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Transitions: Moments of Fear and Aliveness


Whenever I face a decision, take a risk, stand on the brink of a big transition, I must overcome my own fears to step forward. There’s that moment of letting go, of reaching out, of wondering if I’m going to fail and fall.

Yet, again and again, something comes to meet me and I grab ahold, whisked forward. I both trust this “safe landing” and yet I feel my stomach twist every time I make a new leap.

When I watched the video below, it captured in a visceral way that quick succession of fear, faith, falling and flying forward, something I often experience in my life and leadership. The video is a stomach-wrenching montage from a 1950’s film about Trapeze artists with a voice over of Danaan Parry’s words on “The Parable of the Trapeze.”

Watching this film reminds me of why I keep doing this:

  • There’s a trust that the bar and those welcoming hands will be there to receive me.
  • There’s a confidence in me that I’ve done this before.
  • There’s faith that without risk I can’t get to that next place.
  • There’s risk that feels catastrophic and all the fear that calls up.
  • And, at least in the film clip, there is a net below… just in case.

In Parry’s words, “…it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments of our lives.”

How do you experience those transition zones?

terry-catalystWith gratitude and best wishes,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Explore the transition zones of your life at a Courage & Renewal program.

P.P.S. Many thanks to my colleague Brian Braganza, who shared with me the video that inspired this reflection!

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In the Atacama Desert in Chile, it rarely rains. Only once every few years does significant rain or snow precipitate on ESO’s La Silla Observatory, generally coinciding with an anomalously warm weather event such as an El Niño event. This desert is one of the driest places on Earth, making it a fantastic site from which to observe the night sky. Although there may be very little real rain, some photography tricks can instead make the stars appear to rain onto the surrounding mountains, as seen in this image taken on 21 May 2013 by Diana Juncher, a PhD student in astronomy at the Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark. Diana was at La Silla for two weeks in May 2013, observing exoplanets towards the centre of our galaxy as part of her research. During her stay she managed to take this image of star trails, taken only around 20 metres away from the Danish 1.54-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. Star trail photographs like these are shot using a long exposure time in order to capture the apparent motion of the stars as the Earth rotates. A wisp of snow covers the distant mountain tops, and soft clouds can be seen below La Silla, near the horizon to the left. The slightly darker and redder area to the right is an open copper mine. Copper is Chile's biggest economic asset — the country is by far the world leader in copper production. Links: Diana Juncher on Flickr Diana Juncher's image on Flickr

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So Much Beauty by Marcia Eames-Sheavly

Marcia Eames-Sheavly hi-res-7390
Photo courtesy of Lynn Purdon Yenkey

Wrestling with the Questions

How do I find silence in the midst of chaos? What do I do when my exhaustion overrides my compassion? How do I make sense of watching someone I love change so much? Why do I have to be the one to put my life on hold? How do I honor this time with reverence, and capture some of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever witnessed?

Mom_3These are some of the questions that guided my journey last year, as my once lively 91-year-old mother moved from an apartment, into assisted living, and then onto hospice. Juggling a full time job, marriage and our two sons, along with her care – 24/7 at times – proved to be challenging, as well as an opportunity to dip into an otherworldly transcendence, the likes of which astonished me.

Writing as Comfort

I write a great deal at work – grant proposals, curricula, workshop formats, syllabi – the list is literally endless. As a garden-based educator, I write book chapters, web pages and journal articles. Reflective writing is important to me, and at the same time, admittedly, I’m inconsistent, somewhat touch and go with it.

This was something different. From the day my mother said, “This is it. I’m ready, I’d like to look into hospice,” a phrase came to mind. The phrase became a poem, the poem turned into daily writing, the daily writing into 150 pages.

My head filling up with words, and taking the time to step into another room and see those stanzas coming to life under my fingers became my solace.

I realized much later that this both grounded me deeply in the experience, and at other times, took me right out of it, into a place of escape, imagining how I’d like to be responding. And yet, all of that was helpful.

marcia-eames-sheavly-paintingAll of it was sanity-making. And even as I was wallowing in self-pity, or soaring with the elation that came from hearing my mother talk about what she had witnessed in the ‘other world,’ I was keenly aware that this profoundly personal experience was universal – shared by many.

Reaching Out to Others

A conversation from a few days ago has stayed with me.

A family member whose husband died 23 years ago called. She has nearly memorized So Much Beauty, she said, because finally, it’s helping her go ‘back there.’ She recalls walking into the hospital, mind-numbingly trudging the same sidewalk, wondering if the life extending equipment would still be running, or if it had finally quieted.

She remembers how tired she was, and how she never admitted it to a soul. After all these years, she is able to name her fatigue, guilt, physical and emotional grunginess, and the strong feelings she stuffed under the rug, thinking it was selfish to speak of them then.

It’s this that inspires me to reach out, to offer this little book to anyone who is caring for a loved one, or those who engage in some way with people who are doing the hard work of guiding those who are making this challenging transition. I hope it consoles you and yours, too.


So Much Beauty by Marcia Eames Sheavly

Where does anything go?
The real stuff, the heft
the mass to witness hangs in the air weightless
the conversations
relationships and connection.

These discoveries of what my life is really made of
they’re underneath, too
layers of surface mantle core.

How long, how long?
As long as it takes.

For now, just this.
This, right here.

Excerpt from: Rebirth, page 15


marcia-eames-sheavlyABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marcia Eames-Sheavly is a university educator and artist who lives in upstate NY. She is in the 2015 Courage & Renewal Facilitator cohort. Her recent book of poetry, So Much Beauty, poignantly captures the landscape of loss as she travels to be with her mother through assisted living and then hospice care.

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Carrie Newcomer in Seattle on October 2, 2015

Carrie Newcomer, an Indiana-based and born folk singer-songwriter, is known for her story-songs that get at the raw and redemptive edges of human reality.

She has been described as “a soaring songstress” by Billboard, a “prairie mystic” by the Boston Globe, and Rolling Stone wrote that she “asks all the right questions.” One of the definitive voices of the heartland and progressive spirituality, Newcomer a has the ability for sharp observation of the world. She has attracted a devoted following with her warm voice, exquisite melodies, and an irreverent yet spiritual view of the world. As in the work of poets Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry, Newcomer’s songs are based in the ordinary, and infused with images from the natural world.

It’s no surprise that many of the Center’s followers are also fans of Carrie Newcomer’s work. Like a Circle of Trust, her music invites us into a safe space where we can close in on the teachings of our inner lives. She encourages us to be more permeable, to make “a deal with the universe that I will be here and I will be present and I will take in the world.”

“Her songs are attuned to the still, small voice of the soul,” says Parker Palmer.

Last year Carrie Newcomer joined Krista Tippett of On Being for a musical conversation. Listen to the podcast below.

