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Coming Soon to Bookstores Near You!

I’m excited to announce that our next book from the Center for Courage & Renewal is being printed now and shipping to bookstores in a few weeks! The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity is a guide to leadership that shows how to access and draw upon courage in all that you do.

How do we equip and sustain ourselves to adapt and thrive in a world that feels so volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous? Having more courage might seem like an obvious answer, but it’s not always clear how to find and sustain the kind of courage you need on any given day.

Based on interviews with more than 120 people, The Courage Way illustrates how leaders have overcome personal and professional challenges and strengthened their organizations by applying the principles and practices of Courage & Renewal.

Check out the special website we created to spread the word about our new book. We will be adding reader resources, stories, and downloads.

Be Part of Our “Street Team!

  1. Get a sneak peek and share the sample chapter, including the Foreword by Parker J. Palmer.
  2. Share your favorite book quotes on social media.
  3.  Pre-order the book or ask your favorite local bookstore to stock it.

The book’s launch date is Tuesday, February 6th!  Stay tuned for more news as the date approaches.

 

To live into the future means to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize.
—Rollo May

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Fired Up About Social Justice and Self-Care in Community

What gets me fired up is how to better connect individual wellbeing, awareness, and self-care with community wellbeing, especially through methods that address and reverse social injustice. I greatly wanted to connect with other leaders who are interested in mobilizing these shared efforts. That’s why I applied to attend the Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists retreat.

In this retreat, I was hoping to find a sacred space to get curious about, lean into, and discover some things about the tensions I was facing in my work and as a mother of two kids under five. I hoped I might walk away with a few more tools, perspectives, or introspective insights that might aid me back in the day-to-day roles I have in leadership, activism, and education. I was hoping to connect to like-minded peers who were investing in rejoining soul and role, especially in the work of social change. Finally, I hoped to find some rest, renewal, and rejuvenation to carry me through a very intense year.

I have been to—and also led—many retreats, but the Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists turned out to be like no other. The whole experience was distinctive in so many ways. The rhythm of the daily agenda was slowed down to a pace that allowed us to become fully present to each focus of the day. Usually training, conference, or retreat agendas are so packed that you feel exhausted and not fully “complete” with each activity by the time you have to move on or the day is done. In this space, we had the time we needed to really dive into and be with the topics and people with a spaciousness that invited heart openings to occur.

Pause, Unplug and Explore Your Life’s Big Questions
Courage to Lead for Young Leaders & Activists

Next retreat begins
March 15-17, 2018
near Baltimore, MD

It was also clear the facilitators were well trained and experienced: their gentle touch and role modeling of what they asked of us made me feel safe and inspired. Their use of poetry and other mediums to invite us into different segments of the day brought us into another way of thinking and being that prompted creative thought, metaphors, and other imaginative ways to view ourselves and the “problem” at hand.

The unique approach of the Circle of Trust – listening, asking open and honest questions, meditating, and accessing the genuine within—made possible a different way of navigating the themes we engaged. The clearness committee was one of the most intense and most profound things I’ve participated in a very long time. I will never forget it.

Participating in this retreat immediately changed how I engaged with others in my life, professionally and personally. I was so deeply moved by the work we did that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and reflecting on how I could tangibly bring it into all of my daily interactions. Soon after I got home, I went into the mountains and wrote in my journal about the concrete actions I wanted to take – how to better reflect on and connect with my genuine voice within to navigate the challenges I face in my work and to negotiate conflicts.

I was able then to enter into a space with one of my employees where I could not only deeply listen to and care for the challenges she was facing, but also make myself more open and vulnerable with her than perhaps ever before, and was unafraid to share with her my own challenges, regrets, and hopes for how to strengthen our relationship. The effect was immediate and profound and has completely shifted our relationship and overall dynamics in our office.

I greatly appreciate the space the Courage to Lead retreat fostered for the insights to emerge that I needed to make both intimate shifts within and tangible shifts with others. I gained more than I could have ever imagined from the Courage to Lead program and feel gratitude from the depths of my heart and soul.

Tessa Hicks Peterson is Assistant Vice President for Community Engagement and Associate Professor of Urban Studies at Pitzer College, USA. For the last twenty years she has facilitated trainings and taught classes on anti-bias education, social justice, and community engagement. She is also the author of the newly released book, Student Development and Social Justice: Critical Learning, Radical Healing, and Community EngagementeBook and Hardcover Purchasing here!

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Bridging the Gap Between Immigrant Farmworkers and University Students

We are fortunate to have an Inner Life of Teaching & Leadership cohort at Cornell University, a circle of trust that meets monthly for faculty and staff. We have two cohorts at any one time – one year-long experience for new applicants and another into which participants can flow after that first year.

