How Did LWS Weather the Year of COVID?

Filming the annual school Theater Magic production.

A conversation with LWS Board President and middle school teacher Gary McSweeney.

Q: How has Living Wisdom School weathered the COVID pandemic? What has the experience been like for the students and teachers at Living Wisdom School?

Gary: COVID came upon us exactly a year ago. We’d barely finished the first dress rehearsal for our enormous annual school play, when the Palo Alto schools announced they would be closing because of COVID.

Gary McSweeney

So, instead of a huge theater production with five packed performances, we had to shut down after our first dress rehearsal, and it seemed it would be all we would have to show for hundreds of hours of preparation, including designing and sewing costumes, countless hours of rehearsals, classroom discussions, memorizing lines, and much more.

Over spring break our faculty learned about Zoom, and when we came back to school we were a hundred-percent online. And, to be honest, we felt hardly any impact at all, because the transition was remarkably seamless and our families were tremendously supportive, and none of them left.

In early June we had a wonderful End of Year Celebration on Zoom. And then during the summer we decided to apply for a California state waiver so we could reopen in the fall.

The application process was a lot more complicated than we’d expected, with many delays. Meanwhile, parents were asking what would happen in September. Would we reopen? Would we be hybrid? And because of the delays in our application, we could only tell them that we didn’t know.

Just two days before school was scheduled to begin, we still hadn’t heard from the state, so our principal, Helen Purcell, called them and said, “We know you received our application, because you acknowledged it.” And they said, “Oh – we never received it.”

To make a long story short, they put the application on the fast track, and we received permission to open.

The first day of school fell during the very worst of the California wildfires, with an atmospheric inversion that turned the sky an ominous dark orange, and horrendous air quality – it was like a day on an alien planet.

We had permission for student from kindergarten through the first six grades to be on campus, for which we were very grateful. And of course we offered our parents the option of instruction on Zoom. But because of the foul-up with our application, compounded by people’s increasing worries over COVID and the ominous wildfires, we lost several families at the start of the year.

But we rallied, and our faculty did an amazing job. We’re now in Spring 2021, and we’re offering hybrid instruction, with about 90 percent of our students physically present on the campus, and just four of my middle school students staying home.

Fridays are entirely online for the whole school. First thing in the morning, we have our all-school circle on Zoom, in which we do yoga and sing uplifting songs, then the children split into various music, singing, and math classes.

We’ve enjoyed a very good year, despite the challenges. Families have been enrolling for next fall, and a number of the families that left are wanting to bring their children back right now.

To sum up, I would describe the year as miraculous, and I’m confident to report that the school is a very happy place.

Q: At the start of COVID, was there a concern that the school might lose some of its culture, which is such a key part of its success?

Gary: The culture is a huge part of the education we offer the children¸ with our strong emphasis on the quality of their interactions, a safe environment, and the unique learning opportunities offered by the theater program and field trips.

The personal interaction with other children is extremely valuable, even with masks, social distancing, and cohorts.

These new practices did change the dynamic somewhat, but once the kids who’re new to the culture understand it, they absolutely love it, and they want to preserve it, whether they’re physically together or interacting online.

As an example of how the culture is still very much in place, a new boy came into my class this year. He’s been attending in person, and he quickly picked up on the culture of respect and acceptance, and he has adapted beautifully.

It’s been wonderful to have the children in a classroom setting, learning in person, and interacting with each other. For the kids who are at home, I’ll go around every few weeks, and we’ll stay connected that way as well as on Zoom.

Q: In speaking with the principal of the Living Wisdom High School, she observed that in some other schools the kids have been afraid to participate online because they feel they might be put down or mocked, whereas in our high school that hasn’t been a problem at all.

Gary: Because our culture of acceptance and respect is so firmly in place, there really isn’t any of that kind of opportunistic bullying.