Carrie Newcomer performs in Seattle 10/02/15

This upcoming Friday Seattlites will have an opportunity to watch Carrie sing at the University Congregational United Church of Christ.

Carrie’s appearance is produced by the Church Council of Greater Seattle, as part of our work to create crossroads of understanding and collaboration among diverse communities. The concert kicks-off a weekend conference, Weaving Our Strengths, which supports local churches’ efforts for the common good. The concert will be welcoming to people of all beliefs. Tickets for the concert alone are best purchased here. Those who wish to attend the entire conference may register at, and add a concert ticket to their purchase.

Carrie_Newcomer_Portrait_artist_pageThis concert is made possible by generous sponsorship from: The Center for Courage for Renewal, Dancing Word, and the Creativity Council of University Congregational United Church of Christ.

Time: 7:00 PM
Address: 4515 16th Ave NE, Seattle, WA
Tickets: $15.00
Phone: 206-204-3855
Website: The Church Council of Greater Seattle Website

To Purchase Tickets: Tickets

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WoLakota Stories: Bringing Heart to Teachers on Pine Ridge Reservation

Editor’s note: This is DAY FIVE of our special week-long series about a local Courage to Teach program ccalled the WoLakota Project — a partnership with the South Dakota Department of Education, Technology & Innovation in Education (TIE), and South Dakota Elders. Today’s post tells the story of a principal who has been part of Courage to Teach in South Dakota throughout her career. She was part of the early team that helped develop the WoLakota Project and as a principal has sent six teachers so far through the program. It’s transforming trust in her school and community on many levels.

Missed DAY ONE’s blog? Click here to get the background of the WoLakota Project.
DAY TWO: Click to read the inspiring story of one teacher’s renewal.
DAY THREE: Click to read about Newell’s cheer coach, LeeVi Story.
DAY FOUR: Click to read how Ira Taken Alive inspired community pride.

The Associated Press

Love is What Matters

I want to love on kids. I want students to know somebody looks out for them. That’s my passion,” said principal Jeannine Metzger. “We have had so many suicides on the Pine Ridge reservation —our kids need to know they are loved! That’s my goal as principal.”

Jeannine MetzgerJeannine is in her third year as principal of Wolf Creek Elementary, a priority “high-needs” school. It is in the southeast windswept corner of South Dakota, just over 10 miles from Wounded Knee. All of the students are Oglala Lakota Native Americans, and half of the teachers are non-native.

“Teaching is a difficult and demanding job, but I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else,” she said. “Courage to Teach helps open your heart to soul-searching. How can you teach from your soul in a way that gives you passion and shows students your passion for what you’re doing?”

Jeannine has been a dedicated teacher on the Pine Ridge reservation her entire career. In her early years when she was a physical education teacher, she drove 96 miles one way to her school in Crazy Horse. She was a young, single mom with three little kids, and as a new teacher back then, she was stressed.

Luckily, Jeannine met Marlene Rothermel, a teacher-coach who worked for Technology & Innovation in Education (TIE)and one of the first Courage & Renewal Facilitators in South Dakota.

“Marlene could see I was an educator with a heart to do the best I can,” said Jeannine. “She got me involved in national boards and invited me to Courage to Teach retreats. Marlene opened up options for me in such a good way that it helped grow and facilitate who I am today.”

Now as a principal, Jeannine is intent on giving her teachers growth opportunities, too. So far, she and six of her teachers have gone through the WoLakota Courage to Teach Project. A few more are in this year’s cohort.

“We have white teachers and native teachers in the Courage Circles,” Jeannine said. “On the very first evening [of the Courage to Teach retreat] you see trust being established. Bam! And the teachers start opening up. We can talk about racial issues in a good way and get many different perspectives. As we’re mentoring white teachers, it’s opening their minds to different perception of the native culture.”

The understanding developed through Courage to Teach is improving the way teachers relate to their students.

For instance, at Wolf Creek Elementary a teacher was confused and frustrated when a boy kept changing his last name, first from “Yellow Hair” then to “New Holy.” But after the WoLakota Project, the teacher felt comfortable with her curiosity and simply asked the boy to explain. He explained that changing names is part of Lakota culture. If you are recognized for doing a great thing, you can change your name. Getting to change your name is a great honor.

“Choosing Yellow Hair was to honor my mom,” the boy told his teacher. “Then the next year I wanted to honor my dad, so I chose New Holy.”

Great conversations have come out of the project, and increased awareness about the importance of authenticity.

“On the reservation, Lakota people can read if you’re not authentic. Being your honest self is very important. They don’t take kindly to deception or manipulation. Since going through the WoLakota Project, we often talk about the soul of who you are, being authentic. For me, there isn’t any question. You’ve got to teach from who you are.”

Jeannine and her family

Jeannine and her family

Creating a Trustworthy, Authentic School

“So much about WoLakota and Courage to Teach helped me step into my leadership role,” said Jeannine. “I remember sitting in my classroom thinking “I’m going to change this when I’m principal. [Laughs] Famous last words!”

Working with the South Dakota Department of Education and expectations for change can be frustrating. Teachers are often expected to make incredible advances in student achievement, but the traumatic conditions of the students’ lives make that nearly impossible.

“That’s where Courage to Teach and WoLakota really get to heart of the matter,” said Jeannine. “As you look at your class, you learn to ask what is the real essence of learning. Where can you build the fire? Where can you fill the pail of ‘I want to learn, to know, to be curious!’ And the answer comes from the essential understanding that we teach from who we are.”

While there are so many challenges, and she knows real change will take time, Jeannine has found ways to sustain and equip her staff. Jeannine is enthusiastic about using many Courage & Renewal practices with her staff. She keeps a list of the Touchstones near her desk.

“I use touchstones at staff meetings—those are huge,” said Jeannine. “The biggest one I try to push is ‘turning to wonder.’ I encourage my staff to wonder why someone is attacking, to wonder why a kid is blowing up. First-year teachers take those student behaviors personally.

“Good teaching is about understanding what’s going on in a student’s life. If we can come from a place of love and wonder, it can change the whole culture of your school.”

Another touchstone the staff embodies is respecting confidentiality, such as what’s said in a group, or in an IEP (individual education plan).

“Only when we ask permission can we talk about something outside the group, and that helps build trust.”

Do the silence! It’s really fun. You can tell when people are really uncomfortable. The staff is learning it’s okay to ponder a question in silence.”

One touchstone they’ve really worked on at Wolf Creek Elementary is to give and receive welcome.

“When our new superintendent first walked into Wolf Creek, he said that he noticed that he felt welcome,” said Jeannine. “I must say, my staff is really welcoming.”

Another important touchstone for Jeannine is about being present as fully as possible.

