by Alan Preston, Guest Writer (July 5, 2013)
After five years as a community organizer, Parker J. Palmer became enamored with the Quaker tradition of social justice. He believes when “we, the people” re-examine connections to beliefs and communities, it creates an opportunity to heal an ailing democracy.
I encountered the work of Parker J. Palmer in the early 1990s, when a friend handed me his short but profound collection of essays, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. The essays touch on his own personal journey through depression, his path in aligning his role in life with his soul’s calling, and the lessons he has learned about the inner dimensions of leadership. Let Your Life Speak became a constant companion for me over the next few years, coming into my life as it did during a period of personal transition and questioning.
Over the years, I’ve had the honor of spending time with Palmer. What impresses me most is that his humility, insight and authenticity come through every bit as clearly in person as they do in his books. I was not at all surprised when “Utne Reader” named him one of their top 25 visionaries in 2011.
Palmer often refers to the metaphor of a Mobius strip — a surface that blurs the distinctions between inner and outer — in his writings and teachings. Palmer has used the metaphor to invite individuals to explore the integrity between their own values and their vocation. More recently, he has extended the metaphor to the state of our democracy, and he challenges citizens to consider the relationship with our hearts, our connections to our communities and a healthy, functioning democracy. Palmer will be making a rare appearance in Seattle this month, and I was eager to catch up with him before his trip. Continue reading...
By Marianne Houston (June 27, 2013)
As one of the first Courage & Renewal facilitators prepared by Parker Palmer in 1994, it has been my extraordinary good fortune to work with the administrative team of Paw Paw (Michigan) Public Schools for the past 14 years. This unique opportunity offers one illustration of the potential of the Courage & Renewal approach to build community within an organization over time.
Superintendent Mark Bielang (now on the Center for Courage & Renewal Board) participated in a three-day Courage to Lead® retreat for education leaders in early 1999. In August 1999, Mark invited me to lead a retreat for his leadership team before the beginning of the school year. Every year since, I’ve continued to do so.
I called that first retreat “Gathering Strength for the Journey.” All 17 team members were required to attend. The team consisted of the superintendent, curriculum/instructional director, business manager, technology director, principals of high school, middle school, lower and upper elementary schools, the high school and middle school assistant principals, the adult/ community education director, transportation director, plant manager, and directors of maintenance, food services and transportation/buses. This diversity of roles was initially challenging but proved an extraordinary blessing over the years.
One of the first things that the food supervisor said to me was “I didn’t want to be here, but I came anyway” and the maintenance director, fingering the journal we’d provided, approached me with this quiet secret: “I don’t write at stuff like this.” I tried to reassure both of them in those early minutes, and in the circle stressed how seriously we take our guiding principles.
With a warm, gentle introduction, I invited them to introduce themselves in the circle with the direction, “Take a few moments to think of a story about yourself, or something about yourself, that these folks – whom you know so well – DON’T know.” This was great fun and resulted in relaxed shoulders all around!
We worked slowly through our time together. We freed ourselves of cell phones, and celebrated. In one exercise I invited them to consider a time during their work in education when they realized that they were fully engaged and felt the joy of that. What a beautiful time we had! The gentleman who confessed that he did not write was caught scribbling away with his left hand long after everyone else had finished! He’s taken a lot of gentle ribbing about that since and became a kind of wisdom figure for the team over the years, with no one more surprised than he!
As the years passed, the constants in each retreat were our principles and practices: the power of poetry and story, the generous way in which Time is held, and the unbounded welcome that we practice. As new leaders joined the circle, others left for other work, and one passed away. By 2012, only six of the original 17 remained. Those constants were passed on through the years with an ebb and flow that is natural to vital, living institutions. Newer administrators have more than once spoken of how the retreats helped them integrate into the community.
Over the years, I recorded what the participants shared with the group. There may be no better way to offer a snapshot of the impact of Courage & Renewal for this team:
- One thing I know: I don’t want to manipulate people. I just want to respect them and grow with them.
- I just realized what’s meant by ‘integrate being with doing’… that’s the undivided life you’re talking about, right?
