“Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” is a wonderful radio show airing on National Public Radio every Saturday. The show has special guests each week and asks them questions about current events. Like other quiz shows such as Jeopardy et al there is a pause between the question and the answer. Anyone who has listened to these shows may recognize that pause, or wait time (Stahl, 1995), between the question and the answer, can be suspenseful or even anxious.
Have you ever thought about why there is so much emotional charge as you scramble for the answer before the contestant answers? The answer is fear. Fear is an emotion that does strange things to the thinking process. It slows it down and even distorts it. Fear changes the physiology of the human. It drains blood from the frontal lobes and critical thinking areas of the brain, rushing the red liquid to the large muscle groups of the arms, chest and legs ready for flight or fight. But what are you afraid of? Making a mistake and looking foolish? Running out of time and feeling dull or witless?
In the class room students are asked questions all day. According to Mary Bud Rowe the average wait time given for a student is between one and one point five seconds (Stahl, 1995). After 1.5 seconds a teacher normally sends the child cues of impatience or simply moves on. This brief interlude has devastating consequences for the confidence of the student and more often than not, undermines the classroom atmosphere. In other words the classroom becomes a climate of fear. Fear to participate in the learning process.
The student is afraid of being judged and will often respond defensively by saying “I don’t know” or “IDK”. The IDK refrain is one of the most demoralizing expressions used in modern classrooms. Rarely is IDK used with sincerity by students. Instead IDK is used in a passive-aggressive way to defend the student from humiliation. This humiliation can be the result of beliefs such as “I can’t do this”, “This teacher picks on me” or “I never get the right answer.” These beliefs are built up over time because children are not given the space (wait time) to digest questions, reflect upon the solutions. Nor are they often given radical encouragement (Williams and Wegeriff, p9) when their answer does not satisfy the teacher.
Modern educator evaluation stresses the importance of extended wait time as a measurable teaching variable. Believe it or not, this simple act produces significant and profound changes in the classroom, including: 
· The length of student responses increases 400 to 800 percent.
· The number of unsolicited but appropriate responses increases.
· Failure to respond decreases.
· Student confidence increases.
· Students ask more questions.
· Student achievement increases significantly.
Many teachers will be criticized for their lack of wait time. Unfortunately wait time is not a skill taught very well to new teachers or introduced skillfully into the classroom by most teachers.
Introducing and using wait time skillfully requires a teacher getting comfortable with silence. For a teacher to get comfortable with silence requires two movements. One is to become aware of how uncomfortable our culture is with silence and secondly, to learn and practice silence as a skill.
 Stahl, Robert J. Using “Think Time” and “Wait Time” Skillfully in the Class. ERIC Clearing House for Social Studies, Bloomington, Indianapolis . http://www.ericdigests.org/1995-1/think.htm (Accessed January, 2014). “Wait time” was a phrase introduced to describe a teaching variable by Mary Budd Rowe in 1972.
 Williams, Steve and Wegerif, Rupert. Radical Encouragement. Creating Cultures for Learning. Imaginative Minds Limited. Birmingham, England. 2006. (According to the authors “All successful attempts at enabling people tom learn better…depend on effective encouragement.”)
 Fredericks, Anthony D. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher .Alpha Books © 2005. New York, NY. https://www.teachervision.com/teaching-methods/new-teacher/48446.html (Accessed January, 2014).
Recently I shared my research paper The Phenomenology of Silence with a professor from Montclair State University. She was intrigued with how I use silence in the classroom and saw correlations with her own research on how to help children learn more effectively through interruptions. She asked me to write more about how I use it in the classroom.
As a young math teacher at Oak Flats High School in NSW Australia in the 1980s, I threw all of my energy into teaching. My philosophy was to make it fun and use humor as a tool to keep my students motivated. I used silence as a punitive measure to control the noise level in the room. While I could run silent classes the tension was unpleasant.
