Tag Archives: social-emotional learning

Chillin’–A Personal Well-being Primer

Hey Activists….saving the world starts with me dropping one pebble at a time into one pond at a time.

Chillin’ objective: provide a people-friendly, WIIFM-intensive, non-threatening introduction to scientifically validated, self-care disciplines. It’s not weird old hippie stuff, not excruciatingly painful yoga, not mantra-chanting incense-burning meditation, not falling into a self-induced trance from candle-gazing. All of that is too strange for most to even think about trying. But most people don’t realize the damage done by physical and emotional pressures they may not even be aware of. Just as most don’t realize the incredible benefits of actively managing their mental-emotional and physical well-being, and don’t know how easy it can be.

What if there was a way to hit a reset button, neutralizing emotional and physical stressors that can turn your brain to jell-o and can even kill you, quickly or slow but sure?  Simple ways to “chill” your body and mind anytime anywhere without anyone knowing, using scientifically validated techniques that have been practiced for hundreds of years? Would you give it a shot?

I’m no guru, but I have managed to learn how to handle things pretty well most of the time.

Four Easy Essentials

“Mindfulness” is the airy-fairy mystical-sounding rage, but it’s nothing more than being fully aware of something and staying focused on that one thing. Hit File Delete for all the other noise.

It takes little time to practice and learn four essentials that work together: Focus, Breathing, Posture, Routine. Kids easily embrace Chillin’, but most adults have a lot of catching up to do and bad habits to unlearn. It’s OK to ease into it, you can learn the mechanics one at a time. Just don’t lose interest if magical results are not immediate.

(Essential One) Focus–Mental Discipline. An undisciplined mind can be a dictator–chaotic, unruly, a bb in a boxcar. Find a focusing aid, ONE thing to direct your thoughts at: the right music (a couple of examples follow) a physical object, or one thought in particular. My favorite easy Chill routine is the right music in the background while staring into a candle flame, focusing on just the flame, then adding a little mindful breathing. Five minutes can do wonders.

It helps for starters if you’re in the right environment with few distractions, but later you’ll be able to focus enough to block out the distractions around you anytime, anywhere. Just don’t chill so much you snooze in a board meeting.

(Essential Two) Breathing. You know how to breathe already but it’s a little different when you’re in Chill mode. First, focus on every breath—in through your nose, out through your mouth. Use your mental discipline to focus on speed and depth. Park your mind on nothing but breathing…it’s your first focal point! Slow, controlled deep, breaths. It will eventually become second nature.

Most people think their chests should puff way out when they’re deep breathing. Aim lower! With your hand on your diaphragm—middle of your chest just under your breast bone, above your tummy—slowly fill your lungs to maximum capacity. As you breathe in you should feel your stomach push out (no worries…it will go back down!). Deep breathing and singing from the diaphragm is used by accomplished singers because they get more power and control and are able to sing longer phrases. I’m not “accomplished” but I’ve been told by real pros that it works.

(Essential Three) Posture. Your spine is the superhighway for your nervous system and all of your energy flow. I can testify–the spine is critical.

Except for a (really) old football injury, the only back problem I’ve ever had was a few years ago, a nagging muscle issue. The chiropractor probed each vertebrae on both sides of my spine. He finally pressed on one wing and my right arm went totally dead. My back / muscle issue was rooted in the nerve flow regulated by one specific vertebrae wing. Easy fix.

You can get started right now. Lousy posture must be fashionable-quick check: how’s yours right now? Wherever / whenever you are sitting or standing, just straighten your spine! Add a little arms-up stretch and twist while you’re at it. If you’re like most you’re all hunched over and tensed up, and just that minimal movement will pop a few bones. It’s not just an old age thing.

A 10-minute daily yoga routine called The Five Tibetans is a simple stretching sequence that flexes and aligns the spine in the right order. Key words: stretch, flex, align, routine. Stay tuned.

(Essential Four) Routine, First Cousin to Discipline. An old football coach said “practice the way you want to play, because you play the way you practice.” Very zen for a jock in the 70’s but it holds true for sports, music, any hobby, relationships, anything.

Your first self-care session

Discipline / Focus, Breathing and Posture are all in play. This should quickly become a Routine for you. It won’t take long to learn or to realize immediate payback. You can do it any anytime anywhere, without anyone even knowing. If I have a particularly crazy group of students, I’ll do it. If my blood pressure is too high at the doctor’s I say “give me a couple minutes”. They come back, re-do my BP, it’s dropped 20 points. So here’s what you do….

Posture, alignment. Sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight, feet on the ground, thighs parallel to the ground. Rest your hands palm-down on your thighs. Option: cross-legged on the floor if you can. It worked for the Indians, full-blown lotus not required. It kills my ankles so, no. But your spine MUST be straight—that superhighway thing!

Control your breathing. Take slow and deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Check your diaphragm, it should be moving.

Focus. Close your eyes, focus on every breath—the changing sound of the nose>mouth in>out cycle, how the air feels coming in and going out, your stomach’s movement. Block out thoughts about anything else. Blocking may be rough at first—our minds are power-hungry dictators.

Expand your focus as you get more adept at this kind of breathing, graduating to “whole-body relaxation”. Become fully aware of your body one part at a time. Consciously relax that part. Focus on nothing but that part and how it feels as you fully relax it. On to another part, repeat.

