Charleville: Teaching Conflict Resolution and Clowning

Today I went to St Mary’s school in Charleville. I was invited to do 3 presentations. One was on REAL HOPES 4 Conflict Resolution, Clowning Around and a Presentation to the school. Tomorrow I will train teachers in harmony.

I had a few stresses yesterday. I tried to find my blind spot cards. These cards I really wanted as they demonstrate through staring at a dot with one eye closed, the other dot disappearing, I use it as an analogy of when we think we are right we can’t see the other side. Sometimes I can be determined to find something and wind up frustrated. Interestingly as I observed my own frustration without questioning is this really important, I realized my own inner conflict. I thought does it really matter? My answer was no, the kids can look at the powerpoint. Then I released the thought by saying ‘it will be what it will be if I a meant to teach it the cards will turn up.’ With that thinking I let go of the thought. Very powerful, frustration instantly gone. Byron Katie’s work is all about letting go of the thought. When you are a strong minded person, you can resist life more I feel. Anyway, I noted that process. Then during the night I am not sleeping. I have no idea why, perhaps overtired from too much lugging and rehearsing. I think mentally I was pretty stimulated. Anyway, after a mental struggle with it given the fear of being too tired. This can be an issue as a clown, as you have to have so much energy to do this. I also think off the top of my head a lot, so I am pretty energetic. I do actually tap into a clown energy which is light and spontaneous, I am not acting. So energy is important. However, at 4.30 am and I am still not asleep. I have no anxiety, it just is what it is. I am saying to myself allow it. Just enjoy the quiet night, enjoy the comfy bed (ooh I love that), it is so warm compared to a tent. I said to myself I will l have the energy I need (affirmation). I then considered the thought – do I need sleep? my thought was how do I know I do? With that I allowed it. Then, interestingly the thought of eating porridge came to me, at first I discounted it, then I thought pay attention to random thoughts. So I made some, and wallah I went to sleep. I am practicing to tune into myself and let go. It did work. I had a feeling I’ll be fine. Again, I reinforced to myself the power of letting go and letting life, as my own form of conflict resolution. We are not in control and I am working on letting go and allowing.

Anyway, I got up and was fine. I love the artesian water and it does feel to have healing qualities. Apparently the aboriginals considered that. I can feel it and when I have a shower just allow the minerals to flow over. Really nice.

I got on my clown make up and made sure all was organized. Then I went to the school.

I firstly went to the staff room and met with the teachers and the groundskeeper, he kindly offered to help me with my stuff. It is a light box but I said ‘watch your back darling’, he hammed it up a little and commented he is a clown. Asked me where I am from, it is getting harder to answer these days as I’ve moved so much. I just said Canberra where I was made. I walked into the staffroom, I could feel the atmosphere as more sedate, the teachers were sitting having tea. I met with Louise who was the teacher coordinating my stay. I really love the cabin they have given me, I really needed it given the preparation and need to organize much gear. Anyway I sat with the teachers and found out where they were from. Some had married into Charleville, one was a local. I spoke to the ladies around me. They spoke of children coming as far as 83km to the school. There were around 140 kids in the school. I had been told later threat there are conflict issues at the school and that my visit was timely. There was some mention of the floods which flooded the school, in the staffroom the water went up a metre. I asked them if this region was flood and drought, they said yes. I said perhaps put the school up on hydraulic stilts. One said it would be better higher. A lot of cost in refurbishment. I asked about their careers, one teacher had a double degree. She said it is best to do it young, another agreed and indicated older is much harder. She had originally intended to travel but took a gap year. Her degree was in marketing and then went onto do teaching. Her parents advised her to go to university.

It was time to go to the hall and set up. Thankfully the powerpoint projection was ready. They got some A3 paper and we were ready. It was good, very big. Then the kids started to come in Grade 6 and 7’s.

