Teneriffa: Embracing Diversity, Preventing Bullying and Violence

von Hanna Szymczak

The course I participated in was called „Embracing Diversity, Preventing Bullying and Violence.“ It took place in La Laguna, Tenerife. Tenerife is one of the Canary Islands, located a bit west of Africa at the height of Morocco. Despite their location, the Canaries belong to Spain, so when there, you are still in the EU.
La Laguna is a city in the northern part of Tenerife, a short bus ride away from the port city of Santa Cruz where I lived during the mobility.

DAY 1 – Diversity – Topic introduction

Our course, led by a Brit named Matthew, has 12 participants from six different European countries, including Austria, Romania, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Greece!

Today we started off with introductions, then dove into discussing the importance of names. We talked about how important it is to learn the names of our students, which includes investing effort into pronouncing their names correctly, even if they are „ethnic“ names that are foreign or more difficult to us!

Identity Mapping
In the second segment today, we used a mapping tool to help us reflect on our unique identities and our personal degree of diversity awareness. What types of diversity do I identify with personally? (woman, dual citizen, Christian, white, multilingual, dance choreographer/performing artist, teacher, etc.). What type of diversity do I have regular contact with? What types of diversity aren’t as present in my life and are thus perhaps „blind spots“ of mine?
INSIGHT — Becoming aware of what our personal blind spots are is the first step to improving our awareness in those areas!

I’m extremely curious to get to know the other course participants better and hear about their experiences as teaching professionals all over Europe! I’ve never had the chance to get to know someone from Estonia, nor Romania, and, because of the pandemic, I haven’t been among such a diverse group of people in quite a long time! It’s really refreshing!

Our final class segment today was a „Diversity Scavenger Hunt“ activity around La Laguna, aimed at raising our awareness of the astounding lack of diversity in advertisements, illustrated books, etc.
You can try to find the scavenger hunt items in your own city! Here’s some examples of what we needed to try to find.:

1. Find a billboard, poster, or photo frame portraying a biracial couple
2. Find a doll whose skin tone is not white
3. Find an illustrated children’s book who’s main character is not white
4. Find a wedding invitation that would work for a homosexual couple
5. Find a billboard or photo frame portraying an individual with physical or mental disabilities
6. Find band-aids in „skin“ color for someone of darker skin.

–> Exercise for the readers of this Lerntagebuch and their families: See if you can find these scavenger hunt items while walking around YOUR town! You may go into stores, ask for help, and take all the time you need. Take pictures of the items you find and share your findings and reflections with a friend!

Joanna (a teacher from Poland) and I did the scavenger hunt together. We found some, but not all the items. However, as we searched, we *did* pass real-life representatives of each minority on the street! We saw an individual with Down syndrome, passed a homosexual couple, and saw people of African ancestry. It challenged me that there is clearly diversity in the community around me yet at the same time these same minority groups are being overlooked instead of represented well in the media, advertising, and product lines. I cannot fully imagine what it’s like to be a part of an excluded minority, especially from a racial standpoint, since I’m white, and white individuals are the ones most-frequently represented. I can imagine, however, that I would be sad and frustrated to rarely see someone with my skin tone represented.

Take-away lesson: „Be interested to learn and keep learning about diversity!“

That evening, a tour guide took us on a tour of La Laguna:

DAY 2 – Bullying, Case Studies

Today we began discussing bullying. We shared from our individual classroom experiences, both back from when we were students, and situations that have taken place at our schools and institutions. It was interesting to hear about the different challenges faced by teachers in different countries, and sobering to hear how serious some of the bullying examples were.

We learned about the work of researcher Brene Brown, who researches notions related to empathy, vulnerability, and expanding human perception.

–> Exercise for the readers of this Lerntagebuch and their families: To learn more about the work of Brene Brown, watch one of her TED Talks:

In the last part of the day, we prepared skits in groups, acting out specific instances of bullying, which we later discussed as a class. My group presented a real situation that took place in one Greek teacher’s school. Here’s the CASE STUDY:

There was a disabled boy with an involuntary repetitive motion (he would scratch his nose repeatedly). Another student – a popular boy with good grades – would make fun of his disabled classmate. The teachers minimized the situation and didn’t do anything to stop the popular boy from bullying the student with disabilities. They brushed it off as normal „boyish“ behavior. One day, the popular boy, annoyed by his disabled classmate’s nose-scratching, punched his disabled classmate, giving him a concussion. As a result, the popular boy got expelled.