- It’s not just about skills and techniques… it’s about my world and life view. It’s more about who I am.
- I always had to be with somebody. Now I’m content to be by myself.
- It’s kind of a new way of thinking for me: we can create the kind of environment we WANT TO LIVE AND WORK IN.
- Am I doing anything that helps my staff take better care of themselves? I see how this work helps me.
- It’s so healthy to own my own doubts and fears. Hearing yours has helped me do that.
- I’m feeling better understood by this team, and I even understand myself better!”
- “I’m thinking a lot about how to use our relationship on the team as a model for my staff relationships.
- Who knew it was OK … really good… to bring your HEART to this education business? How did we miss that??
- I wrote to myself… ‘Try to see the person behind the job. ‘ I keep it on my desk.
- One of the greatest things that has happened to me is that I realize I know more than I think I do. That sounds silly…
- I thought my high school staff would laugh when I used poetry in a meeting but they seemed to really like it. Incredible how a poem can facilitate real dialogue.
- It’s OK. I am not perfect … and this poet is right on: I am not done with my changes.
As a facilitator I feel like a member of the Paw Paw family and look forward to our retreat this year.
Think about a team you’re part of. What do you most hope for them?
Guest blog by Sandra Copley (June 25, 2013)
I came to Courage to Lead® in a state of disillusionment. I was working in a fractured system plagued by too many projects, minimal support and the struggle to maintain its projects in the face of dwindling funds. So I applied for a Santa Barbara-based seasonal retreat series for nonprofit and community leaders, hoping to find some support. In the year-long work of Courage to Lead, our facilitators Ken Saxon and Kim Stokely guided us all through an inner journey of renewal.
I began to gently hold and nurture my role as a leader and accept my worth as a unique force in the community. My paradigm shifted. I no longer felt confined to work within the role of the organization, but rather to be guided by the whisper of the inner voice of wisdom.
I then began noticing an interesting phenomena emerging. Other Courage to Lead graduates were also bringing this work into the community. I attended a meeting of community leaders to discuss how to collaborate more effectively for grants that would benefit our county’s residents in need. When I looked around, I noticed there were Courage to Lead alumni at every break-out table. The conversations were rich and engaging. There was a genuine feeling of authenticity and cooperation. We were all impressed by the creative ideas and camaraderie at the end of the meeting.
I feel that Courage to Lead is slowly penetrating and inspiring a shift in how we work together here in Santa Barbara. I truly believe that engaged leaders trained in the methods developed by Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal can share the values inspired by this series and create a shift that will be passed forward in profound ways. Ultimately, this has the potential to change the fabric of our society.
Sandra Copley is Director, Maternal Child Adolescent Health at the Santa Barbara Public Health Department. See our calendar for current Leadership programs.
by Mardi Tindal (June 20, 2013)
Much of the Center’s work revolves around seasonal metaphors, and we have chosen retreat centers to reflect the best that a season has to offer. For the longer, lighter summer days, we have space available at at our signature retreats: July in Minnesota and August near Seattle. If crisper days and changing leaves are more to your liking, check out: September in Ontario and October in Colorado. See more in our full calendar.
Below is a reflection from one of our facilitators-Mardi Tindal---on how spring showed up in her life and in her retreats.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background: from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Today feels like one of those days of which Li-Young Lee writes in his poem, From Blossoms. His words have been woven into the threads of my spring Courage & Renewal retreats this year.
I just can’t let spring burst into tomorrow's summer solstice without pausing to salute and honor the many hues of new growth and beauty that I’ve witnessed over this season.
Nestled into the lush desert orchards of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, the fertile Plains of Manitoba, on the shore of a late-melting lake of Northern Ontario and along cities and riverbeds in southern Ontario, my soul has stirred as individuals reclaim passion for their life and work, from blossoms to blossoms.
Teachers and clergy, professors (of business administration, nursing, international relations and more), lawyers, alongside those working in music, human resources, truck driving, and more, have gathered to give voice to their soul’s claim upon them.