“I have twenty-million things to do as a principal,” she said. “I remember one day having six people walk up and start talking to me all at once. I felt myself glaze over. I couldn’t take in any of it—and they didn’t even realize they were all coming at me at once because they each have so much happening. But I work at being able to take time with each individual to be fully present.”

We never leave being a teacher. It’s 24/7. Spending time with your soul, with yourself, is so important. That’s what Courage to Teach offers. It helps you become your authentic self and that’s what the world needs. That’s who you were made to be. That’s your gift to the world indeed!”

Visit the WoLakota Project’s website to learn more about this incredible project and its impacts.

P.S. When you support the Center for Courage & Renewal you support programs like the WoLakota Project that are making a long-lasting positive change. Thank you!

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WoLakota Stories: Bringing Spirit & Pride to Standing Rock Reservation

Editor’s note: This is DAY FOUR of a special week-long series about a local Courage to Teach program called the WoLakota Project — a partnership with the South Dakota Department of EducationTechnology & Innovation in Education (TIE), and South Dakota Elders. In this story, you’ll meet Ira Taken Alive who helped facilitate portions of the Courage to Teach retreats. The connection he made with LeeVi Story, a teacher at the first retreat led to a friendship, rippled out to help cheerleaders find friendship and pride in themselves and their community.

Missed DAY ONE’s blog? Click here to get the background of the WoLakota Project.
Missed DAY TWO’s blog? Click to read the inspiring story of one teacher’s renewal.
Missed DAY THREE’s blog? Click to read about Newell’s cheer coach, LeeVi Story.

The winning moment

Bringing More Spirit to School

Ira Taken AliveIra Taken Alive is a Lakota Sioux who grew up on the Standing Rock reservation in the town of McLaughlin. A newly elected school board member, he has been volunteering at school for years. Ira has a big heart for the students in his hometown and is dedicated to helping them create pride in themselves and their community.

“Our kids struggle with low self worth and low self esteem due to socio-economic challenges. Ours is 7th poorest county in the U.S. according to the census,” said Ira. “Our kids don’t get much experience outside their realm. All that takes a toll on their self esteem and self worth. That results in low school spirit.”

Boosting student morale is why Ira was starting a cheer team at McLaughlin High School, teaming up with teacher/coach Lauren Doust. A few years before that, Ira had already served as volunteer pep club coach, and by 2014 he wanted to take it up a notch.

“Pep club without a cheer team is like band without instruments,” Ira said.

Around the same time Ira was nominated to participate in the WoLakota Project due to his work with the tribal education department.

Ira helped Courage & Renewal facilitators Scott Simpson and Sharla Steever facilitate the Courage to Teach retreats. He helped develop themes for the retreats from a Native American perspective. Ira’s father, Jesse, and grandmother, Delores, are two of the elders featured in the WoLakota video series. (See the WoLakota story.)

At the first Courage to Teach retreat in the fall of 2014, Ira said during introductions that he was starting a cheer team at his local high school. LeeVi Story, one of the teachers at the retreat had started a cheer team at Newell School, the K-12 school in that small farming town. Because she knew just what he was facing, LeeVi offered to help Ira. (See LeeVi’s story.)

LeeVi Story

LeeVi met Ira at the first Courage to Teach retreat.

“LeeVi was wonderful,” Ira said. “LeeVi’s support gave me extra confidence to pursue the actual chore of establishing the program. She had her binder full of rules and cheers and practice logs at the retreat and shared it with me.”

Then LeeVi’s team made hair bows for McLaughlin’s cheer team as gift, and wrote them a five-page letter about the challenges they faced as a new team, the perseverance needed to continue, the discipline required for good grades, good rest, eating right and having a practice regimen.

“There we were, in the midst of no funding,” Ira continued. “LeeVi bolstered my confidence to approach school board and administration for more financial support so the girls could have uniforms, pompoms and bus transportation to games. The connection that my girls felt from LeeVi’s team was phenomenal. It kept the girls going.”

Friendship blossomed between the two cheer teams. They continued exchanging letters through their coaches. Ira’s team drove 70 miles to finally be able to meet LeeVi’s team in person at a post-season tournament.

It was a great day when the cheer teams from McLaughlin and Newell finally met in person.

The cheer teams from McLaughlin and Newell finally met in person.

“At the start of the season, we set a goal that if the girl’s basketball team made it to State that we’d want to be so well-versed at cheering that we stood a chance to win the coveted Spirit of Six award,” said Ira. It’s an annual award given to cheer teams in memory of six cheerleaders who died in a plane crash on their way to a state basketball tournament. Those six girls had embodied good sportsmanship, positivity, and respect.

“By the time of the State championships, my girls felt ready. You don’t know who’s judging you — it’s anonymous,” said Ira. “Judges can follow you to the hotel, restaurants, in rafters of the arena, sitting across the way. I reminded my girls to smile, laugh, and have fun. They had so much fun. Those girls rarely get to leave the reservation — it was a good experience for the whole team to see sights and sounds of the statewide event. It was some of the largest crowds ever with 2,000 people watching! Live TV, too!”

The award was announced during halftime on the third day of the State championships. LeeVi and her team were in the stands, and McLaughlin’s team of five girls were on the floor with other teams awaiting the news.

“I was so nervous I couldn’t breathe or think straight,” Ira said, “Our girls were so nervous, too, rightfully so. I was recording on my phone when I heard we won. The girls go screaming onto the floor! My phone goes flying out of my hands, still recording. It was the most exciting, thrilling proud moment of my life!

“As a coach you want the best for your students. It was the capstone of a good challenging year—learning patience, determination, and perseverance. It was the epitome of a reward for hard work.

The winning moment!

A photo of their winning moment (above), captured on camera by a McLaughlin teacher, Carissa Aberle, went on the front page of their rival town’s newspaper.

I can’t even find words to describe the importance of the cheer team winning. ‘Amazing’ doesn’t do it justice. It was amazing to expose our five girls to that caliber of recognition and accomplishment, but also because our entire community doesn’t often get positive coverage in the news.

“Despite their hard work, our students face a lot of challenges in their home lives and academic lives. I grew up in McLaughlin and because I’m native and know our students, I can say we’re considered second-class citizens in the media and in communities off reservation. The only media coverage is when a Native American gets into trouble or there is a crisis on the reservation. There is a misconception that only bad things are worth covering.

“So our kids feel that and are treated as such by racist behaviors and discriminatory practices,” explained Ira. “Add to all that, many kids come from homes below poverty level. Smart-phones and satellite TV are something they only dream of. We can get down on ourselves about how bad things are.”

“The kids had never seen anything positive in the media — so to be on front page was so amazing!said Ira. “Months later, people in the community still thank the girls for making them feel so proud.

“I give a lot of credit to Courage to Teach and the WoLakota Project to help create that experience for our girls.”

