Dr. John McGee’s Gentle Teaching has transformed the person I am by helping me to understand that everyone deserves the help that they require. This is beneficial to me as I start my internship at a local inner-city school through the University of Regina Faculty of Education. As I start this journey, the teachings of McGee will continue to guide and shape my thought process by helping me to understand that there are reasons behind any action, as well as by helping me recognize the difference between equal and equitable. Together these teachings help me to better support those around me.
The realization that there is a reason behind any action will help to guide me in the future. The importance of recognizing things like attention seeking behaviours helps me to understand that some “negative” behaviours may stem from a negative experience or that a person may be lacking positive attention so they are seeking that attention through behaviours. A key for me to deal with this is to remember the four tools of gentle teaching; presence, words, hands, and eyes. By having a welcoming presence, words of encouragement/recognition and to spread conversation throughout the class, using my body language to show that I am calm and accepting, and my eyes to recognize everyone’s presence I will be able to provide positive attention to all students.
Along with the tools, the pillars of Gentle Teaching (safe, loved, loving, and engaged) have taught me the difference between equal and equitable. This will guide me in supporting individuals who I serve with COR as well as in school. This is important because the pillars can be used as categories of self-fulfillment. When considering a person’s level of content with their pillars, there may be pillars where that persons level of content is higher than others. This is similar to using a wellness wheel to measure different areas of health like physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. By using the four pillars of gentle teaching I am able to better understand that everyone feels more content and less content in different areas so everyone needs equitable treatment that focuses on the pillar(s) that they need to improve the most in order to make that individual feel fulfilled in all four pillars. Where as equal treatment would focus on helping everyone progress in the same way without considering individual needs. Considering the four pillars will help me to make sure that people feel fulfilled in those areas and are able to say “in this place I feel safe, I feel loved, I am able to love and I am engaged with the people and things around me”. This helps me to better understand that everyone needs support in their own specific way.
Gentle Teaching has helped to transform me into the person I am today. The teachings help me to better comprehend the idea that every person needs a different form of support. Through critical thinking I am able to understand that there are reasons for any action and that people deserve to have support that suits their needs instead of one uniform approach. Gentle Teaching has helped me to grow as a teacher, support person and most importantly as a person.
COR Family Member
Before I started working at Creative Options Regina I had never heard of the term “Gentle Teaching.”
I had never worked with people with disabilities before – and to be quite honest – I was afraid.
I was afraid because my entire life society told me to disregard and disengage; to completely forget about what it means to show compassion, friendship, and above all else, acceptance to those with disabilities. After taking Gentle Teaching Level 2 the first week working in the office I can’t tell you that I was “changed” or “different,” in fact I was quite the same. Gentle Teaching started to shape my inner self through the interactions and observations of those around me: the supports, the office team, and, most importantly, the people we serve.
I was inspired by these interactions and how the 4 pillars of gentle teaching were incorporated into everyday interactions almost seamlessly. How gentle teaching opened this door to interactions I had never thought I would WANT to have. Slowly, I was able to incorporate myself into the lives of the people we serve, learning about them, caring about them. I also didn’t realize this was happening outside of COR with my daily interactions with family and friends. Gentle Teaching doesn’t happen over night and it is something you can never master. But, you learn everyday a little bit more and grow a little bit more. That is what I love about Gentle Teaching and that is how I move forward to engage, to love, to be loved, and provide safety to all those around me.
COR Family Member
The true integrity that Gentle Teaching is related to creates an atmosphere where people are truly loved, feel safe and can embrace a culture of gentleness. Given these elements of John McGee’s philosophy of Gentle Teaching as teams of support people at Creative Options Regina we have created positive places for supports and the people who we serve to grow together. My personal contributions to my team’s culture of gentleness relate to true caring for the woman I support. They are fostering positive relationships between her and the team who supports her, including myself, as well as promoting independence in unique ways. These elements of support help to create a culture of gentleness where everyone feels safe and loved.
Creating and maintaining good relationship among the team and with Angie is extremely important when considering the support to an individual and support to Support relationships, as well as the inter-reliance of both relationships. Coming into my employment opportunity with Creative Options Regina I thought that maintaining so many positive relationships was going to be difficult. This was not the case because the nature of Gentle Teaching with the four pillars (safe, loved, loving, and engaged) and the four tools (presence, words, hands, and eyes) helps everyone to maintain positive relationships that help us to better work together to provide support. With everyone working together, bringing ideas, concerns to one another and the ability to be honest with each other creates a positive team atmosphere for us as supports, which in turn results in the ability to provide better support.
