“My biggest learning was to stop and think things through instead of fixing immediately a problem.”
This interview is part of a project named Stories of Inspiring Teachers that aims to share innovative practices around the world and explore the benefits of teaching social and emotional skills (communication, collaboration, creativity, self awareness, critical thinking) at school.
Hello Manika, can you introduce yourself ?
I am the coordinator of the counseling department and I also look into admissions. I have a master in clinical psychology, I moved to India about 5 years ago and I’ve been here in Gateway since.
Can you explain your work here ?
As a counsellor our work is to support anyone who needs it.
First, obviously, we support ours kids and we have in Gateway different ways of achieving this. We have specific slots for small group therapies where we teach social skills, emotional regulation. Beyond this, we started a class named “Me As a Learner” for the teenagers because we realized these years for us were full of question about yourself : who you are? what do you like ? what do you want to be when you grow up ? But for our kids (Gateway is a school for kids with learning challenges, editor’s note) it’s even a bigger challenge because so many of their life’s decisions have been made for them, not everyone tells them about their responsibilities, so the purpose of that class is to empower them to find out who they are and what they need. We are still figuring how we could adapt that class to younger students because it is a little bit abstract.
We are also supporting our teachers in different ways. We can support them when they need help with specific kids, we can assist them into class. We support them also personally because if they don’t feel supported, then they can’t support kids.
Finally, we support parents. We organize parents support groups which is a monthly voluntary space in order to create a moment during wich they can share about their difficulties, they find a community and some comfort. We also have parents workshops, we share knowledge and empower them to be supportive with their kids. And as a counseling team (they are three) we sometimes meet with our parents one on one, sometimes initiated by us or by parents struggling with their kids and asking for help.
So how do you get children to build social skills ?
We tried many programs but we figured out that none really fit to our kids in Gateway. So we used the CASEL five major strength to be successful in daily life : decision making, relationship skills, social awareness, self awareness and self management and we defined smaller skills as goals to achieve for students. Then we formed small groups of kids having the same challenges, no matter their ages. And starting from what we know children should know and where they are currently, we set goals to take them to that point. In the beginning we were setting annual goals but we realized that kids are changing on a monthly basis and we needed to adapt a lot more. Now we set objectives for maximum a month, and we check where they are before setting new goals. The fact is, we are always with the kids : in the classrooms, in the hallway, watching them, and we use this to our therapy classes. For example we had a discussion about “what is friendship?”, we talked about it and they interviewed people around them, friends, parents about friendship. This is one way to work on social skills.
In adddition to this, we also are in contact with teachers : we tell them what we’ve done with the kids so that they can work it with them during class also and point out when the skills we worked on in therapy occur naturally in daily life.
What was one of your best moments in Gateway ?
I always think of one of my students who is now 17 years old. He joined us three years ago, he came to us and had a lot of negative experiences, a lot of problems making friends. The parents where struggling and didn’t know what to do. In the beginning he would come out of class, say he would leave the school, that we were against him, that we didn’t understand him. We had a lot of conversations about finding the balance between the expectations we had from him in school how how he felt. On a daily basis he expressed his frustrations and we keep on talking to him, setting rules about respect but also trying to find solutions for him to feel better at school. It was a hard work with the teachers, the parents, him and me and I’ve been watching him over the past three years. Last year we had our Art Show, this student is fond of comic books and cars so he created a comic book about cars which has been published and he sold it as part of our Art Show. Hearing him talking about his comic book to others, seeing his pride and how he evolved made me realized that even though what we do is not easy, those moments are precious and incomparable. We are making a difference in someone’s life.
Can you tell us about one mistake you made and what you learn from it ?
I make mistakes every day ! My biggest learning was to stop and think things through instead of fixing immediately a problem. I realized here that we were constantly reacting to every behavior, doing what the parents told us to try with their child, always trying to help and find a solution. When a child is having a hard time, I’m getting stressed and I start to think: « what should I do ? How could I help him and help others ? » Now I think we’ve learnt to say: « you’re allowed to be upset, that’s ok. How can you express it in a way that is safe for everyone? » And find out why before acting. For instance I think about this children who one day run out of class and was lying on the ground. We wanted him to go back into class so I asked : « do you want to walk back into class or do you want someone to help you ? » and he asked for some help, so he got back into class with a three persons escort. In the moment that made sense to us but it was later that we thought : « what did we teach him ? Did we really respect him as a person ? » We didn’t figure out why he reacted like he did, we made him do what we wanted him to do. We solved our problem, but not his. I’m trying to think things differently now.