What Makes a Student's Mind Come Alive?


By Chip Wood (Feb 28, 2013)


Here in A Year at Mission Hill’s Chapter Three video, we have a clear example of a school that (one might expect) will fold Common Core and new state standards into their already-rich, thematic curriculum (rather than the other way around) --- a “site-based” curriculum that provides its students the opportunity and access to their childhood, the natural world, and minds alive. The final scene in this video of the student behind the rototiller is an extraordinary metaphor; the teacher walking beside the student, the earth turning over afresh under his guiding hand and mind, being readied for planting.

It takes enormous courage, conviction and vocational clarity to create and sustain such a school and keep teacher minds alive and well-tended for the many seasons of the school year.

A school with time dedicated to relationships, inquiry and intellectual devotion to well-planned curriculum can evolve a sense of place, pace and trust in the developmental capacities and proclivities of its students.

Have you read The Courage to Teach or participated in one of our retreats or programs in education? Please share your story or comment to about how this has influenced your work with children or adults.

Find out more about opportunities for such Courage in Schools experiences.



Do you feel ignited or burned-out as a teacher? Poetry to sustain your courage to teach


(Feb 22, 2013) Enjoy this poem and teacher's reflection from our first poetry book for teachers, Teaching with Fire. Submissions for our sequel, Teaching from the Heart, are due by Friday, March 1.


What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water could.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.
— Judy Brown

Teacher's Reflection

Coming from Montana, I have learned the art of fire building. I have tried different types of wood, different sizes of kindling, different ways of laying the logs. I used to pile the wood on, to no avail. Hard as I tried to fan the flames into existence, they would only smolder. But now, after years of practice, most times I can build a fire to warm our home.

So it is with teaching. After five years my “fire” was burning brightly. I thrived on the energy that ignites in a classroom. But I was exhausted at the end of the day and overwhelmed by the never-ending list of things to do for my work, my home, my family. After much soul-searching, I realized I was piling on too many logs too tightly and the flame inside me was beginning to wane--even smolder at times. I was desperate for some “space.”

Children need space as well. The constant piling on of facts and figures, the demands of time and energy can quickly douse the flame--the energy that children bring to the classroom.

I am learning for myself and for my students, to choose consciously the logs I place on my own fire, and to pay special attention to the spaces that invite reflection and warmth. Given this space between the logs, my students and I often witness the special beauty that ignites and takes on a life of its own.

— Maggie Anderson, Middle and High School Science Teacher, Montana

Excerpted from page 88-89 of Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach (Jossey-Bass, 2003).

"Fire" from The Sea Accepts All Rivers & other poems by Judy Sorum Brown. Copyright 2000 by Judy Sorum Brown. Reprinted with permission of the author.


Join Parker J. Palmer in a 4-week online workshop at Cojourneo


by Parker J. Palmer (Feb 16, 2013).

cojourneo-verticalbanner-selfguidedWant to take one of my workshops without leaving home? Well, I'm venturing into the brave new world of online education, and I want company! From March 29 to April 25, 2013, I'll lead a four-session online workshop hosted by my friends at Cojourneo -- a site that offers a great, user-friendly way to take a journey of discovery together.

The workshop is called "Getting to the Heart of the Matter." We'll explore five "habits of the heart" that contribute to personal wellbeing and to our capacity to work for the common good, based on my new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (not required but you can buy it here if you'd like a copy).

To kick off each session, I'll give a 20+ min. video talk. You can also gather in weekly small-group Google Hangouts around questions I suggest; and collaborate online with others in dialogues or projects that interest you. For more info, including session descriptions, please see the link below.

The cost is $49.00, with a money-back guarantee. I'm volunteering my time. The lion's share of the proceeds will go to support the Center for Courage & Renewal. My reward will come from connecting with a lot of good people, spreading the word about habits of the heart, learning more about social media, and just plain having fun.

NOW OPEN FOR REGISTRATION at http://bit.ly/PJP3CJ. Please PASS THE WORD ALONG to friends who might be interested. The more the merrier! Hope to see you there!

P.S.  Announcing Another Chance to Take this Workshop!!

We're pleased to announce that due to high demand Cojourneo has extended the workshop to be ongoing in self-guided mode!

Technical Requirements:  If the registration link doesn’t work, it means your version of Internet Explorer needs updated. IE version 9 or later is required. Google Chrome or Safari is preferred so that you get the best experience of this new online learning platform.

