Hopes & Dreams Revised: Learning to Feel

In graduate school, I observed highly skilled and passionate teachers and wondered how they worked their magic. Later, I’d see similar magic as a young teacher at the Harley School.  I soon learned part of the magic was Responsive Classroom. Being the Type A person I was (am?), I dug in to learn more.

Each year, I deliberately followed the Responsive Classroom’s outline for the first six weeks of school. It was clear the hopes and dreams part had a lasting impact. I saw kids from prekindergarten through middle school ponder what they wanted to do for the year – an enlightening and empowering process for them and for me.  It wasn’t always neat and easy, but with conversation and stories, we got into some deep thinking. Every kid I ever taught was able to articulate what they wanted to accomplish or feel during the year. 

I saved gems like this:

This process gave way to our class rules. Every time one of us slipped and forgot to “do the rules,” we had our class guidelines and shared hopes to buoy us.  It was a beautiful series of miracles in the classroom – not always perfect, but yet miraculous.  This included revisiting those hopes and dreams mid-year, partly to keep them fresh and honestly, in large part because we all know what a two-week winter break does to a classroom routine.  Continue reading “Hopes & Dreams Revised: Learning to Feel”

Breathe and Listen in 5 Steps

“Feelings come and go like clouds in the sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s been a week for most of us.  Lots of waiting gave way to floods thoughts and emotions.  There has been no shortage of voices, on the same page and on diametrically opposing views. 

But it’s hard to do our best listening and speaking when we are anxious, stressed, busy or our mind is somewhere other than here.  Feelings can fill our brain and we begin to identify with those feelings. We tell ourselves our feelings, especially the vivid ones, are THE reality. Or that they define us. Or that they are permanent unchanging truths.


Feelings are just feelings.  They change.  They do not define us. They can cause use to act irrationally, impulsively, passionately. They can also interfere with our ability and willingness to listen. We may know this intellectually, but it’s often so very hard to rein in those monkeys in our mind known as feelings.  And when those monkeys are swinging around having their own kind of circus, our mind has a very difficult time focusing on the task at hand, the person in front of us, or the topic of discussion.  Those monkeys require tools to reign them in so that we can be more focused.  More than once this week, I found myself talking to someone and my head was somewhere else. My own personal squad of monkeys was swinging from their trapeze and joining each other by tails and hands.


Source: http://fineartamerica.com
Source: http://fineartamerica.com

At one point, I even said to someone, “Yeah, I’m not quite sure what her response was because I really wasn’t listening…” I realized after the fact, I  had let the monkeys rule my mind.   In another conversation,  the driver who had recently rear-ended me was giving me intricate details of his family.  As we wrapped up the conversation finally with the  impetus for the call, I found myself still thinking about this man’s’ family stories. I had missed the essential information. Ha! Caught that monkey!  I took a few deep breaths and then asked him to repeat the important details.

There’s an essential connection between breathing and listening.  In heated conversations or debates, this is hard to remember to activate our breath to bring greater awareness.  But it takes just seconds. The simple act of breathing calms the body’s nervous system and brings us present.  A study published by JAMA found a growing awareness among doctors that being mindful and using the breath improves not only their own stress but the ways they engage with patients, which inherently involves listening. You don’t need to be an M.D. to stop, breathe and listen better.  

And when we’re calm, we are better able to listen. 

In five simple steps, you can practice this: 

