The Power Of Choice

A few weeks ago while getting ready for a night out with my friends, I looked in my closet and had an emotional break down. Everything in my closet was either something that I had worn 15 times, was outdated, or no longer fit. I was feeling old, super unattractive, and just needed to put something on that I felt good in. I had nothing. I sat on the edge of my bed and cried for a few minutes before I managed to shake it off, throw on my old faithful jeans, a well worn top, and head out for a few beers.

Heading to the pub it occurred to me that my reaction may have been over the top and fueled by some well timed hormones but, that it was totally understandable. We often don’t put a lot of thought into the choices we make or why we make them but the clothes we wear can be reflective of how we are feeling that day. We may choose an outfit that boosts our energy, one that covers our insecurity, one for the comfort on days we aren’t feeling well, or for security in a scary situation. We dress our best when we want to feel our best. For most of us, we can assess and choose what we want, when we want because we have that power and control in our own lives.

For many people we support, something as simple as choosing their own clothes can be a major battle. They may spend time pouring over different coloured socks, trying to decide which one is right for the day or wear a particular top that they love until it is hanging in tatters. As support people, we sometimes make choices for the folks we support without giving it a second thought. We know what the weather is going to be, we know what looks best, so it’s natural for us to grab something and simply help the person to get dressed.

This is just one example of the ways that people can have a lack of control in their own lives and it’s pretty minor. Many people don’t even argue, they are simply happy to wear whatever is offered or what is in their closet. It may not even occur to them to demand the choice of their outfit for the day. It is on us as gentle teachers, to understand that on a very basic level the people that we support often don’t have control over even the simplest choices within their lives. It is important for us to recognise and honour the areas that we can give back control to the people we support, in as many ways as possible, even if it means that it takes 15 extra minutes to get ready in the morning.

Including a person in their choice of clothes, what’s for supper, what they are going to watch on TV and a dozen other small decisions that we take for granted every day allows people to have control over the things in their lives that they are able to. It can also minimize the struggle for control in areas that we are not able to give control back, things like medications, restrictions for safety etc. By empowering people to feel in charge most of the time, you will also empower people to let go of control when they need to.

As for me, I have a much needed shopping trip in my near future!

Wholeness within Gentle Teaching

The past year that I have spent learning about Gentle Teaching, watching transformation occur, and seeing genuine relationships evolve has been my favorite experience as a nurse.  The best part of the philosophy, and the most tangible to me, are the four pillars; safe, loved/valued, loving and engaged. These pillars easily tie into my clinical training in wholistic health, the view of body and mind as one dynamic process. If we break down each pillar separately, we are able to better see where we are balanced and where we need improvement.

How is your emotional wellness? Are you being nurtured? Do you feel emotionally safe? Do you have insight/intuition? Are you financially stable?

How is your mental wellness? Do you have opportunities to learn new skills? Do you have opportunities to share your wisdom with others? How is the environment around you?

How is your spiritual wellness? Do you have vision/inspiration/enlightenment? Do you have companionship? Are you connected socially? Do you have a connection to the earth?

How is your physical wellness? Do you have a sense of community? Do you participate in activities meaningful to you? How’s your energy? How’s your presence? Do you have meaningful employment?

These questions within the four pillars allow us to take a step back and look at the big picture of overall health, awareness of our body, mind, heart, spirit, and the connectedness between them. To be in good wholistic health is to maintain balance in various areas of our lives while continuing to learn and grow as a person. This is why it is important that we re-visit the pillars often to re-evaluate where we are on our wellness journey.

Gentle Teaching is a malleable tool that can be useful in all sorts of applications. Sometimes all you need is a little perspective.

– Haley Ralko, Director of Mental Health Services

Interconnection and Caring

I am becoming more aware that everything is interconnected. Having this mindset reminds me that everyone and everything has a purpose, is worthy of respect and caring, and has a place in this circle of life. As I sit and write this from a local coffee shop, I am aware that the woman sitting at the table next to mine is an extension of myself and at the same time something separate from me that I respect in her own right. This feeling of someone being a part of me is enhanced when they are in my care. I am supporting them but this does not mean they are dependent upon me. I know that this person does not need me in order to survive. Rather, I experience their development as bound up with my own sense of well being and my purpose, together co-creating our destinies. Interdependence is crucial in learning about yourself, feeling your own separateness yet seeing the other as the same as you. Gentle Teaching is based on the notion of human interdependence bound by unconditional love. The caregiver must delve into thorough self examination, wrapping her spirit up with gentleness to then provide and teach unconditional love and connectivity to the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.

