Monday, March 31, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
If you come here for uplifting stories, then you'll like this one. It's about a social worker named Julio Diaz who gets mugged at knifepoint in the Bronx. It's got a happy ending. Somewhere along the way, from his mom, probably—but I like to think maybe in kindergarten—this guy learned some values, human values.
Here's a taste of it:
He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.
"He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, 'Here you go,'" Diaz says.
As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."Read about it here:
It's also an NPR radio story, and you can hear Julio tell it in his own words as part of their Story Corps series here:
Listen to it here:
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
There are creeds and rules to guide us
And help us in life's school,
But the finest creed for every need
Is the good old Golden Rule.
Kindergarten teachers need to get right to the heart of the matter. Five year olds like information summed up simply. The pithiest summary of ethical behavior I know is the Golden Rule.
It's appeared in human cultures around the world and throughout recorded history. It appears most famously, perhaps, in the Bible:
"As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." [Luke VI 31]
"All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." [Matthew VII 1]
It appears many other places, too:
The Dead Sea
"And no one shall do to his fellowman what he does not want done to himself." [Dead Sea Scrolls 2nd C BCE - 1C AD]
"Deal with weaker states as you would think it appropriate for stronger states to deal with you." [Isocrates 436-338 BCE]
"What you do not like done to yourself, do not do to others." [Confucius 551-479 BCE]
"The knowing person is minded to treat all beings as himself." [Mahabharata ~800BCE]
"One should treat all beings as he himself would be treated." [Jainist Sutrakritanga ~450BCE]
"If you neighbor's jackal escapes into your garden, you should return the animal to its owner; that is how you would want your neighbor to treat you." [African Bush Proverb]
American poet and educator Edwin Markham suggested that while the Golden Rule is easy to memorize, it is a bit more challenging to apply when he said,
"We have committed the Golden Rule to memory, let us now commit it to life." [Edwin Markham 1852-1940]
Teddy Beard's example is worthy of our consideration:
"The Golden Rule is like a compass. I keep it always in my pocket, and, if I am ever lost or disoriented, I take it out and immediately know which way to go."
If we—all of us rascally humans, especially those of us in high places—let the Golden Rule guide us, we would find our world a happier place.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Compassion in Action Award from the Dalai Lama
Winner of the National Medal of the Arts. (only teacher ever)
Use Your Life Award from Oprah Winfrey
As You Grow Award from Parent's Magazine
Rafe teaches fifth grade in a big (1652 students) K-5 public elementary school in the heart of Los Angeles called Hobart Elementary. His students are mainly (exclusively?) from Asian and Latin America families who do not speak English at home.
Rafe is dedicated. He's clear about his values: Work Hard, Be Nice. He believes there are no shortcuts, but I think he means for immigrant kids. Kids born into the ruling class enjoy all sorts of shortcuts.
Rafe works hard. He comes to work early (he opens the door at 6:30 AM) and stays late (till 6:00), almost 12 hours a day. He works 6 days a week, 48 weeks per year.
With these students—they are very highly motivated kids—he puts on a Shakespearean play each year. He takes his students on tours. He's traveled to Washington DC, Hawaii, Oregon, and to the East Coast to see top colleges there.
He's written best seller books and he's the subject of a documentary movie.
I recommend his book if you're an upper elementary school classroom teacher. I also recommend seeing the movie and visiting the website about Rafe called The Hobart Shakespeareans.
Note about the book. At times he gets snarky. He finds fault with other teachers and administrators. I found his criticisms distracting from his main message. (Remember his value, Be Nice?)
The movie helped me like Rafe better. In the movie you can see very clearly that Rafe loves teaching, loves his students, and that they love him back.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
In previous posts on cultivating happiness we've looked at Attention, Relationships, Loving Kindness. This week we'll take a peek at Compassion.
Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity are collectively known as "The Divine Abodes. Knowing a little about them can help us notice them when they arise and then begin to cultivate them so that they appear more frequently in our lives. (We'll look at Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity in parts 5 and 6 of this series.)
Of the four Divine Abodes, Compassion can be quite tricky. Because it's so often linked to the Buddha, we've all heard the word.
Let's begin with a look at the word "compassion" itself. We can analyze compassion by dividing its prefix, "com" (which means with) from its root, "passion," (which means feeling). We see that compassion means "Feeling with" with someone else.
