The ability to sense the layers of our reality through the five senses is a cognitive ability I never thought that I had been taking for granted. To slip on ice and understand that I will experience a fall. To put a cup to my lips and taste water. If I place my hand on a wall my mind interprets the grainy textures, red flecked colours and weight. What would happen if suddenly my arm were to plunge through to the other side. I would likely be over taken by shock, a deep surprise that would freeze my body. Slowly my senses would reestablish however that I was okay. My hand fine, and light and air pouring through the hole. How would my life feel if I wasn’t able to navigate these obvious, and simple experiences?
When I put a cup to my lips my reality rudely interrupted by past phantoms telling me to not make sucking noises like an animal. While walking, to fall and not have the certainty of a welcome hand to help me up, but instead the creeping fog of embarrassment. Reality, perception, both faculties of my mind that the individuals I serve do not always have the privilege of captaining. For them gentle teaching is a blessing and reprieve from a life of conditioning that what fears may exist in the folds of their reality may mean embarrassment, discouragement and ridicule. My gentle teaching is helping those individuals to understand that there is a safety in times of disparity, encouragement in fear and acceptance in embarrassment.
Gentle Teaching (GT) is a philosophy rooted in the recognition of all people having the right to be treated in positive ways. This helps me to remember that all people are inherently good and deserve the best of any situation. As a result, I debate that GT has positively transformed the person who I am and aspire to be. This is revealed through my transformations of identity as a future teacher and my identity with the person who I support.
GT has influenced my identity as an education student by helping me incorporate ideas into inclusive classrooms. My major in Physical Education and minor in Inclusive Education (Special Education) directed me to define GT in a way I can use in classrooms. GT implies that everyone has the right to be treated with respect and patience and that it is my responsibility to create an environment where everyone’s differences are embraced. This is an environment where no matter peoples race, religion, ability, disability, sexual orientation or other differences everyone deserves quality education that is appropriate for that individual and helps them to progress mentally and physically in a positive way. The use of the Four Pillars of GT: safe, loved, loving, and engaged are also useful part of my philosophy. All four pillars are needed for a student to learn at their full capability. This is because people need to feel safe in their surroundings in order to learn; similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs being necessary for survival. As a result of GT influencing my teaching philosophy my future students will be able to learn and move in a positive space and encourage me to have positive interactions with them.
GT has greatly influenced my relationship with the woman who I support. The Four Pillars along with the Tools of GT: presence, words, hands, and eyes help me to create an environment where Angie feels safe and trusts me. Given the history of institutionalization in Saskatchewan, GT has helped her and I to build a strong relationship that is more than a worker client mentality. We create a space for each other where we can have fun and help each other grow by loving and supporting each other. The use of hands and the element of touch are important to her relationships as she is the first person to want a hug in any situation. Her “squishes” are also important; this is a type of deep pressure therapy which allows her to relax in most situations. These are parts of her relationships that benefit her greatly and were not part of her previous relationships due to philosophy restrictions.
Overall, GT is a positive alternative to traditional philosophies involving people who have disabilities. GT goes beyond support times and into the lives of those who embrace its qualities. This is shown through my identity as a future teacher and my identity as a support person. Not only does GT improve the quality of life of individuals who are supported it also improves that of people who believe in the philosophy and those around them.
Andrew, COR Support
Gentle Teaching has transformed the person I am as well as the person I aspire to be in many ways. What started out as a “job” in the beginning, quickly became “spending time with the guys” and this was because of Gentle Teaching. I think essentially, Gentle Teaching allowed me to understand the importance of living in the moment and appreciating the little things in life. I started realizing quickly the opportunities for learning and life experiences that these guys I support had missed out on through their lives because people who were supposed to “care” for them, honestly did not care. Showing them first hand that they are just like everyone else and have the freedom to make their own choices was sometimes anxiety filled. In the end though, not only did they learn something, but I did as well – how much I took for granted in my own life.