My hope is that through my teaching and modelling the people I support will learn how to feel safe and loved. My role is to provide a safe space and opportunity for them to grow in their own right. I see their potentiality and I believe that my primary role as a caregiver is to aid in this growth. This does not give me power over them, but rather I see it as privilege to support and witness. I have been entrusted with the care of another, the opposite of possessing, manipulating or dominating. Caregivers must be heart-centered, focusing on feelings of the heart. I must be creative in how to express love abundantly and generously. Love to me doesn’t equate to an object but rather love is us at our core. Love is our whole being, our godliness. Care-giving is about knowing and choosing to be love. I believe that this will only be reflected back to you. This is how we teach. Life is nothing but an opportunity for love to blossom and for us to become love.

Caregivers must be genuine in their care. There must be no discrepancies between how the caregiver acts and how they truly feel. I can not care by sheer habit; I must be able to learn about the past to create my own moral based memory. I have found that we must develop a rhythm, observing our actions and reactions, in order to remove our expectations of the future. This requires watching people, situations and events and truly absorbing these experiences through thought and feeling. In light of those results we maintain or modify our behaviour, expressing love, no matter what. We must support in the here and now, meeting the people we support exactly where they are at today. This requires me to flow back and forth. Something that worked yesterday may not work today. I must be aware of what I am doing and whether this is helping or hindering the individual.

As caregivers we should not only ensure that those whom we serve are safe, and feel loved, but we also feel safe and loved ourselves. We must provide opportunities for the people we support to express their love, to care for someone or something a part from themselves. Efforts aimed at helping those we support to understand themselves in terms of their morality—characteristics like compassion, gratitude, mercy, and generosity—can restore their sense of identity. These bonds are critical to one’s well-being and health, as they are the source of all connectedness.

I engage with others in holistic and meaningful ways that support well-being and encourages connection. My favourite times are when I can wholeheartedly “be” with whomever I am supporting. It is then that I am able to access my inner-knowing to connect deeper with the person I am supporting. When we listen respectfully and attentively to what others say with what I call, our heart mind, we are able to know them much more than our rational minds allow. When we allow ourselves to delve into the deep pockets of love, connection and intuition, we are able to better understand the true essence of the person. I am forever grateful for the deep and genuine connections I have made with those I care for. I am constantly reminded this is the foundation of all relationships within our world, encompassed by our interconnectedness.

– Andie Palynchuk, Support Worker

Creating a Ritual of Love

While growing up my family had all kinds of little rituals that, even as a child, I knew were completely unique to my family. Each night before bed, regardless of where we were in the house, once my sister and I were tucked in we would all shout loudly to one another “NIGHT, LOVE YOU, SEE YOU IN THE MORNING!” It became such an important ritual to my sister and I that it would have been unthinkable to try and go to sleep without hearing my parents say those magic words of night time protection. Throughout my childhood, my dad would yell at the top of his lungs “JANA…NICHOLE…FRONT AND CENTER!” In another home those might have been frightening words, but we knew exactly what it meant. We would drop whatever we were doing and come running at full speed to stand in front of my dad with anticipation. Sometimes it was a treat he bought us on the way home, sometimes it was money to go to the store and sometimes it was a surprise or good news to tell us. When we heard those words, we knew that it was going to be good!

We all have small rituals that get us through our day; morning coffee, kiss the kids goodbye, our route to work. These things are like touch stones and once they become ingrained in our day, they become essential to our flow. If I miss a step, or something goes wrong, if I sleep through my alarm for example, it throws my whole day off kilter and sometimes it’s impossible to get it feeling back on track for the rest of the day.