I asked the kids what conflict means and what resolution means. Some saw conflict as fighting, others disagreement. I then asked about resolution and one indicated solving problems. I then took them through the REAL HOPE model. Joking about things as I went. I told them that values are very important as they guide as and make us willing to resolve conflicts. It is what brings us together. Then we did a brainstorming session on what is conflict. I asked people why they get upset with others. They said some were mean, others mean, another said irritating and annoying. I asked what happens when we get angry and upset? They said they may get physical and verbal, another said ‘sad’, go away and be alone. Then I asked do others make us upset?, many said yes, I said is that true. Can anyone make you upset? I said you can choose your feelings. For example I said you could call me a clown, they said you are one, I said let’s say they are being mean, I could get offended, but I choose not to. You can decide if it is true or not. Then I talked to them about projection, like a projector onto a screen. I said to them when someone says you are stupid, the thought is coming from them. So projection is that they think they are stupid and are calling you this. I said to not take it personally but to feel compassion for them. I said we don’t need to hate anyone. Then I asked if someone is bullying you what can you do. Some said get a teacher, others said go and think about it, another said tell them to stop. I told them we are all community. I said remember empathy (standing in someone’s shoes) we feel for others if they are hurt, we make sure we don’t hurt anyone and if we want a peaceful community, then we get involved. Everyone can be responsible (ability to respond) and help someone being bullied.

Then I showed the kids an iceberg and showed them that in a conflict situation we only know the tip. The rest, 90% is beneath the surface. Someone may appear a bully but they may have been bullied at home, maybe their parents are divorcing. What they are doing is taking your power, they are a powerless person. Some got that. I said the people with power don’t bully they don’t need to get power. I then showed them the blindspot test, they didn’t need the cards. Nearly all the kids when they covered the right eye and looked at the right spot (two spots on a slide), the other disappeared. I explained when we think we are right we can only see one dot, we can’t see anything else. Then I took them through a series of slides showing them perception and how the mind plays tricks. I showed them the 3 faces in one picture. That is a good one as kids learn we can see different things in a situation. We are all unique, which is why we see differently.

Then I took them through Dr. Emoto which really looks at how our intent (positive/negative) can affect water. We are 70-90% water. Dr. Emoto had people look at the water in viles with words on it and think positive or negative thoughts. After he froze it he found out that the crystals were either symmetrical (positive thoughts) or erratic (negative thoughts). I explained we can affect someone’s health if we are repeatedly negative to them. There are many cases in hospital affected by negativity. It makes people more responsible and monitoring their thoughts. The kids found that interesting. They wanted to know more.

Then we did a game on communication, it is called concentric circles. There is an outside ring and an inside ring, kids sit in front of partners. One will speak on a topic for 2 minutes whilst the other listens, then they stop and the one listening tries to reflect back everything they heard. We did a debrief afterwards, and some said that the other added words, got it wrong, couldn’t remember parts. I said it is a bit like Chinese Whispers, that is why we don’t listen to gossip, mostly we get it wrong. I had said earlier that the most intelligent thing they can think is ‘I could be wrong’, this opens to possibilities. So the kids could see that we often don’t understand each other so it is important to ask questions.

I then did an activity called the block and flow game. Basically you stand in front of a partner with hands together and the idea is to push against the other, when we think we are right or defensive we push or fight against. Then I showed what it is to go with the flow, gently flowing in harmony back and forth with the other. To learn to ask questions, to try and solve problems, this is all flowing (energy). So I got them to have a go. I said remember when ever you block others you are being defensive or fighting them. We are looking to conflict resolve, therefore we must be willing to flow with others.

After that I did I words, (I statements) and showed them that blaming is pointing the finger (3 are pointing at you), that it is important to say how you feel and what you want. Not to blame them, but to try and solve the problem. That we don’t hate people, we solve problems. I gave them examples. Then time was running out (as usual) I quickly took them through problem solving – to look at the problem not person, people see differently (perceptions), I statements ‘I think, I feel’ etc. to listen to other people’s words, feelings and wants, then to look for a solution that both are happy with. I reinforced win/win. That we are not competitive in conflict resolution, we are seeking to resolve issues so both win. The kids really understood that, it was great. I went through a speedy version of role play. The kids were in groups of 5-6 and they picked a mediator, two conflict persons and bystanders. What was interesting the first group of girls talked about being pretty, one said I am pretty, the other said I am prettier, then the 3rd said I am prettier. Then the mediator came in and said you are all pretty and this diffused the competition. Interesting how looks are important for girls. I wonder where they get that idea. Then the boys had a go and there’s was a fight about sport. The mediator came into stop them, but was not sure how to do it. I came in and demonstrated listening to both sides and finding out what the problem was, turns out it was a misunderstanding, I then got them to shake hands. It was a quick session but good, as they got an idea that kids can solve problems.