Option to closing your eyes: use a specific focusing object to rest your eyes on. Don’t over-analyze the object, just rest your gaze on it and stay there. Let the object melt away, let your eyes glaze over. (it’s called spacing out, like most men I can do this in a heartbeat). Candle flame works great, but it’s a little awkward to light a candle in a high school classroom.


BONUS environmental elements: especially when you’re starting out, if you can choose your location a quiet and secluded, solitary place is ideal. Mood lighting (low) helps too.

Extra-extra bonus: music or white noise helps focus and minimizes noise distractions. Baroque = good. Rap and metal = bad. Anything with lyrics is distracting. Stay tuned for Chillin’ Music.

Let’s Talk a Little Yoga (very little)…The Five Tibetans

How scary is yoga? You’ve heard all about your kundalini and seen the workout vids, right? For most, “kundalini” is some kind of exotic liqueur. I’m 63. I used to be in good shape, athletic, active. But fitness hasn’t been high on my priority list for over a decade. I’ve never followed an exercise regimen of any kind, not even regularly walking. I have never ever obsessed over what I eat, just within reason…a heart attack tends to bring you down to earth. I guess I’m lucky. Maybe stupid. My no-exercise excuse besides no time: I hadn’t found the right routine for me.

I’ve always refused to consider contorting myself to the point of wondering whether I can untie my limbs from the crazy positions those yogis get into. And the Five Tibetans is traditional yoga. But I can easily do this routine. It’s a ten-minute sequence, longer only if you really get into it. But it will work wonders, and it’s scientifically validated to boost physical and emotional well-being. Confession: I need more discipline here!

Read the tutorial and get started easing into things now–linked above.


Music Therapy

The science of music therapy is amazing, its broad benefits are impressive and well-validated. It’s so fascinating that it’s tough just to focus on the relaxation aspect, but here goes.

Neuroscientists Discover a Song That Reduces Anxiety By 65 Percent. Excerpts:

Researchers at Mindlab International in the U.K. wanted to know what kind of music induces the greatest state of relaxation. The study involved having participants try to solve difficult puzzles — which inherently triggered a certain degree of stress — while connected to sensors. At the same time, participants listened to a range of songs as researchers measured their brain activity, heart rate, blood pressure and rate of breathing.

They found one song, “Weightless”, resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.

Interestingly, the song was specifically designed to induce this highly relaxed state. Created by Marconi Union, the musicians teamed up with sound therapists to carefully arrange harmonies, rhythms and bass lines, which in turn slow a listener’s heart rate and blood pressure, while also lowering stress hormones like cortisol.

DOUBLE-DIPPER APPLICATION. Some people need structure or it’s not a “real” song. But sound of any kind is magical. Watch and listen in a quiet and soothing environment, staying focused on the sounds and graphics. And while you’re at it, do your controlled breathing. They’re meant to work together. Weightless, 8min version 

That’s it for now. If you like what you see or have your own favorite routine, leave a response or drop a line craig.althof@gmail.com Please remember…the whole point is to make this as non-intimidating and accessible to regular people as possible. No voodoo, no dead language incantations, no over-the-top spirituality. Just some everyday Chill.


Live Long and Prosper-A Vulcan History Lesson

Logic is the cement of our civilization, with which we ascend from chaos using reason as our guide.” – T’Plana-Hath, Matron of Vulcan Philosophy

Vulcan history is a long journey from ancient civil wars that nearly destroyed Vulcan, to their embracing of logic through the teachings of Surak. Why did Spock’s home planet Vulcan turn its back on emotions in deference to logic?

Vulcans were once barbaric, war-like and “nearly killing themselves off with their own passions“. As half-human Spock put it “Vulcan, like Earth, had its aggressive, colonizing period; savage even by Earth standards. There was a time in the past when we were an extremely violent race. We nearly destroyed ourselves. Paranoia and homicidal rage were common.” A small group of early Vulcans, reported to be liberals, began to mentally train themselves to suppress their emotions.

None too soon. Vulcan was tearing itself apart. Rampant emotions and a hostile warrior culture led to many widespread wars using terrible weapons like atomic bombs and the Stone of Gol. But the philosopher Surak made a radical proposition: lead a life governed by logic rather than emotion. His teachings showed Vulcans a path towards peace and they quickly spread. Spock reflected on the shift to logic: “We were once wildly emotional, committed to irrationally opposing points of view, leading, of course, to death and destruction. Only the discipline of logic saved my planet from extinction.

Vulcans are not natural paragons of emotionless logic. They are actually far too emotional for their own good. Their natural disposition is quite earthly human: erratic, volatile and quick to anger. So they go to great lengths to suppress their natural feelings with disciplined mind control. The Vulcan embracing of logic includes an iron discipline about feelings – an almost Buddhist extermination of the ego, freeing the person from illogical emotional impulses.

Spock was only half-Vulcan, the offspring of a human schoolteacher and a Vulcan father. This created a deep, ongoing and powerful conflict between logic and emotion, described by Earth counterpart Leonard Nimoy as … “struggling to maintain a Vulcan attitude, a Vulcan philosophical posture and a Vulcan logic, opposing what was fighting him internally, which was human emotion.”

Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human. (Kirk’s eulogy for Spock)

The Vulcan culture survived and thrived. End of history lesson.

(Two sources for Vulcan history: http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Vulcan_history  and http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/the-vulcan-way-how-to-live-long-and-prosper-1672660.html

Is There a Lesson?

