Three Ways to Experience More Love

This month I’ve been exploring the concept of love and wondering about how to have a more open heart.

This three part series shares three ways I have re-remembered (with the help of others) how to bring more love into my life.

Part 1: Let it Out

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When I get particularly busy, as I did earlier this month, I find myself going a bit into “robot” mode, getting things done and putting out fires at the cost of feeling less connected to myself and others.

Talking with my friend Lyndsey of Rantoul Yoga, who’s also exploring being a more loving being, we re-remembered that one of the ways we block out love is by blocking out expressions of negative feelings like sadness and grief. By hardening myself to the deep sadness of what’s happening around me (and within me), I also harden my heart to feeling love for others.

Kit Miller of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence says that she does not know how to numb herself to pain without also numbing herself to joy and love. Somehow, these emotions are yoked within our system and closing the valve on one closes down the whole thing.

Miki Kashtan of Fearless Heart says that moving towards our despair rather than avoiding it allows our hearts to expand, to hold more without collapsing.

Of course, this concept is supported by neuroscience, as explored in the movie Inside Out – where Joy could not survive without the help of Sadness.

The invitation is not wallow in sorrow or sink into deep depression.

On the contrary, we are talking about allowing ourselves to experience and express short bouts of pain in a healthy manner.

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So – how do we move towards sadness in a way that expands our hearts? How do we feel the pain of our lives – and of the world – without losing ourselves in it?

One way that my explorations have led to this month is to have a good cry (or even private car-bound scream) regularly. Crying has several health benefits, including stress reduction and mood improvement, even for people crying at a sad movie. The U.K. and Japan have taken this to heart (not pun intended) and created “crying clubs or classes” in which people can weep in the company of others.

I am reminded of a story a friend told me about John, a hospice worker who managed to hold the pain and loss of others with extraordinary care and tenderness for many decades, without burning out or contracting away. When asked about his secret, John replied without hesitation that the only reason he can do the work he does in the way he does it is because he makes sure to have a good cry EVERY DAY.

My tendency when things get rough is the opposite: to lock myself away from the tragic news of the world, to hide my heart behind a thick curtain and protect it from suffering (one of my preferred strategies is losing myself within a good fantasy novel).

However, I know that hiding from pain actually shrinks my heart, rather than expanding it wide enough to allow both sorrow and love to live within.

Since being reminded of this pathway to love, I’ve been practicing little moments of grief – and already I feel myself softening into more tenderness and care for those in my life.

Best Week Ever: True Teacher Story

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“So – I can’t believe it – but my class had a successful conversation about cell phone use last week!”

Ms. Tryit, a 7th grade teacher at one of the Conflict 180 schools, was beaming as she told me her story.

“So we had been experimenting with check-in circles and temperature checks in the beginning of class – maybe for a month? First they acted like they didn’t really like it, but when we didn’t do it, they would ask – are we gonna do temperature checks today?”

“Well – you know how the cell phone use drives me crazy around here. Nothing was working. Reminders. Referrals. Threats. Calls home. And every teacher in the school has their own rules.”

“I was so tired of it. Well – I remember what you said – just try it – you can’t break this. So I thought I’d just go for it.”

“I got them all together and after the usual temperature check I told them I wanted to talk about something important.”

“I introduced the topic and explained how I wanted to do the discussion. First we went around and said how we feel about the cell phone use NOW, what our HOPES are for cell phone use, and then how we wanted to move FORWARD. Then it was kind of popcorn from there.” 

“I couldn’t believe it! It was a great discussion. I mean these are kids who never listen to each other. And the most amazing part is that THEY said it was distracting and needed to stop!”

“We agreed that students would have five minutes of phone use at the end of class if their work was done. And they came up with their own rules that were tougher than my rules would be. They decided how many reminders there would be and then I would take away the phone for a week!”

“That was Friday. And this week has been the best week ever!”

“I mean it has been SO PEACEFUL. Every time I see someone using the phone I just gently remind them about the agreements we made. And it’s really working so far.”

“I’m guessing it won’t last for ever and we will need to have another conversation at some point. Also, I think taking the phone away for a week is too long so we may need to adjust that. But let me tell you. I am really enjoying my class right now. For the first time in a long time.”

Thank you to Ms. Tryit for sharing her true story with us. You too can be brave like her and just Tryit.

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RESTORATIVE HACK FROM MS. CREATIT

The Restorative Hack below was brought to you by a teacher from a different Conflict 180 school.

Ms. Creatit printed out the 4-Card Restorative Kit from Conflict180/Resources, laminated the cards, and hung them on rings. When she saw me, she was excited about it.

