GT Educators

Monday, July 30, 2007

Gentle Teaching question

A question came in through the Gentle Teaching International Conference '07 website ( I thought it might benefit others, so I've posted it below:

Q: I found reference to gentle teaching in a book while doing research for an assignment. The book discusses controversial therapies/methods. Can you tell me why your method is considered controversial?

A: Gentle Teaching is considered controversial because it asks caregivers to remove punishment and contingencies from the caregiving formula. For example, agencies working with people who struggle with challenging behaviors such as violence or those considered socially unacceptable most often have care plans that are centred around teaching the person to stop doing those things. Often that is done by withholding treats if that behavior occurs, or punishing in some way or another. With Gentle Teaching, the entire focus is taken off the behavior and onto the relationship between caregiver and the person supported. Caregivers are asked to develop an interconnectedness with the person for whom they care. Instead of a "You need me to make you behave properly" mentality, it becomes a "We need each other because we are equal" mentality. And this is a difficult concept for most people with a background in behavior modification. Behavior mod is focused on the negative, and often the care relationship devolves into a hierarchical one where the caregiver is waiting for the person to screw up, and then the interaction between the two is one of control and being controlled. With GT, the interaction is one that teaches first and foremost that the person is safe with us and that we value them regardless of what they do or don't do. The last part of that sentence is where people often get snagged - to think that a person with intellectual disability and violent tendencies is valuable regardless of that violence is tough for some to swallow. Using the tools of Gentle Teaching (teaching someone to feel safe, feel unconditionally valued, then teaching them to value others and become meaningfully engaged using not cattle prods and restraints but merely our eyes, hands, words and personal presence) allows the person in care to move into a place of peace and even healing after years of institutional and often harsh 'care'. Another way to put it is, most caregivers focus on stopping bad behaviors, which is learning how to stop engaging with others in a harmful way. With Gentle Teaching, the focus is first and foremost on the first two pillars: teaching the person to feel safe with us and unconditionally valued by us. As our relationship grows, only then can we move into the last 2 pillars: teaching the person to value others and be meaningfully engaged. That is only after they really have learned that they can trust us and they are safe with us. With behavior mod, we seek compliance. With Gentle Teaching, we seek something much deeper.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Predator: Shapeshifter extraordinaire

I was reminded of something important not long ago: People who are 'powerless' are faced with potential bullying from many angles. A bully is a predator, seeking that which is perceived to be weaker or easily overtaken.

But what does a predator look like?

To know the answer, maybe we should understand its prey, for surely we are more familiar with that. Anyone who feels powerless can fall victim to those who hunger for power. Desperation can strip people of power within their own life; therefore, those without adequate shelter or food can become easy prey for people looking to take advantage, because their need is so great. Same can be said for someone who has lived through abuse, who now struggles with substance abuse to dull painful memories. Individuals with mental health issues or intellectual disability have been historically kept on the outskirts of society because of the challenges they face. Many of us are aware of these marginalized people groups and are committed to social change so that every person regardless of their life story can know that they deserve equality, community, relationship.

But I realized recently that even a healthy child living in upper middle class society who has been taught to respect their elders can fall prey to power-craving adults. It is hard enough for an adult to halt the unhealthy behaviors of another adult - how can a child stand up to such bullying?

Perhaps we don't think that the little snarky remark we throw at a child will do anything more than guilt them into stopping from doing something we don't like, or that little tap to the cheek wasn't that bad, because it convinced the student that when you said to sit still, you meant it.

Adult manipulation of children is a rampant, widespread and acceptable method of bullying in today's society. But we need to recognize this behavior - even verbal manipulation and shaming - for what it is: evil.

Caregiving occurs in the moment. In each small moment that we enter, we have opportunity to strengthen the relationship we have with the kids in our lives, or weaken it. Those small moments are the cement that forms a child's moral memory, teaching them who they are to us, whether they are of value, and whether we can be trusted.

So, what does a predator look like? The truth is, we are all capable of acting in a predatory or bullying manner to those who are perceived 'beneath' us in pecking order. When it comes to the children in our lives, we must remember to take care that every moment linking to another is an opportunity to speak value into that child, to reinforce that they are safe with us, and that we honour them. If our words and our actions are not speaking that, then we must look in the mirror, and from the perspective of a child, or a person with a disability, or any marginalized individual, ask the question again.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Register now for instruction in Gentle Teaching

Gentle Teaching is a non-violent approach for helping people with challenging behaviors and/or special needs. Gentle Teaching focuses on four primary goals of care-giving:

Teaching the person to feel safe with us;
Teaching the person to feel unconditionally loved by us;
Teaching the person to feel loving towards us;
Teaching the person to feel engaged with us.

