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Now I Plant Flowers – and Wait to See What Grows

Nammah in Fall

“Earth moves in a mysterious way, her wonders to unfold.” The wonders of it all are more poignant this year, as my time with the Center for Courage & Renewal increases.

It’s difficult to explain to people “what happens” in a Circle of Trust. The idea of reading poems and reflecting on them sounds more like a college literature course where the poems are “workshopped” with a critical and intellectual lens. It’s different with Courage work, where the poem “works” YOU! And it’s not an intellectual working, rather a spiritual one.

I am the academician and farmer. Growing up on the farm, reading was leisure and there was little time for that. Poetry, I don’t really remember any. The same went for flowers. The land was for producing crops to eat and sell. Mom had a few geraniums in front of the house. But the garden was for vegetables. Row upon row of food for the body.

My first Courage to Teach retreat was a year-long seasonal offering with 12 other teachers, K-16. My research was on Teaching and Learning. I loved pedagogy. This was my sabbatical year and I was anxious to learn some new techniques. I remember asking the facilitator on that second weekend (I had missed the first so I felt behind) what I was supposed to DO during the 2 hours of reflective/free time. I don’t remember how many times and different ways she answered my question – I couldn’t hear it. It was a concept as foreign to me as reading fiction ore poetry for pleasure – or a fertile field of flowers simply for the sake of beauty. She finally put her hand on my shoulder, gave a supportive and knowing chuckle and said; “Paula, that’s why this is called a retreat and not a workshop.” I was far from home!

I confess I spent the first two retreats in the series of five, a skeptic. “I can walk in my own woods – take free time there – even read poetry if I wanted to. Why did I pay money and drive four hours to do it with all of these other people?”

But eventually, it worked me. Not the poems as much as the process. Something dormant and undeveloped deep inside of me gasped at the offer of air – began to grow with the reflection of light. Tears came easily. I saw beauty all around me. The “lack of purpose” became intentional and purposeful, even productive! This was food for my soul.

That was almost three years, and several Courage retreats, ago.


I am not a totally different person. I still grow lots of vegetables, read mostly things that will inform my work, and am driven with “to do” lists that spin in my head much of the time. BUT, now I plant flowers, I read poetry, I understand retreat – and I can feel when my soul needs to be fed.

And I am now a full-fledged Courage & Renewal facilitator – ready to fly!

In September, a retreat collaboration with a Courage colleague, Winton Boyd, at Wisdom Ways, featured my partner Sara Thomsen and her music. The integration of music – live and embodied music – into my work with Courage has been a dream and intention all along. The theme of Leaf Falling, Bud Forming inspired an original piece for the retreat. We sang, we moved, we reflected on what we were letting go of and what new was forming, ready to winter over.

Paula Pedersen's farm

As I enter into this season of decline, pondering the already formed buds that will be wintering over, I also think about the seeds that are scattered by the feathered ones. This year, we had random sunflowers in unintended paces. As well as those planted with great intention.

What strikes me is the unknown of where, or even what, will emerge – seeds that the birds have planted. Sometimes it is the unintended seeds that grow into the most magnificent flowers!

Winter is on her way. What lies in waiting?

Paula J. PedersonPaula J. Pedersen, a Courage & Renewal Facilitator, is a Psychology professor and Faculty Fellow for Intercultural Initiatives at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Whether singing, teaching, training or tending her garden, she strives to facilitate understanding of the complexity of multiple perspectives.

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The Courage to Talk About LGBTQ Inclusivity

“Turn to two people next to you and talk about a time in your life when you felt different.”

That’s how the conversation about LGBTQ inclusivity began between students, faculty, trustees, and staff at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Over the past year, a series of four Courage & Renewal dialogues created vital safe space for provocative conversations about inclusivity that will lead to policy change.

“I really wanted our school to come to a stronger institutional statement about welcome and inclusion for all persons but especially the LGBTQ community,” said seminary president Lallene Rector.


Lallene Rector, Seminary President

“While we have some statements from 1997 about non-discrimination in grading policy, they were old statements and not strong enough,” said Lallene. “We could do a lot better.”

When she became seminary president in 2014, Lallene set forth her vision for Garrett to be a welcoming institution and to prepare leaders who are equipped to promote understanding, dialogue, and justice in whatever communities they go on to serve after graduating. That’s why as president she made it a priority to focus on matters of race, antiviolence, white normativity and privilege, and competence in cultural diversity.

“My goal was not to get everybody to agree about morality or rightness, but as Christian persons we have an obligation to love our neighbor and be welcoming and inclusive of all persons—and our institution needs to be on record with that.

“With a topic as volatile and provocative as this, with such strong feelings, it had the potential to blow up,” said Lallene. “ I was determined we should do something respectfully, but also that we should absolutely do something. The Circle of Trust process did this beautifully.”


Facilitators Bonnie Allen and Greg Eaton

Lallene invited two Courage & Renewal facilitators to lead the dialogue process—Bonnie Allen and Greg Eaton, both highly regarded Garrett alumni. Greg is also on the Board of Trustees. Throughout the spring, the facilitators organized four Courage Circle sessions that each included a cross-section of students, faculty, trustees, and staff.

There’s nothing more powerful than being heard,” Lallene observed. “There’s a huge problem in our human natures about anxiety around difference. It takes courage to let yourself be exposed to ideas of difference that are threatening for whatever reason to an individual. But the Courage Circles made it possible for people to take the risk to speak about how they think and feel.”

With her background in pastoral care and as a clinically trained psychoanalyst, Lallene is familiar with some of the challenges of group speaking and listening. She reflected, “I was extremely impressed with the gentleness of the approach, and the way Bonnie and Greg worked together and with the group. It wasn’t a frontal assault asking, ‘what are you thinking?’ Circles of Trust help people feel more encouraged and able to take courage to speak up and try to articulate their inner experience, thoughts and feelings.