Dates & Timing: You can watch workshop videos and participate online at any time that fits your schedule.

Creating Your Own Circle: If you'd like to create your own private small group for your organization, colleagues or friends, please email as at help@cojourneo.comand we'll be happy to help you coordinate.



Relational Trust and Reflection Strengthen School Communities

By Chip Wood (Feb 14, 2013)


Recently, I spent time with a suburban public school principal, trying to figure out how it would be possible to carve out a day just before the beginning of the next school year for his faculty and staff to participate in a day-long retreat to explore the strengths and needs of the adult community and the deepening of a shared mission to more fully meet the needs of the students they serve. Between the teacher contract and the district’s calendar for professional development, the only possibility seemed to be perhaps to squeeze something in on the day before school started; a day that begins with a district-wide convocation at the high school. That, or perhaps a more unconventional idea of offering the experience as a voluntary, invitational experience to teachers and staff the week before, taking the risk that numbers might choose not to participate, creating unintended consequences and possible divisions in the adult community.

This meeting came to mind as I watched the Chapter 2 video about the beginning of the Year at Mission Hill, where we hear this remarkable narration: “The children are just getting started but the adults have been planning together for it for weeks, sharing ideas, strengthening old bonds, organizing the many aspects of the school community.” Such is the power of charter and commitment and vocational choice and the respect for both community and autonomy. Providing meaningful time for reflection and relationships in the adult community of school pays off “down the road” (as one teacher notes about how this builds his classroom community).

The connection between relational trust in the adult community of school and the relational curriculum of Mission Hill is so evident in this clip. It is one of the central connections that helps create a great public school.

I ask myself, how can we better help other schools and districts create the working conditions and respect for teachers so visible at Mission Hill, so that more teachers and their students can exercise their rights as “citizens in their own community” of learning? Work that we are engaged in through Courage to Teach and Leading Together professional development provides one place to explore this question and its myriad complexities. Thank you, Mission Hill, for your example.



Young, courageous, renewed, and reflecting on power


youngleaders-300by Courtney E. Martin (Feb 5, 2013)

The crew of young activists, entrepreneurs, and rabble rousers that convened right after Hurricane Sandy's touchdown in the east (see that previous bloghad a wonderful chance for reunion last month thanks to Ramin Hedayati's hospitality. In addition to information conversation, the group circled up and talked about how the retreat and its reflections had affected them in recent weeks and months.

The discussion quickly turned to questions of power, ethics, and responsibility. For my part, I realized that part of why we have to pause, disconnect from the Internet and reconnect with our own thoughts, feelings, and intuitions, is so we can avoid the kind of metaphorical "self-doping" that we saw Lance Armstrong get involved in...essentially getting so immersed in unethical cultures and behaviors that they become truly normalized.

I was so moved by what others had shared that I asked them to summarize their take-aways:

What I took away from the conversation is that we all struggle with moments of fear and jealousy in our professional and personal lives, especially when it comes to dealing with jealousy that comes from our older colleagues who we consider in the "work" with us (whatever that is: social justice, feminism, design, etc.), but yet, these colleagues seem to evince or set up a jealous power dynamic that is unsettling for those of us who are younger and trying to be leaders with integrity and heart. If only all of us felt more comfortable calling out these moments of fear and jealousy, we would be able to create healthier relationships with each other. The larger problem is that we don't always have the language or the framework or even the mentoring to know how to do that, leaving all of us silent in the face of trying to make transformative change in the world, and yet not being able to fully connect with each other in the process.

-Ileana Jimenez

My biggest takeaway from the conversation was to remain mindful about how I feel about what others think of how I choose to own and express my power (family, friends, partners, exes, my therapist, clergy, colleagues, etc). I've decided to stop seeking external validation (as much as I can) and elected to show up and take my place/stand my ground in the world in the way that feels most righteous and authentic for me. I've also discovered that there are a lot of assumptions and illusions many people cling to about who they think I should be and how they think I should act or speak because of my subject position as a woman, a younger person, a progressive, and a black woman. It has been challenging for me to deal with the backlash that I sometimes experience when my presence, expression, and insights don't align with what makes some people feel like they know all there is to know about me, my motivations, and my potential. My daily goal is to continue to work on being my own validator and having enough faith to listen to my heart and know that I don't need to fit into anyone else's definition of power, leadership, or purpose but my own.

