Talking Stick Learning Center: The Bigger Picture

unnamed-66by Katie O’Connor

If you look at the bigger picture, the experiences we parents and educators provide now for our youth affect who they will be when they become adults. In a cliché way, it is as if we have a job with an outcome. How will someone “turn out”? What can we do to affect important aspects of their character in later life such as communication style and self-worth?

I’ve listed six categories of outcomes in no particular order that are typical of what most parents want for their offspring when they grow up:

Physical Well-Being
Stable Mental Health
Fulfilling Relationships
Creative Expression
Financial Responsibility
Work Satisfaction

I ask myself, “In what ways does the philosophy and practice of Talking Stick affect the outcome in the above categories through the following values and skills?”

The major emphasis of our educational methodology falls under the following categories:

Collaboration
Self-Direction
Self-Esteem
Effective Communication
Problem Solving
Creative Expression

Talking Stick is foremost an opportunity for “group learning experiences” primarily through collaboration. Our emphasis on working together to achieve goals is related to the outcome of work satisfaction since many employment situations entail working with others. Internalizing collaboration skills means working from the perspective that every participant brings a piece of the solution and that being right is not as important as achieving goals through a rewarding process. This takes a certain set of communication skills that are developed at Talking Stick through coaching and the facilitation of the problem solving process.

Self direction is being able to access internal motivation and make well-thought-out decisions. The context of Talking Stick is one of choices about what an individual would like to do at any given time. Participants make choices and experience the consequences in an environment that encourages risk-taking and learning from experience. Self-direction particularly applies to financial stability. For example, only taking on loans you can afford to pay back, investing in ventures that you are confident are secure, and keeping track of personal finances so you are not taken by surprise.

To find a community resource center near you, click here for the current Alternatives To School directory.

High self-esteem, related to how much you value yourself, would lead to taking care of physical health through proper eating and sufficient exercise. If you value yourself, you take care of yourself. Low self-esteem can lead to self-abuse and neglect of both physical and mental health. In addition, self-esteem is related to how you allow others to treat you. This applies to the category of fulfilling relationships.

Effective communication increases the quality of romantic and family relationships. At the root is self-awareness and an openness to other people’s needs while at the same time asserting one’s own. Staying in the present time, speaking clearly and simply, and knowing that you both can get what you are wanting are actively coached at Talking Stick.

Our abounding creative opportunities give the message that creative expression is an important part of being human and that it should not be shunted aside once you become an adult. In addition, it should have very little to do with how “good” or “bad” one is at expressing oneself creatively. Creativity, incorporated with problem solving, can lead to innovative solutions in all areas of life.

Developing problem-solving skills, like many of these aspects, can be applied to all of the goals. In the area of work satisfaction, for example, a hypothetical problem could be raising sales in a specific geographical area. The person would ask, “How to raise sales in this specific county?” They would allow themselves the freedom to explore unusual solutions before honing in on a possible solution to develop further. This opens up instead of limiting thinking.

These are of course, very broad strokes about the connections between the cultural and physical environment we provide our youth and how they “turn out” as adults. We parents and other adults can’t take total responsibility but we can be more conscious of cultivating, through modeling and coaching, practices and attitudes that can serve our children later in life.

Katie O’Connor founded Talking Stick Learning Center in Philadelphia. Talking Stick provides self-directed group learning experiences for over 40 families with homeschoolers age 3 to 18.