Inclusive lunch groups give everyone a chance to be heard

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Edward Biagiotti, Tapping into Genius

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” – David Augsburger, Author

A parent approached me recently and encouraged me to write about what happens in the lunch groups that I facilitate for the district. He felt that many people would benefit from hearing about these groups and what we do together. He reminded me that what I do has value in the school district and beyond. It was the inspiration I needed, at the moment I needed it.

The lunch groups he referred to vary in size from two to 20 members in a given session. Some of the students have special needs and others are typically functioning. My job is to create fun activities that encourage engagement, friendship building and self-awareness. By creating an environment where students can be together, regardless of their label, and learn about each other, the illusion of separation dissolves. I see the very best come forward in our students as they learn to give each other the time and space required to express themselves in their own unique ways. This is what I call an “inclusive environment.”

One of the key components to the groups is the use of open-ended activities, such as “Question of the Day”. During this activity a student will generate a question, and then function as the teacher, asking each member of the group to answer. The students typically talk about their favorite music, places to hang out, or places they would like to visit. There in only one rule: it is okay to answer honestly, or to pass, as long as you speak for yourself. During this activity, I encourage everyone to actively listen to the person who is speaking. For some students this means giving a little extra time to think. The bottom line is that everyone is heard.

One week the group discussed what they do to feel better if they are feeling sad, or even feeling bored. The students had a great conversation about which adults they are comfortable talking to, and why. It is amazing to see the honesty and sincerity that these kids share with one another when they feel safe and inspired.

I have some students who are so used to getting into trouble and failing that they give up on listening to their teachers and their peers. They may have developed a combative exterior, or simply have trouble sitting still, because it is challenging to be in a situation that feels hopeless. In the lunch group, students have an opportunity to put their senses of humor to appropriate use, and admit that they are struggling if that is the case. Students find out that they are not alone in their struggles, and deepen their friendships in the process. Over time, students begin to see themselves in a new light, and from there they make new choices.

When I am doing my job right, I forget who has been labeled autistic, or diagnosed with ADHD. I only see people who, like myself, are doing their best to make sense of their world and feel good about life. I know that love dissolves all sense of separateness. When we are operating from a loving place, everyone gets to be who they truly are, with all their differences, all their quirks, and all their gifts. The beautiful thing to watch is the way all of these unique qualities harmonize and create a community. It is not magic that makes this happen. It is our natural state of being. The proof is the way we feel when we are together, having fun, and sharing who we are.

I invite you to look around and take in your surroundings from a renewed perspective. Assume that somehow, we all fit together perfectly. What does the world look like through that lens? I find that I learn something new every time I look at life in this way. It is in those moments when we are thinking bigger thoughts, and seeing the bigger picture, that we tap into genius.

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.TappingInto- Genius.com for more articles and a free, inspirational parenting download.

Photo courtesy of Edward Biagiotti. Source of Support—Cindy Fierro works in the front office of La Ballona Elementary School and is very supportive of the lunch groups. She believes in maintaining an inclusive environment for all district students.
Inclusive lunch groups give everyone a chance to be heard