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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.

mail iconToday’s blog is a mirror of our monthly Words of EnCOURAGEment e-newsletter. If you’re not a subscriber yet, sign up so you don’t miss anything!

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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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Wanna’ know how to cope with climate change? Start with changing yourself.

On a gorgeously sunny weekend in the late summer of 2012, I was enroute to a friend’s cottage north of Toronto with my husband and two other friends. My term as the elected leader of Canada’s largest Protestant denomination had ended just a few days earlier, and I was looking forward to some R&R.

It was a strange feeling to have a whole weekend stretching ahead with no commitments. I’d spent three years at a breakneck pace and the prospect of enjoying some expansive, unscheduled time was both thrilling and, in a way, unnerving.

As our destination neared, my husband signaled for our final left turn and stopped to wait for oncoming traffic. A young man (possibly distracted by the two young women beside him) promptly ploughed his pickup truck into the back of our mid-sized passenger car, crumpling it beyond repair.

An obvious metaphor! But of what?

One of the meanings I’ve taken from this incident over the years is the challenge of speaking truthfully about what’s really going on inside us. As the four of us shook pebbles of shattered safety glass out of our hair and assessed the seemingly miraculous fact that none of us had any visible injuries, we assured each other: “I’m fine. Yes, I’m fine.”

But we weren’t, of course.

We were in shock. And while we were without serious injury, we would discover many new muscular aches and pains in the weeks ahead. My husband particularly suffered, perhaps because he had glanced in his rear view mirror, seen the truck bearing down on us and, unlike the rest of us, stiffened in anticipation of impact. It took several months of physiotherapy before he felt fully restored. But on that sunny morning, he was as confident as any of us in claiming: “I’m fine. Really, I’m fine.”

On a different scale, I was just as bad.

I had thoroughly enjoyed my time in office as Moderator of the United Church of Canada. An extrovert, I thrive on interaction and engagement. Meeting people in church halls, facilitating workshops, presiding at sessions of the church’s legislative council, giving media interviews – all of this was a joy to me. Then it ended as abruptly as, say, a rear-end collision. “I’m fine,” I said. “Really, I’m fine.”

But I wasn’t. I was already grieving the loss of the meaningful work and purposeful activity that had defined me for three years. I was wondering how much (if anything) I’d really accomplished. And I was deeply exhausted.

Looking back, I blame Parker Palmer for most of it….

In the United Church of Canada, one doesn’t “run” for the position of Moderator. Anyone who wanted the job badly enough to campaign for it would be deemed unfit. Instead, one allows one’s name to stand in nomination, and then – apart from a short printed statement and a five minute speech — keeps quiet until the election.

I’d been asked to let my name stand in the past and had always said no. But by the fall of 2008, a couple of things had come together.

One was the growing urgency of encouraging faith communities to become more actively involved in reducing greenhouse gases. True, in 2008, there were many people who still questioned the science, but I’d already become convinced it was more a matter for the heart. Climate scientists told me many times: “We can’t persuade people with facts alone. We need your help.”

The other was the fact that, after years of participating in Courage to Lead retreats, I had reached a point of no return about “going public.” I didn’t particularly look forward to public engagement on a controversial issue. I knew it could lead to my being attacked or ridiculed (which it did). But the courage work had taken hold in me to such an extent that I couldn’t avoid it. If I was to live with integrity, then I had to bring my concern for climate change to offering myself for the role of Moderator.

when human beings take an ‘abundance approach’ rather than a ‘scarcity approach,’ we can generate the hope to meet this challenge, together.And so I stood with seven other candidates before the church’s General Council and, in my five minutes, I told them that climate change was the greatest moral challenge of our generation. And I proposed that when human beings take an ‘abundance approach’ rather than a ‘scarcity approach,’ we can generate the hope to meet this challenge, together.

They elected me anyway.

“Community not only creates abundance, community is abundance,” says Parker, and these words accompanied me throughout my national and international travels as Moderator, and in “town halls” across the country.

I’ve learned that when our hearts embrace the truth that abundance is found in community, inner climate change becomes the most powerful resource by which to address outer climate change. And when our understanding of community extends to the whole human community, we gain an even deeper appreciation for our abundant relationships and potential.

There were many opportunities for me to advance this perspective.

I attended the United Nations’ COP15 climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009, and COP17 in Durban, South Africa in 2011, and was bemused to find myself as the only North American church leader present. I was invited to participate in news conferences and issue statements with other global religious leaders of such stature as Archbishop Desmond Tutu. My words found their way into national and international newspapers on numerous occasions, and more frequently in regional news outlets at home as I traveled the country. I was told that I’d become both a symbol of hope, and a threat, a thorn in the side of our federal government which, at the time, was muzzling climate scientists and blocking constructive global action. I could neither remain silent about that obstruction, nor could I behave in any way other than respectfully, given our practices of courage and renewal.

When my term as Moderator ended, I returned to facilitating Courage & Renewal retreats, accepted an invitation to be a national magazine columnist, and wondered about other next steps of engagement.

But without a formal leadership role, I began to feel disoriented and restless about what more I might do. That’s the other way in which, on that August morning when a distracted driver rear-ended our vacation, I was not “all right.” I had to find a new way to speak and act with integrity.

In the midst of this struggle, I received an invitation to become a Kirkridge Courage Fellow [a community of practice among Courage & Renewal Facilitators that meet at the Kirkridge Retreat Center in Bangor, Pennsylvania). The Fellowship gave me an opportunity to rediscover my capacity for good work without organizational standing, as I eased into retirement. Just as our principles and practices had readied me to respond with integrity in the past, being in the company of seasoned facilitators would ready me for new circumstances.

Thanks to the trustworthy questions offered to me by the Fellows, I knew how to respond when I received an invitation to lead the United Church of Canada’s delegation to the COP21 Climate talks in Paris. I knew in my heart that it was ‘right work’ for me to accept, as an elder of the church. The challenge was to discern how I would do it in a new way. Without the Moderator’s preaching stole, a symbol of leadership, I would don instead the role of mentor and guide to the young adult activist and the elder from the Haida First Nation who accompanied me.

Later, as I told the Fellows about the Paris experience, it became clearer to me how important it is that we go public with what courage and renewal can offer to the healing of the planet. We create the conditions for inner climate change which are critical for addressing outer climate change.

All of us have a stake in this. A democratic government will risk only what its voters support, so citizens will need to actively support positive risk-taking, and challenge their elected officials when they retreat from their ‘better angels.’ Political capital will be risked, and courage must be rewarded. We must guard our own integrity, and resist the temptation to withdraw our support when decisions require our personal sacrifice.

In order to stay true to my best contributions for this stage of my life – and support others in theirs, I’m inviting old and newer friends into fresh conversation. Plans that my husband and I are making to live communally are reinvigorating, as one way for us to live with greater integrity and within the limits of Earth’s resources.

Listening, speaking and facilitating as an elder, and resisting thoughts that the only kind of ‘right work’ for me is the over-active kind, provides me with a guideline. I will continue to encourage and accompany others, including those elected to public office, without pursuing such an office.

As Desmond Tutu once said: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Mardi Tindal Practices of courage and renewal are starting to overwhelm the world.

Mardi Tindal is a writer, presenter and facilitator, and a past Moderator of The United Church of Canada. She lives in Toronto Ontario with her husband Douglas Tindal and delights in being the mother of two adult sons and daughters-in-law and in being a grandmother. She can be contacted through email: mardi.tindal@gmail.com

This post is an excerpt from Thin Places: Seeking the Courage to Live in a Divided World, an anthology of personal reflections written by seasoned Courage & Renewal facilitators.  Used with permission.

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How Do You Show Up?

When I was a child growing up in the Gulf Coast of Texas I lived through three large hurricanes that brought significant flooding to my community. So I watched in horror as Hurricane Harvey descended on Houston and environs, and as South Asia lost over a thousand people to their flooding disaster. My family was among the lucky ones who didn’t have to do significant rebuilding, but I know firsthand what it is like to watch powerlessly as nature reminds us in the most visceral way possible, that we are not in control.

The poet rupi kaur wrote: “your body / is a museum / of natural disasters / can you grasp how / stunning that is.” We are forged out of disaster in so many ways, yet we often believe we can avoid that truth. There is no control. There is no averting. There is no outrunning the power of nature. We can only respond. And that response is everything. It requires the deepest kind of courage we can summon.

I turn to poetry in times like this, as it speaks between the lines of reality. In The Book of the Dead, Muriel Rukeyser offers this: “What three things can never be done? / Forget. Keep silent. Stand alone.” We can, of course, do these things. But our souls get torn apart when we do. I think of the difference between the response to Katrina when humanity seemed abandoned, and the way in which Houstonians and strangers alike came together to help their fellow humans.

The only thing we can control in the face of nature is how we show up. This kind of courage usually doesn’t take thinking about. It’s simply what we do. And every small and large spontaneously brave action tells us something precious about what humanity is capable of. It is that knowledge that helps us get up to face another day, no matter what it brings. 

All best,

 

 


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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Touchstone: A New Courage & Renewal Initiative for Business Executives

Click to learn more about the new Touchstone pilot program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What is trust?

Really. Not just a definition or concept but the lived experience.

I wonder how you might answer that question at a deep level?

This February, we are launching the first pilot program called Touchstone: Trusted Leaders. Trusted Spaces. Offered in the Midwest, it will run for 6 months and will serve business leaders at the senior executive level, including vice presidents and directors.

I invite you to take a look at the website here: www.touchstonetrustedleader.com

As Touchstone has developed over the last year I have had the opportunity to look closely at work relationships I hold, the values that initiated and sustain those relationships, and ultimately whether they are reliable when push comes to shove.
As it will. It always does.

Touchstone then has been built on 5 core values:

Presence
Courage
Integrity
Competence
Love

And yes, we are using the L word in business. It is essential.

Deeply rooted in the history and methodology of Courage & Renewal, we are developing systems of learning, coaching and being with others that will best serve those in executive levels positions in business. To that end, we know that there is a developmental sequence that must begin with individual awareness. Over time, that consciousness will produce evidence in new behavior that is consistent and reliable. As individuals behave in intentional and new ways, the culture of a group will begin to shift. If those new ways of being are held, not only does culture of a group shift but there are outcomes that will unfold. That sequence and possible progression is exciting to imagine and witness.

Along the way, our work will have a concentrated focus on the 5 core values and the associated practices that lead to trust.

Trust.

In a complex and dynamic world, we need it. And now.

And so, we launch Touchstone.

 

Greg EatonGreg Eaton is the Touchstone Program Director. He is also Founder and Principal of Eaton and Associates and has decades of experience working with leadership development, change processes and organizational systems in three sectors: university administration, church/not for profit and business.

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