Recently Chloe Pearson, a research specialist and freelance writer contacted me with the following article. She volunteers for ConsumerHealthLabs.com because she understands that in order for consumers to make the best decisions about their health they need reliable, well-researched information on which to base those decisions. And that’s precisely what everyone at Consumer Health Labs aims to do as they explore and interpret new health-related data and research. here is her story and message.
"For as long as I can remember, my good friend Tessa struggled with depression. Somewhat socially awkward, she faced constant bullying and criticism in high school for not “fitting in.” She eventually turned to drugs and alcohol in an effort to cope with her loneliness, but instead found an even deeper sadness than she’d ever known: she told me once that pain was her only constant in life, and she wasn’t sure how much longer she wanted to fight it. Fortunately Tessa’s family helped her find a wonderful addiction treatment center, and she’s now found the happiness to embrace life wholeheartedly. Sadly, I know there are many who don’t find help in time.
Suicide can affect anyone at any age, but when it happens to a young person it is particularly devastating. Teens are especially at risk these days because of the many worries they face, including family issues, stress over school performance and fitting in, and social media activity, which can lead to bullying. The teen years are often difficult enough without throwing in depression or dark thoughts, so it’s important for everyone to learn how to cope with change and emotional issues.
It’s also important for parents, teachers, and counselors to learn the warning signs of depression and suicidal thoughts and how to help their loved ones. The causes vary greatly depending on the individual and can stem from events that happened long ago or only recently; they may manifest themselves in different ways and lead to various behaviors.
Some risk factors are genetic and can come from a family member who has a history of depression or suicide; others come from outside factors, such as substance abuse, suffering physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, or having an undiagnosed mood or mental health disorder. The warning signs are generally consistent no matter what the root cause may be and can include:
Because there is a big difference between depression/suicidal thoughts and normal teenage growing pains, it’s important for parents to know when to step in. The most helpful way to do this is to keep an open conversation with your child about their life, who they spend time with, and their activities outside the home. Making an effort to get to know their likes and dislikes and what their interests are can make a huge difference in making them feel safe and loved.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. For some, this is a last resort because of the stigma surrounding suicide and those involved, but having a healthcare professional or counselor who can help sort out those confusing, painful feelings is hugely important for a young person suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts.
It’s also important not to have expectations where treatment is concerned. Everyone reacts differently to counseling and medication, so let your loved one know that you’re there for them and that there is no pressure to find an immediate solution--there may not be one. "
I am currently teaching meditation to hundreds of people every year. I teach in a number of places including Canyon Ranch Spa, The Graduate Institute, Columbia University, the YMCA and several yoga studios.
My background in meditation spans over three decades. My first experience of meditation was to support my first wife. She was dying of a brain tumor and used meditation as a tool to manage pain. I had no idea what I was doing. I would sit beside her in an uncomfortable position, forcing myself to sit in lotus for an hour at a time, ankles aching.
From this torturous time I learned:
My wife left me before she died. I went into a deep depression. My world view was shattered. Everything that had meaning and brought me happiness seemed superficial and empty. I sought answers to my pain and confusion.
Over the next thirty years I found myself in the company of powerful teachers such as Dhirivamsa, Osho Rajneesh, Teertha, H.W. L. Poonja and Andrew Cohen. Each teacher gave me new insights into the nature of life. Each contributed to my understanding of meditation. Each one gave me a clue to the puzzle of life I was trying to solve.
Dhirivamsa revealed meditation is not a particular experience. I was on a three day meditation retreat with him in Western Australia. We were sitting for ten hours a day. More than I had ever sat at anytime. At one point a woman excitedly described her experience to Dhirivamsa. She said she could see colorful lights exploding in her mind’s eye. He admonished her and said she was not meditating and to keep still. He looked at me and said “you are a good sitter.” Thirty years later I would understand what he meant.
Osho Rajneesh made it clear to me and tens of thousands of others that meditation may take radical, sometimes powerfully cathartic actions to see beyond the powerful fluctuations of the mind.
Teertha revealed the commitment to meditation is a commitment to living life in a new way.
Poonja could humorously make light of thought, to the point I would feel a deep ecstatic joy in his company.
Cohen distilled everything into a comprehensive and intellectual theory. Reminding me that theory before experience is meaningless. Theory after experience is obvious.
Finally I trained at the Kripalu School of Yoga and found new devices to help me teach others what I had discovered over thirty years - that we are always, already meditating.
So how do I teach meditation?
I start by saying “we are already meditating. We relax to meditate not meditate to relax.”
I like to use the eye of a hurricane as a metaphor for meditation. A hurricane’s powerful winds twirl about a still center. Without that still center the hurricane would have no integrity. It would not exist. The closer we come to the center of the hurricane the winds calm down and become quiet. So it is with meditation. The winds are metaphors for the whirling thoughts and emotions. Like a hurricane we have a still, quiet center from where we witness everything.
Max Piccard, the twentieth century philosopher said a man who has lost silence has lost his very structure. Meditation is remembering that silence within. It is the recognition of an integral part of our totality, our structure.
I offer seven buoys to help those in the class experience meditation. By focusing their attention on any or all of these buoys the class becomes very still and quiet. I have taken five of these buoys from Kripalu’s B.R.F.W.A. model and added two more - P. and S.
P = Posture. Good posture is essential to be comfortable and alert. The original science of yoga was dedicated to postural alignment in order to aid practitioners to meditate.
S = Smile. On a long retreat in the Berkshires (10 days of meditating for up to sixteen hours a day) I discovered that smiling was a powerful way to yoke in my mind. A simple slight Mona Lisa smile fractures the mind’s habitual tendency to dwell on something is wrong.
B = Breath. Focusing on the four parts of the breath gives the mind something to notice that is happening in this moment. The four parts of the breath are the inhale, exhale, and two turning points between the exhalations and inhalations. Some schools of meditation such as Vipassana make this the sole focus of attention. Yoga has introduced many breath techniques in order to help the mind stay focused or balanced.
R = Relax. The body is like the canary in the coal mine. The unconscious movement of thought will tense the body. Finding areas of tension in the body, gross or subtle, means you can use the breath and mind to soften and relax these areas. Relaxing the body, over time, will relax the mind. Relaxation will support you to be alert in order to notice you are already meditating.
F= Feel. Many Zen meditations focus on simple physical feelings. Feeling is another in the moment experience. Examples include feeling: the surface of the foot on the ground; your sit bones on a chair; the air against your skin, the movement of your breath in and out of the body. As you become more attuned and sensitive you may feel more subtle feelings such as your heart beat. If you feel subtle tensions you can apply the other buoys such as Relax, Posture, Smile and Breath to help ease the tension.
W = Watch. I prefer the word Notice here. Notice what it is you have not yet noticed. Perhaps it is sounds you can hear around you. Let the sounds come, drift and go (similar to Mindfulness techniques). Perhaps you notice the sound of your own breath. Then you may notice the inner sounds - thoughts. Let the thoughts be like little birds flitting between branches. Watching thoughts come and go is like coming into the center of the hurricane and noticing the whirling winds in the distance. The goal is not to stop thought but to notice the way thought comes and goes.
A = Allow. Allow or Permit your experience to be as it is, without judgment. In the end this is both the path and goal of meditation. The source of all tension is the non-acceptance of your experience. Practicing letting everything be as it is is the taste of witnessing free from wanting something in particular. This freedom from wanting something (or not wanting something) is meditation. It is both a practice and a way of living. It is the arising of what yoga calls Santosha or contentment. I have discovered it is my natural state and that state is free of worry or anxiety. More so it is the source of a non-material blissfulness.
Finally I like to remind myself and others that to approach meditation with any presumptions of how it should or should not be will prevent you stumbling upon the truth - you are already meditating.
Lawrence's introduces such diverse groups as police, teachers, senior citizens and young children to meditation. For public talks, events, workshops and coaching contact Lawrence for more information.
While schools throughout the US are creating emotional literacy programs many are failing their mission to strengthen their students’ Emotional Intelligence (EI) skills. Having worked with and observed hundreds of teachers over two decades I have concluded it is because of two reasons - the fear to pause, and the discomfort with silence.
While pausing and silence are amongst the 66 strategies Travis Bradley and Jean Greaves share in their book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, we have developed a cultural and educational aversion to pausing and being silent.