-Jamia Wilson

My take away is that we don't want to wield our power in the negative ways we have seen too many others wield it. But not wanting to do it isn't enough; we must also WORK not to do it. The more power we gain, the less people will check us, telling us when our behavior is unloving, so we must be the one to check ourselves. In other words, yes, the slope can be damn slippery. So now, while we are still coming into our power, we've got to buy a sturdy pair of hiking boots.

-Linda Kay Klein

I appreciated the examples that were used to illustrate the subtle seductions of power that left unchecked can not only impact others negatively but can corrupt our own souls. That said, I don't pretend to think there is an easy or pure path regarding power and it's uses and abuses. That's why the self-awareness and capacity for self-forgiveness are so important.

-Marcy Jackson

I remember the "doping" piece, of course, with Linda (as I recall) talking about the subtle ways in which we may turn to "underlings" to do simple tasks that we could do for ourselves as the start of a slippery slope. It reminded me of what I wrote in "Leading from Within" about the times I call an office and hear the woman (usually) who answers the phone saying, as she's been instructed to do, "Dr. Smith's office, Nancy speaking." The boss has a title and a last name, the receptionist has only a first name, which takes us farther down the slippery slope. Another memory is around the question I asked about the ambivalence toward power that I sensed at the CT retreat among all these people who've claimed and deployed their power at a relatively young age, ambivalence having to do with things like "I did it once—can I do it again?", "What if I fail?", etc. I think it was Jamia who spoke movingly about feeling shaky when an older person challenged things she said because (by implication) she is "young and inexperienced," and wondering how to respond. I also remember a dialogue with David about the differences between people who take on a project to advance themselves and those who take it on to advance a cause they care about—not pure "types," of course, but tendencies—two scenarios that play out in quite different ways when it comes to power, leadership, and corruption. Could it be clearer than it is that Lance A. did not do what he did in and to cycling for the love of the sport but for love of Lance? Them's my memories for what they're worth

-Parker Palmer

The next Courage to Lead retreat for emerging young leaders and activists will take place April 4-6 in Seattle and is already at capacity. Stay tuned for more reports and future dates for this leadership program. 


What makes a great school?


By Terry Chadsey, Executive Director (Posted January 31, 2013)

A Year at Mission Hill video seriesI spent more than thirty years teaching in public schools and I suspect that most teachers, students, and parents would agree that this is a complicated question. I believe that any democratic society, and this nation in particular, depends upon strong public schools that prepare students to thrive in every sense of that word.

Yet it feels both that public education is in trouble and that there is painfully little thoughtful conversation among most of us about why public education is important, why it is in trouble, what makes a great school, and how we build the public schools that every student and every teacher deserve.

The roots of the Center's work is Courage to Teach®, a program that recognizes that teaching and learning are not mechanical processes but deeply human ones that call upon not just our minds but our hearts and souls. Good teaching requires teachers who can fully show up day-after-day and year-after-year, cultivating their own identity and integrity in the face of both heartbreaking challenge and exhilarating success.

Part of what makes a "great school" is the capacity of the teachers and leaders to turn toward each other and build the strong trustworthy relationships that cultivate great teaching and learning. If the adults cannot model this, how can we ever expect their students to do so?

All of this is why I'm excited that our friends at IDEA have launched a series of ten brief videos that chronicle "A Year At Mission Hill," to help catalyze a conversation on these and other questions about public education.

Mission Hill is a 220 student K-8 school in Boston, with a nationally recognized progressive educator as founder, nestled in a public district's "pilot school" model with autonomy and outside financial support. That makes it distinctly different in structure and context than most public schools including all the ones in which I've taught. There's certainly not just one model for a great school, but I think this series may challenge us to think about some important questions we all have an interest in answering.

I hope you will watch these videos and pass them on to others. We look forward to continuing to explore the questions these videos raise so let the conversation begin.

  1. What makes this a "most successful public school?"
  2. What about Mission HIll might challenge that designation?
  3. Thinking about the wide diversity of public schools, what others would you cite as "most successful?  Why?

Check out more resources for discussing the video series at www.ayearatmissionhill.com.



A True Test for the Inner Life


A retreat participant shares how practices from a recent Courage & Renewal retreat soon informed her approach to life. (Posted January 22, 2013)

My aunt called from Buenos Aires to tell me that my mother’s health was deteriorating rapidly. “This is the end,” she announced.