The circle participants also seemed to appreciate how rare a gift it was to have such open, honest conversations. After a session, one trustee came out beaming, saying, “How beautiful to sit through this kind of conversation.”

“Intellectually it was all I hoped for and expected, but it was so much better than I had imagined,” said Lallene. “Personally, I left feeling more grounded, in touch with myself, and experientially grateful! It was very moving.”

“It was an amazing experience! Immediate, relevant, practical,” said Reverend Thomas Babler, one of the Trustees in the circles. “The Circle of Trust helped us find our identity as a community.


Garrett graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy

“Everyone, especially the young seminarians, will carry this experience forward with them in their leadership,” Tom continued. “They will say, “Now we know we can have crucial conversations in other places, too.”

As a result of the dialogue sessions, a set of formal recommendations to improve LGBTQ inclusivity was presented to—and affirmed by—the Board of Trustees. The recommendations including considering how to do a better job of mentoring United Methodist students who are pursuing ordination and are allies of LGBTQ community or part of the LGBQ community themselves. Other recommendations range from gender-neutral bathrooms, to reexamining policy and curriculum, and more. That formal approval is a vital step forward toward improving the culture of the seminary, the lives of its students, and ultimately every person served by its graduates.

“There is no entirely safe experience – we can’t be protected from that,” said Lallene. “But by creating a place of respect for the other person, where nobody is coerced to speak, the Circle of Trust methodology helps people take courage. Then having done that speaking up, people are more willing to continue to engage further conversation. It’s got transformative power!

“The Circle of Trust has been a gentle, respectful and structured way to begin. I’m really grateful for it.”

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Newfound Courage in Kalamazoo’s Latino Community

Slowly Trusting the Circle

The Hispanic American Council in Kalamazoo provides advocacy and a range of services to help Latino community members who are in crisis. This support is vital for immigrants, many of whom cannot read or speak English and have difficulty navigating the system when they need services such as legal support or medical care.

A year and a half ago, the Council received a grant that introduced a newly challenging dimension to their work. The grant’s goal was to build community leadership through relationships based on trust.

LoriMercedesSantiago2 copy

Lori Mercedes-Santiago

The hope was that it this could encourage Latino residents to become active participants in creating their own future.

“We usually only engaged with our community members when they’re in crisis,” said Lori Mercedes-Santiago, Executive Director of the Hispanic American Council. “They come to us when they’re in crisis, we help them and they leave. Then we don’t see them until they’re in crisis again.

“So for this project we saw that we somehow needed to create ongoing trustworthy relationships. But this was something we had never done.”

Building trustworthy relationships wasn’t going to be a straightforward task.

Deeply embedded problems of cultural difference, fear, and low self-worth in the Latino community meant that the project required a unique approach.

Early on, Lori connected to Tom Beech, former President of the Fetzer Insitute and a longtime ally for Courage & Renewal work. He suggested Parker Palmer’s Circle of Trust approach as a possible tool for the Council’s new project. But Lori hesitated.

“I was skeptical at the beginning. I told Tom this ‘kumbaya’ approach is not for us, because our people are in crisis. But Tom was very patient, and he encouraged me to attend a retreat.”

Lori went to the Courage & Renewal program, but she still didn’t think the approach would work for her organization. In the absence of alternatives, she began interviewing residents in her community to better understand what they needed.

“During the resident interviews, patterns of despair and anger started to emerge,” she said. “But there was hopefulness too. We began to see that people wanted something out of the ordinary, a space where they could quiet all the noise, all the ‘experts’ telling them, ‘This is the plan I have for you.’ The more we did these interviews, the more the Circles of Trust started to make sense for creating that space. People had so much negativity and pain, so the need was for a safe, welcoming, and respectful space.”

As Lori began to feel more confident about the Circle of Trust approach, she was introduced to Thom Andrews, a Courage & Renewal Facilitator who also directs ONEplace, a management support center for nonprofits in Kalamazoo. Thom offered to facilitate the project circles.

toltec-four-agreementsOnce again, Lori and her Council were skeptical at first. “We were cautious because Thom is not a Latino, he does not speak the language. But the Circle of Trust foundation was extremely appealing. So to make it more Latino-relevant, we adopted the Toltec Spirit based on the four agreements by don Miguel Ruiz.”

At the first circle session Thom began laying down the boundary markers (Touchstones) and explaining the nature of the circles. Thom would say, “We are all here as learners and teachers. I’m facilitating, but I’m also learning from you. I’m not an expert on your life. I’m not here to debate your truth.”


Thom Andrews

This non-patronizing approach was vital to the project’s success. “This community is used to an expert coming in, demanding their input, and then coming back with answers they think will work,” Thom explained. “In our sessions, I sat not as an expert with answers but as one learning and growing with them who welcomed but did not require their participation. It was a liberating experience for us all.”

With Thom’s careful facilitation, people began to feel this was a safe space where they could express themselves, where nobody would attack them for their opinions.

It was not at all what Lori had expected at the beginning. “I love it when people prove me wrong. It humbles me,” she said.

A Place of Belonging

By the second meeting, residents really began feeling the power of the approach. During one activity Thom shared a story about a military man who spent years as a prisoner of war. The other prisoners had lost all hope of being rescued, but this man did not. He was able to stay positive and survive because the man told himself, “I know that freedom is coming.”

After Thom shared this story, a Latina woman in the circle courageously spoke up.

“Us undocumented immigrants, we are prisoners too. I live in constant fear for myself, my children, my grandchildren. But I don’t lose hope because I know that before I die, I will be legal in this country.”

And everyone around her nodded and spoke their own version of feeling like prisoners. They shared their stories and there was a deep sense of personal connection, belonging, and respect.