I had teachers give me feedback and one indicated that she had learned it is good for kids to learn to solve their own problems instead of sorting out every time. She also liked the mind opening activities before the role play. She saw the children’s education in learning not to blame others but to stop and think about the problem. She said they learned how to help others during conflict. The aspect particularly liked was to do with learning how feelings change water crystals. The kids liked the blind spot activity and perspectives. The acting out of conflict and mediation was enjoyed. Concentric circles was also liked the disliked aspect was running out of time. . She felt what would improve the session was more activities and role play and more time with Peacefull. The last comment was particularly helpful. She said this session made us understand that we need to think about what we say during conflict because sometimes the hurt can all be caused by a simple misunderstanding. Peacefull gave us some good advice for solving conflict and for helping others solve conflict.

I got a nice stamp. It was very gratifying to get this feedback, as I need to see how my work is received and to improve it as I go.

I had a clown session with grades 4-5. I had them dress up as clowns (will have photo’s when I get to a library to upload). We did a welcome parade, it was interesting to learn that when the kids came through the two columns (as super heros), that some kids felt a bit embarrassed in front of others, others felt sad as they were not cheered. It was a large group, so kids can run out of cheers if it goes onto long. As a teacher I have to balance it and I use it as a teaching tool. I told kids that the point of the game is to support and cheer each other on, to be aware of other kids missing out and to feel good about ourselves. I also did a laughter game which they really enjoyed. We discussed feelings afterwards and how important it is to create positive environments. We did some funny faces and I just reinforced the importance of being happy. That as a clown I love everyone, I asked them if they believe this, some said yes others said no. I said it is true, I really do love everyone. I said every person is unique there will never be another you. Don’t be afraid to be yourself and face fear. A few of the girls had clown phobias, thankfully the teacher had them near her so I knew who they were. All of them got over it, even the one with the deepest fear. I blew them kisses and I could see them warming. That was very gratifying for me.

I did a full school presentation. As usual I have no idea what I am going to say or do. I ended up talking about Russia and my experiences clowning in hospitals, HIV clinics, slums etc. I told them that we make people happy in hospitals and gave information on endorphins, happy hormones. To my delight some kids wanted to get up on stage and say jokes, I really love that so I have no issue with it, I put my clown hat on them and off they go. Others wanted me to fall on my whoopee cushion, I think that was the most popular, I asked kids to watch out downwind, they laughed. Funnily enough my clown nose after many years squeaking, stopped. I thought that was funny I often say too many key strokes. I told jokes brought out my singing flower, they don’t know if water will come out but it starts dancing, I join in.

I had a large earth ball bouncing all over the room. I got some great shots of all the kids holding up the earth. I also was able to interview them about happiness and peace. They seemed to find me the source of that. It is lots of fun. I tried to show them that we are all able to make a difference, to find our happiness and follow our dreams. Two kids came up and thanked me on behalf of the school.

They were wonderful children and I had a lovely day. I ended up having enough energy and feeling a great sense of satisfaction.

I love to teach and I love to be a clown, for me this is heaven. Tomorrow I will teach teachers but in more formal dress. I find that works better. I will get them to laugh as well as it is the seriousness that creates the hardness where people are not open to others. It will be a priviledge to meet them.

So that was my day. I will try and find further schools up the road. So hopefully I can start a circuit. That would be fantastic.

Anyway, thank you for reading my story. I feel my story is your story, we are all making a difference, and in truth no-one fails. We are all meant to be here as we are. Just be ourselves and see what happens.

Mohandas Gandhi

“God has no religion”