The role of knowing and acknowledging the spiritual self in building harmonious and flourishing global communities.
At the 2016 annual conference of CAMFT, I was surprised to receive a ribbon acknowledging my 25th year of practice serving as a licensed marriage, Family, and Child Therapist. When I look further back, I see the hope and passion for the transformation of our global community into a cohesive and unified village were always at the center of my education. No wonder to see how this attraction and curiosity have brought me through years of work as a dedicated parent, and an educational consultant with schools in many parts of the world. The more I gain knowledge and experience as a therapist focusing on the liberating role of the spiritual self in all human relations and endeavors, the more I am convinced of the transforming effect of integration of social, emotional, and spiritual learning in school curriculums.
Likewise, my 5 colleges graduates and enthusiastic interns came to work with me mostly in order to know their own spiritual selves, and soon they discovered how the process will impact every aspect of their lives and their identity as global citizens. Looking back they gladly share how their own outlook and habits of life and relations have been transformed from a tribal identity to a global one appreciating unity in diversity.
The initial challenge with our students and our win/win approach.
Our high school students did not know what to make of our interactive, participatory process of integrated education! They refused to share their thoughts with their peers saying in their journals, that they don’t trust their classmates and do not feel safe exposing themselves! Soon it became clear that our process of integration of social, spiritual, and emotional learning was not just unfamiliar, but outright uncomfortable. Our team of 6 dedicated college graduate interns and me as their supervisor, felt challenged and curious about how to help our students rise above this social and emotional self-diminishing, self-defeating and self-imposed roadblock and debilitating closet.
In a publication called American Education: A Work In Progress, by Rebecca Isenhart HS 102-103 Professors Erika Williams and Wendy Walters May 4, 2011, we read:
“Research has proven that students from essentially the same low-income demographic in different cities perform at vastly different levels based on school and teacher quality.”
We observed that the passive classroom culture was internalized as a norm and the students had become accustomed to their compromised process of education and did not wish to venture out of their comfort zone!! Our students did not hesitate to let us know that we were out of the ordinary!! Our eyes opened even wider when we read in their daily journals comments like;
“What kind of people are you?”, “You guys are weird”, or “Why can’t you just stand there and lecture us for an hour?”!!
For every stumbling block we confronted, we consulted and adjusted our process to make it a stepping stone! So when they told us that they are not used to talking in front of their peers we considered the use of puppets and asked them to speak with each other in the small circle with the help of the puppets!! The outcome was empowering and illuminating.
Some of the successful strategies we used.
Small group discussions, the inclusion of arts and music, movement and icebreakers, stories, puppets, songs, role plays, STAR of communication, videos, body posture and proper body language, tone of voice, metaphors, prayers, right brain activities, memorization and powerful social action quotations, activities to build rapport.
Use of puppets!!!
Initially, the interns who are all college graduates politely laughed at the idea of asking the high school students to wear puppets on their hands and act like preschoolers. Out of respect for their strong feelings and concern, I yielded and waited. But the students continued to keep a poker face and in addition, they wrote in their journals that they do not wish to open up to their peers. They explained that they do not feel safe with each other. Also, they wrote that the norm amongst their peers is; better be safe than sorry”.
Finally, I decided to use my own experience in counseling and also with training teachers and take the plunge and bring in the puppets!! In the next class, I walked in with a box of various kinds of puppets. I asked everyone to sit close on the ground in a circle and pick a puppet from the pile they could relate to. Much to my interns’ surprise everyone including the interns happily joined the process. Our students who were reluctant to smile and talk came alive with this right brain and unconventional process! What was noteworthy was the delight of my college graduate interns who were convinced against the use of puppets for high school students! Once they were guided through the process, they learned wisdom and appreciated the magical role of puppets in facilitating joyous communication between teens and adults.
The value of expert supervision
I often use puppets and sand trays in therapy, especially when working with children dealing with trauma. The use of puppets and sand tray allows an emotionally safe space between the person and the story. It makes it possible for us to tell our story without becoming overwhelmed by the emotional charge of the story. It is as if, we become the observer of our own story!
I deeply appreciate the trust we share within our team of interns and myself to pray together, talk and consult and discover how to evaluate the strength and identify the weaknesses of our design and curriculum after each application.