After that second circle, people came up to Lori and said, “This is great. We need more opportunities like this.” And with each meeting Lori saw people returning to participate and bringing their friends along.

The change was beginning to happen inside each individual. In one meeting, the group was invited to share their reflections about a story in which a father chose to forgive his son’s murderer. To everybody’s surprise, one of the participants in the circle—an older Peruvian man who everyone knew as the gentlest person you’ll ever meet—became visibly enraged.

You could see the severity in the old man’s facial expressions as he announced to the circle, “I will never be able to do what that father did! Forgive someone who killed my children? I would kill that man.” Although the other community members were surprised to hear this, they allowed him to speak. After the circle, the Peruvian gentleman approached Lori and Thom.

“That really moved me,” the man confessed. “I didn’t know I carried that with me, that I felt so strongly about it. I see that it’s something I need to work on.”

Lori Santiago

Trustworthy Relationships

Another challenging element for these circles was the cultural tension that existed between some Latino community members.

“Although we’re all Latinos sharing a language, we come from different countries and have different cultures. It’s not like we always get along. Central Americans have tensions with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans have tensions with Cubans, and so on…” explained Lori. It’s not unusual for tensions to arise between neighbors, so residents often keep to themselves. The resulting isolation and distrust only made a tough situation worse.

“You bring a very diverse group of people into a setting where they don’t know each other, and expect them to talk about deep stuff that deals with my inner self? That was a challenge!” said Lori.

But in the circles, an amazing thing started to happen. “Being introduced to this new way of building relationships, listening respectfully to everyone, not being forced to share if you didn’t want to, the confidentiality element… it was so crucial,” Lori observed. “In the circles we had a law professor from Peru, a computer engineer from Mexico, alongside people who did not know how to read or write English or Spanish. But everybody was at the same level when it came to the circle. Everybody felt respected.”

An older Mexican gentleman approached Lori after one session and said, “Thank you so much. This is the first time I feel accepted.” And he told Lori that he’d connected with the Peruvian law professor, who had agreed to teach the Mexican man how to read and write.

“You don’t usually see those kinds of interactions. People were leaving their nationality outside the door,” said Lori, remarking on how special this moment was.


Folkloric dancers at one of the Council’s community events

Inner Strength, Resourcefulness, and Creativity

The project’s end goal was to build community leadership, but how do you build leadership for Latinos, a community that’s constantly under fear of deportation?

“As Latinos, you get a lot of negative messages from the media. ‘You’re undocumented. You’re criminals!’ the media tells us. People are humiliated by these negative terms. They’re hanging their heads in shame. It leaves little room for self-worth among our Latino community members. So how do you build leaders from that?” said Lori.

“We believe that there is much to be learned from our community members and their unique stories of how they came to this country. We provide the space where their voices are acknowledged, and where their inner strength, resourcefulness, and creativity amplify as they share with the group their hopes and dreams and the many obstacles that they have been able to overcome.”

Throughout the Circle of Trust meetings, people revisited their journeys of making it into the country. Some people’s stories were incredible. One woman described being lost in the desert for three days trying to cross the border to the U.S. And at the time, she was six months pregnant. Her story amazed people. They encouraged her, saying, “You are stronger than what you give yourself credit for.” And as others shared stories of the trials and tribulations they’ve faced, a newfound sense of confidence—and camaraderie—started to emerge.

“Our Latino community members have the inner strength, resourcefulness, and creativity to overcome any obstacle,” Lori said with the fierce clarity of someone who wholeheartedly believes those words.

“And even though they are undocumented and have no control over the fact they may get deported… we still have this space where we can all dream together, right here.”

Little by little, people started bringing this truth into reality.

“Residents learned that they are not alone,” said Lori. “With support from one another, they are beginning to take ownership of their community.”

This has manifested in a number of ways. People are volunteering to support the Council, and they’ve launched community activities like Zumba classes, a youth soccer league, parenting support groups, art classes, book groups and more. It’s all resident-supported and resident-run. Before the Circles, these activities weren’t happening at all.

“The Council never had the space where we could know our community members as community members,” said Lori. “We interacted as clients and providers before.” Now, Lori doesn’t just see people when they’re in crisis. She sees them when they have energy and excitement about an idea.

“Through the Circles of Trust we have been able to build those reciprocal relationships with our community members. They come to engage the Council, not just ‘I have a need,’ but ‘I have a dream, this is how I see our community could be and here’s what I could do to help that.

“They see that their input is crucial. They feel comfortable enough to say, ‘Why don’t we do this? And I’m willing to lead that effort.’”

“We Got This!”

In May, the Council was having a large fundraiser and their tight budget created challenges. Lori was panicking over the cost of the catering and entertainment for the event when one of the Latino community members—a woman who had been to many of the circles—came up to Lori and said, “We got this.”

Lori remembers, “I told her, ‘No, no, you don’t understand. It’s very expensive, it’s a lot of work…’ and the woman repeated, ‘No, we GOT this.’ She recruited 12 other ladies from the community, and they took care of the catering and entertainment for the whole fundraising event. And she told me, ‘Do not worry about paying us. Let us do something to return what the Council has done for us.’”

Four of the people who participated in the circles are now lead coaches for the soccer teams. Three women from the circle are in charge of providing catering and entertainment for all community events. Two young ladies are engaging others in the community to approach the Council with their hopes and dreams.


Aztec performers celebrate their cultural heritage at one of the Council’s community events

Thanks to the Courage Circles, the Latino community is building an empowered new leadership among residents. With inner strength, resourcefulness, and creativity, they’re stepping up to create their future. They see that their voices matter.

“Our community is healing,” observed Lori. “A person must heal his own wounds— find out how past circumstances have made him stronger and more capable. Then he can use this awareness to help others transform frustration into a belief that they too can change their lives for the better. Our Courage Circles are the foundation of this effort.”

