Learning non-violent communication

2008-01-17 00:00

WHETHER it’s four-year-olds fighting over who goes next on the swing or an international dispute over water resources, there can be only one lasting solution: non-violent communication.

For Pietermaritzburg psychomotor teacher and mediator Michele Kocheleff, getting people to talk to each other to resolve conflict is one of today’s greatest imperatives, particularly in violent societies.

“Here in South Africa, everyone is talking about the importance of mediation, but there is very little practical training on offer. Most of it is aimed at the level of labour relations,” says Kocheleff.

In an attempt to fill this critical gap, Kocheleff is taking her psychomotor programme “one step further” by introducing mediation training. “Psychomotor is the first step in living a non-violent life. Mediation is one step up from psychomotor training. It uses the same philosophy,” she says.

The mediation training will be available to teachers, caregivers and anyone who believes they can benefit from enhanced mediation skills, including business people and employees.

“Non-violence starts with us,” says Kocheleff. “Teachers must start with themselves before they start with the child.” For Kocheleff, most of the value of psychomotor education boils down to respect — both physical and verbal — particularly for the young child, whose identity and body scheme are still in the process of being formulated.

Part of Kocheleff’s plan involves bringing Burundian mediator and medical doctor Gabriel Fumba to the city in order to share his expertise with South Africans. Now living in Brussels and trained in mediation in Switzerland, Fumba and his family were friends of Kocheleff and her medical specialist husband Paul while they were all living in Burundi. The Fumbas managed to escape the genocide that ravaged the country in the nineties by fleeing to Europe.

In Belgium, Fumba has introduced mediation training for secondary school teachers and plans to extend this training to the children themselves.

In anticipation of Fumba's arrival in the city in June, Kocheleff and members of the Brookby Learning Centre have planned a seminar on March 8 at Varsity College to launch the training programme. The topic is Conscience-Building Foundations in Early Childhood Development and is aimed at pre-school and psychomotor teachers, Education Department members and anyone involved in early childhood development. Kocheleff says the emphasis in the training will be practical — on strategy and implementation — and will be facilitated through talks and workshops.

Anyone interested in enrolling for the March seminar and making a contribution towards the costs of hosting Fumba, or seeking information about the training can contact Nicky Taylor at 082 927 7670 or 033 347 3473.

Who is Michele Kocheleff?Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo where she lived until she was 15, Kocheleff finished her schooling in Brussels and then trained to be a physiotherapist and a psychomotor teacher. While she was in Belgium, she met her husband Paul, who was studying cardiology and then internal medicine.

In 1975, the couple moved to Burundi where they lived for 20 years in the country’s capital Bujumbura where Kocheleff worked as a psychomotor and physical education teacher in Belgian and French Schools. In 1990, she started work in the SOS Children's Village where she trained teachers in psychomotor education and initiated a psychomotor workshop for toddlers and parents.

Even after the genocide in Burundi began in 1993 and later spread to Rwanda, the couple were keen to stay in Bujumbura. “But after a year or so it became clear that teaching and learning was no longer possible,” says Kocheleff. The couple reluctantly left. Determined to stay in Africa, they ended up in Pietermaritzburg in 1996.

Since then, Kocheleff has been using psychomotor — an educational programme and philosophy that links the motor activities of young children at play to their academic and psychological development — to instil values of non-violence and communication in pre-school children in the city.

Three years ago, with the help of psychomotor teacher Lynne Freestone, Kocheleff helped introduce mediation training to school children at Cordwalles. This year, the training will also be offered at Clifton Preparatory School where there is strong support for the principles of psychomotor education.

Kocheleff received her mediation training in France with Generation Mediateurs, an organisation which works in schools and trains pupils to be mediators. Her work in KwaZulu-Natal follows a similar format.

“Over the course of six months, we help the children to learn more about themselves by fostering an awareness of and control over their emotions. By understanding their own emotions, they can better understand others,” says Kocheleff.

In the second part of the year, volunteer mediators are accepted from the pupil body and these individuals are trained to implement specific mediation strategies, which they will apply in their daily school activities and during break times.

“They don’t dictate a solution to conflict,” says Kocheleff. “Rather, they listen to the opponents, treat both parties with respect and try to bring them back into conversation,” says Kocheleff.

What is psychomotor?

“Remember the golden rule: you can do anything, but we don’t harm ourselves or others.” Michele Kocheleff is addressing a class of 24 squirming Pietermaritzburg pre-schoolers who are about to be given free rein to clamber about on various kinds of equipment for about an hour. Later on, they’ll be encouraged to use words to express emotions felt while doing their activities and having to negotiate with their peers for space and access.

Psychomotor education is based on the idea that movement helps to discover and reinforce a variety of perceptual motor and academic concepts. From the tender age of 18 months, it can help to promote the transition of movement to abstract notion, complementing concepts of the pre-school programme.

Introduced to South African pre-primary schools in 1996 jointly by Kocheleff and Italian psychomotor teacher Rossella Meusel, psychomotor education is compulsory in many pre-primary schools throughout Europe. Although known in the United States, it is largely reserved for therapeutic purposes.

Kocheleff and Meusel follow the Aucouturier practice or “relationship” model of psychomotor educational practice which uses the body as a mediator and emphasises the importance of emotional intelligence and development.

Benefits include improved self-esteem and self-confidence and a greater ability to communicate, take risks, make decisions, control emotions and practice non-violent behaviour. In addition to perceptual and intellectual skills, the programme teaches respect and value for self and others. There is also respect for the physical environment and the rules of social life and an awareness of one’s own body and one’s right to protect it against abuse.

“In psychomotor we try to understand the meaning of behaviour and movement. It’s not about physical skill, it’s about the child’s expression of him or herself through movement,” says Kocheleff.

“The aim is to teach the child to negotiate and build his or her sense of self in non-violent ways.”

Since introducing psychomotor to Pietermaritzburg, Kocheleff and Meusel have extended the teaching of psychomotor within KwaZulu-Natal and there are hopes of it being introduced in Cape Town. Both Kocheleff and Meusel are founding directors of the Psychomotor Education Institute of South Africa (Peisa).

• Enrolment for teachers wishing to register for the psychomotor teacher training course for 2008 takes place at Varsity College tomorrow between 1 pm and 3 pm.

• For more infomration visit the Peisa website at www.peisa. org.za

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