So Few of Me and So Much To Do

This fall has cleverly disguised itself to me as Super Storm Sandy. I knew there were wicked forces on the horizon capable of  unsettling things, but I was overly confident I could weather this storm.  Unlike Super Storm Sandy, it didn’t come on suddenly.  After a series of weeks, it was clear that there was a wide-swath of  life was disheveled or dislocated as a result of these forces, and honestly, my failure to keep an eye on the horizon.

The good news is, human beings are remarkable resilient and we (umm…let’s own this – I) am capable of putting back the pieces once I recognize the fall out.  Life is full of ups and downs, unpredictable surf and stuff that spins out of control.  It can be touch to walk the middle-ground and equanimity is something that takes a lot of practice. It was time to draw upon a bit more equanimity and balance.

Conventional wisdom tells us not to make too many changes all at once but I did. A couple of weeks back, I read Jonathan Fields piece When No Means Go bringing clarity to why the guy is an entrepreneurial mastermind and why I sometimes feel like a novice juggler. I totally agree with his criteria for saying “yes” being based on alignment with values and goals and your own personal bandwidth.  That seems pretty obvious, right? But how many of us actually do that? I had neglected to say “no” to a few things and lost sight of priorities.  And now I was paying the price, thrashing around in the sea.

After feeling that doubt and frustration, it was time for action.  Taming the schedule and managing the expectations shifted gears.

The shifted in part due to a sweet and striking picture book by Peter Reynolds (illustrator of the Judy Moody series and the wildly popular “Ish” and “The Dot” and owner of  The Blue Bunny Bookstore in Dedham, MA).  I love when a good children’s book is the force that calibrates me back to a more productive, sane, and mature life!

If you don’t know “So Few of Me,” here’s a glimpse:


So Few of Me is a tale of an over-scheduled, multi- list-making, over-worked boy on a journey to get it all done. Of course, that’s not just a tall order, it’s a tall tale. Life’s list never really ends, but we have the power to be ruled by the list… Or to put it down — and dream.

From Peter Reynolds, author of So Few of Me

Once I got a revived handle on managing my workload and schedule, it was clear that I could do a better job helping my students. Tweens who are developing the self-governing skills necessary to manage their work and schedule need our support and encouragement to do so.  If I thought my transition to new work settings and responsibility was a challenge, what about these kids – those new to middle school and all the many facets that come with a ginormous step into adolescence?   Ego had to be set aside. Ahisma, empathy, compassion came first, followed by modeling, practice and reflection  to help these busy workers manage their work, stress and schedules.  I had to be a better model for them and coach them on the skills and strategies they need.

How do you schedule your time to accomplish your tasks and goals?  Do you schedule some time to dream and be like Leo in So Few of Me?   Stop back next time to read how this translates to work with adolescents.


Lisa Dewey Wells


The Secret, Part 2 – Permission for an Inner Life

Last week I let you in on The Secret.  The thing is, the real secret is much bigger than downtime.  The real secret lies in cultivating our inner world when we are “on” so much of the time with our outer world.  I am convinced that we need to share with children the importance of mindfulness, meditation or other contemplative practices.  It’s not that we need to add another class to our kids’ schedules, but rather we need to give them the permission, tools, and time to pause once in a while so that they can remember how to just be instead of always doing.

In my classroom and many others, teachers have a” meditation station” or “peace corner“ like this one from a second grade classroom at the Harley School.     We know from both practical experience and neuropsychology that when a brain becomes overly stimulated or anxious, the ability of the “upstairs  brain” to function is limited.  Finding ways to calm down, like a few minute in the peace corner, allows a child to develop the self-control to resume learning. Other teachers simply pause during teaching and practice deep breathing, careful listening, or a few minutes of silence. These carefully crafted “mindful interruptions” allow children to stop briefly during work periods and begin to use these strategies when they sense they need a break or a way to re-focus. More later in this post.


We need to begin this process of teaching children self-control and compassion with a focus on the adults who care for, teach, and serve as role models for our children.  Whether this starts as a formal program like the Inner-Resilience Program developed by Linda Lantieri and used by many schools across the country, or a more grass-roots approach that includes moments of silence or meditation in schools, teachers and adults who work with children need to take the bold step to advocate for their own-well being and to be given the resources and permission to do so.  Such mindfulness practices such as these give adults the permission and resources to take care of their inner world, so that they can give of themselves to others.  It’s hard to convince teachers that they deserve balance in their lives. As Linda Lantieri says,

“…That’s the part that I forget and many others forget, that we need to spend time nurturing our inner lives if we’re going to feel good about the job we do in the outer world.” – See more at the Tides Blog.

Our teachers need permission, resources and encouragement to take care of themselves in whatever ways are meaningful to them.  So do our kids. Giving ourselves permission to just pause for one evening only begins to scratch the surface.  Each day, our kids need time to slow down, to breathe and to just be.