Looking ahead, the Council plans to invite more residents to the courage circles. Several agencies, including area law enforcement officers, have also expressed interest in being involved.

“It’s been a transformative experience for many,” said Thom. “One of our next steps is to work with agencies who serve the Latino community so that they, too, may see residents not as ‘people in need whose lives we save,’ but as ‘people we need whose lives we share.’”

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New Leaf Leadership Academy: Where High Schoolers Learn Lessons for All of Life’s Journeys


Rona Zollinger, teacher, (left) with one of her students Amanda Rainey (right)

Refocusing Education

“I was so used to a traditional school where if I didn’t know the answer I’d just ask the teacher. But Rona makes me figure it out myself. It’s important to live through your own questions, and find your own answers—it’s more meaningful!” said Amanda Rainey, a high school senior at the New Leaf Leadership Academy.

New Leaf students like Amanda are discovering a new excitement about learning, the kind that can only come when a student’s mind is treated not as ‘a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.’

At New Leaf, Courage & Renewal practices have played a big part in creating such a classroom.

New Leaf is an alternative education program at Vicente Martinez High School in California. Most of its students are teenagers who weren’t successful in traditional school, what some people call “at-risk” youth. In most cases, it’s not that these students are unequipped to succeed; they just require different styles of learning to connect what they learn to how they want to live. And that’s what New Leaf does best.

Dr. Rona Zollinger is a Courage & Renewal Facilitator and Director of the Empowering Educators teacher training program of the New Leaf Collaborative. But for the past decade she was a classroom teacher at New Leaf Leadership Academy where she worked with her community to help to transformed the school and it’s students.

“Ten years ago, this school was a different place,” Rona recalled. “Teachers were working in isolation relying on worksheets. The community held a lot of stigma against students who were sent here to learn. It wasn’t a place students like to be! Today, there’s an emphasis on social-emotional learning, the presence of silence, and teachers asking questions instead of always telling what to do.  Students are choosing to come here as a true alternative.”

“Now, we offer choice instead of demand. We care for each other’s hearts and souls.”


Rona Zollinger, named Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year 2012-13 and National Geographic Grosvenor Teaching Fellow 2013

Not incidentally, Rona was named 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year for Contra Costa County, and in 2013 was honored as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teaching Fellow. But beyond Rona’s achievements and recognitions, she has a rare quality that powers everything she does—a teacher’s heart.

“My goal is to refocus education as being about leading your own life,” said Rona. “I love to teach students about critically thinking about the world, their place in it, and what they can do to change it. I teach kids about leadership, transformation and empowerment.”

“And at the core of that program, I’d say, is Courage work.”

At New Leaf, students are nurtured by a blend of educational experiences that include: classroom learning, community service, environmental stewardship, career mentoring, individualized learning, teambuilding exercises, and social-emotional reflective practices. These hands-on learning opportunities foster students’ connections to themselves, their communities, and the planet. It also lets them practice essential lifelong skills. Altogether, this creates holistic model of learning that cultivates the whole student.


New Leaf students benefit from experiential learning through community service projects. Photo courstey of the New Leaf website.

The result? Student achievement has improved dramatically. Rona’s 3-year case study of her students’ academic results showed amazing outcomes:

  • 12% increase in student attendance
  • 24% higher scores in standardized test proficiency rates compared to students at the same school
  • 45% increase in academic effort
  • 85% reduction in discipline issues
  • 90% of students enrolled also graduated from high school
  • 96% reduction in truancy
  • 1.34 point increase in their grade point averages

These remarkable transformations have come about thanks to the alternative curriculum that Rona helped the school implement. In Rona’s curriculum, ten key practices make the program successful.

Those ten practices are:

  1. Social action
  2. Acceptance and diversity
  3. Mutual accountability
  4. Relational values
  5. Purposeful, intergenerational relationships
  6. Inspirational appreciation
  7. Critical thinking
  8. Emergent learning
  9. Personal and community health
  10. Courage and renewal

Openness & Touchstones

When you walk into a New Leaf classroom, the first thing you’ll notice is that there aren’t rows of desks. Chairs form a large circle around a centerpiece object, perhaps a piece of art.

“Kids understand immediately that it’s different,” said Rona, explaining the circle setup. “There’s no desk to hide behind.”

This change of space radically alters the way students and teachers interact. In Rona’s experience, being in a circle has helped her students feel like their voices have equal reach and that it’s safe to speak up.

“I really like the vibe at the school, the way everyone communicates,” said Amanda Rainey, one of Rona’s students. “We sit in a circle instead of rows of desks. That’s a thing I think is important because people face each other and are open with each other. And Rona’s not like a boss. She is a guide and mentor—she’s in charge but is equal to us. We can be open with her and she can be open with us,” said Amanda.

That openness that Amanda and Rona both name is a critical piece of the New Leaf approach, and it’s the result of carefully held Touchstones (principles that define a way of being together based on Parker J. Palmer’s Circle of Trust).


Touchstones of a Circle of Trust (click to zoom)

“There are copies of the Touchstones all over my room,” Rona said. “It reminds us of the kinds of beings we’re trying to become.”

The Touchstones create a safe space where students can bring their whole selves to school. It conveys the importance of inner and outer, listening respectfully, and honoring one another’s truths.

Rona noted how students responded very well to the Touchstones. “A lot of times the kids are well aware that their voices outside are louder than their voices inside them, especially as teenagers that may be having troubles. Kids who are the ‘rebels,’ when you give them the Touchstones they often get soft, teary, start to speak emotionally. They just melt.

“And we have a real emphasis on emotional development. If a kid comes in crying, we don’t ignore that. It becomes part of the classroom—we learn with it. Those things make the space safe, make the kids more willing to take risks.”

