Education + Transformation Circle

[Posted by Audrey Lin, on Jan 2, 2015; more in follow-up retreat: Cultivating Compassion Quotient, and new newsletter Teaching + Transformation]

Couple weeks ago, a group of educators circled up in Berkeley to explore teaching and learning through a lens of inner transformation. From all corners of the Bay, many folks braved epic holiday traffic to attend, and so many gems surfaced through the evening of shared stillness and stories.

After a period of meditation, we kicked things off with a teacher in Tokyo’s 4th grade lessons on happiness, flowed into stories from the field from Anna’s mentoring of creative spirit, Scott’s inquiry on teaching and embodying gift ecology, and Thao’s lessons on gratitude and values-based learning. The beauty of a circle is that so many spontaneous stories, unpredictable connections, and sincere insights emerge when we simply hold each other with the presence of listening.

From Indigo’s open-hearted embrace that changed one student’s academic career without her realizing to Lalita’s question of how to make time/space for engaging deeper values on already jam-packed school days, Ward’s lessons from a student who didn’t listen and building a school from the ground-up, how Jane’s class memorized Nimo’s Grateful song, Mia's poignant moments of pre-K simplicity, Anna’s 93-year-old kindergarten teacher mother, Kym’s class affirmations that overflowed one student’s cup of gratitude, Nupur’s principal who empowers students to “just do it”, how Paula’s elementary kids bang on her office door at 8am to meditate, and so much more—vignettes of unleashing truth and compassion in the classroom were really quite endless!

Teaching + Transformation
After the educators circle, many of us were a-buzz to explore further, deeper, and more often. So we launched a Teaching + Transformation newsletter on Christmas Day, and look forward to riding the waves of many more ripples to follow.

On top of that, it's been inspiring to see the enthusiasm and resonance to nurture these values in education and youth over the years. As we step into the new year, I can't help but feel a wave of gratitude for the various labor-of-love experiments that have washed over the ecosystem:

Kindness Workshops
It all started with her daughter’s class. For the last couple years, Anne and a rotating team of volunteers (including youth like her daughter Emily and friends, Casa de Paz anchors Nidia, Celine, Pancho, and Sam) have been quietly holding workshops on kindness, generosity, and service in schools across the bay. They’re never planned too far in advance, and simply arise when the inspiration and conditions align. Like when Fumi joined an Oakland Awakin Circle and wanted to bring that spirit into his high school classes. Or when Joan at SF Waldorf decided to engage her seniors in a Kindness Day as part of her 3-day orientation on ‘Thinking, Feeling, Willing’. Each time, there are elements of stillness, inspiring stories (like Julio Diaz or Juan Mann) and personal reflections (like sharing a moment of kindness students have done/received). And more recent visits have engaged in dynamic be-the-change activities—like doing random acts of kindness around school or practicing compassion through the act of cleaning nearby streets.

Awakin Youth Retreat
Fueled by energy for the Kindness Workshops and Casa de Paz community spirit, a group of folks gathered in June 2013 for an Awakin Youth Retreat. It was disarming to experience an intergenerational gathering where everyone, aged 7 to 60+, held each other with a shared intention to deepen in stillness, generosity, and a heart of service. From collective meditation to circles of honest reflections to engaged activities-- like "inner-to-outer sanitation" street cleaning, art-with-heart neighborhood gift tagging, and literal spreading of smiles (and "free hugs") for miles-- it's beautiful to spend a weekend day cultivating eternal elements of youthfulness, from the inside-out.

“Empty Hands” Schools
Inspired by Nimo’s Empty Hands Music pilgrimage across the US, UK, and India this past year, pockets of teachers and students have been walking their talk, engaging in values-based experiments that bring the class alive. From Raj’s kind-i-tude week with his Oakland, CA elementary school to Vinya's student kindness posters, Bradley's school event, multi-continent Skype assemblies, a gratitude banner and hand-painted kindness rocks in Detroit, MI, and a steady stream of 21-day challenges on values like kindness, gratitude, and mindfulness from pre-K to college—students, teachers, and parents are spontaneously stepping-up their service, and transforming themselves along the way.

Laddership Academy
It all started in 2009. Young minds expressed an interest in deepening ServiceSpace values of holding space, deep listening, servant leadership, giftivism, and internal transformation. So we hosted a summer internship. It turned out that these young minds and hearts taught us a lot, and often inspired us. Each summer brings a new crew of mentors and mentees, and year after year, we’ve fallen in love with all that emerges.

Education Ripples Across the Ecosystem
So many circles of engagement continue to fuel, inspire, and nurture the collective. From Pancho spontaneously meditating with Oakland youth to Anna and her mother's legendary Kindergarten Forums, Mary's 30+ years with gift-economy tuition, the shining Kindful Kids, Fran's college kindness challenge beauty, John's Wildlife Sanctuary circles with at-risk youth, and beyond, these circles remind us again and again the timeless beauty of teaching-- how a moment of learning can expand into eternity when we tap into one of many "thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground".