Breathe For Change Provides Teaching Tools to Help Fight Burnout

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in the inside circle faced inward, and were instructed to hold hands and close their eyes. The two session leaders directed students in the outer ring to “tap” or “show your love for” someone in the inside circle who met the most recently announced criterion—someone who made your day, whom you’d support unconditionally, who you wish taught at your school, who just makes you melt, and so on. A lot of shoulder-squeezing and stroking of upper arms ensued.

During the activity, the gym stayed mostly silent. Besides Nankin and Fenchel’s voices, the only sounds that reached my ears were bare feet on parquet and occasional sniffles.

After the students in the two circles switched places and repeated the process, they all sat down for a brief reflection. One of them said that it felt heartening, if a bit out of the ordinary, to receive gratitude without knowing the source. The exercise ended with a brief inhale-exhale routine.

In an interview afterward, Nankin told me that the theme of the first several training days is “transformation of self,” meaning she and others on the Breathe For Change team encourage teachers to be introspective.

“Teachers are so often givers—to kids, to families, to their colleagues,” said Nankin, a former pre-kindergarten teacher herself. “[Amid] all that, they forget to take care of themselves, which leads to stress and burnout.” Nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years, she said.

Breathe For Change also trains teachers on the physical practice of yoga, or asana. The other three sections of the organization’s curriculum—which is hundreds of pages long and Nankin said her team put together from scratch—are anatomy, philosophy, and meditation and mindfulness.

The startup relies on a team of about 60 people to screen prospective students, run training programs, and perform the other tasks needed to keep the business humming, Fenchel said. Eight of them are considered full-time employees, he said.

Fenchel said Breathe For Change raised a small round of outside financing earlier this year. The majority of the company’s revenues come from the training programs it puts on, which are sometimes funded by teachers’ schools, parent-teacher groups, or through campaigns on the website DonorsChoose, he said.

Breathe For Change has created a fair amount of buzz in the wellness community. A video the organization posted to Facebook earlier this month has more than 300,000 views.

Facebook is also part of the startup’s marketing strategy. It creates posts on the social network that specifically target educators, Fenchel said. Word of mouth is another way people learn about Breathe For Change, he said.

If all goes well, the startup plans to organize training programs outside the U.S., Fenchel said. “We see this as a global movement,” he said.

For Kazda, participating in Breathe For Change represents a welcome role reversal.

Describing how it feels watching Nankin, Fenchel, and others lead sessions, Kazda said it allows her to “think about, ‘What is it that I want my students to see at the front of a classroom, or in the middle of a circle?’ That’s both a super heavy responsibility and also an amazing gift.”

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