Sometimes the Touchstones reveal something important for student. “I had a student recently whose mom died of breast cancer last year, and he doesn’t get along with his dad. He drives 35 minutes to come to school here. He’s the kind of student who when he’s struggling with anger, you don’t want to go by him. Just his look will silence you. When we talked about Touchstones, he got really quiet and said, ‘I wish these Touchstones were my whole life.’”

When asked what that student meant by that, Rona answered, “He realized that if everyone in his life practiced these Touchstones he wouldn’t have the anger he has.”

For Amanda Rainey, the Touchstones give positive structure for her and her classmates to engage with one another. “The Touchstones help us be respectful and communicate well and learn to work together,” she remarked. “And they make it easier to be open as well as honest. When Rona asks us how we’re feeling, everyone answers honestly. And no one judges you on it. So you can actually be yourself.”

The Touchstones have proven a useful practice for Amanda even beyond the classroom. “The Touchstones carry with me into my life outside of school,” she said. “It helps me to be more trusting, more honest, and keep an open mind. I think things through and react more positively.”

Heroes on a Journey

Framing life as a journey empowers students to set the course. It encourages creativity, confidence, persistence, empathy, and self-awareness.  

Rona explained, “My curriculum is about facilitating a rites of passage experience along the stages of the Hero’s Journey. A hero is someone who has fully actualized their potential and purpose, what Parker Palmer might call ‘vocation.’ In the Hero’s Journey, the hero must separate from the normal, face their fears and challenges, enlist the help of others, and do the work inside them. Once that happens, the hero returns to the world as a person who has gained a sense of wisdom and can give in return to others who are entering.”

The Hero’s Journey becomes a metaphor for students’ personal growth. It helps them connect their inner and outer lives, using reflection as a tool for learning, life, and transformation.


Rona’s students pose for a class photo

“I’m always trying to empower students,” Rona said. “So I tell them, ‘If you feel there’s another way for you to learn, or that there’s a different next step for you, I invite you to share that with me.’ After all, every student is at a unique point of his or her journey. They recognize that, and see that others are at different stages too.”

“Rona has been really influential,” Amanda said appreciatively. “She gets all these opportunities for us. But she’s not forceful like a lot of teachers can be, who tell you ‘You have to do this assignment or else!’ Instead Rona tells us, ‘Everything is your own choice. And you deal with the consequences of your choice. You get out of life what you put into it. And you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

“Some people see New Leaf as the ‘easy way out’ because we sit in circles and don’t have homework, but we’re constantly being challenged in every way possible! We’re learning deep, thought-provoking stuff, and we apply it to life in the experience of learning.

“At New Leaf, I feel like I can achieve a lot more. Because it’s not about assignments for grades. It’s about assignments that benefit me for the future,” said Amanda.

Rona and Amanda photo

Rona Zollinger and Amanda Rainey

Right now Amanda is working on a senior project she designed herself. She’s researching possible careers and the next steps that will take her there. Amanda is grateful for how Rona has challenged her to reflect on questions like What do you want to do? and How can you achieve that? “These questions seem so basic but they never ask you those kinds of questions in traditional schools.”

Amanda plans to enroll at Diamond Valley College in the spring so she can concurrently earn credits while she finishes her last semester at New Leaf.

Empowering Educators

Rona hopes to make these experiences available to even more students, and she has piloted a curriculum that prepares other educators working with at-risk students to use the teaching methods from the New Leaf Leadership Academy.

Called Empowering Educators, her new program helps educators (1) renew their love of teaching, (2) reflect upon their personal strengths, and (3) re-envision a transformative environment for their students.

“With most professional development for teachers, you’re drilled with so much content that you leave feeling overwhelmed, inundated. And you get back to the classroom and nothing has changed. Your lived experience isn’t any different.

“Empowering Educators is not like that—it’s a series of live encounters where they come into contact with new ways of being that they can integrate in their lives and teaching,” said Rona. “The principles and practices of the Circle of Trust are threaded throughout.”

But pursuing this project will mean leaving the classroom for a while. And Rona’s students will surely miss her.

“I’m kind of sad Rona’s leaving soon and won’t be our teacher anymore,” said Amanda. “We’re so used to her, and she’s such a good teacher! But New Leaf is still a great place because Rona has been here.”

hands-in-circleIf you’d like to learn more about the New Leaf Collaborative, visit their website at
Educators local to the Bay Area who would like to know more about the Empowering Educators program can consider joining Rona’s upcoming workshop:

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What If We Treated Racism Like We Treat Cancer?

“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
—Audre Lorde, “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches”

What would happen if we banded together to fight the disease of racism as we do cancer? As an African-American woman who is a two-time breast cancer survivor, I often ponder this question.

I celebrated over the weekend when I heard that the University of Missouri at Columbia football team announced that they were boycotting games and practices until President Tim Wolfe resigns. I am encouraged not only because I appreciate seeing young Black students taking a stand against injustice, but also because I saw more than just Black students banding together. The picture of the Mizzou football team visually shows players and coaches of all races, young and older men banded together arm and arm.

What warms my soul is that they all seem to understand that they are in this together and they are addressing the problem. The problem is racism.


I wonder what we can learn from the way we fight cancer that will teach us how to survive racism.

As a cancer-survivor, I have learned a lot about how to fight this disease. … READ MORE

Read the rest of Sherry Watt’s article at OnBeing.org

Sherry WattSherry Watt is a Courage & Renewal facilitator and is an Associate Professor of the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at the University of Iowa. She is an author and the editor of the book, Designing Transformative Multicultural Initiatives: Theoretical Foundations, Practical Applications, and Facilitator Considerations. Her research on privileged identity exploration expands the understanding of the various ways in which people react to difficult dialogue related to social issues.

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The Gift You Bring: Music by Courage & Renewal

The Gift You Bring is a compilation album of original songs written and performed by Courage & Renewal Facilitators. The album was mastered at Dancing Moon Studio in Spearfish, South Dakota.