One teacher’s “aha!” stands out. She shared how she’d realized that her frustrations of the past year were not so much about having been unable to find the right ‘tips and techniques’ for her students, as they were about her inner fears of being with students of an age group with which she was unaccustomed.
“This year I will pay attention to who and how I am as I meet my new students. It wasn’t about them. It was about me.”
Here are a few other voices that joined the springtime chorus:
“I now feel renewed---contentment rather than restlessness; direction rather than waffling; courage rather than fear!”
“The immediate value of this retreat is immense. An impasse has been broken and I am moving forward.”
“This retreat has not only been a rich blessing in helping me connect afresh with my soul but in increasing my ability to companion others in a circle of trust.”
“The value of these retreats is in the uniqueness of each one.”
One of the things I noticed on these particular retreats was the ways in which spring blossoms often appear---not at the end of new shoots---but part-way down a branch, springing from the end of last year’s growth. Flowering bushes told me that the fruits that will come of today’s growing efforts won’t be seen for some time to come. That’s just the way it is.
It took a lot of growing effort---represented by time, money and attention---for the over 100 individuals with whom I’ve had the joy of sitting in Circles of Trust this spring, to invest in next year’s blossoms. It appears it’s been worth it.
Together we have made way, not just for the next year’s possible blossoms, but for the ‘sweet impossible’ ones too!
Question: What is blossoming forth in your life from last year's growth?
Mardi Tindal will be co-facilitating one of our signature retreats, Journey Toward an Undivided Life, offered by the Center for Courage & Renewal, near Toronto, ON, September 19 - 21, 2013. See our full calendar of retreats.
(June 18, 2013)
"The poles of either-or, the choices we thought we had to make, may become signs of a larger truth than we had even dreamed--and in that truth, our lives may become larger than we ever imagined possible."
- Parker J. Palmer, The Promise of Paradox
As Parker writes, it's true that the world is full of very real opposites pulling vigorously against each other. It's also true that when we are able to "live the contradictions", we learn to hold the tensions in life-giving ways.
Light & Shadow
Alone & Together
Now & Future
Freedom & Discipline
Heartbreak & Hope
What's on your list of life's great contradictions?
What "larger truth" might be on your horizon if you embrace a paradox?
Today's blog is a mirror of our monthly Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter. Subscribe here.
by Emily Chamberlain, Courage & Renewal Facilitator (June 13, 2013)
It has been over a month since I attended the White Privilege Conference for the first time, and I am still filtering the experience, trying to understand how my internalized sense of “whiteness” separates me from the full expression of my own humanity and keeps me unconsciously aligned with the very forces of injustice and oppression I say I am working against. During the three-day conference, we had one opportunity after another to unpack the “invisible knapsack” of unearned privilege Peggy McIntosh speaks of – the one we carry around with us always, as white people, even if we are unaware of it.
Much of what I found in my own “backpack” I expected to find, although the process of bringing those parts of myself to light was surprisingly unsettling.
I expected to have my blindness around issues of equity and race mirrored back to me and to be jarred into a clearer recognition of the harm I have unknowingly done to friends and colleagues of color.
As a white woman who grew up in the segregated South, I expected to feel a deep, unnamed sadness welling up within me and to fear exposure for the privileged little white girl I was – and to a great extent, still am.
But what I didn’t expect was how much of the work we did around class and the intersection of race and class was completely new to me, and how charged those conversations were, not only for me but also for many of the other, more experienced participants in the room. In a workshop entitled “How Do We Talk about Class?,” I realized that at age 59 I couldn’t recall EVER having an honest conversation about class in a group setting. The simple activity of creating a “critical events timeline” of my awakening awareness of class brought back memories I hadn’t thought of in 30 or 40 years, and to which I had attached no particular significance.
Though it seems obvious now, it had never occurred to me that I bring my entire background of class into every interaction I have, and that looking at white privilege through the lens of both race and class can help us more clearly see the intersectionality of all forms of privilege and oppression. This was perhaps the most important insight I took from the conference, along with a deepening understanding of how daunting the task of interrupting white privilege really is, and how much we depend on each other to show us the parts of ourselves that would otherwise remain unseen. I believe this process is a necessary step toward putting love in action for our fellow human beings and for ourselves.