According to Dr Travis Bradley Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the greatest predictor of performance. After testing more than 500,000 people he concludes EI contributes more to successful performance than IQ, education, experience, knowledge, good organizational skills or even luck and good looks combined. In fact he estimates EI skills attribute a whopping 58% to your performance at work or school!
So what is EI? Dr Jean Greaves (co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0) divides EI into four skills and two competencies that identify and manage emotions personally and socially. She also declares only 36% of people interviewed could identify their own emotions as they are happening.
After seventeen years teaching math in the classroom I have observed myself and others buy into the idea that fast answers are more convenient. A fast answer fits the instant gratification mindset so pervasive in today’s world. Kids have become masters at producing results without thinking. Students can forecast the answer the teacher wants from the tone of voice, body language or teacher’s location in the classroom. Jeopardy style answers are rewarded because think time (sometimes called wait time) takes too long and requires pausing and silence. (See my blog Wait Time: A Teacher’s Secret Weapon)
Neglecting pause and silence have resulted in school landscapes dominated by noise, impatience and haste. The goal of understanding concepts has been replaced by covering content. Teachers are anxious as they race to keep up with unrealistic pacing guides. Students are bored as they struggle to get the right grade rather than think and master concepts. Schools are arguably two dimensional learning institutions where success is overly-measured by standardized tests. In my experience students feel unsafe to think because there is no time to think. In other words the reasoning and thinking function of the brain is consistently being hijacked by the brain’s emotional center - the limbic system.
We are hardwired to feel before we think in order to survive. It takes pausing and introspection to over ride the fight and flight response. If we cannot pause, reflect and understand our emotional experience we will not be able to effectively manage the reactions that arise. on the other hand those who are in touch with their emotions can make more constructive and creative choices.
What is the way forward? Is it possible to transform the school scape to a safe haven for higher order thinking? One of the most effective ways to cultivate pausing and silence in the classroom is through meditation or mindfulness techniques. Meditation creates a space in the classroom where students have time to take emotional stock, develop metacognition skills and invoke their parasympathetic nervous system for clearer thinking. If you have been considering adding meditation or mindfulness to your pedagogical tool box there has never been a greater need for it. For more information read my Oxford Round Table paper The Phenomenology of Silence: Educing Learning and Creativity in the Classroom.
Please share your classroom EI strategies on my comments section below. If you have questions or would like further information write me today. I would love to hear from you. Free to share this article with others.
What is more important - food or air? Exhale all of the air from your lungs and hold the out breath. In about ten seconds the answer will become obvious. Thoughts of eating, working, debt and relationships will all disappear as your nervous system screams out its answer - AIR!
If air is so important why don’t you ever pay attention to your breathing? After all you inhale between fifteen and twenty five thousand times a day. There are plenty of opportunities to notice.
Paying attention to your breathing has been shown to improve your health, calm your mind, lower your blood pressure, focus at work, improve your relationships and more. Arguably, paying attention to your breath, is the greatest self care system known to mankind - and it is FREE!
The science behind breathing and health is not complicated. The body and mind are nourished by oxygen. Every inhale equals nourishment. Every exhale cleanses the toxins and wastes from your body. In other words breathing nourishes and cleans you.
There is a catch. If you do not pay attention to your breathing you will start to short change yourself. Under stress and anxiety you will begin to breathe less air and sometimes hold your breath unconsciously. Simply put, you will start to starve yourself of nourishment and accumulate toxins in your body.
What happens when you are under-nourished and poisoned? The initial symptoms usually are imbalance, anxiety, loss of vitality, tiredness, depression and eventually illness.
If this is all true then why don’t you pay attention to your breathing? When I ask most people answers vary - too busy, too tired, can’t be bothered. Sound familiar? Ironically these are the very symptoms of lack of air.
When many people eventually are forced to take more self-care the doctor will suggest exercise, give up smoking and eat better food. These are all wonderful suggestions but can seem overwhelming changes to make.
How about starting simply? Change the way you breathe. After all it is free and you have to breathe anyway. I suggest you start with the ten day challenge.
At least once a day stop and notice how your breathing is. Do not judge it as good or bad. Just notice. Gently close your mouth and start inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Closing your eyes may help you pay closer attention. This immediately can start a calming process called the relaxation response. For the next ten breaths make each breath bigger than the one before. To do that let your belly relax and expand as you inhale. As you exhale engage your abdominal muscles and pull the navel back toward your spine. This empties your lungs more efficiently cleaning up toxins in your system. By the end you should feel air coming into your lower lungs (as the belly expands), your mid lungs (the rib cage expands) and the upper lungs (your collar bones rise). It is common to notice yawning and sighing when you start to give yourself extra nourishment.
If you feel light headed or anxious go back to your normal breathing. Repeat for the next ten days and notice any changes.
Over time you will begin to breathe more deeply at other times. Even one or two deep breaths when you feel anxious or stressed can be enough to help you through a tough moment.
Lawrence was nominated for the Distinctive Educator of the Berkshires. He works with individuals and schools in the Berkshires as well as teaches yoga.
Studying to be a yoga teacher at the age of sixty is an eye opening experience. Before starting the teacher training my relationship to yoga was one of finally coming home to a workout system where my body felt rejuvenated, refreshed and relaxed. I also found my mind in a state of peace and equilibrium after each yoga class. Practicing yoga has brought me many insights as well as emotional, psychological and physical balance.
I had not thought too much about why doing yoga gives such a multi-dimensional experience. After starting the yoga teacher training at Kripalu in Western Massachusetts I felt an ever increasing sense of well-being and happiness.
I am in a room with 55 other people studying anatomy, practicing postures and breathing from 6am to 6pm day after day. I am half way through the training. One of the deepest realizations during this time is the affect breathing has on well-being. Yes, that thing we do twenty-thousand times a day: inhaling and exhaling.
Medically it is obvious why breathing is essential. Without respiration we would die in short order. In fact brain damage begins within minutes of breath failure. The most traumatic and difficult thing we do at birth is to inhale. A new-born baby has to exert four times the normal effort to take their initial breath. It is a tremendous price to pay for independence. From that moment on, the newly born will breathe automatically until her or his last exhale on Earth. Each inhale bringing nourishment to the brain and body. Each exhale, cleansing and detoxifying the body.
Fortunately breathing is an automatic process. In other words the sub-conscious mind can maintain respiration without us having to remember to inhale every five seconds. Because breathing is automatic we can ignore this vital process, and most of us do. We rely on auto-pilot to do all of our breath work. Taking breathing for granted means we have overlooked it’s potential to increase vitality, clarity, focus and even happiness.
One of Yoga’s great contributions to human understanding is that breathing is key to mastering the mind. Without mastering the mind you will be reactive and struggle to manage emotions. Managing emotions is an essential component to develop emotional intelligence, arguably the greatest predictor of performance at school and work. Without reigning in the mind you will find yourself easily overwhelmed and off task.
One simple exercise to do right now is to exhale more deeply than usual. As you exhale pull the navel back toward the spine and up toward the ribs. This belly contraction forces more air out of your lungs. With your lungs completely empty wait for five seconds before you inhale. What happened?
In that short experiment you probably stopped taking your breath for granted. Right? You may have noticed the inhale was deeper than normal. You may have noticed strong emotions. Your heart rate may have increased. What would happen if you repeated this for five, ten or fifteen breathing cycles?
There are several conscious breathing exercises that will stimulate and relax student thinking. My experience is that conscious breathing improves focus, relaxation and rejuvenation. Harvard studies on Kripalu Yoga in schools are showing similar results. After as few as five breathing cycles I feel an underlying relaxation and peace. By putting my attention on breathing, other thoughts, concerns and worries are momentarily displaced. My focus deepens, I concentrate easily and feel more centered emotionally. In some of the conscious breathing techniques I am taking in five to six times the volume of air per breath. With this abundant supply of air the parasympathetic nervous system is in heaven. Because the nervous system thrives on oxygen the brain is able to recognize and transcend the fight and flight stimulus. This in turn stimulates emotional intelligence, metacognition skills and focus.
Conscious breath intervention is a wonderful practice to stimulate and relax the nervous system of you and your students. The results are immediate. It is a wonderful aid to mindfulness and meditation. A classroom that breathes together inspires together.
