Meet our Director of Development
Kirsten Lee Hill, from Ph.D. to Peaceful AF
Since launching in February of 2016, Project Peaceful Warriors has served 10 schools and 5 community-based organizations, reaching over 1,300 students and 250 educators. Today, we are super excited to introduce you to our Director of Development, Kirsten Lee Hill. Below, you can read her passionate story.
A little over 10 years ago I stepped into a classroom for the first time as not just a student, but a teacher. I was a teaching assistant and “reading buddy” for first graders in one of the lowest performing public schools in New Orleans, volunteering as part of the brand new service-learning program at Tulane University.
From that day on, I KNEW the rest of my life would be devoted to improving public education.
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 actually 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…
See? I REALLY KNEW.
Now, 10 years and 1 Ph.D. in education policy later, I am over the moon excited to be back in New Orleans working with students and strategizing about how to improve education.
When I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania last year, I never would’ve guessed that 365 days later, I would be trained as a Yoga Educator; have left a secure, full-time, very sensible data job to go all-in on an amazing non-profit (Project Peaceful Warriors!); and spend my afternoons teaching kids and teens (and sometimes adults!) the power of yoga, mindfulness, and self-care.
To many, my journey doesn’t quite make sense. I have rigorous research design and analytic training and quantitative analysis skills, and, as some family members like to put it: You’re doing yoga? [read with skeptical, kind of judge-y tone here].
I’ll tell you what: In graduate school, when I was suffering from severe panic disorder and too paralyzed with fear to get off my couch or leave the house, or, later on when I was melting down over dissertation drama… yoga and mindfulness are what saved me. Learning how to BREATHE. How to turn anxiety into productive MOVEMENT. That was life-changing.
The thing is yoga is not just yoga. Yoga is empowerment. It is confidence. It is self-awareness. It is movement. It is patience. It is presence. It is learning to embrace the ebbs and flows of life. Yoga is an incredible tool for change.
I spent 6 years studying education policy — learning the research, science, and math of it all; unpacking how school reforms work (or do not work) to improve education for our students; and strategizing about how to most effectively evaluate schools, programs, and interventions. I loved every minute of it (almost), and I learned SO MUCH. Most importantly, I learned that there is no silver bullet to improve education. No secret sauce. No magic pill or fresh idea that is going fix all the challenges we face. I learned that creating positive changes will take time, collaboration, and a great deal of respect for others.
When I moved back to NOLA last summer and learned about Project Peaceful Warriors and the incredible work the organization is doing to bring trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness into our schools, I thought: there may not be a silver bullet, but THIS IS IT. THIS is the thing that is going to change education.
The self-awareness and self-regulation, kindness, connection, and compassion (for yourself and others) that we teach is a game-changer. Maybe there isn’t a “silver bullet” that will magically improve all our schools, BUT if everyone were more mindful… more compassionate…more peaceful… damn. I can only imagine what incredible progress we would make.
Over time, I have transitioned from a rebel, who once carried a sign that read “No Corporation Left Behind” at the very first Save Our Schools March in 2011; to a researcher, who strove to bridge the gap between research and practice; to a Peaceful Warrior, who is excited to use research to demonstrate how the tools of trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness create positive changes in classrooms and schools. I used to say that I had learned the best way to advocate for teachers and students is to put down the picket sign and channel my passion for improving public schools into a movement in democratic research that strives to give equal voice to stakeholders, foster critical and authentic cross-stakeholder conversations, and leverage research for the betterment of our school communities.
Now, I channel my passion for improving public schools into actual movement, because I believe it is through movement and breath that we will create the space and capacity to build authentic, engaging, and collaborative efforts to research and solve education’s most pressing problems.
Research is a powerful tool for creating positive changes in our public education systems, but people are the true agents of change, which is why we must commit to taking care of our minds, bodies, and spirits. The future of schools depends on it.