Earth is embroiled in civilization-threatening conflict. The dark side of our emotional human nature is becoming more and more dominant with greed, power-grabbing, corruption, indifference to others, brutal killings, senseless wars that are somehow always logically or morally justified.

But the Vulcan civilization survived a similar crisis and thrived. What can we learn from our distant homo sapiens cousins? Must we also banish emotions in deference to logic?

Earth’s humans face a dual threat: 1) rampant emotions and whacked out values fueling phobias and paranoia, hatred, bigotry, “me first” nationalism; and 2) blunt-force logic: cold, calculating, it’s-only-business, inhuman disregard for others in deference to profit, possessions  and power.

There’s a significant difference between Earth’s and Vulcan’s strain of homo sapiens. Our issue is more complex than Vulcans faced. Earth’s science community has determined that social-emotional attributes are what makes Earth humans human. Our emotional, impulsive, intuitive side is our redeeming quality, but it may also become our downfall.

Human emotion is as essential to our survival as the physical environment. We thrive on intangibles like sense of purpose, living by our values, healthy personal relationships, belonging / being part of a strong community. As social well-being has been found to intertwine with physical well-being these are critical to sustaining the species. It’s also been verified that social-emotional well-being drives achievement and success, as well as physical health and longevity.

But there’s a down side to strong emotions rooted in the way the brain and body interact.

Emotional input or negative experiences trigger a highly sensitized involuntary fear response that is so strong it can block out logical thought. These negative external stimuli can trigger brain trauma which causes the involuntary reactions due to our “fight or flee” instinct.  A traumatized brain can be a tired, hungry, worried, rejected, or detached brain which causes a person to have feelings of isolation, worry, angst, and fear.

When a threat, either real or perceived, is felt the brain and body both prioritize survival. Both go through changes to enable rapid scanning for physical warning signs and emotional signals of unsafe conditions.  We react to signals physiologically, our irritated limbic system increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration with an excessive secretion of stimuli—cortisol and adrenaline—pumping through our bodies.

We’ve long known about the potential physical damage from stress responses. Chronic activation of this fear response can damage parts of the brain as well as the body due to elevated stress levels. While humans are naturally social creatures that thrive on and crave social connection and attachment to others, if we encounter physical or emotional danger problem solving, reflection, and emotional regulation are compromised and diminished.

(Brain theory information is from Brains in Pain Cannot Learn! )

So, What’s a Human To Do?

For humans, our emotions are a good thing. We cannot survive without them. But an over-leveraged strength can become a weakness. So, how do we embrace our emotional strengths while keeping them in check? Mindfulness and meditation, even at a very basic level, can do wonders. So can rediscovering our true selves (purpose values, norms, belonging…). But body and mind are one system. So don’t forget the bean sprouts. And sensible exercise too. It’s not all esoteric pixie dust.

Humanity’s struggle to harness our emotions is a matter of species survival. Thankfully, there is a broad and potentially powerful awakening underway. Live long and prosper ….indeed! As Spock would exclaim, with one pointed eyebrow raised for added emphasis…. “Fascinating!”

Reinventing Sesame Street (!!!)

I heard an interview on National Public Radio over the weekend–Erasing Red Ink, Sesame CEO Offers Vision To Preserve Home Of Big Bird http://www.npr.org/2016/10/13/497803214/key-to-big-bird-and-elmos-survival-sesame-workshop-ceo-outlines-vision The means to achieve that end: kindness and empathy! Google “sesame research on empathy and kindness”…this is a serious effort.

Excerpts below are from http://www.sesameworkshop.org/press-releases/u-s-parents-teachers-see-an-unkind-world-for-their-children-new-sesame-survey-shows-2/

(October 13, 2016) – Parents and teachers in the United States worry that their children are living in an unkind world, that people do not go out of their way to help others, and believe that children need strong social-emotional skills to succeed in life, according to a new survey commissioned by Sesame Workshop called “K is for Kind: A National Survey On Kindness and Kids.”

Nearly three-quarters of parents and almost four-fifths of teachers say they “often” worry the world is an unkind place for children. At the same time, parents and teachers clearly see the importance of having strong social-emotional skills. Almost three-quarters of parents believe it is very important for their child to be accepting of others, to be polite, and to have manners, while about three-quarters of both parents and teachers prioritize kindness over academic achievement. “Getting good grades” was one of the least important attributes for children, with less than half of parents and only about a tenth of teachers describing it as “very important.”

Sesame Workshop CEO, Jeffrey D. Dunn: “This survey confirms our concerns. It is time to have a national conversation about kindness. We hope that this is a first step towards doing that.”

For more information on the survey, visit kindness.sesamestreet.org, and to join the conversation on social media, follow #TeachKindness.



NEED-Youth Suicide Petition –Belay that Thought! 9-16-16

9-16-16 UPDATE: after some very good discussions on Ripple Power (FB closed group) the plan is to scuttle the plan…no value in petitioning to take action on bullying-induced youth suicides. Not going heartless-just a reality. The issues are complex.


Comment with your input, I will organize into the main document as best I can. This is posted to gather input from Ripple Power members, but if you’re not part of that closed group and you stumble across it, please add your input. We need action!

