Head & Heart Ch. 13: Inclusiveness Training at Living Wisdom School

Eric Munro is a retired technology CEO who received his BS in electrical engineering from MIT. Both of Eric’s sons attended LWS from kindergarten through eighth grade. His older son, Zachary, is now working toward his doctorate in Space Technology and Microgravity at the University of Bremen, Germany. Eric tells how inclusiveness training at LWS helped his boys.

At the annual LWS family campout, I sat by the campfire and watched my older son Zachary playing.

The man seated next to me said he’d been impressed to see Zachary playing Frisbee with the younger kids earlier in the day. He said, “he made sure everyone got a chance to play. I thought it was remarkable.”

Photo: Lucas and Zachary Munro with Dad.
Photo: Lucas and Zachary Munro with Dad.

Naturally, I felt some parental pride, but the feeling turned to gratitude for Living Wisdom School. I knew that Zachary’s expansive heart wasn’t solely a credit to my parenting skills, but that it was developed most powerfully during the eight years he spent in the school.

Ever since my sons entered LWS many years ago, I’ve been aware that one of the most important influences the school has had on their lives is how it developed their sense of inclusiveness. As parents, it has made our lives much easier, and I’m sure it will help them in high school, college, and their adult lives.

Starting in kindergarten, the children at LWS learn to play and work together. They learn that it feels better to include others and not exclude anyone. The remarkable part is that these “rules” aren’t enforced as rigid principles to be obeyed under threat of punishment. Instead, the teachers help the children realize that they are happiest when they expand their hearts to include the other students.

Three of the LWS “School Rules” tell the story. “Practice Kindness.” “Be a loving friend.” “Use your will to create good energy.”

On the playground, the single most important rule is “You can’t say ‘You can’t play.’”

How do the kids learn to practice these important life principles naturally, without adult nagging?

The first step is affirming the rules in the classroom. But what makes a far bigger impact is that the teachers model the rules constantly by their own behavior.

Recently, when I served as a volunteer during snack and lunch breaks. I was aware of the training the kids receive in inclusiveness and conflict resolution. But seeing it in action was amazing.

One day during snack time, two kindergarten girls got into a disagreement. When the teacher saw that one of the girls was crying, she sent all the other kids to another teacher’s class and spent ten minutes leading the girls through a conflict resolution.

First, she had them take turns talking about what happened, and how they felt. As they talked, she made sure they looked into each other’s eyes.

Then she said, “What is a way that you can both play with this toy that will make you both happy?”

After talking about it for a while, the girls arrived at a plan to share the toy. The teacher said, “Good! Then next time let’s do that!”

Later in the day, I visited a public library where some small children were playing outside. Some of the kids were arguing, and one child was crying.

The teacher walked over and said, “Be nice to your friends!” And then she walked away.

I thought, “What a difference!” It struck me that the teacher’s non-lesson would negatively affect the children’s future development, their personalities, and the adults they would become.

No amount of verbal instructions can turn a person into a saint. But I’m struck by how much happier children are when they receive the direct, hands-on, experiential training in inclusiveness that LWS gives them.

 Photo: Shubha tries to take the basketball away. Middle schoolers at recess, Living Wisdom School. (Teacher Eric Munro in background.)
Photo: Shubha tries to take the basketball away. Middle schoolers at recess, Living Wisdom School. (Teacher Eric Munro in background.)

I’m also struck by the maturity they show when relating to adults and each other, thanks to the guidance of the LWS teachers.

I’ve had several roles at LWS. I’ve been a parent, a classroom teacher, and a math and science volunteer. Being around the school for so long, I’ve often heard visitors and new parents remark, “There’s such a strong feeling of camaraderie between the kids in this school!”

You can see it every day on the playground, especially among the children who’ve been at LWS for several years. This tells me that the LWS experience deepens that quality in them. An older child lifts a young one to help him shoot a basket. The older kids give the younger kids extra turns so they won’t be excluded from a ballgame. Throughout the school, there’s an awareness of other people’s realities, and of the joy of helping.

