The Having of Impossible Conversations

Sometimes we get to have an impossible conversation. They emerge without warning - a parent opening up about their inner life, say, or a child revealing an understanding that seems beyond their years. These moments are little clues about what is always possible yet only sometimes happens; a tantalizing category if ever there was one. Yesterday, I got to have two impossible conversations with middle school students. My sense of what is possible for them is once again shifting…

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10 Ways to Make Middle School Awesome

Middle school is one of life's great forks in the road. For some students, it's the time they begin to find their voice, their social identity, their sense of self in a bigger world. For most, unfortunately, it's the opposite of that - the time when students lose engagement in school, forgot their authentic sense of self for the "false self" of whatever passes for cool in school, and begin orienting themselves to do whatever it takes to win social status. I've spent a good part of my career so far wondering about this puzzle and trying to access what I know is the greater potential of this age. Here are 10 lessons so far.

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The Dog Days of January

At the beginning of the year, we had a seemingly simple proposal from a student: could she bring her dog in for a day? From this request, we plunged into a storm of community process, ultimately learning a bit about the pros and cons of having dogs at school, and a lot about decision making in community. Ultimately it became an opportunity to teach our students about the advice process, one of the most useful decision making tools I've come across and perhaps a fundamental skill for living in community.

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Parenthood as Waiting

My second child was born a week ago today, and the awe generated by that experience is still pouring out of me. Awe from seeing my wife transform during a heroic 27 hour labor. From holding my daughter in the very first seconds of her life. From watching her these past days and nights as she begins to reveal herself to a curious world. Yet as I reflect on the birth, and perhaps seek new insights for parenting now that I have two children, something that was only in the corner of my eye during the labor keeps coming to mind.

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Be a Ritual Maker

We all create and follow rituals, but we don't all see ourselves as conscious ritual creators. I believe this is one of the hallmarks of great teachers and great parents, perhaps of successful leaders in general. I learned this, as usual, by making mistakes, forgetting to create a ritual and then reckoning with the chaos that followed. It all began with a chaotic morning at a new school...

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The Oldest Play in the Book

It was when I watched a 12-year old boy come in for landing in his Cessna, proud mentor next to him in the cockpit, that I really felt the awe of apprenticeships. Here is, I think, one of the greatest opportunities in education: to create apprenticeships which tap into our deep desire to be mentored and coached, to be seen and helped by someone whose skills we admire, to learn through relationship how to do the awe-inspiring things they can do. 

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How Do We Give More Meaningful Gifts?

I've become a very predictable gift-giver, with nearly all of my gifts to kids and adults alike coming in the form of books. I love books and I love sharing them, but as the holidays approached this year, I began to wonder about more experiential, meaning-generating gift ideas. Of the infinite number of ways to do that, here are two intriguing ones I came across this season.

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You Are a Work of Art

A few times in my life now, I've had the opportunity to sit with a small group whose members know each other well, and we've paused to deeply see each other and reflect back the beauty and potential we see. It's one of the simplest and most radical things I've ever done. Recently we did this exercise with 6th and 7th grade students at my school, and the results were profoundly moving. Here's how it worked.

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The Three Jar Allowance

It seems paradoxical that kids are both very focused on themselves and quick to feel empathy for those in distress. Children as young as 3 may ask questions about the human distress they see, whether a sick family member or a homeless person on the street. We can help them develop habits that foster a healthy social conscience - aware of suffering, able to feel empathy, able to take thoughtful in action in response. One of the best pieces of advice I've heard on this concerns how to create allowances.

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Wise Companions

Next to my dining table I have a large photo of Waimea Canyon in Kaua'i, though no photo can really do it justice. When you're there and looking down into it, you see infinite layers of rich green life spread over uncountable canyons, gullies, and twisting hills. When I first looked into Waimea this richness and complexity made me feel that I was looking right into the human psyche. I imagined that each little canyon was one of our stories about ourselves; each twist in the land an engraved experience of some kind; each stream a habit. How do these canyons and gullies form within our own psyches?

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