Compassion is not some rarefied feeling that you have to be spiritually developed to feel. We all feel it. Last week I mentioned that parents often feel Loving Kindness for an unborn baby. Similarly, parents feel compassion when their toddler stumbles and gets hurt.
Compassion's near enemy is pity. Feeling sorry for someone isn't compassion. Nor is wanting someone to feel better because their pain is making us uncomfortable.
Compassion's far enemy is contempt or cruelty, not caring or even seeming to enjoy another's plight.
We can invite a lot more happiness into our lives by widening this circle of compassion. Cultivating compassion helps
Here's what's worked for me. I repeat these phrases in the morning. I'm cultivating the intention to be more compassionate:
"May I be free from suffering and the causes of suffering."
"May my wife be free from suffering and the causes of suffering."
"May my kids be free from suffering and the causes of suffering."
"May Mr. Wilson be free from suffering and the causes of suffering."
(insert the name of your favorite teacher here)
My Parents (They don't have to be alive.)
"May my mom and dad be free from suffering and the causes of suffering."
"May my sisters and brothers be free from suffering and the causes of suffering."
"May my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, be free from suffering and the causes of suffering."
I use these same phrases and fill in the names of friends, neutral people, and difficult people. (I have found that applying these phrases to the most difficult people in my world is really, really, really challenging. But I think it is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, "Love your enemies.")
I finish with all beings:
"May all beings everywhere be free from suffering and the causes of suffering."
As unnatural as it seems, moving towards suffering paradoxically makes us happier. I don't get it completely, I just know it works.
When we try to practice compassion, we're taking the rocky road. (Feeling with someone when they're happy is the subject of next week's topic.) Compassion takes us to the other end of spectrum of feeling: feeling with others who are suffering. Compassion is about moving towards those in distress, pain, and anguish.
You might wonder, "How can moving towards suffering make us happy?"
When I began as a kindergarten teacher I didn't like getting closer to suffering. Then as now, I wanted my class to be happy. I liked to put my energy towards the happy happenings in my class; I tended to turn a cold shoulder to difficulties. I think part of my resistance came from my own lack of confidence in my ability to adequately help.
The breakthrough came from my older sister, a preschool teacher, who suggested that knowing what to do relieve suffering was extra. Just "being there" is all that's required.
Applying that advice, I began to get better acquainted with the situations in my class that were causing kids to be unhappy. I discovered that questions help. Learning about the suffering was the key.
Many times I've walked up to a wailing child who's just fallen down on the playground and gotten a scrape and simply asked, "Show me where it hurts." When they show me I describe what I see avoiding any words of judgment.
Without providing anything, really, beyond openness and attention, the wailing usually stops. The child calms and quiets down. He or she is soon ready to get up to play or to get a some first aid.
This approach works whether it's an ordinary scrape or something much more serious, like the death of a parent. I don't need answers, just questions, attention given to the present moment, openness to what I see, and confidence that whatever needs to be done will become apparent.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
A broad liberal arts education makes the world more interesting and larger. It helps the person who's got one see beneath the surface of things.
A good kindergarten program is a good beginning in the quest of gaining a liberal arts education. You do some singing, some dancing, some sculpture, some painting, some literature, some science and some history. You gain an appreciation for the entire world around you. If you keep at it long enough, it makes you a wonderful human being.
My brother Jim has been educating himself his whole life. In fact years ago he was quoted in LIFE magazine as "wanting to re-enroll in kindergarten."
You can tell by reading his blog. He knows his roots. Last Sunday he posted about visiting the zoo. He drew portraits of gorillas.
It's a most memorable post, and I encourage you to go there now and have a look.
Friday, March 21, 2008
They're lobbying for a day-long buddy day at the end of the year.
Pleas check by here during the break. I'll post regularly.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
She bored her students.
In the thousands of ways students can, they let her know how bored they felt, mostly through audible sighing, rolled eyes, and passive-aggressive resistance to everything she wished them to do. Her attempts to coerce her students produced rarefied rebellion, keenly felt and subtly expressed.
Then something happened in the middle of a social studies lesson she had been presenting to the class. She had been reading from a script in the teacher's manual. It had been painful and hard to endure, as if we were all under water, drowning in ennui, gasping for air, and barely able to move through dense space more viscous than water.
