When Self-Doubt Visits

-Pooja Gate

How Narrative Ideas helped me through my fellowship, and how can it help us to navigate the current pandemic?

It is said that “your self-doubt does not define who you are or what you are capable of.” I understood what this meant more clearly only when I began facilitating Social Emotional Learning (SEL) sessions at Mumbai’s municipal schools as part of my year-long fellowship with Apni Shala

When my fellowship journey started and schools were being allocated I had a lot of thoughts running in my head. These thoughts were flashbacks of single stories* that I had about municipal schools and children with whom I would be working for a year.

As I studied in a private school, I was unsure of how the municipal schools work. I had often heard people say that “municipal school’s education system is not up to the mark. Teachers are not interested. They don’t put efforts into the development of their students. And so on”.

Apni Shala’s work is informed by Narrative Therapy, a postmodern therapy practice. During my month-long induction, I was introduced to Narrative Practices and Ideas. Two of the core ideas of Narrative say, “People are meaning makers and Stories provide a frame or lens for meaning-making.” As I started unpacking my life-story through these professional development opportunities, I realized, these stereotypes had somehow entered into my subconscious and turned into my belief about municipal schools. I wondered how this would affect my work if these beliefs turn out to be true and powerful in their own existence. Will I be able to achieve my goals in the fellowship? Will I be able to effectively facilitate SEL? This somehow sowed the seeds of self-doubt within me.

The concept of facilitation at Apni Shala looks very different than usually teaching. This was all very new to me as the only way of learning that I have seen in the classroom is that of a student and a teacher, where the mode of teaching has been conventional and there is nothing else done apart from academics. After my month-long training and observing staff, I had learnt about facilitation and how it is different from being a teacher. This led to a lot of mixed feelings but self-doubt was building its own space within me.

You must be wondering what happens when self doubt visits?

Allow me to take you through a narrative journey.

Narrative Ideas believe “people are not the problem; the problem is the problem”. It focuses on externalizing the problem and dealing with it outside our bodies. So in my case, when Self-Doubt visits, it brings along a lot of other emotions like nervousness, fear, anxiety. Sometimes it makes me overreact. Also, I start to question my ideas, thoughts, I am unable to see a way forward in difficult situations. When self-doubt visits me, it affects my relations with others in that situation as I begin to compare myself with others.

“Self-doubt” visited me with other wonderings such as – Will I be able to deliver Social-Emotional skills to my students? Will teachers help me? Will students understand me? Will I be able to create a safe space where we will be able to trust each other?

As I learned during my training, the importance of trust and how it nurtures the relationships we share with one another, became visible to me. I started noticing the “sparkling moments” of trust.

The stories of Self-Doubt that I was facing, slowly started receding with several instances of trust that I had; when I met the principal of Shivsrushti Marathi School who welcomed me with a smile and the first thing she said,“Please don’t worry or get tensed and let us know if you need any support.” I was pleasantly surprised by the principal’s gesture. After which I had my very first session with my first 4th graders who brought happiness and curiosity with them. They wished  to know my purpose of being in the classroom and were ready to engage with me

With their curiosity and excitement on one side and with my feelings like fear, nervousness, happiness on the other, we started our session. After an hour into the session, I could imagine how my fellowship journey would possibly look like. All that became visible to me was a sense of responsibility that I had. The responsibility of imparting the SEL. but little did I know that in this process I would learn about myself more than anything else!

Here, my readers, I am sharing a few things that I learned about myself while working with my students:

Resolving my self-doubts: I invited my students to be a part of the circle which later turned into a circle of trust. In this circle, each passing session was about sharing, expressing, discussing and most importantly having conversations through which we discovered new things about each other in the class. It was then that I understood how powerful a concept like circle-time is, believing that all are equal and come with our own share of experiences and stories.The personal stories and conversations made me feel safe and replaced the self-doubts I had about myself. These conversations helped me believe in myself.

Understanding my own emotions and how to process them: Sometimes after facilitating a session with a grade, I feel overwhelmed with the responses I received from my students. For instance, I was facilitating a session on peer conflict. One of my 4th-grade students came and told me what happens when there is a conflict at home or with friends and how she resolves them, she mentioned she talks with them and says sorry. The way she solved conflict it feels very overwhelmingly exciting for me to think that a 4th-grade student can be in such a beautiful, reflective process. I process such emotions with my colleagues, they help me unpack my emotions and help me stay with those emotions.  

How would I be patient with myself and my students: There were times when I was also facing challenges related to classroom management** And that’s when my colleagues stepped in and brainstormed various classroom strategies and supported me for the same and this enhanced my classroom interaction and flow of the session. These strategies also helped me be patient not only towards my students but also towards myself.

As the journey continued, my rapport with the students grew deeper and it helped our sessions be more reflective and created safe spaces where everyone could share without judgments or fears of any kind. I learned that I could work with my self-doubt and by the end of my facilitation, the frequency of self-doubt visiting me was way less. SEL has not only been beneficial for my students, but also for me.  

SEL provided a direction towards my goals, enhanced my cognitive processing abilities and performance, directed behavior toward particular goals, and led to increased effort and energy. These manifested as individual differences in intelligence, creativity, cognitive style, motivation and the capacity to process information, communicate, and relate to others. So now I can say that Self-Doubt and I are acquaintances who meet each other sometimes but then we are also able to keep distance and work well even when together.

Today, as we all are experiencing uncertainty, doubt about self and about the world, and anxiety about the unknown, I am wondering how we can use Narrative Ideas and Practices to observe these emotions as they come to us. I am offering you some questions that have helped me, and may help you:

  • When this emotion visits me, how do I feel?
  • Are there other accompanying emotions that visit me along with this emotion?
  • In the past, if such an emotion visited me, what are some ways in which I have navigated my life in such a situation?
  • Who are the people (or things, pets, etc) of who could possibly support me during this?
  • If someone asked them about me, what strengths would they share about me?
  • What are some pleasing stories about me that have been told a few times – a story that others have told about me that I have liked or appreciated? This might be a story about my ability to laugh, to be a good friend, or what people appreciate about me in your communities, or workplaces. It could be a story about some personal qualities you have such as humor, compassion, persistence, risk-taking, or a story of how people see you as fun-loving or hard.
  • As I am thinking about these stories and people, what new possibilities emerge for me?

Hope this sparks a new journey for you!

About the author: 

Pooja Gate: She studied B.com from Mumbai University and has completed her internship with the Antarang Foundation for 2 years. Currently, she is working with Apni Shala Foundation as a Programme Fellow. When Pooja is not facilitating sessions or working in the office you will find her dancing or spending time with friends.

Loved reading this piece? At Apni Shala, we are committed to bring you more SEL-aligned resources during this pandemic. Our work is dependent on generous donations from our supporters. If you found this useful, make a donation here: I would love to donate to Apni Shala.

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