By Chris Tydeman
I was invited by Jillian to write an article about emotionally conscious education and how our current school system supports or does not support it. I am a third grade teacher. My experience for several years has always been with children between the ages of 7-11. An age I feel is ripe for setting a foundation for the turbulent world of the middle school years. In this age range, children are more open to be honest and receptive to authentic emotional guidance. If they like their teacher and see them as a real human being rather than an authority figure alone, they will “hear” us rather than just listen (if we are lucky!). In this case, “hearing” is an aspect of feeling what I am saying. You feel me?
I spend many hours a day with a population of children who come from a wide range of family dynamics. I chose not say cultural or economic dynamics because both of those, in my opinion, are included within the family dynamic as a whole. At this age, they are beginning to form the early stages of their relationship to the outside world. Their assumptions and feelings of themselves and others begin to take shape. These formations are greatly impacted by their family dynamic. If a child is neglected emotionally at home, they come to school depressed, angry, or needy. What they need more than math is love. More than cursive, is a place where they feel safe to express themselves. Others come with a “what’s in it for me?” formation. What they need is to feel empathy for others and the joy received from lending a helping hand or an encouraging word.
As a teacher, we call these “teachable moments”. Unfortunately, they are not units or even lessons. Just moments. As someone who is becoming emotionally conscious, I find it my desire to be as authentic as I possibly can. Just doing that, I hope to provide a model for being an authentic human being, not a robot. If all teachers could be that, it would begin a shift toward an authentic respect from the students. They would “buy” into us. From that point, I try to provide a space where the students feel comfortable to express themselves in a way they ache for. To be heard, understood, and felt. Not judged or punished. I let them know they can come to me if they need to. The more students feel comfortable with me, the more willing they are to share. It is imperative I be there “with” them during these times or I lose that trust. When they do come, it is a great time to get the children to express their feelings. This takes a long time, as it is foreign to them and to most of us.
During the school day, I have my students applaud other students for being brave at sharing their writing or math problem. This hopefully supports and acknowledges self-worth. When they have to cooperate, I must continually act out how they can respectfully communicate and how to bridge differences. This is REALLY hard! Probably the most difficult lesson to teach. Their opinions of each other are so definitive that it is a challenge to deal with sometimes. But with any challenge comes opportunity. However, by this time, most teachers are so emotionally drained themselves, we lose our own patience. It is a daily workout, but one that can bring the gift of a child hugging you for no reason other than the desire to show you that they love you.
As I began to write this, I was prepared to conclude that emotionally conscious education is a false hope. But after reflecting on what happens on a daily basis, I feel it is possible and have experienced myself in moments. For it to truly have legs, there would need to be more emotionally conscious teachers and administrators. The curriculum doesn’t need to change, just our relationship to ourselves and our students. It is possible because emotionally conscious education is what can happen in the moments between adverbs and algebra.
Note from Jillian: Children represent the young parts of ourselves. In loving and feeling them (whatever our role in their life is), we are also loving these young part of ourselves. Also, the more we create an emotionally conscious relationship with young parts of ourselves through journaling and having them felt by us and during sessions, the more our self love overflows to the children in our lives. Chris, who is engaged with the SoulFullHeart process, is growing in capacity to love and feel his parts, which opens up his heart to feel and care for his students in a deeper and more emotionally authentic way beyond just teaching them academics. What shifts internally impacts our external world as well.
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