For many years I attempted to infuse neohumanist values, curriculum and programs at the public school that I worked in, in the United States. What I discovered in working in such a big system is that the teachers’ development and well being was a big factor, in a classroom, that could enhance students’ creativity and learning. How teachers perceived their own sense of belonging and inclusion with their own families and other systems and their abilities to untangle from difficult circumstances and fate increased their ability to access resources and love. How they accessed that love and their deeper selves supported their work and catalyzed a deeper knowing about how to work in their classrooms. It helped them increase creativity and a sense of belonging and inclusion in their classrooms.
Almost a bigger influence was teachers connecting and seeing children’s parents and families as key in the students’ learning. It was also important to understand the difficult circumstances as well as the deep resources families can provide. The result was creativity and well being and increased learning for all.
My journey has moved me to share what I think is essential to our neohumanist message, love for all, in order to transform education and our world. It may sound cliché but it is actually the most important thing for teacher and student development.
In 2017, I founded Supporting Systems, (a consulting service that offers in-person and online coaching, workshops and resources for educators and nonprofit organizations), to support the well being, creativity and learning of all stake holders. After I presented at the Global NHE Conference in Italy in July 2019, I was invited to go to Taipei, Taiwan to give a lecture and a two day workshop to a group of teachers and student teachers at Fu Jen University.
Taipei Supporting Systems Workshops
January 17-19, 2020
Let me start by saying the hospitality and care with which I was the recipient in Taiwan was so special.
My lecture at Fu Jen University was on a Friday after school and sixty teachers and students attended. I was honored that so many would attend after a long week at school and work. I had a great translator and it was the first time I gave a lecture with translation. Everyone was so kind and supportive of my efforts.
The next two days I gave a workshop for about 30 teachers at the university. As teachers walked in they were invited to use the feelings thermometer (see photo) which helps you to identify how you are feeling. Participants placed a clothespin on the feeling they most identified with at that moment. Periodically throughout the workshops teachers revisited to see if their feelings changed and could move their clothespins.
We started by sitting in a big circle as I facilitated an exercise called the container exercise where each person shared what intentions they came with and what they hoped to get from the weekend. They picked a bead to represent these hopes and placed it in a container which stayed visible for the whole workshop.
Then we had some group exercises to help the participants experience the systemic nature of the work. In one group exercise the teachers got into four groups organized by experience levels – from most experienced to new teachers. They were asked to stand in those groups in the center of the room inside the big circle of chairs we were sitting in. Each younger group bowed to the ones that were senior and then we all turned back so the younger teachers could feel the support of all those that were senior. The senior teachers expressed their heartfelt gratitude for being seen and respected as there are so many changes in Taiwan right now that they are sometimes seen as being thrown out. The younger teachers expressed that they felt supported in new endeavors which can be very challenging for them at this time in their new careers. The work from then on in groups was a mix of young and experienced with much support, sharing and enthusiasm.
We then had a stilling exercise in which we felt our families and their support and then created a circle picture of our family support. We hung the pictures up all tied to a string so our families could be where we could see them for the rest of the workshop.
The afternoon was filled with group work, breathing and stilling exercises, creative fun and art extensions. One highlight was the inspiration and intention boxes. For the inspiration exercise, first participants broke up into groups of twos. One person was themselves and the other person represented someone that inspires and “sees /understands” them. After each person had a turn, they shared their experience.
For the intention boxes, we broke up into groups of four or five in which each participant wrote down, in three sections of a piece of paper, short phrases about their work. They wrote in one section about support they have now. Another section they wrote about ways they want to be and the third section was what they want to do. They shared these lists with each other. Next they cut these phrases into strips and then decorated their boxes with these phrases and other designs and pictures. They then shared their boxes with their groups.
We ended the day with a wonderful time that included sharing our connections with each other and passing and making a spider web with the string. We were sitting in a circle. We took a big ball of yarn and the first person shared what connection they had with one person in the group and held the end of the yarn and passed the big ball to the next person. We went on and on until everyone was included. We then, while holding on to our own piece of the yarn, played with the “spider web” by moving up and down and side to side. It was very moving and also fun.
The following day we had a heart breathing and heart representing exercise where we got in touch with the feelings of our hearts and shared them with each other. We then created hearts that depicted what happened and put them all over the room. It was quite moving.
We then had fun with a cooperative drawing exercise where we broke up into groups and each person took a turn drawing for two minutes while the others watched, and then passed to the next person to continue the drawing while everyone watched. Later they shared what emerged.
After lunch we viewed some slides of different activities that I did in schools with children. We had some demonstrations of a Belonging Exercise which can enhance the sense of being included in a group. We created our own hula hoop of belonging. We started with a circle of ribbon on the floor inside the circle of chairs. I ask each person to put their name on the piece of paper shaped like an arrow. I facilitated a breathing and stilling exercise. We then felt where our arrow with our name on it belonged inside the circle of ribbon on the ground. We looked at the names on the ground together to see, feel and sense what developed in the placement and picture of them. We practiced sharing what we saw in the patterns of belonging that showed up inside the circle.
Our last big activity was a Presence Exercise in which each person stood in the center of the circle and felt, sensed what it was like to be with only themselves and the idea or concept of their future work. The teachers then stepped out one step from the center as a way of being present with what that new work would be like with others. Then they took another step out to experience being present with what that new work would be like with their school, community, or the world. They then reversed the process and stepped back into being present with others and then themselves. We had some lovely music playing during the exercise.
Then each teacher was given a big blank puzzle piece in which they drew a picture about what was present in their exercise. Then they shared their puzzle piece and placed it together with the others and stood to “see” what the whole picture looked like. One person commented that it looked like water flowing through the puzzle pieces towards a heart out into the world.
We ended by sharing what we are taking with us to move this work out into our lives. There was so much poetry and heart and caring and beauty in all the participants’ answers. The program ended with the director of education leading a blessing that was from all participants, expressing their love and gratitude to me. It will stay in my heart forever. I hope to return to share more with such a special group of teachers.
NOTE: I have continued my work in the current pandemic crisis by adjusting my activities to be used in homeschooling as so many children are now learning from home. You can access these videos and activities by signing up to our mailing list at Supportingsystems.org. You will be automatically emailed free activities and videos.