Winning on Many Levels

Winning the award was only one great outcome. Participating on the cheer team led to friendships, newfound confidence and self esteem, improved grades, and motivation to finish high school.

“Last year we struggled to find five girls, and this school year we have 10 girls,” said Ira. “We’re looking forward to building our team through hard work, perseverance, and being proud of community. That’s my goal — to make people proud of community.

“I grew up on the reservation, went away to college, worked in Congress. I was gone but I thought of McLaughlin every day, the beauty of the place, the friendliness of the people. Being proud of where you come from despite what the media thinks is important. We have to believe ourselves that we are top-notch world class.

“We have people from McLaughlin who have gone on to become doctors and Ivy League graduates. Yes, we have challenges, but we also have family and supportive community.”

Thanks for Courage to Teach

“All this was born from conversation at WoLakota Courage to Teach!” said Ira. “If it wasn’t for LeeVi and me having that initial conversation, I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to go through hard work and heavy lifting to get the program going. She was there. There was even a chance I would not have persisted to make it through the weather. But I did! Our experience was certainly a positive impact.”

It was amazing to be involved in Courage to Teach,” said Ira. “My facilitation was to introduce a few themes during each retreat, bringing in local cultural perspectives. For example, I introduced views of climate from local ranchers, farmers views and Sioux beliefs about climate and moon cycles; finding ourselves and balance, drawing on our inner strengths, reflecting on challenges, using the challenges to motivate us, drawing on Lakota Sioux concepts.

“I looked forward to every retreat — to the camaraderie with devoted educators. These educators have dedicated their lives to kids.

“It was great to see the teachers find solace and personal skill sets to make it through the daily rigors of managing classrooms and teaching students within parameters of prescribed coursework, but also through the lack of daylight and tough winters of South Dakota. To juggle all that in a peaceful way and way that isn’t foreign to us, to tie all that together, was so uplifting for the group and individually.”

Ira said, “Being part of the WoLakota Courage to Teach retreat series was an inspiration to me. Once you enter that circle with comrades, brethren, it’s so bonding. The bond becomes greater with each circle, in each exercise, sharing elements of your profession and personal life in a safe, trusting environment — which is the circle — really bonds you. Even with the great distances between participants, we feel very bonded. That turned into circles of support afterward. The cohort felt that power and energy.

Learning to center our energies in that retreat laid the groundwork to understand challenges, talk about fears and address solutions,” said Ira.

Visit the WoLakota Project’s website to learn more about this incredible project and its impacts.

P.S. When you support the Center for Courage & Renewal you support programs like the WoLakota Project that are making a long-lasting positive change.


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WoLakota Stories: Cheerleaders Unite to Bring Kindness & Spirit to their Communities

Editor’s note: This story is part of our series profiling teachers in a local Courage to Teach program called the WoLakota Project — a partnership with the South Dakota Department of Education, Technology & Innovation in Education (TIE), and South Dakota Elders. The WoLakota Project’s goal is to improve new teacher retention and help teachers integrate Native American wisdom into all schools in South Dakota. LeeVi Story was in the second cohort of WoLakota teachers during the 2014-2015 school year. Her passion for teaching her cheer team how to lead with kindness rippled into a story of young people seeing the power of love and understanding.

Missed DAY ONE’s blog? Click here to get the background of the WoLakota Project.

Missed DAY TWO’S blog? Click to read the inspiring story of one teacher’s renewal.

Two teams of cheerleaders are breaking down barriers by leading with kindness and authenticity.

Be the Change You Want to See

“I want my girls to believe in themselves and see that they are part of change,” said LeeVi Story, a middle school teacher and cheer team coach in a remote South Dakota farming town called Newell.

Now, many students now believe in themselves and each other! It all started when LeeVi attended a Courage to Teach retreat as part of the WoLakota Project, which helped her envision the change that was possible.

“In the Courage to Teach circle, I did enough reflection to come up with these goals and know that’s exactly what I want for this program and my kids,” said LeeVi.

Her goal? To have cheerleaders be the catalyst for a new sense of spirit and pride amongst the Newell community.

Like in many small towns in South Dakota, people in Newell are wrestling with alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty and unemployment. It’s hard to be positive in those conditions – and it shows. But unlike the reservation where LeeVi grew up, people in Newell didn’t have the same kind of supportive community.


LeeVi Story

LeeVi grew up in another South Dakota town near the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations. Her mother and grandmothers were dedicated teachers in those communities. She saw firsthand how a school could be the heart of the community, even in the midst of despair and discouragement.

“Where I’m from, everybody goes to games whether you have a kid out there or not, and you have pride, even at the grocery store talking about the game or wearing school colors. But at Newell, hardly anybody showed up, there was no student section. Games were too quiet.”

LeeVi said to herself, “This has got to change!” So the day she was hired to teach at Newell School, she asked if she could start a cheer team. She’d been a cheerleader. “It’s part of who I am,” she said. The athletic director laughed in her face. He didn’t think she could do it.

Over the next 18 months, LeeVi recruited three then 12 then 20 students to join the cheer team. They withstood mockery and harassment from the athletes and other students, but eventually the tide turned. More fans started coming to games, getting louder, even when the team wasn’t winning.

Be the change you want to see. My girls refer to that quote a lot,” said LeeVi. “If we want to make the school a positive place, we have to be positive. It starts with us. ‘Being the nicest girls in school’ sums it up, and being there for every person. My girls know that. And they’re coaching each other.”

Be the change you want to see. But how, when the odds are stacked so high against you? How do you create change in a big way? You start with small ways, like practicing how to be kind.

LeeVi learned “how” at the Courage to Teach retreats as part of the WoLakota Project. (The word “WoLakota” implies balance and coming together.) Kindness starts with understanding each other as human beings.

“From getting to know the experienced teacher-mentors at Courage to Teach, I learned I wasn’t alone. I could ask for help and I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said LeeVi.

“Teaching is hard. All we have is each other. If we don’t help each other out, who will? From the Courage to Teach circle, that’s what I came away with. We have to be there for each other.”

LeeVi wanted her cheer team to have that experience of supportive community, too.

The Newell cheerleaders pose for a photo with LeeVi (in blue).

LeeVi introduced weekly “circle time” to create the safe space where her students could listen to each other’s stories. The girls are invited to share what’s going on, whether that’s about family, or math, or anything, good or bad. The Courage touchstone of “no fixing, saving or advising,” is a tough but helpful concept for adolescent girls. It helped LeeVi’s cheerleaders focus on their goal to be there for everyone, to be the kindest girls in school.

It helps to remember we’re all human beings with things going on,” said LeeVi.

When you’re sharing and people are listening, it takes you to a whole new level. The girls who are returning to the cheer team have expressed to the younger girls that this team is family,” said LeeVi. “And that’s what I think of my Courage to Teach circle; they’re family. There are hugs and tears after not seeing each other after a few months.”