We’ve noticed that there are a small percentage of students who actually do better on Zoom – perhaps they’re more comfortable at home, I’m not sure. But despite some technical obstacles, with bandwidth delays and so on, we’ve had a great time this year, and the parents have been amazingly supportive.

More than 90 percent of our students are on campus now, and some of them are online intermittently. For the students who do really well with Zoom, I’ll ask a question and I’ll immediately see a digital thumbs-up indicating that they’re ready with the answer.

Otherwise, I’ve left chat on all year to provide an unbroken connection, because I think the kids at home, especially the middle schoolers, need an outlet where they can communicate with the kids who are here.

They can hear the conversations that are going on in the classroom, and we’ve made some adaptations to the tech, for example by always having a live mic so they can stay in touch with what’s happening.

Q: The all-school Theater Magic play has always been the major event of the year. It involves the children in so many ways, including the academic curriculum, and it gives them priceless guidance for developing confidence and poise. How has COVID affected that process?

Gary: We knew we wouldn’t be able to produce a play where the children would be rehearsing together onstage, so we came up with the idea of creating a film instead. We had last year’s script and costumes, so we decided that we would make a movie, and that it would be filmed entirely outdoors.

Filming continues, rain or shine.

Our Theater Magic director, Rose Atwell, was very knowledgeable in helping us understand how we needed to proceed with making a film. And, also thanks to Rose, the process quickly became clear – we would make the film entirely on campus, where the children could get into costume in small groups, with separation, and come over and perform their scenes, then go back to class, and it would be a hundred-percent safe.

There’s a lot of downtime when you’re making a movie, and because we’re filming within a few steps of the classrooms, the kids can go in for a while, which helps make it a safe environment. There’s a lot of data on how it’s safe to have children in school if you’re carefully following the protocols, and we’ve done a very good job with our safety procedures.

Rose chose a number of locations on the campus where we could film without having modern buildings in the background, or FedEx trucks passing by. Of course, audio was a constant issue, with traffic noise and horns.

There’s been a wonderfully lighthearted feeling throughout, and today was a good example. One of the children had a part in all of the scenes, and she couldn’t come to school today. Another student immediately said, “I can play her part.” So we filmed her in the prologue, and when the other girl arrived, Rose was able to adjust. And through it all the kids were very flexible, very adaptable and good-humored and willing.

And, that’s life, you know, where you show up at work and you find that things aren’t ready, or they’ve changed. I think it’s been a valuable opportunity for the students to learn some important life skills.

“We’re ready for you. Oh, no, we’re not quite ready. Now we’re ready, let’s go.”

“Oh, did you hear the truck drive by in the middle of the scene? Let’s shoot it again.”

Meanwhile, the kids are being themselves, sitting patiently, and when Rose is ready, she’ll say, “Action!” and the kids will pull it together and deliver their lines. Then Rose will say, “Cut!” and they’ll relax and go back to being seven or eight or nine.

In some ways I’m enjoying it more than the normal process of putting on the play. It’s very different, for sure, because the children won’t see the finished product right away, as they would if they were acting on stage. But in the end it will be a polished movie with special effects and an excellent soundtrack.

They love the experience of putting on the play, especially before a live audience. Of course, you can’t touch that experience, but COVID isn’t asking what we want. It’s all about understanding what’s needed, and they’ve adapted beautifully.

I’m sure that if they had their choice they would prefer to do a live performance, because of the way the excitement builds. Today would have been our first full dress rehearsal, and then we’d be exhausted, and on Friday we’d have the second full dress rehearsal with hair and makeup.

There are lots of wonderful traditions and markers along the way, and tomorrow would have been a day to relax before the first morning matinee for school groups, where there would be 100 to 150 people in the audience, mostly children.

Thursday would be another day to relax, and Friday night would be the first big evening performance for a packed house of adults, followed by the huge performance on Saturday night where we would be filming. At the end of it all, there would be a big celebration in the courtyard with parents and relatives and kids enjoying conversation and snacks.

