Saturday, April 22, 2017

Inspirational Quote – April 22, 2017

 “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day, saying I will try again tomorrow.”

Just a reminder I guess that having and showing courage doesn’t necessarily mean everybody knows about it, because we’re putting it out there. It’s more to do with having a really bad day but, before going to sleep, we silently reassure ourselves that, you know what, I’m not giving up. I’m going to give it another go tomorrow and, with that thought in our head, allowing sleep to claim us. Being courageous just means never ever giving up.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Inspirational Quote – April 21, 2017

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the ONLY option you have left.”

Interesting isn’t it? Stressful or upsetting situations we find ourselves in, not through choice, but because that’s life, things just happen. Most times, although there’s momentary panic and indecision, we do pull ourselves together and do what we have to as best we can, perhaps asking for help from those more qualified than us to find a solution or a remedy. We never really know how strong we are until, unfortunately, we are in the midst of a crisis and it’s then, and only then, that being strong is the one thing we can do to the best of our ability.

Yoga Shala West: Moving From Transaction to Trust

Pranidhi Varshney founded Yoga Shala West (YSW) "to create an environment for practice that was inclusive to all people, regardless of financial barriers." She aimed to move away from the transactional and image-driven nature of contemporary yoga, opting instead for an alternative fee structure and community-based social enterprise model. At YSW, "each student is not paying for his or her own practice. Rather, all students are contributing what they can to the community so that all of us may thrive in practice. The fee structure is set up in a flexible manner. In this way, we are moving from transaction to trust." In this interview, Pranidhi talks about her journey that led to the creation of YSW, and what it takes to build a social enterprise based on inclusiveness rather than just profit. Through all her work, she aims to inspire, provoke, build community, and ultimately touch the heart.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How to Be a Lifelong Learner

By Kira M. Newman

The instructor of the world’s most popular MOOC explores how to change your life through the power of learning—and why you have more potential than you think.

People around the world are hungry to learn. Instructor Barbara Oakley discovered this when her online course “Learning How to Learn”—filmed in her basement in front of a green screen—attracted more than 1.5 million students.
Part of the goal of her course—and her new book, Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential—is to debunk some of the myths that get in the way of learning, like the belief that we’re bad at math or too old to change careers. These are just artificial obstacles, she argues. 
“People can often do more, change more, and learn more—often far more—than they’ve ever dreamed possible. Our potential is hidden in plain sight all around us,” Oakley writes.
She should know: Throughout her early schooling, she flunked math and science classes and resisted family pressure to pursue a science degree. Today? She’s a professor of engineering at Oakland University, after many different jobs in between.
Her book aims to help readers discover their hidden potential, by offering them both the tools and the inspiration to transform themselves through learning. 

The benefits of lifelong learning

Besides being fun, Oakley explains, continued learning can serve us well in the workforce. Many professionals today are engaging in a practice called “second-skilling”: gaining a second area of expertise, whether it’s related to their work (like a marketer learning programming) or completely different (a fundraiser training to be a yoga instructor).
When we lose our job, or work just starts to feel unsatisfying, having other skills can give us more choice and flexibility. We can quit our job and find a new one, of course, but we can also choose to move horizontally within the same organization, taking on different responsibilities.
Mindshift tells the story of one Dutch university employee who enriched her career thanks to her passion for online video gaming. Though she didn’t necessarily think of that as a “second skill,” it ended up benefitting her (and her employer) greatly: She became community manager of the university’s online courses, devising strategies to keep digital interactions civil just as she had done in the gaming world. This goes to show, Oakley writes, that we can never tell where our expertise will lead us or where it will come in handy.
Keeping our brains active and engaged in new areas also has cognitive benefits down the line. According to one study, people who knit, sew, quilt, do plumbing or carpentry, play games, use computers, or read have greater cognitive abilities as they age. Other research found that the more education you have, or the more cognitively stimulating activity you engage in, the lower your risk of Alzheimer’s.
Learning could even extend your life. People who read books for more than 3.5 hours a week are 23 percent less likely to die over a 12-year period—a good reason to keep cracking books after college!

