We first learned about the Nurtured Heart Approach in 2002 in a flyer for a workshop in South San Francisco. “The timing was perfect,” says former Principal Ellen Evans. “We were desperate. The ‘old ways’ of discipline were not working with Meher Schools students. They were not compatible with our loving, respectful approach to working with children.”
Ellen and six of our teachers attended the workshop. “We found the Nurtured Heart Approach to be entirely consistent with our own,” she recalls. Though the program was marketed at the time as a way of working with “difficult” children, “we found that it serves as a wonderful way to help all children become confident and resilient individuals.”
Over the years, our staff has participated in nearly a dozen Nurtured Heart workshops and trainings, including some on campus with the program’s founder, Howard Glasser. Teachers who use the approach have found that it transforms not only their students’ behavior but their own approach to working with children.
Three of our staff – Michal Mader, Caryl Marks, and Susie Kohl – have become Certified Nurtured Heart Approach Trainers. This week and for the next two weeks, we’ll introduce you to our in-house trainers. First up is Room 4 preschool teacher Michal Mader.
A Creative Process
“I’ve been using the Nurtured Heart Approach since the first workshop,” Michal says, “but it took time and practice for the children and me to feel the success of our new learning. Not ‘leaking’ – expressing – negative energy in response to certain situations was also challenging.”
Michal describes Nurtured Heart as “a creative process with space to attend to each child’s needs, level of development, and what unfolds in their relationship with their teachers.”
She continues, “As children recognize and internalize the positive qualities they hear the teacher expressing about them, they’re encouraged and they feel self-esteem, confidence, and happiness. The teacher gives them support as they take little steps toward increased self-regulation, mastery of new skills, and awareness of and accommodating the needs of others through their play together.
“At the right time, the teacher diminishes or changes the kind of support, allowing the child more responsibility and independence as an active participant in their new learning.”
Some behaviors, Michal notes, can be especially challenging for children to manage. She remembers one child in particular. “She was a joyful child, and her exuberance was hard for her to channel appropriately. For instance, during circle time, instead of taking turns or attending to presentations that didn’t involve movement, she would spontaneously get up and dance.
“After a few days of this and the usual direction to ‘please sit down’ not working, I invited the girl to dance for the class, and we enthusiastically acknowledged and shared appreciation for her effort and ability. We repeated this process for several days.”
To address the girl’s pattern of inappropriate behavior during circle time, Michal gave a new rule for the whole class: No distracting behavior. “Once I knew the girl understood what distracting behavior was and how it affected the other children and the lesson, the consequence for breaking the rule was always the same: ‘pause’ or ‘reset.’ No explanation was needed. The girl would return to her designated spot, and after a while it was no longer an issue – the rule had been acted out and she had internalized it.”
After that, “During free play time, we’d express to everyone dancing how we appreciated their movement, grace, and rhythm, and how it brought more sunshine into our classroom. Along with the understanding of the appropriate time and place to dance, this girl and the other dancers experienced appreciation and positive attention for giving form to their spontaneous feelings of joy.”