“What led me to mindfulness was my own relationship to anxiety. So for this particular film, I felt it was important for the viewer to be able to experience the transformation a mindful meditation practice can have on an individual’s state of mind.”

~ Julie Bayer

More Time to Play

More Time to Play

"Educators are worried that you need that content for the exams that you're going to take, but what's more important is that you should want to learn. What's more important is for you to know how to find that information if you need it. What's more important is for you to learn how to problem solve and use that information." ~ Adele Diamond

What if we based education on the study and practice of being happy and healthy?

"What bums me out is to know that a lot of kids today are just wishing to be happy, to be healthy, to be safe, not bullied, and loved for who they are. So it seems to me, when adults say, What do you want to be when you grow up? they just automatically assume that you'll be happy and healthy. Maybe that's not the case.

Go to school. Go to college. Get a job. Get married. Boom! Then you'll be happy. Right? We don't seem to make learning how to be happy and healthy a priority in our schools. It's separate from schools and for some kids, it doesn't exist at all. 

But what if we didn't make it separate? What if we based education on the study and practice of being happy and healthy? Because that's what it is: a practice. And a simple practice at that." 

~ Logan Laplante, from "Hackschooling Makes Me Happy," TEDxUniversityofNevada

Sticking with Your Future

"We tried to predict which cadets would stay in military training and which would drop out. We went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which children would advance farthest in competition. We studied rookie teachers working in really tough neighborhoods, asking which teachers are still going to be here in teaching by the end of the school year, and of those, who will be the most effective at improving learning outcomes for their students? We partnered with private companies, asking, which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs? And who's going to earn the most money?

In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn't social intelligence. It wasn't good looks, physical health, and it wasn't I.Q. 

It was grit.

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint."

~ Angela Lee Duckworth

See also:



We Can't Mass Produce Students

The Simple Solution to Education

by Seth Godin, from We Are All Weird: The Myth of Mass and the End of Compliance

A different approach to education is almost impossible to conceptualize and seemingly impossible to execute.

The simple alternative to our broken system of education is to embrace the weird. To abandon normal. To acknowledge that our factories don’t need so many cogs, so many compliant workers, so many people willing to work cheap.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

It’s not easy because we can’t process weird. We can’t mass-produce students when we have to work with them one at a time or in like-minded groups. We can’t test these kids into compliance, and thus we can’t have a reliable, process-oriented factory mindset for the business of education.

No, it’s not easy at all.

When we consider whom we pay the most, whom we seek to hire, whom we applaud, follow, and emulate, these grown-ups are the outliers, the weird ones. Did they get here by being normal students in school and then magically transform themselves into Yo-Yo Ma or Richard Branson? Hardly.

The stories of so many outliers are remarkably familiar. They didn’t like the conformity forced on them by school. Struggled. Suffered. Survived. And now they’re revered.

What happens if our schools (and the people who run them and fund them) stop seeing the mass and start looking for the weird? What if they acknowledge that more compliance doesn’t make a better school, but merely makes one that’s easier to run?

My proposed solution is simple: don’t waste a lot of time and money pushing kids in directions they don’t want to go. Instead, find out what weirdness they excel at and encourage them to do that. Then get out of the way.

See also: "How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century," by

Decreased Symptoms of Stress in Students

Excerpt from "Mindfulness Programs In Schools Reduce Symptoms Of Depression Among Adolescents: Study," by Carolyn Gregoire, The Huffington Post, March 15, 2013:

University of Leuven study looked at the experiences of 408 students from five different schools in Flanders, Belgium, all between the ages of 13 and 20. At the beginning of the study, the students answered a questionnaire designed to reveal symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, and were then divided into a test group and a control group. The test group followed an in-class mindfulness training program which consisted of instruction in mindful breathing and body scan exercises, sharing experiences of these exercises, group reflection, inspiring stories, and education on stress, depression and self-care. The control group, meanwhile, received no training. All students filled out the questionnaire after the training, and again six months later.