(Note: Peggy McIntosh's essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" was published in the July/August 1989 edition of Peace and Freedom, pp. 10-12.)
How do class and race show up in your everyday life?
by Valerie Brown (June 11, 2013)
“…When love came to the door of India, that door was opened wide.”
The Taj towers above the treetops, glowing like an illuminated jewel. Despite having seen it many times, over many years, the first glimpse of it stops my breath. Completed in 1653, by ruler Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, this Islamic-style tomb is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it is a tribute to love and beauty, and yet it is a tomb. A paradox itself.
It is said that the cool whiteness of the Taj’s marble changes moment to moment, harmonizing with the light, with the heat or coolness of the day, even with women’s saris in colors of sage, burnt orange, cinnabar and crimson. Crowds come to the Taj out of devotion, curiosity, national pride. They leave differently.
We were a group of 17 women from all across the USA on an inter-faith pilgrimage to India, a journey that I co-led and organized under the auspices of Kirkridge Retreat & Study Center. On the road, through the streets, we enter the city of Agra.Slowly we make our way back downhill, past the vendors selling miniature replicas of the Taj, key chains and postcards. We are largely silent, absorbing what we have seen, what we have heard, feeling differently.
And then he approaches, a young man whose body is deformed into a knot. His lower half sits on a wooden board with coasters for wheels. His left foot is clubbed, misshapen and pencil sharp, which he drags behind him. He wants rupees, but more than rupees, I sense that he wants to be seen, to be known, not as a curiosity or eccentric, but for his humanness.
Still love drunk, from the Taj’s beauty, I look into his dark, almond-shaped eyes. I see him. He sees me. There is a moment of recognition: we are both seekers, we are here, fully present in this moment. Like the Taj, he is here before me and this is a moment of breathlessness. I stoop down into a squat to whisper to him: “Thank you, Namaste.”
Back on the bus, the women approach me. “What just happened there?”
The beggar and the beauty of the Taj stand side by side as a paradox. These seeming opposites open me to know the wholeness, of life a living example of stretching myself to understand, to respect, to connect with ‘the light and the darkness’, with the mystery of the moment.
The pilgrimage lesson that day: Can I open my heart to what is before, to be open to the wholeness of all things?
What paradox do you notice in your travels through life?
Valerie Brown is a Courage & Renewal Facilitator and the author of The Road that Teaches: Lessons in Transformation through Travel (QuakerBridge Media 2012) and Heartfulness: Renewing Heart, Mind and Spirit on Retreat and Beyond (February 2013, Pendle Hill). Valerie is leading another group pilgrimage in October 2014, the El Camino de Santiago in Spain. Contact Valerie at www.leadsmartcoaching.com
by Chip Wood (June 6, 2013)
This ten minute video clip is inspiring and heart breaking. It is a clear example of a group of educators trying to heal the heart of democracy. (The work that Parker J. Palmer calls us to in his latest book. Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create A Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.)
Having followed the school through this video series over the year, I have gained immeasurable respect for the leadership displayed by Principal Ayla Gavins and her teachers in carrying out a robust and challenging curriculum, designed, in fact, to meet the children where they are and help them make a profound difference in their own lives. If you doubt this, listen carefully to the words of recent Mission Hill Alums at the beginning of Chapter 10.
Bravely, at the close of the school year, against unknown consequences, Ayla Gavins tells her teachers she will not give up the mission of Mission Hill to the intrusion of state requirements. With the quiet conviction of a leader who knows the time has come to take a stand, she unwaveringly makes clear: “The testing has gotten out of control. Right now what’s hanging us up is this Predictive Test. It’s an assessment that is going to be tied to teacher evaluation. Massachusetts has been awarded Race to the Top money. And so all these things are all linked to state requirements.”
“When we roll into the fall and it is time for Predictors, our school is not going to administer them. When we do not do this, I will be written up. My job is on the line and just as a school community we just have to be prepared for that. We have to have our stuff together.”