As Dr. Ronald Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, tell his med students, even just two minutes, twice a day, of quiet will begin to slow down the mind.  The research is abundant that slowing down the mind on a regular basis allows our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to over-ride the fight-or-flight response that can often inhibit action.  Regular contemplative practice can build the brain circuitry that allows the downstairs brain, or reptilian brain, to stop high jacking higher order thinking, and allow focus and learning to resume even after we react to a stressful event. Want a clearer, more scientific explanation? Cue Dan Goleman  in The Emotional Atmosphere of the Classroom Matters.


Here’s to finding a few quiet moments in your day,





Lisa Dewey Wells

The Secret? (We Need Downtime)


It’s been gloomy and soggy in our neck of the woods. Six inches of rain in three days – more rain than we’ve had in two months.  Perfect weather to put the brakes on things. Perfect weekend to pause, putter, do nothing, and relax.  I spent some time this weekend digging into Dan Goleman’s new book, Focus.  His video, The Importance of Downtime, struck me hard enough to toss my to-do list most of the weekend.

This came on the heels of parent conferences in which families shared how their children have adjusted to school and middle school homework. It was enlightening to hear it from another perspective, which confirmed my suspicion that my kids were feeling a bit stressed.  A couple of weeks back, I noticed my students and others, sort of hitting the wall. We were into the steady pace of school, layered upon the weekly routines of music, homework, sports, dance, carpool et cetera. The novelty wore off and reality set in.

Quietly, I had students tell me they got home too late to do homework. Or that they fell asleep before doing it. Or the occasional fib about it being at home (when it was left undone for a range of reasons).  My own high schoolers were crawling into bed remarkably early or if they weren’t, their behavior made me think they needed to hit the hay early.  In a heart-to-heart with a diligent worker-bee fifth grader, I let her in on a Secret.  I told her I trusted her to use it when she needed it.  Later, I decided I need to share it with the whole class and with parents.

The Secret? To stop the mayhem once in a while. To pause. To have a night that you skip practice, table homework and chores and just be for a bit. You know what I mean – one of those jammies at 5:30 p.m. and breakfast dinner nights, followed by reading, snuggling under blankets, board games, talking or a movie with the family.

It’s no secret.  It’s just that many of us (young and old) need permission to pause.  Especially our students who are working so hard to learn new routines and new material, to be compassionate friends and responsible workers, athletes, artists, musicians and, oh yes, children.  They need time to play, time to lounge, time to disconnect, be with the families they love and to be alone with their own imagination.

I notice often in families, my own included, that it’s easy to get caught up in the routine of “gotta-bes” and “need-to-bes” – places to get to, teams to be on,  boxes to check. While that sort of planning and accomplishment can be immensely motivating and rewarding, it can also be draining. So it’s okay to pull the plug once in a while. It’s often necessary.   Adults know they need to disconnect from work and  re-connect with ourselves, but we need to also give our kids permission and the model to do the same. The constant go-go-go of school and activities, punctuated by the pings of technology and fractured attention needs to be broken – or at least balanced – by quieter moments.  Even extroverts who love to be busy, can benefit from slowing down.

Giving our kids and ourselves permission to just pause for one evening only begins to scratch the surface.  Each day, our kids need time to slow down, to breathe and to just be.  As Dr. Ronald Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, tells his med students, even just two minutes, twice a day, of quiet will begin to slow down the mind in very helpful ways.  The research is abundant that slowing down the mind on a regular basis allows our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to over-ride the fight-or-flight response that can often inhibit action and learning.  Regular mindfulness practice can rewire the brain circuitry that – it times of stress – interrupt the downstairs brain from high jacking higher order thinking, and allow focus and learning to resume even after we react to a stressful event.

Want a clearer, more scientific explanation? Cue Dan Goleman again in The Emotional Atmosphere of the Classroom Matters.

I hope that this week, you find a few moments of quiet and that you can help your students or children find some quiet. Real quiet. No technology, no distractions.  And if you’re up for it, let us know how you find time to pause.

Next time, I’ll share some reasons I’m passionate about showing our kids to slow down and why it’s essential in education.





Lisa Dewey Wells

4 Strategies for Helping Kids with Life and Loss


Last month, I lost a friend. A family lost a mom and a wife. A school lost a teacher. The world lost one of those true gems who embodied life, loved others, gave selflessly, lived in the moment, and showed all of us how to live, love and laugh.   After a lengthy illness, perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised. But we are. Taken too soon is an understatement.

While many who loved and knew this woman are grieving the loss of a friend, but there are dozens of children who are wondering where she is. Or how that teacher with the wild curls and infectious laugh is not here.  Or how the mom of a friend won’t be here to see her daughter start high school.   Many of these children will bounce back long before the adults do; children are resilient that way. Many children will ask questions, which will require honesty, skill and compassion from adults. After asking questions, they may move on or they may ask more questions.