The researchers found that students who adhered to the mindfulness program exhibited decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression both immediately after and six months after the program. Whereas before the training, 21 percent of the test group and 24 percent of the control group reported symptoms of depression, after the mindfulness training, 15 percent of the test group versus 27 percent of the control group had depression symptoms. Six months later, 16 percent of the test group and 31 percent of the control group showed signs of depression.

The study is the first to examine the effects of mindfulness on depression among adolescents in a classroom setting, but previous research has found that mindfulness meditation can reduce symptoms of depression and chronic pain in adult patients...

This month, the first international conference for mindfulness in schools will take place in London. And in the U.S., the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program, supported by Congressman Tim Ryan, is bringing mindfulness training into schools as a way to boost students' emotional resilience and help improve academic performance.


An Instant's Recognition

"Paper on paper" (aka "Origamis") series, Marc Fichou

"Thinking is of immense importance, and we might have a better world if we all learned how to think. But at the same time, thinking may only be the prelude to meaning. We read, take classes, converse, study, and perhaps write.  These intellectual activities are priceless, but their value may be to prepare us for an instant's recognition of the vital seed, what the ancients called the scintilla, the spark, that gives life to everything we do and see.  Once we glimpse that spark, we will have learned that there is indeed a beyond that can be found in what is closest at hand. All our education might be brought to a point where it allows us to glimpse in wonder the slightest breath of life in front of us."

~ Thomas Moore, from Original Self: Living with Paradox and Authenticity

See also:

Marc Fichou
“Contenant Contenu” (Containing, Contained…)
Robert Berman Gallery
January 5 - February 16, 2013

Room to Breathe

Room to Breathe Official Trailer from Russell Long on Vimeo.

Excerpt from "Meditation Creates a Little Breathing Space for San Francisco Students," by Richard Schiffman, Huffington Post, October 19, 2012:

There are two jobs that have become a lot more difficult in recent years. One is being a teacher, which was never easy at the best of times. But in an age of virtually unlimited opportunities for distraction and rapidly shrinking attention spans getting kids to focus on their schoolwork can be (with apologies to dentists) like pulling teeth. 

I know: As a former school aide working with young children, it was often all that I could manage just to break up fights and keep the decibel level below that at an international airport. Any "education" that actually took place in such an environment was a small miracle.

The other job that has become a whole lot harder, of course, is being a student. Believe me, I sympathize with their plight too! Today's kids are weaned on electronic devices where they move between one website, text-message, or video game and the next at lightning speed. Where does a child learn how to direct their attention to just one math problem or reading assignment when there are so many distractions a click away?

Yet recently I watched a deeply moving and inspiring film that gave me hope. Room to Breath, by director Russell Long was filmed in a public school in San Francisco. The Marina Middle School with 900 students is one of the largest in the Bay Area, and it has the dubious distinction of having the highest suspension rate in the city.


Cultivating Well-Adjusted Humans

I wrote this letter of appreciation a couple of years ago when Lanning's Learning Tree Child Care Center closed in Wichita, Kansas. I am very lucky to have worked there while I was in college. It was a job that fit me better than any other I've had since then and I learned so many important lessons.

Thank You Lanning's Learning Tree
by Daron Larson 

I had personal motives for wanting to work at Lanning’s Learning Tree. I’ve been aware of a strong parenting impulse since I was a child myself, but I knew that I had many things to learn before taking on this significant responsibility. I remember taking a developmental psychology class at Wichita State and discovering that the complex task was full of paradoxes and counter-intuitive insights.

Children need consistent limits in order to feel safe in the world. They need to be stimulated to develop their capacity to appreciate the world around them and to see things from the perspective of others. When freedom is so great that boundaries can’t be identified, a child can grow to feel like he’s floating in a universe that is completely random and unpredictable. When boundaries are too strict and confining, a child can become too afraid to venture outside her own limited point of view.