It’s been quite a rollercoaster since then. My mother is now in hospital and, although her condition is still worrisome, she is in good hands and we will hopefully have a diagnosis before the end of this week.
What I want to share with you is that even in the midst of all sorts of emotions, even when anxiety and fear threatened to take over, something inside me remembered what we do in a circle of trust. We trust. We wait. We honour silence. We listen to our inner teacher and the voices of other circle members. We speak to the centre of the circle without rushing, with words that carry truth from within. We practice respect for ourselves and everyone else. We conspire in love.
So, miraculously, when my aunt said “This is the end” I didn't react in desperation. I had to deal with difficult feelings and thoughts, but something in me refused to believe it was time to cross the threshold of life and death. I’m not sure why, but I just didn't believe it – even though my mother has been trying to let go of her life for the last two decades. Anyway, it is a long story, but suffice it to say that through a friend from elementary school I managed to get in touch with an excellent specialist and between him, my aunt, and me from so far away, we got my mother to the hospital.
This was a true test for the inner life and how it translates into concrete actions in the world when important decisions have to be made. Looking back, it feels like all along I was holding the rope that ties the back door to the barn. And I was not alone.
Plus… Guess what? Now my closest and dearest relatives in Argentina know who Parker Palmer is and will be getting his books as gifts!
Speaking of books, as soon as I returned home from the retreat I started reading A Hidden Wholeness and slowly savoured it for over a month. Oh, WOW.
This may sound strange, but I was glad I didn't read the book before going to the retreat. While I’m sure it would have been helpful to read it beforehand, not doing so allowed me to (a) live the retreat experience moment to moment, without knowing what was coming next, with an open and fresh mind and heart, and (b) approach the book “in 3D,” hearing other voices in between the lines and enriching the reading with memories of our own version of a Courage weekend.
Going back to that weekend, I wanted to say a bit more about one particular threshold moment. When we were having dinner on the Saturday night, and you explained the dynamics of the clearness committees, you asked us to write the names of people we wanted or didn't want on our committee. When I was done with my list, I felt there was something more pressing I needed to write. I wanted to tell you how utterly scared I was and ask that one of you to be on my committee. I was feeling such paralyzing fear in my body that I had to ask for some kind of protection or I knew I would bail out. So, I started to write something along the lines of a polite request. Then something happened. I tore the little bit of paper where my confused words had started to take shape, and decided to dive deep into trust. There was a split second of complete surrender, of knowing that whatever happened would be the right thing. This fleeting but essential turning point was a sort of initiation for me. If I hadn't embraced the fear in my gut exactly the way it was, I wouldn't have experienced the letting go that followed and that depth of trust – in both of you, and in life’s wisdom.
Thank you once more for offering the wisdom in your lives to us, thank you for the sweet and bold taste of wholeness you shared. May that wholeness be with you and your loved ones every single day of this new year.

The author's name has been withheld for privacy.



Optimism vs. Hope


by David Henderson, Courage & Renewal Facilitator and Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership, Montana State University (Posted January 16, 2013)

David HendersonOptimism is often touted as an important quality of leaders—people need to see someone at the helm who can model for them that everything will work out, everything will be ok.

As I watched the events in Connecticut unfold, believing anything will be ok seemed far-fetched at best. I was grateful for President Obama’s tears—a simple human reflection of the vulnerability most leaders refuse to display. But those events made me struggle with any sort of optimism or hope as I began to embrace the deep grief I was feeling.

As I teach educators looking to become school leaders, and I weigh honestly the institutional inertia they will face, it seems disingenuous of me to tell them to be optimistic, that everything will work out when it comes to the schools they will be leading, the kids, teachers and communities they will be serving.

As I listen to these bright and committed teachers ask honest and heartfelt questions about the realities of bringing change and reform and—most importantly—their hearts into their schools, I am struck by my own fear that they will be chewed up by the enormous machine which is the status quo of public education. Isn’t this the same fear we face for our own children as they engage the harsh realities that we know life will afford them? Isn’t it true now as we simply drop them off in front of their schools? Isn’t there truth woven in the cynic’s mantra, “I’m just trying to acknowledge reality here”?

Don’t we know these future school leaders will face unending bureaucracy, raging poverty, children who are ignored and abused, from families that have fractured, and teachers who have lost heart and embody the tragic adage, “hurt people hurt people,” and in this context, hurt children? Don’t we, as experienced school leaders and teachers of leadership, victims of our own leadership wounding, know “the reality” of school leadership and that when it comes to the incessant time demands—and now testing demands—of school leadership, the best most school leaders can hope for is to survive, try to wear a smile, and be as encouraging as we can.