Gentle Teaching is based on a psychology of human interdependence. It asks us, as caregivers, to find ways to express warmth and unconditional love toward those we serve without expectation of reciprocation. It forces us to examine our desires to form feelings of companionship and community with those who’ve been pushed to the furthest edge of society.

The five-week class explores the basic principles of Gentle Teaching and provides an in-depth exploration of situation-specific techniques through instruction, group discussion and practical experience. It offers benefit both to those new to the philosophy and those who have had exposure to Gentle Teaching.

Come learn the gentle approach that is touching the lives of marginalized people - and their caregivers - all over the world

Class dates & time:
Mondays, October 30 – December 4, 2006 6:30-9:30 p.m.
(no class on Novemebr 13th)
Where: Lakeview Elementary School, Saskatoon

Cost: $100 – plus $10 for workbook and materials.

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: One week prior to first class


To register, or for more information, Email

or contact Tim Jones: 222-3958

Monday, September 11, 2006

Getting ready for Belgium

Well, we're busy putting the finishing touches on the prep work required to go to Belgium next weekend. Hello, chocolate paradise! Tim is speaking at the Gentle Teaching International conference in Ghent September 20 - 22/06. He'll be speaking on how to maintain gentleness during those tough days when work is violent and people with extreme challenges are pushing you past what you thought you could handle. When nothing seems to be changing, do you still believe that gentleness is the best approach? When you've been bitten, hit, punched, thrown, can you show a gentle response? How? I've seen snippets of this presentation and it is powerful.

As promoter for the following year's conference, I'm excited to get to Ghent and hand out Saskatoon berry syrups, jams and a few other incentives. We sure do live in a delicious province! I'm also excited to unveil the promo video for GTI 07.

As soon as we get home, we've got a presentation to make to a group of teachers interested in learning more about fostering a community of gentleness within a classroom setting. And of course, night classes will start up in October in Saskatoon.

Fall has arrived!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT: Gentle Teaching International Conference 2007 is coming to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan!

Each fall, the Gentle Teaching International conference brings together people from various backgrounds to discuss social justice issues and learn from the masters ways to bring gentleness to the most marginalized of people groups. Social workers, human service workers, educators, day care operators, those involved with senior care, people working in corrections, pedagogists, parents... anyone with an interest in tearing down old, punititive behavioral modification-based models of care meet to share their successes, their challenges, and learn new approaches.

The GTI conference has previously been held in Vancouver, Detroit, Winnipeg, Denmark, and Chicago. GTI 06 will be held in Belgium.

We are pleased to announce that the Gentle Teaching International conference will be held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada September 12 - 14, 2007. This conference, unprecedented for the region, expects to draw participants from across Europe, North America, South America, and the Middle East. Be sure check back here for more information, and bookmark to stay updated on speakers and registration information.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Gentle Teaching While the Cap is Flying…

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…”
William Shakespeare, As You Like It, act 2, scene 7.

The stage is set. The scene: Inside a classroom on a warm wintry afternoon. The teacher has stepped away from the class for a brief moment. Two boisterous boys begin a little bit of horseplay. Another boy, slight, quiet, wearing glasses, sits at his desk off to one side.

One of the boisterous boys grabs the cap off of the quiet boy’s head. He and his friend toss it back and forth overhead, laughing loudly, trying to draw attention from their classmates or elicit a response from their target. The quiet boy is unsure and fearful. Should he grab for his cap, escalating the game and potentially inviting violence? Or does he shut down, stay low, cop to his position of powerlessness, and wait for his captors to grow bored? He looks over to a couple of classmates, catches the eye of the boy behind him, who turns away.

When I think of all the stages of the world upon which our 3 kids play out their daily lives, and the various ‘danger zones’ where we must be vigilant for their safety, their individual classrooms don’t really rank as places that merit concern. Certainly, the classroom doesn’t seem more perilous than the downtown bus terminal where they navigate a transfer – innumerable crimes occur in that 2 block radius over the course of a school year, some violent, and some to school-aged children. Their classrooms don’t seem more hazardous than the walk through the streets to get home – we all know enough to worry about abduction or distracted drivers not watching for pedestrians. Surely, once my babies get into their classrooms, I should breathe a sigh of relief.