The other day I eavesdropped on two fourth-graders, Shubha and Sam, who were organizing a “theater play” at lunchtime. They were talking to their classmates, and I overheard Shubha say, “This is how we can include everyone….”

No teacher was present and steering the conversation. It was just one of countless “wow!” moments at LWS.

My first wow happened when my older son was in second grade. His brother was in kindergarten, and my wife helped them make cards for their teachers. She suggested they tell the teacher something they were thankful for.

Zachary thought for a moment and said, “Thank you for helping us work out our problems on the playground.” My younger son dictated the same message.

I was stunned. The previous summer, my older son had gotten into fights on the playground at his daycare camp. As punishment, the teachers made him sit on the bench at lunch. There was no instruction, no discussion, no individual guidance. It’s questionable if anything was learned.

I’m aware how much energy it takes to “work out the kids’ problems.” It’s easy to hope that the problems will simply go away, or to abruptly order the kids to “share and be nice.”

In view of what I’ve seen at LWS, I think, “What a lost opportunity!”

Photo: Mariah lends a helping hand. Inclusiveness means being aware of others’ realities. The impulse to help becomes a natural extension of the heart.
Photo: Mariah lends a helping hand. Inclusiveness means being aware of others’ realities. The impulse to help becomes a natural extension of the heart.

The LWS teachers are committed not only to changing behaviors but to helping children develop a more expansive outlook. And they’re able to actually do it, day in and day out, because the teacher-student ratio is so low.

I’ve heard parents say, “This kind of schooling won’t make my child strong enough for the real world. It’s too nice!”

They would rather send their child to a school where their children can become “tough-minded” enough to deal with “real life.”

As an LWS parent, I believe this is a tragic failure to grasp what it means for a child to achieve true maturity.

Parents don’t realize that the ability to “play nice” demands character and inner strength. It’s much easier to retreat into selfish behavior than it is to exert self-control and stretch one’s awareness to include the other person’s point of view.

The inclusiveness training that the children receive at LWS makes them strong. It gives them the ability to take positive action in the face of upset feelings and negative emotions – it’s a skill that many adults lack. It gives them the maturity to be successful in life.

The most successful people in the workforce are those who can keep working positively despite upsets and setbacks, and who can work well with others and motivate people to work well together. The children at LWS begin to learn these lessons very actively at age five! Thus they become an integral part of who they are and how they behave.

Instead of becoming weak or “soft,” these kids acquire strengths that will give them a big competitive advantage over young people who only receive a traditional, academically focused education that’s conducted precariously in a “tough” environment.

Inclusiveness training is just one of the many techniques that help students develop their inner strengths at LWS. Here is a partial list of the others:

  • “Energization exercises,” accompanied by powerful affirmations, such as: “I am positive! Energetic! Enthusiastic!”
  • “Confidence stances” before their classmates (younger grades).
  • “Rocks in the basket.”
  • Learning the school rules and discussing them in class.
  • Circle time (includes songs and chanting).
  • Ongoing group projects in the classroom.
  • Presenting projects before the class.
  • The annual all-school Theater Magic production – a professional-quality event performed to standing-room-only audiences, where every child in the school plays a role.
  • Camping trips (middle school).
  • Daily playground inclusiveness guidance.
  • Annual end-of-year “Quality Speeches.”

The year-end speeches deserve special attention. Every student receives an award for a “quality” that they’ve worked on during the previous year. The student speaks to an audience of several hundred parents, teachers, and fellow students, explaining what the quality means to them personally.

The most important character-building element at LWS is the teachers who are carefully chosen and trained to serve as worthy role models for what it means to be a mature, well-adjusted, and happy human being.

These “tools and techniques of maturity” have a profound effect on the children, because they are applied very consistently in a genuine and natural way, every day in the classroom, at recess, and during sports and field trips.

When I think of the priceless gifts my kids received at LWS, I confess to feeling not a little jealous. I’m sure I would have enjoyed a happier childhood, found greater fulfillment as an adult, and been better able to understand and meet life’s challenges if I had attended LWS.

I believe that enrolling your child in LWS is the wisest, most valuable gift you can give them, for their school years and beyond.