College is a great place to learn about theories, but where could I possibly go to find out how to put these insights to work and to develop the practical skills required for nurturing a young human being into a thriving adult? Lanning’s Learning Tree.

I learned that reading and singing to young children are like soil and water and sunshine to flowers. It literally passes on to them the gift of language which we so easily take for granted.

I learned that our expectations of children need to be based on developmental stages which are constantly changing yet generally predictable. Demanding apologies and sharing before these social skills begin to appear just frustrates all parties involved and serve no real benefit.

I learned that when a child is ready to play on a particular playground structure, she will seek it out and climb on it herself and then be able to make her way back down without assistance.

I learned that it is the responsibility of the caregiver to set up an environment where children can succeed. We find ways to gently redirect attention and increase the opportunities for responding with praise rather than raining down a steady stream of correction. It’s so much more satisfying to do your strategic work up front instead of having to constantly cook up consequences for avoidable problems.

I learned that self-esteem can’t be forced on children because we love them, but that it flows naturally in response to their individual willingness to engage in tasks that challenge them.

I learned that children tend to repeat behaviors that evoke intense reactions in adults. If the reaction is strongly negative, they will test out the behavior again to see if they get the same response. If the reaction is positive, the will test out the behavior again to see if they get the same response. Some kids go through their entire childhood getting in trouble just so they can hear their name repeated over and over again with emotion, even if the emotion is unpleasant.

I learned that children influence caregivers as much as caregivers influence children.

And I learned to review the guidelines and strategies on a regular basis to remember and clarify and reinforce what I assumed I already understood.

I cherish my memories of showing up to work while it was still dark, helping serve breakfast, walking the school-age children to elementary school, attending my college classes, waiting for the end of school bell to ring, walking the kids back to Lanning’s, and then hanging out reading and playing games until their parents came to pick them up.

I observed directly the developmental stages in constant bloom all around the various buildings and playgrounds. It felt like a laboratory for cultivating well-adjusted humans where the teachers, like scientists, were consistently challenged to actively introduce creative independent variables with the greatest likelihood of helping children thrive and blossom. All of this helped shape me into the parent that I became.

No possession or job title or award or amount of money can even approach the value of this to me. No one ever manages to do this perfectly, but I have been the best parent I could possibly have been because of my time at Lanning’s Learning Tree.

For this I am deeply, deeply grateful.

See also:

What Young People Really Need to Hear about What Lies Ahead

The below essay was adaptated from Charles Wheelan's new book, 10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said, and was posted on the The Wall Street Journal site, April 30, 2012 (Thanks, Liz!):

Class of 2012,

I became sick of commencement speeches at about your age. My first job out of college was writing speeches for the governor of Maine. Every spring, I would offer extraordinary tidbits of wisdom to 22-year-olds—which was quite a feat given that I was 23 at the time. In the decades since, I've spent most of my career teaching economics and public policy. In particular, I've studied happiness and well-being, about which we now know a great deal. And I've found that the saccharine and over-optimistic words of the typical commencement address hold few of the lessons young people really need to hear about what lies ahead. Here, then, is what I wish someone had told the Class of 1988:

1. Your time in fraternity basements was well spent.

The same goes for the time you spent playing intramural sports, working on the school newspaper or just hanging with friends. Research tells us that one of the most important causal factors associated with happiness and well-being is your meaningful connections with other human beings. Look around today. Certainly one benchmark of your postgraduation success should be how many of these people are still your close friends in 10 or 20 years.

2. Some of your worst days lie ahead. Graduation is a happy day. But my job is to tell you that if you are going to do anything worthwhile, you will face periods of grinding self-doubt and failure. Be prepared to work through them. I'll spare you my personal details, other than to say that one year after college graduation I had no job, less than $500 in assets, and I was living with an elderly retired couple. The only difference between when I graduated and today is that now no one can afford to retire.

