Tag Archives: social-emotional learning

Ten. Again. Nothing. Again.

“Why do you drive yourself nuts over all this gloom and doom violence and murder? It is what it is, no matter what you think or say.”

Can’t accept it, can’t buckle under, can’t go numb. My hot buttons revolve around our kids and their future. Bullying, mass murders, apathy, stress, suicide…they deserve better, don’t you think? If I can nudge the needle just a little, I have to try. Move the needle, make a difference. The first step is awareness…help enough people understand and maybe care. A movement requires grass roots, a critical mass. We’re out there, somewhere.

All this nobody can do is drop my little pebbles into this one pond, and hope the ripples reach others. Even if I never know the effects I have to believe I’m making some kind of difference. How about you?

******

(real time) Oh great, another school shooting. I guess another rant is due. A broken record, but can’t get numb. Just had a school break, home long enough to find out about the Santa Fe, TX shooting. Ten more and counting. This time, the weapons of choice were a shotgun and handgun. IED’s too but none set off. Like the shooter was consciously trying to make a second amendment statement.

OK, maybe not by intent but that’s what is happening….”see, NOT an AR. And it’s not guns. It’s people”. Book it. And stay tuned for another lightning round of thoughts, prayers and outrage–an emotional gusher for an appropriate time then…. nothing. Again. (Update: not even two weeks later…this “event” came and went in a huge hurry. Numb)

After break, my classroom will be filling up again with 6th graders, and I can only hope that for now they are blissfully ignorant that more kids have been gunned down. It won’t ever happen here…will it?

Oh, but it could.  The kids in Santa Fe probably thought “never here”. They participated in the last protest.

I know myself well enough that I expect to have a hard time keeping it together every time I look at all the faces, kids I’ve watched get older for several years. What if….?

We’re in a science classroom. A big aquarium with a couple of painted water turtles is 3 feet away. One of them was on their rock sunning, and got startled…thumpity thump, splash. I’m on edge, I jumped. This sucks. If you haven’t been in a classroom lately, if you haven’t been painfully aware of the “what ifs” you can have no idea how this feels. I’m not a badass but I do know how I’d react if some nutjob tried to come after my kids. I think about it every day, first thing in the room it’s recon time, get the plan in place….this sucks.

Do something! Someone please….we all deserve, we all need better.

It won’t kill me to say it…it is NOT just guns, and gun control is not “the” solution—that’s just a band aid, but it’s one we need now. There, I said it OK?! It’s more than laws, policies, regulations. We cannot legislate values and ethics. We CAN use a little common sense to keep the wrong stuff out of the wrong hands. What is so stinking radical about that?

The highest priority is for long-term systemic preventive action, a resolution of this inhuman funk we’re in, starting very young in school and extending into the workplace and community, solidified in the family.

The most shocking issues: mass murders, gun violence especially in schools., followed by youth suicides. But also harassment, abuse, bullying; bias, bigotry, intolerance, hatred, polarization….HOW can we re-boot society’s ethical, values-based respect for each other and for human life?  What can we do to rediscover our humanity? It used to mean something to be an American. Now, we’re the worst of the worst.

We’re not having the right conversations, not exploring lasting solutions. We’re focused on using band-aids to fix things. Typical isn’t it? Is it because the social-emotional issues are too overwhelming? Still. ignoring the real issues is not the appropriate course of action. We need to get started. Somewhere, somehow. No other mission is more critical. And it should be simple, really….

Understand true root cause(s) -> Identify feasible interventions > Implement > Make systemic, coordinated improvements

Hold my beer, right?

People in Peril:  Excerpts from Mojo (itals)

It’s depressing but necessary to call attention to our human shortcomings. They are collectively overwhelming–we’re a mess. But we must more fully understand them. The issues have common roots; they’re one giant Gordian knot. So if we wield the right sword with the right concentrated effort we can slice the knot into pieces. Focus and effort…that’s “all” we need.

