By Ari Poyurs
In 2016 I was teaching my first group of Grade 5 students. While we had a wonderful relationship and fantastic classes, there was a problem. There was a clear hierarchy within the class. Anyone who was lower in the hierarchy did not get a chance to express themselves and was often mocked.
I had to intervene!
I came into class holding a stress ball with a smiley face on it. I asked the students to sit in a circle on the floor. I began by holding up the stress ball, “This is Jimmy, what do you think Jimmy is feeling?”
“Now, I want you to say something horrible to Jimmy and throw him on the ground or at the wall as hard as you can.”
Confused, the students listened and giggled while they bullied the unsuspecting stress ball. Once they had all finished and things had settled, I continued, “I was Jimmy at school…”
“I was skinny, had acne and people used to mock me for it. My family didn’t have a lot of money so sometimes we didn’t get a lot of food. I also struggled with a lot of subjects in school.
“One day, my classmates and I were playing at break and one boy (who was actually struggling with family issues at the time) decided he was going to start kicking the ball as hard as he could at a few of us. It sucked and I felt worthless.”
“I was often mocked for being skinny and I remember feeling so ashamed. Every day I put on a smile, hid my pain and just wished school would be over.”
“My dear Grade 5s, there are people in your class who have that same pain and can’t share it! They are hurting and struggling and feeling bullied because we mock them and don’t give them a chance to speak. But the thing is, they don’t show it! They put on a smile like Jimmy.”
I finished off by urging them to be kinder to one another and respecting those around them!
A little boy named Jake walked up to me after the class. He said in a soft voice, “Mr Poyurs, I know it will be okay for me because it turned out okay for you…”
With tears in my eyes, I handed the smiley stress ball named Jimmy to Jake and said, “You are a hero for sharing that with me, Jake!”
My story was painful at times, but it has shaped me into who I am today. Of course, my classmates could have done with a little more emotional intelligence, but they all turned out to be great guys… which shows that they just needed a bit more guidance at that age, a bit more awareness, a bit more empathy.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to teach people how to be kind, empathetic, self-aware, and most importantly how to be a mensch. There are so many factors involved and it is difficult to place this burden solely on schools when they already have so much on their plates. That is where I come in! I founded Happy Schools — an emotional intelligence consultancy — where we work to develop Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) solutions for parents, teachers, and students.
Through meaningful connection, engaging and relevant content, and behavioural science techniques to create sustainable change, we aim to challenge all our stakeholders and to re-think education.
The world needs problem-solvers, agile workers, creative thinkers, empathic leaders, and engaging listeners if we want to create a world that is worthwhile for future generations. So I urge you, as parents, employers, leaders, educators, and humans, to think how you can leverage or develop your emotional intelligence to ensure that there is space for Jake, a space for him to nurture his unique talents and make a meaningful contribution to the world, a place he can feel safe and call home.
I look forward to connecting and learning together with you!
Learn with a smile!
Ari Poyurs is a valued member of the Mensch Network. To read more about his work log onto www.mensch.org.za, and scroll on the ‘Network’ menu to find out more about Happy Schools and to connect to his Facebook blog.
• Published in the PDF edition of the June 2021 issue – Download here.
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