ULS teachers Bevill & Welch travel to India on Fund for Teachers Fellowship

11/05/14

LSU University Laboratory faculty Aimee Welch, math teacher, and Jennifer Bevill, technology instructor, received a Fund for Teachers fellowship, allowing them to travel to India for 15 days, studying methods and practices of meditation to help students overcome creative blocks and test anxiety.

Fund for Teachers enriches the personal and professional growth of teachers and supporting them as they identify and pursue opportunities around the globe that will have the greatest impact on their practice, the academic lives of their students, and on their school communities.

In order to receive these fellowships, applicants had to submit a proposal detailing why they should win. Fund for Teachers scores proposals that articulate creative, thoughtful summer projects and demonstrate potential for teacher learning. Fund for Teachers honors the professionalism of dedicated teachers and values their judgment as to what best impacts their practice.

Welch and Bevill found that meditation is a powerful tool that decreases anxiety, increases focus, intensifies creativity, stimulates a positive attitude, and provides overall relaxation. Obstacles to students’ learning increase every day, from stress to home life, fear of failure, multi-tasking habits, academic demands, unpleasant past educational experiences, and peer pressures.

“These distractions decrease student concentration, increase anxiety, cause creativity block, and decrease perseverance in problem solving. As teachers we cannot control these factors, but we do have the opportunity to equip our students with the tools to overcome them and improve their performance with meditation,” said Bevel and Welch.

They both recognized their students struggled with similar issues. By incorporating mindfulness and meditation into the classroom they are bringing principles of breathing and yoga learned in India to help students cope with stress, find peace of mind, and ignore distractions. 

For fifteen days, Bevill and Welch travelled in northern areas of India and visited famous Buddhist and Hindu sites. They were able to watch and document locals’ meditation techniques while learning the philosophy behind it.

The first two days, June 25-26, were spent in Delhi, viewing the India Gate, Raj Chat, Laxmi Narayan Temple, and other historic locations. Next was Agra, where they visited Agra Fort, a world heritage site, and the Taj Mahal at sunset.

The teachers also enjoyed a sunset boat cruise on the Ganges river to view Aarti ceremony, a Hindu religious ritual of worship, on Ghats. The following morning they observed pilgrims by the Ghats and visited temples. Later in the day they travelled east to Sarnath, one of Buddhism’s major centers of India. After attaining enlightment, the Buddha came to Sarnath and gave his first sermon.

In Rishikesh, they practiced meditation, yoga, a city tour, and visited an orphanage. Many Ashrams live here to teach meditation. An ashram is a spiritual community.

In this short period of time, they visited many amazing historical and religious sites India has to offer, including the Dalai Lama monastery and the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib).

A trip fully focused on immersion of the culture with daily practice of yoga, meditation, and massages established overall feelings of well-being. Working with locals emphasized learning of the surrounding areas, history, and culture.

Bevill and Welch learned how to “unplug” from daily stresses and distractions, a skill students will reap.

“As educators, we have learned that regardless of the amount of time students spend preparing for an assessment, the minutes leading up to the assessment are filled with panic and brain disarray.  As a benefit of this fellowship, our students will develop tools to help them remain calm and keep a clear mind in high stress situations which will aid in overcoming roadblocks to their achievement,” said Bevill and Welch.

Students that have the ability to clear their minds and focus in high stress situations will exceed past the middle school classroom.

“Without the experience gained from this fellowship, our students will not be exposed to necessary meditation techniques to relax their minds and focus, nor would they have the opportunity to be exposed to the cultures of India that will help them broaden their global perspective," said Bevill. "This fellowship will aid in creating an effective educational environment, which our students will use as a place to offset the complex and stressful curriculum content, as well as the high stress environment of the world we live in.  The team aspect of this fellowship will allow us to reach a larger number of students because we teach in different departments.”

According to Bevill and Welch, as teachers, they constantly face change and new challenges, yet don’t take the time to focus on themselves, leading to teacher burn out.

With this fellowship, they learned how to focus on themselves through meditation. This reduced stress levels, in turn, preventing teacher burn out.

Bevill and Welch plan to conduct meetings sharing their experience, along with meditation sessions for all faculty members to share strategies learned through the fellowship.

“The beginning of this school year has been so different than the last thirteen for me. I actually enjoyed the start of school, and for a teacher that is huge because it’s usually the most stressful time of the year. My new mindset has made a huge difference,” said Welch. “Before I went it was just an exercise benefit, but now I realize there is so much more to yoga than burning calories.”

Colleagues at the University Laboratory School are benefitting from Welch and Bevill’s unique experience. Their knowledge and experience will be shared, along with complete access to videos and photos as a resource, so others can integrate ideas into individual curriculums.

Welch, who has always been passionate about teaching, was voted Outstanding Educator by students in 2009, 2010, and 2011 and was selected to be part of the Fullbright Exchange for Education for Sustainable Development in 2011. She was the recipient of the Outstanding Mathematics Teacher Award by the Louisiana Association of Teachers of Mathematics in 2009. 

Bevill has taught technology at the Lab School since 2001. In 2012, Bevill was awarded first place at the Microsoft US Forum, representing the United States. In addition, she was selected to be part of the Fullbright Exchange for Education for Sustainable Development in 2010, and chosen to be Outstanding Alumni of the Fullbright Exchange in 2011.

About University Laboratory School
The University Laboratory School was established by the College of Education, now known as the College of Human Sciences & Education, of Louisiana State University and has operated under its auspices for nearly 100 years. This coeducational school exists as an independent system to provide training opportunities for pre- and in-service teachers and to serve as a demonstration and educational research center. The school is located on the main campus of LSU in Baton Rouge.

Visit the University Lab School at www.uhigh.lsu.edu

About CHSE
The College of Human Sciences & Education (CHSE) is a nationally accredited division of Louisiana State University. Formed in 2012, CHSE brings together programs and capitalizes on individual strengths to create a dynamic new college that addresses the socially significant issues we face as a state and nation. The College is comprised of the School of Education, the School of Leadership and Human Resource Development, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Library and Information Science, the School of Social Work, and the University Laboratory School. These combined schools offer 8 undergraduate degree programs and 18 graduate programs, enrolling more than 1,900 undergraduate and 977 graduate students. The College is committed to achieving the highest standards in teaching, research, and service and is continually working to improve its programs.

Visit the College of Human Sciences & Education at chse.lsu.edu.