Our social, moral, ethical fabric is being torn to shreds, society is imploding. We’ve disconnected from our selves, each other, our environment, our basic human values. We’ve lost our humanity. We’re emotionally confused, socially isolated, ethically directionless. There’s apathy and disengagement at one extreme, and over-engagement, stress and burnout at the other. Both lead to physical health issues and emotional and social baggage. We desperately need realignment and emotional healing.

We need a visionary and ethical compass, we need compassion, we need to be part of a community that cares. But we don’t know where we’re going, and no one seems to have the ability to collectively get us back on track. Identity, community, principles and values, purpose and meaning are among the most powerful universal human drivers, right up there with love, compassion, the need to contribute to something meaningful. We’ve lost touch with those things, which has a lot to do with why society is self-destructing.

Our kids are in trouble, they’re killing themselves and each other…. The same transient blip of caring, same outpouring of thoughts and prayers magically appear every time we have yet another mass murder at a school, every time another child hurts badly enough to take their own life. But they go away. Until next time.

Out of control depression, anxiety, stress impacting kids, teens and adults alike. Death by Lifestyle. Killing ourselves and each other, both slowly and traumatically. It’s even visible….On your next trip to the store do a little people-watching. You’ll see good people soured on life, hopelessness and pain in their eyes or worse, nothing. Spirit drained, their demeanor screaming “I’m tired of this life!” Forgotten dreams, no purpose, no meaning, no fulfillment? Still, we keep isolating our Selves further from others and from being human, starting with how we raise and “teach” children into adulthood, and  the nature of work, the meaning of “success”. We’re in a constant struggle with our core human values, we’re denying our humanness. We self-inflict pain and do irreversible harm to others too. We floor it, stretching to hit 130mph in a broken down Yugo. And we wonder why we’re stressed out, miserable, killing our Selves physically and emotionally.

We’re unknowingly coerced into recklessly pursuing more and more “things” at any cost, while we juggle the demands of an endless list of urgent to-do’s. We’ve forgotten what it means to be human, paying a high price. When values and norms die problems crop up—unethical / illegal behavior, a myriad list of significant social issues, rudeness and other variations of treating each other like crap.

How did we get to such a dark, scary place?

Plenty of reasons, just a couple of starter thoughts….To me, a really big culprit is conspicuous consumption driven by capitalism without conscience. We’re brainwashed to buy, buy, buy well beyond our “needs” and beyond our means. We’re driven by Wall Street’s slick, scientifically perfected marketing onslaught.

The long-standing expectation to make sure our kids have it better is also driven by Wall Street. We take on two, maybe three jobs to deliver the goods. If we don’t we’re failures. In doing so, we rob our kids of what they really need: nurturing and love, freedom to be kids without any strings attached. We load them up with activities > shuffle them off to caregivers so we can get out there and earn, earn, earn > buy, buy, buy.

Adults obsess over STEM, driving kids toward what may be their greatest potential for earnings, but with no regard for what their real life’s passion may be. They are destined to become the hollow stares in the store, terminally miserable, another generation fully engrossed with buy, buy, buy. Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

(More From Mojo)

We’ve Lost Our Humanity. Humans are by nature caring, compassionate, social / tribal. Bad behaviors are learned, and our toxic lifestyle and sick society are artificial creations; they are unnatural and incredibly destructive; Kids (big people too!) need to know they matter, that they make a difference in the world. People need purpose, vision, values and a community built on caring and compassion. Purpose, meaning, values, ethics cannot be legislated or otherwise mandated. All we can do is provide opportunities for discovery of Self.

Poor Information, Polarization. Deep ideological differences have polarized us. Misleading and dis-information have us paralyzed. Combine the two = rabid advocacy of issues / ideologies with positions supported by poor information. Who and what do you believe, who and what do you trust? No wonder we’re at each others’ throats.

So, where to start restoring our humanity? With young people? There’s plenty of rework to do with big kids too. Focus on kids in school, or adults in the workplace? The family unit? One community at a time? Society? Short answer….”Yes, all”. We’re in this together, we all need the same attention at the same time…ASAP.

What if?

I’ve been involved in developing a model of workplace prep for our future workforce, extending through working adults. Needed: systemic intervention, all of a community’s stakeholders playing an active role. “Real-world Prep School”…information is here:

(one) Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion?

