Educating Teachers for a Whole New World

by Tatjana Popov

I’ve I come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal.”
–           Haim G. Ginott

Can you imagine an education in which each teacher would make an effort to get to know a child as an individual, fostering his or her unique gifts? And each classroom would be a safe place to explore and make mistakes? And where coordinated cooperation would enable us to move forward together? And where lessons would be structured to inspire organic growth?

This perspective puts some very different demands on teachers. Teachers are given back power, but also take on the huge responsibility of co-creating the educational process. Consequently, it also puts different demands on teachers’ training. To create teachers who can fullfill these new tasks we must include new syllabi into the curriculum and make the entire training more experiential. Qualities such as compassion, genuine love, strength of character and personal integrity should go hand in hand with knowledge, communication skills, leadership ability and a sense of aesthetics.

Indeed, reflecting upon my own life as a student, memories of many fantastic teachers come to mind. These were teachers who inspired and encouraged me, who lit the fire of my curiosity and passion for wisdom. But there were also a few who made me feel miserable, unworthy and incapable, who nearly destroyed my self esteem. There were more than a few who lacked any power whatsoever, whose minds were too weak and hearts too fearful. These teachers I hardly remember and I certainly do not remember any of their teachings. In my, more than 25 years as an educator of both children and adults, I have witnessed this same pattern.

GurukulaNetworkMay2014FINAL2_Page_27_Image_0002Owing to my expertise in various educational philosophies and methodologies (from Montessori, Waldorf and NHE to main stream education in different countries), it became clear to me that the success of any system lies more significantly in the teacher’s personality than in the greatness of the educational philosophy. While not underestimating the value and inspiration of a good philosophy, it is the teacher who eventually either does or does not bring an ideal to life.

Hence, my main focus in recent years has been on how to design and conduct teachers’ training such that it:

  • awakens the teachers ability for self reflection and develops their self awareness.
  • helps teachers recognize their own cognitive and emotional tendencies without self abuse.
  • enables teachers to be more proactive and responsive rather than reactive and judgmental.
  • builds skills and perspectives that cultivate a larger sense of equilibrium while reminding us that life is ever changing.
  • inspires the wisdom of the heart and cultivates a sense of compassion for oneself and others.
  • emphasizes organic rather than mechanic growth.

The profound science of bio-psychology (which for example explores areas such as empathy, mirror neurons and emotional intelligence, decision and problem solving abilities, metaphoric thinking etc.) has been my inspiration in this work. It also serves as a tool for a well-founded professional explanation of the processes that are happening inside of us.

However, the training that I offer is predominantly experiential. A dynamic integration of theatre, music, deep visualization, color therapy, painting, writing, dance, yoga and meditation are the tools with which teachers explore their inner worlds. They learn how their discoveries can nourish and guide their personal and professional lives as well as be applied in educational situations.

As Du Bois states: “Children learn more from what you are, than what you teach.” In a similar way, teachers learn more from who their mentor is, than from what s/he teaches.

I sincerely hope that the enthusiastic teachers in many different countries who I have had the privilege to teach, are the best evidence of the deep reaching results that such process oriented education initiates in us.

Tatjana has designed a customizable introductory 2-3 day workshop that can be used as continuing education. If you are interested in this program for the teachers at your institution, contact Tatjana at:
+41 044 926 12 18, +41 (0) 76 575 12 18