That was before I went through a hellish personal tragedy. I quit teaching and traveled to India, Bali and Europe. During this extended leave from teaching I studied meditation and mindfulness practices along with austere spiritual practices from several different traditions. Twenty years of soul searching finally brought me to Berkshire County in Massachusetts. I began teaching again.
Coming back into the third-millennium classroom in 2006 was a shock. The pressure on teachers and kids had increased exponentially since Oak Flats. Everybody was plugged in, wired for sound and pulled in a million directions at once: top-down initiatives like No Child Left Behind, adversarial policies like zero tolerance, and warp-speed social lives buzzing in their brains. Not the ideal setting for sharing the joys of higher mathematics.
In my initial years I was assigned a notoriously challenging group of freshmen students. The wisdom at the time was to assign the math phobic teens ten periods of math per week instead of the standard five periods. Because these students had weak number skills and hated math they felt tortured. The students were furious and blamed me for their inhuman schedule. Their resentment forced me to contemplate my future in education. The questions I contemplated included:
From this reflection I came up with a system of principles I called C.O.R.E. (cf. CORE Principles) and the use of silence. Within weeks the students were more engaged, respectful and happier. It was a pedagogical miracle.
Over the next four years I introduced my techniques to all my classes. The momentum built and built until other teachers started to notice. I was asked to speak with new teachers and veteran staffs alike about what I was achieving in the classroom through these unorthodox methodologies.
One day I introduced my methodologies to my senior class. Several of the students had spent their freshman year with me and eyed me suspiciously. They remembered their tortured first year with me. One student who had been surly and resentful as a freshman looked at me with an expressionless face throughout the lesson. We had not had the friendliest relationship over the years. He had been suspended for twelve months for arson and bullying. He had earned a terrible reputation around the school.
At the end of our lesson that September morning he lingered at the door after everyone had left. He turned to me and said, “This is the first thing that has ever made sense to me at school.” He turned and left my room. Goosebumps ran up my arms and tears came to my eyes as I sat down speechless.
This story and others reflect in many ways the miracle of silence in the classroom. My students start to come alive, become natural and express more respect. Surprisingly students with ADD and even Aspergers' Syndrome have expressed a love for the respite silence brings them in their busy school day. Out of this is born an atmosphere of safety, tolerance and respect for themselves and each other. A joy for the teacher!
I begin every lesson with silence and stillness.
I was recently invited into a Math Teacher’s classes to lead her students in meditation. The teacher has been working with me over several months and has introduced a ritual of silence and stillness at the beginning of her classes. While her classes appreciate the still time before their lesson they had requested I do a repeat visit with a longer meditation.
During the day I led about sixty students in total. In the last group of the day the students bounded into the room, obviously ready for their Christmas break. As it was the last period before their break two students were asked to leave the room to complete missed tests. I began the meditation asking the students what they remembered from our previous session. I then talked briefly about how strongly we are affected by compulsions to be always busy and doing something. They agreed this was the case and were looking forward to managing their compulsions. We dimmed the lights and began.
I led a fifteen meditation encouraging them to be still and silent. I encouraged the students to notice any compulsions as they arise, and instead of doing something relax their body and watch their breath instead. After the meditation the class was very still and silent. The two girls who had been outside crept in and sat down without disturbing the silence in the room.
I asked the class who had felt compulsions to move their hands, scratch, tap or look around? Most of the class raised their hands. I noticed one student at the front of the room who looked very calm "How was it?" She said it was torture. “What is your name?” I asked. She said Nancy. I asked the rest of the group "Who else had the same experience as Nancy?" About 2/3rds of the group raised their hands. I asked the class "What normally happens in a group of teenagers who are feeling tortured?" A boy called out "It's chaos!"
I asked "How is it possible so many of you are feeling tortured and yet the class is so still and silent?" No answer.
I turned to one of the girls who had entered the room at the end of the meditation. I asked her why she had sat down so quietly. She said because it was so peaceful she did not want to disturb the room. Nancy whirled around in surprise and blurted “I didn’t even hear you come into the room!”
I left the group with one final question to ponder: “How is it that so many of you felt tortured on the inside, yet when someone comes in the room they felt you were calm and peaceful?”