(two) Potholes to Repair—Intersection of Education and Workplace

More critical than “systemic intervention” is the need to focus on the right things: People First, then process. If you don’t take care of people issues you will never, ever, achieve maximum “thing” results. It’s been studied, measured, verified, validated: how well people are socially and emotionally adjusted directly impact results. S-E well-being even affects physical wellness, and not just a little.

Last consideration: there’s a difference between an in-charge authority figure demanding compliance to marching orders, and developing full commitment to vision, mission and goals. One works considerably better than the other—academically, in the workplace, personally, socially….guess which?

Here’s a radical sci-fi epiphany: what if the right values, goals and actions were shared community-wide among education, employers and organizations, community members and even (gasp!) politicians? What if an entire community focused its efforts, all stakeholders on the same page? Synergy, reciprocation, constant reinforcement would kick in. The broader the ownership and collaboration, the greater the sustainable impact becomes. With a big enough lever, we can move the world.


An earlier blog has been referenced a bunch here, as the theme has been with me for some time. Go here, read the whole thing and let me know what you think…. Searching For Our Mojo

While you’re at it, all this social-emotional stuff is well represented in something I’ve been deeply involved in for years, engagement theory. Emotional intelligence, mindfulness, social-emotional development in education, and engagement…they’re all pretty much the same thing, the same basic human motivators and values. We ought to be able to leverage the similarities.  See Engagement and Mojo—Peas and Carrots

 

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Been Slammed by Slam Poetry

I had the privilege of observing 7th grade students reading original “slam poetry” compositions. It’s not really poetry, more like free verse. I found out later the students had signed up for the elective class. Those who read their pieces hadn’t had the chance to develop the necessary  comfort zone to infuse the emotional punch of “real” slam poetry. But there was plenty of punch just the same.

From the first line into the first reader, for forty five minutes I alternated between teary eyes and goose bumps, mostly same time. I was hoping, desperately hoping, these were not first-person, fact-based accounts. Four girls (reminder, 7th graders!) were nailing THE top issues for their age. Maybe they were assigned their topics?  While the dramatic interpretation wasn’t quite there, they were too graphically and emotionally convincing in the details of what they shared. The four topics:

  • Step-parent sexual abuse, parental substance addiction;
  • A younger sibling bullied because of his impairment;
  • Frustration, hopelessness, cutting;
  • Dealing with the recent death of a best friend.

I’m almost glad there wasn’t more time, I was emotionally tapped out after just the first share. Those issues…even if these young people weren’t dealing with them personally, it was a gut-punch. These things are probably going on far too often for us to even grasp.

But later that day, I was told every one of the slams was true, actually experienced by the girls who shared them. I talked to the girl who had so vividly and poignantly described how she was sexually abused by her step-father and her addict mother did nothing. She was seven years old at the time. This is not the projects, it’s not a big city horror story. This is a quiet community of 15,000 in the heart of Iowa.

She gave me permission to run her story, without her name of course. I put in a few breaks to help the readability, and bolded those passages she really punched in her reading. That’s all I’ve done—no editing, no correcting. I didn’t dare. You can’t hear her emotion, you can’t see the raw feelings pour out of her face and body almost as if she was reliving what she endured. It tore me up.

************

My mommy was sick. Come to think of it she was always sick. She met another man today. He was nice she said. He was funny. He was good. That’s what you would see about him. But under the covers weren’t so warm. They weren’t so cozy like it looked. It was cold and wet like a murky swamp on an early autumn morning.

He had a beer in his hand so often I  thought it was stuck there.  when mommy wasn’t there, He would get closer and closer to me like a predator does when it hunts its prey. She’d be in the other room “sleeping”.  He looked at me like I was a fresh meat. He swooped in so fast it caught me by surprise. I didn’t know what was happening until it hit me. This nice guy wasn’t so nice but mommy needed him.

He touched me and violated my skin. I will never be untouched by the filthy hands of the monster. I will never feel safe in the arms of a man again. I will never get to feel the comfort a little girl should feel. I will never be able to cleanse my mind of the images the feelings I witnessed in my young once innocent eyes. I will never be able to notice the sunshine on a summer day I used to.

