12 April 2023

Jo Johnson: School should teach how to make space between one’s thoughts

An interview with Jo Johnson, Project Specialist at The Innovative Learning Center for Adult Education in West Michigan (US). Formally a high school industrial technology and mathematics teacher. Certified yoga, mindfulness and Emotion Code Practitioner. Passionate about scholar social-emotional growth and life-long learning.

Author: Maria Mazurek,


Jo Johnson at HTT Summit 2023, during a breathing yoga mini-session she led for HTT guests.

What is missing in schools?

One important thing missing in schools today is treating students like humans.  I’ve been teaching for a few decades now, and a couple of summers ago, I met Chris and Nick from the Human Restoration Project and I was hooked!  I remember them saying, “We are going to actually treat our students like humans and not just robots.  We are going to build relationships with them. We are going to “thrive” them. We will come up with engaging ways to teach them.”

What is so special about this approach?

This approach is surprisingly rare.  I have always been interested in “the student” more than the curriculum or the scores.  I’ve always been interested in “growing people” more than competing. For instance, I believe that everyone has unique potential and we just have to figure out what it is and help them tap into that and get motivated toward that direction. I felt alone in my thinking in my little world in our small town. I felt very much like an island.

What do you teach?

I’m a math teacher and I have taught woodshop and industrial arts as well. Working with robotics, plastics, and all kinds of design and architecture, I have worked with a variety of of high school students.  In addition, I held yoga classes, many of my students attended multiple classes with me. My favorite year was when I had the same students in my geometry class, wood shop class and yoga class. We talked a lot about shapes and measurements, so we spent the whole day discussing the same concepts in different formats for each class. It was an amazing experience, an entire approach. Those students learned what I was trying to teach them in a deeper, richer way because we talked about and used these concepts in multiple ways.

Quite surprising to take students from regular schools to yoga classes.

Why? Personally, I think everybody needs yoga.

So you think elements of yoga would be beneficial in a school?

Yes. Yoga means to yoke or to be in union. Really, before  students can learn content, they have to be okay in their own brains and their own bodies.  Whether they have illnesses or their body has pains or their feelings are not calm – learning will not have the desired effect.  

Do students often feel inadequate?

Very often students feel inadequate. Many students say, “I’m just stupid.”  I answer them, “Well no, you just haven’t learned to tell yourself nice things yet.”  When you incorporate yoga into your school practice, it means a different way to build confidence. You can break it down step by step. People who have failed over and over again can be successful. They begin to notice a difference in their bodies because it’s not how they look on the outside. It’s how they feel on the inside!

Is this a lesson we take from yoga?

Not just from yoga. It can be any type of mindfulness practice, meditation, or just a basic breathing exercise. So many people have not even been exposed to the awareness that you are something more than your thoughts. Being able to make space between your thoughts is not something we talk about in school.  However, if we incorporate that more and take some more time with our students, then, they’ll be more open to learning a concept.

What was your path in discovering it?

I used to have the impression – and maybe sometimes still have – that my brain is so caught up in these scripts, little films, and thought processes that putting new content on top of this is just too much.  Being able to set aside your worries, fears, and negative thoughts, enables you to input new knowledge.