Learn how to learn

Whether you’re inspired to learn woodworking or web development, Mindshift offers many tips that can make your learning more efficient and enjoyable.
Focus (and don’t focus). In order to absorb information, our brains need periods of intense focus followed by periods of mind-wandering, or “diffuse attention,” Oakley explains. So, learners will actually retain more if they incorporate time for rest and relaxation to allow this processing to happen. Perhaps that’s why aficionados love the Pomodoro technique, which recommends 25-minute bursts of work followed by five-minute breaks. 
We should also experiment with different levels of background noise to achieve optimal focus, Oakley advises. Quiet promotes deeper focus, while minor distractions or background noise—like what you’d find at a cafe—may encourage more diffuse attention and creative insight. (While your favorite music could help you get in the zone, music that’s loud, lyrical, or displeasing might be a distraction.)
Practice efficiently. Neuroscience research is now exploring what learning looks like in the brain—and it’s bad news for those of us who loved to cram in college. Apparently the brain can only build so many neurons each night, so regular, repeated practice is crucial.
Oakley recommends learning in “chunks”—bite-sized bits of information or skills, such as a passage in a song, one karate move, or the code for a particular technical command. Practicing these regularly allows them to become second nature, freeing up space in our conscious mind and working memory so we can continue building new knowledge. (If this doesn’t happen, you may have to select a smaller chunk.)
It also helps to practice in a variety of ways, at a variety of times. To understand information more deeply, Oakley recommends actively engaging with it by teaching ourselves aloud or creating mindmaps—web-like drawings connecting different concepts and ideas. We can also try practicing in our downtime (in line at Starbucks or in the car commuting, for example), and quickly reviewing the day’s lessons before going to sleep.
Exercise. One of the most surprising—and easiest—ways to supercharge our learning is to exercise. Physical activity can actually help us grow new brain cells and neurotransmitters; it’s also been shown to improve our long-term memory and reverse age-related declines in brain function. In fact, walking for just 11 minutes a day is enough to reap some benefits.
While clearly informed by neuroscience, Mindshift focuses more on telling stories than explaining research—which makes it a fast read. After hearing so many tales of curiosity and transformation, you yourself may be inspired to pick up that random hobby you’ve fantasized about, or take one of many college-level courses now available online for free (like our very own Science of Happiness course). Me? The one I signed up for starts next week.

Inspirational Quote – April 20, 2017

“Your life is a result of the choices you make….if you don’t like your life it is time to start making BETTER CHOICES.”

How many times has somebody around you caused you to grit your teeth or bite your tongue by continually bemoaning their life and how things always go wrong for them, that their life is worse than anybody else’s, cruel, cruel world etc? Giving them advice on how to sort things out or, indeed, count their blessings always falls on deaf ears. Personally, after a while I just give up because, more often than not, they’re happy to wallow in their misery odd though that sounds. We ALL have choices, so make sure you are allowing the choices YOU make to enhance and nurture your life in making it the best it can be.

Thu Nguyen: The Creative Act of Healing

Thu Nguyen's life trajectory has far from predictable. Her father left before she was born. As a child she relocated with her mother from Vietnam to Canada as a refugee. She won an engineering scholarship, landed a prestigious career in high tech. Then, not once, but twice, a sobering health diagnosis would force her to take stock and shift gears. The first time it was diabetes, and her quest for health took her back to Vietnam, turned her into a food writer, and published author before returning her to high tech. The second time it was a pre-cancer diagnosis. In search of healing she discovered meditation, and numerous alternative healing modalities -- modalities that allowed her to start an inside out transformative process that reconnected her within and without. Today she is a tech entrepreneur with a passion for service. Read more about her journey.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

When Teens Need Their Friends More Than Their Parents

By Jenn Director Knudsen 

A new study suggests that teens may cope with stress better when they're around peers, rather than adults.

For many parents, the truth is hard to admit: Adolescents begin to rely less and less upon the adults in their lives and more heavily on their peers. Starting to let go is difficult. But teens’ reliance on buddies is good for their development and sense of belonging.
A new study found that this is especially true in the immediate aftermath of a stressful event, like failing a test. Researchers from Australia’s Murdoch and Griffith universities surveyed teens in real time throughout the day and found that, after something bad happens, they cope better emotionally when they’re with peers rather than with adults.
“Being among peers during times of stress may offer adolescents an open, supportive and rewarding space which may help dampen the emotional turbulence that adolescence can bring,” the researchers write.
They collected data from 108 boys and girls ages 13 to 16, who attend a socioeconomically disadvantaged school in Western Australia. Five times a day, for seven days, the teens completed online surveys sent to their smartphones during and after school, though not during class periods.
Each survey asked the question, “Since you were last messaged, has anything bad happened to you?” The teens rated their recent experience between 1 (“Sort of bad”) and 5 (“Very bad”) and offered a brief description of it. They also reported how happy, sad, lonely, jealous, and worried they were feeling, and whom they were with.
Lead study author Bep Uink said that while the participants experienced “typical adolescent stressors” like breaking up with a partner or failing a test, they also reported additional stressors, such as being pressured into sex, facing racism, recovering from a fight, living in one home while siblings live in another, being responsible for getting younger siblings to school, and working night shifts to earn extra income.
They consistently found that teens who were with (or were communicating online with) friends in the time immediately following a stressful event reported lower levels of sadness, jealousy, and worry—and higher levels of happiness—than those alone or with adults. Whether they were with friends in-person or online didn’t seem to matter.
“Friends seem to be an ‘emotional tonic’—at least in the short term,” study co-author Dr. Kathryn Modecki says.