HELP! Need input. I want to do a petition (oh no, not another!) to elevate the youth suicide. It’s a mental health issue in part, which needs serious attention on a whole ‘nother level. But we need to specifically address bully-induced suicides. This is an international tragedy – stand in line, right? And there are tons of different things out there—groups, approaches, too many experts and disjointed efforts …and too many kids writing a final end to their personal tragedy. PLEASE lend a hand. NEEDS:

  • Research youth suicide rates and causes,
  • Input on how to REALLY grab peoples’ attention to sign the petition….AND to get involved
  • Specific actions to recommend,
  • Find the right vehicle / outlet for a petition.

PROBLEM DESCRIPTION: Zero tolerance policies are spotty and ineffectively enforced. Awareness and prevention programs are not enough and are not taken seriously (FIRSTHAND observation from my local school system). Social-emotional learning is not a priority, and when it is part of a school’s curriculum is not supported but tolerated. Children cannot be the extent of the focus because they are just the end result of the bigger problem: a society that accepts, allows tolerates bullying behavior.

ROOT CAUSES (partial list!) Domestic violence includes physical and verbal abuse, and it is a leading contributor to making bullying behavior “acceptable” and normal. Women have been speaking out since forever and dying.

Media is to blame: what gets attention? Murder, any outrageous violence. Kids are powerless and when they need help what will get attention? What they see so … “I am hurting. I will hurt someone and someone will see me.”

ACTION PLAN: Don’t just be saddened for an appropriate amount of time, then go about your regular business until the next one is reported! The problem must be addressed from all angles, by all stakeholders: education, parents / families, private sector, community leaders–civic groups, religious communities and government….

Get organizational support from various existing groups…Edutopia, Greater Good Science Center, Area education agencies, school boards etc. TROUBLE SPOT: many of these are country clubby, closed doors, protective of their turf, not open to outsider meddling. But outsider engagement is exactly what they need!

DRAFT WORDING…research other similar-topic petitions for structure! This petition is to call attention to the need for immediate and definitive action to address the frequency of suicides by young people, defined as ages nn to nn. While this is a sub-set of mental health, specific issues related to bullying behavior in schools and social media are the target of this petition. There are currently no legal or civil controls in place, no effective initiative used on a broad scale to address the root causes of bullying that may lead to self-harm by young people.

DISTRIBUTION of COMPLETED PETITION for SIGNATURES. Need high visibility, high exposure. Need viral distribution, some way to circle back to those who signed the petition, as they are the beginning of the grass roots organization of masses that are needed to support this!

  • Social media groups—Facebook, LinkedIn, others
  • Community, friends-local media, church groups


Supercharging Engagement

As it is fairly well-established in the private sector, “engagement” is a central concept to leverage in any social improvement initiative. Young people, adults and community members all benefit from the same engaging attributes. Developing a cohesive community strategy to leverage the known enablers of engagement will build a more highly engaged population overall.

There is no trademark on engagement theory, just marketing-driven differences in specific models, approaches and terminologies. While the ideal is to gain the support of engagement industry experts, the industry is highly competitive = herding cats.

Purpose and values-driven people are highly effective in every aspect of their lives. They are less stressed, live longer, are more productive in school and at work, are high contributors in their community, are better family members….more successful all the way around.

We know why engagement works; we know what motivates people to be more engaged and we know what is disengaging. We’ve repeatedly measured the results and impact. We know how engagement directly affects performance and even by how much.

We know there’s potential in engagement. Still, with only a few scattered exceptions it’s untapped potential. We just don’t get it. Or if we do get it we don’t do it, especially when it comes to the greater potential beyond engagement in the workplace.

More than ‘Employee Engagement’

Engagement studies and related literature are almost exclusively focused on engagement of employees in the workplace. We’ve sub-optimized the greater potential of engagement.

Consider the impact of a conscious, coordinated effort to also grow engagement in education, families, the community. There’s a larger perspective beyond the workplace, and engagement needs a larger definition:

People are engaged when they are fully connected and committed to a course of action, whatever the endeavor. They are willing and able to put extra effort into getting the job done and doing it well, whatever the task. Outcomes: higher performance, goal attainment, greater individual satisfaction and well-being. All get a boost from high engagement whether school, workplace, family, community.

Engagement isn’t just organizations keeping people happy to boost productivity. Sure, it will deliver those goods. But the potential in broader applications is huge:  employee engagement directly impacts the emotional and economic well-being of the community. Championing community engagement is corporate social responsibility on steroids. It’s sound business too: an engagement-conscious company boosts the well-being of its employees, and the entire community…which is also the company’s talent pool, present and long-term.

Employee disengagement is easy to measure, as the impact on lost productivity and employee attrition have a clear dollar impact. But there’s also economic impact in education / student or community / citizen disengagement. We just haven’t devoted as much energy to studying it.

  • Disengaged students don’t care about their education. They see little promise for the future, have very little hope of becoming anything but a bad statistic. They tune out and under-perform. Worse, they drop out. Worst: suicide. The social and economic cost of student disengagement would be huge and the tragedy of wasted human potential would be sobering and compelling if we thoroughly assessed it.
  • Disengaged citizens don’t get informed or involved. What’s the point? Many who do vote don’t have the information they need to make good decisions. People don’t care about the community and it goes to hell physically. Civil and legal problems spin out-of-control, along with increasingly significant social issues. People can’t get the heck out of Dodge fast enough if they can escape at all. A tightening downward spiral.

Universal Engagers

Engagement-enabling attributes affect students, family members, employees and citizens equally. And when you impact the level of engagement in one demographic, impact the others.

Further, major engagement models share several attributes needed to support high engagement. As you review these, consider the implications for students, families, workers, citizens, communities.