There are lots of wonderful traditions that we’ve developed over the last twenty-eight years. But this year it needed to be a movie, so we can’t enjoy the big build-up as we’re getting near to the end. With a movie, you say, “That’s a wrap!” and then it goes into post-production. And, of course, they’re all asking how long it will take. But it will be a big project to edit the film and make something truly worthwhile.

Gary films while costume designer and LWS board member Asha looks on.

Because of our tradition of very high production values, and because of the wonderful settings and costumes, we felt the footage deserved the utmost care, and, as always, we had lots of adults with very exacting standards working on the production, including Tandava who’s done a marvelous job rehearsing the music with the children on Zoom, and Asha, who’s extremely gifted at designing and sewing the costumes.

So it’s been every bit as much work as a live production, just with different problems. But film is a large part of what the kids will grow up needing to understand, for remote work and YouTube instruction and presentations, and so on.

One of my students is surprisingly good at editing film, and he’s doing a blooper reel, because we’re often laughing so hard on the set – when something strange happens or the kids mess up. And with film you can just shoot it again and do a re-take.

It’s been a valuable experience for the kids. They’re learning how work gets done in adult professional settings, where mistakes are an expected part of the process. They’ve learned to accept that the first take will usually be a throwaway, and the second will be a little better, and seventy percent of the third takes will be keepers. The spirit has been very high, and the students have been all-in with adapting to the changes – I think they’ll will look back on this year as a formative experience.

Naturally, they’ve complained about masks and being isolated from their friends. It wasn’t what any of us wanted, but the kids have grown as they’ve been challenged.

Psychologists say that it’s hugely important for middle schoolers to be able to reach out to their peer group, and we’ve been fortunate to provide them an environment where they can be with their friends and share memorable experiences like making the film.

Happiness & Success at School

Living Wisdom School of Palo Alto is overjoyed to announce the publication of a new book: Happiness & Success at School.

Our director, Helen Purcell, says, “It’s a wonderful book and fun to read. I hope that all parents who are seeking an education for their children that includes a balance of academic excellence and the development of indispensable personal qualities that will help to ensure their success in school and for all their lives will read this book.”

How to Read Happiness & Success. You can read the chapters online (see table of contents below), download the book as a PDF (2nd Edition, July 2022; 6mb), or purchase a copy on Amazon.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. What Do You Want for Your Child?

