If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.
Carl Gustav Jung
Learning in the real sense of the term can occur only when one feels safe—physically and psychologically. In a hierarchy of nearly two dozen human needs (compiled from the works of Abraham Maslow, Alice Miller, Andrew Weil and William Glanser) 'safety' stands at number two, just above basic survival needs such as food and shelter. Safety, it would seem, is an important prerequisite to achieving other higher-level needs, such as 'a sense of belonging' and 'purpose in life' to name a few. Enlightened and aware educators have long known of this basic need and today there is at least some awareness in schools of the necessity to create a safe and healthy environment both inside and outside the classroom. A healthy environment can, however, only be created when there is a healthy relationship within the adult community and therefore with the young in school. What is poignant in this regard is that grown-ups often feel the need for safety because that will translate into 'successful relationships', which in turn would lead to educational success in various dimensions—academic achievement, betterdiscipline, as well as social and emotional development.
That leads one to ask how adept we are as educators to engage in a meaningful relationship with so many different and diverse minds. Are we ready for this kind of commitment? How many of us involved in educating young minds are ourselves 'aware' of ourselves as individuals? Are we prepared to brave the demands and onslaughts of 30 or 40-odd students in our care and reach out to them with the emotional support that they need? Are we prepared to leave behind our emotional baggage or are we ourselves 'burdened' and unwilling to take risks? Perhaps many of us are not ready to find out, as Krishnamurti says, what it means to 'educate from beyond the known, the self'. Beyond the innovations we might have made with regard to classroom structure, experiments in learning methodologies and curricula, have we tried to meet this challenge at a much deeper level? This demands that we begin to free ourselves from the shackles of all forms of negative emotions or at least be sensitively aware of them so that we may be ready toeducate our children 'to be sensitive to the whole movement of life'.
Teachers inevitably act on their attitudes, beliefs and feelings. Whatever the teacher is with regard to self will have an influence on the students and how they act in similar situations. If teachers are unable to teach from beyond the self, chaos and hurtful situations are bound to arise. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that in many schools staff members come to meetings unwilling to dialogue, but ready to clamp down on any productive suggestions. There are many instances of teachers who are spurned by their colleagues when they speak their mind, or when they show creativity, innovation and vitality. Such schools, where there are shallow or strained relationships, low levels of trust or teacher effort, remain mired in a 'toxic atmosphere'. This leads to a hardening of the mind. In such a scenario no meaningful relationship or trust or connect can co-exist. When teachers themselves do not feel safe, how can they do justice by their students?
Being alert, open and creative are perhaps major criteria for becoming a human being. One cannot help but think that these qualities are even more of a prerequisite for teachers, with their extended role as parent and educator, who must be willing to give of themselves. Jenny Mosley suggests that adults in a school need to feel emotionally safe within themselves, be grounded and capable of meeting their own needs, before they can engage with students in educational programmes that would promote emotional safety and learning. A healthy school environment helps boost teacher morale and that in turn helps create a healthy school environment. So how is such an environment to come about?
The universality of the educational teachings of Aurobindo, Tagore and Krishnamurti is perhaps somewhat re-echoed when an educator of modern times rightly encourages teachers to do what he calls 'professionally relevant inner work'. We need to heal, or at least to understand, our unresolved issues with parents, childhood wounds, anger, addictions, or any other behaviour patterns or attitudes that can lead to emotional instability. To become conscious of the many movements in oneself and take note of what one does and why one does it is the indispensable starting point. The educator must be able to observe herself, to note her reactions and impulses and their causes. She has to become a clear-sighted witness of her desires, her movements of violence and passion, her instincts of possession and appropriation and domination. We may observe in the background that there is a shifting movement of our vanity, our 'self-images' in relation to others, which when faced with difficult situations, may also plunge us into discouragement, depression and despair. Evidently there is a 'freeing' from these destabilizing movements only when there is a growth in the power of observation, along with a release of new energies that were held back by emotional blockages. Thus, besides focusing on our teaching practices, we need to do reflective thinking on ourselves. To sum it up in the words of the Dalai Lama, 'If we examine ourselves everyday with mindfulness and mental alertness, checking our thoughts, motivations and their manifestations in external behaviour, thepossibility for change can open within us.'
It is also imperative that deeper attention to this dimension of personal development become more widespread in actual teacher preparation programmes. However, it is clear that change in our schools is likely only when individuals begin to take responsibility for their own growth. Such initiative is, however, not easy in the neurotically busy, success-driven pace of today's lifestyle, which keeps us so occupied that we are often asleep to our genuine feelings. While it is true that the system should support individuals in this inner growth, the system is not likely to change by itself. It is only as individuals change that the system will undergo any change. This implies that the teacher, the one who needs to protect the young, needs to take primary responsibility to protect herself, generating emotional safety for herself andfor those in her care.
Children learn not from what we say or do, but from who we are.