Reaching Out to Share Support

At the first Courage to Teach retreat, LeeVi met Ira Taken Alive. Ira was starting a cheer team at McLaughlin School on the Standing Rock reservation where he volunteers and is on the school board. The two stayed up into the wee hours, sharing their struggles and hopes, talking about how LeeVi’s team might help.

When LeeVi got home and told her cheerleaders about the girls at McLaughlin forming a cheer team too, the Newell girls decided not to be rivals, but to offer support and friendship.

“I wanted my girls to know that others are in the same boat, as frustrated and upset but motivated by the same dream,” said LeeVi.

In solidarity, the girls sent the McLaughlin team a school spirit care package along with a five-page letter full of ideas, suggestions and encouragement. They shared all that they’d been doing as a team to grow school spirit and to grow as a team, including the Courage Circle practices.

“Students showing thoughtfulness, kindness and empathy to another group is exactly what we should see youth doing in a world of competition,” said LeeVI. “It was the ultimate awesome!”

One thing led to another. The young women communicated through the coaches, relaying messages through Ira and LeeVi. The schools are a district apart and three hours away. Eventually their teams won the right games, giving the cheerleaders a chance to meet at a game.

“There are no words for that! It was so cool to see the hugs and love,” said LeeVi. “They instantly knew each other. The McLaughlin girls sat in our front row and cheered for our school.


The McLaughlin cheerleaders. Photo courtesy of Carissa Aberle.

“So we reciprocated, watching the brackets so we could go to a McLaughlin game. I told my superintendent, ‘This sounds really weird, but we need a school vehicle to go to this game.’ He said yes. I was excited the whole time!”

“Remember, McLaughlin is a reservation community. Basketball is life and death,” said LeeVi. “Everyone in the town would be there. My girls were speechless to see how many people were there cheering, a deafening sound. We sat in McLaughlin’s student section.”

“Is it like this every time?” asked the girls. “We have to do this at Newell. This is our new goal!”

“It came full circle,” said LeeVi. “We were mentoring them, but then saw that what they had is what we wanted. It was such an incredible experience!”

“Just a little bit of kindness, empathy, thinking, reaching out. It only took an hour of our time at first. That’s what helped push them forward, Ira told me.”

By the end of the season, the McLaughlin cheerleaders and basketball team made it to the state tournament, where the cheer team won the Spirit of Six award. “It’s the ultimate thing!” said LeeVi excitedly. “We felt like we won it, too. We were all celebrating.”

When the Newell students connected heart to heart with the cheer team from McLaughlin, it opened their eyes to the incredible community, resiliency and courage of people from the Standing Rock reservation.

Takeaways from Courage to Teach

The heartwarming friendship between Newell and McLaughlin cheerleaders is one visible outcome, but LeeVi had many takeaways. One benefit includes the “crazy bond” between the six teachers and principal who attended her Courage to Teach series. Even though they work in different areas, there is a feeling of being able to ask for help on anything.

The other big benefit was learning to practice self-care.

catalyst-oct15-leevistory-nocaption“I want to be there for every single person. That’s the caring, heart and compassionate part of being a teacher,” said LeeVi. “But I had 90 students in my classes plus teachers and administrators, and my husband. You want to do all you can, and there’s just not enough time in the day.

“I’m reminding myself to take time for myself. I’ve really made it a point to do that. I totally credit that 100% to Courage to Teach. A year ago I would not have given time for myself. If I’m not ready mentally or physically, it’s pretty hard. I can’t teach the best parts of me if the best parts of me are not the best.

“Teaching here is tough but rewarding. You’re here for them. You’re in it for the long haul, knowing that not leaving is your own pat on the back. I’m in this. I’m such a young leader, but I love it. I love a challenge. We all love what we do. The work we did through WoLakota and the Courage to Teach retreats… I don’t know if I would have the same outlook if I had not done that.

“Going through CTT is a gift that you get to use forever. Once you come away from the circle, you know how to help yourself. You have it as a resource forever. It would be so cool to give this gift to more teachers.”

Visit the WoLakota Project’s website to learn more about this incredible project and its impacts.

P.S. When you support the Center for Courage & Renewal you support programs like the WoLakota Project that are making a long-lasting positive change.

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WoLakota Stories: Renewed Courage for a Teacher Who Was Ready to Quit


Editor’s note: This is DAY TWO of a special week-long series profiling teachers in a local Courage to Teach program called the WoLakota Project — a partnership with the South Dakota Department of Education, Technology & Innovation in Education (TIE), and South Dakota Elders. The WoLakota Project’s goal is to improve new teacher retention and help teachers integrate Native American wisdom into all schools in South Dakota. Olivia was in the first cohort of WoLakota teachers during the 2013-2014 school year. As a teacher, Olivia exemplifies the values of Courage & Renewal: love, courage and hope, just to name a few.
Missed DAY ONE’s blog? Click here to get the background of the WoLakota Project.

Keeping Good Teachers in Hard Places

Let us put our minds together and see what kind of life we can make for our children.
—Sitting Bull, Tatanka Yotanka

“I’m doing a terrible job. It’s not good for my kids or for me,” said teacher Olivia Olson.

Olivia was going to quit. It was her first semester teaching at the McLaughlin School on the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota. A Teach for America assignment, she landed in the only opening: teaching writing in middle school. It wasn’t her best strength as a teacher.

Olivia felt out of her element in class and she was overwhelmed by the heartbreaking realities all around her. Reservation life was tough, teachers were leaving and students were dropping out at alarming rates.


Olivia Olson

Then Olivia went through the yearlong WoLakota Project. Now Olivia is feeling excited about teaching and able to be the kind of teacher who helps her students on many levels.

“By mid-year I was able to transfer into teaching high school literature and I loved it. This is why I teach,” Olivia said.

Switching her job assignment made a big difference, but Olivia knew something deeper had brought her to the verge of quitting.

“So during the retreats, I reflected on what had gone wrong personally. I saw that I was not taking time to take care of myself and how hard it was being out of my element. So I spent time during Courage to Teach trying to make sure that never happened again. My kids deserve amazing teachers.”

Becoming an Amazing Teacher

In a state like South Dakota that has a large American Indian population, it’s especially vital that non-native teachers understand the cultural reality of their students. One way they’re doing this is by integrating the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings into classes, delivered as videos of Lakota elders to convey their wisdom. That gave Olivia a way to tie in the history of the Sioux Nation people with their reality of “now” and let her use literature, too, as a way to foster human growth.

“Acknowledging historical oppression and the very real impacts that are still being felt, that’s not a conversation we typically have,” said Olivia.