“I love my cards and use them all the time. Thank you so much for making them!”

Ms. Creatit was too modest to have her name listed here. However, she sent me a photo to pass on her hack to you.

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What are Restorative Practices?

  • Practices that help people RELATE better
  • Practices that help REPAIR small rifts in relationships
  • Practices that RESTORE dignity and community after harmful acts

A Gratitude Practice Kids Will Treasure

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It’s helpful to remember that gratitude practices increase motivation, improve mood, and shift dynamics between people. As one teacher told me this week “After I did this gratitude practice in my class, it changed the whole day. It was one of the better days lately.”

This particular Gratitude practice comes from the true story of Mark Eklund and Sister Helen, published in Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul, and even put to music by David Roth.
I can attest to the power of this practice, as I have used it with my kids and nieces and nephews – and they treasure their Appreciation lists. Our son, who is 15, still fondly looks at his list from his 9th birthday.
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A grownup variation of this practice is to do an Appreciation circle out loud – for instance, appreciating the office staff – and have a note taker write the appreciations down and type up the list for them later.

Two Steps to Better Parent Teacher Meetings

Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or both, parent-teacher conferences do not have to be stressful. Instead, they can be an opportunity for everyone to get on the same page on how to best support our children.

This is because, underneath all the facts, figures, and rubrics, we care about the same fundamental things.

We want to support kids in values such as:

  • TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for their work
  • PERSEVERING when things are tough
  • BEING KIND and CARING

We want to have adults in the kids’ live who can:

  • HELP and GUIDE them
  • BE FLEXIBLE and UNDERSTANDING
  • BE FAIR and RESPECTFUL

The other thing we share as a “team” of adults are underlying feelings – such as WORRY, FEAR, CONCERN, HOPE, CONFUSION, and GRATITUDE.

These fundamental SHARED VALUES and SHARED FEELINGS can create a connecting language for us during parent-teacher meetings.

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So, What Are the Two Steps To Improve Parent Teacher Meetings?

1. SPEAK IN VALUES

When YOU speak, tell the other adult what is important to you UNDERNEATH rather than focusing on your JUDGMENTS of them or their actions.

2. LISTEN FOR VALUES

When THEY speak, say back to them the SHARED VALUES and FEELINGS you hear – even if they are speaking in judgments. This gives them the sense of being heard at a deeper, connecting level.

EXAMPLE 1: SPEAKING IN JUDGMENTS vs. SHARED VALUES

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TEACHER SPEAKING IN JUDGMENTS: The main issue is that John is talking too much (judgment). He is a bright kid (judgment) but he needs to stop (judgment). I have talked to him several times and he’s continuing (observation). It’s actually disrespectful to me (judgment) and the whole class (judgment).

TEACHER SPEAKING IN SHARED VALUES: I’m worried about John (feeling) because he is a bright young man (judgment) and his talking is getting in the way of his learning (shared value) and other people’s learning (shared value). I want him to be able to express himself (shared value) but I also want him to know (shared value) when it is time to settle down and work (shared value). Do you know what I mean? (inviting parent as ally)

EXAMPLE 2: LISTENING FOR JUDGMENTS vs. SHARED VALUES

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PARENT LISTENING FOR JUDGMENTS: “I think you are being too harsh on John. I know other boys in that class are always talking too, but they don’t get in trouble.” [hearing judgment of John and responding defensively]

PARENT LISTENING FOR SHARED VALUES: “So you are worried about John talking because you want him to be able to succeed in your class? And for all the other students to be able to learn?” [hearing the judgment but then looking one level deeper to see what shared values are also there – and then saying which shared values you heard out loud]

You only have a few minutes. If you can connect quickly on shared values, you can be more creative in finding an action plan that works – and that will feel more like a win-win.

NEED A CHEAT SHEET?

Many people tell me this sounds intriguing but they could use a little help with listening for feelings and values. This way of communicating is based on Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication (NVC).

This handout lists common feelings and values (called needs there) on one page. More thorough lists are available at Conflict180.com/Resources.

What Does It Mean to Have the Right Supports?

In the last post, I talked bout what it means to be a Restorative Leader to combine High Expectations with High Supports for yourself – and those you lead.

Sometimes, however, it is not about trying to match our high expectations with MORE and MORE support – but trying to figure out what the RIGHT support might be for this person – this group – or this situation.

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THE CASE OF JOSHUA AND MS. KRATZ

Joshua did well with his in-class assignments but was losing points on missing and incomplete homework.

Ms. Kratz had tried to be supportive with Joshua.