Promoting Angie’s own form of independence and what she wants to do, as well as achieving what she wants is one of the best ways of maintaining a culture of gentleness. Whether it is playing dominoes all day or venturing out on the town, it is important that the people who we support have the most impute in their every day lives and that we are there to help them — not do for them. Another element that adds to Angie’s form of freedom is creating a home that truly reflects her personality. Whether it is blasting Christmas music in July, helping her decorate her house for holidays, or bringing my guitar, the thing we are there to do is help her achieve what she wants and be her companion every step of the way. Although her way of independence appears different from that of most people, what is important is that we create a culture of gentleness that helps her to be independent in a way that involves help from her friends. After all, the founder of Gentle Teaching John McGee stated:
“Loneliness is not freedom. Decision-Making is not freedom. Independence is not freedom. Autonomy is not freedom. These are only expressions of possible freedom. It is each persons becoming the author of his/her own life-project, but in the context of being-with-others, feeling at home with others, feeling safe within oneself, and feeling connected and engaged with significant others.” (McGee. 2.)
As a support person, I feel that being there for what Angie wants is my biggest contribution to creating a culture of gentleness.
Given the kind nature of Gentle Teaching, the goal of creating a culture of gentleness and kindness is made easier if one follows the teachings of John McGee’s philosophy. Two of the ways that I try to encourage this culture of gentleness are by fostering positive relationships between the team of supports, Angie and myself, as well as helping Angie to create her own form of independence. Encouraging this gentle community of people leads to a better experience for anyone who enters Angie’s house and more importantly improves Angie’s quality of life.
Andrew, COR Support
“Although our vulnerabilities and the external threats to our wellbeing are in many ways nothing compared to those of the persons whom we serve, it is important that we recognize our own before dealing further with the vulnerabilities of those whom we serve.
We are all vulnerable to breakdowns in our personal values. Sometimes these can be due to how we feel and what we are experiencing within ourselves; at other times we can be part of a system that makes it harder for us to respond to our shared values. If a caregiver is afraid of being hurt, he/she then becomes more likely to use restraint to control violent behaviors. Or, if a caregiver is depressed, then it is extremely hard to bring joy to others. If we are being beaten and de-valued at home, it is hard to bring non-violence into someone else’s home.
Many of our vulnerabilities are worsened by lack of adequate training and hands-on supervision. Some caregivers are quite isolated and seldom have the opportunity to discuss their problems and search for new responses to challenging situations. It is critical that caregivers recognize their weaknesses and find ways to overcome them. Community leaders need to listen to caregivers and find ways to offer support and encouragement.
Caregivers need to find their own self-worth from themselves, talking frequently, sharing their anxieties, and pointing out their goodness. Our own worth has to be generated from within ourselves. We need to form strong communities.
The question of burnout seems to be always present. Some caregivers give up and attribute their burnout to poor supervision, working in violent settings, receiving little guidance, or low pay. Since we are not only teaching feelings of companionship, but also a sense of community, it is important for caregivers to look at themselves, question their reality, and search for ways for themselves to feel safer, more engaged, and more valued. The first step in this is to step back and examine those things that make us vulnerable.
Let us take a moment to reflect on these aspects of our lives — recognizing these will help us understand better the needs of those whom we serve.”
~Excerpt from John J. McGee’s “Mending Broken Hearts” — CPLS Newsletter.
Gentle Teaching has become a main part of my life. During my university career, I have done many presentations and projects based on gentle teaching because it applies to so many different areas of study; whether it be Psychology or Kinesiology and Health Studies. As Assistant Home Team Leader, I dedicated most of my support times (and outside support times) to making sure the people I support are physically healthy. I continue to do activities to keep the guys active and engaged, but allow them to decide which activities are right for them! I pre-cook and freeze meals so that it is easily accessible for the rest of the team. This is done so that supports aren’t tempted to buy unhealthy food! Since this started, I have continued to encourage others on the team to do the same as well. As a result, the team has all begun to contribute to grocery shopping and cooking wholesome meals. This was not so they could be “fit” or “skinny”, but to better compliment one’s overall quality of life. I am a strong believer in how physical health affects one’s mental health, thus my pursuit of a masters degree in sport and exercise psychology.
