Our Founder

About Dr. Niki Elliott

Niki Elliott, PhD is a clinical professor of education in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego. Formerly, she served as director of the Center for Neurodiversity, Learning, and Wellness at the University of La Verne. A high-energy, spirited, and inspiring educator, Niki has taught students from elementary school through university for the past 30 years. She began her education career as a 4th grade teacher in Teaneck, NJ. There, she developed a passion for supporting children who experience mood, learning, or behavior challenges. Her work in this area was further sharpened after her family adopted a son from foster care who had a history of trauma and an intellectual disability diagnosis. Her interest in trauma-informed education began with Niki’s desire to support children like her son.

Having experienced the benefits of mind-body practices in her personal wellness journey, Niki has masterfully infused elements of yoga, mindfulness, and breathwork into her heart-centered teachings. Presently, she teaches graduate-level courses and continuing education seminars integrating education neuroscience, polyvagal theory, neurodiversity, mindfulness, and social-emotional learning for educators and school counselors. A sought-after speaker, retreat facilitator, curriculum developer, and trainer, Niki is a staunch advocate for children whose lived experiences include learning differences, mental health challenges, foster care placement, and/or marginalization. Her mission is to galvanize an education workforce that establishes inclusive and holistic learning communities where all students and educators thrive.

Niki founded the Mindful Leaders Project, an education consulting company designed to help child-serving professionals increase personal well-being while building thriving learning communities. The Mindful Leaders Project has been implemented in San Bernardino City Unified School District, Pasadena Unified School District, Riverside County Office of Education, and Berryessa Union School District, among others. Known for her innovative trauma-informed programs and community-based retreats, Niki has supported thousands of administrators, educators, and counselors in building heart-centered connections and advancing equity for the children and families they serve.

Additionally, Niki teaches Embodied Equity for Educators and Helping Professionals, an 8-week certificate course she designed for the Polyvagal Institute. Through her work with Dr. Stephen Porges, creator of Polyvagal Theory, she supports educators and other helping professionals explore the impact of unconscious or implicit bias from a nervous system perspective. Through a polyvagal and trauma-informed lens, she helps human service professionals understand what it means to train our bodies to communicate a sense of felt-safety, connection, and belonging to people we have been socialized to perceive as a dangerous “other.” This transformative work has led to significant reductions in discipline referrals and expulsions for African American students, as well as improvements in classroom climate and student engagement among teachers working in diverse school communities. Thanks to virtual learning platforms, her course has reached professionals from 13 countries worldwide.

In 2023, Niki published a book chapter titled “Cultivating Heart-Centered Connections: Using Mind-Body Awareness Practices to Help Adults Create Safe Spaces for Marginalized Youth” in the book, Reconstructing Perceptions of Systemically Marginalized Groups. This chapter, and her upcoming book on the same topic, best outline her ground-breaking approach to transforming the hearts and minds of child-serving professionals.

Niki earned a bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley, a master’s degree and teaching credential at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a PhD in Education from UCLA. Niki has also earned certifications to teach yoga, clinical breath work, and secular mindfulness practices. She firmly believes that the holistic integration of mind, body, and heart in professional training programs will lead to optimal outcomes for children and families. Her unique approach to integrating education sciences with mind-body nervous system wellness has inspired thousands of educators and helping professionals worldwide to uplevel their work with children and families.

A fun fact about Niki is that she sleeps with her passport in hand, and is always ready for her next travel adventure with her husband and blended family of 6 children. Niki states that her spirit animal is a peacock, and she encourages everyone to show up in grand fashion, feeling proud of their own uniquely beautiful self-expression.

Dr. Niki Elliott in the Press

Cultivating Heart-Centered Connections: Using Mind-Body Awareness Practices to Help Adults Create Safe Spaces for Marginalized Youth

Book Chapter | 2023

Using Mind-Body Practices to Uproot Unconscious Bias in the Education Profession

Article | 2021

Using Mind-Body Practices to Support Educator Wellbeing

Pasadena Unified School District Keynote Presentation | 2021

Bio for Media Use

Niki Elliott, PhD is a clinical professor of education at the University of San Diego, founder of the Mindful Leaders Project, and creator/facilitator of the Embodied Equity for Educators and Helping Professionals Certificate Course for the Polyvagal Institute.

A high-energy, spirited, and inspiring teacher educator, Niki has taught students of all ages for over 30 years. She is a staunch advocate for children whose lived experiences include learning differences, mental health challenges, foster care placement, and/or racialized marginalization. Her mission is to galvanize an education workforce that establishes inclusive and holistic learning communities where all students and educators thrive.

Presently, Niki is a sought-after speaker, mindfulness retreat facilitator, curriculum developer and trainer. Her unique approach to integrating education sciences with mind-body nervous system wellness has supported thousands of administrators, educators, and counselors worldwide. Educators who have adopted her mind-body approach report significant reductions in expulsion rates for students of color, improvements in classroom climate, and increases in professional well-being. The Mindful Leaders Project, Heart-Centered Connections, and Embodied Equity curriculum have been implemented by school districts, family service agencies, and helping professionals across the U.S. and 13 countries globally.

Niki is a native of Southern California, where she presently resides with her family. She earned a doctorate in Education at UCLA and holistic certifications in yoga, mindfulness meditation, and clinical breathwork.

Images for Media Use

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