She had taken time to problem solve with him about how to organize his work better, talked to his mother about organizing solutions for home, showed him how to use the website to track assignments, and was patient with him when he turned in late work.

She believed that she was truly combining High Expectations with High Supports.

Yet, Joshua’s grades continued to plummet as he continued to miss homework assignments. She didn’t want to lower her expectations and she didn’t want Joshua to fail – when he seemed so capable in class.

One day, at a loss of what to do, Ms. Kratz invited Joshua to her room during lunch and asked him what it would really take for him to do his homework assignments.

After a bit of back and forth, Joshua shared that he could not get himself started with all that was happening in the evening at his home – and could not concentrate on his homework.

“If someone sat down with me every day and helped me – you know – like sat there while I did it – and answered questions and stuff – I think I could do it.”

This surprised Ms. Kratz – because she had a different impression of Joshua and his family. Also, Joshua did not seem like the kind of student who would need a tutor: he was bright and seemed to understand the material. However, Ms. Kratz decided to go with what she had heard.

Based on their conversation, Ms. Kratz was able to connect Joshua to a small-group tutoring program that met in the local library after school three times per week.

To her relief, Joshua began to hand in more homework assignments  – and his grades – and spirits – improved.

Ms. Kratz did not give up.

She RESISTED THE TEMPTATION TO LOWER HER EXPECTATIONS and just kept asking the question: what is the RIGHT support for this situation with this HIGH expectation?

My guess is that the OTHER supportive actions Ms. Kratz took with Joshua let him know that she cared about his success – and believed in him. It also allowed the two of them to discover which supports were NOT the RIGHT SUPPORTS for this situation – which eventually led to their success.

The Three Secrets of Restorative Leadership

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Whether you are a teacher or a preacher, a mentor or a manager, a coach or a caretaker – if you are trying to guide and influence others in this world – you are a leader.

There is much advice out there about effective leadership – from being more vulnerable to focusing on resilience to including more soul and spirit in your leadership to starting with the Why.

Today we will focus on what research has shown us about the three secrets of being a more Restorative Leader.

Secret #1: Set Higher Expectations

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In a classic 1964 experiment, Dr. Robert Rosenthal randomly labeled some students in a San Francisco public school as “Bloomers”, telling their teachers these kids had the special ability to make dramatic academic improvements over the course of the year.

Indeed, the randomly labeled Bloomers showed astounding improvements on standardized tests, compared to their same age peers – as a result of the higher expectations of their teachers.

More than 50 years later, a plethora of studies have shown the powerful effects of high expectations across multiple settings. As reported in a Discover Magazine article on the subject:

“… when managers have high hopes for their employees, the workers become more productive. When military instructors believe trainees have superior skills, the trainees perform better.”

Even couples on the dating sight OKCupid who were told they were a good match (even though they were NOT) spent more time engaging with each other online.

Dr. Carol Dweck’s lifetime of research about the Growth Mindset shows the same results. Watch her video about the Power of Yet – about ways that different expectations can lead to improved student learning, effort, and progress – especially with struggling students.

Secret #2: Provide The Right Supports 

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Often, by the time we figure out our strategic plan and set our High Expectations, we have run out of energy and resources for providing the right supports to those we lead.
Yet, providing the right supports can make the difference between progress and failure on our watch.Studies from the educational and business world show that Supportive Leadership is directly linked to productivity, creativity and even safety in employees.

Business. Business leaders who are supportive of their teams have more productive and creative teams. Specific supportive actions include:

  • Showing empathy and interest in people
  • Taking time to coach or explain tasks
  • Showing a positive attitude towards new ideas and questions
  • Removing obstacles to ensure people receive the attention and resources they need
  • Linking core mission and goals to what matters most to people
  • Celebrating effort and ideas – not just success
  • Neutralizing negativity and creating an environment that has a tolerance for risk and failure
  • Leading by example by participating in idea generation and trial and error

Occupational Safety.  A study of more than 3,000 utility employees, which tracked injuries and first aid incidents over three years, found that teams with supportive leaders were more engaged and experienced fewer injuries!

Education. Several studies have shown that teachers consider supportive leadership as one of the most important factors in their job satisfaction and retention. Multiple studies have shown that emotional and instrumental support from teachers increases academic success and class climate.

Secret #3: Merge High Expectations with High Support to Create Winning Combination

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The LEADERSHIP SLIDE

It is easy to see how a combination of HIGH EXPECTATIONS AND HIGH SUPPORT makes for a Restorative Leadership style which leads to ownership, motivation, and sustainability in those we lead.

