I See You: Reflections on Heart-Mind 2014


The one that grows is the one you feed.

These words from spoken word artist Shane Koyczan’s Instructions for a Bad Day – beautifully performed by Richmond dance group Heart Mind Body Collective at Thursday evening’s opening to the Heart-Mind 2014 conference – became, to me, a poignant unifying theme of our few days together. In his poem Shane speaks of love and hate, but the words apply to all aspects of our common humanity.  

A big Heart-Mind 2014 takeaway for me was introduced during our first evening together.  Social and emotional learning (SEL) pioneer Mark Greenberg stressed the critical importance of teachers and parents themselves embodying kindness, mindfulness and the other positive SEL qualities and competencies we are hoping to teach our children. 

We all know this to be true, both intuitively and from experience.  How many times have we failed to give our kids what they need because we were too under siege by our own stress, negative emotions and preoccupations to be present for them?  No amount of evidence-based programming in the world will teach a child to be mindful, self-regulated and kind if the teacher is not her or himself present, self-regulated and kind.  Before feeding our kids, we must first feed the adults who care for them. 

My second big conference takeaway was also introduced our first evening, this time by another SEL pioneer, Linda Lantieri. Like all of us, Linda is important for many reasons.  In Linda’s case, two in particular stand out for me.  First, her embodiment of all we want to teach our kids.  Who could not learn from Linda Lantieri?  Whatever SEL she is feeding herself, I want some of it.  In addition to teaching and inspiring me, Linda makes me laugh, and by doing that she makes me very, very happy. I could tell that everyone else in the room felt the same way.

Linda also passed along what, to me, was perhaps the most important takeaway of our few days.  She taught us members of the northern Natal tribes of South Africa’s customary manner of greeting each other.  Their greeting is:  I see you.  

I am not sure we would really need any SEL curricula at all, if we all just got that one down.   How many times a day, every day, do we see friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, and kids, without truly seeing them.  Do we look in their eyes, their hearts, truly listen, without pre-empting, without judging, without trying to fix? Do we truly see them? 

Occasionally, when I feel like a good cry, I put on Adam Lambert or Gary Jules’ cover of the ‘80’s Tears for Fears song Mad World. I play over and over the part that goes:

Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me

We are all human, we all try our best, and we all make mistakes.  But if we are to get anything from this conference at all, let us try to remember to never again look right through a fellow human being.

Now that a couple of days have passed, I am able to speak of Erin Gruwell’s Friday morning talk without reaching for my Kleenex 100-pack. For those unfamiliar with Erin Gruwell, she is the real-life teacher whose story of transforming the lives of 150 “unteachable” students in a tough, racially divided U.S. school was made the subject of a big screen movie, Freedom Writers.  Her students were ones whose life circumstances had fed them fear and hate, and they came to school with their boxing gloves on.  

I will say three things about Erin’s talk. One: Wow.  Two:  Can we say embodiment? I’m not sure   any of us has witnessed passion and embodiment of all the beautiful human qualities of an extraordinary teacher to this degree before.  Three: Her final words of advice to us. See your kids.  Hear them.   

I must confess that, after Erin’s talk, part of me felt like going home.  There is only so much a human being can absorb, and I was worried that I had reached maximum absorption.  But I stayed.  Remaining conference highlights for me included Kim Schonert-Reichl’s compassion and practical tips for growing kindness and happiness in our kids, and Daniel Goleman’s reminder that we all need a “secure base” throughout life, and that the classroom needs to be a secure base for our kids.  

Chief Dr. Robert Joseph’s talk was a highlight and moving end to our Friday’s full day.  As he told the story of his life and the abuse he endured as a child in a residential school, we were able to see him, and to feel compassion for him and all other residential school survivors and others who have suffered as a result of intolerance and society’s failure to see our common humanity and honour differences.  

Has Heart-Mind 2014 changed my life? Being only 24 hours later, it’s a bit early to tell. But, as my young daughter sobbed uncontrollably this morning because she didn’t want to go to swimming lessons, I was able to hold her, just hold her, without looking over my shoulder at the clock (even though we were frightfully late), and without trying to fix.  After swimming I was able to wait patiently as she took a long, long time to brush her hair in the way she likes it, and to feel compassion for the mothers struggling with crying toddlers and preschoolers in the change room showers.  Just like me and every other parent, those mothers are trying their best.    

And so to all the mothers out there, a very happy Mothers Day.  May you – and all other beings on the planet – feel seen and loved, today and every other day.

Melody Schalm is the principal of Kind Kids.  She teaches kindness, mindfulness and related social and emotional learning to kids in school and after-school programs in greater Vancouver.  She is the parent of three elementary school-aged kids, who teach her as much about  being mindful and living life to the full as she teaches them.   


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