Despite the attention and popularity of meditation, many teachers are concerned that administrators will not approve of its use in the classroom. And for good reason. Teachers feel uncertain and anxious in the current climate. The modern educational system is driven by business data and metrics. Many teachers do not see school as a business. They see school as a very human experience trying to help young people with many unmet needs.
I have asked hundreds of teachers what is their legacy? Their answers reflect the most altruistic motivations. They want to be remembered as someone who cared, loved, helped and inspired their students. Unfortunately these motivations are often overlooked by evaluations and standardized testing procedures.
So what is the answer to this dilemma? The growing body of evidence indicates meditation is arguably the most effective pedagogical tool to address the increasing stress and anxiety in schools.
So how do teachers convince administrators that something as new and controversial as meditation is worth trying? I was nominated for the “Distinctive Educator of the Year Award” in my local County after introducing meditation into the classroom. I thought to share some tips I learned with you.
1. Give Meditation Another Name - When I first introduced meditation into the classroom I called it “Sink and Think.” Another popular name for meditation is “Mindfulness.” Other names include: powerful pauses, mind expansion, stress management, mind snacks etc.
These names all reflect some of the benefits of meditation. Take time to find a name that you feel comfortable with.
2. Use the Science and Data. Psychologists, scientists and other professionals have been gathering and analyzing data since the 1970’s. The conclusions are overwhelmingly positive. Brain research shows meditation reduces anxiety and stress levels. Managing anxiety is key to student performance because stress changes key thinking centers of the brain. School psychologists attribute stress and anxiety as the major cause of bullying and other dysfunctional social behaviors. Letting your principal know that using meditation will help issues such as bullying will get her or his attention immediately.
3. Send Skeptical Administrators Respectable Articles. Because of the attention and focus meditation is receiving from the media there are abundant articles from respectable sources. Here are some examples you can send:
4. Research the Pedagogical Significance of Using Meditation in the Classroom. Teaching students to meditate is helping them develop such skills as:
5. Answer the Question “How do you get students motivated after doing nothing?”
Think how you want to transition from meditation to work. One effective way to do this is to ask a question. Asking questions helps students straddle from their inner reflection to an outer engagement by focusing on something specific. These questions can range from checking their feelings to the work you will cover in class. Examples include: How are you feeling today? How was your homework exercise last night? Who is ready to fly a plane from New York to LA?
Engaging the thinking process through simple or surprising questions awakens interest and peaks curiosity. (I used the last question above preparing my students for a lesson in vectors. One of the math problems involved airplane pilots making flight corrections based on wind direction and strength).
6. Have Back-Up Strategies. Not all students will be compliant at all times. Every experienced teacher knows to have a plan B. What would you do if a student refuses to meditate? What could be an appropriate alternative? Where can students go so as not to distract others? It needs to be a fair and emphatic alternative. Remember meditation is helping your student’s ability to think and learn.
7. Get Started. This is your class. Once you are convinced about the positive effects of meditation just try it. You will learn a lot from your experiments. You can glean student feedback and reflect on unexpected issues that arise. This is a learning process and you will improve over time. Administrators have a lot of other things on their minds. Take the initiative so when they ask you about what it is you are doing you have the answers.
8. Invite Administrators to Observe Your Class. This is a powerful initiative to take. You are showing them first hand that meditation works. The majority of administrators will appreciate hearing something positive and different is happening.
9. Get Parent Feedback/Support. I was delighted when a parent thanked me for teaching their son meditation. She said it was really helping him and he was excited to be learning it. Parent compliments are rare but when an administrator hears them they go a long way in your favor. As more parents reported positively about my work the principal asked me to present my work to the rest of the staff.
10. Gather Student Feedback. Administrators often ask teachers to adopt a new teaching strategy based on “data driven” examples. This can be intimidating. As teachers you can also gather your own data. Have an end of year survey where students share their experience of meditation. Collect and analyze your data. You can present your findings to your principal and cross-reference it with your students’ progress, discipline issues, attendance rates and more.
For further information on introducing meditation into your classroom go to:
“ Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” - Aristotle
Teachers often tell me they are not being acknowledged for the changes they are actually making in their students’ lives. Many of these changes are not reflected in the Common Core or measured through standardized testing. They are the very real human attributes of love and care in the classroom - education of the heart.
When I’ve asked teachers what inspires them, not one person has ever said, “I want to be remembered as the teacher who helped kids pass exams.” Instead, they share the most altruistic and deeply moving stories from their teaching careers.
Yet, the staggering attrition rate of new teachers and burned-out veterans substantiates the gap between a teacher’s raison d’être and the narrow, data-driven system in which they’re being evaluated.
So…. what’s the good news?
I offer educator workshops, professional development trainings, and staff keynote speeches that are revolutionizing teacher experiences and school climates. They help you:
Through February 15th, 2015 educators get a 20% discount for all individual coaching services. What you will gain from coaching includes:
Please expose as many teachers as possible to these methods. They could honestly change our whole school environment. These skills would benefit our students for a lifetime! - English Teacher, Averill Park High School, NY
I had the good fortune to work with about thirty teaches studying for their Masters in Thinking and Learning at the Graduate Institute (TGI) in Bethany Connecticut. The TGI’s innovative programs have been going for over a decade, meeting and surpassing the rigorous demands of the state education system.
I was asked to lead three cohorts over three separate two day periods. My message is simple - stillness and silence are good for you and your students.
My own experiences are confirmed by modern research and data. Students who pause to be silent and still during the day will start to benefit from higher cognitive function at all levels - focus, memory storage, creative and critic thinking. Other benefits include reduced stress and anxiety as well as enhanced well-being. When students experience this at school they become authentic and motivated to learn.
This is significant. Deep down in their hearts and souls, teachers are motivated to serve and help bring forth the whole character of their students. They see this as their priority and as the ground for their students to succeed academically. However they are frustrated and becoming desperate as they are forced to focus on common core curricula and standardized testing. Many of them express how the over-emphasis on academic results causes alienation, stress and anxiety in schools. The complete opposite of what inspires learning and creativity in the classroom.
As a result a staggering 50% of new teachers leaving the profession within their first five years. Also many veterans are leaving the profession prematurely through burnout and disillusionment.
Each cohort from the TGI program has a wide spectrum of teachers in the K-12 system. They range from a few years of experience to veterans who have been teaching three decades or more. One of the first questions I ask the group is what is the legacy they wish to leave behind them as teachers. The responses are overwhelmingly human. They want their students to develop intellectually, socially and spiritually. Not once has a teacher declared they want to be remembered as the teacher who helped their students pass exams or learn set curricula.
Herein lies the rub. If teachers feel the school system is not aligned with their aspirations and motives to help young people then cynicism creeps in and everyone suffers. The media and politicians capitalize on this schism between administration and teachers to feed the cynicism. Many teachers, students and parents report how negative and toxic the school environment has become. My workshops are designed to remind teachers that their reasons for teaching are right and there is a way through the toxic clouds of negativity hanging over schools.
The combination of the cohorts’ readiness for new ideas and meaningful pedagogical tools along with my passion to bring them has resulted in an overwhelming positive synergy. My messages are simple:
“This workshop presented me with tools and techniques I would never have thought of. It challenged my thinking and renewed my passion to teach. I have been teaching for 29 years and feel in touch with the reason I started teaching. Lawrence embodies all that the TGI represents.”
“This was the best two day experience of how to create a positive classroom experience in the last twenty years. I would love to have him come again and meet with us in the Fall.”
“This workshop exceeded not only the goals but all of my expectations. I will be recommending Lawrence to my school district.”
Lawrence Carroll was nominated for Distinctive Educator of the Berkshires in 2011 and has been sharing his methodologies and techniques with teachers ever since.
I was recently invited by the Berkshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to give a keynote address on the topic “Anxiety and Stress in Today’s Youth and How to Help.” It was my first keynote with an organization of this type and I was nervous knowing there would be professional psychologists present.
I began to research and discovered this staggering statistic “One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by age 24.”
I was galvanized. I have been teaching teenagers in the classroom for seventeen years. In 2011 I was nominated for the Distinctive Educator of the Berkshires Award because of the innovative practices I was bringing to the classroom. Little did I know that my work in the classrooms was ideal to help youth at risk from mental illness.
