This has been an interesting year. For three decades I‘ve been involved in some form of teaching, some form of educating and in that time I have had the blessing and good fortune to be allowed to teach many and all ages. But this was the first year I decided to use my skills of communication to support and promote one particular kind of teaching – social and emotional learning through The Manadoob Program for Self-Esteem. It has been a fascinating journey. As is often the case with education, I have had to become my most diligent student. For as is always the case, how can we ever expect anyone to learn from us if we are not open to the possibility of learning from them? How can we teach if we are not willing to be taught?
For all the time I have taught and all the roles in which I have taught, I have used social and emotional learning techniques to get my point across – but at the time I didn’t know it. In my work with the Field Museum and the Griffith Observatory and in particular the NY Hall of Science, I was and am often in the position of having to communicate elusive information in a short period of time. I must grab my audience quickly and then get my point across succinctly and clearly but in a sufficiently interesting way to hold their attention and ‘make’ them want to learn. Through my experiences I honed techniques that have now been organized into ‘character building programs’ – a comprehensive system that connects our children to their deepest understanding of themselves and their lives. As I prepared myself to speak for the most exceptional of these programs, The Manadoob Program for Self-Esteem, I discovered the phrase ‘social and emotional learning’. And in every instance, when the definition of social and emotional learning is discussed, it is never limited to children, and rightfully so. At its most clinical, social and emotional learning is the process for helping people develop skills for life effectiveness. At its most fluid, social and emotional learning can become a way of life where teacher and student become partners in the growth of humanity, linked in an ever-evolving bond of empathy and respect, understanding and support.
A technique I use to remind myself to be a student and to maintain a connection to the perspective of those I am guiding, is to physically get down on their level. See the world through their eyes at their perspective. Imagine living life constantly looking up – try it. Feel the tension in the back of the neck, the pressure in the jaw, the limit to the flow of energy and creativity. If it means sitting on the floor or in a tiny chair, I do it. If it means lying on the floor, okay. The immediate empathetic connection that comes with the physical act allows one to by pass intellectualization and replace it with sheer tangible experience.
I laugh. That’s too many words. Just try it. We all have the opportunity, the choice and the responsibility to teach and learn and live in an ever-growing wave of effectiveness and connection. It starts with small steps.