In his book, “This is Our Brain on Music,” Daniel Levitin says that music has always been a part of every known culture. And it’s unique among all human activities for its ubiquity and antiquity. Evidence from neuroscience supports what we’ve all experienced as the power of making and listening to music.

A team of Courage & Renewal facilitators recently came together to explore ways that music enhances and deepens our learning, and also how to bring more music into our programs. Their sense of community, fun and creative courage led to the recording of this album — and their generosity led to making each original song available as a free download for you!

Tune in here for free downloads and see lyrics, too. Feel free to share this link with friends:

Learn more about these musically talented facilitators:

Dianne Baker
Brian Braganza
Alan Claassen
Phil Panzarella
Paula Pedersen
Diane Petteway
Jim Quay
Judy Rose
Pamela Seigle
Scott Simpson
Jim Sims


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Kids want us, not just our information!

holding kid's hand chalk

Standards-based curriculum and pedagogy are the #1 priorities in our schools, but they are only part of what helps children grow up happy, whole, and successful. Who we are in our classrooms has an even greater impact on our kids. They watch our every move, and absorb everything we do and say (and don’t say). In grad school, one of my professors posted this quote on her door:

“You can‘t teach what you want to teach. You can’t teach what you’re supposed to teach. You can only teach who you are!”

To say it another way, a good friend of mine (and a fabulous dad!) told me this funny story about his 4-year-old son. Recently they pulled up to a McDonald’s drive thru, and his son ordered an ice cream cone. When the clerk said, “Sorry, we’re all out today,” the 4 year old blurted out “Well, sh-t!” No one taught him to say that, but he learned it anyway. Psychologists call this Observational Learning.

Observational Learning refers to all the stuff we learn by watching others. Children learn not just through what we teach them, but also by observing how we act, what we say, and how we handle life (the good and the bad.) My friend’s example is funny, and obviously benign, but as teachers, I think it’s worth asking the question, “What are my students really learning from me today?”

By courageously being ourselves, with our unique gifts and talents, we help kids thrive. In our best moments, kids learn from us how to contribute in a positive way, how to be real and authentic, and how to make a difference in someone’s life. In our weaker moments they learn humility, resilience, and self-compassion. In us, they see a life they’d like to emulate.

In his inspiring video clip, From Effectiveness to Faithfulness (watch below), Parker Palmer describes the power of being faithful to the gifts we possess and our ability to use these gifts to make a difference in the lives of kids. Being faithful to our gifts is more than enough to make a positive impact in our classrooms.

From Effectiveness to Faithfulness from Center for Courage & Renewal on Vimeo.

So how do we actually grow and strengthen our ability to be ourselves? A good place to start is a simple exercise called “What Went Well.” I have modified it for teachers. I often start off my school’s weekly staff meetings with a few minutes of What Went Well. And my wife and I love practicing it together at the end of a long day. Here’s how it works.

  1. First, think through your day and identify a few moments when things went well. Even the smallest things count! Maybe you laughed with your math class, or acknowledged a student for being nice to a peer. Maybe that new lesson plan really grabbed your kids, or maybe it flopped, but you learned a few things to make it better next time. Anything positive counts. And it gets easier as you practice.
  2. Next, ask yourself “what strengths or skills was I using to pull that off?” This is your chance to begin owning your gifts and honoring yourself for what you bring. Be really honest with yourself. And if you find it difficult to claim your contributions, pretend you’re talking with a student. You saw them do something amazing and you’re helping them to celebrate it.
  3. And finally, notice if anything has shifted. How do you feel in your body? What kinds of thoughts or emotions are you having? How do feel about going to work tomorrow? Have fun with it, and keep practicing!

I believe each of us has what it takes to inspire kids to grow up happy, peaceful, and successful. All we have to do is be ourselves! Of course that’s easier said than done, so make sure you have lots of good support along the way. And drop me a line, I’d love to hear how it’s going.


Ryan Murtfeldt, MA, CWPC is a middle school music teacher and professional coach who loves helping other teachers thrive. He has spent 14 years as an educator helping people feel inspired and do great work in the world! Learn more at

Check out Ryan’s other articles: “Teaching: Thriving Not Surviving”, and “Classroom Management: Developing Your Signature Approach”

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Give Voice to Your Gifts

Most people live their lives and go to their graves with their music still inside them. This troubling thought is what calls Barbara McAfee to her work of “midwifing voice into the world.”

As Barbara says, “Your voice is how you get the gift inside of you out! Nothing much happens in the world until someone gives it voice.” That’s why the words “voice and vocation” share the Latin root vocare.

The capacity for voice and agency is one of the Habits of the Heart that Parker writes about in Healing the Heart of Democracy.

Parker Palmer’s Fourth Habit of the Heart:

“A sense of personal voice and agency. Insight and energy give rise to new life as we speak out and act out our own version of truth, while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. But many of us lack confidence in our own voices and in our power to make a difference. We grow up in educational and religious institutions that treat us as members of an audience instead of actors in a drama, and as a result we become adults who treat politics as a spectator sport. And yet it remains possible for us, young and old alike, to find our voices, learn how to speak them, and know the satisfaction that comes from contributing to positive change if we have the support of a community…”

Parker Palmer speaks of “voice” as all the myriad ways we express selfhood. Physical voice is only one of those ways, but Barbara McAfee reminds us that the presence of our physical voice is intertwined with our other ways of being, and being heard.

In the TEDx video above, Barbara shares five different “voices” you can use in your life and leadership to communicate with more people, around more ideas, more effectively. She calls these voices Earth, Fire, Metal, Water, and Air.

As Barbara says, “To free the voice is to free the person. I hope you will set your full voice free to express your gifts in the world. And that you will hear the support of this community singing you onward as you do.”

songbird-012015How do you bring your voice into the world?