  1. Relationships Built on Caring and Trust.  We all need nurturing no matter our age. We’re human—we thrive when someone truly cares about us. Not about what we do or how much we do or how well we do it…but when someone actually cares about US.
  2. Clear Expectations and Feedback. People are driven to make a meaningful contribution. We’re more willing and able to perform if there’s a roadmap that shows how to get from here to there. We need to know we’re doing the right things and how we’re doing along the way. It’s even better if the destination is compelling, if the route and the tasks are connected to a vision (4); and are purposeful (5);
  3. Sense of Community.  Humans have been social creatures throughout history, since first banding together in tribes for safety and companionship. But it’s more than strength in numbers. We have a basic human need to be part of a group;
  4. Connected to Vision. Moses didn’t say “let’s go wander aimlessly in the desert for a few decades”. They set out for the Promised Land to escape the cruelty of Pharaoh’s rule. Connecting to vision is as simple as providing the “why” behind the “what”, providing a line of sight from everyday tasks to the (hopefully) compelling goals of the group.
  5. Sense of Purpose: what makes me want to get up in the morning; what I am involved in that matters long-term; how can I personally make a difference in the grand scheme of things? We all want and need to make our mark, to leave a legacy;
  6. Values-centered: My values determine my Purpose. Without values, Purpose is directionless and meaningless. We’re drawn to environments where we feel most  comfortable. We’re more at ease when our values are aligned with the environment and we’re uncomfortable when our values are stifled or contradicted. Even if we’re not aware of our values, we still know something’s not right and we don’t like it. We just don’t know what’s wrong or why we feel bad.
  7. Opportunity to Shine: when people do what they do best and truly enjoy doing, they produce exceptional results. Well-being skyrockets from accomplishment, leading to even more impressive performance. It’s a reinforcing loop and common sense too…. contented cows give more milk.
  8. Opportunity to Grow: the Army has it right. Deep down, we all want to be all that we can be. We have strengths (#7) but that’s not enough for most of us. We want to be more, we want to do more. It’s not just doing more stuff, level of purpose must also elevate for us to grow. Think Maslow and the “actualization” pinnacle of the pyramid.

Purists may disagree, but by my book Maslow’s hierarchy is not a progression of needs that must be met in order. If I have a firm grip on what I need for Actualization, it would certainly change the parameters of my survival-level needs. Therefore, exploring Vision and Purpose should be the highest priority.

Vision and Purpose—Subtle Difference

Vision drives community. In the grand scheme of things, what is the reason for the group’s existence? Why are we here? Where do we go from here? Why should we care about being part of this group? Why should others care that we even exist?

Purpose is personal values-driven: where do I go from here? What do I see for my future, what are my goals, why are they important to me, why should I care? “Whys” are rooted in my personal values and “whats” are impacted by my strengths, the things I enjoy.

Community vision and individuals’ values-driven purpose must be somewhat in alignment. They definitely cannot be in conflict. Alignment begets synergy: one strengthens the other.

“Engage” Is a Specific Execution Tactic, Not a Strategy. “Increasing Engagement” is an outcome, not a directly actionable goal. And you cannot boost engagement via edict or policy; you can only plan and engineer an environment that encourages and enables people to fully engage. Increased engagement is the result of doing the right things, and attributes 1-8 are a great start.

The Universal Engagers are easily translated into specific to-do’s. Expectations and action items tend to be readily embraced, as the engagers appeal to core human needs and values.

Google McKinsey’s 7-S. Sustainability skyrockets when a strategy is comprehensive (covers all bases), systemic (connected to and supporting other actions) and shared. Expectations must be attainable (realistic) and supported by leadership, structure, work systems, and appropriate knowledge and skills provided to do-ers. Relevant goals and action plans are ideally followed up on with regular status reports.

There’s no need to even use the “e” word or try to explain the theories and concepts. You’ll lose people. Just focus on the attributes that support engagement, then standardize doing the right things.

Closing Thoughts on Engagement

I’m a private sector/education hybrid. I’ve been involved in social-emotional learning in education and leader development and engagement in the workplace. Couldn’t dodge the lightning bolt forever-it finally hit. It’s all the same thing!

Emotional intelligence, leadership, character development, social-emotional learning, employee engagement and all the consultant-concocted “differences”… take away the labels, distill them down to the basics. They’re the same. And they’re all enablers of engagement.

These enablers share deep roots: basic human nature, universal human values. We all learn the same things the same way through childhood socialization that is reinforced throughout our lives. But we’re being drawn toward recklessly pursuing more and more “things” and juggling the demands of an endless list of urgent to-do’s. We easily forget what it means to be human. When social norms break down problems crop up—unethical and / or illegal behavior, rudeness other variations of treating each other like crap, and a myriad list of significant social issues.

What if stewardship of values, goals and action plans was shared among education, private sector, community, individuals? Synergy, reciprocation, constant reinforcement that’s what. The broader the sharing, the greater the impact. We’re all in this together!

Abundant research supports these points:

  • Young people have the same basic human needs as adults. Kids respond the same way to the same stimuli because it’s fundamental human nature;
  • The state of mind called “engaged” is the same in education, the workplace, society;
  • Engagement has a high probability of carry-over. A highly engaged student is likely to look for and thrive in an engaging work environment. A highly engaged employee is likely to have a healthier family and more meaningful social relationships, likely to be a valued community member;
  • Highly engaged parents are likely to raise highly engaged kids, and highly engaged kids can help pull their parents toward the mountain top too;
  • Engagement is contagious. So we can supercharge our efforts and have even greater impact by focusing on all sectors, all stakeholders, in a systemic initiative.