I began my keynote speech with a story. At one point in the story I was unexpectedly racked with grief and started to sob. It made me realize how close to home mental illness is to us all.
The story went like this: “In 1929 a girl was born in Australia. Her parents named her Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the youngest in a family of four children. Elizabeth’s parents, were newly arrived immigrants from England. Australia was a tough place to grow up in those days. It’s harsh climate of floods and droughts, hosted deadly spiders and snakes and was isolated from the rest of the world by vast oceans. Unemployment was high and wages were low. To cope with the anxiety and stress Australians used their favorite sports of cricket and horse racing to distract them from the harsh life conditions. Gambling and alcohol abuse were common.
Elizabeth’s parents were determined to raise their family in the best way they could, despite the hardship. They loved their children, especially young Elizabeth, who adored her father. She had a happy childhood up to the age of five. At that point her parents were tragically killed in a car accident. Her siblings, who were older, brought her up. They spoiled Elizabeth but she never felt safe after losing her parents so unexpectedly. She lived with two of her sisters until she was twenty five, working in various menial jobs.
At that point she met a handsome and care free sailor whose light heartedness and adventurous stories of life in the Royal Australian Navy captivated her. He affectionately called her “Betty” and the new name stuck. Betty fell in love, became pregnant and got married in that order. In 1955 she had her first child. By 1960 Betty had three young children. While her husband was devoted to her he was away at sea for months on end. She began to feel alone and overwhelmed.
The stress of raising her family alone, her husband’s meager salary which barely made ends meet and their small, living in their poorly constructed Naval development house, started to take its toll on Betty. She began to depend on her oldest child to help her cope with the daily household chores and to raise the other kids. The young boy reluctantly took on the role of surrogate father. He was just 5 years old, a shy and quiet child. Often it was too much. He would develop headaches and be bed-ridden when the pressure was too great.
When the young boy reached the age of ten one night his mother crept into his bedroom, waking him up. Her voice was a strained whisper as she said “We have to leave, there is someone trying to kill us.” The young boy was terrified. As he and his siblings dutifully piled out into the darkness he longed for the strong arms and presence of his father. They were shivering and whimpering as their mother tried to keep them quiet. They made their way to a neighbor’s place. Everything seemed odd to the boy. There was something about his mother’s behavior and the neighbor’s responses that puzzled him. They were trying to calm her down. They didn’t believe her! The boy felt heavy and sad. His mum was acting very strangely and he did not understand it at all. He felt alone and powerless. That boy was me.
That night we returned home and tried to get some rest. The next morning as I got ready for school an ambulance drove up to the house. Mum was put in the back where she lay quietly. I was asked to sit in the front seat. Then we drove for two hours to a place in the mountains where I had never been before. It was a psychiatric center. Mum would be away for several weeks for treatment. Meanwhile the navy flew dad home from sea. He was our caretaker until mum returned home.
Mum never fully recovered from her breakdown. She took refuge in constant smoking and became addicted to a strong pain reliever called Bex. Bex was a bitter tasting powder used primarily by Australian housewives during the 1950’s and 60’s. It was later taken off the market because of its damaging effects on the liver. Betty’s health suffered and she was often depressed and unhappy. One hot February day my mother called out to my father. He came in and she was struggling to sit up. My dad held her in his arms. She whispered “Jim, I am going to die.” She said nothing else and died in his arms. She was 55. Our family remained fragmented for decades after mum’s breakdown and her early death. To this day it is hard for us to stay in touch on a regular basis.”
It took me a moment to recover from the sudden grief I felt as I finished my story. The room was silent before I continued. People came up to me afterwards and thanked me for such a moving story and speech.
This story is but one example of mental illness which pervades our society. Because of my experiences with my mother I have thought deeply about the importance of mental health and well-being. Why is it that some people break down and others are resilient under similar situations? How can we manage so much stress and anxiety? How can we learn to be more resilient from life’s set backs and traumas?
As a parent, grandparent, caretaker, teacher or leader what can you do to help? Follow these five steps:
Mental illness can be prevented and managed. Please share this blog with others and let's hear your comments. For ways I can help your or your children on Peak Performance and Mental Health Coaching contact me below.
A math(s) teacher from Australia recently asked me: " I am a maths coach of high school students and have 10 years experience as a senior teacher. Many of my students have a right brain emphasis so I am particularly interested how meditation etc can help their learning abilities"
Many teachers struggle with their students' preferred thinking styles. I have found meditation is key to dissolving this issue. Here is what I replied:
Higher order thinking is the combination of critical thinking (left brain) and creative thinking (right brain) skills and abilities. This definition points to both left and right brain thinking as the ideal state for all learning. Unfortunately much of the approach to maths learning is the belief that maths is strictly a critical thinking process based on algorithms and logic. Right brain thinking is not encouraged or even seen as relevant to maths, which is a possible cause of maths phobia in so many students.
It can be argued Meditation is the art of finding a neutral place between the left and right brains. When a student is given the space to experience this neutral place between the left and right brain they become more open and feel safer to explore things freshly. Focusing on this neutral place is equivalent to radical disengagement from the thinking process. When you are disengaged from the thinking process you observe your thinking rather than engage with thinking. This is foundational to developing metacognition (thinking about thinking) skills.
In this way meditation can help dissolve the apparent barrier to critical thinking by the creatives.
From my observations students are momentarily freed up from such limiting beliefs as; math is boring, this is stupid, I can't do it, I hate maths etc. Freed up of anti-maths beliefs gives the astute and sensitive teacher a natural opening to move forward into the lesson. My blog on organic teaching can give you a sense of how to keep this freshness alive in your students.
For more information on how meditation works in helping student learning go to my paper "The Phenomenology of Silence - Educing Learning and Creativity in the Classroom."
I was invited to speak to a group of Realtors on a topic that is dear to me - intentional listening. The more I thought about it the more surprised I became about how much there is to listening! Enjoy.
Listen to Yourself
Deep listening to another person is a profound practice. Listening deeply to someone can be enough to dissolve their anger, reveal new options or heal them from a traumatic experience.
However to listen deeply to someone else means to be aware of your own self-talk, judgements, agenda, feelings, moods and needs. Listen to yourself and pay attention. Self-awareness is essential to hear the other clearly. This will help you self-manage as the conversation progresses.
Listen With Your Ears, Eyes and Feelings
Non-verbal sounds: Deep listening requires you to listen to not just the words being spoken but also to the tone, rhythm, pitch and volume of their voice. Sighing, holding the breath and pauses are all indicators which can provide you with clues, or questions, to find out what the person really means or wants to express.
Listen with your eyes: Body language speaks volumes! Use your eyes to listen as you observe how the person gestures, clutches, taps, folds arms, makes their body bigger or smaller. Watch the eye movements, head tilt and facial expressions as you take in more.
How do you feel? Sometimes you will pick up unexpected feelings when someone is speaking. Pay attention to how you feel as the other is speaking. You may feel sad, angry, upset, joyful or afraid. Endeavor to understand where these feelings are coming from, because they will affect what you hear and how you interpret it. Are you picking up the feelings from the other or are these feelings being triggered by your own experience? For example your client’s voice may be monotone and quiet which could irritate you. Just take note.
S.L.O.T.A.S.A. - Seven Listening Actions To Build Relationships
A relationship is built upon safety, respect and trust. When someone feels listened to they experience respect, trust and relaxation. Your job as a listener is to not only listen but to convey the perception to the speaker that you are listening. A speaker who thinks you are listening naturally feels affinity with you.
Lawrence is available to coach you in all aspects of your life.
One of my clients recently wrote to me about a small but significant shift in his teaching praxis. He, like many teachers, is finding teaching a challenging climate with little satisfaction.
He wrote: “One day last week in school, the day was dragging and I was noticing the same old negative behavior and really felt like I didn't want to be here. I knew I had to try and change that somehow, but I couldn't do EFT (a powerful anxiety releasing exercise I teach clients and students). I tried to notice the positive things that were happening in class and respond to them. It worked, at least for the moment, and I felt better and noticed the students seemed more engaged. However, doing this felt very unnatural to me. I personally love positive reinforcement and am hurt by criticism. Paradoxically it feels foreign at school to be positive and praise my students. What are your insights on this?”