Despite the torturous experience the group applauded and beamed at me as the bell rang. I looked at their teacher who was smiling and lit up like a Christmas tree.
For further information on my work with teachers, parents and students write me or go to my website.
How many new teachers arrive into the profession to find they were not prepared for the relationships with their students in the classroom? If data is any gauge many! Over fifty percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years. A growing concern and major reason is they feel students are unmotivated, disrespectful and even threatening.
Indeed when one reads the Education Evaluation Guide from the Massachusetts Department of Education teacher metrics include such core issues as creating a safe environment, respecting differences and quality work.
But how do you, as a teaching professional, create these qualities in your classroom?
When I began teaching in the United States in 2006 I was shocked at how my unmotivated and disrespectful my students were toward me. I had taught for ten years in Australia from 1976 to 1986 but I felt there was a general decline in work ethics and tolerance with young people. It seemed more students were suffering from malaise and discontent with school and perhaps life.
It was at this point, two years into my second teaching career I decided to explore the question how can I capture the hearts and minds of my students? From my reflection and research I came up with two powerful methodologies that transformed my experience and reinvigorated my pedagogical practice.
I presented a paper at the Oxford Round Table in August 2013 on the methodology of silence called “The Phenomenology of Silence: Educing Learning and Creativity in the Classroom” (click here).
This blog explains how and why my second methodology works. It was designed out of a need for me to feel respected and happy as a teacher. The two together have made me not only happier but my students and in some cases my colleagues who have adopted similar versions of what I have introduced.
WHAT IS C.O.R.E.?
C.O.R.E. is an acronym to help students and teachers remain focused on how to create developmental and dynamic independence and co-operation in the classroom. It is a way to address behavior in students, but more importantly it is a model for building personal attributes that will enhance a student’s ability to learn and succeed both in and out of the classroom. Each teacher will have their own priorities for what they deem optimal classroom management. In such a case I suggest you create a set of class principles that suit you.
C = Communication with Care O = Organization for Optimization R = Respect builds Relationships E = Effort in Everything
When you define C.O.R.E. for your students, you are actually allowing them to become acquainted with you and your expectations. Each one of us as teachers approaches our classes in a unique way and students have many different teachers. Take a few minutes to contemplate: What behaviors in students do I most struggle with? What qualities in my students do I most appreciate?
Identifying the behaviors that are supportive or adverse to classroom harmony and development is the first critical step in the process of creating a meaningful framework for effective classroom management. C.O.R.E represents the student attributes that, in my observation, generate the greatest harmony and development to my classroom.
Cultivation of these qualities does not happen overnight. Only through consistent reminders over time, with clear consequences, can students understand how powerful these living skills are.
C.O.R.E. represents principles to live by, not rules to follow. Principles have greater flexibility and allow for differences. For example if Scott, a very dedicated student starts handing in poor quality homework then he is compromising his “effort” ethic. However if Sally, who rarely does homework, starts handing in work, even if it is minimal, she is making progress with her “effort” and is graded accordingly within the C.O.R.E. rubric. In other words not all progress looks the same for each student. This can be very subtle and is one reason I have my students grade themselves.
Having class principles is also a way to speak about classroom behaviors in an impersonal way to your students. It avoids the feeling of blaming, accusing or judging someone as bad in any given situation. Principles allow you, as a teacher, to refer to standards that work in developing independence and co-operation within a group.
For many years I belonged to a spiritual cult. At the beginning, I had a euphoric sense of independence. But with time, that was followed by an experience of "group mind" - namely, I was influenced too much by the beliefs of the leader and those around me. The pressures of living in this situation led to a fragmented sense of identity.
After fifteen years in this cult, I began teaching again in 2006. I started to reconnect with the world I had left. I desperately sought agency to function independently once again. It has taken years to recover from this extreme experience, but it has left me with a heightened sensitivity to entering into any collective situation.
While it was a bumpy re-entry I soon noticed familiar symptoms in my students and in many cases, their parents.