However, when it comes to the Leadership Matrix, we all have a quadrant to which we SLIDE when we are under stress or duress.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS – LOW SUPPORT

Some of us slide to the left towards High Expectations-Low Support and find ourselves being snappy and harsh with others. This is often where we go to in our business or work lives when we are stretched.

Unfortunately, this only makes our lives harder in the long run, as this leadership style tends to elicit sabotage, resentment, and eventually hopelessness from those we lead.

LOW EXPECTATIONS – LOW SUPPORT

Some of us find ourselves sliding SouthWest to the Low Expectations-Low Support quadrant – where we practice a kind of exhausted and (hopefully) benign neglect. Many people report that this is where they find themselves sliding at home when life is rough.

Alas, over time, this leadership style creates a confusing chaos and lack of productivity that eventually makes more work and headache for us.

LOW EXPECTATIONS – HIGH SUPPORT

Finally, some of us head straight South where we offer lots of praise and high-fives for “just showing up”.

Ironically, this leadership style leads to BOTH insecurity (they know they haven’t earned it) and entitlement (out of the habit of not working hard).

February is a traditionally hard months for many people – so if you find yourself slipping and sliding away from the Restorative Leadership Quadrant – you are not alone.

Take a minute to think about the ways in which you slide and ONE way you can raise either expectations or supports or both in order to slide on back to the top right corner – for that winning combination.


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Three Lists of Books by African American Authors to Read in February and Beyond

TheRoot.com – Great Books

Bustle.com – 10 Books I Wish My White Teachers Had Read

Washington Post – I Read All Books By Minority Authors for a Year (list at bottom of post)

How One School Dramatically Decreased Discipline Numbers

Last week, in “How A Sloppy Joe Changed the Way I Teach” I sharedone teacher’s true story about a restorative shift in her approach to students.

This week I share how one school has used three restorative practices to dramatically decrease their discipline numbers.

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Urbana Middle School (UMS) embarked on a whole-school restorative shift in the summer of 2015. A year and a half later, they are beginning to enjoy the fruits of their restorative labor. 

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Out of class behavioral referrals by teachers are down by 20%.

Fights are down by 35%, with a steep drop in REPEAT fights by the same kids.

Out of school suspensions are down by a dramatic 67%.

What are the staff, faculty, students, and administrators of UMS doing to help improve school climate and connection?


1. RELATE: Daily Listening Circles and Team Building Activities

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Listening circles are the perfect venue for practicing social and emotional skills such collaboration, empathy, patience, and understanding.

At Urbana Middle School, each staff and faculty person facilitates a DAILY 20 minute community building activity with a group of students during the morning Advisory period. Other schools do this during various flexible times that are build into the school week.

The team-building activities wary. On any given day, the kids may be:

  • seated in a circle sharing answers to a set of community building questions (What is the most surprising thing that ever happened to you?)
  • seated in a circle to discuss an ethical dilemma (What would you do in this situation?)
  • seated in a circle to process something that happened in the cafeteria (How did you feel when it happened? What were you wishing for? What is one small thing you can do to make it better?)

The change did not happen over night. Both students and staff took time to get used to the circles. Social skills and cohesion build slowly as people change their expectations and begin to make a restorative shift.

Sitting in circles daily also prepares students for listening and problem-solving in other kinds of restorative and conflict circles.

Interested in trying out classroom circles or learning how to make them more fun?

Brief (one page) Guidelines for hosting a listening circle

Full (68 page) Manual on PeaceMaking Circles from Center for Restorative Practices in San Francisco


2. REPAIR: Informal Restorative Conversations

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It turns out that difficult conversations need “containers”.

Often, when we try to “talk about it” without pausing and creating a restorative intention, we dig ourselves deeper into Dis-Connection.

At UMS, many students and staff members are experimenting with having connecting conversations after small conflicts.

Some people are using

These sheets ask people to pause and reflect on their FEELINGS and NEEDS around the conflict – before they talk about it together.

Some of the short restorative conversations (7-10 minutes in length) are facilitated by a trained staff member; others happen fluidly between people.

The difference is the intention. When people are curious about each other’s Feelings, Needs, and Decisions, they are able to treat each other with dignity and find a win-win.


3. RESTORE: Formal Restorative Dialogue Circles

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When conflict has been “stuck” for a while or the harm is deeper, UMS students and faculty engage in formal conflict circles facilitated by a trained staff member.

These dialogue based Restorative Circles derive from the process developed by Dominic Barter in the Brazilian favelas.

