The Alchemy of a Loving Teacher

I used to keep this little book on my desk at school by Gerald Jampolsky called Teach Only Love. It is a book about the medical and healing benefits of focused love and positive perspective as attitudinal healing agents. Once a week, I would read some of the author’s accounts of children he had worked with; their intuitive vision into the intentional vibrations of adults, and the therapeutic impact those vibrations have. I  read these passages in the early morning stillness of my classroom as a ritual of reflection, before the students arrived. This was my way of creating a focused intention for the day ahead with my students. An intention that was grounded in appreciation for the opportunity I had to touch each of my student’s lives in some way, recognizing that the smallest interaction in the tiniest of moments could create an emotional memory potentially affecting and transforming the child for the rest of his or her life. This was also the beginning of my vision of the classroom as a sacred container: a place where all students felt emotionally safe through the deep and meaningful connections alive there. In the book Presence by Peter Senge and his colleagues they write about containers and transformation:

The ancient alchemists, in their attempts to transform base metals to gold, created a large body of literature on container building, ideas that Swiss psychoanalyst C. G. Jung claimed were as much about psychological as material transformation. For the alchemists, transformation was a process involving the interaction of elements within a closed, transparent container in relation to a carefully tended fire (Senge et. Al. pp. 34, 35)

In a school, the gold is belonging and emotional safety, the container is the classroom, and the fire is held within the relationships aglow there. Author and youth advocate,  Martin Brokenleg,  once said “programs don’t fix kids, relationships do.” Conversation and conversion come from the same linguistic root and when in conversation and relationship with a student, a healthy conversion or transformation is always possible. Most often it is within the space of one’s daily micro-interactions that meaningful connections are built.   I focus on the littlest of things which often turn out to be the biggest connectors: a glance, a smile, a handshake, a positive comment, a non-judgmental response, a thank you; all potentially resonant moments within the container which could translate into a moment forever in the heart and soul of the child who I am sharing that life space with.

I have always felt that the teaching profession is a noble and courageous undertaking. The opportunity to touch a child’s life in the littlest of ways is a rare gift and must be seen in that light. Children must be seen as the native elders see them, as sacred beings, (Brokenleg) precious and vulnerable. So vulnerable in fact that the slightest bit of judgment or harsh criticism can change a sacred being into a scared one. Students must not “survive” the school experience but feel embraced by it.   Seeing others through resonant eyes is a celebration of life, basking in the joys of self-discovery and expression; honoring what others can bring to your life and what you can bring to theirs. Nobility is filled with many gifts and it’s the Sacred Beings in our midst who provide the most heart-felt ones. These gifts become signposts or reminders of why you have chosen to travel the road of educator, mentor, and guide.


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David A. Levine’s ( work on teaching empathy as a social culture building strategy has been featured in the New York Times, National Public Radio, and ABC News. After teaching elementary and middle school, David became the chief trainer for the U.S. Department of Education’s Northeast Regional Center for Safe and Drug-Free Schools. It was during that time that he created a framework for social culture building he calls "A School of Belonging." This systems change process, is highlighted in his books, "Teaching Empathy", "Building Classroom Communities", and "The School of Belonging Plan Book." He is the founding Director of the Teaching Empathy Institute, in Kingston, NY, a program of The Tides Center, and serves as an adviser to Ashoka’s Start Empathy Initiative.

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