I was witnessing the cyber cult, up close and personal. Gaming, Facebook, texting and general inter-netting was now a way of being. My students exuded self confidence, fast access to knowledge and endless friends at their finger tips. It was a virtual world that left me, their teacher, an outsider to their lives.
Over the next seven years of teaching, I was spellbound as I watched my teenage students, as their minds developed, spend countless hours looking at a screen. They were being seduced into a cyber universe. This cyber reality often offers time-saving ways to navigate the complexity of life as well as giving one an entire social life. It leads you to believe that you are in charge of your own life, that a student does not need adult guidance, direction or leadership.
This is what I think of as A.I. (artificial independence). It's being offered at a dizzying rate of form and function. Technology has given us: unending virtual entertainment, short-hand language, access to thousands of superficial friends and a place to escape to so we don't have to engage in real-world intimacy. The cyber world blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, allowing us to adopt distorted ideas of ourselves and our abilities, live sedentary unhealthy lifestyles and harbor symptoms of addiction, mental instability and even post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Unfortunately parents and teachers like myself, have also jumped onto the cyber band wagon. It relieves us of our struggle to face each other through conversation and encounter. It is far easier to bury ourselves in our i-Phones while the kids focus on theirs! The cyber world functions as a cheap baby sitter. But at what cost?
What kind of independence are our children gaining from this cyber universe? True human agency is found and cultivated within. Original thought arises from reflection, introspection and often takes place away from outer stimulus. Like cults, the cyber world's influence has to be made conscious. We're all drawn into this virtual world, but at what cost?
 Roberts, Kevin. Cyber Junkie: Escape the Gaming and Internet Trap. Hazelden, Center City, Minnesota. 2010
 Carroll, Lawrence. The Phenomenology of Silence: Educing Learning and Creativity in the Classroom. August, 2013, Oxford Round Table, Merton College https://www.academia.edu/5287098/The_Phenomenology_of_Silence_Educing_Learning_and_Creativity_in_the_Classroom (Accessed December 3, 2013.)
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I visited my old school recently to give a pro-bono class on managing toxic stress. While I was waiting in the student personnel office a senior student popped by and lit up when he saw me. He said “Mr Carroll, you’ll never believe what happened to me!”
I said “What happened?”
He said I was at the community college last week to do an orientation. The staff their issued each of us with a dot to stick on our wrist. She said it was to measure our stress levels. I put it on and it turned black. The three colors black, red and green represent levels of stress:
· Black (most stressful)
· Red (Beware you are moving into stress)
· Green (you are in a good place)
He continued “I remembered what you taught us. I found a quiet corner, sat down for five minutes and practiced the techniques. I went up and asked for another dot. I put it on and it turned to green!
I couldn’t believe it was that simple!” He broke into a smile and said thank you as he gave me a hug.
My students walk in from busy bustling hallways. Their loud voices and exaggerated swaggering entrances reveal they still think they are in the halls. Their furtive glances seek someone to avoid, torment or bond with.
It is three minutes since the bell sounded. They only have four minutes to transition from one class to their next. They have to fight their way through crowded hallways to a different teacher with different rules who teaches a completely different subject. Everything seems so fragmented and compartmentalized. This brief transition is like a river cascading over a waterfall. Students, teachers and police officers pour into chaotic hallways – over a thousand people moving at the same time!
I call this the squeeze. In these four minutes I need to recover from any leftover emotional charge from my last class, erase the board, greet students in the hallway, organize my desk, monitor and assess students state of mental and emotional health, remind some about outstanding work, listen sympathetically to excuses for missed or avoided homework or simply be present for unexpected surprises ranging from tears to dramas to pleasant greetings.
The bell sounds. The squeeze is over. I walk down the stairs of my college style classroom and gaze peripherally at my students scanning for anything that feels out of place, different or jarring. I stop at my desk, slowly turn around and gaze up at my students silently. I lean against the desk semi seated, close my eyes and remain silent for three minutes. My students do the same.
