Most of us can recall sitting through some seriously snooze-worthy classroom lectures during our time in school. That’s why the groundbreaking work of the education technology company Move This World is so refreshing. Move This World is an interactive video teaching tool that leverages founder Sara Potler LaHayne’s dual talents in the performing arts and education.
Move This World is helping kids across the country to get in touch with their emotions and learn how to express themselves with honesty and vulnerability. The research-based goal is to give students a strong social-emotional foundation that allows them to thrive academically. And thanks to the AT&T Aspire Accelerator program, which awards $100,000 and extensive mentoring and other supports to finalists, the education technology program is about to move into even more classrooms nationwide.
It all started in 2007 in Bogota, Colombia, where Potler LaHayne worked in elementary schools on a Fulbright scholarship. She noticed that when teachers taught about empathy and emotional intelligence, their students’ eyes would glaze over. But on the playground, those same kids would open up and dance to reggaetón music, expressing themselves with vibrant joy. “This was a light bulb moment,” says Potler LaHayne. “I wondered how I could take this creative expression that I’d grown up with and that was so engaging to these students and use it to develop social-emotional learning skills.”
After returning to the U.S., Potler LaHayne was inspired to found Move This World. Through trial and error, she and her team got feedback from teachers and administrators who wanted more hands-on tools to use with their students. Knowing that teachers already have enough on their plates, Move This World video lessons were designed for use without prior lesson planning: teachers simply press play and experience the brief lessons with their students at the beginning and end of each school day. Combining verse, dance, journaling, and other expressive learning methods, the curriculum evolves as the school year progresses. Students gradually learn how to understand and process their emotions in effective and healthy ways as well as how to manage relationships with peers, teachers, and family members.
The biggest challenge the company has faced is the cultural stigma surrounding conversations about mental and emotional health. However, as research into the negative impact of trauma on academic performance grows, that stigma is slowly fading.
“We can’t learn when we’re distracted by stressors that prevent us from being present to teaching and learning,” says Potler LaHayne.
Feedback from both teachers and students is promising; one teacher decided to try a deep breathing technique from one of the Move This World lessons at the end of a stressful workday. At another school, students banded together to help two classmates peacefully resolve a playground dispute.
Potler LaHayne’s vision for the future includes getting Move This World into classrooms nationwide. She’d also like to see these social-emotional principles become a household practice. “I envision people having these meaningful reflections and conversations around their dinner tables,” she says. “There are so many moments when these practices could allow people to better navigate conflict and challenges.”
Her advice to anyone with an idea that could potentially move this world is to not limit yourself. By combining her passions for the arts and social impact, Potler LaHayne was able to craft a unique teaching program. By allowing yourself to combine different aspects of your life and work, she says, “you can create something really special that breaks down pre-conceived ideas of what other people think you’re supposed to be building.”