It’s more than “employee” engagement. We’re all in this together.

For supporting data, see  The Business Case for Engagement and Social-Emotional Learning


Kids Epiphany–for Brielle and Sean

Lately I’ve been hit with several stories that need to be told. Not a Newtown, Paris or Brussels level of mega tragedies, these are more personal. Like most people, Newtown CT hit me hard. But it’s distant enough now that while I remember continuously, Newtown is not the ceaseless gut-punch like it was the first year. But that hollow feeling is creeping back, and it has finally rekindled my resolution to do what I can to make things “better”. Two stories in particular pushed me past the tipping point, Brielle and Sean are saved for last.

This is a triple-purpose post. First, to help me process the emotions. I need to verbalize these stories at some point but I’m not confident I’ll keep my emotions under control. Through these words maybe I’ll get my heart around the emotions. Second purpose, more importantly, is to trigger thinking and action.  Third, to fight the risk of numbness. We cannot stop feeling.

Self-made Man

Adam struggled in elementary school. He had stomach problems and regularly soiled his pants. And he struggled to learn. Of course, kids made brutal fun of him and the emotional issues piled up. Adam’s family moved from town to town, hoping to find a school where his problems wouldn’t be noticed and he would fit in. But his problems remained and the dream fit didn’t happen.

He finally outgrew his stomach problems, but the learning issues remained. In high school Adam made a series of “bad decisions”. He came to the realization on his own he had two possible paths. One would lead to prison, the other held some promise. He convinced his mother to help and she agreed, on the condition he was sincere and stayed the course.

They finally found out he was autistic, high-functioning but still challenged by the regular learning process. Adjustments were made, and Adam graduated. He’s been on his own since and has a decent job. Adam is committed to helping other people avoid the pain he endured.

We’re better at diagnosis and special needs now, but we don’t have bullying under control. We haven’t touched the root cause: values, ethics…anemic norms that allow bullying to take place. Identification and corrective action is too late-we need to be proactive!

     Did Adam have all the support he needed? He was just a kid. Why did he have to ask for help? Why did he have to seek out the right path on his own? Adam will tell you it made him a stronger person. But how many kids would not have had the strength to make it? How many need help now and aren’t getting it, and may not be strong enough to make it through?

The Reluctant Dropout

I was working with students at the alternative high school, with young people who for whatever reason have issues with traditional education and are high risk for leaving school. Behind my desk was a life-sized poster of John Wayne with the caption “Don’t much like quitters, son.” When the Duke talks you listen up, Pilgrim…except most teenagers don’t know who he was.

“Ashley” is a 17 year old student. In the morning meeting, a teacher reported that she had asked him if he knew anything about getting paycheck loan advances. That was a big red flag, so he spent some time talking with her.

Ashley’s father had been helping her make ends meet but he left the country with his girlfriend. Her mother had been sharing the apartment and expenses but moved out, she’s no longer in the picture. Ashley’s two teenage roommates have no job, no income. She has no food, no money for car insurance or rent. She said “I don’t want to quit school, but I need to work more hours.”

True story. 17. Ashley is a good kid needing a break, her story is too close to home. Students leaving their education and their future behind is not just a big city issue, it’s right here in my small community of 15,000. This is something we can impact, and even “little” things matter.

     What if we had solid personal relationships and kept in closer touch with our young people, enabling us to take proactive early action when an at-risk situation looms? Not just risk of dropping out, but worse situations. When we do come across a struggler, there must be rapid response intervention by well-trained people.

Miracle in 4th Grade

I taught Guidance for 4th-6th graders, a social and emotional development program that was usually very enjoyable and productive. But one 4th grade class in particular seemed somehow to be home to every misfit in the school regardless of grade. They were my problem children and shame on me but I honestly dreaded every day I was scheduled to be in their class.

I was to read a book on bullying to them, so they all gathered around on the floor with my chair at the head of a semi-circle. I cannot even remember what triggered the lightning strike. A few of the students offered their personal experiences with bullying and handling tough situations. Then Madison raised her hand. She is particularly disruptive and I sighed to myself thinking “here we go…” and called on her.

“I don’t talk about this much” she began, then choked up. She was new to the school that year and had few friends and I could tell she was having a hard time getting started. But then the flood gates opened and out came her short life’s story, extremely emotional because it was from the heart and you could tell she was reliving a lot of pain. So could her class mates.

Madison’s mother died when she was five. Her father was a “piece of ____” (she said the ‘bad’ word but I let it go, so did her classmates). He was never around and didn’t care about her, didn’t take care of her. She was on her own anyway so she ran away in second grade, and got a beating when she was caught. She was in and out of foster homes, none worked out, and ended up with her grandmother who didn’t care about her, was only in it for the money she got from the state.

Many of Madison’s class mates were crying by this time. I was. They took turns going to her to give her a hug, and it turned into a giant group hug. We all needed it.

I was witnessing a miracle and it had just begun.  Another girl spoke up “I would have never had the guts to talk about this, but you helped me Madison—thank you!” She told her story. And another student, and another. I have never been so drained in my whole life. But it was an incredibly good feeling.