He did that to me. My mommy didn’t notice though because she was too passed out to give a crap! To understand that her baby girl is crying herself to sleep at night and the man she thought she loved was sexually abusing her every night and not even caring because she was busy having a good time being so high she couldn’t walk!

Hours she would spend napping on the couch. I would escape to my friends house whenever i could. At night i would cry myself to sleep trying to get rid of my thoughts that clawed at my brain. I would lie in conflict. Who could i talk to about my issue. That’s what it was right, an issue.  One big issue that no one seemed to notice because they were too high or drunk to care. When i was being tortured i would try to think of a better place to take me away from what was haunting me in this hell hole i called home.

But the thing is there was no better place. I would sit there muffling my sobs letting my body be used for the pleasure of a drunken man who had the power to kill me if tempted. No one will ever understand what I felt. No one can understand how i thought this was all my fault. You never will. But that’s ok. What you need to do is be aware of the pain that hides behind my glossy blue eyes. You need to be aware that i am not a normal girl who walks through life like it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Everyday i would dread going home on a saturday because i knew what would happen when i got home. It would be happy hour for him and pills for my mommy. My mommy said she loved me. She said she would die for me. I believed her. But I  realized that if she loved me so much she would be here to protect me. He told me he loved me like a daughter of his own. Why would anyone do such a thing to there daughter! I thought to myself.

Often times i would ask why he did this to me. I asked if all girls had this happen to them.  But my therapist said it was all ok. It stopped. He is gone now. But that was a lie. You’re telling me that he is in jail HE’S NOT!  You’re telling me that i don’t have nightmares anymore I DO! Your telling me that he still doesn’t want every dark corner of my room every crowded area. HE DOES!

You may not feel my pain or know my thoughts but you don’t need to taunt me about it. My mind is a maze of thoughts that swirl around chasing me until i can’t stand it! These thought in my mind are far beyond comprehension. Far beyond normal.   I never had many friends but that’s okay. I have the voices in my head to talk to. I am fine i would say and put on a smile like its ok that i’m being abused. I don’t want to hurt you with my pain so i keep it inside like a volcano that sits and waits and sits and waits and sits… Until i express my feeling that come out like a wildfire a spark turns into crazy flame uncontrollable twisting and turning my thoughts escaping my head, my body i can’t stop.

I think that i’m ok. I keep my thoughts to myself. He broke me. He broke my mind. My sense of safeness.

Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion?

I Had a Dream Last Night…

….a wickedly delicious dream. My small town had somehow pulled together an all-stakeholder collaboration complete with shared community vision, ethics and goals. We had even taken significant coordinated actions with no infighting, no control freaks, no country clubbing. That alone was strange.

What is this thing called “Real World Prep School”? It looked like education, employers, parents, community, civic leaders—all the players—were doing their part, shifting delivery and budget burden away from the overextended education system. Collaborative needs analysis, co-design and delivery by employers, community leaders and educators ensured actual workplace needs were met. It was working…our town was booming! I saw a banner at City Hall, kind of a vision statement-looking slogan:

We are a vibrant, economically and emotionally prosperous community. Our model of development is a magnet for economic growth, attracting families with children, new employers, and working adults to our community.

A smaller wall chart beside the banner had the header “Shared Community Objectives”. As I read the bullets I said out loud “is this Utopia, or what?” At the very least it seemed to be a great environment for families, employers, the whole community to grow. The objectives:

  • Whole-life engagement! We have a world-class talent pool: highly skilled, fully engaged, fully utilized by local employers;
  • Community retention and recruiting! New families and new businesses standing in line to join us. Our generational roots and stability are rejuvenated as young people have a reason to stay;
  • Employability among learners and the current workforce is assured. Free and meaningful “higher education” and skills updating for adults is provided with targeted, relevant topics leading to a great position with an excellent company that is a pillar of the community.
  • Equal opportunity to develop and grow! Each person can reach their full potential along their desired path, maximizing the probability of a long, fulfilling life on their own terms;
  • Strong relationships community-wide! Mutual respect, appreciation and inclusion are the norm, regardless of gender, ethnicity, nationality, or social / economic stature;
  • Well-informed and highly involved community members! The community’s greater good is held above individual gain, and citizens are fully engaged in civic matters. There is ample opportunity for all to contribute toward community goals, regardless of status or position as long as the willingness is there. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few. Ubuntu!