Is long term, expansive school reform the same “idealism” that reduced the “peace and love” of the 1960s to a cliché worthy of derision and dismissal? Don’t we know these things in the dark realities of our own broken hearts? And given these “realities”—these tragedies—isn’t optimism as a school leader something of a pipedream at best and a doorway to defeat at worst? How then can we say school leaders should be optimistic?

I don’t think we should. I don’t think optimism has ever been what any leader, or any honest person for that matter, should model for their followers or for the safety and sanity of their own hearts and minds. For the truth is, poverty—fiscal and spiritual—will never go away. Tragedies like what happened in Connecticut will not stop happening. There will always be those who choose bureaucracy over community, status quo over change, fear over love, and cynicism over hope. So what do we offer these teachers? How do we prepare them for the inevitable wounding of the battle, while at the same time believing that the struggle is more than worthwhile and is, indeed, glorious? We teach them how we have learned the difference between optimism and hope, and it has sustained us and sustains us still.

Optimism claims everything will be all right despite reality. Hope accepts reality, the poverty of spirit that underlies all fear, instigates all tragedies, bureaucracy and institutional inertia. But hope has a trump card—the capacity of the human heart. When optimism gets ground up by reality, hope will go toe-to-toe with reality because of a heart that simply refuses to quit. And there is no reality that can overcome the capacity of the human heart to withstand and even to ask boldly, “Is that all you got? Is that the best you can do? My heart and the hearts of these people here with me are way bigger than that.” This too is what we have seen in Newtown. This is the basis for hope.

Optimism depends on the world’s dark realities relenting—they will not. Optimism requires externals to work themselves out—they will not. Hope, on the other hand, doesn’t ignore external realities; it simply knows the human heart’s capacity to withstand those realities, and it trusts in the inexhaustible power of our hearts to choose love over fear. Children will continue to be the innocent victims of adult fear as long as humans exist, but schools and compassionate teachers and hopeful school leaders will continue to offer children a way to find their own hearts and the resilient capacity within those hearts to withstand the darkest results of the world’s cruel fear and their own incapacitating fear.

So, what do I say when one of my students says, “But, Dr. Henderson, from what I’ve seen of school principals, most of them are consumed fighting fires and trying to make their test scores. They simply don’t have time even to begin to do the things that lead to the change and reform you and all these researchers write about.” I don’t tell them, “Well, try and be optimistic that your action plan will change it all.” I do tell them, “Your hearts and the hearts of many of the teachers and many of the parents you will serve have an unlimited capacity for loving the children in that building. Trust in that; believe in that. Trust in those hearts and the boundless capacity of your own heart will be your ground for hope, and hope is believing in the capacity of the human heart to choose the holy even in the face of the hellish.”

We need leaders who are full of hope, not purveyors of plastic smiles suggesting a lame optimism. We need leaders who take seriously the challenges of educating and serving but courageously depend on the intangibles of heart and love and compassion within themselves and others to meet those challenges. The capacity of the human heart has the expansiveness of the universe, which puts any institutional inertia—and any tragedy—in perspective.



Can We Talk About Our Disagreements?


Rev. Nathan E Kirkpatrick

Courage & Renewal experiences help people practice a new way of having conversations that matter. In this guest blog, Rev. Nathan E. Kirkpatrick (a Courage & Renewal facilitator) suggests a way to hold the tensions in faith communities in more life-giving ways, even in a culture of divisive politics and broken systems. (Posted January 11, 2013)

As discussions and disagreements of the wider society find expression in the life of the church, it is crucial that we consider how we disagree as people of faith.

One common word I have heard in the descriptions of the recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church was fatigue – and not just the physical weariness of the individuals present but the emotional and spiritual exhaustion of the body as a whole. More than one person observed how individual fatigue was merely symptomatic of the denomination’s languor. We have grown weary of conversation with one another, however holy we claim it is, and when we are weary of talking with one another, it is easy to stop talking and to start taking ideas of fracture seriously.

Rather than cease conversation and begin planning for an amicable divorce, it is time for our conversation around our disagreements to evolve. Parker Palmer writes in his book Healing the Heart of Democracy, that communities must learn to hold tension in creative, constructive and ultimately life-giving ways. Few would say that we can hold our disagreements so generatively, but for the life and health of the body, it is time we learn how to do so.

