Thank you Vivi de Graff, Communications Co-ordinator, Island Oak High School, Duncan, BC, Canada for your great news release that led to this post about how Inclusive Leader, Linda McDaniels, is putting Inclusive Leadership into action in high schools:
Forty students, teachers and staff spill out the front door, running chaotically in all directions; some fleeing, some pursuing, and all laughing hilariously. Observing the furor with a smile is Linda McDaniels, a diversity educator from the Cowichan Valley’s Inclusive Leadership Co-operative. The lively activity is the “Planet Game,” one of many games and activities she uses to change the way people view cultural differences.
The school is Island Oak, a small Waldorf High School in Duncan, BC, Canada with a very big embrace. “Having Linda McDaniels here is a great opportunity to embrace intercultural diversity because we have a tradition of having many different cultures here at Island Oak School,” says Science teacher Regina Montag. “Half our students are from Europe, Asia, and South America and the other half are from Canada, including about 15% of whom are First Nations” explains Andrea He, an International Student Coordinator at the school. Island Oak learners come from Waldorf, home, public school, private school educational backgrounds as well as many countries around the world. In large schools with this degree of diversity, it is common for students to break up into cliques, but at Island Oak, diversity creates a small and beautiful community where the learning about diversity goes deep.
“What happens when we encounter people we don’t understand?” McDaniels asks the students, “It can trigger our ‘fight or flight’ system, and when that system is turned on, we can’t relax, we can’t problem solve…and we can’t learn.” McDaniels helps students disarm their fight-flight instincts by learning to relax in response to differences. Relaxing opens everyone to learning to become comfortable with and curious about each others’ differences. She does this through intercultural experiential education. In her workshops for schools and community groups, McDaniels applies her own Inclusive Leadership skills to create a safe container filled with games, simulations, and heart-to-heart debriefings that feel respectful, interesting, and meaningful. Participating in experiential education creates on-going opportunities to explore differences as gifts that enrich their communities, rather than as problems to solve. Before long participants begin to identify themselves as Inclusive Leaders who are building skills for becoming actively involved in changing the world’s history of colonization into a new story of including and honouring the perspectives of all living beings.
Linda McDaniels has become well-known in the Cowichan Region for organizing a full day experiential diversity education workshop for high schools called Reality Check. When a school requests a Reality Check Workshop, Linda gathers a team of mentors (teachers, peer mentors, youth workers and other service providers) . Then with the help of these volunteers, Linda and her colleagues Michelle Staples and Graham Kelly guide students through a series of activities that build awareness about the history and impact of a wide range of issues that have become a far too real reality for far too many youth today: teasing, bullying, social and emotional oppression, racism and the consequences of alienation, violence, substance abuse, and self harm. After checking out these realities, students brainstrom solutions for finding a new way forward and commit to first steps in the coming year.
Mary Kirchner, Counsellor at Frances Kelsey Secondary School, School District 79, Mill Bay, BC, Canada organizes a Reality Check Workshop every year “…as a way for students to truly know each others’ story. To me this helps students feel less marginalized and helps to tackle racism and bigotry head on. Reality Check helps to challenge bullying behaviors and to empower students to move away from being a bystander because knowledge, understanding and compassion become part of the training in the workshop.”
A group of students from Frances Kelsey summed up Reality Check as “….a solid program that has become a Kelsey Tradition. Reality Check impacts people differently at different times in their life when they might need it. We learn about ourselves, increase empathy and come to feel like we are not alone. Reality Check builds to a social relaxation moment when you realize people are like you. Reality Check is helping us toward better understanding of our peers and more respect of one another.””
Following Reality Check many students become involved in projects such as mentoring younger students, support groups, or anti-discrimination campaigns such as the “Together Against Discrimination Always” (TADA) student-action group at Frances Kelsey School.
For more information about how Linda McDaniels puts Inclusive Leadership into action with high schools and community youth groups, email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Inclusive Leadership Co-operative: http://www.inclusiveleadershipco-op.org