3. Don't make the world worse. I know that I'm supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I'm going to lower the bar here: Just don't use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that "changing the world" also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.

4. Marry someone smarter than you are. When I was getting a Ph.D., my wife Leah had a steady income. When she wanted to start a software company, I had a job with health benefits. (To clarify, having a "spouse with benefits" is different from having a "friend with benefits.") You will do better in life if you have a second economic oar in the water. I also want to alert you to the fact that commencement is like shooting smart fish in a barrel. The Phi Beta Kappa members will have pink-and-blue ribbons on their gowns. The summa cum laude graduates have their names printed in the program. Seize the opportunity!

5. Help stop the Little League arms race. Kids' sports are becoming ridiculously structured and competitive. What happened to playing baseball because it's fun? We are systematically creating races out of things that ought to be a journey. We know that success isn't about simply running faster than everyone else in some predetermined direction. Yet the message we are sending from birth is that if you don't make the traveling soccer team or get into the "right" school, then you will somehow finish life with fewer points than everyone else. That's not right. You'll never read the following obituary: "Bob Smith died yesterday at the age of 74. He finished life in 186th place."

6. Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives. [Portraits of Grief, The New York Times]

7. Your parents don't want what is best for you. They want what is good for you, which isn't always the same thing. There is a natural instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore to urge safe choices. Theodore Roosevelt—soldier, explorer, president—once remarked, "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed." Great quote, but I am willing to bet that Teddy's mother wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer.

8. Don't model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don't let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are "shirking" your work. But it's also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That's just not how we usually think of it.

9. It's all borrowed time. You shouldn't take anything for granted, not even tomorrow. I offer you the "hit by a bus" rule. Would I regret spending my life this way if I were to get hit by a bus next week or next year? And the important corollary: Does this path lead to a life I will be happy with and proud of in 10 or 20 years if I don't get hit by a bus.

10. Don't try to be great. Being great involves luck and other circumstances beyond your control. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn't, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.

Good luck and congratulations.

Write about Your Feelings to Clear Your Mind

According to Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, “when students are anxious about how they’ll do on an exam, their worries use up some of their working memory capacity, leaving less of this cognitive horsepower to apply to the task at hand.”

Based on his research (Ramirez & Beilock, 2011), Beilock suggests this strategy: "For ten minutes, write about your feelings regarding the exam to clear your mind of test-related concerns, freeing working memory that can be applied to the exam" (Murphy Hall, 2012).


Murphy Hall, A. (2012, April 13). How to be a better test-taker. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Ramirez, G., & Beilock, S. L. (January 14, 2011). Writing about testing worries boosts exam performance in the classroom. Science, 331, 6014, 211-213. Retrieved from

Noticing Thoughts and Feelings

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times“This is where you actually use this. Notice the thought. That’s fine. Notice the anxiety. Notice the fear. Use the meditation to focus your mind...The only thing that is keeping the emotion alive is your own thoughts. You keep churning it over and over again. Your thoughts do not care about you. They only want to perpetuate themselves.”

~ Gary Snyder, a Zen Buddhist priest and the current director of Brooklyn Zen Center, from "Zen for High Schoolers: ‘Notice the Anxiety. Notice the Fear.The New York Times, April 15, 2012

The Fundamental Building Block of Learning

Excerpts from Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan's talk on mindfulness from

"Mindfulness can be a great opportunity for us as a country, for all of us to develop this skill in some way, improve our performance… but there’s some fundamental things that are essential to that, and it’s the ability to concentrate, to relax, to be aware, and to cultivate and develop these skills; they’re going to improve your performance, regardless of what you are trying to do. And mindfulness, in my estimation, doing a lot of work in Congress, and travelling a lot, and playing sports, and all of these things… there’s something fundamental underneath all of those activities, and paying attention, and being aware, and having a reduced stress level, helps in all of those situations. And I think this is going to have transformational effects on our education system.

