Reflections on Belonging
By Alessio Morassut, Emeritus Superintendent of elementary schools, Mirano, Venice, Italy
In 2007, someone from Denmark came to visit our schools and interview me and the teachers. We were sitting in a restaurant in Venice when she asked me her first question, “How did it begin? How did BELONGING come to Mirano?” My answer was simple and true. “It began on the strength of a dream. Not my dream, but my wife Maddaly’s. Early Friday morning, the 13th of July 2003, she woke up and told me, “I had a dream. Someone told me we must go to Assisi.” A religious woman married to a stoic man she was not surprised when I asked, “To pray?” She replied, “No. To receive the answer to our prayers.”
Arriving in Assisi late the next day, we stayed at a small monastery, walking in the town waiting for the answer she knew was waiting for us to find or for it to find us. Sunday we were up early to pack our bags before going downstairs to mass. Hearing the service we quietly opened the doors at the back of the small chapel, last to arrive. The instant we entered, and at the same moment, we saw our answer. Both of us knew it was the woman sitting in the last row seated next to the door. The three of us looked at one another before Maddaly and I turned to walk to the front row of the church. When it was time for communion, Maddaly went while I remain in my seat, both of us turning to look at the woman in the back. When we left the service she had already left. Entering the dining room for breakfast we were surprised to see her seated alone at the table adjacent to the one where Sister Agnes sat us. Realising then she did not speak Italian, and I’d not really spoken English in almost 50-years made it a long breakfast. As we left, one of the sisters was pouring her another cup of coffee, and while Maddaly bid her farewell in Italian, I gathered my courage and said the only thing in English I could remember that I knew was correct, “Have a nice day.”
So it was we went upstairs to our room to get our luggage and begin the long journey home. But Maddaly said, “No. We must hurry and wait for her at the bottom of the stairs. You must talk to her.” You must remember that I am a stoic man, but moments later when she appeared and broke into a smile when she saw us and was happy to accept my request that we talk. It is a much longer story, but for this moment I will leave it to except to say that ten minutes later we had agreed for her to come to Venice and stay at our home for a week, arriving the 11th of June on the afternoon train from Milan. So you might wonder, what was our prayer? It was for our daughter, for her health and wellbeing and for her to become a happy person, this prayer one that Maddaly and I have for all of our students, all of the children in Mirano and the world. Meeting Lynnclaire brought the long answering to that prayers we share with every parent, grandparent, and teacher. Let me say that the time we spent together, the first of many visits, is one my family will never forget. In our home lives Mama Bruna, Maddaly’s mother; her sister Carmen; and our daughter. We are typical Italians and our time at meals becomes crazy and very loud sometimes because of how we loudly talk at each other more than we talk to each other. None of us will never forgot when my daughter, Marta, she began to cry and when Lynnclaire matched our loudness for the first time, this shock stopped everyone from talking believe me. And then she found a big orange box cutting knife, and put it on the table to call it the “Talking stick” explaining to us that unless you have it in your hand you cannot be talking. It was the beginning of a cultural revolution, and the start of many solutions to many of the big problems in my home.
Over the week when I began to grasp the deep meaning and rigorous science underlying about this work, the vision for teachers and children, for education, and the courses and classroom game she designed, all built on the Mereon principles. Inevitably, I recalled Guilford’s cognitive cube, Bloom’s taxonomy of educational aims, the scale of the fundamental needs of man according to Maslow and Vandevelde’s analysis of teaching/learning situations, the analysis of class dynamics according to DuPont. All were contributions to the sciences of education, but I recognised BELONGING, EDUCARING AND TEAMPLAY GROUND, as a contribution that goes beyond all of them for originality, essential organicity and realisability. This an ‘inside-out’, inner-as primary driven social curriculum is the only one of its kind, aimed at presenting the role of the teacher as a facilitator of learning. I realised this was the opportunity of a lifetime. The experience of this work is powerful in how it orients students and teachers alike towards self-respect, a fundamental principle of self-organisation and from there to understanding and cooperation in and through relationships that Lynnclaire calls ‘realationships’.. We experienced what it is to be natural and how this is the clearest and most direct path to opening our minds and hearts. We realised that through our willingness to be real with one another, vulnerable rather than shielded, that we most powerfully discovered our shared humanity. This willingness freed us to evolve the spirit of something greater. BELONGING is a new call to educational action, one that starts with values, vision, authenticity and ends with co-creating learning experiences that generate respect for self and others, a truth that rings with crystalline clarity. In the BELONGING taxonomy of educational purposes, every word has been thought through with enlightening innovation, communicating the possibility for happiness to arise as an experience as it allows the deep and inalienable rights of everyone to rise to the surface. BELONGING provides proof that education is the soul of planetary sustainability, quickly teaching me, my family and my teachers to recognise the difference between natural and normal, remembering the quote, ‘Non scholae, sed vitae discimus!’ Not for school, but for life we learn!