At the end of three minutes I look around and see most students motionless with eyes closed. Most look angelic. A few have heads down on desks. Some are gazing back at me.
I ask the first question for the day: “Who would rather be home right now?” About two-thirds of the class raises their hands. Their faces break into smiles. They are ready for math. Their minds are clearer, they feel better and most of all there is love and trust in the classroom.
For more understanding of my work in the classroom and how meditation unclogs the mental chatter and frees emotional stress click here.
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The ground of my pedagogical approach lies in silence and reflection. Silence and reflection slow down the thinking process. 'Thinking' takes time: thinking through time is punctuated by moments of generative silence and imagination. When thinking slows, awareness of our perceptual and cognitive experience (metacognition) emerges. This is foundational to critical thinking, inquiry and learning. (Senge, 2000, 69.) Essential to higher order thinking, metacognition provides a pathway to learning agency.
Interestingly, student agency, when activated, brings the teacher and student closer together.They find themselves engaging naturally in a mutual experience of authentic inquiry.
 Senge, Peter; Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education. Doubleday, Random House Inc., New York, 2000.
John Dewey, who is arguably the greatest contributor to the modern education system, wrote that orderly experience leads to integration whilst disorderly experience creates a divided personality, and in extreme cases insanity.
It is rare for an educator to disagree with Dewey’s logic. Students often complain about the irrelevance of their curriculum and rarely make connections between different subject areas. Fragmentation of their experience is confusing and leads them to often conclude that knowledge learned at school is non-sensical and irrelevant to their lives.
Similarly teachers are often introduced to new theories, expectations and assessments that are disorderly and not clearly connected to their past and future experiences. Educational assessment is being introduced rapidly throughout the US with very little, if any training for teachers on observation and feedback techniques. While the goal is for educators at all levels to grow their pedagogical effectiveness the major unit of transformation – beliefs and assumptions – need skillful and careful coaching techniques in order to create a safe and trusting climate to surface them.
The term feedback can be intimidating. It implies only looking back at an event that has happened and mainly focusing on what was wrong (the problem) that needs fixing. Perhaps Winston Churchill’s solution focused saying: “We must focus more on the goal than on the problem, more on the solution than on the cause. We must move forward, not look back.” Hence many coaches now coin the phrase feed-forward as a powerful intrinsic practice of inspiration that ignites passion and forges affinity in peer led coaching.
I have designed workshops to cultivate observation and feedback (and forward) skills so that educators can forge collegial affinity as they surface their beliefs and assumptions with each other in order to become more effective educators. The skills learned are effective tools for a teacher to use in his or her classes and even in personal relationships.
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“What just happened?” I wondered as I came home from my first day at school in September 2006. I was reeling and disoriented. It was my first day teaching again after a twenty-year break.
Coming back into the third-millennium classroom in 2006 was a shock, like returning to one's once-bucolic hometown and finding it choked and bustling. Pressure on teachers and kids had increased exponentially. Everybody was plugged in, wired for sound, and pulled in a million directions at once: top-down initiatives like No Child Left Behind, adversarial policies like zero tolerance, and warp-speed social lives buzzing in their brains. Not the ideal setting for sharing the joys of higher mathematics.
Over the next four years of teaching I started to get clearer about the nature of the changes in students since I left in 1985. I found that modern students:
In contemplating these differences I developed a range of methods in the classroom to reach out to this generation. The resources I developed were born out of my observations, reflecting my teaching practices and simple discussions on accountability, choices, and consequences with my students. Students were delighted to discover that these tools could help them navigate the confusion in the classroom, manage stress as well as discover their inner resources.
Now I am sharing my work with educators throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia. During the summer I presented a paper to the Oxford Round Table, Oxford University in England on the teaching practices I have developed. Should you see value in my work and methodologies I encourage you to forward my blogs and website to educators, parents and students. Change can start from the smallest action.
For more information about my coaching, talks and workshops email me today.