Mary Jo Dudley is the Director of the Cornell Farmworker Program. She has repeated many of our Inner Life of Teaching & Leadership experiences with students engaged in the program, and we recently got together to talk about how she weaves Circle of Trust principles and practices into her work. Here are Mary Jo’s words about the intersection between farmworkers and university students – and the ways in which the Circle of Trust Touchstones have been vital in forming a bridge.

~Marcia Eames-Sheavly, Courage & Renewal Facilitator

***

Many themes and challenges occur in the lives of the immigrant farmworker: imagine the challenge of not speaking English in a culture in which that is the dominant language; having a decreased ability to communicate with your employer as a result; being undocumented with heavy anti-immigrant sentiment and high risk of deportation; heavy debt and experiencing the anxiety of having to work many hours because everything one owns (homes, animals, land) were put up as collateral for the debt they incurred to come here, pushing oneself to earn enough to repay that debt or one will leave worse off when they came. And on it goes.

This creates an environment in which people try to remain in the shadows in every aspect of their life. And this has its own personal cost: people talk about starting to feel as if they are criminals, doing something wrong, must remain a secret, because if it came to light there would be repercussions.

So how do you help students to switch gears from their chemistry exams to listening to a low-literacy non-English speaker articulate their story and their hopes for the future?

Our work at Cornell is framed within the context of addressing the needs of farmworkers and their families.  A critical piece of that is having conversations with  and interviewing farmworkers one-on-one to understand their personal stories. We draw from these commonalities to inform materials developed to meet their critical needs. Farmworkers often note, “Why not just ask us what we think?” And so, we do.

The Cornell student body is smart and energetic, and students want to make a difference. And, they have ideas and preconceptions of who the farmworkers are. To create a baseline where we are starting from active listening – listening to what people say – I find that this is a challenge for all of us, not just students. Challenge: how do you teach students active listening?

I have begun to use the poetry from our Inner Life circles to ground the class before we begin. It changes the pace, from running from one thing to another, sinking us into a time of reflection to understand what it is we plan to do.

We work in teams but the students themselves have different perspectives and viewpoints, so to create a team, we must ask what are our points of agreement, our baseline? These are often individuals with different life experiences and different lenses. How do we create respectful communication? The Touchstones are so helpful for making and articulating points of agreement so we can call upon them when we slip out of them. This puts the emphasis on the touchstones – not pointing fingers at one another.

I recently had an experience of taking students to a detention center, so they can see what it looks like to be detained to await deportation. Students have different backgrounds – for example, one student was raised in an explicitly peaceful context and another came from a law enforcement family. The former felt the organization and the rules made the student terribly uncomfortable and for the latter – it was actually comforting and familiar. Another came from a setting with family members in concentration camps so you can imagine how that confinement raised huge personal issues.

How do you work with this, all these different lenses, how does this frame our work? In the face of all these tensions, how do we hold a respectful conversation with the leaders taking us through the detention center? How do we navigate this when we come with a different lens, and it might be in opposition?

I find the principles, practices, touchstones, stories and poetry to be immeasurably useful for exploring and articulating viewpoints, navigating these tensions. We are constantly turning to wonder. We hold the tensions. We learn to be here now.

Mary Jo DudleyMary Jo Dudley is the Director of the Cornell Farmworker Program at Cornell University, dedicated to improving the living and working conditions of farmworkers and their families through research, education and extension. Mary Jo was selected for the 2012 White House Champions of Change Cesar Chavez Legacy award. In 2015 she was awarded the George D. Levy Engaged Teaching and Research Award at Cornell University.

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Finding the Wisdom to Survive Despite Sorrows

And it happens again. And it happens again. And just when we think it cannot possibly happen here, or here, or here, it happens again.

Here in America, our crisis with guns and violence has so many complicated aspects to it, all of which are worthy of exploration. But for now, I just want to sit with this question:

Where do we find courage, hope, and renewal in the face of the unimaginable?

The voices and images from the church shooting in Texas took me straight back to another major shooting that happened in a church in 2008: in a UU church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The circumstances were eerily similar: an enraged ex-husband taking his anger out on the faithful innocents. When he charged into the church with his guns and bullets a children’s choir was singing the song from Annie: “The sun will come out, tomorrow…” And, in the face of that horror, it felt like it would never come out again.

There is no easy prescription for what it takes to step into the next day with any sense of hope. Especially with evidence of the human capacity for violence bombarding us almost every day.

I do know what helped the folks in Tennessee get through: the love shown to them by their community.

Not just the members of their own church, but people from all faiths and walks of life coming together to offer comfort. It is just this capacity of people to set aside their differences that ultimately signals the dawn that will come the next day.

To shorten a poem that is well-worth reading in its entirety: “A Vision” by Wendell Berry:

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
….
the abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.