Can you imagine? Pinch myself…it’s only a dream. I didn’t want to wake up but I did. I grabbed a pad and pen and scribbled down details before they faded. As I wrote, the fuzzy dream became more clear.  And I got to thinking…“why not?”

Hold my beer, right?


Why would I dream all this? Maybe it has something to do with the nasty issues that had been consuming my waking thoughts for too long. I’ve been deeply involved in repairing potholes in the intersection of Workplace and Education. There are many issues in the interface between the two, or more appropriately the lack thereof. While academic and workforce issues are well known, I’ve documented a few here. But first…Potholes to Repair: Intersection of Education and Workplace (go here and come back…will make more sense)

What’s Really At Stake? (from Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass)

Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, we have no purpose or meaning in our lives and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity. Harsh? Reality usually is.

“Big” targets are a sub-surface iceberg: bullying, harassment, youth (all ages!) suicide; lack of civility anemic values and ethics, social and political polarization, inability to discuss our differences. Apathy, disengagement, low awareness of civics and issues = no community involvement. We can do better.

Real-world Prep School > Community Growth. RWPS is the education component of a broad social well-being and economic development initiative in disguise. “Whole-person / All-person Development” is the macro focus, and it extends into the working adult population and the community’s families.

The Dream Grows Legs: Details

RWPS is an application-intensive enhancement to existing 5-12 curriculum, balanced between interpersonal / social-emotional development and workplace preparation / hard skills.  Modular design ranges from quick-hitter stand-alone lessons to ongoing projects and full-term coursework, all based on employer needs. Learners are coached on how to increase their employability, building portfolios with specific examples of their work. Lessons provide resume-worthy bullets in lieu of job experience.

Initial focus is on high school students who may be unable to go to college, college students nearing graduation or recently graduated; employed, unemployed or underemployed adults needing an upgrade of workplace knowledge, skills and abilities.

The RWPS curriculum consists of topics employers identify as essential foundational skills, and utilizes private sector subject matter experts as adjunct instructors when possible. RWPS is not in competition with education, providing course content unavailable in a traditional education curriculum, and tapping the private sector for much-needed subject matter expertise and adjunct resources.

STEM + SED: Target = Develop People and Save the World

Teaming and STEM-based project assignments are all that right now. But kids are lost when they are assigned to a project team. They have not had the soft skills development needed to ensure success.

A huge concern is bullying and the growing numbers of youth suicides. And bullying morphs into big kid bad behavior…harassment. Society is a mess, there is general disregard for how to treat each other, human life is de-valued and there’s a huge void in ethical leadership to get us out of our funk. Current social-emotional development efforts in education aren’t effective. They’re not deep enough, are too infrequent, have no ongoing adult coaching. And we need to reach out to the adult population too.

Workforce Prep–More Than Job Skills

RWPS coursework is balanced between (1) social-emotional development and (2) mainstream workplace concepts, methods and skills. People before process:

  1. People: purpose / vision, values, social consciousness. Help people develop emotionally and socially; guide learners in personal branding, and in establishing a meaningful connection to themselves, others and their environment. Only then can skills development truly take hold;
  2. Process: toolbox mastery / workplace skills preparation. Provide hands-on experience with mainstream workplace tools and techniques, including direct interface with employers.

It is essential to balance how we prepare learners for the real world. Technology is here to stay, but so is the need for emotionally grounded people. The two are not a one-or-the-other proposition.

Social-emotional development (SED) is typically provided for elementary age kids, if at all, then it stops. Nothing for teens, even though adolescence is a particularly tough road to navigate, with future blues, social issues, peer pressure, raging hormones. Teen years are high-risk and common sense says there should be more and deeper attention given to their social and emotional development.

