Today as I was browsing the web, I began to read some of the School Guidance Counseling websites. The goals are laudable. For example, in the New York City public schools, the guidance counselors’ work in collaboration with the entire school community and are committed to the education and emotional development of all students.
Further into the New York City site we meet Mr. Oramas. His work is heroic. Consider these words on the site: “….the counselor provides a safe haven for students who may need help that is potentially life saving.” Think about that for a moment: potentially life saving.
Today, there is a major shift in guidance counseling philosophy to include “the entire school community” and “all students.” This means, of course, that the role of the guidance counselor has shifted to now include instruction in mental health issues for entire classrooms.
Do you see that the role of guidance counseling has changed dramatically over the years? Decades ago, the guidance counselor might focus on career paths of students. Then more recently the focus has been on helping the hurting students to improve in emotional and mental health through one-on-one guidance, or at the most a small group of up to about 10 students. While these approaches are praiseworthy, they limit the number of students whom the guidance department can help.
The American School Counselor Association lists the requirements for state certification. Here are a few examples to show the reality of this shift to the entire classroom: Connecticut now requires 36 “clock hours” in regular classrooms for certification; Iowa requires competence in conducting “classroom sessions;” Missouri as one of its certification options requires that the candidate “complete a curriculum in teaching methods and practices.”
The American Counseling Association has a number of divisions, including Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC) which would seem to be a natural for placing forgiveness education into schools. Yet, a perusal of these sites shows that forgiveness is not yet on the radar.
Let us now ask the question: What can help students in potentially “life saving” situations and help the guidance counselor to provide mental and emotional health curricula to entire classes?
One major answer, it seems to us, is forgiveness education. We now have forgiveness education guides for teachers and guidance counselors available on our website. It takes about one hour per week for about 15 weeks to deliver a complete forgiveness education program to a classroom.
These guides have been used by hundreds of teachers and counselors for over a decade in the United States, Northern Ireland, and many other places in the world.? Research by the International Forgiveness Institute, as well as four years of teacher evaluations, demonstrate that as teachers or guidance counselors deliver forgiveness education to student, then those students who are excessively angry or depressed or even low in academic achievement because of the emotional disruption can improve significantly.
…guidance counselors began to introduce the concept of forgiveness into regular classrooms.
…this could happen each year from pre-kindergarten through high school.
…the students began to take forgiveness very seriously in the classroom and the school
…the principal and teachers began to say, “We are a forgiving school,” as has happened at Holy Family School in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
This could happen at your school. And we are not just talking to guidance counselors, but to all who have an interest in strengthening their local schools by including forgiveness as part of the school’s instruction and ethos. It could happen. It already has.
I wrote a children’s book, Rising Above the Storm Clouds. It is about a bunny family (yes, a bunny family) in which the two bunny children, Freddie and Ezzie, get into a little squabble. The book is a series of similes in which the children are taught what forgiveness is “like.” An excerpt follows:
“Forgiveness is like this. You’ve just had a big blow-up fight with your friend. The world is all gray clouds and gloom. You go out to the meadow with all the wildflowers. The sun is wearing a happy face, and there is your friend with the biggest smile, hoping you would come. You both lie in the meadow, look up at the cotton ball clouds, and talk of the time you took that airplane ride together. When you forgive each other, you might be surprised when you both find a fragrant summer meadow bursting forth in your heart.”
OK, adults, now you are challenged to take forgiveness seriously. You never know if a child is watching what you do…..Pass on the legacy of forgiveness.
How can we pass forgiveness to subsequent generations? We began asking that question in our blog post The Ripple Effect on April 10, 2012. We answered in part through our post about the ‘family as a forgiving community’ (April 14, 2012). We continue here with a focus on schools as transmitters of forgiveness knowledge and practice.
Our group began forgiveness education in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 2002, as a preventive approach to emotional and relational healing for people in contentious regions of the world. Our intent in the short-run is to reduce resentment, which can build up in children who are faced with continual injustices in their immediate environments. Our intent in the long-run is to equip students with such a deep knowledge and practice of forgiveness that they can and will effectively implement forgiveness in their homes, places of worship, jobs, communities, and even the wider community which includes those with whom they are experiencing conflict. It is our expectation that such deep knowledge and practice of forgiveness will go far in mending conflicts, even those which have been entrenched in communities for centuries.
We began with first grade (Primary 3 in Belfast) classrooms because from a developmental perspective it is here that children begin to think logically, in terms of causes and consequences, and simple deductions. We have the classroom teacher spend about one hour per week for about 12 weeks in teaching forgiveness through stories, such as Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who in which a kindly elephant saves an entire village of tiny Whos because, as Horton knows and constantly proclaims throughout the book, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
We decided to extend the development of the teacher guides through the end of post-primary school, a 12-year project. Perhaps the students who grow into adulthood with forgiveness as a continual companion will develop an ability to dialogue more deeply and effectively with “the other side.” Forgiveness, properly understood and practiced by some heroic adults, could change the face of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
OK, everyone, it is time to reflect on those good old school days of yore, those care-free days when everyone thought we did not have a care in the world. Yet, sometimes we carry burdens from those days and we do so in the silence of our own hearts. When was the last time that you, as an adult, had a discussion about your days in elementary, middle, or high school? When was the last time you had such a discussion with an emphasis on the emotional wounds you received back then? I am guessing that such discussion-times have been quite rare.
I wonder how many of you reading this still have some unresolved issues from the good-old-days. It is in school, within the peer group, at recess, on the sports team that our current sense of self is shaped, at least to a degree. Sometimes we are influenced by those days to a greater extent than we realize.
So, it is time for a little quiz. Please think about your days in school and see if you can identify one person who was unjust to you, so unjust that when you think about the person now, it hurts. This person is a candidate for your forgiveness. I have an important question for you: How has this person inadvertently influenced your own view of yourself? How has this person’s actions made you feel less than who you really are? Do you see that it is time to change that?
My challenge to you today is to take steps to forgive him or her for those behaviors long ago that have influenced you up to this very moment. It is time to take a better look at what happened, to forgive, and then to ask the question after you forgive: Who am I now as I admit to the injustice, admit to it negatively influencing how I have seen myself all these years, and who am I now as I stand in forgiveness?
Perhaps the good old days will seem a little brighter once you forgive. You will have lifted a silent burden.
It was reported in the Huffington Post that a student who shot five other students at Chardon High School in Ohio yesterday had been bullied in the past by others. Full story here.
Being bullied, of course, in no way condones murder. At the same time, we need to be more aware of this silent torture that students undergo in being bullied. It is possible that if he could have begun forgiving those who had hurt him, he would not have turned that rage onto others.
The International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. recommends two kinds of forgiveness interventions in schools:
1) For those who have been bullied in schools so that their anger will not turn to rage, depression, or even self-hatred. We were talking with a student from Korea recently and she related to us that there are many suicides in Korea by those who have been bullied in school.
2) For those who bully in school. These students usually have been treated cruelly by others (outside of school or in school) and this is one reason why they bully. If they can forgive those who have been deeply unjust to them, their motivation to bully will reduce or be eliminated.