In building our relationships with the people we support, it’s important to remember how unpredictable and chaotic their lives can be and that (to them) we are just another stranger in a long line of strangers that are thrust into their lives. They don’t always have the ability, the insight or even the control to build into their day the small rituals that we all have that keep us emotionally and mentally on track. One of the things I have worked really hard at is creating unique and personalized dialogues with people that I support; inside jokes or small rituals that we do every single time we are together. Whether it’s a song we sing, a running joke that gets repeated at the same time every day or a ritual of sitting together and sipping coffee in silence, you can intentionally build these rituals into your relationship that are unique to just the two of you. By doing so, you set yourself apart in some way from the dozens of care workers that have come before you and create a new and special bond that begins to become a foundation for the friendship that may come with time. Even more important, you will give the person you serve the gift of creating a touchstone for them in their day. Something that they can count on to happen and that brings a feeling of safety and security and something that they will inevitably begin to associate with you.

When things get scary in life and when our world begins to fall apart, there are people, places and things that we count on to hold on to, to remind us of who we are. To this day, if I crash at my parents house, you will hear us yelling from room to room, just before we fall off to sleep, “NIGHT, LOVE YOU, SEE YOU IN THE MORNING!”

– Nichole Gooding, Team Leader

Embracing My Weakest Tool

Before SAI I had no prior knowledge of Gentle Teaching other than the brief summary I had read on the website.  My first Gentle Teaching training was amazing and I was instantly hooked.  Here I was, in a professional workplace, being taught that all these things I naturally do were the very tools I would be using to build my relationships and succeed in this organization.  I couldn’t believe it.  I told my parents, my friends and anyone who would listen about Gentle Teaching.

Now that I was equipped, I was ready to start actively using my tools.  I thought it was going to be a piece of cake.  I quickly realized I was relying on some tools much more than others; touch and words of affirmation were the ones that came easy to me.  Some of my relationships were growing really fast and it felt really good.  When I was with those individuals I was using the right tools and it showed.  Those were the days that were filled with smiles and the companionship was effortless.

I had one particular relationship that showed me I needed to sharpen my tools.  I had to move to passively using the ones that came easy to me to actively using the ones that put me out of my comfort zone.

This individual made it very clear that he could see right through me based on what my eyes were telling him.  I could use my strongest tools as much as I wanted, but if my eyes said something different than what I was saying it was the equivalent of lying to him.  I tried a lot of different approaches at first (most of them relating to my stronger tools) and they didn’t get me very far.

One thing that I noticed was that when I was unconsciously using my tools I would go home energized and happy.  When I had to focus on my weaker tools I would go home emotionally drained.  Eventually I learned how to soften my eyes when things weren’t going well.  The more practiced I became at using my eyes gently the less drain it had it on me.  It took time but by adapting my approach we got to a place where he felt safe being with me.  With this basic need met we were able to start to strengthen our relationship even further.  By embracing my weakest tool, I was able to open up the pathway for my strongest tools.  This was just one of many steps we took together in our relationship.

Being able to embrace my weakest tool allowed me to take a step backwards and apply it to my other relationships.  My experience showed me the importance of meeting an individual where they are at.  Being able to step outside of what was natural for myself and learn to use my tools in a complete way allowed me to build my most treasured friendships.

– Ryan Wall, Team Leader

Boundaries Can Be Tricky

It is important to recognize that boundary setting. If done in the spirit of Gentle Teaching, it is about teaching others how to love and treat themselves and others. Both the support person and the individual supported have their own personal boundaries they bring to a relationship. As supports and leaders we need to ensure that the individual’s boundaries are understood. There are times where we seek to decrease the boundaries of the people we support. If their boundaries are due to fear, current or previous trauma, or negative emotions, we need to ensure they feel safe and loved by us until the time is right to stretch. There are other times where we need to teach the other person how to set their own healthy boundaries.

We need to explore our own and other team member’s motivation for establishing boundaries with the person we support. Questions that should be asked include:

  • Is it to keep the individual/others safe?
  • Is it to increase the chances that their day is more successful?
  • Is it going to increase their quality of life?
  • Will the individual derive a sense of consistency/reliability from this?