Today, educators and learners alike are facing very difficult times, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Again, no one goes into the field of education to make money; it is a calling. As a teacher and a school superintendent, I am a little unusual, given that I search outside the system for new opportunities to develop the school, and encourage and motivate both my teachers and our students. In recent years I’ve come to realise the urgency of eradicating fear in all its overt and covert forms, this leading to my knowing that we as teachers cannot suppress what our own hearts say, nor can we afford to ignore what the children are saying. BELONGING is more than the answer to our prayer. It is a miracle. Every opportunity to work with Lynnclaire and the Mereon team focuses us on deepening our learning, exploring new methods of communication based on what is natural in a truly whole system. They continue to impart a deep understanding by reminding us that HOW we say what we say, the tones we use, has the power to link our hearts and minds or break us apart. Every single participant, teachers, parents and community leaders, report that they have come to see new perspectives of themselves and others, experiencing the unity that is the foundation beneath their obvious diversity. The many weeks we have spent together have been occasions to celebrate as we came to feel and reflect a new harmony, honouring the essential beauty unity within one another. We continue to discover new skills for self-organising, individually and as members of a group, while learning innovative ways to cooperate and accept both solo and joint responsibilities for planning. Lynnclaire designed many different interactive exercises that allow us to experience how simple it is for the authenticity of every teacher and student to safely rise to the surface, and be voiced. In learning anew how to nurture and improve the informal dimension of school life, the emotions, affections and relationships with colleagues, we as course participants began to link our intuitive and cognitive intelligences, honouring our subjective feelings and the objectively shared reality, recognising aspects of ourselves that are simultaneously spiritual and human. Every time she and team members are in Italy, the courses spill over into lunch and dinner, as she selflessly invests hours in nurturing our spirits and our one soul helping us balance our personal energy as well as our analytical, organisational skills. Every moment flows together, the time evaporating as we experience a lasting harmonising of our relational dynamics that lead us to higher levels of self-respect and a deeper appreciation for others. The benefits are personal as well as for us as educators and human beings; this program has done far more than make us better educators; it has made us better parents, spouses and friends. By reconnecting with our individual authenticity, we continue to expand our own creativity while reinvigorating the remarkable spirit of co-creation. The joy that comes in this work is based upon her insistence that elementary principles of organisation and education are FUN, ‘fun’ being the first syllable in the word fundamental. In requiring that FUN comes before ‘mental’ we have, incredibly, found the cure for ‘burn-out’! It is an honour to work with the team, my teachers and the children. It has been my privilege to inaugurate this fascinating adventure in education, and we all love hosting those who come to observe and participate with what is happening in our lives as well as our schools, and we have enjoyed visitors from America, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Croatia and England! Can you imagine what it is for me as a director to have parents calling to tell me that their children are happy to come to school? Imagine what it is like to hear parents say that they want ALL of their children to be involved in this project! It is incredible to walk down the halls of my schools and feel and see the changes; there are smiles on everyone’s faces. Even the school auditor from Rome one day asked me, “Why are your schools so different? What is making everyone happy?” My simple answer, “BELONGING” led to a long talk about how it is that every teacher, cafeteria worker, even the crosswalk guards know they matter and because every learner knows what it is to feel welcome at school because they are important.
We have learned that as educators we are social architects, and it is up to us to work together to design a new civilisation. It is time for us to relearn how to care for our children, and allow them to learn to be authentic so they can take care of themselves and care for the planet. It is time to stop coercing them, and in a new way, begin to respect them as human beings. BELONGING’s positive impact in education and moving from Mirano into the world has long been our dream. Here in Mirano, with the BELONGING we inaugurated a new kind of literacy program. It is one that teaches us the languages of the heart and mind. It shows us how to read and speak our own emotional and mental languages and those of others. It is showing us how to write new truths into our physical worlds by mastering skills that allow us to with wisdom and discernment, support personal transformation that leads to holistic global sustainability.
Working and playing with Lynnclaire, the Mereon team and my incredible teachers has led us all to a new commitment; we are dedicated to understanding. This program continues to bring deep honour to us as individuals, to our families, our schools, our community, and to all Italy. By bringing our different experiences together, we have opened the rare gift of understanding, discovering the energy that continues to deeply unite our minds and hearts. The first assessment of the BELONGING project, written by a teacher in training to submit to the Belonging Commission, says, ‘Through BELONGING and TeamPlay Ground learners learn, and learn to lead; some learn best by thinking, doing, and loving, while others learn best by loving, doing and only later thinking. But no matter how they learn, all the students in the class, they all love coming to school!”
I want to express all my abiding gratitude for the logic and creative insights of this work and how participants are invited to evolve it as they change, and to Lynnclaire for sharing these ‘inlightening’ thoughts with the educators, children, community leaders and people of Mirano, Italy. As Director of the Mirano Elementary Public Schools, I face very difficult times. However, I am proud of our community for recognising the vital importance of this work. Every opportunity has proven to be a chance to grow personally and thereby to become an effective catalyst for assisting our teachers who work so hard with the children, helping them to see how by working together, in our individual wholeness we each play a significant part in making a positive difference in our world, both inner and outer. What BELONGING has brought out of our teachers, learners, schools and our community is almost unimaginable. My dream for BELONGING is ‘Da Mirano al Mondo’, ‘From Mirano to the World.’
Dr. Alessio Morassut,
Personal communication translated by Dr. Lucia Pesce