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a primer on gentle teaching

A Primer on Gentle Teaching

Gentle Teaching is many things. Gentleness toward others, in spite of what anyone does or does not do, is the critical factor. It is a paradox. Fists are met with hugs. Cursing is met with words of affection and nurturing. Spiteful eyes are met with warmth. Gentleness recognizes that all change is mutual and interwoven. It starts with caregivers and, hopefully, touches those who are most marginalized. Its central focus is to express unconditional love. It is the framework around a psychology of human interdependence. The main idea of gentleness is not to get rid of someone else’s behaviors, but to deepen our own inner feelings of gentleness in the face of violence or disregard.

Gentle Teaching is also a teaching approach. As such, it has four initial teaching purposes—to teach others to feel safe, loved, loving, and engaged. These do not just happen. They are taught through repeated acts of love. Gentle caregivers learn to use their presence, hands, words, and eyes as their primary teaching tools to uplift and honor others.

gentle teaching is
Gentle Teaching is...
  • Focusing on being kind, nurturing, and loving toward marginalized children and adults—those who have been pushed to the edge of family or community life,
  • Helping those who have sorrowful life-stories feel safe with us and loved by us and others,
  • Helping those who have inherent vulnerabilities such as extreme poverty, homelessness, mental disability or mental illness feel safe with us and loved by us and others,
  • Looking at our role as teaching feelings of companionship and community,
  • Mending broken hearts — hearts that have been broken by tragic life stories or by the particular nature of a mental or emotional disability.
safe loved loving and engaged
Safe, Loved, Loving, and Engaged
  • Gentle Teaching is based on a psychology of human interdependence. It asks caregivers to look at themselves and their spirit of gentleness to find ways to express warmth and unconditional love toward those who are the most disenfranchised from family and community life. It views our role as critical and requires a deep commitment to personal and social change. It starts with ourselves, our warmth toward others, our willingness to give without any expectation of receiving anything in return, and our intense desire to form feelings of companionship and community with those who are the most pushed to the very edge of society.
  • Gentle Teaching focuses on four essential feelings that need to be taught to those who are served— safe, loved, loving, and engaged. Caregivers not only need to ensure that those whom they serve are safe, but, more importantly, feel safe.
safe means
Safe means…
  • Safe means a sense of self-dignity because "My care givers sees me as whole and good." It also means that caregivers have to teach each person "You are safe with me!" My hands will never harm you! My words will never put you down! And, my eyes will never look at you with disdain!" Feeling safe gives a deep sense of being at peace while with caregivers. And this spreads eventually to others.
  • Flinching in terror at someone’s approach begins to disappear and is replaced with a calming sensation and a feeling of relief. The teacher can now walk up to the child and the little one feels relaxed and attentive. The parent can walk by the child in the living room and the child feels a sense of warmth. The man who used to curse and hit the caregiver now looks for a warm embrace. The woman who used to run away now wants to be with her caregiver.
loved
Loved …
  • A spirit of gentleness involves teaching those who are marginalized that they are loved. This also starts with a feeling "I am somebody!" It is intertwined with a feeling of being safe, but goes beyond it. It deepens that sense of security and gives hope to the person. Feeling loved by others means the person begins to learn "I am more than safe. Life is more than no harm coming to me. If I am safe and loved, then I perhaps can give this to others."
loving
Loving…
  • Once feeling loved, the child or adult begins to have a deepening sense of warmth toward others—a smile when seeing a caregiver, cheerful words or sounds, a twinkle in the eye. The man in the homeless shelter who has no material goods begins to think "I am somebody because my care givers see me as somebody!" As the person begins to feel safe and loved, these feelings then begin to spread out to others. Those who are marginalized begin to reach out to others with their love. Hands become tools for tenderness and embraces. Words become tools for uplifting others. Eyes become windows to the heart.
engagement
Engagement…
  • Caregivers also teach human engagement.
  • This is made up of three basic feelings:
  • 1) it is good to be with one another,
  • 2) it is good to do things with one another. And,
  • 3) it is good to do things for one another.
  • Human engagement is the homeless person in the shelter preparing and serving meals to others. It is the child in the classroom doing projects with other children. It is the man or woman in a group home doing chores together simply because it is good to be together. It is street children forming community to protect each other and share the little they have gathered.
gentle teaching is not
Gentle Teaching is Not..
  • A behavioral or behavior modification approach that uses reward and punishment to change behaviors rather it is based on unconditional love,
  • A "whatever works" approach rather one that looks at broadening and deepening a sense of companionship and community as a life-project,