Although I recently stepped down as Assistant Home Team Leader, I have continued to keep many of the same responsibilities. The title of ATL was not my motivation to be a leader! I will continue to be passionate about caring for the people I support, as that is the foundation of Gentle Teaching. Their companionship and presence in my life is enough to want to help with the quality of it. COR has shown me that I am capable of my own academic accomplishments. Sport and Exercise Psychology is not popular in Canada just yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t continue to follow my interests and turn them into my passion. Even though I have stepped down from my ATL role, supports still contact me when certain issues arise; they still want to hear my advice and experience. I love this! For the first time, I feel like I am a mentor. I like knowing it is not my leadership status that motivates them to ask me for help. I feel as though they ask because they know I am effective at solving problems while still keeping one’s emotions in mind. It has become a very empowering experience. I love the leader that COR and Gentle Teaching has enabled me to become!
Kyla, COR Support
I once heard a George Lucas quote that stuck with me – “Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you imagine it.”
When I begin a job search, the first question I always ask a job seeker is, “what is your dream job?” Somewhere in that dream is the perfect job for each person, whether it’s the head coach of the Riders, a free-lance writer for a social media campaign, a chef, a firefighter or Celine Dion’s manager (each of those are real answers I’ve received!). While I will admit, I’m quite skilled at my job, I may not have the strings to pull to hook someone up with Celine Dion, but I do recognize that within that dream probably lies an interest in popular music, a passion for an instrument, an outgoing and organized personality. From those traits, a real and meaningful job can be sought. 4to40 prides itself on thinking outside the employment box – focusing on each individual’s uniqueness. No one should be forced to work in a job or an environment that doesn’t make them happy or fuel their passion. For people who experience disability, work generally is a dream that is accepted as whatever is given to them. I work hard every day to change that. When I take individual interests, skills, talents and personalities into account, and then customize and carve roles out within workplaces that are of interest to the job seeker, I open up a whole world of potential for employment.
Nothing makes me happier than hearing about someone’s success at work, whether that’s an increase in hours, learning a new set of tasks or being invited for beers on Friday after a shift. The feeling of success at work is so much more than just the job itself. Gaining independence, financial freedom, being a contributing and valuable member of a team, forging real and meaningful relationships. We all seek these outcomes from our workplaces. Why wouldn’t the success of 4to40 be measured in the same ways?
For the people I support, becoming employed leads to independence, self-confidence and a feeling of self-worth. But wait, my role doesn’t end there. 4to40’s partners, the employers we work with, not only see the great value the employees bring to their workplace efficiency, they also recognize how workplace culture changes. When committed to inclusion – that is, embracing the diversity of every human – employers see that their entire workforce can be more welcoming, patient and empathetic. Workplace culture becomes more supportive of everyone, ensuring that all talents and successes are celebrated and acknowledged. 4to40 encourages employers within our community to create an environment where all employees feel connected, valued and safe. Through the support of our project, job coaches and willing peers in the workplace – all these important needs can be met, and dream jobs can be achieved!
Employment Partnership Consultant, 4to40
Often when I have the chance to catch up with somebody I have not seen for a while, the question always seems to pop up: “So, where are you working these days?”. This is a funny question for me to answer because when you truly find something that you are passionate about and enjoy doing on a daily basis, it’s no longer considered work – this is how Gentle Teaching has transformed me as a person. After graduating high school, I soon found myself at a job that did not offer any growth for myself as an individual. A cooking job that provided forty hours a week, but had me asking myself if this is really how I want to spend the next however many years of my life, at a job where I simply show up for a nine to five shift, then go home. I can imagine that I was among millions of people who couldn’t wait to be done work to get home and relax, dreading the thought of having to go back the next day. I needed a change, especially knowing that I had much more inside of me than that. COR was an option that I had considered applying for, but was ambiguous about at first. It’s the type of organization that was very unfamiliar to me solely because I was one of many who had the common attitude that people with a disability may be seen as troublesome and based my perception on the idea of their “behaviour”. I took a blind leap into Gentle Teaching and soon realized that a critical part of this culture of gentleness is shedding these beliefs and valuing people for who they are. Now, two years later, I have found myself buried so deep in the lives of the individuals I serve that the thought of not seeing them throughout the week is unnerving.
With COR, I now find myself getting lost in the moment with these individuals that I can honestly call my friends, forgetting about time all-together. From being part of a fast paced, aggressive work environment in the past, to now being a part of a community that practices Gentle Teaching in every aspect in life is truly a blessing. Gentle Teaching has helped me focus on building a sense of companionship and community with those that I serve and that there is no nine to five shift when it comes to being involved in others lives. The relationships you create and maintain with others directly revolves around the time you invest with them, being WITH one another is one of the main lessons I have grown to appreciate since being introduced to Gentle Teaching. This philosophy is truly something special, something you can’t just turn on or off when it fits. I believe it’s the unconditional compassion for others in which we all have inside of us.
Sawyer, COR Support