I’m reading Barbara Coloroso’s book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander right now. It tells of “three characters and a tragedy performed in our schools, homes, playgrounds, and streets”. Coloroso says that most kids try out all three rolls, slipping from one to the other with relative ease. Many slide for good into the roll of bystander, while others get typecast as the bully or the bullied and struggle to move out of those rolls.

My blood boils when I see children preying on each other. My kids know not to play keep-away with each other’s hats or book bags – at least where I might see or hear of it. Some might wonder why such seemingly harmless child’s play would elicit such a heated emotional response. Maybe I played the role of ‘bullied’ once. Maybe my own cap, or glasses, or mitts were kept from me for the pleasure of others, or maybe I can feel a child’s helpless panic simply out of empathy. Regardless of why, I think that this little game demonstrates the power stratum as brutally as a foot on the neck. A foot on the neck is a violent thing, and can have long lasting emotional effects.

We are so blessed that our children can access an education system led by dedicated, talented educators who really care about kids. Our own kids are blessed by the fact that, for the most part, they are not targeted for violence by their peers. But it has happened on occasion. And when it has, those mother-bear instincts are not meek or mild. They are shockingly strong.

We need to respond with the right message. It’s not okay for children to victimize other children. It’s not something that we allow. It’s not a rite of passage and it’s not just a part of growing up. But parents in this position need to know that there is a better response to bullying than simply applying a bigger foot to the neck of the bully.

Gentle Teaching does not strip us of power – it empowers. It can reach into the heart of the bully and turn him or her toward a life that is enriched by mutual ties of affection with others. The child who might easily slip into the role of ‘the bullied’ can be kept safe even if his protectors believe in gentleness. Yes, as parents, teachers and caregivers of all kinds, we can be effective in our roles as powerful advocates for children who rely on us for their safety, and still have an attitude of gentleness.

I believe that the philosophy of Gentle Teaching will help children feel safe, loved, loving and engaged in their community, no matter which role they are currently playing. But in that moment, while the cap is flying, what does a gentle response look like?

This requires some chewing, and a little more time with Barbara.

Author’s note to all boys everywhere: You are terrific human beings and are not prone to playing the role of the bully any more than girls. I only used boys in this example because I felt like it.

Author’s note to the 3 Jones children: 'As long as I’m living, my babies you’ll be'. Get used to it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

What's all the GT hubbub, bub?

In pockets of Canada and the US, throughout Puerto Rico and South America, spashing across Europe and even Asia and the Middle East, a buzz is growing about something called Gentle Teaching. It's gaining momentum because, like most things essential to humanity, it's easy and it works.

So what exactly is Gentle Teaching, anyway?

To put it simply, it's a nonaversive approach to caring for children, seniors, people with disabilities, and others whose life circumstances have made it difficult to enter into meaningful relationships. It is especially important for those who have been marginalized - kept on the outskirts of society - due to challenging behaviors.

Gentle Teaching is a philosophy of care that begins with the care giver. It asks you to take measurement of the scope of your embrace, the lines you will not cross, and the boundaries that you've placed within your own life. Gentle Teaching will entreat you to soften to others - even those with severe challenges - so that you can then entreat others to become meaningfully engaged within their community. In this place, challenging behaviors dissolve.

It's a very effective tool. There are many tools and methods out there. So, what sort of philosophy of care is being implemented at your agency/place of work/school/home?

GT Educators coffee house is now open!

Welcome in to our safe haven! Mr. Jones has the fridge stocked with C2 (Pepsi drinkers are welcome too). Mrs. Jones has the coffee on strong.

We want to talk about gentleness. Gentleness in the workplace. Gentleness at home and at school. In the face of violence. Gentleness for mending broken hearts. Proactive gentleness for growing healthy children into strong adults.

There is a philosophy of care out there called Gentle Teaching, and as you may know, it is changing the face of care across this planet. Mr. Jones wants to talk about that, especially if you work with people with challenging behaviors due to intellectual disabilities or other life circumstances. He will even answer questions if you have.

Mrs. Jones wants those school grounds where our chitlins spend much of their childhood to be places of greater gentleness, and she wants to hear your take: on bullying, on teaching empathy (difficult!), on discipline, and more. Got some experiences to share? Spill!

So pull up a chair and get comfy. We've got a lot to chat about!