Life as a teacher or parent can be hard, and we need all the help we can get being more loving, patient, and compassionate.
In the first issue in our Love series, I explored how experiencing our negative feelings can create more love and wellbeing for us.
In this issue, I want to share a practice that we used to do with our kids at home regularly (we need to pick it up again!). This practice, called “loving kindness meditation” or “metta” has been shown by multiple studies to increase our compassion, kindness, and social connections.
Metta asks us to send kind thoughts to ourselves, people we know, people we may not know, and even a person with whom we are having difficulties.
Monks and serious practitioners who have done loving kindness meditation for 10,000 hours or more can have significantly more activation in the empathy and emotion areas of their brains via MRI scans.
However, even 10 minute of loving kindness meditation a day has been shown to increase people’s feelings of social connection and positivity towards strangers.
Metta even helps people experience less interpersonal bias.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
We want to have adults in the kids’ live who can:
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today we will focus on what research has shown us about the three secrets of being a more Restorative Leader.
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.
Business. Business leaders who are supportive of their teams have more productive and creative teams. Specific supportive actions include:
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.
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.
Three Lists of Books by African American Authors to Read in February and Beyond
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.
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.
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?
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:
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?
Full (68 page) Manual on PeaceMaking Circles from Center for Restorative Practices in San Francisco
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.
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.
Kids in Circle: KQED news – A restorative justice circle at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, California (Sam Pasarow/Edna Brewer Middle School)