Meet Manika, counsellor, The Gateway School of Mumbai (India).
Hello Manika, can you introduce yourself ?
I am the coordinator of the counseling department and I also look into
admissions. I have a master in clinical psychology, I moved
to India about 5 years ago and I’ve been here in Gateway since.
Can you explain your work here ?
As a counsellor our work is to support anyone who needs it.
First, obviously, we support ours kids and we
have in Gateway different ways of achieving this. We have specific slots
for small group therapies where we teach social skills, emotional
regulation. Beyond this, we started a class named “Me As a Learner” for the
teenagers because we realized these years for us were full of question
about yourself : who you are? what do you like ? what do you want to be
when you grow up ? But for our kids (
Gateway is a school for kids with learning challenges, editor’s note
) it’s even a bigger challenge because so many of their life’s decisions
have been made for them, not everyone tells them about their
responsibilities, so the purpose of that class is to empower them to find
out who they are and what they need. We are still figuring how we could
adapt that class to younger students because it is a little bit abstract.
We are also supporting our teachers in different
ways. We can support them when they need help with specific kids, we can
assist them into class. We support them also personally because if they
don’t feel supported, then they can’t support kids.
Finally, we support parents. We organize parents
support groups which is a monthly voluntary space in order to create a
moment during wich they can share about their difficulties, they find a
community and some comfort. We also have parents workshops, we share
knowledge and empower them to be supportive with their kids. And as a
counseling team (they are three) we sometimes meet with our parents one on
one, sometimes initiated by us or by parents struggling with their kids and
asking for help.
So how do you get children to build social skills ?
We tried many programs but we figured out that none really fit to our kids
in Gateway. So we used the
five major strengths to be successful in daily life : decision
making, relationship skills, social awareness, self awareness and
and we defined smaller skills as goals to achieve for students. Then we
formed small groups of kids having the same challenges, no matter their
ages. And starting from what we know children should know and where they
are currently, we set goals to take them to that point. In the beginning we
were setting annual goals but we realized that kids are changing on a
monthly basis and we needed to adapt a lot more. Now we set objectives for
maximum a month, and we check where they are before setting new goals. The
fact is, we are always with the kids : in the classrooms, in the hallway,
watching them, and we use this to our therapy classes. For example we had a
discussion about “what is friendship?”, we talked about it and they
interviewed people around them, friends, parents about friendship. This is
one way to work on social skills.
In adddition to this, we also are in contact with teachers : we tell them
what we’ve done with the kids so that they can work it with them during
class also and point out when the skills we worked on in therapy occur
naturally in daily life.
What was one of your best moments in Gateway ?
I always think of one of my students who is now 17 years old. He joined us
three years ago, he came to us and had a lot of negative experiences, a lot
of problems making friends. The parents where struggling and didn’t know
what to do. In the beginning he would come out of class, say he would leave
the school, that we were against him, that we didn’t understand him.
We had a lot of conversations about finding the balance between the
expectations we had from him in school how how he felt
. On a daily basis he expressed his frustrations and we keep on talking to
him, setting rules about respect but also trying to find solutions for him
to feel better at school. It was a hard work with the teachers, the
parents, him and me and I’ve been watching him over the past three years.
Last year we had our Art Show, this student is fond of comic books and cars
so he created a comic book about cars which has been published and he sold
it as part of our Art Show. Hearing him talking about his comic book to
others, seeing his pride and how he evolved made me realized that even
though what we do is not easy, those moments are precious and incomparable.
We are making a difference in someone’s life.
Can you tell us about one mistake you made and what you learn from it ?
I make mistakes every day ! My biggest learning was
to stop and think things through instead of fixing immediately a problem
I realized here that we were constantly reacting to every
behavior, doing what the parents told us to try with their child, always
trying to help and find a solution. When a child is having
a hard time, I’m getting stressed and I start to think: « what should I do
? How could I help him and help others ? » Now I think we’ve learnt to say:
« you’re allowed to be upset, that’s ok. How can you express it in a way
that is safe for everyone? » And find out why before acting. For instance I
think about this children who one day run out of class and was lying on the
ground. We wanted him to go back into class so I asked : « do you want to
walk back into class or do you want someone to help you ? » and he asked
for some help, so he got back into class with a three persons escort. In
the moment that made sense to us but it was later that we thought : « what
did we teach him ? Did we really respect him as a person ? » We didn’t
figure out why he reacted like he did, we made him do what we wanted him to
We solved our problem, but not his. I’m trying to think things