Something in the lesson reminded her of an incident from her childhood and she did something for the first time: She told a story from her childhood.
It was an interesting story. Someone had capsized a canoe and almost drowned. In a small way, she had helped in the rescue, even though she had been only a child. Here, at last, she brought something of vital interest to her students. They were transfixed. For the first time in weeks, there was no sign of rebellion, no sighs, no averted eyes. The magic of the moment was obvious, but our poor teacher missed it.
She finished her story with an unnecessary apology, "Well, I know I'm not supposed to go on a tangent like that. Let's get back to work." How sad! She had taken to heart a wrong-headed view that teaching is about sticking to the script in teacher manuals. She had missed a vital reality: teaching is the heart-to-heart transmission of human culture.
She may not have learned from this incident, but I did. From that day I began to tell my kindergarteners stories from my childhood. It's certain to interest the class. Telling genuine stories from your childhood is a good idea not only for teachers, but also for parents.
Tonight's homework is to tell a story from your childhood, partly to honor Mr. Rogers, who were he still with us, would have celebrated his 80th birthday today.
Here is a quotation from this book:
Have you noticed how delighted young children are to hear their parents tell stories of things they did when they were little? Part of that delight comes from shared moments of closeness with a person you love, and part of it comes from hearing that someone you love had the same kinds of feelings you now have, did some of the same things, got dirty, got in trouble, laughed and cried and felt afraid. I’ve heard children say, “Grandpa got mad at Daddy just the way Daddy gets mad at me sometimes.”
Stories of our childhoods tell our children something else: They let our children know, without our even having to put it in words, that being little and vulnerable doesn’t last forever. Just as we grew from babies to children to who we are today, so will they.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Rogers, wherever you are.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
To close out the day, he shared eleven chicks his family hatched at home.
In the hub-bub I forgot to send the homework home. So here it is online. The idea of this homework is to tally the numerals in your address, phone number and license plates to see which numeral comes up most frequently at your house. At the bottom of the post you can see that 5 is the numeral that comes up most at Mr. Gurney's household.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
In the two previous posts on cultivating happiness, we considered the importance of attention and relationship.
Attention because without the ability to direct our attention, we cannot cultivate any particular state of heart/mind. If our minds are jumpy, not much cultivation can be done.
Relationship because happiness arises from healthy social networks. If we find ourselves in the midst of a robust network of trusted and helpful family and friends, we’re going to feel happy.
We all know people who travel to economically marginalized countries and return to marvel about how happy everyone seems to be. “How could they be happy if they were materially so poor?” we wonder. We have so much more wealth, and we don’t feel proportionately happier; the opposite, if anything.
On one level we’ve known this all along. We’ve heard the Greek myth of King Midas. If wealth were what made us happy then King Midas would have been the happiest man ever to have lived, for everything he touched turned to gold. He discovers how empty wealth is when his touch turns his food, his drink, and even his daughter to gold.
And more deeply, who among us hasn't noticed that the bigger newer consumable whatever (computer, camera, bike, boat, car, or house) loses its luster after a short time? Our experience teaches us this again and again; advertisers skillfully and relentlessly undermine our wisdom.
How, exactly, do we make our relationships better? Is there something we can do?
I think so.
We can cultivate what Buddhists call “The Four Immeasurables” also known as the “Four Divine Abidings.”
They are: Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity. We’ll look at the Loving-kindness this week and in coming posts in this series we’ll discuss in turn the remaining three.
These states of mind are called the Divine Abodes, but that does not imply that only god-like people can experience them. The Divine Abodes are for all of us. They make us feel divine. These feelings are ordinary, but usually fleeting. Everyone has them from time to time.
The purpose of these posts is to clearly identify them so that they can notice them for the happiness they can bring. Once we know them, we can cultivate and stabilize these feelings so that we get to feel them much more frequently.
This post is about Loving Kindness. Called Metta in the Pali language, Loving Kindness is the feeling that arises in your heart area when you have a simple and uncomplicated wish for well-being, happiness, and health. You might feel it for yourself, or for a good friend, or perhaps a puppy at the puppy farm. New parents often feel loving kindness for their soon-to-be-born first baby. It’s this feeling that you just want this person to be happy, joyful, at ease.
The opposite of loving-kindness is ill-will/hatred. Its near-enemy is sentimentality which involves clinging.