A Mindful Nation by Tim Ryan"I don’t care how much money we spend on education, it doesn’t matter what programs we’re trying to teach our kids… if they don’t have the fundamental building block of learning, which is being able to control your attention span, all the rest is not going to be effective. And mindfulness teaches these kids how to pay attention. It teaches them how they are connected to other people, and how to be kind to other people, and to see the problems that other people may be dealing with, and then understand that in a more compassionate way.

"So mindfulness, I believe, is already having transformational effects in classrooms in Youngstown, in Northern Ohio, and all across the country, but we need to ramp it up, [the understanding that] this fundamental skill of paying attention is essential to us transforming our education system...

"And once I had the personal experience myself at an extended five-day silent retreat, and you practice and meet people who are implementing mindfulness programs in the military, in our education system, in our healthcare system, for our veterans, for our family caregivers. And seeing these programs have a profound effect on people who are working in very high levels of stress burnout in their jobs – if they’re nurses, or firefighters, or police officers—and [that] this is able to reduce their stress, and improve their performance. When I saw all this, and had a personal experience myself, I felt like I would be derelict in my duty as a United States Congressman if I didn’t try to push this stuff out into society...

Our country is going through too much right now. Our soldiers are suffering too much. Parents and teachers, all down the line, and now is the time for us to implement this. It’s not the 99% against the 1%, it’s about the 100%, all of us together. And when we all move in concert in the same direction we have success as a country. And we have quality of life, and a higher standard of living, and more happy citizens. And so, to me a 'Mindful Nation' is a nation where we are connected, and we care about each other, and we’re willing to do what it takes to help our neighbor."

See also: Creating a Mindful Society 2011

A Reliable Path to the Good Life

Excerpt from "What if the Secret to Success Is Failture?" by Paul Tough, The New York Times, September 14, 2011:

[Martin] Seligman and [Christopher] Peterson consulted works from Aristotle to Confucius, from the Upanishads to the Torah, from the Boy Scout Handbook to profiles of Pokémon characters, and they settled on 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras. The list included some we think of as traditional noble traits, like bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom and integrity; others that veer into the emotional realm, like love, humor, zest and appreciation of beauty; and still others that are more concerned with day-to-day human interactions: social intelligence (the ability to recognize interpersonal dynamics and adapt quickly to different social situations), kindness, self-regulation, gratitude.

In most societies, Seligman and Peterson wrote, these strengths were considered to have a moral valence, and in many cases they overlapped with religious laws and strictures. But their true importance did not come from their relationship to any system of ethics or moral laws but from their practical benefit: cultivating these strengths represented a reliable path to “the good life,” a life that was not just happy but also meaningful and fulfilling.

Six years after that first meeting, Levin and Randolph are trying to put this conception of character into action in their schools. In the process, they have found themselves wrestling with questions that have long confounded not just educators but anyone trying to nurture a thriving child or simply live a good life. What is good character? Is it really something that can be taught in a formal way, in the classroom, or is it the responsibility of the family, something that is inculcated gradually over years of experience? Which qualities matter most for a child trying to negotiate his way to a successful and autonomous adulthood? And are the answers to those questions the same in Harlem and in Riverdale? 

Read the entire article here...

Using Technology to Humanize the Classroom

“By removing the one size fits all lecture from the classroom and letting students have a self-paced lecture at home, and then when you go to the classroom, letting them do work, having the teacher walk around, having the peers actually be able to interact with each other, these teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom.”

~ Sal Khan, of Khan Academy

Strangers No More


This 39-minute film about a school in south Tel Aviv gets my vote for best Oscar-nominated documentary short subject. The principal and teachers of Bialik-Rogozin School enthusiastically embrace the challenges of educating children from all over the world, many of whom have experienced extraordinary violence, loss, and displacement. It is a remarkable and inspiring study of resilience nurtured by providing a safe environment, finding common ground in the midst of dizzying diversity, and igniting passion for learning.