I took a life coaching course in 2010. I had already been doing life coaching to help people improve fitness, lose weight and maintain healthy diets for about 3 years prior to that. Only when I did the course did I see how powerful a tool life coaching is for teaching. Coaching is a nuanced approach to helping people. It is not a replacement to therapy but can be therapeutic. It is not counseling but can reveal tremendous insight and direction for someone. It is not consultancy but the client can feel confident in making dramatic changes in their life and succeeding. The secret to Coaching’s success is that it is a co-creative process designed by both the coach and the client. This is why it works. It is not imposed on the client and this is why the client feels confidence early on in the process. A skilled coach grows with the client. It is a beautiful process.
It opened the door to empowering my students by asking the right questions at the right time without imposing my agenda on them.
Students who would normally not take any academic risks in the classroom felt empowered to try. My students soon became unafraid to make mistakes. In fact they knew mistakes were helping them learn! It was a marvelous break through from the crippling fear of failure paradigm they carry with them. But there were many other issues for teens: intense pressure from parents to get good grades, sexual orientation, bullying, poverty levels, parental abuse and more. Coaching and meditation created more compassion in me than I could bear at times. I remember breaking down and crying at dinner one night as I was describing to my wife and friends how much kids need help. Schools are under a lot of pressure to prove themselves according to data. From a teachers point of view this can feel like a barren desert devoid of the rich opportunities that don’t necessarily show up on the data radar. One of the greatest compliments I received this year was from a shy girl who struggled with geometry. She said at the end of the year I was the perfect teacher and a role model for her. She expressed so much gratitude for being shown how to meditate and manage her stress.
You never know what you do or say as a teacher that makes a difference to your kids.
It really is something to never forget as a teacher.
"Coaching with you has widened my horizons of what I thought was possible and I now have a clearer view of my options and possibilities." MJ - Massachusetts
The modern teenager finds him or herself in a strange new world that no one could have predicted even a decade ago. The millennial teen is growing up in a world where the parent and role model has been largely replaced by the new phenomena of technology pre-occupation. Between cell phones, i-Pads, i-Pods, games and unlimited internet access, the average modern teen spends around 8 hours per day (according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation Study) being bombarded by music, information, images, texts and entertainment. Often this is compounded because of a teen's facility to multi-task, so they are actually absorbing up to 11 or 12 hours worth of electronic stimulus daily!
Studies are beginning to emerge that link online exposure time to alarming rises in chronic teenage disorders. These include:
· Hearing damage
· A.D.D. & A.D.H.D.
· Chronic fatigue
Other disturbing correlations include the following: students who spend more time on their electronic equipment score lower grades, tend to be more irritable, struggle to access higher order thinking skills and have limited social skills. My own observations in the high school classroom add to this: teens today tend to have a reduced tolerance to stress and struggle to focus for extended periods of time.
Unfortunately many teens live lifestyles which are so busy that they undervalue rest, introspection and recovery, three essential components for a healthy and successful lifestyle. Teenagers often under value the wisdom and hierarchy of adults and instead surround themselves with entertainment and endless stimulus from their electronic devices.
Parents, teachers and other professionals are struggling to manage this exponential change. The popular convention is to treat the symptoms of these teenage “diseases” by using medication and therapy, rather than going to the source. It is rare to find people or groups who can guide teens to foster self reliant and real solutions. These solutions mean lifestyle changes which take time and discipline in a caring transaction between the teen and the role model adult.
Through my work in the classroom and in my teen life coaching I have introduced teenagers to meditation, integrated brain techniques and moral contemplations which have helped them manage stress, improve grades and in some cases transform their worldviews. Working at this level opens up possibilities for teens to manage complex and overwhelming situations they currently face. Find out more.
Bridging the Virtual Gap: The Challenge for 21st Century Teenagers
Are you challenged by modern day teens? OR are you a teen YOURSELF? In either case, you will probably recognize something of your experience in the following story.