Insight 1: It’s impersonal. Nationally many teachers are dissatisfied with their work. This is evidenced by the fifty percent attrition rate of new teachers within the first five years of teaching. Additionally it is reflected in the confusion and tension around common core reform, educator evaluation and zero-tolerance policies throughout the country. In other words the environment in which hundreds of thousands of teachers and students attend daily is fraught with conflicting attitudes and negativity.
Insight 2: Noticing positivity changes the way you feel. There is growing research to indicate that putting more attention on the positive parts of a negative experience changes your feelings from victimization, fear and anger to happiness and empowerment.
Why is this important in the classroom? When you have twenty to thirty students there is a broad array of behaviors that please and displease you as a teacher. One common habit for a teacher is to attend to the negative issues first. On average teenagers hear a negative (don’t, should, not now, stop that, no etc) a staggering 450 times a day! This generates a climate of negativity that reinforces over and over again that there is something wrong which needs fixing. It feels bad and over and is fuel for teacher burn-out. For children it is a mind-numbing process that engenders a feeling of wasted time in the learning process. It demoralizes everyone.
Focusing on negative behaviors in the classroom becomes a challenging habit to break and unfortunately often leads teachers to miss many opportunities with their students.
Insight 3: Praise to admonishment ratios is a science worth investigating. A wonderful book, ‘How Full is Your Bucket? ‘ tracks research to show that a ratio of four praises to one admonishment (PA ratio) changes behaviors. This is a powerful tool to change classroom behavior and starts to work immediately (as my client noticed). If you track your PA ratio for one lesson you may be shocked at what you find. Many teachers (and parents) falsely believe their PA ratio to be close to four to one but when they experiment find the reverse is true. To change your PA ratio requires practice and honesty. Try it , even if it feels unnatural (which it will at first) and you will notice a difference.
Insight 4: Criticism hurts more than we acknowledge. In a world where heroes suck it up and move on I notice there is often a denial by many just how much criticism damages their relationships and diminishes their performance. Criticism is often non-specific and subjective. Contemplate and analyze what behaviors affect your moods and efficacy as a teacher and explore ways to communicate your needs in a non-critical fashion. This shift from criticism to feedback (I like to think of it as feed-forward) changes everything.
If you enjoyed this blog share it with someone who is making a difference in the lives of children.
I recently asked several people if they believe in soul mates. I was surprised to find that the majority were convinced that soul mates are real. Of course, without a precise definition, it is difficult to know what people consider to be a "soul mate." One definition I found in Wikipedia is that, "a soul mate is a person with whom one has a feeling of deep and natural affinity, love, intimacy, sexuality, spirituality, and/or compatibility." Unfortunately, this definition may qualify quite a few people throughout our life as soul mates. The notion I carry, and I assume many of you do as well, is that a soul mate is a unique person who is mysteriously designated for you, fulfilling your life and making it complete. With this definition in mind, I ask you to consider my quest to find the answer to this intriguing question.
In the (Australian) winter of 1987, I met someone whom I believed to be my perfect mate. She later became my wife. I had no concept of "soul mate" at that time, but when I saw her everything inside of me said "YES!" We had a brief courtship before I proposed to her. Even though she accepted, I sensed that she was not feeling the same devotion for me as I had for her.
This intuition proved to be true. Four months later, on a trip to the vast region of Western Australia, she left me for another man. I was devastated, hurt and disoriented. For several days I could not trust myself to safely cross the street because of the depth of depression I found myself in.
After she left, I was alone in my Nissan van, sleeping and camping wherever I pulled up for the night. I travelled along the remote north west Australian coastline. It is one of the most isolated coastal areas in the world. I was as alone as I could possibly be.
One evening I built a camp in the sand dunes on a beautiful beach. That night I cooked my favorite camp fire meal - Japanese pizza. It was a simple recipe made by lightly frying shredded cabbage and carrot, mixed with egg, flour and garlic. After the delicious meal, I grabbed my book Illusions – The Adventures of the Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach (as the name suggests it is about seeing through the illusions of many things we consider real). I loved this book and couldn't put it down.
I was restless and could not sleep that night. My mind was busy with endless thoughts. I gazed at the brilliant starry night sky and all of the chatter in my mind slowly fell away revealing a deep insight.
I realized that the woman I thought was my soul mate was not the cause of my depression. The unbearable emotional pain came from my desire that she be different from whom she was.This was a devastating and yet liberating realization. The lofty and romantic ideal of finding my soul mate and living happily ever after, I realized, was coming from a controlling and selfish place in me. That night a huge weight lifted from my soul. But I still wondered if there was indeed a soul mate whom I was destined to meet?
During the next fourteen years I had one serious relationship followed by a decade where I did not have any relationships at all. For much of the time, I was confused and disillusioned. I wanted to figure out the mystery of relationship. Were soul mates fact or fiction? During this time of abstinence, I reflected upon my experience and met others–friends, teachers, mentors–who helped shed light on this subtle question.
I became aware of how many people, like myself, expend enormous energy in hoping the perfect mate will one day appear and take care of all of their needs. By the time I reached my late forties, I had found answers to many of the questions that had plagued me since that fateful day twenty years earlier when my first wife left me. I was ready to be with a woman again, but in a different way. I did not need her to fulfill my needs and wants. Self-reliance was the greatest gift I could give and receive in a relationship. I knew that my "soul mate" would be someone who was free to be herself and live her destiny and give me the freedom to do the same.
Finally, eleven years ago I met my current wife Jessica. I consider her my "life mate". We are partners whose bond is wrought from shared values. Remembering to respect each other's talents, beauty and gifts is the commitment that keeps the bond between us vital. Years of pondering this question had revealed the futility of believing that there was a uniquely designated other who would make me whole. Instead, I began to realize that a "mate for the soul" can only be found once we know who we are and are complete in ourselves. Then we are ready to commit, to be open and honest, allowing each other's fullest potentials to flower.
I don't think I need to tell you this, but my "investment" in your Life Coaching as a gift for my wife has been close to the best thing I have ever done with or for her, and ultimately for our relationship.Thank you so much. (C. Binder – Oregon)
I have taught High School Mathematics for seventeen years, both in Australia and the US. I have always loved teaching, and mathematics has been a fascination since High School.
More recently I have been fortunate to introduce another of my great passions into the classroom, and that's meditation.
For the last five years, I have integrated meditation into my mathematics classes. You might be surprised at the success I've experienced bringing this right-brain activity into the decidedly left-brain context of mathematics.
Introducing students to meditation for the first time can be challenging, but if you stick with it, the rewards are worth it. How do you introduce meditation into a classroom if: each teacher has a unique style of teaching; each class of students has unique individual and collective needs; and everybody has confusing ideas and beliefs about what meditation is and how it works?
I've worked with educators from around the world, helping them introduce meditation into their classrooms. In the process, I developed the following principles to ease their challenge. Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or a mentor, these principles can guide you to implementing meditation successfully. Always adapt these principles to suit your students, environment and teaching style.
THE 7 GUIDELINES TO INTRODUCING CHILDREN TO MEDITATION ARE:
• Selling it
• Establishnig clear behavioral guidelines
• Diving in, script and all
• Debriefing your students
• Monitoring the results
• Adjusting your guide-lines
The best way to sell anything is to be smitten by the bug yourself. You can do this in a many ways. Become informed about the benefits of meditation. You don't have to go far these days to find respectable sources praising the virtues of meditation: Time Magazine and Harvard University to name two.
Being informed is a good start. Practicing meditation is even better. Combining experience and knowledge will earn you respect when you introduce meditation to your class. Get guidance from an experienced practitioner whom you respect and resonate with. He or she will help you discern and cut through confusion. There are many meditation techniques so choosing what is right for you is important.
I like to sell it to my students from day one of school. I ask them, "How would you like to come to my class and do nothing... every day this year?" Needless to say, I've captured their attention. I arm myself with data and anecdotes ready to prove how meditation supports better thinking, reduces stress, improves health, and creates peaceful classrooms.
Building anticipation about how much this can change their lives is key to securing their buy- in. Without their buy-in, you won't get out of the starting gate.
ESTABLISH CLEAR BEHAVIORAL GUIDELINES
Students need structure. Clear consistent guidelines are essential to prevent your first meditation from being a disaster. Imagine closing your eyes in front of thirty teenagers and expecting them to instantly do the same. Forget it.
