Giraffe Language: Our Giving and Receiving Nature

The life force for humankind is, perhaps, nothing more or less than the passionate energy to connect express, and communicate.

Rosamund Zander

A significant chunk of my professional self-reflection this summer has circled around rediscovering my giving and receiving nature as a teacher. During my reading of The Compassion Classroom: Relationship Based Teaching and Learning by educators Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson, I have been undergoing a fundamental shift (of sorts) on how I see my role in my classroom. I strongly feel that this re-imagining is particularly relevant as I prepare my heart, body, and mind to return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regimented health protocols and expectations, diffused with a tinge of fear, and cloaked in times of uncertainty, this book has reinforced my growing belief in the heart-led approach to learning and teaching.

At the midway point of their book, which focuses on the art of nonviolent communication in the classroom, Hart and Kindle Hodson invite all teachers to recognize that “each moment is an invitation to rediscover [their] giving and receiving nature” within their classrooms and among their students (p.68). The authors believe that we all have countless opportunities and invitations with people in our lives to receive their gifts and offer up our own gifts to their lives. As teachers, we are invited to:

See ourselves “as a giver–rich beyond measure with gifts” that will help us to meet our own needs and the needs of our students.

See our students as people doing the best they can to meet their own needs.

See ourselves as having choices about how we think, talk, listen, and act towards our students.

“[T]inker and try things, make mistakes, and learn new ways to give to [ourselves] and others.” (p.68)

They ask educators to”[i]magine children coming to school every day inviting [us] to see their true nature” and to observe “the difference [that] this kind of seeing would make in their willingness and desire to learn with and from you.” (p.68)

Hart and Kindle Hodson refer to this natural human trait of giving and receiving as Giraffe Language They are careful to frame this as a metaphor that refers to a type of thinking and not label for different kinds of people (in contrast to the Jackal Language metaphor). It must be stressed that really we are all only people doing the best we can at each moment to meet our needs. Giraffe Language helps us to show equal concern for our own needs and the needs of others (empathy and compassion); listen to what’s going on in ourselves and others (trust and clarity); and say what we observe (honesty and respect). It is what makes relationship-based classrooms tick.

For me, learning Giraffe Language has been a lot like learning a new language. Indeed, it will take study and practice over time to develop some fluency. However, knowing a little bit of another langue increases one’s capacity of communicate, of this I am sure. Developing a deeper connection with myself and with others, honest communication, increased responsibility for ourselves, increased sense of curiosity, and clarity about what is important to me (intention) will help to serve both my ability as an educator.

And the learning continues…

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