Employer WIIFM

Employers are a key stakeholder group, and their commitment and direct participation is essential. But there is plenty to gain for them, a hat trick (three!) of benefits in RWPS involvement: (1) additional internal development resources; (2) community CSR that matters; (3) goodwill and connection into their future talent pool, extending into earn while you learn, a highly effective internship program.

Employers develop a workforce committed to strengthening the company and community. A cohesive, sustainable culture grows, and future employees come on board already aligned with the culture and vision. My community is a good example: three employers are green industry and have high turnover, making productivity levels unsustainable. The Green Movement vision: fight environmental destruction especially atmospheric / climate damage, and health problems from fossil fuel production, transport and usage. Go for the jugular by adding “make the world worth living in for your kids.” This shared Green vision could boost retention and recruitment, but it is under-leveraged. Community-wide awareness is the key.

The long-range community and economic development potential: once RWPS is established, it is a highly marketable economic development magnet for additional employers, younger families with school-age children, and working adults (see “Develop People” model). This is CSR on steroids with substantial employer WIIFM. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s good business.

Parting Shots

Workforce skills have been a long-time career focus. I saw the immediate need fifteen years ago and was closely involved in skills development. We also addressed demographic projections due to baby boomer retirements. RWPS is the original focus of my “career crowning achievement”. And I have a real passion for social-emotional development (SED) from extensive involvement in the classroom, but especially because I’m a crazy grandparent who wants to leave behind a better world for my grand kids. RWPS and SED are a powerful combination that can re-engineer this broken society and world.

These wild notions have evolved for over a decade, this project is my passion. It still needs thoughtful, in-depth analysis to make sure it makes sense. I’ve spent considerable time in both education and the workplace. It’s not a natural partnership to marry theoretical, research-based eggheads with pragmatic, results-driven managers. I understand the issues and needs, and speak both languages.

Here’s my greatest frustration. There is so much going on out there, huge initiatives and some of them are really, really good. But they may be just a bit off target here and there, and there’s no real concentrated focus driving things. Even more frustrating: with all the shotgun effort and in spite of lots of people with the best intentions, nothing sustainable is happening!

I want to help bring things into focus and make it happen—a catalyst / liaison who brings the players together, a resource that is shared among education, employers, community. Most of all, I want to be a proud grand parent who is reasonably sure we’ve done all we can to make things right for the next generations.

11-2017 New Model

Google’s Ginormous (Non-technical!) Breakthrough

The Google Epiphany has nothing to do with algorithms or search engine optimization.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded (Google) on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities. (see end: Wa-Po source)

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998.  Project Oxygen and Project Aristotle were the result.

“The seven top characteristics of success at Google are soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.” (Project Oxygen report)

“Project Aristotle, a study released by Google (spring 2017), further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams.” Findings: “…the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.”

Google people are masters at collecting and analyzing data and translating it into meaningful information. We’re so used to command and control, being shoved in a box, fear of failure…all disengaging and counter-productive…that it’s no surprise the top impact on team effectiveness was  psychological safety: “…a group culture that Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up…It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” (NYT source)

Project Aristotle has significant intersects with mainstream engagement theory. So all this is nothing new, no big secret. But how do you “do” psychological safety? Another way of saying it: what helps people feel comfortable with fully engaging? These Universal Engagers are a few proven “hows”.

We’ve known it for some time, but are so painfully slow to embrace the obvious. Unless you’re totally on your own or are work-at-home you’d best be good with people and be well adjusted socially and emotionally.  Google stumbled across the keys to organizations, effective teams and people leadership. The keys are standard practice non-secrets. What IS incredible is that a tech giant had this voluntary epiphany that soft stuff is at least as critical as tech skills!

Google is a tech giant, so Project Aristotle’s findings are likely to be relevant to the tech industry overall. Still, Education continues its obsession with filling the STEM hard skills pipeline. There’s still little attention given to social-emotional development, interpersonal skills, stuff for whole-life survival. Education needs to catch up in a hurry, and it wouldn’t hurt to partner with its customers in fully defining needs and meeting them. Our productivity and global competitiveness is at stake, as is quality of life and, even more importantly, our physical and emotional well-being, our love of being happy with our lives.