Where do you find courage, hope and renewal each day?

In faith and in courage,

Terasa Cooley
Executive Director

P.S. Courage & Renewal programs offer places and practices that help us show up with courage in hard times.

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Faithfulness To Our Profession as Teachers

Veteran teacher Mika Oriedo and Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham

I know the universe is always trying to tell me something. Call it what you like, but I pay attention. I listen for the words, the signs, the signals.

And right now, the world around me is reminding me that there are powerful reasons why we teach, that teaching requires a continual search to understand oneself, and that we need ways to renew and sustain ourselves in the most important profession there is.

The Pedagogy of Teacher ActivismWhy we teach
It all started with something I read recently, a book called The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism by Keith Catone.

I was immediately taken by the title of this book. In it, the author presents, through rich portraiture, the lived experience of four teachers—all from different cultural backgrounds. While quite different, what these teachers have in common is that they view teaching as more than just a set of technical skills, but as a way to “pursue education for freedom, justice and liberation.” They use the classroom to create safe and empowering spaces for youth, to help students grapple with real issues from multiple perspectives, and to teach students to be critical thinkers and change makers.

These teachers also take their activism beyond the classroom. Whether through their union or other professional networks, they seek community with other like-minded teachers who are committed to social justice and change.

As Catone puts it, “For teacher activists, pedagogy is articulated through a commitment to education as a practice of freedom and possibility and the creation of a new just world.”

This book reminded me why I became a teacher, who I was (and still am) as an educator, and how I view the teaching profession. Teaching is a form of activism.

How we grow
Since reading the book, I’ve found myself in multiple conversations with some of our most experienced, and I would term “activist” teachers. We have talked about not just why we teach, but how we grow.

Catone writes, “The personal nature of this work makes the pedagogy of teacher activists an ‘engaged pedagogy’ through which teacher activists are ‘committed to a process of self-actualization’ that promotes their own well-being as a precursor to ‘teach in a manner that empowers students.’”

This idea is so important. Unlike other professions, powerful teaching depends upon our willingness to do the inside-out work necessary to understand our own identities and to self-actualize. That means that teachers need safe spaces too.

I spent an amazing day with a veteran teacher, Mika Oriedo, earlier this month (pictured above). He joined me as “superintendent for a day” and shadowed me for a typical day on the job. He is a nearly 20 year veteran of teaching who went to school in Madison, married a Madison teacher, and whose children attend Madison schools. He left his profession as an attorney because he heeded the call to become an educator. He is one of the most vibrant, engaging teachers I’ve ever met. And his curiosity and desire for change stretches far beyond the classroom.

When I asked for his advice, he told me that in this work, the most important thing is building strong and trusting relationships. Teachers need safe and empowering spaces to reflect personally and professionally. They need leaders and principals who lead from the heart, who communicate well, who are present, and express care and concern openly. He said, “A little can go a long way.” That’s because the work we do is inherently emotional. In order to make things better for the children, we are continually evolving who we are as human beings.

The Courage to Teach 20th Anniversary EditionHow we sustain
To bring it all home, a couple of weeks ago, I had coffee with Parker Palmer, the renowned author of “The Courage to Teach” who happens to live in Madison. His book, one of many he has authored, was originally published 20 years ago, shortly after I started teaching. I remember reading it as a new teacher and feeling inspired by it. I brought my original copy — 20 years it has been sitting on my bookshelf — to be signed by Parker at our meeting.

We met at a coffee shop near my office and sat at an outside table. He was warm, relaxed, present, and curious. He was quick to laugh. He shared with me his life’s journey. He asked about mine. We talked about teaching, aging, and writing. When I asked him for advice, instead, he asked me great questions. What is bringing you the most satisfaction? What is giving you the most hesitation?

For me, the most memorable part of our discussion was focused on how to measure personal success in teaching. We are all rightfully striving for better results for children. With that dedication comes, not the risk of failure because failure is part of life, but the risk of continually feeling like a failure.

In a society obsessed with measurement and individual achievement, the pressure can be overwhelming. If not managed, it can drive you out of the profession altogether and prevent others from entering it in the first place.

Parker suggested that beyond the test scores and formal evaluations, not instead, there must be another, higher goal. He wondered if “faithfulness” might be a better measure — a measure that fuels us and sustains us. How do we know when we wake up each morning and go to bed each night that we’ve been faithful to the vocation we have chosen?

Catone agrees that there must be something more. He writes, “The opportunity for renewal is important and powerful. It reconnects the pedagogy of teacher activism to the procreative project of teaching and serves as a reminder that teaching is an act of creation stemming from the uneasy apprehension that things are not as they should be.”

So, this is what I have to offer the teachers. Stay faithful and define what that means for you.