“Because we have a big picture that is grounded in the Essential Understandings, I can show kids why it’s important for me to ask them to work so hard. I can say ‘Here’s why am I asking you to talk about your feelings, which is connected to the story we’re reading.

“Most important to me, is how to approach teaching 15-16 year olds,” said Olivia. “It’s a terrifying age for Native Americans,” said Olivia. “Freshman year is the school year most teen suicides happen on reservations. The freshman class is also the largest because students will repeat it three times until they can legally drop out. And it’s a year many kids are expelled.”

Creating safe space for Native American students to share their feelings and reflect on their behaviors is crucial not only to their emotional and physical health, but their academic achievement, too.


Olivia presents to her class

Integrating the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings into school changed how Olivia teaches. Olivia also learned to use Courage & Renewal practices, like reflection, which she’s teaching to her students.

“Teaching kids who can’t regulate their own emotions is very hard. But now I am taking courage principles and connecting them to concepts of restorative justice.

“I can say, ‘Getting into a fight with someone who was rude to you is not worth what it costs long term. There are ways to take care of yourself, ways to communicate with other people to say what you need, so you don’t end up dropped out or dead. You are at stake and so is your future.’”

Helping kids reflect on their inner lives has caused a huge shift. Now Olivia can help her students step back from their negative behavior. She’ll say, ‘Take a moment and reflect on what you’re doing and why, where other people are coming from.”

The way Olivia is teaching is making a measurable difference. Some of her students wouldn’t write a sentence at the beginning of the school year. But by year-end, they were writing 800-word papers and their reading skills had jumped three grade levels.

When those astounding test scores came out, other teachers said to Olivia, “You must be doing something right with your students. What is it?”

“I’m loving them unconditionally,” Olivia replied.

Heartbreak and Hope

One day early in the school year, Olivia asked her students what they wanted to be when they grew up, and what they saw themselves doing when they were older. (“Isn’t that the same thing?” they asked.)

One boy said, “I want to be a doctor but I will probably end up working at Cenex because I’m not smart enough to go to college and there isn’t anywhere else to work.”


Main street in McLaughlin, SD

The reservation town doesn’t have many employment opportunities. There’s only the gas station and grocery store in McLaughlin, unless you count Family Dollar Store opening soon.

Not long after that talk, the same boy asked if he could be on Student Council, which didn’t have any freshman representatives. Olivia was the teacher advisor and said she’d welcome him but first he’d have to meet the criteria.

“All year he worked so hard to be academically qualified and not get into trouble. Before, he had no idea he was being disruptive, but with the courage practice of self-reflection he was able to recognize when he was about to get into trouble. He was doing amazingly well all year. For a kid who didn’t expect to even graduate, he was passing all of his classes, had not been suspended, and was working so hard to do something positive.

“The boy’s home life was really rough, which is not an excuse, just a reality,” said Olivia. “His behavior changed drastically overnight. Something had happened at home but we never knew exactly what. He started to give up and let himself get into trouble.”

He told Olivia, “Why do I have to work so hard if it doesn’t mean anything? It’s better to not even try.”

Olivia was heartbroken and encouraged him as much as she could.

“He pulled it together the last few weeks of school, but he’d undone most of his good work. He sees himself as a failure now. As the year ended, all he could see is that he’ll be a freshman for the third time. He’s on the brink of giving up and not sure he’ll return to school.”

Olivia is hoping he’ll make the choice to come back. The only thing she can control right now is that she is coming back, determined to help her students dream big about their lives and reach their full potential.

What Sustains This Teacher’s Heart?


Olivia is excited to keep teaching!

“I spend every day looking for good things. Most days are really hard, so I have a ‘joy jar’ in my classroom. Every day I’d write something down and put it in the jar. Then I’d read them out loud to the class.

During the year, her 90 kids added their “joy” notes to the jar, too. Things like, “My mom bought me candy today.” Or “My boyfriend makes me happy.”

At first Olivia had to take out smart-aleck notes, like “My marijuana gave me joy.” But by the end of the year her students were going through the jar themselves, making sure only authentic joys were inside.

“I am going to look at good things and teach kids to look at good things, reflect on it and see how they can push back on negative processes.”

Boosting School Spirit

Bringing a positive outlook to students on the Standing Rock reservation is not a small thing. Hope, spirit and pride make a difference. Going to games and cheering for other students is important – it builds a more supportive community.

Ira Taken Alive and another teacher had started a cheerleading team for high school and a pep club for sixth grade boys and girls. (Tune in tomorrow for that story.) After the first year, Olivia took over as faculty advisor for pep club.

“Before pep club, lots of sixth-grade boys got in trouble, but now they get involved because we have something to connect to and unite in,” said Olivia. “Our mission is to make it a school that people have good things to say about. Pep club has done a lot for school pride and culture.”

Olivia is committed to doing what it takes to make her student’s lives better, but it’s exhausting.

“That meant going to all the games, sitting with the kids, cheering,” she said, “which is really draining. But it’s worth it because pep club makes a difference. The pep club showed up for volleyball games and the team won regionals, which doesn’t usually happen.”

And now, thanks to Courage to Teach, Olivia makes sure to take care of herself, too.

IMG_20150603_172226“I take time for myself which I wouldn’t have done before Courage to Teach. I make time to think while I read or knit, rather than trying to make a PowerPoint completely perfect. I take care of myself so I can do right by my kids.

“I’m excited about teaching this year. I love teaching!”

Where did these great ripples begin?

What’s happening in South Dakota with the WoLakota Courage to Teach project is happening because of the creative work and commitment of amazing Courage & Renewal facilitators, Sharla Steever and Scott Simpson. See their story here.

Visit the WoLakota Project’s website to learn more about this incredible project and its impacts.

P.S. When you support the Center for Courage & Renewal you support programs like the WoLakota Project that are making a long-lasting positive change.

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WoLakota Stories: Facilitators Nurturing Community, Courage and Cultural Awareness

New WoLakota LogoEditor’s note: This is DAY ONE of a special week-long series profiling teachers in a local Courage to Teach program called the WoLakota Project — a partnership with the South Dakota Department of Education, Technology & Innovation in Education (TIE), and South Dakota Elders. The WoLakota Project’s goal is to improve new teacher retention and help teachers integrate Native American wisdom into all schools in South Dakota.
Stay tuned to the blog all this week for more stories of WoLakota!

The New Teacher Crisis in South Dakota

Distressed by cultural difference and overwhelmed by the anguish in the surrounding community, many new teachers in South Dakota were dropping out after their first year. Some schools had new teacher turnover rates as high as 100%.

The reality is that a large number of new teachers are assigned to high-needs schools on reservations, often through Teach for America. They come in excited to make positive changes, but they feel like failures immediately because the native communities are so different from the non-native places where they grew up. It feels like they’re not connecting.