It seems like we’ve had to experience grief and loss too many times with children in recent years, whether that loss was personal, local, national or global.  Our digital world brings tragedy close to us, even when we are not directly impacted. When that loss does hit close to home, adults have to both process their own emotions and help children do the same, often when much of the scenario fails to make sense. There’s loads of research out there on helping kids with loss and narratives that illustrate how challenging and rewarding that can be.   Continue reading “4 Strategies for Helping Kids with Life and Loss”

Toddlerhood Take 2, Part 2 (5 Tips to Promote Healthy Teen Sleep Habits)


Teens are like toddlers in their need for sleep.  Our teens need to sleep. It’s not just a stereotype or an urban myth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests teens get nine hours of sleep a night.  The National Sleep foundation put it at 9.25 hours.  In Teach Your Children Well, Madeline Levine quotes the AAP  report identifying 85% of teens as sleep deprived.

“Rather than minimizing sleep deprivation as being just another inevitable part of adolescence like acne or crabbiness, we need to understand that its consequences ar serious, health compromising and preventable.” (p. 108)

Sleep restores us physically, cognitively, and emotionally and is essential to our well-being.  During the teen years, there’s  a stronger need for sleep that is truly restful and adequate, although their bodies and external schedules demand otherwise.  Sleep helps teens grow physically, wards of academic difficulties, enables them to better manage stress, helps to optimize problem solving skills, sustain attention and concentration and participate safety in sports, activities, and driving.

Biologically, teens are wired for staying up later and rising later.  For the most part, schools start earlier and in the drive to “do it all,” after school commitments often push the start of homework well into the evening. It’s a vicious cycle.

It used to be we though sleep was driven by a sleep-wake homeostasis (i.e. the longer one is awake, the greater the need for sleep – all other things being equal).   The sleep-wake cycle comes into opposition with the internal biological clock that can keep one awake when she should be tired.  Dr. Mary Carskadon and Bill Dement found that the internal biological clock that typically sets the sleep-wake cycle can actually work against adolescents as young as 10-12 years. These researchers  found that at certain points of the day and at certain ages, the internal clock that helped regulate sleep, actually drives teens to stay awake when they should be falling asleep.  Carskadon calls this the “Forbidden Zone.” Parents often see this when they send their teens to bed yet find them awake hours later.

Other research points to the “sleep debt” that many teens and adults walk around with every day.  Early starts for high schools contribute to this debt.  Robust schedules of homework, sports, work and teen social life are interfere with sleep, not to mention the example adults set for multitasking, working in bed, and not sleeping enough ourselves.  The Brown study goes onto label this sleep deficit among teens as a “hidden epidemic” with huge risks in terms of mental health, academic achievement and engagement with peers, family, sports and community groups. A lack of solid sleep may also lead to a range of learning and memory problems.   Healthy sleep allows all of us to consolidate learning from the day and there is also research to show that our brains continue to learn while we sleep.  A good night’s sleep is essential after new learning and before assessments, just a good study habits and a healthy diet contribute to effective learning.

Vicki Abeles, director of the documentary “Race to Nowhere” and co-author of the Washington Post article “Sleep Deprivation and teens: ‘Walking Zombies,'” sites research form the National Sleep Foundation that only 8% of American teens get the required 9.25 hours of sleep per night.  Cornell sleep expert James Maas reports that “Every single high school student” he has “ever measured in terms of their alertness is a walking zombie.”  Abeles goes on to report it’s not just the zombie behavior but the link to lower levels of the Human Growth Hormone associated with sleep deprivation that is most alarming.  HGH is essential to physical growth, brain development and maturation of teen’s immune system. Lower levels are also related to higher rates of anxiety disorders and depression.

There’s a lot working against teens and healthy sleep habits, but there are things you can model, encourage and reinforce.  Here are five:

  1. Limit caffeine, even from hidden sources such as chocolate, particularly late int the day
  2. Encourage exercise daily, including brisk exercise in the evening to relieve stress, move the body and prepare for rest.
  3. Build a consistent and peaceful evening routine that includes powering down electronics 30-60 minutes before bed (unless quite music is part of the routine). This is a doosey for many of us, but be a good example. Work together on reasonable guidelines. Find those apps that put smart phones in sleep modes so emails, photos, and text can wait until morning.
  4. Allow and encourage  short naps. A 20-30 minute power nap can be restorative, but avoid deep sleep that is hard to awaken and re-acclimate to the day.
  5. Allow teens to sleep in on days off.  Experts recommend  2 hours later than usual to catch up on any deficit.  More than that needed? Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the daily habits which prevail during the week.

Have other strategies that work for your teen? Drop a line or two in the comment box below.

Take care,


Lisa Dewey Wells

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