Like many other Social Emotional Learning (SEL) providers, we are heartened by the increasing recognition of the importance of SEL, not simply as an add-on elective class, but as a foundational pillar required for children and adults to reach their potential. When you have healthy relationships, make healthy decisions, and know an inner peace, you will be better able to enjoy and share any academic, creative, athletic or other talents. In a nutshell, social and emotional health makes life easier.
With this recognition, the SEL provider landscape is growing, and at The Spark Initiative, we are honored to be a part of it. We are inspired to share some key aspects of our programming that we believe make it unique and effective.
Everyone has a ‘SPARK’, our metaphor for innate potential, ability, resilience, and well-being.
We believe in and Speak to the Potential, Ability, and Resilience in every Kid (SPARK). In order to genuinely speak to these inherent qualities of every human being, you have to know they exist. You have to understand that there is no such thing as a broken child who needs fixing, or a “hopeless” case who is bound for the juvenile justice system. There are only children who have discovered their SPARK and those who haven’t. Those who have forgotten about it, and those who have remembered. We help kids in this self-discovery and remembrance. We facilitate individual insights into the existence of their SPARK and an understanding of what is happening when we feel it and when we don’t. Understanding this is the basis for developing all other SEL skills such as decision-making, problem-solving, conflict resolution, communication, and empathy.
When you see and speak to innate mental health, not mental illness, kids notice. Consciously or unconsciously, they will feel a different kind of energy or interaction with you because we consciously or unconsciously behave from our own thinking about them. If we see a hopeless case in front of us, it’s impossible to act as if we have hope for them. If we see a child with innate well-being covered up by a bunch of unhelpful thinking and conditioning, it’s impossible to act as if we don’t see that. Whether in the classroom, the halls, over Zoom or anywhere else, when your SPARK sees the SPARK in the child, magic happens. It may be the first time in their young life that someone has truly seen them and that tends to be transformative.
We believe confidence/self-esteem/resilience are uncovered, not built.
We believe confidence, self-esteem, and resilience are inherent characteristics of our SPARK. They come with the package. The extent to which we experience them or not is directly proportional to how much they are “covered up” by our conditioned beliefs and thoughts. The deeper they are buried beneath beliefs such as; I’m not good enough, nobody likes me, I’m broken, etc., the less they will be part of the lived experience. However, all of these qualities are part of everyone’s birth right and can never be broken or lost, only forgotten.
In a sense, we are diamond miners. Miners excavate and clean the mud, clay, or sand off diamonds to reveal their natural brilliance. When we are filled with insecurity, self-doubt, and experiencing low self-esteem, it’s because our diamond is coated in mud. It is not a reflection of any truth in our life. The SPARK difference lies in exposing the conditioning and thoughts that are covering the diamond, pointing out they are not required beliefs, but optional, and watching them fall away to reveal the diamond, the natural confidence that all of us are born with. You see this in small children who believe they can do anything. It’s only when our beliefs and thoughts start covering up our SPARK that we begin to experience lack of confidence.
As miners, our work is to uncover and reveal, not attempt to “build”, even though that may be well-intentioned. When humans try to build “diamonds” we end up with fake, imitation ones, nothing comparable to the quality of the diamonds found in nature. Similarly, when we try to “build” confidence, we end up with a lower quality, fragile product whose very existence requires us to take on additional beliefs about ourselves. In other words, cover ourselves in more mud. Thankfully, there is no need for that. Nature has done a suburb job of depositing diamonds in the Earth and our SPARK in us.
Our approach is descriptive, not prescriptive
Through a variety of interactive activities, all four of our curricula from K-12 describe the human operating system, or how our mind works to create our experience. We do not prescribe behavior. For example, we don’t tell kids to take deep breaths, meditate, do yoga, punch pillows, etc. While our students may discover for themselves that these techniques help them to calm their minds and shift their experience, the SPARK difference lies in an understanding of this through description and self-discovery. Realization of beneficial techniques is the result of personal, individual insight into how the human operating system is working, not from an adult prescribing a behavior. Simply put, we do not tell kids what to do.
This distinction is important for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, prescribing behavior undermines the central tenant of our approach described above – uncovering your SPARK. Prescribing behavior has the hidden assumption that kids don’t have the potential or ability to make decisions about their well-being on their own. Secondly, any behavior we prescribe/promote will inevitably reflect our own biases/opinions as to what is considered acceptable behavior. While some behaviors are clearly undesirable such as physical violence, other behavioral standards such as prohibiting or imposing certain hair styles, clothing styles, or word choices, can be inherently racist and sexist. Sensitive to this, we endeavor to move away from inadvertently injecting our own social conditioning in kids.
‘Love as Pedagogy’
This powerful concept used by the inspirational Dr. Stacey Chimimba Ault, Founder and CEO of The Race and Gender Equity Project, beautifully captures our view of our own pedagogy. Our best practices for delivering our curriculum not only include seeing the SPARK in our students but also remembering our own SPARK, the source of love.
We recognize when we are living and teaching from the place of love, oneness, and well-being and when we are not. Such self-awareness facilitates a deep connection with our students and also the courage to acknowledge those times when our own diamond is covered in mud.