You might only need to sing one word: Yes.

With gratitude and best wishes,
Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Develop your sense of voice and agency at a Courage & Renewal program.

P.P.S. A few weeks ago in Minnesota, Courage & Renewal facilitators had the great joy to sing and learn together with Barbara McAfee. We were so grateful for the experience that we wanted to share her work you!

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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Walk in Beauty: A Courage & Renewal Pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago


“…the sacred center is here and now—in every moment of the journey, everywhere in the world around us, and deep in our own hearts.”
—Parker J. Palmer, from “Let Your Life Speak”

The pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago, the medieval path across the north of Spain, is much more than a beautiful walk. It is much more than a destination, or the repetition of footsteps along the path; it is more than a tour or an expedition, or even ‘taking a good walk’. El Camino is an outward and an inward journey, a visible manifestation of an inward calling, a journey to the sacred center of the heart and the mind.

For many years, I was drawn to pilgrimage as a universal and ancient spiritual practice. This interest drew me around the world, taking pilgrimages to far off places, leading pilgrimages in India and the United States, and then writing about my experience in my first book, The Road that Teaches: Lessons in Transformation through Travel (QuakerBridge Media 2012). Strange as it seems, I found comfort in the rough and tumble of solo international travel in India, Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Getting hopelessly lost, taking a fall, losing my passportthese and much more shifted my perspective of travel as leisure activity to connecting deeply with others, seeing and being seen, and understanding my own vulnerability and the same in others.

I came to appreciate pilgrimage as a special type of travel: travel with a spiritual, a holy purpose, a kind of prayer, that carries with it physical, emotional, and geographical elements. Initially, my interest in pilgrimage was in response to my own self-questioning, my wildly curious soul, and a messy mix of inner fearlessness and fear.

Pilgrimage destinations, like El Camino, are places of spiritual significance made holy by saints, the natural and elemental quality of the landscape itself, or places of shrines, temples, burial grounds, or meaningful contemporary events, and they draw people to them in ways that are difficult to name. The pilgrim engages liminal space: leaving, journeying, arriving, departing, and returning. And in this space something magical awakens.

Our group of 15 Courage & Renewal pilgrims

Storiespersonal, heartfelt storiesare the connective tissue of pilgrimage: the pilgrim listens to her own inner voice in perhaps a new way, to the story of the land itself, and to the story of the lives of others along the path. Our walking Courage & Renewal pilgrimage began on a chilly, hint-of-winter day in the ancient city of Santiago de Compostela and ended ten days later after a nearly 100-mile walk in the beautiful port city of Finisterre, which faces the western sea and was thought to be the ‘end of the known world’ in ancient times. This little known route along El Camino, known as the Camino Finisterre, is like walking in a David Whyte poem: soulful, heartful, prayerful, and beautiful. We follow the ancient symbol of a peregrination, the clamshell, trail blazes that guide our group of 15 pilgrims out of the city of Santiago de Compostela and into the Galician countryside.

During the next nine days, the path would take us through rural landscapes of high plateaus, forested tracks, country villages, and stunning coastal trails and headlands. A surge of joy, excitement, and wonder rushed through me as I murmured silently to myself: “I am here—the sacred center. I am on El Camino. I am a pilgrim!”

“The road to Europe began here…”
Roadside marker along El Camino de Santiago

Even here on El Camino, I was continually reminding myself to turn to wonder, to inhabit the moment, to slow down, to practice opening, to practice listening, to find the beauty in moments of quiet transformation, even when those moments are not apparent. It’s said that ‘the road teaches’ us what we need to know. And, an important ‘knowing’ for me as the pilgrimage leader is that it is not important whether I walk fast or slow, but as a leader, how do I support others as they walk the Camino in their own way. Some days I walked with the fastest and other days I walked with the slowest.

We met Consuela

It was on a day that I had chosen to walk with the slowest of our group, that, on a shady tree-lined path, we met Consuela, an 88-year old farmer, solid as a brick wall, and carrying a wheelbarrow wearing a broad smile under her straw hat. We stopped and chatted, I in my broken Spanish, and she in her broken English. She told me the story of working with her sons after her husband’s death to clear her land to build a stone house that she pointed to nearby. She built the house stone by stone from rubble in adjoining fields. And, I shared about our long walk. She smiled, knowingly, and said: “No one will ever walk El Camino like you, ever.” Her words were a benediction.

As our group of 15 walked along the path, we came to understand each other through our stories of love and loss, of relationships and loneliness, or children and partners. The landscape shaped us as we climbed hills, walked though tiny hamlets and forests of eucalyptus and chestnut. As the hours became days, walking along the road, I could feel that we were no longer strangers, but through our stories, we had become friends, pilgrims.

Reaching Finisterre, we made our way to the ocean, the western most tip of Spain and looked out into the western sea. At that moment, standing at the ocean’s edge, the sun, shining through the mist of the late afternoon, the wildness of the surf, the mountains, it all made sense. I understood the ancient pilgrim ritual upon arriving at just this place: the pilgrim is to walk into the ocean and allow nine waves to wash over her as a symbol of gestation, a new beginning. Standing at the water’s edge, I felt new and fresh again. I knew, I could continue walking. I could continue being changed by the land, the people, the stories. A part of me was left “right at the water’s edge”.


Valerie BrownValerie Brown is a Courage & Renewal facilitator who is an educational consultant and ICF-accredited leadership coach of Lead Smart Coaching, LLC., specializing in leadership and mindfulness training for educational leaders ( In her latest book, The Mindful School Leader: Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School (Corwin Press, 2015), she explores the role of mindfulness in strengthening thriving leaders and building greater understanding and peace within schools.