If we are setting a boundary out of our own fear or discomfort this is not a boundary established for the others benefit or safety needs, but to decrease our own anxiety. This boundary will never be able to contain the spirit of Gentle Teaching. It is crucial to be able to identify and acknowledge our fear, and then question ourselves as to how we can change our approach instead of placing a demand on the other person. Because boundary setting can be tricky, we need to fully understand the person with whom you are setting the boundary. It is important to know whether you need to establish a positive relationship first and then establish boundaries – or is it important to have the boundary established at the start of the relationship? Know the individual’s history, in particular their trauma history. There may have been boundaries established in the past that have sent this person into crisis or remind them of past suffering.

There are instances where not having defined boundaries can lead to:

  • Individuals not being given appropriate or helpful support. This could effect their relationships with support people.
  • Individual may feel betrayed, abandoned, and not supported.
  • Support person and individual may be emotionally/physically traumatized or put in danger.
  • Community members may be at risk.

What potential effects could there be if a boundary that has been established, which has had a positive impact on the individuals well being and the relationship with their support person, is not being held to by one or more support person?

  • This can cause havoc with the individual’s sense of safety.
  • The individual can experience a sense of uncertainty with the support person, which can be detrimental to other relationships between the individual and others.
  • It may increase frustration and pit support people against each other.

It is very important to note that Gentle Teaching does not dictate what the boundary is, but rather how we use our tools (words, presence, eyes and touch) when communicating with the individual. Gentle Teaching requires us to have a non judgmental attitude while standing firm on boundaries. There will be instances of testing even in positive, loving relationships with well established, healthy boundaries. Please bear in mind that this is human nature and it is our task as Gentle Teachers to support others through outcomes with dignity and respect.

– Heather Foster, Home Supports Coordinator

Communication Between Souls

I had the good fortune of being introduced to Gentle Teaching when the philosophy had already caught fire. Many caregivers before me have blazed a trail of love and mutual respect; I was thrilled to jump on this path. Gentle teaching has allowed me to make connections and friendships that I never thought possible and is now, how I chose to live my everyday life.

One relationship that I often think of was very brief, but also something very special. It was with a baby elephant I met in Thailand. I had watched many tourists fail to make any connections with these gentle giants and was leery of paying the $10 fee to wade in the ocean with someone who didn’t want to be there. I laughed as each person got a blast of trunk water to the face and was disappointed when the animals would get yelled at when they did not respond to being poked and prodded. Most, if not all, left upset that they didn’t get their ride, and some were still choking on salty trunk spray.

I wanted that ride. When I met my elephant, I introduced myself. I made sure to show him my eyes and I gently pet him to show him I was his friend; we were safe together. Even though we did not understand one another verbally, I used my presence and gentleness to communicate and eventually the baby understood it was good to be with me. After a couple of minutes, the elephant knelt down and guided me up onto his back with his trunk. High and mighty we strolled out into the water. We had to be pried from each other when our time was up. We said our goodbyes on the shore and someone else tagged in. I giggled as I watched my friend spray the new guy in the face when he tried to step on the elephant’s head. Amateur.

Gentle teaching to me is communicating with the soul. You don’t have to speak the same language; you don’t even have to be the same species. I am very thankful that I have found a career where it is part of my day to give love. The trade off is that in doing so, it’s almost impossible not to receive it back. Sounds like a good deal to me.

– Jacine Gyug, Vocational Coordinator

Rolling Out of Bed, Happy

I was a man without a path until I found SAI.

I was a coaster in high school. Grades meant absolutely nothing – really just laughing and having a good time was why I went to school (well I guess the girls had a little part in it too).  University wasn’t on my radar, and making a significant amount of money wasn’t either.  I was just looking for something that was fulfilling and something that made me smile when I rolled out of bed in the morning.

I went to broadcasting school and did my practicum at a radio station in North Battleford in the early 2000’s.  It was fun, but I’m not the best reader and I came to realize that there is a lot of reading in radio.  When I accidentally played a Christmas Allan Jackson song in the middle of April, well, my radio career was all but over.

My path took me right to SAI after a few years of supporting at other agencies.  I was supporting an individual out of his home, and we were lucky enough to both move over to SAI.  Before moving over, the perception of SAI (to the uninformed outside world) was a hippy hug fest.  Now don’t get me wrong, a hippy hug fest can be a great thing, but there was so much more that SAI offered.