  1. Mind awareness. Recognize when your mind is elsewhere – it’s almost always elsewhere. Notice what’s happening with those monkeys, especially w hen you’re involved in something important, serious, heated, etc.  Just pause for a moment and witness where your mind is. I like to envision myself as the circus master with a rope, whipping it in a circle, rounding up those thoughts and then lashing all those that are unnecessary ones right out of the circus ring known as my mind.
  2. Feel. Take just a moment to feel the physical sensations in your body. For some, it’s pure tension. For others, it’s a tingling in extremities. For others, it might be discomfort in the belly or a headache. Just notice.
  3. Inhale deeply. Let that lower belly fill up, then pause. Continue inhaling deeply and fill your rib cage. Pause again. Inhale one more time and feel the air rise to your collarbone. Pause and relax those shoulders (that are probably pretty darn close to your ears).  Hold that air in for a bit, until  you start to feel any bit of stress. Then slowly exhale from your collarbone, then ribs, then let that bellow drop back to your spine.  Do this two to four more times. Close your eyes if it helps shut out stimulation that might be distracting. If you’re in face to face conversation you can still do this,try employing the “talk less, smile more” strategy. Stop talking, breathe deeply and let a small smile lift the corners of your mouth while you breathe.
  4. Let Go and Ground Take a moment and just notice where your thoughts are. Let passing thoughts pass. Ground yourself by concentrating  on an object in front of you – someone’s eyes, the chair they are seated in, something on the horizon.  
  5. Connect and listen. Now focus on listening to what’s being said, not on what those feelings are in your mind and body.  Set aside your response and arguments and take in what’s being said. With those monkeys  a bit better controlled, the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that processes and listens. 


Here’s to deeper breathing and better listening!

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They Are Watching Us (spoiler: They are Learning from our Behavior!)


Did you see or hear the news last tonight? It seems a lot of us are on edge. Even for those of us who are doing our best to make sure this is a “regular Tuesday” and a “regular week,” neither are regular.  This is a week that will make history. Today is a day that (hopefully) will bring some closure to weeks of name calling, poor behavior, degrading others, and generally showing the worst of humanity. A high schooler told me yesterday  she worries “tomorrow will be the worst,” as in the worst day for our country and “the worst election ever.”  She’s not even voting. But she’s watching others.

It’s time to move on to civility, decency, empathy, and proactive behavior on social, political, economic and world issues. Let’s not let what may or may not be the “worst” campaign season and election become the “worst” time in our history.

It’s time to  move ahead for ourselves,  and so our spectators to see us be and do better. Cooperatively. Peacefully.

voteNo matter what your political beliefs are, people are watching and judging each other. It’s  the kind of judging that doesn’t  engender itself to kindness and compassion, let alone productivity, cooperation, and efficiency.  I can’t think of one adult that has not been distracted or disgusted by politics. Even friends living abroad and those of us in-country have lost time from our work, family and priorities to take part in this divisive campaign.  Admittedly, many are working proactively to get folks out to vote (BE. SURE. YOU. VOTE.) or lobbying for their cause.  But there have been distractions and diversions and – my issue d’jour –  what we model for our children. They are watching. And wondering. And learning. And puzzling why some adults are doing precisely what the tell children NOT to do.

Yes, they are all watching us and taking this all in. By “all,” I mean:

  • Yell
  • Call each other names
  • Misrepresent facts
  • Go on defense 
  • Lie
  • Blame
  • Accuse
  • Deflect the issue

The  list of undesirable behaviors could go on…
They are watching acquaintances and family members and people they know only in images  behave like this. They are seeing people they look up to behave like this and often, disagree with others they  love, behaving in unsavory, undesirable ways.  Often this adult behavior is precisely the same ways we tell our children they are not to behave.  “Don’t lie to me! ”  “Stop yelling and use your words!”

In a world where many of us are dedicating our life’s work to teaching kids prosocial skills – like cooperation, assertiveness, respect, empathy  and self-control – there are so many adults who are not demonstrating these basic human skills.  While they are “basic,” they are also in high demand but often not taught nor utilized.

It’s fine – and necessary in a democracy – to have different opinions. Sharing these diverse views requires one to listen to the other side and to make an argument respectfully with facts, with a sense of cooperation to solve a greater issue, and often with empathy so that the problem can be resolved. The interwebs are fantastic.  However, just because it is on-line, that doesn’t make it true, necessary, or desirable. Our kids are hearing and seeing images of poor behavior and ideas that morph from beliefs to thoughts to words and action. As Gandhi said:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

These aggressive, antisocial words, actions, and habits cannot become the values and destiny of a generation. It’s no way for any of us to live.