The Greek teacher told us the situation was very difficult, because on one hand, the boy who punched his classmate was very clearly acting inappropriately and should be punished. However, it was also true that the teachers should have taken action to stop the bullying in its early stages. Instead, they didn’t recognize it or how serious it was, which enabled the situation to escalate out of control. The teaching faculty should have stood up against the verbal bullying from the start.

Moral: Part of the responsibility of being a teacher or instructor, especially when working with youth, is modeling core social behaviors, including mature, compassionate, tolerant behavior, and appropriate emotion-management. The lesson from this unfortunate situation is that it’s extremely important to be on the look-out for verbal-, emotional-, and physical aggression, and to make it a priority to address such instances and their warning signs early and effectively.
As a class, we discussed actions that could have been effective problem-solving approaches in this and other situations.

IDEA/METHOD — One of the Austrian teachers from a Montessori school suggested that a great way to deal with many problems that arise is to involve the student or participant having the problem in finding a solution.

For example, in the situation at the Greek school, the teachers, observing the popular student’s discomfort over his classmate’s nose-scratch, could have asked the popular student in a private conversation, „I see you feel uncomfortable with your classmates‘ involuntary motions, however making fun of him is not appropriate. What solution do you suggest instead?“ This way, the teacher together with the student can develop an action plan to diffuse the situation before it gets worse.
Involving the person who has the problem in finding a solution to their problem empowers the person, because it helps them realize they have the power to take positive action to solve their issues and handle their emotions appropriately. Teachers should support the problem-solving process, but if possible, avoid completely taking over. Ultimately, as a teacher, you want to point students to the fact that their reactions are their responsibility, and that they have the agency (=decision-making control over oneself) to react well, both in the current situation as well as in the future.

DAY 3 – The consequences of bullying, human needs

The Consequences of Bullying

–> Exercise for the readers of this Lerntagebuch and their families: Take a piece of clean white paper. Now scribble on it, crumple the paper, and stomp on it with your feet. Now, try to make it look new again.

The point of this exercise is to show that you can’t make the paper look new again. This is a visual representation of the effect that our bullying, aggression, and unkind behavior has on other people. Our poor actions hurt others. That piece of paper will never be completely smooth and clean again. You can straighten it out in a heavy book, and help it more-or-less return to its original shape, but never will it be the same as before. The teacher from Estonia shared that this is a good exercise to do at the beginning of a school year, because it teaches students that their actions effect others. She did it with her class, and whenever problems would start to arise, all she had to do was remind her students of the exercise and how horrible it feels to be hurt by others.

Intervening in bullying

In the course today, we discussed tactics for reacting when we observe instances of bullying in everyday situations around us. INSIGHT — It’s not always best to directly address the inappropriate behavior. When the situation poses a safety threat, it’s sometimes actually better to distract the bully. Imagine this: You are passing a bus stop where a man is yelling at a woman and shoving her. You want to help the woman, but you don’t want the man’s aggression to be redirected to you. So, instead of saying, „Stop hitting her!“ or grabbing his arms, you might say something like, „Excuse me, Sir, I’m not from here, do you know which way I need to go to find the closest Lidl?“ This both distracts the man AND brings down the intensity of the situation. It also gives the woman the opportunity to run if she wants to.

This tactic was new to me, and I found it counterintuitive at first. I tend to want to speak up for the victim and incline the bully reflect on their behavior. However, sometimes this is simply not safe. In these cases, using the „distraction“ technique is a great tool for diffusing the situation safely. You could, of course, take note of how the man looks and report the situation to the police later, but in the moment it’s happening, the two most important things are to 1. Help the situation stop, and 2. Keep everyone (including yourself) safe.

We also talked about how „doing nothing“ in a bullying situation is equal to enabling. We should be active defenders of victims of bullying, but we should do so wisely, with caution.


In the final part of the day, we spoke about needs.

INSIGHT — Often when a child is acting out in the classroom, a need of theirs is not being met. For example, when a child is throwing pencils as a classmate or refusing to speak at all, perhaps they are actually craving love and attention, and simply trying to get it in the wrong ways.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one helpful needs theory to consider, but there are many others as well. Use charts like this to reflect on what specific need(s) of your students or participants causing problems might not be met, then together with the student/participant come up with solutions to meet those needs, so they are no longer obstacles in learning and co-existing respectfully in the learning space.

INSIGHT — Encourage your students and adult participants, „Take care of yourself, so you can learn!“
This is a phenomenal reminder for all of us!

DAY 4 – Combating Bias

INSIGHT — We all have biases. Admitting to yourself what your blind spots are is the first step to overcoming them and acting outside of what that personal bias dictates!

bias – bias is a combination of facts and our prior or „preferred“ beliefs. It’s essentially facts tainted by our imperfect, subjective view of someone or something.