First, the individuals were happy and at the centre of their own world.  Totally 100% person centred.  Beautiful!  Secondly, there was trust, respect and a true friendship between fellow supports and also with the management team.  To find these 2 things was a dream come true.  It’s something, not only did I think I wouldn’t find, but something I didn’t think existed.  The philosophy matched up perfectly with my, “life’s too short, let’s enjoy everyday” type of thinking.

All of these things and more are why I continue to smile when I roll out of bed in the morning, even with 2 screaming kids at 5:35am!

-Tyson Elliott, Home Supports Coordinator

Why Gentleness Comes First

In Gentle Teaching there are always two components coming into play. Gentleness and Teaching. The two need to work hand in hand to build a strong relationship. As in any relationship we need to work on building a strong foundation first. There is no time limit as to how long this takes. We need to teach others that it is not our goal to change them, to comply, or to conform them into someone we want them to be. By loving them and being there for them we teach them that they are special, unique and their own person. Often there is a trust barrier we need to break through, as many people come and go through the lives of those we serve, and it is our goal to show them by our unconditional love and acceptance that we are there with them and for them no matter what. Once our friends feel that they are safe and loved they will exhibit signs to indicate that they feel safe with us, they will draw themselves towards us, seek us out and confide in us. As John McGee used to say, “we gentle our way into the lives of others”.

Once we know we have a strong foundation of safe and loved, it is paramount that we begin to teach. Often times this is overlooked as we don’t want to upset others or we get comfortable in the relationship. Teaching takes the person from where they are to where they could be. It could be as simple as teaching a new life skill, learning the difference between mine and yours, or setting a personal boundary for us or them. Whatever the situation, we need to be in the mindset of teaching, while never negating from safe and loved.

The beauty of this approach is that once we build on a strong foundation, we actually have authority to teach. If we don’t take the time to build the relationship, we have no right to teach.

If people flipped it around, and began to teach before they take the time to build a solid foundation, it will hinder the relationship and supports will be seen as demanding, threatening and unkind. If teaching comes first, people will actually feel unsafe and unloved.

As we move forward in creating a strong culture of Gentleness let us always focus on the good of the people we serve, learning how we can assist them and support them to grow and mature in their lives. Also may we learn the art of balance between gentleness and teaching. 

– Darcy VanLoon, Mentorship & Support Specialist

I recently had my eyes opened in regards to parenting and my youngest daughter.

I am like most working mothers out there; on the go from the moment you wake up until your head hits the pillow. At any given time, you are a chauffeur, activities manager, grocery supplier and laundry queen.

I am definitely known around our house as the one who has a schedule and list for everything, as well as high expectations for me and my family. With that being said, I am never really sure where I am at with that. I often feel like I am second guessing my choice of words or actions in conversations – is this a time to be firm or is this a time to just hug it out? Do our kids feel safe? Valued? Loved? As a parent, I want my kids to be good, responsible, respectful people and always give 100% effort. I am always quick to jump to where I could have done better – I should have said this; I should have given one more cuddle. Did I use all of my GT tools effectively?

Last week the Speech and Language Pathologist was at our house for her weekly session with my youngest daughter. She has been witness to: meltdowns in our house out of frustration, good days, not so good days, and hopefully some stellar moments as well. As I help her gather her things at the end of the session she tells me “it’s always a pleasure to come to your home each week”. I think my mouth fell open. I was thinking she likely says that to all of the families; but I felt compelled to ask her “why”?  She goes on to tell me that my daughter is polite, giving, respectful and always tries hard. I just smiled.

As a parent it’s always easy to envision what you want for your children and family as a whole, and all too often focus on the negative (which stays with you like Velcro) instead of all of the great things that you are doing to help nurture these people (which is more likely to slip past you like Teflon).

I was fortunate enough to be reminded that one moment (that could have gone a bit better if you used your tools appropriately), is just that – a moment. Tomorrow is a new day for you to be better or do better or celebrate! You need to appreciate the steps that your kids are currently taking, what unbelievable people they already are and have faith that you are doing the best that you can and always learning.

Both of my daughters are incredible…. sometimes you just need a little perspective.

– Melanie Loroff, Associate Executive Director