Happiness & Success in the Real World

3. Happiness and Success at Google

4. Ancient Secrets of Happiness & Success

5. Happiness and Success at Harvard

6. Happiness and Success at Stanford and MIT

7. Happiness and Success in Math Class

8. Happiness and Success in the History of Education

9. Happiness, Success, and the 5 Stages of a Child’s Development

10. Happiness and Success: the Love Plant Approach

11. Happiness, Success, and Academic Achievement

12. Happiness, Success, and Education for Life: Grades Tell the Story

13. Bill Aris’s Truth: Happiness and Success in Sports & the Military

14. How to Improve Schools Using Coaching Principles

15. Sir Ken Robinson on Creativity at School

16. Happiness, Success, and Feelings: A Brief Photo Essay

The Science of Happiness & Success

17. Happiness, Success, and the Science of Positive Feelings

18. Happiness, Success, and the “Social Brain”

19. Two Kinds of Feelings

20. How Raw Feelings Interfere with Learning

21. It’s Time We Started Raising Organic Children

22. The Super-Efficient Classroom

Meet the Teachers

23. A Conversation with Former LWS Second Grade Teacher Kshama Kellogg

24. A Conversation with LWS Kindergarten Teacher Lilavati Aguilar

25. Rose Atwell: LWS Alumna, Teacher, Actor, Chef

26. Can the Arts Help Children Excel Academically?

27. Happiness, Success, and the Curriculum in Grades TK-8

Meet the Parents

28. Meet the Parents: Esther Peralez-Dieckmann

29. Meet the Parents: Jack Dieckmann

Testimonials for Living Wisdom School

30. Living Wisdom Graduates Enjoy Varied and Exciting Careers

31. More Testimonials for the Living Wisdom Schools

32. Final Thoughts: On Choosing Your Child’s School

Appendices

Appendix 1: Education for Life Resources

Appendix 2: Education for Life and the Living Wisdom Schools

Appendix 3: Research that Supports Education for Life

About the Author. George Beinhorn serves as our school’s web content manager. A graduate of Stanford University (BA ‘63, MA ‘66) he has been associated with the Living Wisdom Schools since 1976. George has enjoyed a long and fruitful career as a writer and editor with clients in technology, publishing, and academia. (Among his more interesting projects, he edited the “Best doctoral dissertation in computer science in 2008 at Stanford University.”) He is the author of The Joyful Athlete: The Wisdom of the Heart in Exercise & Sports Training.

16. Happiness, Success, and Feelings: a Brief Photo Essay

In a Living Wisdom classroom, feelings are noticed and dealt with without delay. Negative feelings, ignored or suppressed, can create an underlying current of discontent that can disturb the harmony in the classroom, disrupting concentration and motivation.

The following photos show how Living Wisdom School second-grade teacher Kshama Kellogg helped a young student accept and transcend sad feelings at the start of the school day. The photos were not posed — they are real.

Second-grade teacher Kshama greets a student at the start of the school day. Noting the student’s sad expression, she immediately makes a connection and inquires what’s going on.

 

Sometimes a hug can heal – the student feels acknowledged,
connected, and supported.

 

Ava notices that her friend is having trouble and offers a supportive smile.

 


The other students become aware that the student is having difficulty and gather around in silent support.

 

Ava offers a helpful funny face!

 


When Kshama and her students sense that their classmate is feeling better and warmly included, she begins Circle Time with a song that lifts everyone’s spirits, before starting math class.

 

 

Ch. 13: Bill Aris’s Truth: Happiness and Success in Sports & the Military

In school, sports, and the Navy,
respect for the uniqueness of the individual
opens portals for breathtaking success.[1]

 

By George Beinhorn, Living Wisdom School of Palo Alto

 

Nobody believes Bill Aris.

People ask Bill, over and over, how his Fayetteville-Manlius High School (NY) girls’ cross country teams have managed to win the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) an amazing ten times.

(NXN, where the nation’s forty best teams compete, is the de facto national high school cross country championship.)

Bill graciously shares his methods. He patiently explains how he trains his runners. And other coaches suspect he’s signifyin’, as they say in the Ozarks. Surely he’s pulling their legs. At the very least, he’s got to be holding something back.

Coaches fall off their chairs when Bill explains that he spends relatively little time designing his runners’ training:

“I spend 80 percent of my time on psychological and emotional considerations of each kid,” Aris says. “I put 20 percent of my time into designing the training. I spend most of my time thinking about and trying to get to the heart and soul of each kid, to both inspire them and to understand them. I’m always trying to figure out what keys unlock what doors to get them to maximize their potential.”[2]

Other coaches believe there’s no way Aris can produce national champions, year after year, without huge numbers of kids trying out for the team, and without recruiting. Fayetteville-Manlius High School has 1,500-2,000 students, yet just 25 runners turn out each fall for cross country. And Aris doesn’t need to recruit, because his methods turn talented kids into champions.

Bill Aris. His methods are simple and profound.

Aris’s boys’ teams won NXN in 2014 and 2017. They’ve placed second several times, plus a third and fourth. To put this in perspective, it’s a tremendous achievement to be among the forty teams invited to race at NXN. Scoring consistently in the top five puts the F-M boys in the absolute stratosphere of high school cross country.