It’s A Man’s World (NOT!) Silicon Valley has been under fire for a grossly uneven gender playing field and recently, both covert and more subtle gender-based harassment and discrimination (search for “silicon valley good old boy culture” and look around). Remedy: a booster shot of decency in the form of social-emotional development…equal inclusion, understanding, respect, acceptance, dignity for all.

The Google Epiphany alone shouldn’t trigger a mad rush into a significant direction shift in education. But Project Aristotle isn’t the first or the only study to indicate the significance of soft stuff. From the Wa-Po article: Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers …which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters. They prize an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization…

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

We cannot dump STEM entirely because we need 21st century technical skills to compete. But we can do better at balancing hard and soft. When should young people as potential employees be trained on specific, necessary hard skills? Each company / situation / position has unique needs and skills, and Education cannot possibly hit so many targets. Why not focus on prepping students to succeed in life in general, to cope with what they will face emotionally and on the job, to be able to adapt and quickly pick up on the specific skills they will need to be a high contributor…but only after the skill gaps are more clearly understood. Hire for the intangibles: potential, the right attitude, soft stuff mastery.

What’s at Stake, Really? From Social Science Fiction

Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are all increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity.

Envision a company using its considerable influence to help provide a stabilizing force in the local community. Consider the impact on social issues if employees feel a sense of community, a purpose larger than “me”, an island of safety and sanity in the midst of the turbulence of their lives.

That community happens to be the company’s current and future talent pool. A forward-thinking company that champions the social-emotional well being of its host community would realize huge bottom line improvements. Not a hunch, it’s been validated over and over. Now, what if shared values were embraced throughout the community? All-community stakeholder alignment would exponentially boost isolated company impact. Conclusion: a broad collaboration to impact the greater good would boost our well-being, the social condition, and our economic prosperity.

Epiphany: capitalism’s Job One isn’t economic prosperity, competitive advantage or global market superiority—all outcomes—but to impact the human condition. People-first is a high-return endeavor that assures sustainable social-economic success and personal well-being.

Barriers

What S-E material should be used, and who will lead the charge? Good questions! There’s already an overabundance of material, but spotty half-hearted efforts. I’m concerned with what I’ve seen of social-emotional learning in education, and I’m also concerned with how a revitalized initiative would be handled. This is not a condemnation of education, just observations of the current state:

  •  Academia is not capable of real-time responsiveness to market needs for S-E or any other subject matter;
  •  No polite way to say it: educators can be a closed and protective group. As a result academia tends to suffer from inbred thinking, country clubbing, not-invented-here;
  •  Lack of funding is a huge constraint: no staff, no resources to give the necessary level of attention to soft stuff. Academic demands are stifling—educators’ hands are tied;
  •  S-E is more than a dinner garnish, it must be recognized as a main course;
  • Real-world practitioners are best suited to design and co-deliver real-world subjects. Even though the help should be warmly welcomed, Education would likely not embrace outsider meddling and would likely push back.

Education isn’t market or needs-driven, is slow to respond demanding validation, research, papered educator / expert design, academic rigor. How to sneak the Trojan Horse past the guards at the gate?

Resolution? We’ve missed the real-world skills target. Kids need much more in the social-emotional development a.k.a soft skills department. Employers have a vested interest, and we’d be improving the chances of kids having a much more fulfilling life. Proposed: don’t call it social-emotional development. Work around the associated baggage and NVA connotations by providing real-world prep skills. As such, it only makes sense for the future employers to step up to the plate and pull their weight.

Too Much of a Good Thing. Our STEM obsession is counter-productive and is potentially detrimental to young people who are herded into STEM education and careers regardless of their talents, passions and interests. We can do so much better for them, for ourselves, for the world.

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.” (from the Wa-Po article)

SOURCES

The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students   Washington Post December 2017, by Valerie Strauss

What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team  by Charles Duhigg Feb. 25, 2016

In Search of Lost Mojo: The Series   (lots of embedded links)

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.