Shona Cameron had a dream. Driven by the desire to make schools a better place, she trained in the United Kingdom as a teacher and then became an educational psychologist. But when she encountered so many in the school system who, like her, dreaded Sunday nights, she knew something was deeply, deeply wrong. It became clear that among both children and adults, anxiety and dread over the thought of returning to school Monday morning pervaded the culture.
“It just kind of blew my mind, really, that we were all kind of going along with this,” Shona recalls. “Like it was normal. People didn't even question that Sunday evenings were horrible because you didn't want to go to school the next day, whether you were a child or an adult.”
As a psychologist, she labored over this. The problem, she realised, was widespread. She found herself baffled that at the “national level, global level even, we created this monster called school and education, and people weren't happy; they weren’t enjoying it. Seemingly we had stopped thinking for ourselves and did what we have always done.”
The system, she says, had no means of even articulating the problem. There was no language “to even start to think about doing it differently. I couldn't find those conversations anywhere.” So, without quite knowing what she was setting out to find, Shona went in search of answers.
Finding Nonviolent Communication
Shona Cameron was drowning in contradiction. She loved her job, but was miserable in her job, a tumultuous combination that she knew could not sustain for long. “It was such a confusing time,” she recalls. “It's really hard to put words into it.” She turned to meditation, “trying to look after myself.” In 2003, while attending a Buddhist retreat, she met a newly certified trainer in a movement that she’d never before heard of: Nonviolent Communication (NVC).
“I thought, well, what is this thing?” Shona reflects. “And I started talking to someone else who was there, and he gave me a copy of the book.” As she read Nonviolent Communication, a Language of Life, by Marshall Rosenberg, the thought grew into her, “this is something different, something I can do and explore. I want to learn this.”
When Shona wants to learn something, she heads straight for the source. Having discovered that Marshall Rosenberg was living in Switzerland, she said to herself, “well I might as well go and learn it from Marshall himself.”
And that’s just what she did. That 9-day intensive training during a snowy February in Switzerland changed Shona’s life. “It was very beautiful, and we all went hiking one day with Marshall. I have very, very very strong memories of being in that transformational space.” The transformation was so profound, she didn’t sleep for a few days afterward. “It had such a big impact on my system. What strikes me now is that I wasn’t worried, I knew somewhere it was important to let that happen to me.”
She emerged from that training with two certainties: That NVC was her path forward, and that she wanted to be a trainer herself.
Returning to Life, and NVC “Ninja-Style”
Nine days in the mountains of Switzerland didn’t erase the serious problems Shona faced in her profession. When she returned to work, she found the adjustment a challenge, and began telling people about her experience. “It was like having my brain removed, turned upside down and put back in again.” For her to navigate the morale problems plaguing the school system with this newly learned operating system, she knew she needed to connect with people who were practicing NVC. “So that’s when I started finding the community here in the U.K., the other trainers and enthusiasts.” Having connected with the NVC community, she continued training.
In her work with teenagers at school, she practiced NVC “ninja-style,” quietly and without naming it. “I would challenge myself: Where’s the moment where I can guess the feelings and needs here. The same thing would happen with parents.”
She recalls one encounter vividly. “A parent was really annoyed. I’d had to cancel a meeting, and when I finally got to meet her a few weeks later, she was so angry with me, really really angry with the whole system, and it all came out on me.” Listening through the parent’s words to the feelings they conveyed, Shona was able to respond with empathy, hearing the anger and reflecting back the needs of consideration and assuring the parent of “how important this meeting is, and how important your son is, and that we value who you are and what’s going on.” Shona went from dreading the job she loved, to loving the job she loved.
Soon, families began asking for her in schools. In a culture where parents were afraid of having their children removed by professionals, this felt like a miracle and a chance to bring NVC into many people's lives. “Teachers and colleagues began to get curious about how I worked, and Sunday evenings got a little easier.”
Coach, Assessor, and Author
Shona became a certified NVC trainer in 2006, and in 2016 earned the role of assessor, serving with the English Speaking European Assessor Team. Today, she dedicates herself to coaching NVC at all levels, and to preparing future trainers for the important work of teaching NVC.
She still works as an educational psychologist, bringing compassion and empathy into schools wherever she can. She is part of the LEELAB team, the Life Enriching Education Laboratory, with the aim of supporting all those who have the same vision of life-enriching schools. “If anyone has a vision to bring NVC to education in any way, I urge you to do it with others. We collaborate and learn together with Marshall’s dream at the heart of what we do. We’ve learnt a lot about what supports this vision.”
Shona has written a chapter in the book, Restorative Theory in Practice, describing how NVC and restorative conversations can be used in school meetings. Developments in psychology, in neurobiology and more and more acceptance of the mind and body connection, mean that NVC is easier to speak about. “However, no other way of exploring and living with empathy is as powerful to me than NVC.”