“Our students are not responsible for our healing.”

“हमारे स्टूडेंट्स हमारे उपचार (हीलिंग) के लिए ज़िम्मेदार नहीं हैं।” – इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें

“आमचे स्टूडेंट्स आमच्या उपचारासाठी(हीलिंग) जबाबदार नाहीत।” – हा ब्लॉग मराठी मध्ये वाचण्यासाठी, येथे क्लिक करा

The Inside Journey

I have been dealing with anxiety for the last couple of years. Through a long journey of ups and downs with my therapist, I have been working on this and am now handling it much better than before. I am talking about it publicly to everyone without any shame or guilt. In a conversation with my therapist one day, I shared with him about the work I do and how I feel liberation through my work in the field of mental health and social-emotional learning with children and adults. He asked me to say more about it.  I paused and thought about what I said and the feeling of sharing it with someone. I was not able to give a name to that feeling. It was a feeling that I never felt before. Our conversation kept going on for an hour. At the end of our session that day, a word that stood out for me from all the conversations we had was, “healing”. 

When I pause and think about it, I often wonder which are the experiences of life we are trying to heal from? What is the role of my students and my work in our emotional healing? How do we heal in a just way with people who we are in community with – my colleagues, my students, my friends and families, and others in the ecosystem? In this article, we explore some of these ideas.

What is Emotional Healing?

One way to understand Emotional Healing is to see it as a process of recognizing, and acknowledging diverse life experiences, histories, and systems and the emotional reaction generated from them (also referred to as emotional triggers), and building newer ways to respond to them. Many of these experiences are of having lived with identities that are marginalized and those that have been in dominance in social systems. 

Healing doesn’t have to be in isolation. The kind of healing I am talking about is a community of healing. Healing in communities is about holding space: holding space for love, care, reflection, laughter, crying, feeling what we’re feeling, dancing, screaming, sorting through, moving past, sitting with, or for whatever else we may need.

Healing in communities is not about putting our problems off on another person, but about holding space for us to set down the weight we’re carrying for a while, and sometimes it’s even about letting others hold and share our weight while we do the same for them. (Source: The healing power of community)

How is my healing connected with the work I do? 

I facilitate social-emotional learning with young people and adults (will refer to them as participants henceforth). Being a teacher or facilitator gives us a position of power. The question is how does this power show up in our classrooms or sessions? Let me give you some examples from my classrooms. 

Classrooms as relational spaces and responsibility of facilitators/teachers

In my first year as a fellow at Apni Shala, I was having a very bad day.  Anxiousness and frustration were visiting me. In one of my classes, my students were not listening to me. To control their actions, I started shouting at them though I could sense how anger was visiting in my body and how it was getting translated into my shouting. And I kept doing that till the time I started feeling okay.  In another situation, I was supposed to take a session for 1 hour but I was feeling bored and anxious. So I took the class for half an hour only and left the class early. 

Amrita Nair Director (R&D and Advocacy) shared that, in one of her classes she had a student who was non-verbal and had a hearing impairment. She would go into the class as a facilitator with a plan and ensure all students participated and engaged. Except when it came to this student, her only way to address their learning needs was to ask this student to do another activity while the rest of the class completed their exercise. Or she would go check with her every 5 minutes to see if she was ok and understood what we were doing. Both of these actions were often arising from a sense of pity or guilt. She realized much later that many of those actions came from a place of trying to reduce her own guilt rather than the intention of working to ensure ‘all’ her students were learning. The guilt and the feeling of pity were work that she had to do for herself and not bring that into her actions in the classroom. 

Feeling good, frustrated, bored, guilty, and anxious is okay; feelings can come to us anytime and may be triggered by various events. When I use the power of my position (of being a facilitator) to let’s say shut students’ expression when they are wanting to play/talk or cut the class in half, that’s a cost I am asking my students to pay for, at no fault of theirs. The way I or my colleague acted was not because our students were not “behaving properly” or needed our pity but because of how we were feeling, and the tools we had or didn’t have to respond to those feelings.

During one of the Curriculum Gatherings – our year-long professional development on SEL curriculum themes, we were unpacking a particular theme. The team of facilitators was sharing how different emotions visit while facilitating topics such as responsibility, bullying, gender or religion-based discrimination, and conflict. Our own lived experiences bring up so many memories and past emotions. And what’s the impact of that in that moment on our facilitation and learning space of students. 

Rohit Kumar, one of the facilitators from the curriculum team shared, “It’s natural to experience these emotional triggers. These topics may bring up past experiences and unprocessed emotions. And at the same time, our students are not responsible for our healing. Then how do we move forward in our facilitative practice?”. This made a lot of sense to me. And the curiosity began. 

Communities of Healing and Possibilities for Facilitators

The question is how do we heal while we continue to create thriving and honoring spaces for our participants? 

One thing which I have realized is that healing is a parallel work, and I have systems and support outside the classroom that create those opportunities for healing. For example, I have team and supervision spaces where I can process my feelings and emotions emerging out of my work. The organization’s culture of wellbeing and care supports these processes too. There is therapy-related support available from HR, for folks who need it. At Apni Shala, we have ongoing curriculum gatherings where we talk about our potential triggers related to SEL topics or classroom situations and find possible ways to create support for ourselves in the classroom during our session planning, if and when they may come.  The training on Narrative Practices, Mindfulness, and Diversity/Equity/Inclusion also creates spaces for processing lived experiences and finding communities where we can heal together. 

Through these experiences, I am also understanding how to balance justice and healing. What are my spaces of healing? Where am I to create space for others? 

Classrooms are spaces where my students must find safety and bravery to experience wellbeing and learn social-emotional skills. While joyous relationships with my students will definitely contribute to my ongoing healing journey, that’s not the intent of that space. That’s not my place to heal. My role as a teacher/facilitator is to facilitate a space of healing, wellbeing, and safety. 

In relational spaces, when systemic and/or positional power rests with me, it’s my responsibility to create space. 

How do we repair relational spaces when things get missed out?

Initially, I used to feel shame and guilt but I realized that it is not helping me or my students. When I react to my triggers or slip out from being in a facilitative role, what works is I come back to my students and own up to what was missed, and find ways to rebuild the relational space of the classroom. Learning is a process and it takes time. For this reason, it’s critical to have reflective spaces within organizations that enable us to continually reflect upon how we are showing up in the classrooms. 

The endnote

“In learning, you will teach, and in teaching, you will learn,” said Phil Collins. I invite all of us to reflect on our journeys of teaching, learning, and healing.

About the author:

Shahbaan Shah is a  Programme Facilitator and Research and Development Support at Apni Shala Foundation. In his role, he facilitates social-emotional learning for children, educators, and parents in a variety of settings and supports Research & Development initiatives. He holds a Bachelors’s in Sociology and is an alumnus of the Apni Shala Fellowship.


I would like to thank Amrita Nair and Rohit Kumar for supporting me in this article and providing their valuable input.


  1. Medindia
  2. Ourbetterworld.org
  3. The Healing Power of community

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