Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Guest Post by Anne Gresinger re : Michael Thompson

 Anne offers this reflection on the Michael Thompson workshop as an invitation for us to talk more about what we learned and what we think about his ideas... use the comments, or let's have a lunch!

I enjoyed the workshop. It was informative in many ways. I know the usual format for this is longer (I think he said 6 hours) and usually involves more interactive playing-out of roles, but I imagine it was difficult to fit much of that in given the time constraint and the very light parent-only attendance. This worked well for me because I'm way too shy to have participated in role-playing without great anxiety.

I went to the workshop because I'm still trying to sort out why things went as badly as they did in Onare's public school experience - why weren't our conscientious and open communications more well-received and effective? ...and why did it seem like effective communications within the school were discouraged? ...and how can I make sure that I'm communicating with the teachers and staff at FSP in a way that does work well for all? So the way Michael spoke more about what teachers are dealing with was very helpful, as well as what he had to offer about distinctions which so often aren't clear when it comes to where parenting ends and teaching begins, or visa versa.

As a pychologist, it makes sense that Michael would seek to differentiate these roles in order to help people better understand what is confusing and difficult for many of us. He made important points like:

~ People, when meeting with a teacher, will bring the means they are most familiar with to the table in a way that's very helpful to be aware of and to consider. From what he said, lawyers often frame things up from an adversarial point of view, for example... or parents who are strictly invested in accademic achievement might be a challenge to connect with when it comes to letting their child develope a natural aptitude more well suited to the arts.

~ The importance of being as open and honest as possible was a great thing to note too. I think this is just really important no matter what the situation, but a good example was the teacher who tells the parents what is really happening with their child after being dropped off rather than just saying, "Oh, he was fine... no problem." when the parents had known very well that the child was in real distress when they left.

~ Which carries over into his example of the man who would become very agitated and hard to be around whenever entering his child's elementary school... not because of what was happening at the time, but because of his own past experiences at school. This is something I deal with now as I try to talk with teachers and administrators even at FSP. I self-consciously apologize for my involuntary distress in order to try and dispel that tension, but also as a nod toward explanation. This hasn't seemed to go over well, though, so I was glad that Michael brought this to people's attention.

~ Another good point Michael made is that people, parent or teacher, need to know they've been heard. This show of willing openness goes a long way in alleviating tension in most any situation.

~ There was one point that Michael made which I think is particularly telling, and that had to do with the way teachers are not trained to be psychologists. I couldn't help but equate that with the way doctors are not taught about good nutrition and how this is inseparable from many of the health conditions they'll be asked to treat. I imagine this must be beginning to change when it comes to what's required to become a doctor, and I see the same shift needing to be recognized in the field of teaching. I'm thinking that either teachers could be better prepared for this important aspect of their whole teaching experience, or it should be a much higher priority to have a full-time psychologist or counselor taking part in schools today. That said though, I find that there's less need for this here at FSP. Even though it would be great to have a full-time counselor at the school to take the edge off of the demand these things can have and the toll it sometimes takes on both teachers and kids, the quality and the philosophy of the counselor is key. There are times when a counselor can be too invested in given formats designed to keep things "in order"...when methods learned become more important than an open and flexible assessment in the moment. With this in mind, I think any person who's able to stay connected to their heart, as well as having needed wisdom gained from experience, is going to have a pretty good sense of what's right and what's needed in those challenging situations we all find ourselves in now and then. It seems to me that the Quaker presence and philosophy at the school makes for a much higher percentage of people who are willing and able to address life challenges in ways that are both kind and effective.

So to wrap things up, I'd say Michael did a great job covering different ways things can not work so well in his effort to show why this is, and how things can work better. As a psychologist, he shows a desire to sort things out in order to make them more manageable, less conflictual. This is all very helpful... we can all put more energy into how to approach life in a way that is more likely to resolve conflict rather than feed or accentuate these tensions. But it seems worth saying that it's important to allow what isn't working to be a part of life... that the point isn't so much to avoid or suppress what's painful, but instead to honor those who are in pain in a way that brings honest resolve. If something isn't working or isn't right, then it's important to embrace that thing in the same way an adult would embrace a child with a cut that needs to be cleaned, treated, and lovingly bandaged. Although it's helpful to have roles differentiated so that we can talk about what works and what doesn't as well as appropriate guidelines to follow, there is an important degree of gray area there which is needed for people to find what doesn't work and what it really is that's causing them pain. Without this, these aspects within us often aren't allowed to come forward in a way that brings needed resolve. In the end, I think Michael offered some good tools for achieving this, and some important things to reflect on.