Know that when I go to bed each night and wake up each morning, my personal test, the one that will help me keep going, is the extent to which I have remained faithful to my roots as an activist educator who works relentlessly to create safe and empowering spaces for teachers and children so that they can change the world.

Jennifer Cheatham is the superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin.  She writes a frequent column at Madison365.org.  This article originally appeared on Madison365.com on October 25, 2017 and is reprinted with permission.

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Planting Seeds of Heart in South Korea

Leaders retreat in Korea

My wife Jane and I recently spent two weeks in South Korea, my third trip supporting Seeds of Heart, the growing Korean organization that brings Courage & Renewal retreats and programs in the Korean language to Korean educators, clergy, and leaders. I was astounded at how quickly and solidly this good work serving Koreans has developed.

As we were packing our bags to fly to Seoul, we paused. Given the recent North Korean nuclear weapon and missile testing and the responses from the US president, we wondered if it was safe to go. Our Korean colleagues assured us that the only thing that had changed over many years was the current frenzy of western media attention and the crude comments by the US President. They felt that we were safe to travel.

Once in Seoul, the energy and activity swept us up. We spoke to many Koreans about the current state of affairs. They felt the relationship with the North was not significantly different from what they’ve experienced over many years. Their dominant feeling toward North Korea was one of sadness and thoughtful patience. They believe it’s evident that the regime in the North will one day collapse and the Korean people will again be reunited. And they were proud of the bold steps South Korea took last December to affirm democracy and impeach corrupt President Park Geun-hye.

Courage to Lead in South Korea

I spent two days leading a Courage to Lead retreat for 40 Korean school leaders. For many this program was their very first experience in a Seeds of Heart. Together we shared the pain and the joy and the promise and challenges of leadership. In the closing circle several participants spoke to finding new ground from which to continue to fill difficult leadership roles.

I then led a four-day “Deepening Retreat” for 26 Seeds of Heart facilitators. Each is committed to growing Seeds of Heart programs across Korea. Each was deeply influenced by Parker’s writing and their own early experience in Seeds of Heart programs. They came from education, clergy, and non-profit leadership, men and women from early 30s to 60s. It was a wholehearted and powerful group.

2017 retreat group in Korea

We’d organized this four day program on broad questions that played off of Parker’s words that launched The Courage to Teach:

The question we most commonly ask is the “what” question—what subjects shall we teach? When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question—what methods and techniques are required to teach well? Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question—for what purpose and to what ends do we teach? But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question—who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form—or deform—the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching comes?

For our purposes (and inspired by Simon Sinek’s elegant frame ‘Starting with Why’) we reversed the order of Parker’s core questions and focused on addressing these questions in this order:

WHO am I as a leader and as a Seeds of Heart facilitator?

WHY do I/we seek to bring Seeds of Heart to others?

HOW do I/we do so effectively?

WHAT then do I/we do next?

For each of the four questions, we examined our responses as applied:

To ourselves as individuals

To the collective of Seeds facilitators

To Seeds as an organization.

Our hope was to not only deepen the individual capacity of Korean facilitators but also to strengthen the collective, the organization and the growing movement in Korea. The time together seemed to powerfully fulfill this hope.

Seeds of Heart

More Than A Decade Ago

More than ten years ago I began a conversation with a South Korean activist, philanthropist and businesswoman. She had called the Center for Courage & Renewal to inquire if Parker Palmer would come to Seoul to speak. In our first conversations I learned that Parker had a strong following in Korea and it quickly became evident that there was a group of leaders very interested in learning more about Parker’s work the programs and approach that the Center had grown in North America.

Our first conversations led to four Koreans (with facility in speaking and understanding English) attending a 2007-2008 Courage to Teach seasonal retreat series that Joanne Cooper and I led in Hawai’i. After each retreat and before we each flew home the following morning, Aloha, Hyesook, Siot, and Sunshine and I would spend the afternoon talking and dreaming about how to seed and develop the Courage & Renewal approach in Korea

From the start, we realized that all those who would successfully adapt and grow the Courage & Renewal approach in the Korean context and language may not have English language facility. Therefore it didn’t make sense that the only pathway to becoming facilitators was the English language, US-based Facilitator Preparation Program. Instead we explored how to creatively support the development of Korean facilitators and programs. There was a strong commitment to hold true to the core values, principles and practices established by Parker and early facilitators in the US as the approach was adapted to a different culture and language.

Over the 20 years that I’ve been engaged with Parker Palmer’s writing and Courage & Renewal, I’ve wondered to what degree our approach is ‘culture-bound’ and if and how it applies across different human cultures and contexts. Many have had experiences that affirm that the C&R approach thoroughly applies and seems to touch something universally human when we tend carefully to who is leading and facilitating, to the specific cultural and social context and to the people in the circle.