But when the knowledge and expertise of my interns fell short of addressing a stumbling block, they turned to me for guidance expecting and welcoming my supervision and intervention. The role my five interns plaid by enjoying the process of learning on the job and modeling full engagement and genuine participation cannot be underestimated in the effective and transforming reach of our interventions and curriculum both on the interns and the students. In this model, the interns are the first beneficiaries of working with high school students. The high ratio of the animator interns to the number of students, we admit, plays a significant role in the transforming nature of our program and the changing of the culture of the class.
Closing the intergenerational divide.
The unconditional respect and love for each other and the joy of my interns to welcome influence from my interventions model a unique cross-generational collaboration and friendship seldom witnessed, especially within the Western norm of the generational divide. This modeling of the spirit of collaboration and trust provided everyone a chance to experience the transforming power of unity in diversity. The experience of unity in diversity is vital to put into perspective the self-destructive divide we have imposed on the human condition using the materialistic lens of race, economics, class, gender, age, color, or religion. Modeling unity in diversity can play a powerful role in healing the social and spiritual wounds of mistrust, loneliness, violence, apathy, conflict, bullying separate but equal, and much more which is, unfortunately, a norm in our schools. The modeling of unity in diversity, we observed, is the best powerful tool for social-emotional learning skills for students, their families, and the community. In this modeling the beauty of each individual’s humanity becomes manifest and everyone welcomes the universal powers of the spirit of humanity manifested in themselves and others with a radiant heart.
When our after-school Empowerment program evolved into an in-school Transformative Mediation/Empowerment class at the beginning of the 2016 school year at Palomares Academy of Health Sciences in Pomona Unified School District, we were struck by the unexpected resistance of our students. For the most part, our students seemed cynical, skeptical, and at best, unwilling to get engaged in an upbeat, interactive, and unfamiliar integrated education process. They wrote n their journals; “You guys are weird”!!
In a paper published by American Education: A Work In Progress by Rebecca Isenhart HS 102-103 Professors Erika Williams and Wendy Walters on May 4, 2011, we learn:
Today after four months of loving persevering, training, and instruction, our students have transformed into completely luminous and enthusiastic learners. While before they would come to class with their faces grim, their shoulders drooped, resisting any form of response or participation, today, they enter the room with a radiant smile, they are eager and curious, and they are quick to form a circle or get into small groups ready to prepare a skit, or explore self-knowledge with good humor! Today we have so much joy and fun and it is such a pleasure to learn together. Today we had our mid-year potluck breakfast and review celebration. The room was constantly bursting with laughter and loving conversation. Later the students would bring in their friends just to brag about their unique and out-of-the-box class experience inviting them to request to join our Transformative Mediation/Empowerment program next year.
In a paper called Transforming Students’ Lives with Social and Emotional Learning To appear in the Handbook of Emotions in Education Marc A. Brackett & Susan E. Rivers Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Yale University we read:
This work has been such a pleasure.
Keyvan Geula is a licensed Marriage, Family, and Child Therapist; LMFT. She received her Master of Science in Marriage, family, and Child Therapy from the University of La Verne, in La Verne, California. She employs the latest research in behavioral sciences, neuroscience, and the Baha’i principle of the oneness of all humanity to serve the well-being of her clients.
She offers her services as a clinician, lecturer, trainer, and supervisor to a global set of clients in person and online. In her clinical work, she incorporates the wisdom of the Baha’i Writings, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy research, Mindfulness meditation, and consultation skills, as well as knowledge of the spiritual self.
She is an adjunct professor of Behavioral Sciences at Citrus Community College, faculty of continued education at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches psychology online to students at Baha’i Institute of Higher Education.
She is the Founder and Executive Director of Center for Global Integrated Education (CGIE), a non-profit Baha’i-inspired educational organization, which explores oneness of all humanity, and teaches the integrated mind-body-spirit approach in education.
She has served for two years as the producer and host of a two-hour weekly live radio show for the Persian community in Sothern, California focusing on the role of the psychology of spirituality in personal and social transformation, creativity, emotional and social intelligence, and a greater sense of harmony in a global society. She also has been the host and producer of TV series called Transforming Human Consciousness for eight years. She regularly writes and blogs on www.cgie.org/blog on topics related to integrated education, the oneness of humanity, the powers of the human spirit in the betterment of global society, elimination of all prejudice, equality of women and men, and education reform. Some of her shows are posted on her; Keyvan Geula YouTube Channel.
Mrs. Geula has served in several Baha’i institutions since her youth in Iran and USA.