The new teachers lose hope in these difficult environments shaped by high poverty, alcoholism and drug abuse. And students, despairing of their prospects in life, are dropping out at alarming rates. South Dakota teachers are paid the lowest teaching wages in the nation.

But in Courage to Teach Circles as part of the WoLakota Project, teachers are now building community spirit and robust networks of support to help them stay committed to their challenging work for the long haul.

“Of the fifty teachers we’ve supported, all remained in their schools for another year,” said Scott Simpson and Sharla Steever, the Courage & Renewal facilitators who designed and led the WoLakota Courage to Teach program.

Scott Simpson and Sharla Steever

When TIE, the organization where Scott and Sharla work, was invited to direct the WoLakota Project, the two facilitators knew immediately that Courage to Teach would be the underlying pedagogy for the program.

“The Courage approach has shaped all of the work that Sharla and I do,” said Scott “It is the model we used to build a supportive community for teachers.”

WoLakota’s Mission

The WoLakota Project was designed to tackle two specific issues South Dakota’s schools were facing.

First, the WoLakota Project seeks to improve new teacher retention by creating networks of support for educators.

To do this, Scott and Sharla paired new teachers with experienced teacher-mentors who could support and instruct them as they navigated their new jobs. Fifty teachers and principals from across the state also attended the Courage to Teach retreat series. At the retreats, carefully facilitated Circles of Trust created the safe space for educators to share their stories, relate their challenges and learn together.

“Creating Circles of Trust and utilizing the Touchstones helped us create a place where we can move toward deeper understanding of each other, of ourselves, and of culture,” said Scott.

“I think these schools in particular that we are supporting are just stressed to the max,” said Sharla. “They have a lot of requirements… accountabilities…so some teachers lose sight of why they went into teaching in the first place. And I think when they are given the space to reflect on what it means to be a teacher, to ask ‘What am I doing well, what can I work on, what is it I need to be looking at in both my professional and personal life?’—I think they get that love for teaching back.”

Second, the WoLakota Project aims to support cultural consciousness by helping teachers bring the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings (OSEU) into classroom practice.


The OSEU is a cultural framework developed in 2011 through a collaborative dialogue between Native American Elders and South Dakota educators. It’s intended to raise consciousness about cultural diversity, helping educators appreciate and respect cultural differences that will empower Native American students and close the achievement gap. Also, the OSEU address the achievement gap of American Indian students by embracing their identity.

To help teachers integrate the OSEU, Scott and Sharla undertook a major effort to catalog and disseminate the wisdom of tribal elders. The elders trusted the facilitators to convey their wisdom in a respectful, authentic way. That’s vital in light of a long history of untrustworthy relationship with non-native people.

Almost 100 videos interviews with Dakota, Lakota and Nakota elders have been recorded and are being used in the Courage to Teach retreats and in classrooms across South Dakota. “I would say in the hundreds—nearing a thousand people—have been engaged in one way or another with these elder videos as facilitated by us in a very Courage-informed way,” said Scott. In the next year they plan to double the number of videos.

The Impact of Courage to Teach Circles

““The elders created the classroom content for us with the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings. And what the Courage Work has brought is “essential ways of being”  that enable us to grow in understanding, to build community, to deepen our knowledge of culture, and to interact with each other in positive, culturally responsive ways,” Scott and Sharla said.

The fifty educators who participated in the Courage to Teach retreats have reported amazing changes—in their inner lives, as in their commitment to teaching, and also in their outer lives, as in the ways the instruct and encourage their students.

In one instance, a new teacher on the Standing Rock Reservation named Olivia Olson came back from the verge of quitting. She attributes her newfound resilience to the WoLakota Courage to Teach program she participated in during the 2013-2014 school year. Courage to Teach helped Olivia learn practices of reflective self-care.

“I take time for myself now, which I wouldn’t have done before Courage to Teach,” Olivia said. “I take care of myself so I can do right by my students.” And beyond revitalizing her own courage, the Courage practices have also been immensely helpful for Olivia’s students. She’s teaching her kids how to reflect on their behaviors, how to embrace their cultural identities and how to pursue their goals with confidence. All of this came out of her time at Courage to Teach. (Tune in tomorrow for more of Olivia’s story!)

And Olivia’s story isn’t unique. Every teacher who went through the Courage to Teach Circles returned to their schools another year. And the teachings of Courage & Renewal are rippling through South Dakota, from teachers to students to families to the wider community.


At the heart of this remarkable change is the Circle of Trust approach. Through the circles, people are modeling how to listen carefully to each other, how to stay connected to their inner lives and how to express their own authenticity. Scott explained, “The circles are helpful as a neutral place for people from various backgrounds to come together and interact in those honoring and respectful ways.”

The WoLakota Project is laying the groundwork for long-lasting change in South Dakota.

Because of WoLakota, teachers are staying committed, learning to interact in culturally responsive ways, and helping their communities connect and thrive.

Scott said, “They’re discovering that they can be fully who they are and that this is the best way to be, the only way to be.”

Visit the WoLakota Project’s website to learn more about this incredible project and its impacts.

P.S. When you support the Center for Courage & Renewal you support programs like the WoLakota Project that are making a long-lasting positive change.

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Re-calibrating Your Teacher’s Heart

I’m not a big fan of going back to school. After months away from kids, I sometimes forget the gifts of my vocation and start to think that napping on the couch would be a really good way to spend the fall.

But, today it happened. I clicked into gear. This kid (who was a stranger to me), Tamir, was doing tricks on his bike. He rode straight at me then dismounted in a fullspeed run, telling me the brakes weren’t working. I said, “Whoa, wow, look at you!” Then he did it again just to see if he could get even closer to my parked scooter (which he did) – big, old smile on his face like he had slayed a dragon or climbed Everest.

I said, “You’ve got to be careful, I don’t want you to get hurt.” He nodded, and I said it again, feeling maternal and committed, as if this kid were my kid.


Tamir followed me as I started to ride home from church on my scooter. “You like boxing?” I nodded. “You know Willie Nelson, the boxer? He’s my cousin.” I said wow or cool or something like that. “And Shaquille O’Neal, he’s my cousin too.” I swear, if we had had more time, he would have told me his whole life story. When I asked for his picture, Tamir posed.

Then I got it – there are just two things all kids want from teachers: a chance to show us what they can do and receptive listening. That’s it.

If I prove a willingness to give them those two things – honor and an ear – they will risk life and limb for me. They will learn until their heads explode.