  • A fast and easy approach toward helping others, but one that calls on deep commitment and dedication on the part of caregivers,
  • Just a way to look at changing someone else’s reality, but first asking us to look at our own reality and make it warmer and more loving,
  • Simply a technique but also a psychology of human interdependence.
who needs a spirit of gentleness
Who Needs a Spirit of Gentleness?
  • Those who are homeless—living on the streets and not knowing where their next meal will come from,
  • Street children in the Third World—little children living in sewers and gutters, finding their respite under bridges and door stoops, and making their meals from garbage thrown on the streets,
  • Individuals locked up in long term psychiatric hospitals—people with schizophrenia, manic-depression, depression, and a host of other diagnostic categories,
  • Institutionalized individuals with mental disability—sometimes tossed into warehouse-like settings, sometimes in more home-like places, but most sensing deep loneliness, and
  • Individuals being supported in community living and working settings—sometimes able to connect easily with a feeling of companionship and community, at other times left to live lonely, empty, and sad lives,
  • Elderly men and women confined in nursing homes—often forgotten and left to die alone,
  • Children and adolescents in public schools—children with "behavior" problems, children segregated from other children, children suspended from school, children who see violence as their only way to live their short lives, children who find meaning in gangs instead of in families.
who are involved in gentle teaching
Who Are Involved in Gentle Teaching?
  • Parents and families who are in a quandary as to how to help their children,
  • Teachers in classrooms who are having a hard time helping children and adolescents with life-stories filled with violence, harm to self, and meaninglessness,
  • Care givers in institutions who are trying to find non-violent ways to deal with impersonal systems,
  • Care givers in community homes who want to create feelings of companionship and community,
  • Care givers in shelters for the homeless, jails and prisons who want to bring a spirit of gentleness where it seems impossible to find,
  • Program administrators who want to implement a management style that establishes a culture of life, and
  • Policy-makers and legislators who want to initiate creative laws and ways to support marginalized people with dignity and respect.
how can i teach a spirit of gentleness
How Can I Teach a Spirit of Gentleness?
  • Touch tenderly without provoking any violence. For the little child or the adult abandoned to years of ware housing this might mean a 1,000 hugs a day—first just light and slow touches to the hand, then to the face, and eventually transformed into an embrace.
  • For some, touch might be very minimal-- for the man or woman racked with extreme poverty touch might be a warm handshake upon greeting and leaving or for the adult traumatized by sexual abuse it might be just our physical proximity.
  • Speak softly, slowly, and affectionately—using your word to uplift, encourage, and nurture instead of to correct or reprimand.
  • Gaze warmly into the person’s eyes as if they are the windows to the soul.
  • Do activities with the person, or even for the person, before expecting anyone to do things for you.
  • Beckon the person to reach out to you with loving touch, soft words, and warm gazes.
  • At all costs, avoid provoking any violence and focus sharply on evoking a sense of peace.
what can i do as a gentle person
What Can I do as a Gentle Person?
  • It might be the priest in Japan who smiles lovingly at the child who screams and curses words of hatred.
  • It might be the teacher in the United States who greets each child who enters the classroom with a warm smile and a pat on the back.
  • It might be the mother in Mexico who starts a school for children with severe disabilities and makes sure that each feels safe and loved.
  • It might be the physician in Portugal who sees to it that single pregnant mothers learn their own worth and that of their infants.
  • It might be the caregiver in an institution in Denmark who gives tender hugs to a woman with autism.
  • It might be the group home worker in Canada who forms a care giving community and ensures that caregivers and those who are supported feel companionship with each other.
  • It might be the parents of sons and daughters with life-stories of psychiatric hospitalizations forming an advocacy group to bring about social change.
  • It might be the militant in Brazil living on the streets with abandoned children—teaching them to feel safe and loved, to recognize injustice and justice, and sharing with them the values they need to bring about their own social change.
administering a spirit of gentleness
Administering a Spirit of Gentleness
  • There are many governmental and bureaucratic barriers that make gentleness hard, not impossible, but unnecessarily difficult. Some of these are:
  • Congregating large numbers of people together so that warm relationships are hard to establish,
  • Looking for ways to control instead of to nurture,
  • Using behavior modification analysis and planning as the be-all-and-end-all of what we must do,
  • Training caregivers in practices that are perceived as violent —the use of physical management, chemical restraint, and punishment-based intervention,
  • Writing policies that encourage congregation, segregation, and control rather than interdependence, companionship, and community, and
  • Pushing people into independence without needed support systems.