To cultivate loving kindness, think of someone for whom you have fond feelings. This person could be your own self. Holding this person in mind, say to yourself with as much feeling as you can muster,
“May I be safe, well, and happy.”
If wishing loving-kindness for yourself does not come easily for you, pick someone else for whom you do have fond feelings. For some people, it is necessary to think not about another human being, but a pet, perhaps a dog. What's important is to choose some being for whom it is easy for you to wish kindness upon. Start there.
Once these feelings come easily you can invite a lot more happiness into your life by widening this circle of Loving-Kindness.
Here is a list to widen the circle:
"May I be safe, well, and happy."
"May my wife or husband be safe, well, and happy."
"May my kids be safe, well, and happy."
"May Mr. Wilson be safe, well, and happy."
(insert the name of your favorite teacher here)
"May my mom and dad be safe, well, and happy."
"May my sisters and brothers be safe, well, and happy."
"May my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, be safe well, and happy."
Use these phrases and fill in the names of friends, neutral people, and difficult people.
"May all beings everywhere be safe, well, and happy."
To stabilize Loving Kindness, see if you can feel these wishes in your body, in the heart area. Notice that the more you practice sincerely wishing others safety, happiness, and wellness that paradoxically you feel safer, happier, and healthier. Paradox on paradox: if you intend to benefit yourself by this practice, it won't work. The benefits come only when you forget about yourself.
Next post in this series:
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The saying touched her.
It touches me, too. Goes like this:
"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass; it's about learning how to dance in the rain."
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I've just finished a book about the latest findings of neuroscience and I will to write about it in a future post. But I don't have the time now, with report cards due out on Friday.
Between now and then, I hope you can find about 20 minutes to watch this video of a talk by Jill Bolte Taylor.
She is a scientist who studies the brain. She had a major stroke affecting the left side of her brain. She describes her experience with remarkable clarity, courage, and humor. She has a interesting props for her talk, too, including about 3 minutes into the video, a real human brain which she holds in her hands.
I look forward to seeing the drawings!
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
At Choice Time today, some of the boys wanted to play tether ball. They knew the basic rules which are pretty simple, really:
• stay on your side of the circle, and
• try to hit the ball so it winds all the way up.
When it does, you win.
If you're redheaded Sammy, there, you want it to wind up clockwise; if you're Sergio you want it to wind up counterclockwise. (He was wearing his helmet because he'd just finished riding his bike.) Simple.
The real value in a game like this is for them to figure out the rules. What makes a hit legal? Can you catch the ball? Can you use the rope to fling the ball (ropsies)? What happens when you step over the painted line? If you get out of line, do you get your place back?
The temptation as a teacher is to stand there and make all the rules. Briefly I succumbed to this childhood-cheating demon. I came over and made a ruling on "ropsies." Illegal.
But all the value of the game goes away when I do that. It's so much better to LET THEM figure out the rules for themselves. Doing so exercises THEIR emotional and social intelligences.
I felt proud of myself for remembering to stand back and let them play. I took a picture and let them have the fun—and work—of making tetherball work for them.
When Choice time was over, Sammy came inside with the reddest cheeks in Sonoma County.
Course I forgot to pass it out and didn't remember until about half of the class had already gone home.
So, just in case you stop by the blog, you can click on a picture of the homework and go from there. It works. Just click.
And if you want to share how many doors, just post a comment. It's easy. Just choose a name and write in.
I'll show you. I'll leave a comment on my own newsletter. I'll call myself Anonymous by clicking on that button, but I'll sign at the bottom. And I'll leave a comment.
You can do it, too. I think it will be fun to see answers appear online.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Look at this photo:
It shows two men who raised a lion cub in England. When the cub reached maturity, authorities would not allow them to keep the animal as a pet in England.
They were forced to transport it to a wildlife sanctuary in Africa and leave it there.
Experts advised these men that their pet lion cub would revert to the wild and would not remember them.
I suppose they were told that it would be dangerous for them to visit their loved one.
But visit they did.
Here's a video of their reunion (Don't worry; it's a G-rated video!):
In getting ready for the spring plantings, a harvest of last winter's crops found its way to the parking lot in the form of an informal "Farmer's Market."
