Archive → March, 2011


For all those interested in education reform, most will concede we have failed MANY our youth by giving up on them, left them with a system designed for the industrial revolution, instruction with limited to no relevancy for today’s world and often encourage youth to find a home outside of school outside when it gets rough.  Many have found ways to get behind an idea or an issue that lands in positive results for youth.  Some get behind intensive school days that land in year round schools.  Some get behind adapting instructional methods to meet learning styles.  Some get behind really high expectations as a guidepost through the flood. Some focus on quality evaluation and studying it to improve results.  Some get behind the art of teaching and a good mentor to boost that instructional level.  What all these methods hold in common is a laser focus on trying to do better for youth and families.  When things don’t work, it is our duty to investigate methods to improve the system and instruction.  We need to set the same high expectations for ourselves that we do for youth.  This is true in education reform and any element of our government or taxpayer funding when old methods aren’t working.


We make fun of each other.  It is what we do in life, to show our love, to show a familiarity.  It is how Irish Catholic families pass on their traditions of storytelling and guilt at the same time.  I love sparring with my brother Michael (who alternately works for the senator, city, quasi-governmental organization or congressman) he LOVES the debate game and laughter through a good argument and baiting us all into his web of expert thinking. He asks good questions, sometimes to lead us to his conclusions and sometimes to ask good questions.

He loves the inside joke that some of us don’t follow and is an incredibly generous soul.  I thought he was making fun of me on a trip to Haiti and I laid into him about how he would feel if his wife and  lovely daughters were living in an inadequate tent with rain pouring through the shitty USAID tarp.  I was too close to the situation to see his humor and maybe too close now to laugh.  I thought I guilted him into giving to Haiti. I don’t want to guilt anyone to giving to Haiti.  I will take guilt money, but it is not a tradition I want to continue. In truth, he had already given and gave again after our email exchange. He gave because it was the right thing to do.  He says that if he donated every time I was mad at him he would be broke, but the world would be better for it.  

I  am constantly inspired to do more work with Haitians, for Haitian and around Haiti.  That is the truth.  Everyone keeps asking me if I am going to Japan.  Partly to make fun of me, partly to understand why I keep going back to Haiti and I think partly because people don’t know what to say to get to those smart questions.

I am amazed by the progress made on the ground.

Amazed that the small groups of people working in partnership with Haitians is helping.

Amazed.  I didn’t know or really put much hope into large scale change.  It feels like you can’t expect too much with post traumatic stress.

But, large scale change is happening. Or more accurately highly dedicated courageous souls are pushing ahead with strategies that make large scale change a reality.

Mario Joesph inspired us …Brian Concannon asked us to think …Lisa Davis taught us …Blaine Bookey continually strategized …Malya Villard-Apollon reminds us to think big, to believe in oneself, to lead and lead and continue to lead. Others at Center for Constitutional Rights, the BAI, IJDH, The Goldin Institute and all their funding partners are continually adding to the work, discourse and strategy.

This is a unique coalition of talented souls.  Amazingly talented.

Imagine living in a tent.  Then imagine having the strength to do this.  This is incredible.  Almost unimaginable.   If I was living in a tent I don’t think I would have 1/10 the courage and strength.  This is how the world changes.


Each time we embark on something new, we open our eyes in a different way. We notice elements of the experience differently. When you land in a new place, you have to take it in differently, for guideposts, markers, unique characteristics. Each time I land in a new city or country I open my eyes differently, wondering what is different, what is new, what will this trip uncover. This last trip to Haiti I kept noticing the language we used, the acronyms we relied on.


Facilitating Learning and Leadership

I taught at a statewide conference last week.  Or,  I facilitated learning for the 40 people in my section of the ballroom.  It was content I had taught a few times before, new format, new slides and a new audience.  About 3 minutes into facilitating this learning, I realized the head of this statewide organization was going to be in my room for two days.   Thud.        After finding my notes and looking at my slides I realized I would just have to turn those nerves into energy.  I had to find a way to include everyone in the room, statewide leader included.

These kinds of moments always make me think about anyone brave enough to lead, a young person, a new teacher, a college senior, a parent, the sales person trying to find the right mummy bag for a tent in Haiti (even when its 10 degrees f at the store).

It takes a special kind of depth to really lead.  It is hard to stay true to ourselves, to be ourselves, to speak our truth, articulate a vision.  When we see that leadership we can find a way to add to that vision and add.  We can lift it up. We can support.   We can add other thoughts.  We can invite others to add their frame.  Continue the learning.

The next day I ran across this leadership article:

Among other things, it lists out what makes a great boss, according to Google Employees, it lists:

1. Be a good coach.
2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage.
3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being.
4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.
5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
6. Help your employees with career development.
7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team.


A Beginner’s Mind

by Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner and Chris Maser

WE ARE intrigued by the Zen concept of a beginner’s mind–one that still is open to the dance of imagination in the land of innocence and possibility. This dance is one that most adults must work hard to retain in a world that values the pursuit of concrete knowledge. Far too many of us forget our unique, childlike ability to ask “Why?” In our work with young people, we have observed that, around the time children enter fourth grade, adults begin to instill in them a focus of what to think, rather than how to think. As early as 1933, the conservationist and author Aldo Leopold put his finger on the beginnings of this trend when he wrote, “To build a better motor, we tap the uttermost powers of the human brain; to build a better countryside, we throw dice.”