The goal of the circles is to get to the root of the problem by helping participants hear the underlying unmet needs in the conflict. Sometimes, participants use tools such as Conflict Cards to increase clarity and mutual understanding.

An example of a classroom-wide Restorative Circle can be found in the Listening Underneath blog post.

In this way, the daily community building circles, informal restorative conversations, and formal conflict circles work together to weave a more restorative building culture and community.


These are three examples of restorative practices that have helped UMS decrease their discipline numbers.

A whole-school restorative shift


What are Restorative Practices?
  • Practices that help people RELATE better
  • Practices that help REPAIR small rifts in relationships
  • Practices that RESTORE dignity and community after harmful acts

 

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Empty Classroom: Photo by Allison Meier (2008 CC BY 2.0)

Kids in Circle: KQED news – A restorative justice circle at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, California (Sam Pasarow/Edna Brewer Middle School)

How A Sloppy Joe Changed the Way I Teach

teacher_student_laughingPhoto by Dept of Ed (2004 CC BY 2.0)

[True story told to me by a local teacher. All identifying information changed.]

It was Wednesday morning and Ashanti was sleeping at her desk again. I was so fed up!

These students don’t care about academics any more, I thought to myself. They’re up all night playing video games and then they snooze all day in school.

The last time I caught Ashanti napping, just that Monday, I rapped my knuckles on her desk like I often do. She jumped right awake.

“Are you ready to grace us with your presence” I said to her.

I really don’t like when students sleep in class. It’s so disrespectful.

The other students began to kind of snicker and laugh. I tell you – that girl went from sleeping to spitting mad in seconds.

She started hollering at them and calling them names. I told her in a loud voice several times she needed to quiet down. She just kept on going. Once she starts it’s hard to stop her. At that point I had no choice but to send her to the referral room.

And as she was leaving, she was shouting: “I don’t care! I hate this stupid class anyway!”

I was thinking “In my day, we never talked to an adult like that!”

When she came back the next day (Tuesday) – she didn’t seem remorseful at all. Kind of sullen, I’d say. She also didn’t finish the assignment I gave her. She was really falling behind.

I just felt weary to the bone. This is not what I had signed up to do.

And then, that Wednesday, as she was nodding off AGAIN, I paused to collect myself.

And then something shifted inside me. It’s like I got CURIOUS.

What if it wasn’t just apathy?

What if something else was going on?

I remembered how in one of your workshops you talked about “breaking bread” and how having lunch with kids helped other teachers.

The faculty actually fought hard through the Union to get a “duty-free” lunch. But it felt different because it was voluntary.

That day, I let Ashanti nap until the the bell rang. Then I came over and said:

“Ashanti, I know things have not been great between us lately. I’m wondering if you would be willing to bring your lunch to my classroom today so we can eat together.
No lectures. Just food.”

She looked surprised and a little suspicious, but after giving it a moment, she just nodded her head. I wasn’t sure if she’d even show up.

When she shuffled in with her tray that afternoon, I started off by expressing concern. I said:

“I’ve noticed you’ve been kind of tired lately. I’m a bit worried about you. Anything going on?”

At first, her face was all closed up. She was moving her sloppy joe meat back and forth on her tray with her fork.

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Photo by Amanda Wong (2010 CC BY 2.0)

Then, she smiled kind of shyly and said “My mom’s getting out of the hospital this week.”

For the rest of that lunch period, I learned all about her mom’s illness and how it affected Ashanti for a long time. I learned why her homework was often half-done, why she was often late for class in the morning, and how that week, Ashanti, her younger siblings, and her Uncle Jim had stayed up late every night installing a special mechanical bed, cleaning, and getting the house ready for the big day of her mom’s return.

That sloppy-joe lunch was a turning point for how I approached my students from then on.

Ashanti and I haven’t had conflict since that, and we figured out a way to help her get caught up. I stopped being so angry and tired. I became CURIOUS.

I started asking more open questions. I gave myself permission to take class time for collaborative activities and to talk about things that mattered to the kids. I thought it would take valuable time away from learning, but I think we are all learning better now.

Of course Ashanti is not a perfect student and I do not have a perfect classroom. But it is so much better.

I feel like I am doing what I love again: teaching kids who want to learn.


 

Have a story to share about how restorative practices are helping you? Write to me at elaine@conflict180.com.

Want to receive Restorative News & Tips in your email? Sign up here.

Looking for more tools for connecting with students and reducing conflict? Check out our Conflict180.com/Resources page.

Next week on the Conflict 180 blog I share three restorative practices that have dramatically shifted one’s school’s discipline numbers.