Inclusiveness Training at Living Wisdom School

Eric Munro’s two boys attended LWS from kindergarten through eighth grade. Eric tells how inclusiveness training at LWS helped his sons. Eric graduated in electrical engineering from MIT and has served as an LWS math and science teacher and math volunteer.

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

Zachary was playing with the younger kids, giving them piggyback rides.

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

Zachary and Lucas Munro with father Eric
Zachary and Lucas Munro with father Eric. (Click to enlarge.)

Although I felt some natural parental pride, it quickly turned to gratitude for our school. I knew that Zachary’s wonderful expansive heart wasn’t solely to my parenting. I knew it came most powerfully from the eight years he spent in the school.

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

Starting in Kindergarten, the children at LWS learn to play and work together. They learn that it just feels better to include others and not exclude anyone who wants to play.

The remarkable part is that these “rules” aren’t enforced in the school as rigid principles to be obeyed under threat of punishment. On the contrary, the teachers help the children be aware that they are happiest when they expand their hearts to include others.

Three of the LWS “School Rules” lay it out 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 reminders?

Affirming the rules in the classroom is the first step. But it makes a much bigger impact that the teachers model the rules constantly.

I’ve recently served as a volunteer during snack and lunch breaks. I was aware at second hand of the inclusiveness and conflict resolution training the children receive, but seeing it in action is amazing.

During snack period one day, two kindergarten girls got into a disagreement. When the teacher saw that one girl was crying, she sent all of 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’s a way you can play with this toy that will make you both happy?”

The girls talked and 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 several 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 it was bound to affect their future development, their personalities, and the adults they would ultimately become.

No amount of training can turn a person into a saint. But from my experience of having been a child, adult, and parent, I’m struck by how much happier a child will be by receiving this training in awareness of others. I’m struck also by how much more ably they’ll relate to others as adults, thanks to the constant, active guidance of the teachers at LWS.

I’ve had several roles with LWS – I’ve been a parent of two boys in the school. I’ve been a classroom teacher and a math and science volunteer. Being around the school I’ve often heard visitors or 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, particularly among the children who’d 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 giving the younger kids extra turns so they won’t be knocked out of a ballgame. Throughout the school, there’s a pervading awareness of other people’s realities, and of the joy of helping.

Middle school girls play basketball, Living Wisdom School, Palo Alto, California
Shubha tries to take the ball away, middle schoolers at recess, Living Wisdom School.

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

No teacher was present and guiding the conversation. It was just one of countless “wow!” moments I’ve had 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 thank-you cards for their teachers. She suggested they tell the teacher something they were thankful for.

Middle schooler Mariah lends a help hand, Living Wisdom School, Palo Alto, California
…and Mariah lends a helping hand. Inclusiveness means being aware of other people’s realities.

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. At a daycare camp the previous summer, my older son had gotten into fights on the playground. 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 well aware how much energy it takes to “work out the kids’ problems.” It’s easy to ignore them and hope they’ll simply go away, or order the kids to “share and be nice.”

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

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, day out, because the teacher-student ratio is 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 they’ll become “tough enough” to deal with “real life.”

From my experience as an LWS parent, I believe it’s a tragic misconception of what it means for a child to attain 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 to exert self-control and extend one’s awareness to include the other person’s point of view.

The inclusiveness training here at LWS makes a child strong. It gives them the ability to take positive action in the face of upset and negative emotions, a skill that many adults lack. It gives them, in fact, 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 learning these lessons very actively at age five! Thus they become an integral part of who they are and how they behave.

Instead of than becoming weak or “soft,” these children acquire strengths that will give them a competitive edge 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. A partial list includes:

  • “Energization exercises,” accompanied by powerful affirmations, e.g., “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 student in the school has a role.
  • Camping trips (middle school).
  • Daily playground inclusiveness guidance.
  • Annual end-of-year Quality Speeches.

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

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

Every one of these “tools and techniques of maturity” has a profound effect on the child, because they are applied consistently, daily, in the classroom, at recess, and during field trips and sports, in a natural way.

When I think of the incredible 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.