One interesting example involved language. As I understand it, Korean carries routine markers of status and hierarchy. My Korean colleagues quickly realized that such hierarchy contradicted the intention of a Circle of Trust where people interact with others from their own humanity not from their organizational and social roles and status. To adjust for this, all retreat participants in Korea adopt ‘nicknames’ to use in the program. I recently understood that this is not unusual in Korean settings where people seek to avoid the normal orientation to status and position.

On my first trip to Seoul in 2008, I led a one-day Courage to Teach retreat for 25 educators. Our intention was to test the model in a Korean setting. All the materials had been translated into Korean. My colleagues Aloha, Hyesook and Sunshine sat across the circle, co-leading and translating what I said. Siot sat next to me to translate what participants said. I quickly realized that translating for me everything said in the circle would interfere with the process, so I asked Siot only to translate anything I needed to know and to let the rest go.

At first I thought it would be a very long day but although I didn’t understand the specific words, I gradually observed and felt people responding in deeply familiar ways and sensed what they might be saying. At the end of the day, my colleagues were astounded that the Korean participants so quickly engaged in the process and so deeply and honestly shared of themselves.

This led to a wonderful, ten-year collaboration. In 2009, Siot and Sunshine attended the Gateway Retreat. In 2011 Aloha translated and helped publish Healing the Heart of Democracy in Korean adding to all of Parker’s previously translated books. In 2012, a large team of Koreans traveled to the US to attend a customized retreat on facilitation led by me and Marcy Jackson and to spend two days in discussion with Parker and Sharon in their home in Madison. In 2014 Marcy Jackson traveled to Seoul to lead a facilitator preparation program. Six Korean facilitators and a translator attended last May’s Courage Gathering in Minneapolis. These growing connections have been guided by countless calls and emails, growing strong friendships among us across the years.

My experience with Seeds of Heart in Korea offers a compelling case study of the approach effectively applied across culture and language. Not only has Seeds of Heart engaged hundreds of individuals in nine seasonal retreat series and countless other programs, they have crafted well the only non-English based Facilitator Preparation Program and created a Korean organization with a sustainable business plan that will grow the approach across Korea for future generations. As Courage & Renewal grows across North American and the world, I hope the Seeds of Heart model will offer inspiration and new possibilities.

Terry Chadsey and Jane Chadsey at the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea

A Sidetrip to the DMZ

Between the two programs, we stumbled into a unique opportunity to spend a couple of hours on the border of the Demilitarized Zone, looking into North Korea with a South Korean infantry major who commanded the troops guarding that section of the border. Standing at the site of this 65-year armed conflict and being in conversation with the young officers responsible for maintaining the peace and security of their nation was unexpectedly hopeful to me.

I felt fortunate indeed to witness the ongoing growth of Seeds of Heart and hopeful to imagine the role it will play in the future to ensure the peace and security of Korea and of our world.

Terry ChadseyTerry Chadsey served as Executive Director of the Center for Courage & Renewal from 2010 to 2017, putting in place systems to support a growing organization and increasing the impact and following of Courage & Renewal across the globe. Terry became a facilitator in 2002 and has led scores of Courage & Renewal programs for teachers, school leaders and leaders of all kinds. He worked in public education for 32 years, teaching grades K through 8 in Chicago, Australia and Washington for 22 of those years. He lives in Seattle with his wife Jane Chadsey where they are in love with each other, their not so young adult children, and their one and six-year old grand daughters.

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Lessons in Scarcity and Abundance with a Deer

We have the best soil in New York State. In fact, it’s literally the state soil. I didn’t know there was such a thing until we moved into our place 17 years ago. At that time, our neighbor would wander over and say, “Our soil is rich. It’s almost too rich.” I’d smile. How can anything be too rich?

I dug into that beautiful loam with gusto. In just a few short years, our half-acre of lawn was transformed from a green bowling alley into an oasis of fruit trees, perennial beds and a large vegetable garden, complete with a campfire, twinkling lights, chimes, and comfy seating here and there. It’s been sanctuary and solace through troubling times and occasionally difficult years.

Over the last three years or so, trouble has come to paradise: a lone deer has found her way in. When I first realized it was happening I began to put up fences – strong ones in places, tough netting in others. During winter I’d watch for tracks and reinforce the borders. I started using those stinky sprays. But she was a sly one. She found her way through, no matter the barrier.

In late May she began to come regularly and stay longer. Day or night, she’d be in the backyard, looking startled when I ran outside waving my arms and yelling. A couple of times she took curious steps toward me, sniffing the air before leaping off, soaring gracefully over the lower fencing at the northwest corner of our yard.

