease. You set yourself up to make decisions from a place of compassion and connection with yourself and others. When you are mindful, you aren’t afraid or defensive because you are just HERE, now.

And that’s what I believe all our schools need more of: just being here, now. Not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, the ten thousand things you have to do today, or those accountability tests coming in the spring. You are focused on each moment. Each interaction. Each student or teacher or family member.

My mission is a movement for mindful education.

If we all got a little more present, took a few extra deep breathes, and traded the judgment of ourselves and others for acceptance, I think we would create amazing things in education (and in life) no matter what chaos may surround us.

So, let’s get started:

When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath. When you are interacting with a student or a colleague, pause and reset so that they have your undivided attention (heck, set a timer if you’re really worried and want to have some extra boundaries!). When you are beating yourself up over a mistake you made or a lesson that didn’t go quite right, or heck anything at all, STOP (take a breath) and repeat after me: I am doing the best I can in this moment and NO MATTER WHAT, I am enough.

Maybe it sounds too easy, or silly, or just like a waste of time. Can this REALLY change education? I think so.

Breathe it in. Love it out. Let it go.

We can (and will!) get back to the research and data of it all later 🙂

Originally published at medium.com


  • Kirsten Lee Hill, Ph.D.

    Researcher, Creative, Entrepreneur

    Kirsten Lee Hill, Ph.D. is an expert in creatively leveraging traditional research expertise to support community-driven change, and has worked with global leaders in innovation such as Virgin Unite and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Kirsten partners with people and organizations with inspiring ideas for how to change the world so they can leverage the powers of research and personal wellbeing to advance their cause. She also inspires changemakers to embrace gracefully breaking rules through her podcast, Graceful Rulebreakers.