Last year, I attended a Courage to Teach retreat in Northeast Ohio. One session was in the fall, and the second was in early spring. It was the first time, in my thirty-year career, that I had ever been encouraged to think about how to feed my soul to become a revived and renewed teacher. I knew I had gifts and skills that lend themselves to being a strong teacher, and I have always felt a sacred call to my profession, but I had never spent time cultivating and waiting for wisdom in such a purposeful way. My vocation and my spirit had finally been invited to ride down the same bike path together.

edelman-quoteI loved that I was in a room with other teachers from varied places and situations, each with their own stressors, and we were called to put the circumstances of our lives to the side – let them rest a while – as we entered a circle of trust. Through poetry, art, silence, fellowship, I felt myself somehow becoming more composed and energized at the same time. I was hearing more deeply, I was speaking more truthfully. I felt myself crack open to my strength, conviction and compassion. The person I had lost, found me again.

Participating in a Clearness Committee forever transformed the way I interact with people. I ask questions without answers, I wait patiently and confidently for insight to be revealed, I turn to wonder instead of assumption.

In the end, I was changed. Calm, I edged toward the future. Soft and sure, I grew more accessible, more attentive. Still and quiet, I could finally listen my inner voice. She had a lot to say. About living, about loving, about teaching, too.

How was this all made possible? My retreat companions saw me. Let me skid right into the circle just as I was. Then they asked questions, attended to my words and feelings with intention. Just like today with Tamir, I received honor and an ear. More like seventy-six ears to be exact. And it was magical.

courage-to-teach-booksSo thank you, Courage to Teach leaders, Tony and Lisa, and all of my circle mates. You recalibrated my heart for this year’s work. And thank you, Tamir, for today. You returned me to that work in the right frame of mind..

I know, Tamir, that school starts in a couple weeks, September 8th. I hope your teacher is your champion and friend. Until then, be careful, sweet kid. Be careful.

And I suspect, retreat friends, you have already headed back into your classrooms for preparations and the beginning of the new year. Be careful with your souls, sweet ones. Make sure your spirit comes with you when this school year starts. Doing so will change the way you teach.

Calendarorange200x200P.S. Are you looking to recalibrate your teacher’s heart too? The next Courage to Teach retreat in Northeastern Ohio is being offered November 13-15, 2015. Facilitator Tony Vento will return to lead this retreat. Click here for information:


jean-reinholdABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jean Reinhold is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Coordinator, Enrichment Teacher, and Mediation Coordinator at Fernway School in Shaker Height, Ohio. She is also an avid artist and writer. You can read her at her blog, Common Graces, at

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The Courage to Accept and Love Others In Spite of Our Fears


The past several days I have been in retreat with my colleagues and leadership of the Center for Courage & Renewal. Hence, no internet access.

It is a discipline to unplug and be out of touch. As difficult as it is to disconnect from the voices of our every day, this simple act of self-care brings rest and renewal to one’s soul. Being in retreat allows us to deeply reconnect to ourselves. Making whole of that which is tired, fractured, and separated. In retreat I am reunited with my soul and with the values that I know I cannot live without as they are core to who I am as a Human Being.

Parker Palmer, writer, educator, activist, and Founder of The Center for Courage and Renewal, and someone I consider as my mentor, teacher and friend, wrote:

“I want my inner truth to be the plumb line for the choices I make about my life —about the work that I do and how I do it, about the relationships I enter into and how I conduct them.”

I am reminded that while I have been “away,” rivers still flow, tides change, and life moves on.

As I reconnect with the happenings of my family and global news I sit in wonder of the precious gifts of love and life. I am reminded of my parental, civic, and human responsibilities. I am more acutely aware of the systems that we put into place that support inequality and hate, and promote delusion and denial of the very realities that destroy the fabric of our lives and the future of our communities and nation.

There are many conversations that we need to have and actions awaiting our full attention and resources.

gun-in-drawerWe shy away from engaging in such discourse because life is already tough and we believe those issues have a very small likelihood of touching us or those closest to us. Those conversations become buried in the same drawer where someone keeps their gun, their hate, their secrets, their deepest pain. To approach something untouchable and scary takes a great deal of courage.

It sometimes means putting all of ourselves out on the line for everyone to see, to comment on, and even to judge. This is more reality and difficulty then we can stomach in a daydays where so many are already stressed and exhausted.

And still, my mind imagines our future, if in fact we continue to walk this burdened path. I think of my children and their children. And in the back of my mind I worry that the hate or the delusions of another might in some way harm them, or worse… I cannot even bring myself to name it, as I have watched the suffering of too many families as they grieve.

Even with this deep understanding I am still vulnerable to my own secret fears that I keep hidden in my drawer. This past year I had to examine one of my anxieties, one that I recognized was turning into something morea prejudiced view that I could not easily shake.

My youngest daughter had graduated college and accepted a fellowship working for educational justice. She would live and work in West Philadelphia with seven other fellows. I was initially excited for her and clearly remember the day I first visited her at the row house the fellows called home.

muslim-women-in-burqasAs I drove into the neighborhood I was stunned by the sight of several women wearing full black burqas, Hallel Markets with signs in Arabic on each of the street corners and a large Mosque dominating the streetscape mid-block. As I parked my car I could hear the call to prayer and watched men of all ages walking in to worship. I recall  a tightening in my chest. I could not believe that this is where my Jewish child was going to be living for a year.

I had to quickly decide how or if I was going to address my concerns with my daughter. I knew which drawer the fear was coming fromit was both ancient and contemporary, a distrust ingrained in me, and one I fought most my life. And here it was again, staring at me. I felt I had to sternly address myself, in that moment, standing on the street corner in front of my daughters residence.

I knew I had a choice: I could uphold my integrity by holding the dignity of others as closely as I hold my own, or I could continue to hide my weapons in a drawer. On that sunny morning I took a deep breath, sharing the same air as everyone in this community and chose to drop my weapon.

I recognize that each of us owns a weapon. I am not only speaking of the physical weapons like guns, knives. I am thinking of the emotional weapons that we hurl at anotherthe weapons of our biases, the weapons of hate, inequality, superiority, abuse of power and exclusion. The weapons of withholding empathy, compassion, kindness, respect and love.

The United States has made several big steps toward regaining our humanity, thanks to our Supreme Court. We still have a long road to walk to being fully humanto be accepting, caring and loving of all of who are of the Human Race. It is after all, the one designation that we all equally share.

I hope that we have the Courage to reconnect with our human values and create the deserved and imperative gift of Safe Space, so necessary to our Human Race to thrive.

I question, what more will it take for ALL of us to make a pledge to uphold our humanity, for the sake of our families and our communities? I sit in wonder and prayer as I march along the gritty path of change, all the while knowing that it has to begin with me.


Lori-YadinABOUT THE AUTHOR | Lori Yadin a certified executive and life coach, an experiential educator, a facilitator in preparation with the Center for Courage & Renewal, and founder of Creating Safe Space. She has thirty years of experience helping individuals, teams and organizations achieve human potential, reach personal and professional goals, and maintain clear vision in line with values necessary for sustained success and living a contented and balanced life. 

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