This is a somewhat happy tale, but just this chapter. There are so many failure modes in the system, and by the alleged adults in her life. Madison’s story is still being written.

     The Guidance classes are intended to help kids handle deep and powerful emotions. They emphasize the importance of empathy and strong relationships. Kids want and need to really connect with their classmate peers. They need to feel safe enough to unload their deepest emotions and empathetically support each other, especially if the support is not coming from elsewhere. We’re all just walking each other home.

     I’ll guarantee Madison now has twenty classmates and friends who have her back, and those problem children took a giant step toward coming together. But I realize we were lucky that day—it truly was a magical moment, sure wasn’t a light switch I flipped on. We need to develop ways to promote more genuine full-disclosure experiences like that.

Who is to ensure the progress those 4th graders made isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan? And… why don’t we offer social / emotional learning beyond elementary school? It’s needed!  For Brielle….

The First Dagger…for Brielle

A little 14 year old girl took her own life last week in in my home town. This tribute was published, with Brielle’s picture: “… due to bullying and depression. Although I do not personally know her, this affects me greatly as it should any parent. She could be my child, she could be your child. She had a loving family and extended family. But, her grief from being bullied was just too strong. Words hurt. Actions hurt. Let’s all stand up for our children when enough is enough. Brielle was an organ donor and her heart went to a 10 year old little girl. What a precious gift she gave to others.”

Brielle was a beautiful young girl who had the warmest, most genuine smile you could imagine. Even in her picture, you can see the glow and spark in her eyes. This young lady was a good person, and she was so full of life. Snuffed out. Why?

Too many kids carry an unreal amount of baggage around, some of adult origin but also peer-driven. Either way, it takes a long time to break a beautiful child’s spirit. There is no responsibility more important. Why aren’t we paying attention? That we don’t take seriously our stewardship of their fragile spirits is a moral abomination, a tragedy— no other words.

Children’s physical safety, and a lifetime’s worth of mental well-being is at-risk. Even their lives can be at risk. This is small-town Iowa, the whole state leads pretty much a sheltered lifestyle. Yet, the frequency of young people committing suicide is appalling. One is too many, right?

We’re beyond “just one”.

These aren’t just anywhere examples—these are real kids in our own back yard!

Brielle Christina April 25, 2001 – March 9, 2016


April 4th, not even a month later…another child. As fate would have it I’m getting ready right now to go work with 12yo’s…a friend sent me a picture of a smiling boy that age, and his kitten. He lived and died half way across the country, so I didn’t know him. But yet I do.

Another child with such a bright smile, such a vision of hope in his eyes. How long will it be before this little boy’s picture fades away? How long will we moan about “tragedy” before going back to business as usual? I can’t let it go. Can’t.

NEED: starting at a very young age, address the faulty norms that enable any level of bullying. Rekindle tolerance, acceptance…human love they were born with…in every child. Adults need it too. We must have ZERO…not “tolerance” but capability for any kind of bullying behavior. There is lots of lip service in schools and their staff, parents, kids. Oh, we don’t allow bullying. But then we do.

Above all, we need to connect with kids—be their safety net—and connect with each other. How can we be too busy doing ‘stuff’ to pay attention when another human being, especially a child, is crying out for help, possibly for the last time?

We have time to obsess over STEM subjects to make sure there will always be enough semi-skilled workers to keep producing stuff. But we pay lip service to emotional development.

That is the tragedy. That is my greatest frustration with society and especially with education—our priorities are backwards. Brielle, Sean and every young person trying to make it home safely are why I am so consumed by this mission.

Memorial Day Update: in Colorado Springs, three teens took their own lives in one school in one week. The school had recently conducted “suicide prevention training” for kids, parents, educators. But it takes more than awareness, an occasional training event, and posters. We need to give kids and adults a reason to feel they are worth something, at a very early age and continuously after that. We need to give them (all of us) the spiritual strength to cope with what lies ahead. We need it a whole lot more than teaching how to cipher numbers and become scientists and engineers.


Most of you already know how passionate I am about young peoples’ emotional well-being. I’ve written too many times already about youth suicide and bullying. It’s something I deeply care about, and I’ve been searching for a way to make an impact. But they were always far away kids I didn’t really know. Readers are respectfully sad for a while, then we all move on. I’ll admit sometimes that’s true for myself too. All in all, young people’s emotional health in our little community appeared to be in good shape. But I’ll be in a class room tomorrow where there will be one crushingly empty desk. Knowing why it’s empty is really gonna hurt.

Sean’s Song

These are real-time reactions as Sean’s story unfolded. Some of it is from my personal journal, some was shared on a limited-access private Facebook page.

(day one) Please, thoughts and prayers for a 13yo here in my home town who is clinging to life after hanging himself. This is a young man I know somewhat, my grand daughter partners with him in science. I have taught him. This is personal, it’s up-close and it’s very, very tough.

If you have kids hug them, let them know they are loved and are very special. And speak out, lend a hand where you can.

(later, same evening) Key words and kind thoughts (in lots of friend responses) spell out a partial answer to what WE must resolve. Mostly we just need the resolve to make it a priority. Because it IS tragic, it IS an epidemic. This one hurts a lot. Not sure Sean will make it.

(day two) Not unexpected. Sean was declared brain dead last night and he was kept on life support until his organs could be harvested. Find peace.