I like to elaborate to them about what "doing nothing" actually means. I demonstrate what I mean as I explain. "It means sitting in a relaxed position, feet flat on the ground below your knees. Sit up straight. Hands on the desk, palms down. Eyes relaxed or closed."
Encourage students to copy your demonstrations. They may giggle or make eye contact with each other. Respond gently to what is happening. For example you might say, "Leave everyone else alone. That means no eye contact. This is your time. We need to agree. The universe will leave you alone, but you have to leave the universe alone. That includes the virtual universe. Cell phones away."
Explaining in a spacious organic way helps set the tone for the students. As their leader, you need to model relaxation and alertness. These qualities are essential to developing good habits for meditation. Be clear with your students about the consequences should they interfere with others. Present these consequences as choices rather than punishments.
I'm sure you get the idea.
Sometimes you need to start before you are perfectly ready. The reason I say this is because you are developing a new class routine. The things that work and do not work will give you valuable feedback for your next session. Remember this is a step in a process that will become more refined over time. Intoducing new routines can be a valuable lesson for students about taking risks, developing and growing processes.
I like to guide the meditations for the first month or two. Guiding meditation requires you to participate also. The tone and rhythm of your voice will affect the students' meditation. Be thoughtful about what you say and how you say it. Speak slowly and with ease. It's OK to read a script or play a recording. Listen in advance to any recordings you play for your students for suitability. With a bit of research you can buy excellent downloadable meditation audios. Check my site for classroom meditations.
This is so important. The post-meditation state can be sensitive, quiet and calm. Some students may feel vulnerable. To help transition from meditation to the lesson plan, I go around the room and ask each student to describe how they feel in one word. I might pause if I suspect confusion or someone upset and simply ask him or her to say more.
No matter what experience students express, pause and honor it, even if it surprises you. It is important for students (and you) to acknowledge that meditation reveals a unique experience and no two meditations are alike.
Many people believe meditation is only successful if the mind becomes quiet. This is just not true. Unfortunately, ideas like this lead many people to believe they can't meditate. In fact, you can argue that meditation is something you are always doing, and the practice of meditation is simply getting in touch with that fact!
I encourage teachers to collect data about their classes' social and academic performance. Get first hand results about the effects of meditation. Information like the change in the number of student referrals, the classroom tone, and test results will help you gain confidence in the positive impact meditation has on students.
Also, include yourself in this evaluative process. You can pay attention to your own mood swings through the day and track how meditation is affecting your teaching.
As I said before, each teacher and class has unique styles and needs. You may find something doesn't work. Simply adjust your instructions before the next meditation. Examples of adjustments I have made include: turning lights off, remaining silent for longer periods of time, reducing the debriefing time, changing student seating arrangements, keeping the board clear of notes.
Introducing meditation into class is radical. It takes you out of your comfort zone as a teacher. It may feel challenging and awkward at times. Some students may claim they cannot do it because they have ADHD.
My experience has shown me that persistence overcomes the objections and challenges and dramatically improves class atmosphere. In a day and age when our mental health can be compromised through entertainment and over-stimulation, meditation is arguably the greatest tool an educator, parent, or mentor can use with themselves and their students.
If you find this post helpful please share with a parent or educator.
Education of the mind, without education of the heart, is no education at all - Aristotle.
For services and information check out my website at http://www.awakenteenleadership.net/workshops.html
For an extensive bio check out http://www.awakenteenleadership.net/about.html
Thanks for visiting.
How do you feel about your education? Do you feel met by every teacher you have? Do you find some teachers “have it” and others don’t? Have you ever stopped and wondered what are the differences between effective and dysfunctional teaching?
Most importantly have you ever considered "How do you learn?"
After 15 years of High School Math teaching I thought I could recognize learning abilities in my students readily. Over the last 3 years I have discovered that the way I was judging and perceiving intelligence was incomplete and that I was not seeing major chunks of observable and measurable brilliance in my students.
The more I read and observed my students the more I discovered (and continue to discover) how much more there is to learn about learning. Not only that buteverybody learns differently!
So what do I mean when I talk about learning about learning?
Take a moment and answer this question: “How do I learn best?” This question alone may unlock many blockages for you as to why you find some teachers easy to follow and others confusing or boring. What can you do about this as a student? How can you help transform your teachers (if they are willing) into a better teacher for you? How can you expand your learning "styles" to be able to learn more from every teacher and every class?
Firstly find out how you learn best. You have eyes, ears, mouth and a body. These are your major learning organs which determine which style of learning you prefer –
· Having music playing in the background while you work or study?
· Connecting what you learn to the natural world?
· Moving your body while learning?
· Taking short breaks during class?
· Having fun or laughing in a lesson?
· Having work presented to you in color, symbols or drawings?
· Working alone, in pairs or in small groups during activities?
· Rephrasing or restating something that is taught to you in your own words?
· Needing the work to have meaning and significance to you?
Once you have asked yourself these questions (and more) start to notice which teachers include these qualities in their lessons and how you respond in thiose moments.
Next become more familiar with learning styles and how they work by approaching a professional or reading books and articles. I recommend you read “Quantum Learning: Unleashing the Genius in You” or my blogs (see below) I have written on my work in the classroom. You can also hire a Teen Coach to help you understand how you learn, what your needs are and how to have these needs met in your life.
Lastly determine a request you feel you want to make of your teacher to help them modify their teaching approach and include your needs into the way they present a lesson. Find a respectful way to approach them and simply make your request in a non-demanding way. I suggest you practice this with a good friend, your coach, a parent or someone you trust first. Good luck!
Last night I found myself in the middle of a Republican fund raiser. There was a broad spectrum of demographics present. I was very curious how I would react amidst a group of people whose political rhetoric was different from mine. I had a mixed experience and spoke at length with my wife, who had played piano for the event, about it. We both learned a lot about how embedded prejudices are within us.
Many of the conversations would end in a passionate but brutal critique of the Democrats. When I spoke with my wife later we marveled how similar this experience was to the Republican bashing many of our family and friends drop into.
My wife said "That's why I love music. It is universal and free of the isms. That's my message." As she said these words I remembered an article I had written several years ago on my experience of discovering my own isms and working with them in what turned out to be a powerful and ongoing healing process. I'd like to share it with you.
Recently I spent a weekend in a "Coaching for Transformation" class with thirty-five of my life coach peers, mentors and teachers. We were in downtown New York on a spectacular Fall day. The topic we were exploring together was: coaching minorities in the light of racism, gender discrimination, sexual orientation, age-ism and other isms that tend to isolate or ostracize people. About half-way through the weekend, an African-American woman mentor coach spoke up and said she felt that the real issue of racism was not being brought into the room in a way that was real. Her vulnerability and passion surprised me. After what seemed a long silence, people voiced their agreements. The majority of the coaches in the room were white. The minorities in the group included one Asian, several Latinos and four African-Americans.
Then someone suggested we coach each other on the issue. My heart began to pound as a voice from deep within me said "you are Australian and Australians are really racist." As no one else had volunteered, I shakily spoke up and said I would like to be coached about my racist tendencies. I was going in blind, not knowing what would be revealed in exploring this with my peers. Another African-American woman, and recent friend I had met in the coaching group, volunteered to be the coach. I was nervous, as I intuited that my deepest fears and darkest secrets would soon be exposed to everyone. Little did I know what was about to unfold.
The woman was about my age. She trusted me implicitly and asked me to explore what it was that made me think I was racist. The terms and expressions from my childhood flooded through my awareness. I was afraid. She leaned forward and invited me to utter the expressions aloud to the hushed room of fellow peer and mentor coaches. I knew I could not do it. I faltered and broke down in tears feeling a deep spiritual pain of remorse. It was deeper than my own personal pain. I was looking at a woman who had spent a lifetime being ignored, under-valued, rejected and isolated because of the color of her skin. I felt deeply implicated and began to confess the myriad of "small" ways this prejudice plays itself out in my life as a school teacher in a school of many and varied minorities.
She and the teachers held the space in the room for everything to emerge safely in front of the group. The teachers admitted that what had opened up in the room was new and they were not sure where to go from here. Our group had many other options to explore that day. Many had suffered from the wounds of prejudice based on gender, sexual orientation, racism and age. However the overwhelming consensus was to stay with what had opened up and to reverse the roles. One coach astutely pointed out that racism was less explored from the African-American viewpoint and so hearing from my friend would in fact take us all into deeper unknown territory. I would now coach my friend and peer so she could share her experience.