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Personal Power vs. Coercive Power: Finding Authentic Leadership


This is our Part 2 blog post featuring an excerpt from the new book, Becoming a Leader is Becoming Yourself, by Courage & Renewal facilitator Russ Moxley. We’re also offering blog readers a free PDF download of this excerpt. CLICK for a free PDF download!  See Part 1. 

The Alternative: Personal Power

Personal power is different from coercive power. Personal power comes from a different source. It is rooted in our authenticity and wholeness, not in a role or position. It is based on our competence and character and integrity. It accrues to us as we become our self, our true self, and when we engage in leadership as authentic and whole men and women. We are seen as being more powerful, not less, as we become vulnerable enough to acknowledge our gifts and limits, own that we cast shadow, and learn to say, “I don’t know.” We have power because of who we are more than for what we do.

There is yet another way that personal power is different from coercive power. Coercive power comes with a position in an organization or family or community; not everyone has it. But everyone has personal power. In the Four-Fold Way, a book that is dog-eared because I have read it so often, author and cultural anthropologist Angles Arrien says, “Many indigenous societies believe that we all possess ‘original medicine’: personal power duplicated nowhere else on the planet. No two individuals carry the same combination of talents and challenges” (1993, p. 21). While everyone can have personal power, power based on our talents and challenges, not everyone appears to know this or act on it. Even when I grant you personal power or authority—I acknowledge that you have original medicine—you may not believe you have it, or you may not claim it. Both verbs are important: I grant, you claim. And they may not always be in this order.

Our task is to discern and embrace the original medicine that is ours and that is duplicated nowhere else on the planet. As we embrace our personal power—and acknowledge gifts and challenges related to that power—we also identify the particular contributions we can make to the accomplishment of leadership tasks.

Here are several other differences in coercive and personal power: coercive power is “power over”; personal power is “power with.” Coercive power can be used to force others to act in ways not in their self-interests or the best interest of the organization. Personal power is not used to force but is used to influence, to impact and to persuade; it is about showing up, having a position, and speaking our truth. Power is still an important dynamic in a relationship, but it is used differently and its use has different consequences—no more fight or flight by the other, no more need to commercialize commitment, no more ratcheting up the conflict through the use of bigger sticks or carrots. Here is a chart that describes the differences:

Coercive Power Personal Power
Power based on sticks and carrots Power based on integrity, authenticity, and character
Source is external to self
Source is internal to self
Can be given or taken away
Is granted and claimed
Used to control
Used to influence
Works when other is afraid or dependent
Works when other is respected and respectful
Based on fear
Based on love

There is a difference between claiming personal power and empowerment. In recent years empowerment has entered our lexicon and it suggests that one person—the manager, the boss, the principal, or the parent—shares his or her power with others, as in “she empowered him,” or “he gave us the power to decide.” The assumption underlying the language of empowerment is that power is a currency that can be given or taken away. But I have found that waiting to be empowered is like waiting for Santa Claus to come. It is waiting to be given a gift that cannot be gotten any other way. Authority to make a certain decision may be given, responsibility for certain tasks may be assigned, but personal power, I argue, cannot be given or taken away.

There is also a difference between empowering another person and granting them personal power or authority. When I grant you personal power I am not giving you something you do not have; I am acknowledging something that has accrued to you because of who you are. This is a subtle but important difference.

You and I act differently in our leadership roles and activities when we are granted, and have claimed, our personal power:

  • We walk the talk. We are authentic and whole and trustworthy people, and who we are is reflected in what we do and how we act in our leadership roles. We are congruent and transparent. We lead with a deep sense of identity and integrity.
  • We find our voice and use it. No more saying yes when we want to say no; no more remaining silent when we think the team or organization is going in the wrong direction; no more hiding the values we cherish; no more agreeing with the boss in the public meeting only to criticize her afterwards. In other words, no more collusion.
  • We are proactive, less reactive. No more waiting on the sidelines for someone else to send us into the game. Now we think of “leadership as everyone’s vocation” and find appropriate ways to be involved. No more throwing verbal hand grenades at “them” for the stupid things they do after refusing their offer to have a seat at the table. Now we think of ourselves as having distinct gifts to offer to the accomplishment of leadership tasks and we offer them freely.
  • We use our power (or our authority, if you prefer) to influence, to persuade, to have impact. We use our original medicine and power that has accrued to us to make a difference, hopefully a positive one. But we do not force or coerce or engage in “pay- for-play.”
  • We do not blame others for our internal realities. Blaming others for our fears, or insecurities, or dependency needs, is giving away our power; it says someone else is responsible and we are not. So, no more, “I did not speak my truth because he couldn’t take it,” or “I did not blow the whistle because around here they really do shoot the messenger,” or even “He made me mad.” Rather, the message might be, “I did not speak my truth because I was afraid.” Even though it may not always true, it is better when we act as if we are 100 percent responsible for our thoughts and feelings. When we do, we embrace our personal power.
  • We no longer swap freedom for safety and security, at least not without it being a conscious choice, a choice for which we accept full responsibility. This is not to say that there will not be times when we want someone or some organization to take care of us, to provide us a sense of safety, but even when we want this we know that it is an illusion, one that will not serve us well over the long haul.
  • We assume responsibility and accountability for the whole even when we don’t have authority. No more waiting for change to start at the top. No more “we can’t do it because they won’t let us” before we have even tried. Peter Block calls the person who proactively assumes responsibility a citizen. “A citizen,” he writes, “is one who is willing to be accountable for and committed to the well-being of the whole … a citizen is one who produces the future, someone who does not wait, beg, or dream for the future” [2008, p. 63].


russ-moxley-becoming-a-leaderGet your free PDF download of this excerpt.

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Russ Moxley is a facilitator of Courage to Lead and Courage to Teach seasonal programs, a part-time faculty member and honorary Senior Fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership, author of Leadership and Spirit, co-author and co-editor of “The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook on Leadership Development”, and author of Becoming a Leader is Becoming Yourself.

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