Today we did an exercise that had a powerful impact on me. Matthew showed us a slide with pictures of a variety of people. He asked us to discuss in our groups what words come to mind about each person we see.

One picture was of a Muslim girl in a head covering. I thought about the picture honestly and wrote down what I felt. „I don’t expect her to be outgoing, energetic, or rowdy.“ I put my pen down, looked at what I wrote, and felt ashamed of how ridiculous it was. Just because of the girl’s clothing, I automatically had a bias about her personality being calm and „submissive“.

The child could be strong, loud, or a social butterfly! How differently would she be treated by her teachers, if all of her teachers were to expect her to be „withdrawn and obedient,“ instead of simply being open to get to know her how she actually is– be that shy or be that outgoing!

Another teacher at my table expressed having a similar bias. She said, it’s perhaps because we associate „being covered“ with being withdrawn or closed off. In Muslim culture, however, covering one’s body isn’t intended to indicate personality per se. So, interpreting it that way is a personal bias that doesn’t necessarily line up with reality. It was eye-opening to reflect on the consequences it could have on this girl’s life for leadership figures to interact with her through the lens of their bias instead of cultivating an awareness of their biases and trying to intentionally set their biases aside.

INSIGHT — Teachers and instructors ought to reflect on the biases they have toward each individual student or participant they have in class. Similarly, bosses and managers should reflect on the biases they have toward each employee or worker they supervise. Once you identify your biases, you should try to act outside of them. (In the example above, this would mean allowing yourself to get to know the Muslim girl before you allow yourself an opinion of what her personality is like). Allow reality and a track-record of experiences to shape your opinions, rather than pre-determining your opinions based on your interactions with other, „similar“ individuals.

–> Exercise for the readers of this Lerntagebuch and their families: Below is the picture of the slide we used in class. Take some time by yourself honestly reflecting and answering the questions. Write down your associations and biases about each of the individuals pictured. Once you are done reflecting privately, discuss among yourselves. What biases do you have? What is your reasoning behind them, and how factually reasonable is your reasoning? How can you step outside of your biases when interacting with people who look like the individuals pictured?

DAY 5 – Mindfulness (as an emotion- and behavior-management tool)

Today was probably my favorite day of the course! We learned about Mindfulness from a Spanish woman named Vicky. Our class met in a park. Vicky took a theory-through-practice approach, which means that we got to DO a number of exercises as she was teaching them to us and sharing advice on how we can best apply these methods with our students and participants.

Mindfulness – Vicky defined Mindfulness as the practice of increasing one’s focus and awareness for the purpose of using that groundedness/awareness to regulate one’s emotions and behavior better and make better choices. Mindfulness is about creating the time and space to check in with yourself, identify your needs, and be able to take specific actions or steps to satisfy those needs. Mindfulness techniques often involve concentrating one’s focus on one particular action, or „zooming our focus in“ on one sense in particular– touch, hearing, sight, taste, etc. (Sometimes on several, but in general Mindfulness aims to „quiet“ us inside, unlike what happens when we’re overstimulated. The exercises are designed to eliminate frivolous distractions and division of attention.)

Thus, most of the exercises we did revolved around focus, reflection, and heightening one’s awareness of self and others.

A simple example is: if you are irritable, you can either continue to be irritable, or you can stop for a minute and think about what is causing your irritation. Once you’ve identified your unmet need, you can meet it and stop feeling irritated. For example, you might simply be thirsty and need to get a glass of water. Or, you might be feeling too hot, so maybe you need to take off your sweater or move your spot to be in the shade. Some negative emotions require only a simple fix, while resolving others is a more complex process. However, whether the issue is simple or complex, creating the space to identify your feelings and the sources of those feelings allows you to start designing a solution and take action.

Note: This can include taking the action of ASKING for the thing you need, if you cannot give it to yourself.