These benefits—from being with friends (vs. family) after a stressor—seemed to be even more pronounced for girls than boys. Girls’ interactions often entail talking with one another, Uink explains, while boys frequently interact during a physical activity. “Girls expect to receive more peer support than boys,” she says, whereas boys are “less likely to be chatting in small groups, overall.” 

How do peers comfort each other? “Social support and distraction may be some of the ways that peers help youth navigate the ‘ups and downs’ of daily life,” speculates Uink. In other words, peers can encourage teens, cajole them out of a bad mood, or simply take their mind off worries.
While educators, parents, and other adults may feel responsible for soothing teens’ stress, Uink also encourages them to help young teens cultivate their power to help each other. This might mean learning social skills like kindness, empathy, or compassion.
Uink, who undertook the study as part of her Ph.D. dissertation, emphasizes the importance of studying lower-income youth, who are typically underrepresented in research.
“Economically disadvantaged youths report higher rates of exposure to daily stressors,” she and her colleagues write in the International Journal of Behavioral Development—so these findings are particularly relevant to their lives.

How to Change the Story about Students of Color

By Dena Simmons

Dena Simmons explores how educators can inadvertently harm students of color—and what we can do to bring out their best.

As a teacher and teacher-educator for more than a decade, I have had the privilege of working with thousands of educators. Now, in my current capacity as the director of education at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, part of my job is supporting educators from all over the nation in learning, living, and teaching social and emotional learning (SEL), a set of life skills that support people in experiencing, managing, and expressing their emotions effectively and in fostering rewarding interpersonal relationships. Throughout all of these years working with educators in various capacities, I have been continually inspired by their dedication to supporting their students’ academic, social, and emotional growth.
At the same time, I have been noticing an unfortunate trend among some of the educators—and other practitioners and scholars in the SEL field: When they describe how students of color behaved before they participated in an SEL program, they tend to use words like “rowdy,” “misguided,” “disengaged,” and “violent,” as if to highlight the urgent need for SEL programs for “these kids.”
In other words, they frame SEL as a sort of savior—one that transforms students of color from being unmotivated, loud, lazy, and uninterested students into motivated individuals suddenly enthusiastic about school and quiet enough to learn.
To be sure, one might wonder what’s wrong with a teacher describing the power and potential of SEL programming in that way, especially if it seems to be working—and especially if the teacher means well. In fact, we know from a 2011 meta-analysis of 213 school-based programs that SEL instruction helps improve students’ social and emotional skills, attitudes, and behaviors as well as their academic performance.
Here’s the problem: While stories about the impact of SEL may feel hopeful and uplifting to educators, parents, and others, they can also convey subtle messages that harm students inside and outside of the classroom.
Quite often, these stories perpetuate what University of Alabama professor Latrise Johnson calls a “failure narrative,” one suggesting that youth of color need SEL skills more than other children and that they would be better off if they would just learn to relate to people better, manage themselves more effectively, have more self-control, and be more calm. The result is that students of color—and their teachers—internalize the idea that such students are inherently deficient and in need of a teacher or some intervention to save them from themselves.
The consequences can be dire. Numerous studies have already suggested that teachers hold unconscious biases and stereotypes about children of color, leading them to discipline students of color more harshly than white students for the same behavior. Students of color begin to believe these messages about themselves in ways that influence their social and academic functioning at school, as demonstrated by research on teacher expectations and “stereotype threat,” which has found that when students of color think their performance on a test could be seen as confirming a negative stereotype about their ability, they feel added stress—which leads to the poor performance they were worried about confirming in the first place. And, research has also linked these same types of biases to the litany of tragic police shootings of black, Latino, and first-nation people: Evidence suggests that unconscious biases against non-white faces cause officers to assume the worst and pull the trigger more quickly.
So, how we tell stories about our students matters, particularly students of color, who do not need to look too far to see negative images of themselves littered throughout mass media. As a black educator who grew up poor in the Bronx, I know how dehumanizing it can be to hear that youth of color need saving and taming. I am still tackling my own internal challenges around impostor syndrome, and as a result, I’m particularly sensitive to the far-reaching effects that these stories can have.
Yet, from my experiences training thousands of educators around the country, I know firsthand that most teachers are very well-intentioned; they want to do right by their students.
I wholeheartedly believe we are capable of keeping our biases in check and changing the stories we tell about students of color. It is a process that takes time and commitment—and if you are an educator ready to commit to this work, here are four ways to begin.