At the library recently, I picked up a wonderful book. At first glance, It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy would seem to have little to do with training high school runners. Yet Bill Aris and the book’s author, former U.S. Navy Captain D. Michael Abrashoff, have a lot in common. They’re both renegade thinkers, in professions where the safest path to career advancement is to keep one’s head down and do things the way they’ve always been done.

Abrashoff describes what happened when the Navy gave him command of a deeply troubled ship with bottom-scraping efficiency ratings.

In the Navy, officers are expected either to get ahead or get out. If they aren’t being promoted regularly, they risk being seen as damaged goods, losers, and shunted off to posts where they can’t hurt other officers’ careers.

It’s a system that breeds a paranoid management style with a high priority on not looking bad — it encourages officers to micromanage their subordinates to get results that will look good on their resumes, and it ultimately produces mediocre results, and it has a terrible effect on a ship’s morale. When Abrashoff took over Benfold, most of the crew told him they couldn’t wait to leave the ship and get out of the Navy.

What Abrashoff did was amazing. As I read the book, I laughed, smiled, and occasionally wiped a tear. Abrashoff decided to apply the lessons he’d learned during a two-year stint as an aide to Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. He would put the individual crew members’ welfare first — just as Bill Aris does with his cross-country runners.

Abrashoff spoke personally with every one of Benfold’s 310 sailors, asking them about their backgrounds, their goals, what they hoped to get out of their time in the Navy, and what they felt was wrong with the Navy’s way of doing things.

Above all, he invited their suggestions for improving procedures in their own departments, and he implemented them, even if it meant bending the Navy’s rules. Within six months, Benfold was winning at-sea exercises against ships with much stronger ratings.

How did Abrashoff turn Benfold around? By adopting a simple guiding principle.

“I decided that on just about everything I did, my standard should be simply whether or not it felt right. You can never go wrong if you do ‘the right thing.’….

“If it feels right, smells right, tastes right, it’s almost surely the right thing — and you will be on the right track.

“If that doesn’t sound very profound or sophisticated, in the Navy, in business, and in life, it really is as simple as that.”

Let’s add: “In sports training, and in the classroom.”

We know when we’re doing the right thing in sports, and when we’re truly reaching students in the classroom and helping each one improve at their own level — because it feels right. And we know just as surely when we’re screwing up — when we’re ignoring the child’s reality in a headlong pursuit of test scores — because it feels ever so subtly wrong.

It’s simple. Do the right thing as an athlete, and your training will go well and you’ll enjoy it. Do the right thing for every child at school — get to know each student and work with their individual strengths — and you’ll quickly find them becoming amazingly enthusiastic and engaged and loving school, because they feel respected.

Few believed that Captain Abrashoff’s expansive leadership style would work, until Benfold began garnering a reputation as “the best damn ship in the Navy.”

Assigned to the Persian Gulf during the second Gulf War, Benfold  became the go-to ship whenever commanders needed things done fast and correctly. When other captains wanted to improve their ships’ performance, they visited Benfold and talked with Abrashoff and his crew.

It’s an incredibly inspiring story, and the principles behind Benfold’s success are exactly the same as those that have brought the girls’ teams at Fayetteville-Manlius ten national championships.

In my working life, I occasionally help Donovan R. Greene, PhD, a highly regarded industrial psychologist. Companies hire Don to identify executive candidates who can strengthen their cultures and amplify their success. A habit shared by many of the best candidates is “managing by walking around” (MBWA).

That’s what Mike Abrashoff did, and what Bill Aris does. Abrashoff spent countless hours visiting each of Benfold’s departments, learning its functions and where they fit within the ship’s overall operations. He met with each crew member and invited their thoughts on how they could do their jobs better, and he empowered them to make changes. He respected them and tapped their creativity, knowledge, and enthusiasm. Morale soared, and success came quickly.

It was uncannily similar to how Bill Aris guides his high school cross country teams.