We broke for lunch and when we resumed I stepped into the coach's role. I found this challenging. Within minutes the depth of my friend's despair started to surface between us. My friend was frustrated. She felt very little if any, real change in eradicating racism in this country. She recalled her painful experiences at school when her teachers could not conceive of an African-American student as successful. I floundered. I had not known this pain and despair, having grown up in Australia as a privileged white male. I felt awkward as I coached her in front of my peers.
As our coaching time together was coming to an end I fumbled to help my friend go forward. I asked her to reflect and come up with ways to move forward. To my surprise she unhesitatingly rejected my request. "What? You want me to endure more?" I felt deeply embarrassed and unconscious of how deep her wounds went. I could only try to hold the space for her to explore her feelings and options. My teachers, like angels on my shoulders, guided us until the end. All I had to offer was my presence. I could not "fix" anything. It was too wide, too deep, too vast. At the end of our session my friend was impacted and reflective. The miraculous healing brought about through listening with an open heart was present between us.
Simultaneously, I felt an emotional schism between us. I felt my friend had shared a deeply personal wound that was the product of forces that existed before we were both born. I felt our conscious coaching had made the "elephant in the room" visible. The hidden forces of embedded conclusions and unconscious denial of racism had emerged between us and, it seemed to me, had pushed the whites and blacks into their colored corners. We had stepped out of our comfort zones and I could not imagine what would unfold from this spontaneous exploration.
When I returned to school the next day, I was acutely aware of the subtle ways prejudice was playing out within and around me. I embraced conversations with my minority students with heightened care and curiosity. I saw them blossom and open up to me in miraculous ways. Several spontaneously shared intimate facts of their life openly. It was as if they sensed the safety in my new-found awareness. On one occasion an African-American girl in one of my classes shared with me (and the class) that her mother helps her prepare to overcome anxiety in her tests. I felt very moved as she spoke. At some point I felt my friend's presence from the day before enter the room. At first it was as if she was witnessing this moment with me. Then, quite unexpectedly, the young student seemed to look and sound like my friend. It was as if I was seeing her in front of me, as she had been at school four decades earlier.
Something mysterious happened that I alone bore witness to, and this was because my friend and I had dared to explore this painful ism on a sunny day in New York.
What do you do as a teacher when the temperature is a muggy 90 degrees outside and your lethargic students have just eaten lunch?
I peruse my room. Students are slumped over their desks barely able to stay awake. My carefully planned lesson seems strangely alien in this atmosphere of reluctance. The vision of students struggling enthusiastically to solve challenging problems is fading as I take in the panorama of sleepy minds and bodies in front of me.
An overwhelming wave of futility washes over me. I gaze around the room desperately looking for a natural opening. Unfortunately, there is a force field of inertia so thick that, I feel like I am talking through wet cement. My words fall on deaf ears and wooden desks.
I stop and wait quietly. Several students prop open one eye to make sure I am still there. My natural opening just arose.
Gently, ever so gently, I state: “Today is our last Wednesday together and it is NOT a coincidence that we should be doing THIS question on the board.” Three or four heads pop up and stare vacantly at the question. There is more silence, until one student mumbles, “What’s the coincidence?” His jet black eyes are hidden under long bangs. “Aah” I think, “he’s awake!”
Two more heads pop up like prairie dogs looking for predators. I answer quietly and slowly: “I haven’t worked that part out yet”?
More voices contribute unexpectedly throwing out unlikely conjectures. “Well one co-ordinate has a 3 and Wednesday is the third day of the week!” says one student at the back of the room, beaming with satisfaction. Another chimes in that “the combination of co-ordinates (3,6) adds to 9 which is the number of letters in Wednesday”.
Suddenly over half the bodies in the hot, muggy, depressive room are awake and squawking like chicks in a nest. “Where is this enthusiasm coming from?” I wonder.
Raising my voice I ask “Do you realize how lucky you are to have a classroom ? In some countries, students walk 10 miles to school to stand or sit under a tree. No books, no shelter, and a long walk home.” There is a stirring. I feel like a preacher on a pulpit as I rhetorically declare and ask “Do you realize less than two percent of the entire planet’s population know what a Cartesian Number Plane is and even fewer understand how to create graphs?” Heads are popping up curiously.
“Do you know ?”
There is a growing curiosity in the air.
“Who among you dares to fight this malady of inertia and answer the question on the board?” I challenge.
Unexpectedly a student blurts out the correct answer. We are making progress. “There is still time” I think to myself, “we will get through this”.
“Do you realize this math is only 300 years old?” I ask in an excited tone. “Hurrr?” mumbles someone. “Yes!” I claim exuberantly. “Descartes thought this out while he was eating eggs at a restaurant in Paris. He wrote it down on his napkin! Can you imagine how his waitress responded?”
More students are stirring. One blurts out "I thought the Mayans already knew this?" I was reaching them now. I had them! “No” I said delightedly at his wonderful guess, “ the Mayans invented zero! But” I paused, “Descartes needed their zero to build his number plane. So you are right, in part. The Mayans contributed something,” I pause for dramatic effect, then punch out the all important words “the origin!”
With the Mayans and Descartes at my side I am riding the wave of interest and learning with my students. We complete the problem with relish.
“This is why our last Wednesday together is no coincidence. We accomplished our task together, just like we have on every other Wednesday! Terrific job, ladies and gentlemen”.
The bell swallows up the word gentlemen as it leaves my lips. The students are alive with that peculiar energy that appears from nowhere at the end of every period.
I ponder the lesson's aftermath in my hot, muggy room, wondering "What are the special ingredients that make it possible for students and the teacher to mysteriously come together?"
“Quiet! Listen and sit down!” screeches out.
I cringe as I walk past Mr. Smith’s math room. His voice can be heard from at least three classrooms away. It has a grating pitch, and reminds me of finger nails scratching down a blackboard. I feel sorry for him. He is one of those tortured veteran teachers who should have changed careers long ago.
Further down the hallway I pass Miss Jones English class. As I peek in every head is down, busily working. I feel a pang of jealousy as I remember the principal’s praise for Miss Jones in the last staff meeting, “She keeps her students engaged from bell-to-bell.” His tone had an admonishing ring in my hears. Miss Jones was tough and ruled with an iron fist. In her classes it was her way or the highway.
I turned a corner and bumped into a stranger. He appeared neat and intelligent. He looked out of place in our school. He viewed me dispassionately through his fine-rimmed glasses. “Hi" I said "my name is Lawrence Carroll, can I help you?” The stranger replied, “Dewey, John Dewey. Do you have a moment to speak?”
A small electric shock went up my arm as we shook hands. I thought to myself “John Dewey? I thought you were dead.” The stranger replied “No. I am not dead. I appear from time-to-time, but as you can see and hear, I am very much here and now.” Can you really read minds I thought? Apologetically he said “Yes, that’s part of the package when you move on from this life.”
I looked around self-consciously and wondered if I was losing my mind. After all this man, arguably the greatest educational reformer of all time had been dead for sixty years! John matter-of-factly said “I appear to teachers and students from time to time to find out what is going on in schools.” He looked down at the floor and sighed. He seemed sad.
“You know I wanted education to be alive and meaningful for kids and teachers. I had such a vision. Education was so dull and flat when I grew up. It lacked spirit, meaning and dignity. It was such a sterile, anti-life institution. Did you know it was modeled after the Prussian military system? Their system was designed to crush the will of the youth?” My eyes bulged in shock. “True.” he said, “To tell you the truth, as I look around these hallways things don’t look much different.”
“John”, I said, “your insights into education are amazing.” Hmmm I thought. Should I have said, “Were amazing?” Talking to someone from the past can get confusing. “Remember when you said:
‘were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth, something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked?’”
John’s eyes lit up. His gaze captivated me. “Yes, of course I do! What do you know about that?” he asked passionately.
I paused. I looked furtively at this iconic legend, embarrassed to tell him what was on my mind. “Don’t worry.” He said, “I want to know. Your opinion is important!” I forgot he could read minds.
