Reflections on Neohumanist Teacher Training at Vistara and Sunrise Schools, Australia

By Marcus Bussey

Marcus Bussy

The challenge that faces most neohumanist schools is in finding staff who are in alignment with the core values of Neohumanism. If we assume that a neohumanist is someone who meditates, the solution is simply to teach the new staff member meditation. However, the internalising of neohumanist culture is a much more complex and subtle matter than this. I am sure we all know wonderfully neohumanistic people who do not meditate and who eat meat. This paradox is what prompted me to approach two invitations to run neohumanist teacher training sessions as an experiment in building bridges between our ideals and the realities we inhabit as school principles, teacher trainers and teachers.

In doing this I chose to focus on practice and slowly bring in theory. Inspiration comes from doing things that improve our current capacity. Neohumanism is all about what we do, not what we know – though the two are undoubtedly linked. Thus Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar states: “They are ‘educated’ who have learned much, remembered much and made use of their knowledge in everyday life. Their virtues I will call education”.

In-service presentation at Sunrise School, Melbourne

Teaching is an art: *Each teacher is unique; *You cannot teach like someone else; *Process not Goal; *See beyond the mundane by finding the sacred in the every day; *An artist's eye discovers the unique in the ordinary

With this practical advice in mind we began our sessions by acknowledging what pressures teachers face today. These pressures include the national and state level surveillance system of legislation and testing, the school level expectations, the needs and demands of parents and students and their own inner benchmarks for quality teaching. We considered the important question “whose story am I living?” This was worked on through two ‘voice games’ [see below] that allowed the group to role-play the particular demands, external and internal, that frame teachers’ experiences. Role playing expectations was both revealing and also a lot of fun.

Drawing mandalas – quiet, still and present!

We then sought to reframe these expectations through thinking about education as an art form. In this reframing the teacher is understood as a unique and creative being in the classroom and neohumanist education becomes a process not a goal. The vibrational intent of the teacher establishes the microvital context for the classroom. Certainly good sadhana improves this but it is only one feature and teachers were affirmed in the ‘this is where I am at now’ and given clarity about how to build on their context in the present. This process is touched on in Slide 1 (Teaching is an Art).

Maximum love needs to be given to our teachers along with clear guidelines for behaviour. The neohumanist context is a challenge for us all, and we are on a continuum with the goals (the ideal) always before us and beyond reach. Teachers need to be challenged by the school in their human qualities but this challenge works best when the context itself presents the challenges as opposed to authoritarian dictates from school principals. It is inspiring to see how in both Vistara School and Sunrise School the staff feel honoured and cherished and see neohumanism as a plus in their teaching and lives, yet they do hold themselves accountable to a broader set of neohumanist guidelines. These staff identified with their context and saw that they were involved in an educational mission that reached far beyond academic development. There was a sense of service and sacrifice in them all. Thus Sarkar’s maxim for teachers had clearly been applied in their selection for work in the schools.

“Teachers must possess such qualities as personal integrity, strength of character, righteousness, a feeling for social service, unselfishness, an inspiring personality and leadership ability. They are samaja gurus and for this reason it is not possible to accept just anyone as a teacher. Because teachers have an extremely important role to play, their professional standards must be very high.” Sarkar

Teaching and Meaning: *Why do we teach?; *How much do we indentify with our work in the world?; *What stories do we tell about our jobs and our life?; *What is the relationship between what we do and the planet?
This identification with their work is important and the in-services seek to develop this . To begin with a series of questions are asked to get staff to reflect on their relationship with their work. These are captured in Slide 2 (Teaching and Meaning).

These questions lead to open discussion and time is taken for staff to share stories that illustrate the layers at work here. The personal story is so important as it frames how each of us creates our own meaning context. The turning towards deeper neohumanist practice cannot be brought about through any other medium than the growing desire of the aspirant – and whether staff know it or not, each of them is on a spiritual journey of self discovery. To help flesh this context out we then turn to a simple outline of neohumanism and look at how we can enhance our alignment with the processes identified in this overview.

Neohumanism; Integrated learning: *Intrapersonal (personal story, reflection, self awareness and self analysis, contemplation, meditation); *Interpersonal (ethics, communication, cooperation); *Suprapersonal (relationship, belonging, love, awe, joy, bliss); *Social expectation (regional variation - what we need for a job, for social relevance, shared culture and values, personal relevance); *Skills (various literacies, physical and intellectual capacity, stamina, love); *Rationality/rationalities (analysis and synthesis, paradox)

The neohumanist outline is presented in Slide 3 (Neohumanism)

How staff operationalize these processes is key to their emergent neohumanist teaching style. Confidence is very important as well as a rational and conscious understanding of what each of these categories means and a sense of how they might give each expression in their own lives and the lives of others. Of course, they must begin with the personal sphere. All staff seem open to this though often they also seem unaware of the implications. Neohumanist teacher training needs to focus on this growing alignment between a set of principles and the cultivation of these in life: Then they can imbue classroom practice with the deep hum of neohumanist intent.

The teacher is their message. This is the idea at the heart of alignment. To reach this point teachers need tools for reflecting on their own lives both as individuals and also as professionals. They need to be able to understand that they often compromise their own teaching lives by living other people’s stories. This is deep work and takes years as we have so often identified with others’ stories that ours is relegated to the basement of our being. Yet it is still there and all work in neohumanist schools is an invitation to descend to the basement and release our true potential. As Sarkar puts it: “The real meaning of education is trilateral development – simultaneous development in the physical, mental and spiritual realms of human existence. This development should enhance the integration of the human personality. By this, dormant human potential will be awakened and be properly utilised.

Learning and Identity: *The message and the messenger are ONE; *Whose story are you living?; *Be a new story!
These insights are captured in Slide 4 (Learning and Identity)

To draw the workshops to a close mandalas were introduced and some time was spent silently integrating the day’s experiences. I use mandalas with children as they draw in energy and charge the classroom with positive microvita – they are ‘wheels’ of circles of colour, shape and form; they work just as well with adults who love them as they are safe forms of creative expressions (and much more at the psycho-spiritual level). Traditionally they come from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition but today a lovely circle design often gets called a “mandala”. All staff loved being given the opportunity to move from left brain analysis to right brain synthesis. A deep hush descended on the room and the concluding ‘exhibition’ was a treat.

1 So far three in-services have been given in Vistara School, and one in Sunrise School.