In time, she ate every last daylily blossom and shredded the Japanese anemone. She mowed hostas to the ground and left her calling cards all over our small lawn. It finally came down to an afternoon when in the midst of her snacking on tree leaves, I flew out the door cursing and threw a pillow at her since it was the first thing at hand – if I had a rock, I would have hurled it. I noticed that she was slower moving and clumsy that day and thought out loud, Great, she’s about to drop a fawn and now we’ll have two. I stomped back into the house fuming, not realizing that our 27-year- old son Jake was watching this unfold. He kind of smiled and said gently, You know, I’ve never seen you like this before.

You know, I’ve never seen you like this before. I’ve never seen you like this before…

Those words have tumbled through my mind for months.

How has this come to be upsetting? Do I believe I have so little that I can’t spare any? In a world with so much strife, why does this take up any room in my head at all? And how has a person with a non-violent disposition and soulful intention become so mean at home?

Shifts in perception don’t happen overnight. First, I simply watched her. I noticed she had a large growth on her right hind leg, marking her so to speak, and oddly, making her – well, real. A being. One morning she leveled some of my favorites and I thought, why not just move them inside the taller fenced area? It’s embarrassing to admit how in doing so my stress level dropped. I began to more carefully note her favorite foods. To a plant they are the garden hooligans, the pretty flowers that don’t add anything to our table and that were planted because they were the fast spreaders, filling in the spaces quickly.

As I noted those aggressive drifts of deer buffet it’s as if the fog cleared and I began to see what was right in front of me for years: my little bit of paradise was unkempt, rampant in that oh-so-rich soil. The plants were all overgrown. Lovely, small, understated things had long been crowded out; when did that happen? I haven’t seen some of them in three years, maybe four. For someone who teaches about mindful presence, it would all be quite funny if it weren’t so lame.

That wonderful time during our Courage & Renewal facilitator preparation in which we sat in reflection about abundance and scarcity has come to mind lately. It’s easy for me to think of abundance as good, scarcity as bad. But sometimes, healthy restraint and lightening up – a sacred no – is necessary. As a friend of mine often says, too much of a good thing is still too much.

In September we began to renovate our garden beds. We’ve replaced many of those choked drifts with quieter, slower growing selections, some of them healing plants that the deer won’t pummel. It’s funny how one thing leads to another. Inside our home it seems stuffed full of things, too. We have young friends who are just starting out and have enjoyed taking our overflow.

Our place seems to be letting out a long exhale. Paring down, letting go. Now that autumn has come, I appreciate a new garden element that I’ve never thought about before: spaciousness. While form, texture, and color get top billing during the late show of the season, space is there in between everything as the best supporting actress, making everything else shine.

And the doe indeed has a fawn. Off at the edges, they can find some of their sweet treats, where they can graze in passing and keep right on going. I am not going to pretend I’m thrilled to the core when I see them. That kind of change will take time. But I am curious. They aren’t visiting as often, now that their food source is dwindling and I almost – almost – miss them.

Most importantly, I’m taking a deep breath and noticing what is happening here at home. Weeding out those seeds of inattention, the branches of greed, and those insidious roots of hatred that can so often creep in and begin, right in my own backyard.

eames-sheavly2014x271

Marcia Eames-Sheavly is a Courage & Renewal facilitator and a university horticulture educator, who has devoted most of her professional time to bringing people and plants together, whether students in the classroom, online learners around the world, or community members from New York to Belize. The recipient of national teaching and writing awards, she presents internationally and has authored numerous publications, book chapters, articles, and recently, a book of poetry – So Much Beauty.

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How do you fortify your heart in hard times?

Our emotions are quite raw from the sheer overwhelm of current events — each week something more piling on to the heartbreak. Las Vegas, Tom Petty, Puerto Rico, Florida, Houston, just to name a few and not to dismiss all the other challenges we each care about and work so hard to address.

It takes courage to keep your heart and mind open in the face of relentless bad news. It takes courage to care about current events and not become cynical, overwhelmed, or tune out completely because it’s too much to bear.

How do you fortify yourself in the midst of all this? 

Music is a paradoxical theme this week, both part of the Las Vegas tragedy and something folks turn to at times like this.

As tribute to the resilience of the human spirit and the coming together of many voices, we share this video, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” performed by Tom Petty, Prince, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and others at the 2004 Hall of Fame Inductions.

We also invite you to share links to your favorite “soul fortifying” songs at our Facebook page or in the comments field below. Let’s make a shared soundtrack together.

Warmest regards,

Shelly

Shelly Francis
Marketing & Communications Director
and author of our next book, The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity
coming in February 2018!

P.S. Courage & Renewal programs are a place to learn practices that connect you to your inner wisdom and to other people, fortifying your heart for real life and leadership.

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Poised Between the Known and Unknown

“If you find yourself poised between the known and the unknown, between what has been and what comes next, we invite you to join us for a weekend retreat to explore the theme of threshold.” That was me, poised between the known and unknown.