The video, “A Year At Mission Hill”, has ended, but the story is far from over. Teachers and leaders around the country are dealing with similar dilemmas. Each must decide where they stand and how their response impacts their students, schools and careers. As Principal Gavins makes clear, none of this is easy.
See more resources about this topic at the website for A Year at Mission Hill.
Guest blog by Melissa Keller (June 4, 2013)
In a classroom of fourth- through sixth-graders, I am visiting as a university supervisor observing a student teacher. The host teacher is my former student, Jill. She is direct, funny, smart, and articulate. It’s easy to see in her the passionate student I first knew.
A few minutes into a geometry lesson, an announcement comes over the intercom. It is the principal stating, “Code Yellow.” Jill moves swiftly to lock the door and turn off the lights, then closes the blinds. The children grab their jackets and move to their desks, but they don’t go outside. I watch with curiosity. School lockdowns are not new, but after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, safety protocols are more specific.
Within minutes of the first announcement comes another, the same voice stating twice, “Code Red.” This time, everyone in the room instantly falls silent, moving in seconds to the wall that isn’t visible from the doorway. Twenty-four people are crammed against that wall, knees to their chins to make space for each other. No one speaks or creates distraction. Jill squats low in front, giving a thumbs-up. Too late to move, I am stuck in my chair with children on the floor around me, one even under my chair, calmly sitting behind my legs, as if we do this every day. I sit very still, knowing that my squeaking chair’s sound would be pronounced in this silence, conjuring visions of our hiding place revealed.
A tiny noise is heard and Jill focuses sharp attention on its location. The child who has shifted her legs looks at her wide-eyed. Jill remains serious. She mouths the words, “I love you,” then gestures to zip her mouth, and follows this with a comical meditation pose. Her communication is clear: You are not in trouble. You must be silent. This is how you do it. The child nods her head and settles back into a quiet position.
Everyone exhales upon hearing the next announcement, “Code Green.” They stand and move to the door, with Jill providing assurances. “I know it feels weird,” she says to the students, “but we just have to follow instructions and trust the people who have our best interests at heart. Because we need to be ready for anything that might happen, like a fire, or a gas leak.” “Or somebody with a gun?” one child asks. “Or that,” Jill says, “but that isn’t going to happen, honey.” We walk to an adjacent field, where classes stand in line for their teacher’s headcount. Stopwatch in hand, the principal talks with nearby teachers about how to determine which side of the building is safest. In some cases, they may lead children across the road, behind a nearby building.
“Students,” he says, “this is a good effort. We were out in 3 minutes and 17 seconds. But it isn’t good enough. We must move more quickly next time.” He never says why. I hear the words, gas leak, murmured by teachers to children. In my years as a student, a teacher, and a principal, I’ve never heard so many references to gas leaks as a potential disaster, clearly a less frightening alternative to a murderous monster. The atomic bomb drills of my youth had us under our desks for dubious protection against a nuclear weapon. As a child, I never knew what a nuclear blast would look like and don’t recall being afraid of these exercises. I’m pretty sure I could have imagined a madman with a gun.
Returning to the building, I comment to the principal how quickly the children responded to the drill without incident, then ask him if he really thinks they can move any faster without running. He nods in agreement, but talks about children who were lollygagging, looking up at the clouds, nonchalant as you please. He laughs, “Just like kids do.” Lucky them, I think, lost in my thoughts about this terrible task.
Back in the classroom, the students seem unfazed, but I wonder about the expectations we are placing on them. We are testing children so often that the assessments threaten to take the place of instruction, and the stakes are high. Now they are tested on how quickly they can hide and flee from killers who could enter the school any time without warning. Everyone has to be ready. You need to know the best hiding places.
I remember when school days were not filled with such urgent affairs. At the center of the curriculum was instruction in long division, prepositions and adverbs, science experiments. Teachers focused on lessons about archipelagos and isosceles triangles. Now the center has changed – fear has stepped in and altered the priorities. Call it the opening of Pandora’s Box, or a harbinger of doom, or call it what it is, which is tragic.
