In 2016 annual conference of CAMFT I was surprised to receive a ribbon acknowledging my 25th years of practice serving as a licensed marriage, Family and Child Therapist. When I look further back, I see the hope and passion for transformation of our global community into a cohesive and unified village was alway at the center of my education. No wonder to see how this attraction and curiosity has brought me through years of work as a dedicated parent, and an educational consultant with schools in many parts of the world. The more I gain knowledge and experience as a therapist focusing on the liberating role of the spiritual self in all human relations and endeavors, the more I am convinced of the transforming effect of integration of social, emotional and spiritual learning in school curriculums.
Likewise my 5 college graduated and enthusiastic interns came to work with me mostly in order to know their own spiritual self and soon they discovered how the process will impact every aspect of their lives and their identity as a global citizen. Looking back they gladly share how their own outlook and habits of life and relations have been transformed from a tribal identity to a global one appreciating unity in diversity.
Our high school students did not know what to make of our interactive, participatory process of integrated education! They refused to share their thoughts with their peers saying in their journals, they don’t trust their classmates and do not feel safe to expose themselves!
Soon it became clear that our process of integration of social, spiritual and emotional learning was not just unfamiliar , but outright uncomfortable.
Our team of 6 dedicated college graduate interns and me as their supervisor, felt challenged and curious how to help our students rise above this social and emotional self diminishing, self defeating and self imposed roadblock and debilitating closet.
In a publication called American Education: A Work In Progress, by Rebecca Isenhart HS 102-103 Professors Erika Williams and Wendy Walters May 4, 2011, we read:
“…research has proven that students from essentially the same low-income demographic in different cities perform at vastly different levels based on school and teacher quality.”
We observed that the passive classroom culture was internalized as a norm and the students had become accustomed to their compromised process of education and did not wish to venture out of their comfort zone!!.
Our students did not hesitate to letting us know that we were out of the ordinary!! Our eyes opened even wider when we read in their daily journals comments like; “What kind of people are you?”, or “You guys are weird”, or “Why can’t you just stand there and lecture us for an hour?”!!
For every stumbling block we confronted, we consulted and adjusted our process to make it a stepping stone! So when they told us that they are not used to talking in front of their peers we considered the use of puppets and asked them to speak with each other in the small circle with the help of the puppets!! The outcome was empowering and illuminating.
Small group discussions, inclusion of arts and music, movement and icebreakers, stories, puppets, songs, role plays, STAR of communication, videos, body posture and proper body language, tone of voice, metaphors, prayers, right brain activities, memorization and powerful social action quotations, activities to build rapport.
Initially the interns who are all college graduates, politely laughed at the idea of asking the high school students to wear puppets on their hands and act like preschoolers. Out of respect for their strong feelings and concern, I yielded and waited. But the students continued to keep a poker face and in addition they wrote in their journals that they do not wish to open up to their peers. They explained that they do not feel safe with each other. Also they wrote that the norm amongst their peers is; better be safe than sorry”.
Finally I decided to use my own experience in counseling and also with training teachers and take the plunge and bring in the puppets!! The next class I walked in with a box of various kinds of puppets. I asked every one to sit close on the ground in a circle and pick a puppet from the pile they could relate to.
Much to my interns’s surprise every one including the interns happily joined the process. Our students who were reluctant to smile and talk, came alive with this right brain and unconventional process! What was noteworthy was the delight of my college graduate interns who were convinced against the use of puppets for high school students! Once they were guided through the process, they learned the wisdom and appreciated the magical role of puppets in facilitating joyous communication amongst teens and adults.
I often use puppets and sand tray in therapy especially when working with children dealing with trauma. Use of puppets and sand tray, allows an emotionally safe space between the person and the story. It makes it possible for us to tell our story without becoming overwhelmed by the emotional charge of the story. It is as if, we become the observer of our own story!
But when, the knowledge and expertise of my interns fell short of addressing a stumbling block, they turned to me for guidance expecting and welcoming my supervision and intervention. The role my five interns plaid by enjoying the process of learning on the job and modeling full engagement and genuine participation cannot be underestimated in the effective and transforming reach of our interventions and curriculum both on the interns and the students.
In this model the interns are the first beneficiaries of working with high school students. The high ratio of the animator interns to the number of the students, we admit, play a significant role in the transforming nature of our program and the changing the culture of the class.
The unconditional respect and love for each other and the joy of my interns to welcome influence from my interventions models a unique cross generational collaboration and friendship seldom witnessed, specially within the Western norm of generational divide. This modeling of the spirit of collaboration and trust provided every one a chance to experience the transforming power of unity in diversity. The experience of unity in diversity, is vital to put into perspective the self destructive divide we have imposed on human condition using the materialistic lens of race, economics, class, gender, age, color or religion. Modeling unity in diversity can play a powerful role in healing the social and spiritual wounds of mistrust, loneliness, violence, apathy, conflict, bullying separate but equal, and much more which is unfortunately a norm in our schools. The modeling of unity in diversity, we observed, is the best powerful tools for social emotional learning skill for students, their families and the community. In this modeling the beauty of each individual’s humanity becomes manifest and everyone welcomes the universal powers of the spirit of humanity manifested in themselves and others with a radiant heart.
When our after-school Empowerment program evolved into an in-school Transformative Mediation/Empowerment class at the beginning of the 2016 school year at Palomares Academy of Health Sciences in Pomona Unified School District, we were struck by the unexpected resistance of our students. For most part our students seemed cynical, skeptic and at best, unwilling to get engaged in an upbeat, interactive, and unfamiliar integrated education process. The wrote n their journals; :”You guys are weird”!!
In a paper published by American Education: A Work In Progress Rebecca Isenhart HS 102-103 Professors Erika Williams and Wendy Walters May 4, 2011 we learn:
“…learners in a multiple intelligence classroom are encouraged to become creative problem solvers, and their instructors use the same strategies they espouse to develop innovative learning programs designed to produce results. In order for this strategy to be effective, teachers must invest time and effort in developing rapport with their students.”
Today after four months of loving persevering, training and instruction, our students have transformed to a completely luminous and enthusiastic learners. While before they would come to class with their faces grim, their shoulders drooped, resisting any form of response or participation, today, they enter the room with a radiant smile, they are eager and curious, they are quick to form a circle or get into small groups ready to prepare a skit, or explore self knowledge with good humour! Today we have so much joy and fun and it is such a pleasure to learn together.
Today we had our mid year potluck breakfast and review celebration. The room was constantly bursting with laughter and loving conversation. Later the students would bring in their friends just to brag about their unique and out of the box class experience inviting them to request to join our Transformative Mediation/Empowerment program next year.
In a paper called Transforming Students’ Lives with Social and Emotional Learning To appear in the Handbook of Emotions in Education Marc A. Brackett & Susan E. Rivers Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Yale University we read:
A recent metaanalysis of research on programs focused on social and emotional learning (SEL) shows that a systematic process for promoting students’ social and emotional development is the common element among schools that report an increase in academic success, improved quality of relationships between teachers and students, and a decrease in problem behavior (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011).
We have kept video documents, journals, minutes of our consultations and copies of our ever evolving and proven effective curriculum tested for maximum success in the classroom to share with those educators and researchers who are interested to know what it takes to overcome the classroom apathy and defeat in inner city schools.
This work has been such a pleasure.
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