In 1994 my wife, Melinda Shaw, and I founded the Puget Sound Community School (PSCS), a Washington state approved private school with an extraordinary philosophy based on trust that serves middle & high school students. At the end of June, Melinda stepped down from the position she held at PSCS for 23 years. For the school and for me (not to mention Melinda), this was a huge change.

To assist me with this transition, I participated in a retreat offered by the Center for Courage & Renewal, one called Courage on the Threshold: Embracing Life’s Changes with Integrity & Grace.

Upon arrival at the retreat at the incredible St Andrew’s House in Union, WA, I was greeted by Karen Harding, one of the facilitators, who gave me directions about how to find my room. I set down my bag and set up my bed, then went downstairs to meet some of the other participants. We sat on a deck looking out over the Puget Sound, iced drinks in hand.

From this first informal interaction to when the retreat ended about 48 hours later, I was immersed in an environment of care and support that is unfortunately rare for adults to experience. Karen and her co-facilitator, Emily Chamberlain, held the space through their planned activities, all of which began with us considering and then reflecting on a relevant poem, along with their compassionate blend of empathy and encouragement.

My favorite activity was led by Emily on Saturday afternoon. We gathered in the main meeting room to find that Emily had placed a number of photographs in the center. After a centering exercise, Emily asked us to take a closer look at the photos and select one to which we felt especially drawn. Upon inspection, it was clear that each photo had some kind of threshold or passage. I spent a lot of time looking, allowing myself to move from an impulse to just select something in order to complete the task and not take time away from others, to a form of conscientious surrender Emily and Karen had been encouraging us to allow. My experience became a partnership between me and the photo I would select. It may sound crazy to say, but it was both me finding the photo and the photo finding me.

It happened almost as if a bright light shone down on the photo I was meant to choose. The picture was of a thin red door to a small white building. A sign on the door said “Please enter in silence,” yet the door appeared to be held closed by a padlock. The way the photo was taken, I couldn’t tell how one would access the door. Was there a porch, a front step, or something else?

I considered the photo for quite a long time, then, following Emily’s directions, I wrote what I was thinking and feeling about it. As I wrote, a calm came over me and I realized that what the photo held for me was meaning having to do with being locked out from something safe and loving. As I reflected, I realized that I had been creating conflict in a situation that needed to be handled with a partnership mentality. Recognizing this, the padlock broke and I saw myself entering through the red door to a room bathed in warm light, my closest friends and family all present to greet me. It had both the symbolism one might associate with death, like entering heaven, or birth, like an incarnation into community.

Embrace Life’s Changes
at the next
Courage on the Threshold

Next retreat begins
November 10-12, 2017
near Seattle, WA

I returned to the meeting room, glowing from the experience. The next task was to share it with a partner. As it turned out, I was partnered with facilitator Karen. We took time sharing our stories with each other while walking around the amazing property, both that at St Andrew’s House and that next door. Karen’s ability to listen and simply hold my story without judgment allowed me to grasp it in a more concrete way.

The selection of the photo, the time to consider the image, and the sharing of one’s experience, each of these components of the activity were necessary for me to discover meaning that has carried to my actions at PSCS several months later. This is no small thing.

The retreat concluded early Sunday afternoon with an opportunity for participants to share our feelings and reactions to the three days worth of activities. As I thought about what to say, an image of something I had recently discovered in my neighborhood in Seattle came to my mind, a little patch of land with a sign dubbing it the “Give and Take Garden.”

On the manicured ground around the sign were a number of trinkets and toys, things I decided a child had placed hoping some would be taken while inspiring passersby to give other items. In the closing circle, an idea I long held, that giving and taking, or receiving, are each part of a necessary system.

One can’t give unless someone else is willing to receive. In receiving, one is giving the giver the opportunity to give.

Put simply, what I experienced at the retreat was a form of giving and receiving at a core human level. One fed the other to the point of becoming the other, then to the point of them being the same thing. The system was fundamental all weekend, from the way Karen and Emily invited us to participate to how the participants treated each other. The giving and receiving included the location and the food that was lovingly and mindfully prepared for us.

As part of our closing ceremony, the facilitators gave us a token with the word “Courage” on it. I held mine in my hand as we wrapped up, clear that after I got home I would place it in the Give & Take Garden. I wonder who has it now…

Andy Smallman is the founding director of the Puget Sound Community Schoolan independent school in Seattle for students in grades 6-12. He created the school with his wife, Melinda Shaw, and a dedicated group of parents in 1994. Since then, it has been a model for a style of education that helps students build on their strengths and nurtures their intrinsic motivation. In 2011, he created Kind Living, a collection of resources designed to inspire people to both recognize and bring more kindness to their lives. 

