Circles On Education - A Look Back (and Ahead)!

Posted by Audrey Lin on Jan 2, 2015
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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 Cubs Community, 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".          

Posted by Audrey Lin | Tags: youth education | permalink

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Comments (4)

  • Anne Veh wrote ...

    So inspiring Audrey!!! Thank you for igniting so much love and spirit with our youth!

  • Pancho wrote ...

    :-) ONEderful learning momentum you are fostering beloved Yi-An! :-) One of the wisdom snippets shared a couple of Mondays ago at the educators circle, was when brother Ward transmitted what he learned from the conversation he and his students had with Samdhong Rinpoche. The later said that, according to Siddharta Gautama a teacher has 3 main responsibilities:

    1. Remove the fear from the mind of the learner, remove the indifference or the feeling of incompetency from the mind of the learner.
    2. Impart the information.
    3. To be with the student until the student has the complete knowledge of the subject of learning, to remove the difficulties after learning. Be patience and be with that person. Never give up!

    Then, at the very end, brother Ward gifted us a couple of DVDs with the interviews his student and him did to both The XIV Dalai Lama and Samdhong Rinpoche! :-) Here's a little taste of this extraordinary experience they had [View Link]

    and here are another three gems that I recall:

    a) The process of learning is endless.

    b) Are we indoctrinating or brain-washing or learning? Foster interest in subject.

    c) Selective acceptance for ultimate rejection.

    Jai Jagat!

  • Bradley wrote ...

    I ran an interesting experiment in class last week, inspired by an activity Anne had us doing; nonverbally conveying kindness for 30 seconds. I decided there would be no speaking in my classroom for one day. I taught as I normally would, just nonverbally. Students asked questions, albeit nonverbally. So, there was a lot of writing and gesturing going on. I've been talking all year and some students don't seem to be learning what I want them to, why talk, anyway. Some students enjoyed it. I do think their focus was better. Some enjoyed it, some didn't, saying it was frustrating when they had a question but could not verbalize it. I want my students to learn how to communicate w/o speaking and how to listen more. It was nice having some peace, too :)

  • Bradley wrote ...

    Thank you, Audrey, for blessing us all with thoughtful and inspiring stories. After reading How to Live Wisely, I thought about the parable of the fisherman. It was interesting, but not surprising, that the initial goal given by the MBA student was monetary wealth, ending with feeding the poor. One could argue that the fisherman wasn't making full use of his skills, but maybe he was. He was teaching his family, and others who knew him, what was really important. As I begin seeing smiling students in my classroom in a few weeks, my ultimate goal will be to keep them that way, teaching kindness, compassion, and mabye a little math along the way <3.