Each day that Congress does not summon the courage to ban assault weapons and deter senseless deaths of children, teachers like Jill struggle with delivering paradoxical messages to their students. There is no reason to be fearful, but we will continue to hide from imaginary killers, just in case. I don’t know how long it will take to convince our legislators that a ban on assault weapons is necessary for safe schools, but until they take these steps, our children continue to huddle silently against a wall during intruder drills.
Melissa Keller is a teacher educator and clinical assistant professor at Indiana University School of Education. She lives with her family near Bloomington, IN.
by Rose Yu (May 30, 2013)
Spring is the season of commencement addresses and I was inspired by the message that Maria Shriver delivered at the Annenberg School of Communications, her alma mater.
She says, “I have one wish for you. Before you go out and press that fast forward button, I’m hoping – I’m praying – that you’ll have the courage to first press the pause button.” She goes on to explain that as graduates they have the opportunity to change the way in which we as a nation engage in civil discourse for the better.
Maria Shriver goes on to say, “PAUSE — and take the time to find out what’s important to you. Find out what you love, what’s real and true to you — so it can infuse and inform your work and make it your own.” Read more here.
Mary Edwards, a blogger, a best friend and a spirited survivor of brain tumor removal, said to me recently, “Don’t just do something, sit there” as a play on an old adage that says the opposite. I had to listen to her twice to get her meaning!
Parker Palmer is coming to Seattle for a series of talks in July to talk about developing five habits of the heart, which cultivate this capacity to pause, reflect and then engage with one’s heart before taking action. He calls this pause “getting the news from within.” I have been raised with such a strong ethos of the “can do” attitude when in fact sometimes the best thing I can do is to pause. I’m going to Parker’s talks to help me cultivate that capacity. I hope you will be able to join me.
How do you create spaciousness in your own life so that you can pause with intention?
Guest blog by Tiffany Poirier (May 23, 2013)
Imagine wearing a “Teaching Coat” that tells the story of who you are, one that challenges you to draw out the best of yourself and clarify your own vision of authentic leadership.
This is the idea behind The Teaching Coats Project, and it came to me while reading Parker Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach.
My first three years as a new teacher were a dream—an all consuming, wonderful dream!
I loved every day using my creativity in service to others. It was so fun to work with children and help them achieve their goals. During this time I was inspired to publish my first children’s book, Q is for Question: An ABC of Philosophy, to help empower young people to ask big questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” Teaching children gave my own life more meaning, and I hoped one day to have a child of my own.
Then in July of 2009, my world fell apart. After 5.5 months of pregnancy, my baby was stillborn. The grief—an unimaginable feeling of emptiness—was like a black hole swallowing me from the inside out.
For weeks, all I could think about was how my life seemed bookended by death: I lost my father at age five in a helicopter crash, and now my first baby was gone too.
By September, I had to make a decision about my work.
Determined to move forward, I drew a boundary around my loss, and took an opportunity to teach in a specialized position at another school.
After all, how could I return to my former school—to the young students who had made me cards and long lists of baby names? How could I return with an empty belly? Even though it wasn’t rational, I couldn’t help but feel I let everyone down.
In the hope I would learn to turn things around and lead myself through this difficult time, I signed up for a masters program in educational leadership.
Soon with the new job, university, and no time to recharge, life was all go-go-go! I was running on empty.
To survive, I compartmentalized. There were recesses I ducked into the staff bathroom just to breathe or cry—but I would put on a smile in time to greet my students, determined that the show must go on.
Looking back, I realize that although I did the best I could, I wasn’t always being my most authentic teacher self. My priority was just to try to hold it all together as a professional. Yet in the effort, I was also holding back from my students the best of who I am as a person.
For example, I used to love playing guitar and leading students in making up silly songs. But in that hard year, the music just stopped.
At last, I was relieved and overjoyed to discover I was pregnant a second time. Yet with the still-fresh memory of my loss, I think my pregnancy made me even more guarded with others: I was trying to not share too much of myself with others because my obviously growing belly already made me feel so exposed and vulnerable.
When my beautiful, healthy baby boy finally arrived—I too felt reborn! Once again there was a song in my heart.
Although sleep-deprivation, various post-partum health issues, intensifying university coursework and financial challenges arose as new battles, I discovered that I could get through anything…if I took time to care for myself in small daily ways.
I learned that taking time to recharge was not only vital for me—it helped me be able to give more to others.
One afternoon as my son drifted off to sleep across my lap, I reached for an assigned reading for one of my leadership classes, a chapter in Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. My heart leapt when I got to this passage:
“I once heard this Hasidic tale: ‘We need a coat with two pockets. In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold. We need a coat with two pockets to remind us of who we are.’ Knowing, teaching, and learning under the grace of great things will come from teachers who own such a coat and who wear it to class everyday.”
“What a powerful metaphor!” I thought. “I need that coat!” I reached for a pencil and paper and quickly sketched out the plans.
My Teaching Coat…
I found a plain white lab coat and put a pinch of dust from my garden into one pocket and tucked a teaspoon of gold sparkles into the other pocket.
Then for several hours, I wore the coat as a way to sink into the ideas: “I am dust. I am gold.” Each time I repeated that phrase I made new connections and meanings.
I recorded my thoughts on paper, but soon took to writing them on the coat itself. This felt empowering—tattooing my heart and mind across this coat I could share with others!
I also attached all kinds of other symbols: commemorative school pins to remind me of my journey as a learner; a little mirror for reflection; a magnifying glass to remind me to examine life more closely; and a beautiful crocheted lace made by my grandmother to connect me to my past.
In the weeks I spent creating what I called my Teaching Coat, I realized I was getting to know myself more deeply.
When I began to share my Teaching Coat with others, I found it sparked rich discussions, as each person seemed to offer insightful interpretations of my coat and wonderful visions for their own coats.
It has been amazing to see how The Teaching Coats Project has taken on a life of its own.
Today, take time to recharge and listen to the wisdom of your inner teacher. Imagine:
• What might your own Teaching Coat it look like?
• What words, images, symbols, inspirations and memorabilia might you add, and why?
Next, consider sketching, writing or talking about your ideas with others...or even create your own Teaching Coat to wear! Please feel free to share your thoughts below, and for ideas and support, visit teachingcoats.com.
May 14, 2013
If I was a work of art… This prompt inspired a young poet who has since inspired us and perhaps will encourage you, too!
If I was a work of art
I would be a picture of the wind
The wind, sort of light blue,
really hard and strong.
I would be blowing away
blowing toward love.
When people see the picture
they would know
I was going the right direction
instead of the wrong one.
Thorndyke Elementary After School Program
Writes of Passage Poetry Class with Vicky Edmonds
We invite you to share this poem and questions with someone:
- If you were a work of art, what would you be?
- As with all poems, the words are so wise. How does knowing the poet was in 3rd grade affect you?
- What would your inner 9-year old say to you today?
Where is this young poet now, a decade older?
In 2003 Anthony participated in an after-school poetry writing class taught by Vicky Edmonds. Vicky brought Anthony to a 2003 Gathering of Courage to Teach participants in Seattle with other young poets to share his poem and it continues to be used by teachers and Courage & Renewal facilitators who were in that room that day.
We were so curious about how this wise young soul is doing a decade later, we tracked him down. Anthony is now a freshman on an athletic scholarship to Trinity Lutheran College and studying to be an athletic trainer. Though he hasn’t written another poem, he has excelled as a track and field athlete, winning awards in long jump in particular. When he signed on to Trinity’s team, his coach Matt Koenigs told reporters “To find this combination of character, work ethic and athletic ability in someone is not common – Anthony fits so well with the vision I have for what we are building. I could not have asked for a better person in our first jumper.” And now, a year later, Koenigs tells us “He's been fantastic to have on the team--he brings a great work ethic and a wonderful attitude with him to practice every day.”
We asked Anthony where he finds his courage and strength.
“My dad’s a big motivation in my life. With everything I’m doing, he helps me and gives me the strength to do things. Without him I wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
We never know how our contact with others ripples out into the world over many years. Even for a nine year old.
Thank you, Anthony!
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