NAMI Speakers “Open” Students to GI

For my final blog this week, I would like to discuss the importance of the OPEN phase which is defined by the GID process as:

*invitation to inquiry

*open minds

*stimulate curiosity

For the past three semesters in my Psychology in Literature senior seminar, my GID collaborating Librarian Educator Anita Cellucci and I have invited guest speakers from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI; to share their lived experience with mental illness.  And each semester students continually offer positive feedback on how the speakers educate and inspire them.  By having our guest speakers Eliza and Megan share so candidly about their experiences with their own mental illnesses, students are invited to ask questions,  open their minds to erase the stigma of mental illness, and stimulate their curiosity to engage in a Guided Inquiry topic of their choice related to our course.

After Eliza and Megan visit, we ask students to engage in some reflective writing.  Below are the questions we ask and I’ve included three different students responses.

Please write a 1-2 paragraph reflection that expresses your thoughts, feelings, opinions about the visit from NAMI yesterday.

How did this visit and the presenters/presentation:

* validate your thinking?

* clarify mental illness/mental health issues?

* erase stigma?

* create empathy?

Please include any other thoughts you have on the topic.

Student 1:

“I thought the visit from NAMI was extremely helpful and enlightening. I had already known a lot about mental illness, mostly from my Psychology classes. After listening to Eliza and Megan, all of the missing pieces that hadn’t been clarified were clarified. Their presentation also changed the way I think about many aspects of mental illness, specifically stigma and treatment. Their stories were more impactful.  I used to view depression very negatively because every time I read or watched something about mental depression, it ended badly. I also had a family member who killed himself because of depression. From the NAMI presentation, I now know that it is possible to get “cured”, and that negative stigma has gone away. I also now feel a great deal of empathy for those affected by mental depression, and for those who are affected by someone else who is battling depression.

Over the past few months I’ve had more negative emotions than normal. I’ve felt scared to tell someone because the environment around me makes it seem that feeling negatively makes me an outcast. These thoughts make me feel lonely, like no one understands how I feel. After Megan and Eliza shared their stories, I realized that I’m not the only person that has negative thoughts and feelings. For that, I am grateful that I got the opportunity to listen to the NAMI presentation. It has also helped me to acknowledge the support system that is available. I think this presentation should be available to not only the Psychology in Literature classes, but all Psychology-related classes and any other seniors who would be interested.” Zak

Student 2:

“In respects to the visit from NAMI during class yesterday, the topic of mental illnesses and disorders seem to be more of a comfortable topic to recognize. Having others come in and present about this topic that people usually are afraid of or try to avoid really helped me recognize the fact that we shouldn’t be scared of mental illness. Continuing to ignore the heavy topic won’t help those who unfortunately suffer from the different mental illnesses. From sharing the dark days, to coping skills, the presentation helped further support the fact that we should be talking about this problem. I strongly believe that removing the stigma surrounding this issue is essential for the progression of help for those who suffer from mental illness. With more presentations like NAMI presented, as well as availability for classes such as psychology in literature, there is hope to erase the stigma and go in the positive direction for awareness of mental illness. As well as eliminating stigma and broadening education around the topic, the NAMI presentation successfully opened my eyes into the real life of those who struggle with mental illnesses.” Tara

 Student 3

“The visit from the National Alliance on Mental Illness yesterday was an amazing opportunity for all of us, living with mental illness, or have had some kind of contact with people who have any mental illness, to connect with other people and understand their story and how they came out, or still trying to come out, of a very dark hole. One thing that kind of soothes my soul is knowing that I am not alone and that someone somewhere is going through the same kind of thing I am going through. For me, “putting a face to the story” is more than just a connection I make. It is physically existing with another person who is cut out from the same piece of cloth as me and not only listening to their story, but walking with them completely till the very end. To me, this presentation was like looking in a mirror, but instead of seeing my dark thoughts, I’m seeing familiar storylines that have the “alternative ending” and that makes me happier than I can ever say. I think presentations like that are extremely helpful and vital especially to younger kids. In nature, children are easier to be around with and to talk to; they don’t have any preconceived notions and they are more likely to be empathetic. When we don’t do anything to feed that spark of theirs, to encourage them to do more and get better at it, we are slowly pushing them to fail and alienate anyone who is different. It is not a surprise that a lot of people think of mental health illnesses as excuses, “getting sucked up” and that they are totally irrelevant and not real; hence it’s all in your head. It saddens me that to this day people still think that we are making things worse for ourselves and that we can easily snap out of it. You cannot snap out of anything. Sometimes it’s like getting sucked up in a dark hole and even though you’re trying, really trying, you still cannot find a way out. For a lot of people the faint light comes from the outside and for some of us you have to shine that light for yourself. And that is totally fine…” Nadine

The students’ reflections are by far the most personal responses of the semester.  The NAMI speakers literally OPEN up our students to analyze, reflect, and prepare for the last part of our course:  Guided Inquiry. When we first began GI, I created a cool power point presentation for the OPEN phase that reminded students of all the literature we explored throughout the course as a way to spark their interest in a topic.  And although, the power point was a decent option, inviting the NAMI speakers is by far a better Open to stimulate students.  I have often enjoyed brainstorming anticipatory activities to introduce a project and the fact that GI emphasizes the importance of the Open phase is so validating. The Open phase is a motivating, empathic, and energizing way to being Guided Inquiry.

I will end with one more student quote.  Maddie shared the following about the Open in an end of the semester reflection.

“The NAMI speakers were a really powerful part of this course and certain things that they said are notions that I will carry with me for a very long time.” Maddie

Kathleen Stoker

English/Journalism Teacher

Westborough High School

Westborough, MA

twitter:  @stokerkathleen


1 Comment

  1. The third space in these student reflections is right there at the surface! The power of third space never ceases to amaze me. I am so happy that through your implementation of Guided Inquiry your students reach third space in their learning for impact in their lives. This will live on with them for far longer than your course. Thank you Kathleen for sharing these with us! best of luck on your own blog. We will be sure to follow your journey and we hope to see you back here sometime too! Leslie

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