Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.
-Michael J Fox
Not many people realize that the word individual means “undivided”. It may seem odd, but when I honor everyone around me as unique individuals, I actually feel more connected to them. This is a big part of what I do with my students in Culver City Unified School District. At least once a week, in lunch groups, and individual sessions, we get together and celebrate our individuality, while forming a bond that is closer to family than acquaintance.
When I started out in education I tended to either believe that people needed to change, or that I should not interfere at all with who they are because it was wrong to do so. Now I approach my job from a very different awareness. As I honor each of my students as unique individuals, I become more of a cheerleader than anything else. I see them and feel genuine delight in their attendance. When I see that they are not feeling happy, I ask them why, from a place of sincere interest. In the past, though I would not always admit it, I saw their upset as interference to my plans. Now I see that there is always a bigger plan and that supporting someone to acknowledge their upset and move through it, is a big part of my job.
One of my favorite places to get coffee is The Conservatory for Coffee, Tea, and Cocoa, located at 10117 W. Washington Blvd. here in Culver City. It is across the street from Sony Studios, and gives me the feeling of coming home, whenever I enter. The staff is very friendly. They maintain their professionalism while keeping their individuality. It is a great combination.
I typically stop by The Conservatory for a cappucino with Darrell Fusaro, my co-host on “Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed.” Recently, Lisa Barish, whose family owns The Conservatory, shared with us a secret for turning everyone into family. She suggested, when feeling overwhelmed or agitated by a crowd, we choose to see them all as our cousins. Darrell and I liked the idea so much that we did a radio episode, “Love or Nothing,” as well as a short youtube episode, “All in the Family” about how this approach has changed our experience in the world.
I mention this because it goes along perfectly with what I do in my lunch groups. When I see my students as members of my family it is easier to support them as individuals. I imagine their loved ones, surrounding us, and supporting us in learning, bringing out the best in our groups. By doing this, I am able to be more accepting of my students, seeing their unique personalities the way I would view my own family members at the holidays. It is this loving bond that allows me to praise them whole heartedly when they are on track, and direct them lovingly, often with humor, when it is clear that they have fallen off the rails.
I have a student who comes enthusiastically through the door each week. I have seen him go from stubborn and combative, to stubborn and cooperative, in the course of several months. The thing is, I honor his stubbornness as part of who he is. When he knows something, he really knows it. There is no point in pushing against his stubbornness. What I have done is accepted him and encouraged him to be more cooperative so that he can have a better experience of school for his sake. I see his clear knowing as a gift and I would not want to squash it just because, at times, he uses it as a defense mechanism.
I invite you to try seeing everyone you encounter as your cousin, or as dear friends. No action is required, only a change of your thinking. From there, see what happens. I trust that you will be pleasantly surprised as you tap into a more cooperative, and joy-filled world. Let me know how it goes. You can email me at: FunniestThing@UnityOnlineRadio.
Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District. He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, live each week at 3 pm on www.UnityOnlineRadio.org. Visit www.TappingIntoGenius.com for more articles and a free, inspirational parenting download.