(day three) And now, for the beginning of the rest of the story…I was at the middle school today where Sean went, a subdued day. They had a basketball game that night, Sean’s best friend wore his jersey. Sean’s dad and sister came, they were out in the hallway talking to a bunch of Sean’s friends in private, my grand daughter included. She came into the gym sobbing, the others soon followed. Sean’s family had shared some “good” news…like Brielle’s gift, a dying little girl had already received Sean’s heart.

I did not know this young man very well, just enough to make his death personal. The survivors—Sean’s family and classmates –are my concern, my grand daughter being one of the latter. We cannot resign ourselves to the notion that this just can’t be helped.

WHAT and HOW, anyone? 

Why is social-emotional learning and development not our highest priority? Things like compassion and caring for each other and self, acceptance of differences, being better equipped to deal with tough emotions and on and on. It doesn’t come from lectures, it can’t be taught from a book but can only come from open, caring, close relationships and strong community. And there isn’t a standard test to measure competency. Only one measure matters—personal well-being, a good person leading a happy, satisfied, fulfilling and full life.

Whether or not it’s overtly stated, this is Mission Critical for the Collaborative initiative… we’ve got to find a way to give kids the emotional, or spiritual if you must, resiliency and strength to withstand the pressure of growing up, then of life in general.

The cornerstone to guiding kids toward maturity is social-emotional. The home environment is a good place to start, but we all need a broader inner circle that has our six any time, every time. We need a community of friends, class mates, peers, and adjunct mentors like teachers.

We need to re-connect with our humanity and we need to connect with each other too. And we CAN make an impact in our schools, if that’s the risky place we must continue to send our kids.

Where to address the “problem” is tough to know because we haven’t accurately famed the real problems. We’ve only been fixing symptoms. It’s not that people commit suicide, it’s not whatever reason drove them to the act. The real issue is “how can we help people, especially young people, become better grounded, more connected to themselves and their self-worth and self-awareness? How can we better prepare them to work their way through the tough emotions that will be bombarding them, whatever the source of those emotions?

Kids need an emotional buffer zone, not just toughness but self-confidence and self-worth. That’s partially where the strength must come from. More than anything, they need to know someone is there for them, no matter what and why. What kind of support networks, communities are lacking and how could we somehow nurture and develop them?

I Got Your Six (https://gotyour6.org/about/faqs)

In the military, “got your six” means “I’ve got your back.” The saying originated with World War I fighter pilots referencing the rear of an airplane as the six o’clock position. If you picture yourself at the center of a clock face, the area directly in front of you is twelve o’clock. Six o’clock is what lies behind you. On a battlefield, your “six” is the most vulnerable. So, when someone tells you that they’ve “got your six,” it means they’re watching your back. By extension, that person expects you to have their back as well.

Kids (and big people too!) need to know they matter, that they make a difference in the world. They need purpose, vision, need a strong community. Frankly, we suck at that.

If there were some sort of magical intervention, should it even mention suicide prevention or bullying? These are outcomes, they are in the past and they can be major distractions and even counter-productive to dwell on. There’s no denying what’s driving the Collaborative effort: well-being, happiness, surviving and thriving. Should we dwell on deviant behaviors, flaws. Focus on the good—it’s human nature, we crave it. There’s bunches of social-emotional development stuff out there. What is the best way to get the right message introduced the right way, where it needs to be? And, how can we reach more than just young people?


Mainstream / traditional education has tried and pretty much failed on the S-E front. No fault: education’s priorities have been set in concrete–STEM curriculum, common core, standard test performance, academic rigor that produces measurable, standard, hard results. But our kids need help, and education needs help to give it—mostly time, resources and expertise.


We need change. Given the current state of education, employers’ need for qualified candidates with the right skills and attributes, given the fragile nature of young peoples’ emotional state, and given our social environment in general, we need change.

Social and civic issues are tearing us apart, our moral and ethical fabric is being torn to shreds. Apathy and disengagement at one extreme, modern stressed-out lifestyle and related mental and social issues at the other. We are disconnected from each other, from our environment, from our selves. We’re in desperate need of social healing and personal realignment.

We can grab hold of self-directed learning as a promising way to help save the younger generation. But the way society is imploding we can’t guarantee we’ll be able to survive for young people to reach the point where they have matured and can make a difference. Enter whole-life learning, social-emotional—human—development. To me, it’s a survival issue—survival of our way of life, survival of the race on this planet.

The ultimate quest

Critical international policy decisions and everyday exchanges between people alike are driven more by profit and power rather than finding common ground as human beings and determining what’s right for the survival of society and of the species. Government and private sector leaders…the same profit and power decision criteria. You may hear a little lip service / casual nod toward that “greater good” thing but when push comes to shove it’s all about profit and power. We don’t elect officials for their values system or their deep love for humanity, we elect (with special interest backing and clout) based on who can deliver profit.

But it all comes back to the huge need for humanity to get back in touch with our soft side, for us to reconnect as human beings with each other, to allow ourselves to get up-close and personal once again, to get back in touch with our own spiritual self. Technology has numbed us. We’re desensitized, more callous, calculating, cold.

Humans are naturally social creatures. We’re tribal, we need community, we need each other. Yet, the further we scratch and claw our way up the techno ladder the further it seems we backslide down the evolutionary chain. Most of the animal world shows more compassion than we do, even compassion to other species.

We need a world where people share core human values, where all are driven by a common purpose. Stupid me, this is my chosen passion. And I’m well aware that I need serious advice on right-sizing this mission.