Gentle Teaching really made me assess my own life to what I viewed as important and what others thought I viewed as important because these are very different categories. Gentle Teaching has allowed me to view situations from multiple perspectives which enhances my problem solving skills. I think someone cannot fully understand this culture of gentleness until they are fully immersed in it. In order to fully understand the culture of gentleness, it is important to allow yourself to be vulnerable not only with the individuals you support, but your support team as well. I’ve never had a job where I could discuss personal struggles with a coworker and come out feeling more equipped to support rather than being torn down and humiliated. I have truly been blessed with an amazing COR family and continue to grow and thrive because of them. Gentle Teaching quickly becomes a way of life and you begin to realize how often you use it outside of supporting. I look forward to using my experience with the culture of gentleness in my future endeavours of nursing and beyond.
Shelbi, COR Support
The way I maintain a culture of gentleness at COR is simply being friends with the individuals I serve. When I am supporting, I look at myself as a guest in a friend’s house. I am not there to ‘take charge’ and tell them how they need to be living their lives. Again, I am a friend and a friend will never judge a friend’s decisions. If anything, I would suggest better choices for them just like any other friend would. For example, if one of the individuals I serve wanted to spend their entire pay check on a $200 used game system, I may suggest other options for the reason of helping them manage their money or I may ask nicely how important the game system is to them. From there, they could hopefully tell me that the game system is not important enough that they spend their entire pay check on or they may choose a cheaper option. If not, they buy the game system and we move on. At the end of the day, it is their choice and if that choice makes them happy, that is all that matters.
Gentle Teaching has inspired me to become a better person. I find myself using the Gentle Teaching philosophy in all aspects of my life, which has allowed others to feel more respected and warm when they are around me. My Mother first noticed this in me about two months after I began working for COR. She told me that I had came a long way with my personality and the way I show myself to others. Growing up, I was not the child with the best personality or the child with the most respect toward others. As I get older, I am improving in these things every day. It was nice to hear that from someone who sees me almost every day. I know that I am nowhere near perfect, but some progress is better than none. In the end, anyone can better themselves and no one is ever too old to improve.
Jason, COR Support
Through my 3 and a half years of experience with COR and the philosophy of Gentle Teaching, I have attained a wealth of knowledge and an everlasting impact on my life. When I first started with COR, just like most people, I was a bit skeptical of the whole ideology of unconditional love. In latent terms, I perceived it as ‘give them whatever they want’ or ‘they can do whatever they want without consequences’. At the time, I failed to realize it was so much more than that. The whole basis of Gentle Teaching isn’t trying to change the individual’s behaviour, but rather changing our approach on how we serve the individuals.
My ability to use Gentle Teaching had never really been challenged until I began supporting at a new home and more specifically supporting one individual at that home. When I began, to be 100 percent honest, I was quite nervous. I had heard all the stories that this was the hardest team to support on. To my surprise, it really wasn’t! I got off to a good start with two of the guys. The only one I hadn’t connected with was one of the guys. Every time I would enter his space or try to interact with him, he would completely shut me down. This really bugged me personally. I am the type of person who really likes to get along with everybody, and at times, will over step boundaries to be liked by that person. This happened one day when I was supporting him. I came in that day with what I thought was a solid game plan. I was going to force myself to stay with him, we were really going to joke around and have an awesome time together. I also had the idea to take him to a Rider practice that day thinking it was going to be an amazing experience. I was completely wrong. Sure, he enjoyed the idea of going to Rider practice and seeing all his favourite players, but he still didn’t feel safe around me. I struggled to interpret what he was saying numerous times throughout the day and it led to numerous negative moments, the worst being at the Rider practice where he hit me. After that day, I came to realize that by forcing myself to be in his space, I had removed one of the most fundamental and most important pillars of Gentle Teaching; feeling safe.
In order to fix this, I needed to change how I provided care, while also trying to encompass the tools of Gentle Teaching to build the four pillars. For the next couple of months, I took a step back and really focused on observing, rather than forcing myself into situations for my own personal reasons. I was selective and patient in choosing the times that were appropriate to help strengthen his sense of feeling safe around me. Most of these interactions were focused around watching sports games or going out to grab a drink from 7/11. I tried keeping the interactions short and consistent allowing him to become comfortable around me. As time passed, I was able to get him to feel safe by changing how I provided for him. Once I had the sense of feeling safe around me, the other three pillars (feeling loved, feel loving towards others, and feeling engaged) came much more naturally.
Through my experience with all the individuals I support, they have had an everlasting impact on my life. They have taught me if I adjust how I provide care and unconditionally love them, rather than force them to be who they are not, that they will reciprocate it back in their way.
Brydon, COR Family Member