Items were 25 cents each. Last week I got an armload for a dollar and made a delicious miso soup for dinner that night. Mmm.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
In the Part One of this series we looked at the importance of paying attention in cultivating happiness. At the end of that post we heard from Eric Weiner's book The Geography of Bliss. He stated, "Attentive people are happy people." He observed that what children want most is undivided attention.
Attention is what allows us to make progress in uprooting distress. If we divert our attention from our discomforts, if we seek endless entertainment or distraction, we will be not be able to make real progress towards happiness. The impulse to seek relief from distress through distraction is a subtle form of denial of what's distressing us, no matter whether it's watching a movie, or reading a book, or even going for a walk.
Paying attention to the source of discomfort gives us a chance to actually fix our problem.
Very frequently our distress comes from our relationships.
Now let us turn our attention again to Weiner's book, particularly its conclusion where he gives us his final word on happiness. It's worth listening to.
Of all the places I visited, of all the people I met, one keeps coming back to me again and again: Karma Ura, the Bhutanese scholar and cancer survivor. "There is no such thing as personal happiness," he told me. "Happiness is one hundred percent relational." At the time, I didn't take him literally. I thought he was exaggerating to make his point: that our relationships with other people are more important than we think.
But now I realize that Karma meant exactly what he said. Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people: family and friends and neighbors and the woman you hardly notice who cleans your office. Happiness is not a noun or a verb. It's a conjunction. Connective tissue.
If I've learned anything from all these years teaching kindergarten, it's that relationships do matter.
At the end of the day being the best reader or the best math whiz in the school isn't really so important. What will reliably make us happy is being considerate of others, being helpful, being generous, patient, ethical, trustworthy, attentive, and caring for the people we find around us.
The happiest kids in the school are the ones who get along well with their friends.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Generosity is contagious. (So is pink eye! We've had our share of both this week.)
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
For those of you who've already been through kindergarten with me, it will be much the same as in years before. Kindergarten homework will span the curriculum, but with emphasis on applied math skills and science investigations. Kindergarten homework usually involves the collaboration of a parent.
Former students have told me about their fond memories of kindergarten homework.
Because of this blog, this year may be the best ever. You can read about the homework assignments on this blog and use the comment section to share your experiences. Sometimes the students will be encouraged to post a comment. From time to time we may ask you to email me digital photos. If you don't already have a digital camera, this might be a good time to consider getting one. (For those without computers at home, I plan to also have homework on paper.)
As in years past, homework is not graded and is optional.
Homework in kindergarten should be an occasion for fun and learning and serve as an opportunity to bring you and your kids closer. If any kindergarten homework assignment feels like a battleground of frustration and resistance, please don't do it. Sleep the computer or toss the homework paper in the wastepaper basket and go get an ice cream cone.
No stress, no worries.
Mrs. Frech and I have been pinching hitting for each other this week. But we've managed to get some good work done. I had the chance yesterday to see that Sierra has learned all of her Soundabet words really well, so she's now in all the clubs: King's, Queen's, Soundabet Kid's, and the school house club. Way to go, Sierra! Your mom and dad and grandparents and I are proud of you!
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Last year Coins for Cancer was called Pennies for Patients.
It's a Student Council project to raise money to benefit children with cancer. The idea is to donate the coins that collect wherever pockets are emptied.
Last year the 170 students in our little school collected in approximately $1000 in pennies.
Members of the Student Council spent the best part of a day counting and rolling 100,000 pennies. In the end they decided that they didn't have the patience for "Pennies for Patients."
This morning 2 members of the Student Council came into kindergarten to make a request: "Please no more pennies!" (In the first couple of days the kindergarten had filled the collection can and I think Student Council found more copper coins than they had hoped.)
We talked briefly about nickels, dimes, quarters. Someone asked if they could put paper money into the collection jar.
"Oh sure," came the answer. "In sixth grade that's what lots of us do. Bills are fine."
We talked, too, about kids and cancer. I explained that cancer is a very serious disease that sometimes kills the people who have it. Coins for Cancer will help people make new medicines to treat cancer and help pay for treatments for children who don't have enough money.
The message must have hit home with Sergio who's lost his father to cancer.
Without calling any attention to himself, Sergio went over to the collection jar, pulled a dollar out of his pocket, folded it, and slid through the slot and into the collection can.
But Mrs. Frech doesn't miss much. She saw him do it.
Level 1, Sergio. Level 1.