Sixteen year-old Leah and her mother are sitting at the dinner table. Both are reading their emails on hand-held devices. Every few seconds the silence at the table is broken by pings and pops as a new email arrives. The blue light from the screen lights up Leah's mother's glasses giving them an eerie glow. She fervently reads her screen. Suddenly the mother looks up. She squints at Leah and asks “Leah can you do the dishes? It’s your turn and you have missed the last three times.”
No reply. Leah’s head is fixated on her i-phone, her dexterous fingers texting her friend. Her earphones block out all sound under eight-five decibels. Her mother reaches out and touches Leah gently. Only physical contact can break the spell of separateness between them. Leah is lost in her virtual empire. Her mother taps her again, a little harder to gain her attention.
“Fuck you, don’t molest me, you retard” Leah snaps at her mother. “That's assault you bitch!” Leah's mother’s mind races, reeling from her daughter's angry response. Inside of ten seconds Leah places her i-phone in front of her mother’s face, snapping a photo and then uploading it to Facebook with the words “My mother hit me again.” The mother’s photo and reputation is now visible to Leah's 1500 “friends.”
Leah's mother's simple request has suddenly evaporated into an emotional maelstrom gone public. Perplexed, the mother stares helplessly at this strange creature, her daughter, and sighs.
In my fifteen years working with teens as a High School Teacher and Professional Certified Life Coach I have often encountered many teens in situations like Leah's. I have witnessed social changes that have required me to consider deeply the challenges teens, parents and teachers face every day.
Several key issues I've identified in trying to help teens include: their difficulty to express their needs clearly; over-dependence on technology; poor health; a confused morality which includes their inability to take responsibility. Teenagers today have been armed with a variety of reasons and excuses for their issues: from ADHD to obesity to anger management issues. Doctors, behaviorists and therapists quickly point out quick fixes such as medication and therapy as the only alternatives to help our children.
Common sense is often overlooked.
As a Professional Certified Life Coach and a cutting-edge educational consultant my mission is to empower and help teenagers tap their creative spirit to become healthy and robust leaders and pioneers of the twenty-first century. To do this I am bridging a gap between two worlds. The first world is the virtual one where teens (and now parents and teachers) are absorbed into electronic social connections and entertainment, often at the expense of deeper relationships with others. The second world is not mediated by a screen. It is where communication and relationship come first, and the consequences of our actions are explored and understood.
The results are powerful. Teens quickly develop:
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I have been meditating for twenty five years. It is a ritual as important to me as sleeping and eating the right food. One metaphor to describe meditation is to imagine you are looking at birds flitting between tree branches. Birds can be all shapes and sizes doing all sorts of things. Similarly your thoughts may be troubling, neutral or pleasant. When you let something that is troubling you be like another bird in the tree —neither good nor bad—you allow yourself to become free from the intense emotions surrounding that thought. Approaching thoughts this way is very freeing. In the process you can be more objective about the thoughts in your own mind. You will also find yourself making different choices, especially when you are restless or upset.
Most teachers would agree that stress and anxiety are a major cause preventing creativity and learning in the classroom. So one day I decided to introduce my students to meditation. I tried it out with my ninth, tenth and twelfth graders. I asked my students to come into the room, take their books out and simply sit there quietly. They had this time to themselves. Time to arrive and relax. I told them scientific studies have shown that sitting still and doing nothing is good for clearer thinking, improving attention deficit disorders and managing stress. I emphasized that for this to work they could not interfere with any other student in the process. They were thrilled.
After some experimentation, it soon became obvious that five minutes was too long for some students - especially those with ADHD, ADD. I felt torn as I did not want some students to be disadvantaged by meditation. We persisted over the next few months. I called our meditation time Sink and Think Meditation Snacks. Since I introduced Sink and Think™ , my students looked forward to meditating and appreciated quiet time. Most surprising of all, those students who struggled with ADD and ADHD, loved it most .
I noticed subtle shifts in my students after a short time.There was more respect between them, they listened more intently and they began engaging more in the lesson. The students themselves described their experiences as: “there's less chaos in this class”; “I feel peaceful as I enter your room”; “I am not overwhelmed when I start to work”; “I am curious what the lesson will be”; “I took 3 seconds off my personal best by meditating before the swim meet”… and the list goes on.