This would mean that the church would need to create a sanctuary of safety where the hurt caused by the church can be heard and met by the healing of grace. It would look like creating a place of trust where persons who feel estranged from the body can again find themselves incorporated in it. It would look like engaging in lament and praise where the weary can find rest and the church can hold both justice and Jesus dear.

The church has not been good about creating alternative conversations in this country. The divides of society have manifested themselves in the fracturing of our internal life. May whatever common fatigue we feel be overcome by grace so that we might risk finding ourselves as part of a new conversation.

Join us August 12-15, 2013 for a special retreat and conference with Parker J. Palmer on the Habits of the Heart: The Courage to Practice a Faith Worthy of the Human Spirit. As a Courage & Renewal program designed for ordained and lay leaders, and people of faith serving in broader ministries, it will help you find renewed energy and tools to live into your call to ministry, to claim your agency in the congregation, and to build communities in which differences are used creatively rather than destructively.


Turning to Wonder with Contemplative Photography


by Karen Erlichman, Courage & Renewal facilitator (January 8, 2012)

What might it be like to be a “contemplative photographer” who views things with gentle curiosity in order to gain new perspectives?

The touchstone of turning to wonder from the Circles of Trust® approach has been not only a staple for workshops and retreats, it has been a tool for liberation in my relationship with other people and to the world. When I find myself feeling judgmental, critical or doubtful, I do my very best to soften my response by asking myself questions like, “I wonder what brought her to that opinion?” or “I wonder what it’s like for him to feel that way?”

In a recent blog posting on tinybuddha.com, Kim Manley Ort reflected about transforming judgment into curiosity and wonder, framing the topic from her unique perspective as a photographer. She describes herself as a contemplative photographer:

Photo by Kim Manley Ort, a contemplative photographer who loves her life. See kimmanleyort.com“It’s about being present and open to life as it is, without judgment. It’s about being open to what the world offers up to me rather than looking for a particular shot.”

To view the world with contemplative eyes of wonder is no small task, particularly for a photographer. Manley Ort describes the “profound impact” that turning to wonder has had on her work, fostering new “in-sight” that brings fresh eyes to seemingly mundane aspects of everyday life. She describes a mindful quality of being with what is, which is not only relevant to photographers and other artists, but to people in general.

I love her suggestion of taking mindful “judgment breaks;” simply notice when you are feeling judgmental, and do your best to make a shift from judgment to wonder.

Each one of us has a unique lens through which we see the world. I am grateful for the opportunity to press my internal refresh button in order to perceive others, and myself, with kind eyes and renewed wonder.

  • What might it be like to be a “contemplative photographer” who views things with gentle curiosity in order to gain new perspectives?
  • How might you remind yourself to make the shift from judgment to wonder in each moment?


Good medicine demands deep thinking


by Rob Meyer, MD (posted January 3, 2013)

Dr. Rob Meyer in his “secret office” for reflective time."If we don't stop to reflect, and to share our reflections with one another, it can blunt our empathy for our patients."

The more people I talk to, the more obvious it is to me that the pace of change in health care today is so rapid, and the initiatives so multiple, that they preclude the opportunity for deep thinking about what we are doing. Our energy is taken up with trying to learn new things, trying to keep up with the changes, trying to keep up with the demands of our organizations and health care in general.

It’s very easy to lose yourself, and so a process of examining who you are, where you come from, and what your journey is, and then being able to find a place and people with whom you can discuss this, is absolutely vital to maintaining one’s balance and integrity.

This process is critical, not only to maintain the individual, but because team care is such a big part of health care transformation today. Working in teams requires we know the people with whom we’re working well, and that’s just not the case in most circumstances. I am firmly convinced that there is a limit to our capacities and to what we can do well without an opportunity to stop and reflect, to communicate with peers, to be listened to, and to listen to them.

I came out of last year’s Health Care Institute resolute about bringing Courage & Renewal back to my organization. I felt more equipped to do it, and I felt empowered to do it because I met other physicians and people working in health care from around the country who are doing the same thing in a variety of ways. After the Institute, it wasn’t so much about me. It was about knowing the importance of this work and bringing it to the organization.