Here’s some of the exercises we did:

Exercise 1: Bean bag tossing. Our group stood in a circle. We threw a green bean bag (the small square sacks you use for a bean bag toss game) to each other in a random order until everyone had received the bag once. That became the set order for the green bean bag(s). Every time you threw a green bean bag, you had to say your name. The teacher then added more green bean bags. You had to pay close attention to when a bean bag was coming your way, but you always knew who it would come from and who you were throwing it to, because the order stayed the same.
Next, we set the green beanbags aside and created a new order with red bean bags. This time, you always had to say the name of the person you were throwing to every time you threw a red bean bag.
The third step was that Vicky started off both colors at once– the green bean bags followed the green bag route (and you had to say your own name when throwing one), and the red ones followed the red route (and you had to say the person’s name to whom you were throwing it). This level required a lot of focus compared to the earlier rounds, and even more the more bean bags were added. We had something like eight bean bags of each color simultaneously circulating around the group!
Step four was that Vicky added one yellow bean bag to the game. It was allowed to travel in either direction, and you had to follow the green bag name instructions when throwing in the green bag direction and follow the red bag name instructions when throwing in the red bag direction! So, there were three colors of bean bags going around the circle at once (with multiples of the red and green simultaneously in the circle). The goal wasn’t to „be better“ than the others, but rather all work together to keep the bags moving smoothly and accurately.
Step five was to stop the game and close our eyes and take some time to identify „How am I feeling? What do I need?“ Vicky highlighted that doing little „check-ins“ like this throughout the day gives us the opportunity to realize and verbalize our needs, as well as ask for the thing we need.

Exercise 2: Focusing on sound: Vicky had a Tibetan bowl. Our task was to close our eyes, listen to the sound it makes when she hits it, and raise our hand at the moment when we couldn’t hear it (even faintly) anymore. Focusing intensely on ONE thing at a time helps quiet internal turmoil and overstimulation, to empower us to be able to choose our response in a given situation.

Exercise 3: A visual aid representing our negative emotions. Vicky set a jar of water in the middle of the circle. Then, we each took turns describing negative feelings and stresses we were having that week, adding glitter and beads to the jar to represent those negative things and worries. Next, she mixed the water, glitter, and beads together with a stick to represent what we feel like inside when we feel strong negative emotions. Then she led us through Exercise 2 with the Tibetan bowl to demonstrate that we can calm our emotions
(„calm the agitated water“ inside us) to create clarity and the space to choose our response, rather than reacting mindlessly, driven by our emotions.


Exercise 4: Breathing & touch. Weighted toy on our bellies. Vicky instructed us to lay down and close our eyes. She then placed a little sand-filled frog on each person’s stomach. Our task was to notice the weight of the object on our bellies, and to feel how it moves up and down as we breathe. For several minutes, we were to try and keep our focus on our breathing and the weight; each time our minds began to wander, we were to reign back in our thoughts and return to the breath and weight. Only later were we allowed to look at our „little friends“ (=see what she had put on our bellies).


Exercise 5: Relieving pressure from your lumbar spine. Vicky showed us a way to take pressure off of our lower backs. If you are sitting a lot, you can take a towel and roll it into a thin roll, then place it nearer the back of your glutes as you sit cross-legged. This tips your pelvis back, elongating your lumbar spine. See photo:

Vicky told us that Mindfulness is about freedom! It’s about separating our emotion from our response– creating space between our emotion and our response, and using that space to make a CHOICE about how we respond.

–> Exercise for the readers of this Lerntagebuch and their families: Try doing some of the exercises above as a family! You can use any metal chime or a bell instead of a Tibetan bowl, and if you don’t have bean bags, you can make some by putting scoops of dry rice into socks and tying them off.

In the last part of the day, Matthew took us to a beautiful park in Santa Cruz called Parque García Sanabria for an official time of closure, thank-yous, and good-byes. He handed out our certificates, then we walked around the park. We still have a group excursion tomorrow, but we won’t see Matthew anymore.

DAY 6 – Teide Trip

Today we had an organized group outing to Teide! Teide is an active volcano in the middle of the island of Tenerife. Volcanic eruptions are responsible for the formation of Tenerife, and because of this, the island has a wide variety of volcanic rock formations and endemic plants that I hadn’t ever seen before! Teide Peak is the highest-elevated point in Spain, soaring at 3718m above sea level– which is especially noteworthy, because the island isn’t that big to begin with– it has an area of only 2034m2! (For comparison, the area of the city of Berlin is 892m2! This means, all of Tenerife is only approx. 2.3x larger than the area of Berlin.) For comparison, Santa Cruz (the city where I stayed) has an elevation of only 11m above sea level. And naturally, Tenerife’s oceanic shores are at 0m above sea level. Zero meters up to a whopping 3718m is quite the amplitude for a small island!!
The terrain near Teide was hot, dry, and rocky, and had essentially no plants. There were, however, some really cool endemic plants at lower altitude on the way!

Here are some pictures from our excursion:

If you would like to connect with me or ask me any further questions about the Embracing Diversity, Preventing Bullying and Violence course or about Tenerife, please do! You’re invited to like my official Facebook Page and contact me there: https://www.facebook.com/haniachoreography

Hania (Hanna) Szymczak