“Well” I stammered, “Your theories were idealistic. They assumed that teachers could adopt a mind-set independent of the status-quo in which they lived.”
“Mmm. That’s true but I did make it clear that this would not happen overnight. I warned it would take time.”
“True John” I ventured, “But you underestimated what that takes. Philosophers, like you, are misfits. You don’t fit in with society and society doesn’t accept you readily. Look what happened to Socrates.”
John looked down. He was silent for a long time. Finally he asked, “Where do we go from here?”
“Well John, I have discovered that meditation has a profound effect on the way students can learn at school.”
“Of course it does. We’ve known that since Aristotle!” he retorted impatiently. I looked around self-consciously in case he was disturbing Miss Jones’ class. “Fuck Miss Jones” John boomed authoritatively, “This is way more important than what she is doing with her kids.” I agreed but couldn’t help feeling awkward. I shuffled John into the near-by empty staff room.
“But John, when you say meditation, it is not the same as what I mean.”
“What do you mean?” he asked curiously.
“Well”, I felt uncertain again, “We in the west tend to meditate on dogma. It is an exercise of reason. Meditation is influenced, as you know, by the Greco-Roman traditions. The wise men – philosophers - who created maxims or postulates, to both liberate and confine their students’ reasoning.”
“Of course, how else could it work” John scoffed.
“Well”, I continued to venture, “While I studied and practiced meditations from the Eastern traditions I discovered an important distinction.”
John looked unblinkingly at me. He was listening with such an intensity I started to feel a burning sensation around my cheeks. “Go on” he commanded.
“In the East the meditations are not directed toward anything in particular. In fact they are directed at nothing in particular. At first it is confusing because we have so many ideas, beliefs and assumptions about what that means. One of the most challenging requirements for this is to let go of even the most profound insights!”
“But” interrupted John, “that is exactly what the School of Skepticism was all about. The Skeptics refused to accept anything in order to transcend the traps of a closed mind.”
“True John, unfortunately the Skeptic meditations confined their students to a rigid dogma. Similarly the Cynics, Aristotelians, Epicureans and Stoics did the same.
John gasped. The frown on his face started to dissolve. He visibly relaxed. His eyes widened and glowed like burning coals. He was GETTING IT! He understood what I was doing with my own students.
He asked, “How do your students respond to this?” His question was rhetorical. But I answered anyway.
Now it was my turn to become passionate. “John, you wont believe this but the students love it! They become peaceful and at ease. No small matter these days! They express greater tolerance amongst themselves. They think more clearly! They are willing to ask questions. It is a teacher’s dream.” I paused before going on. “John, your theories were overly-influenced by psychology. When my students meditate they naturally start to see how their thinking and emotions affect them. We then explore how to manage .…”
“Mmmm. This is really a foundation for metacognition and freeing emotional intelligence, isn’t it?” he interrupted. “Absolutely” I smiled back, John starting dancing. He was delighted. “Eureka! I can see how this could be the foundation for education to come alive and have meaning. If people get this then I can see they will start to get my work at last.”
I looked at the joyful apparition before me and knew deep in my heart that introducing meditation into schools had come of age.
For further information about my work contact me for a free consultation. I now teach yoga, meditation and breath work to all generations. Go to www.yogawithlaurie.weebly.com for more information.
As a life coach, the most important thing I do is to enable people to accept the fact of their wholeness. Perhaps the classic example of the struggle to find wholeness is depicted in the poignant fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen: "The Ugly Duckling."
In this evocative story, Andersen describes the pain and yearning of a misplaced soul searching for love and recognition. Accidentally born into a family of ducks, a newborn swan appears gangly, ugly and gross. He is shunned by family and friends and becomes an outcast who is ashamed of his differences. Finally he meets beautiful swans who not only recognize and accept him as one of their own, but embrace him as the most beautiful swan of all. At this point, the ugly duckling overflows with the joy of fulfillment. He has, what is known in spiritual terms, arrived home.
This simple tale actually expresses the experience of not only my clients, but is true for my own story. Many assume that there is something missing or wrong with them. They initially expect a Life Coach to give them answers or advice. But my job is to reveal to you the fundamental fact of your wholeness. My role is to help you access your own answers, arising from your natural, beautiful, and brilliant self.
Once you see that you are the beautiful swan, transformation begins to catalyze. Why? Because your perspective shifts from the paradigm that something is missing, to the empowering realization of your wholeness. When you taste this kind of independence you open to the joy of life, making changes and taking risks you could/would never have otherwise conceived possible.
To find out more about this amazing process go to my life coaching page. For a free consultation book an appoiuntment. You, too, can experience the liberating recognition of that beautiful swan.
Until next time,
Stay Strong and Live Boldly.
Life is very short.
As a long time teacher, educational consultant and life coach one of the main themes of contention I hear and speak about with teachers is discipline. In fact, disciplinary management is arguably the most important element in effective teaching. Etymologically discipline comes from the Latin, Discipula, meaning ‘student’ and the verb, Discere, ‘to learn.’ Discipline is at the heart of teaching. The manner in which discipline is engaged in the classroom affects test results, dropout rates and violence levels. Rightly or wrongly, a teacher is often assessed by the quality of his or her disciplinary strategies.
I hear teachers complaining about the lack of consequences following student misdemeanors. Administrative officials are blamed for “taking the student’s side” and undermining a teacher when there is a classroom confrontation ending in the student being sent to the office. This is known as a student referral. Student referrals are a common metric used to evaluate effective classroom management. For example, if a teacher has a high number of referrals then she or he may be considered a poor teacher, a teacher at risk or a teacher needing help.
Since the mid 1990’s, schools have increasingly employed zero- tolerance policies. A zero- tolerance policy is a policy of punishing any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance, or extenuating circumstances (Wikipedia). Originally zero-tolerance policies were an attempt to curb extreme disciplinary issues such as drug use, arson or violence in schools. Over time a number of schools applied zero-tolerance policies to minor infractions, as well. Broadening the scope of zero-tolerance has resulted in disturbing trends beginning to appear within and between schools.
Emerging data from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) show:
As enlightening as these guidelines are, it remains to be seen if they are implemented into the budgets and schedules of our schools.
The questions remain: What gap is zero-tolerance filling in our schools and, if it is not working, what will?
Broad zero-tolerance policies are an attempt to replace the role of corporal punishment and the liberal power of schools to expel or suspend students that they had in the good old days. King Solomon’s wisdom, “He that spareth the Rod, hateth his son; but he that loves him chastises him betimes” was the dominate discipline philosophy from ancient times until the 1960’s. Its influence cannot be underestimated a mere half century later.
Although corporal punishment seems archaic or even criminal in today’s society there is ample evidence of its use in modern education. Time Magazine cites a new report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, “nearly a quarter of a million children were subjected to corporal punishment in public schools in the U.S. during the 2006-2007 academic year. …and how students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by such draconian methods of discipline.” 
If corporal punishment and broad zero-tolerance policies are not the answer to the growing disciplinary concerns in our schools, what is?
The simple answer is learning to understand the needs of our students in a complex and confusing time - in other words cultivating greater tolerance. Expanding our ability for greater tolerance requires investing resources into our teachers so they can not only transform their own pedagogical praxis but also share it with their students.
For more information, coaching and training on these skills go to Lawrence Carroll’s workshop and coaching pages.
 Wikipedia, A Free Dictionary. Zero Tolerance (Schools)) July 7, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_tolerance_%28schools%29 (Accessed January 10, 2014)
 NASP Resources, Fact Sheets, Zero Tolerance. Zero Tolerance and Alternative Strategies: A Fact Sheet for Educators and Policymakers http://www.nasponline.org/resources/factsheets/zt_fs.aspx (Accessed January 10, 2014)
 Rich, Motoko. Administartion Urges Restraint in Using Arrest or Expulsion to Discipline Students. The New York Times. Vol.CLXIII …No. 56,376, January 9, 2014.
 Stephey, M.J. Corporal Punishment in US School. TIME US August 12, 2009. http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1915820,00.html (Accessed January 10, 2014)
LAWRENCE CARROLL EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT & LIFE COACH
"Lawrence Carroll's workshop on personal stress management, which he conducted with my Columbia Grad School class
was a huge success."
Neal Pilson, Columbia University, Former President, CBS Sports