We need to take a huge, collective breath as the numbers come in.  We need to recommit ourselves to treating each other with care and respect, to discussing issues from a place of cooperation and integrity, and to developing solutions with civility, empathy and advocacy.  It’s time to  get on with the work and joy in our life, rather than being distracted by an election squabbles. This election is  immensely important, but it seems to be keeping us, individually and collectively, from being our best.   We need to up the game, if nothing else, because our kids are watching and learning from us.

Go vote. Go be kind. Go do good. Show those who are watching you how you want the world to be.

Take care,






Busy? Or Productive and Full?


There’s a lot of talk these days about being busy.  There has been for months, so the fact that we are still talking about it means, we haven’t harnessed the beast called Busy.  I’ve come to dislike the term, this so-called  badge of honor.  But why be proud about scrambling around?


I used to brag about being busy.  It felt like my obligation to be busy. It was a sign of accomplishment, pride, power over my crazy life. And there are certainly still times that my planner and calendar are filled, and many more times my mind and body are filled.


Then I read this from Alina Dizik in BBC.com

“We burn valuable time doing things that aren’t necessary or important because this busyness makes us feel productive,”

Yup, feeling productive feels good. Until I realize I am not doing much that is important or necessary. Ouch.

But there’s really no power in being busy. For me, there was also not a heck of a lot of joy, because the business of being busy wasn’t my choice.  But often, I look good being busy.

Why is it that  we in this country, especially women, feel the need to be busy?  Many women certainly have multiple layers of obligations (as do men).  We’re employees, friends, parents, humans. The juggle is not easy and it’s often not about balancing like the classic image of Lady Justice keeping things even. More often, it’s like keeping those (very full) plates teetering on top of those poles.


For the past several weeks, I’ve had an unofficial experiment where I have decided NOT to use the word busy (unless it’s in reference to a phone call that doesn’t ring through).  While I have absolutely no data, I have noticed that if I don’t say “busy” I hear it less often from others.  This includes busy’s kissing cousins named “crazy,” “insane,” and “hectic,” as well as the second cousin recognized as the eye roll and palms raised.  Don’t’ put it out there and see what happens.

For the most part, our schedules are full. But when you put out there that you are “busy,” you’re likely to get that right back. Busy brings the connotation of full, but not to my liking – or full and I don’t want to be doing these things.  

I could easily describe myself as “busy,” too.  But I’m making a concerted effort to have a full calendar and full planner by making conscious choices about what I want and need to be doing.  I’m also not letting those endless little fires build momentum.

So I’ve changed my dialogue – when asked “how are you?”  Often, I simply say “well” and smile and ask, “how are things with you?” In return, I’ve heard lovely stories of kids and work and personal accomplishments from folks I chat with. I’ve also heard details of challenges in work or family life – but these anecdotes generally don’t include the word “busy.”

Oh, and that feels good. Like breathing space to listen to each other.

I can’t do this alone. I’m just not that smart, clever, nor disciplined.   I have tools.  More next time on those tools.

Until then, try not to be so busy.  Breathe, listen, enjoy.


Take care,









Books, Friends and Joy, Part 1

NOTE: As I was about to move my home office, I read a post by a friend who suggested those of us in a coaches group post pictures of our home office.  This was motivation to get crackin’ and make things look good. Or at least, better.  A day later, Jess Lahey and KJ Del Antonia were chatting on #AmWritingWithJessandKJ about their lack of workspace, reminding me how lucky I am to have a space and how needy that space was for some love.  So the move and requisite purge began with a little kick in the pants from these three friends.


At last count, four bookcases in my office and one in the basement. Stacks around the house and stashed in tote bags and baskets. About a dozen bankers boxes with children’s books.  After our fire in 2005, one of the movers said, “Lady, are you a librarian or something?”  “Nope, I am the Trifecta. Teacher. Parent. Reader.”  He didn’t get it.


We replaced dozens of the books lost in the fire.  A decade later, I have SO many books – Kids’ books. Teacher books. Grown up books. Picture books. Well-read books. Unopened books. I am now trying to part with some of them, because… well, I really do not need all of them and they need more love and care than I can give.  It’s more emotional than looking at a scrapbook or photo album, perhaps because I never managed to keep either of those.  I AM really good at keeping books.   Continue reading “Books, Friends and Joy, Part 1”