We consider a three-year-old’s “Why?” to be charming and developmentally appropriate but, all too often, a 10-year-old’s “Why?” is met with “That’s just how it is.” While adults continue creating social and environmental problems (Leopold’s dice throwing), these same young people will be asked to solve those problems increasingly are incapable so ourselves.

Without the knowledge, skills, and competencies to deal with social and environmental issues creatively, no society has a viable context within which to greet the children it brings into the world–much less nurture them. If we want to change our world for the better, we must tap into the creative and positive energy of young people. Over and over again, we have seen that it is children who teach their parents and other elders about the components of sustainability–not the other way around. The middle school and high school years present a critical developmental opportunity because, well into adolescence and early adulthood, the neural connections of a young person’s brain literally are being “hardwired” in terms of how youth think about themselves, and their relationships, choices, and decisions.
Whether an educator, youth worker, or other type of story weaver, anyone committed to giving young people a strong, powerful, positive voice–one that is robust and hopeful enough to rally kindred spirits of all ages–is unique and critical to the sustainability of our planet.

A world of hurry and worry

Adults are the trustees of young people’s futures. Yet, we rarely ask our youth what they want us to leave them as our legacy, nor do we always listen when they try to share their ideas about real-life issues–beyond the typical daily routine–in the realm of public dialogue. Why is this? Because, collectively, we often are too busy to attend to young people’s intuitive wisdom, which we also once had as children, but since have lost in today’s competitive “hurry-worry” world of materialism, clashing ideologies, and attempts to control circumstances. The notion of fairness and human dignity, however, demands of us one of our scarcest resources–our willingness to listen to one another. Not listening invalidates the feelings-and very existence–of another person, an all-too-frequent experience shared by young people. The nation’s youth need a positive foundation upon which to empower them to take ownership of their world and create an environment that nurtures these assets. Mentors must help young people view the world through the lens of their own strengths (upon which other strengths can be built), rather than simply overwhelming them with a litany of problems they must overcome.

Our children one day will become local, national, and international leaders. Many of us still may be around when that time arrives. The better our young people are at finding positive, creative, and sustainable ways of working, playing, and being together, the more they truly will be able to change the world. Teaching kids to change the world sounds like a lofty ambition; we recognize that. On the other hand, change happens all around us, every day, whether or not we do anything about it. Thus, we have a choice: we can “become the change [we] want to see in the world” (as India’s Mahatma Gandhi encouraged), or we simply can react to change as it occurs. Educators’ influence on young people–in a formal or informal setting–often is second only to that of family. These individuals are in a remarkable position to show to day’s youth how to become powerful and positive agents of change throughout their lives.

Everything–living creatures, plants, air, water, inanimate objects, time, space–exists in relationship to everything else. Each action that a teacher and his or her students take is like dropping a pebble into a quiet pool of water. Just as each pebble produces a unique set of ripples–a series of changes, really–so does each child and adult offer a unique gift to the world, one that is critical to the whole. Each gift is different and valuable in its service to the Earth and its inhabitants–and what is true of individual humans also is true of all cultures and societies. Regardless of how strongly we strive for autonomy, each life, culture, and society is interdependent. Each also has its own excellence and cannot be compared justly to another. Differences among creatures, cultures, and societies are just that–differences.
A pebble’s impact on the water’s surface creates concentric rings flowing outward from the center, touching everything in their path. The farther the rings travel from the epicenter, the wider and more diffuse they become. Sharp eyes might catch their visual disappearance, but no witness will observe their ultimate dissipation, because the rings continue to exist in every other ring they have touched. For an instant in time, the atoms that compose a riving being continue their journey as they participate in and create a perpetually widening series of stories about eternal relationships within the one story. That one story, like the spider’s silken case of eggs–and like a group of students–contains all the other stories. Whatever we do is part of a tale that reverberates throughout eternity. Just as no pebble can strike the water’s surface without causing an effect, no action can exist without a cause. This universal truth is the essence–the heart–of the power and wonder of being a teacher. Instructors are, in many ways, serving as the students’ muse, providing the context, skills and inspiration they will use to craft their own storylines.

“What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary,” wrote philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1876’s “Social Aims.” Emerson easily might have been speaking of hatred and prejudice, attitudes that have the power to control our lives in spite of our protests to the contrary. As long as old hatreds are carried forward from one generation to the next, war, terrorism, and other forms of violence will continue. We are destined to repeat acts of hatred and violence until people let go of old ways of thinking and reacting. When we can do so, we will be able to experience the transformative possibilities of the present and, thereby, make the best use of precious human talent, money, and irreplaceable natural resources that allow us to enrich, rather than impoverish, each succeeding generation.

Through experiencing the consequences of our actions, we can learn the difference between reacting and responding. We react spontaneously, sometimes out of insecurity and a perceived need for self-defense and retaliation, becoming the very thing that we oppose. Can we learn to respond intentionally to one another with trust inspired by acceptance, and transform fear and hatred into compassion and justice?

Understanding the power of human thought to affect collective energy is critical, because the psychological balance of society is determined by the weight of each thought taken by the collective. For people who believe that positive change is possible, there is an abiding paradox in the relative weight of a thought–while the thought of love is but a feather’s weight, when placed on the social and environmental scale, its lasting effect outweighs by a hundredfold a thought of fear. The envelope of thought surrounding the world is the scale in which our individual thoughts weigh either positively or negatively in the balance. It is, therefore, by our thoughts that we can affect the world we live in–for good or ill.