Coaches don’t believe Bill because he doesn’t tell them what they expect to hear. They want to hear: “I get results by hard-nosed methods. I work my kids’ tails off, and I’m not above recruiting so long as I don’t get caught. We do huge mileage in summer, and I won’t tell you about our speedwork, because that would be revealing too much. But it’s all in the numbers.”

Bill with his Manlius girls after winning Nike Cross Nations. Bill’s genius is that he creates happy, tightly bonded teams.

Does that sound like schools today? The obsession with numbers. The “studying to the test.” The government-imposed standard curriculum that leaves one-third of the kids bored out of their minds, another third unable to keep up, and only one-third challenged at their level.

When sports scientists from America and Europe travel to Africa to study the world-leading Kenyan elite runners, they bring along their little measuring sticks. They measure the Kenyans’ leg lengths, muscle elasticity, and calf and thigh dimensions. They weigh and analyze what they eat — how much carbohydrate, fat, and protein. They study how many miles they run, and how hard. And they write it all down in a little notebook filled with numbers.

Few of them ask the Kenyans about their hopes and dreams. Yet if you invite the Kenyans to talk about what sets them apart from their American and European counterparts, they never mention numbers. Instead, they talk about qualities of the heart — not heart volume and such-like science, but the heart’s feelings.

They explain that they run based on inner feeling — they take joy in running together, and if their bodies don’t feel up to running hard on a given day, they’re perfectly willing to pack it up and go home, whereas an American runner would be more likely to force himself through the workout, haunted by a need to “make the numbers.”

The Kenyans know that their bodies will tell them when it’s okay to run hard and when it’s best to knock off. They’ve long since learned to do the right thing.

They talk about how the U.S. runners are so serious about their training, how obsessed they are with numbers and technology, and how it’s all geared toward some feverishly imagined far-off future result. Meanwhile, the Kenyans are intent on maximizing the joys of today.

Captain Abrashoff did a very simple thing on Benfold — he created a happy ship. He gave his crew the freedom to enjoy doing their jobs well, and other ships’ officers and crew members were soon seeking any excuse to visit Benfold for the experience of being infected and inspired by its upbeat mood.

That’s the secret of Bill Aris’s success, and it isn’t complicated. Aris creates happy teams. How? By getting to know his runners and helping them realize their dreams. That kind of caring creates loyalty, enthusiasm, and success — on a Navy missile destroyer, a cross country course, and in the classroom.

School administrators and politicians could take a valuable lesson from Aris and Abrashoff. Instead of cramming students into a lockstep curriculum, thereby demotivating all but the average few, they could empower teachers to institute an individualized curriculum that would take the measure of each one’s hopes and dreams.

When Abrashoff left Benfold, he studied surveys conducted by the Navy to discover why people weren’t re-enlisting. Surprisingly, low pay was far down the scale, in fifth place.

“The top reason was not being treated with respect or dignity; second was being prevented from making an impact on the organization; third, not being listened to; and fourth, not being rewarded with more responsibility.”

Abrashoff worked tirelessly to reverse these trends. He wouldn’t tolerate attitudes in his officers that would risk creating a bossy, feudal culture that would spread poisonous feelings of resentment throughout the ship.

Every crew member’s contributions were to be considered important, and they were to be made aware of their value to the ship.

By treating his crew as if they mattered, and giving them freedom to shine, Abrashoff built the best damn ship in the Navy — just as Aris has built the nation’s best high school cross country program.

Six months after Abrashoff’s departure, Benfold earned the highest grade in the history of the Pacific Fleet on the Navy’s Combat Systems Readiness Review.

Abrashoff tells story after story of how he transformed the culture of his ship, one detail at a time. It’s a deeply moving account, and ultimately the “method” can be boiled down to a simple principle: the best approach to organizational change and excellence is the one that creates the greatest fulfillment and happiness for the individual.

 “Every year, I look at every kid in our group,” Aris says of his approach to training high school runners. “Number one, I try to find out what’s in their mind and in their hearts. How high is up, in other words. From there I build a training program around that.”

