Teaching Teachers: IFS in our Schools

Pilot II: Context & Design

Excerpts published in the Foundation’s OUTLOOK (March 2020):

The program run by the Self-Leadership Collaborative, led by Joanna Curry-Sartori, LMFT, is a two-year IFS-in-Schools effort. It’s designed to bring notions of Self leadership and parts-awareness to teachers and staff (and students through them) at three schools in Connecticut, USA.

This is the second award by the Foundation to introduce the IFS language and lens to schools as another step toward advancing emotional learning and well-being. The Foundation’s intention is to help facilitate conversations and collaborations among a number of individuals pioneering IFS-informed activities in schools.

Besides introducing hundreds of teachers and staff to key IFS principles, the multi-pronged CT program is expected to lead to the design of a Self-leadership related curricular framework and new empirical evidence through a comprehensive review led by a research team at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

The intent is to pilot how to integrate IFS as a whole-school approach to social and emotional learning. Through the activities, a number of questions are being answered at three schools in Connecticut.

How can IFS concepts, principles and practices be translated in a school setting?

How do students learn about their parts’ positive intent and operate with confidence in their innate Self?

How do teachers have compassion for their parts as they persist amidst the myriad stressors challenging our schools?

How does school leadership apply the wisdom of Self leadership to policies, procedures, interventions and educational pedagogy?

And how can a school culture be fundamentally nurtured to reflect and convey the gifts of Self as an everyday way of being?

The three schools involved include:

Charter Oak International Academy, an International Baccalaureate elementary school in West Hartford

Strong Middle School, a grade-7-to-8 school serving students in a rural area, Durham/Middlefield

A.I. Prince Technical High School in the capital, Hartford, which prepares students to be college and career-ready.

The adopted holistic approach involves introductory professional development for the whole staff and a smaller “ambassador” group receiving monthly intensive workshops to learn the Model and support experimentation with how to best apply the approach in each unique community. This is not to be just another initiative, intervention, or rigid curriculum. By focusing on four areas, the pilot program helps school communities discover how they can practice and embody Self Leadership as an authentic culture.

Individual Well-being – Beginning with self-awareness, adults are invited to experience the benefits of being more Self led, personally and professionally.

Daily Relationships – Tools from the IFS Model, such as speaking for parts rather than from parts, are informing day-to-day school interactions among adults and with children.

Formal Curriculum – Educators are partnering with us to customize effective ways to teach students how to recognize parts, return to Self, connect compassionately, and engage effectively in learning.

School Policy, Procedure, & Practice – In collaboration with leadership and student support teams, new IFS-informed practices are being explored.

The overall effort takes into consideration the uniqueness of each school: Students of varying ages, backgrounds, capacities and needs; educators with different types of training and expertise, concerns and visions; communities in significantly different settings including families from very different contexts.

Joanna is noticing every day that another few pieces are clicking into place. She stated that: “as my colleagues and I build this exciting joint venture, we continue to discover how our universal birthright to experience and live from the state of Self Leadership can be realized in such very different environments.”

  • 1. A SCHOOL COUNSELOR tears up appreciating the positive intent of a student;

  • 2. A TEACHER exhales when her longing and frustration are understood and validated;

  • 3. AND A STUDENT, once thought to be difficult, is truly seen through the masks of her parts, for who she truly is at her core: a fundamentally worthy human being who is trying her very best.

Imagining the cumulative, growing effect, the pilot program will soon enter its second year of implementation.