I started with my own pediatric care team—three physicians, a nurse, medical assistants and receptionists. The question I started with was, “What has brought you to this place?” The big eye-opener was that almost everyone had emigrated and had come to this country seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Of the group around the table, only two of us were born in the United States. And even though people came from different countries and from very different cultures, telling our stories uncovered this common thread: we were all there to help our patients lead healthier lives. I consciously didn’t have another agenda for this meeting. I thought it was important for us just to know each other better. I think we really jelled as a team, and this can’t help but build empathy for our patients.

People who work in this organization already have a very strong sense of social justice. We take care of some very disadvantaged folks with a lot of complex problems. IIf we don't stop to reflect, and to share our reflections with one another, it can blunt our empathy for our patients. We need an ongoing way to revive that empathy, and our mission, in ourselves and with each other.

Because of my work with Courage & Renewal, I think I’m much more attuned to sensing when someone is talking from his or her heart. Then it’s time to turn away from the computer screen and just listen. That’s happening more and more. As health care changes, and we’re no longer working based on productivity, we’ll have more time to listen deeply and considerately. I’m looking forward to bringing Courage work directly into the provider-patient encounter.

Courage & Renewal also got me thinking about my leadership abilities and challenges, and what was clear to me was that I needed a very different head space and heart space to do this reflective work with my colleagues. I couldn’t just go straight from seeing patients or from doing my administrative work as the medical director without doing the “work before the work” myself.

I decided I would carve out three hours a week just to reflect. For this time, I go to another small office here that no one else knows about. I have my computer in case I need to use it, but I usually don’t turn it on. I sit and think and write a blog that I’m sharing with my project group, and I prepared for two Courage workshops we did here at Cambridge Health Alliance. The difference between how I feel internally during those three hours as opposed to the rest of the week is striking.

It’s made me realize that what I really want to do for the rest of my professional career is return to my first love, seeing patients. It’s time to let go of my role as medical director, which I’ve done for 12 years, and which needs new energy and new ideas. I will be leading in a different way, and that feels right to me at this time of my life. I’m 64. It’s time to bring wisdom to my work.

I’m going to go back to the next Courage & Renewal Health Care Institute this April. I need to have a regular transfusion. Being with like-minded and like-hearted individuals, spending rich time in conversation, listening to similar problems that you’re experiencing, being encouraged and inspired and instructed by a whole new peer group at these gatherings, are really wonderful.

Dr. Meyer is a pediatric primary care physician and Medical Director at the Cambridge (MA) Health Alliance’s Windsor Street Health Center. He has participated in several Courage & Renewal experiences in health care, including seasonal retreat series, the Leadership Academy, and the Center for Courage & Renewal’s Annual Health Care Institute: Integrity in Health Care: The Courage to Lead in a Changing Landscape, which is coming up again in April 2013 in Minneapolis. See couragerenewal.org/institute



Our Wishes for a More Courageous World



We wish you all the peace, love and light of the season...and add these staff wishes for a more courageous world:

My wish for the world is that we each take that next step to extend ourselves for the sake of another's learning and well-being. -- Terry

My wish for the world is each person realizing that he or she is not alone. -- Anais

My wish for the world is that everyone begins to truly listen to that inner voice that says "don't forget your keys" because that voice has other important things to say, too, if only we make time to hear it. -- Shelly

My wish for the world is that as we end 2012 and begin 2013, we experience fully the cycles of the seasons and of our lives. I wish for the clarity that winter brings in North America as the bare trees open up the vistas; I wish for the sprouting of new growth as we move into spring, I wish for the abundance of the summer season, and the gift of letting go as autumn approaches again in 9 months. -- John

My wish for the world is for people to treat each and every day like the gift it really is. -- Robin

My wish for the world is that everyone would find inside themselves the courage to have an open mind and heart while exploring the world's ever-changing humanity. -- Jade

My wish for the world is that we take time to listen to others, especially our children. And hard as it is, let's stop trying to "fix" them and instead "turn to wonder" at who they are becoming and what they are teaching us. -- Marcy

My wish for the world is that we each discover the courage within our hearts to offer compassion where it is most needed. -- Rick

My wish for the world is that each of us would show up in our relationships as our true self, even if we're not always sure who that person is and why they are so demanding of our attention! -- Erin

My wish for the world is that each of us could more fully honor the other's integrity, suspending judgement and creating safe space for important conversations. -- Ann



May God bring light to 
You, me and everyone.
Where light lives is 
Inside each of us. Listen, the Divine
Spirit is singing faithfully, my
Heart beats with her rhythm and we dance.

-- Rose


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