1. Observe how you tell stories

When sharing stories about your students, or listening to a colleague talk about his or her students, consider whether the story represents the fullness of a person or a people, or whether it disempowers them or perpetuates problematic stereotypes.
That is, is the story spreading a single narrative of children of color being fearful, unmanageable, and uninterested in learning? Is the story implicitly taking away your students’ agency in improving their own circumstances—are you solely their savior? Does the story discuss the societal and community contexts that may add stressors to your students’ lives, impacting their learning and behavior?

For example, during a class discussion in one of my teacher education classes, one of my teacher-students shared that his students, who were all students of color, were not successful at school because (unlike his former high school classmates and himself) his students did not want to learn. He spoke with such certainty, and as evidence cited the fact that his students did not listen to him. The other 30 teachers in the room digested what he said as the truth—that his students of color were essentially unteachable—except for one, the only teacher of color in the room.
Instead of creating this reductive narrative about his students, which likely caused him to have low expectations for them, he could have approached his teaching dilemma as an opportunity to seek feedback on his classroom practice from his fellow teachers, and to reflect on ways that his instruction—and storytelling—could do more to respect and acknowledge his students’ assets, life experiences, and context.
That is, in addition to asking the reflective questions above, consider how you might tell more balanced narratives about students of color. Focus not only on discussing their shortcomings and challenges but also on highlighting their strengths—what makes them beautiful, resilient, kind, and interesting. In general, this kind of “strengths-based approach” leads to better outcomes for students.
Also, be aware of whether you describe students of color as “these kids” or as “our kids.” Saying “these kids” suggests a distance, a separation between your students and you—and this subtle shift in language can represent a major shift in your thinking and behavior towards them.
In sum, the goal is to refrain—and to help your colleagues refrain—from equating problematic behavior with problematic people and to emphasize students’ strengths, not their deficits.

2. Cultivate mindfulness to reduce unconscious bias

It can be hard to notice when our words are perpetuating harmful stereotypes about our students, especially since those stereotypes can be deeply ingrained in our consciousness.
Fortunately, research has identified an effective strategy for keeping our unconscious biases in check: mindfulness, the moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
Studies have found that mindfulness meditation practices not only cultivate positive emotional states toward others but also reduce our knee-jerk biases against certain social groups. In particular, studies on loving-kindness meditation, which includes discussing and cultivating love and compassion toward oneself and others, have found that it increases social connectedness and reduces bias. This may be because mindfulness subjects our unconscious biases and impulses to the scrutiny of our conscious awareness.
Engaging in a short daily practice of loving-kindness meditation can potentially help us reduce bias and connect more deeply with our students and their communities. Sure enough, a recent experiment found that when teachers received mindfulness training, they felt less stressed and were less quick to punish students. 

3. Cultivate greater awareness of your power and privilege

“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person,” according to novelist Chimimanda Adichie. When telling stories, it is helpful to get into the habit of asking the following: Should I be the one telling this story?
While sharing people’s stories can sometimes give them a stronger platform from which to spread their work or ideas more widely or acknowledge their accomplishments, we also risk silencing other people when we tell their stories for them. For one, when teachers share stories about their students, they might implicitly take credit for the successes of their students. When we do that, we put ourselves at the center of the story and strip the student of the opportunity to highlight and fully own his or her successes.
Storytelling requires self-awareness, which involves reflecting on how our identity markers—gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, size, and so on—position us in the world and give us access to power and privileges, or not. Building this type of self-awareness is a lifelong practice that requires honesty, self-compassion, and deep reflection.
Author and educator Peggy McIntosh, a scholar on white privilege, outlines some reflective questions and practices that support becoming more aware of the privileges some of us are afforded that others are not.
When we are aware of our power and privilege, we are less likely to abuse them and more likely to be open to other people’s lived experiences, allowing us to move forward with more empathy in our storytelling and ultimately in our lives.

4. Create opportunities for people to tell their own stories

While it is important for everyone, regardless of background, to be empowered to author his or her own narrative, this is especially true for people of color and other marginalized groups because, historically, we have had fewer opportunities to have our stories heard. For instance, in Hollywood and in academia, the dearth of people of color had led to incomplete or even nonexistent narratives about ourselves.
To change this pattern, teachers can devise activities for students to share their diverse experiences; these could include spoken word performances, written pieces, podcasts, videos, other multimedia and art projects, or even simply one-on-one lunch conversations with classmates or educators. Additionally, in all spheres, increasing the diversity of people in the room will help ensure that more diverse voices are heard. When people become the authors of their own stories, they pave the way for social transformation.
Through engaging in these four practices, we can push through the discomfort of confronting our unconscious biases and create opportunities for people to tell their own stories. Importantly, although research has documented impressive benefits of SEL programming, we must be careful about viewing or describing it as a corrective to character flaws in some groups of children, and not others. Despite good intentions, these types of narratives about our young people of color do more harm than good.