 

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Seizing Teachable Moments: An African-American Professor’s Reflections of Conversations on Race and Culture with White Students

 

Over the past twelve years, I have functioned in the capacity of both adjunct faculty and National Faculty at Lesley University, a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I have had the distinct pleasure of teaching courses across the United States for the division of Creative Arts in Learning (CAL) as a part of the Graduate School of Education. As a professor of arts integration, I teach practicing K-12 educators to incorporate a variety of arts disciplines into core curriculum areas. Mirroring current public school national teacher demographics, my students are overwhelmingly middle class, white, and female. These assignments have been and continue to be nothing less than gratifying, offering opportunities for expanding my teaching into new dimensions.

Very often, I find myself working in cities or towns where there are very few, if any, people who look like me, and it is even more common to find myself teaching in classrooms where I am the only person of color in the room. I have become accustomed to knowing, feeling, and internalizing what I call “solo spaces.” In fact, I have made a conscious decision to use this unique position to my advantage as an instructor. I have been consistently gratified in discovering how my presence as an African American professor from the South has presented itself as a segue into creating meaningful teachable moments to frame broader issues pertaining to race, cultural identity, and class.

The following dialogue is an example of an exchange I had with white students in a small town located in the western part of the United States. To facilitate this dialogue I deliberately employed four communication strategies to navigate through student inquiries pertaining to race: (a) assessing underlying meanings, (b) using humor, (c) reframing questions and statements, and(d) probing to discover new information.

Student 1: Don’t you feel weird being the only black person in this class?

Teacher: Actually, I feel pretty weird whether I’m the only black person or not! (Humor) 

But all jokes aside, by “weird” are you asking if I feel uncomfortable? (Assessing )

Student 1: Sorta! You don’t “spazz out” when you don’t see other black people?

Teacher: Well, I do like to see other black people, but I’m okay if I don’t.

Student #1: I don’t know if I could do that!

Teacher: Do you mean that it would be difficult if you were the only white person in a group of people who were racially different from you? (Assessing)

Student #1: I just couldn’t do it. It would freak me out!

Teacher: Sounds like it would make you very uncomfortable. Do you have any idea why you feel that way? (Probing) I would love to hear feelings from the rest of you as well.

Student #1: I just have always been around people like myself and it feels scary to think I’m in the minority.

Student #2: Yeah, we just aren’t used to being around people different from ourselves.

But, I lived in Atlanta for a while, so I’m used to seeing all kinds of people. I like it out here but there’s no diversity. Everybody looks the same, believes in the same thing, and sees life the same way. I don’t like that.

Teacher: I can appreciate that. There are many people who feel exactly like you. Are there others in class who share similar feelings? Different feelings?

So, it sounds like some of you have been exposed to more diverse populations than others, and those of you who have had more experiences with diversity appear to have a higher comfort level with being in the minority than those of you who have had fewer experiences.(Reframing)

I lived in the South during the period of school desegregation, so I became accustomed to being the only person of color at an early age. So, to answer the original question, I guess I don’t feel exceptionally weird.

It’s just my natural way of being!

Now, what might all this mean if we’re teaching students who may be the only person of color in your classroom? (Probing)

Student #1: I guess I shouldn’t think they’re uncomfortable or feel bad just because they look different. Sometimes, I bend over backwards because I feel sorry for them.

Teacher: Kinda like you were feeling sorry for me? (Probing)

Student #1: Exactly!

Student #2: Yeah, we make so many assumptions about our kids based on how we would feel…it’s not really fair.

Teacher: So, Student #1, look what you started! We now know that just because a student is a minority in your classroom community, he or she may not necessarily feel uncomfortable. We also know that our lived experiences may shape how we react to being placed in particular situations.

After breaking down the initial tension with humor, I became ecstatic, even, somewhat humbled, about the elevated level of participation that followed. The beauty of the overall process rested in an awakening that culminated after the student-teacher dialogue. Once I posed the question relative to how our conversation might pertain to their own classes, the students constructed their individual ideas and came to terms with the need to turn the tides of their thinking. In essence, the processes I chose to employ led to a lucrative exchange that propelled my students to become considerably more culturally sensitive.

M. Francine Jennings based this blog on her chapter in Culturally Responsive Teaching and Reflection in Higher Education.

M. Francine Jennings teaches Integrated Teaching through the Arts, with a focus on Creative Movement, Critical Action Research, Diversity and Reflective Thinking. She also performs her own one-woman show, highlighting the life of Harriet Tubman. This blog is based on her chapter in Culturally Responsive Teaching and Reflection in Higher Education, edited by Sharlene Voogd Cochrane (a Courage & Renewal facilitator), Meenakshi Chhabra, Marjorie Jones, and Deborah Spragg (Routledge, 2017).

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