Sink and Think™, has been a transformative classroom experience. It has impacted both me and my students, revealing the intrinsic value that silence brings. Respect, care, curiosity, creativity, self-confidence and self-management are just a few. Perhaps the most remarkable thing I have noticed is that students who suffer from ADHD become calmer and more attentive throughout the lesson.
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What do I mean by organic teaching? I mean teaching that responds to the living breathing souls in the classrooms - the students. It is an authentic and natural teaching that the teacher dares to bring into the classroom. Organic teaching requires a teacher to be awake, alert and empathic. The kind of teaching a student remembers for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately organic teaching has become a rare event in schools. The business of schooling is more than ever interested in exam results. The single pointed focus on exam results is arguably the greatest misrepresentation of a teacher's effectiveness and a student's intelligence. So what could organic teaching look, sound and feel like?
It takes me back to a hot, muggy day in 2012 when I was teaching. 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. I turn my back silently on my students and write a quote on the board: "I think, therefore I am." Then I write the question "What would happen to space if the co-ordinate (3,6) went missing?"
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. My mission is to awaken the rest of the class to wonder and want to explore with me.
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 that if the co-ordinate (3,6) was missing you would not be able to have video games?” Only two heads remain down. "How come?" says one student.
Unexpectedly a student blurts out "Because computer pixels are co-ordinates on a number plane. We are making progress. “There is still time” I think to myself, “we will get through this”. I savor the moment.
“Do you realize co-ordinate number planes are 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! He was so excited he forgot to tip the waitress. Can you imagine how she felt, while one of the greatest moments in mathematical history was unfolding?”
Everyone is awake, alert and curious! 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 input, “the Mayans invented zero! But without zero the number plane would be meaningless.” I ask the same student "What is the significance of zero in the Cartesian number plane?"
With the Mayans and Descartes at my side I am surfing the interest and learning with my students. We complete the problem with relish. The rest of the lesson unfolds as we learn and practice the distance formula. There is a buzz in the room and as students work together I am delighted to hear their conversations and imaginations alive and well. The students are alive with that peculiar energy that appears from nowhere.
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?"
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How do you feel about your education? Do you find some teachers “have it” and others don’t?
Most importantly have you ever asked yourself "How do I learn best?" Answering this question alone may reveal why some teachers light you up and others shut you down.
The ancient Greek maxim "Know Thyself" still applies today. Because once you know yourself you will know what you need in order to learn. You see, every student has very particular needs in order to learn. That includes you.
Let's start with the obvious. You have eyes, ears, mouth and a body. These are your major learning organs which determine your dominant learning style. In other words how you like to learn best. They are called:
To believe that the above learning styles are the only way you learn would be inaccurate. You learn through all three modalities at the same time. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to learn if you sat through an entire lesson with your eyes closed, or your ears blocked or sitting absolutely still? There are other ways that might help you to know yourself and learn. Ask yourself "How important is it for me to learn by:"
Once you have asked yourself these questions start to notice which teachers include these qualities in their lessons and how it affects you. Ask your friends which teachers they like and why.
Lastly ask yourself what could my teacher do differently that would make me a happier student? Think about how and when you can ask your teacher so the teacher realizes you are serious about how much this would help you learn better. Don't express it as a complaint or ultimatum. This never works and most likely will create more discomfort between you and your teacher. I suggest you practice this with a good friend, your coach, a parent or someone you trust first.
For more information to help you know your learning styles I recommend you read “Quantum Learning: Unleashing the Genius in You” or my blogs (see below). You can also hire a Teen Coach to help you understand your learning styles.
Good luck and pass this blog not your parents, friends and teachers.
Other BLOG Posts by Lawrence Carroll
LAWRENCE CARROLL EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT & LIFE COACH
"Lawrence Carroll's workshop on personal stress management, which he conducted with my Columbia Grad School class
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