Speaking of the unique culture that Aris built, award-winning running journalist Marc Bloom said:

“In all my 40-plus years (of being involved with high school cross country), I don’t think I’ve seen anything this extraordinary, at least on the high school level…. If you look at professionals it’s like looking at the Kenyans and the Ethiopians. On the high school level, F-M is so far better than anyone else.

“You say how do they do it?” Bloom added. “You can look at the physiological aspect and the running, but there is also a cultural foundation to it. It’s a different society. It’s a different attitude.”[3]

It’s a culture that engenders good feelings within each runner and within the team. Aris persuades his runners to tap the joy of training for something larger than themselves. And it all sounds remarkably like the culture at Living Wisdom School.

“When our kids train or race, they do so for each other rather than competing against each other. When one releases themselves from the limiting constraints of individual achievement alone, new worlds open up in terms of group AND individual potential and its fulfillment…. Each is capable of standing on their own, but when working together so much more is accomplished both for the group and individual. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts basically, nothing new here.”[4]

Why aren’t people more receptive to these radical but exhaustively proven ideas? Why are so few listening — in school, in sports, and in business and the military?

Mark Allen, six-time winner of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, may know the answer. Before he began entering triathlons, Allen was a hard-charging All-American swimmer at UC San Diego. Swimmers do intensive interval workouts, and when Allen became a triathlete he trained full-out all the time, whether running, riding, or swimming. Yet year after year he fell just short of winning the Ironman.

Then Allen met coach Phil Maffetone, who had him do several months of easy aerobic training at the start of the season, followed by six weeks of very hard work. Maffetone understood Allen’s needs and adapted his training accordingly. That’s when the string of Ironman victories began.

In an interview with Allen, Tim Noakes, MD, author of the authoritative Lore of Running, asked him for his thoughts on why more triathletes hadn’t adopted the methods that had brought him so much success.

“Allen answered that many athletes are too ego-driven. They can’t wait to perform well and will not accept anyone else’s ideas.”[5]

Why are our academically obsessed public and private schools not adopting the principles that work so well in sports and in the Navy, and that have created happiness and success for so many students for fifty years in the Living Wisdom Schools, because they help each child learn more efficiently than the failed, lockstep Core Curriculum and the equally disastrous No Child Left Behind?

The answer is that politicians and school administrators are too heavily invested in their own ideas and obsessed with numbers — even when the numbers lie.

Bill Aris’s methods aren’t what the politicians and administrators want to hear. And that’s too bad, because there’s solid evidence that the heart and brain can work harder, with less strain, in the presence of happy feelings. In the classroom, research shows that the brain becomes a more efficient learning machine in the presence of harmonious, expansive feelings — as opposed to the stress and emotional toll of a needlessly competitive, test-focused atmosphere.

Teachers and coaches who support the individual child,  intent on helping them become happy members of a happy team, aren’t just wasting the students’ time. They’re amplifying their ability to learn by tapping the power of positive feelings to make each child’s brain a champion.

Imagine that you’re a teacher and there’s a child in your classroom who clearly needs special attention and loving help — would you blithely ignore the their needs, prioritizing test preparation and grades? As parents, and as a society, would we set up our entire school system so that teachers were forced to ignore that child’s unique circumstances?

Mass education is “dead-ucation.” Teachers who can skillfully elicit the individual child’s enthusiasm for learning by giving them daily experiences of success, each at their own level, are able to educate them far more effectively than teachers who are required by government decree to cram a barely digestible load of facts into the students’ overworked and resisting brains.

(Adapted from The Joyful Athlete: The Wisdom of the Heart in Exercise & Sports Training, by Living Wisdom School of Palo Alto content manager George Beinhorn: www.joyfulathlete.com)

[1]Adapted from The Joyful Athlete: the Wisdom of the Heart in Exercise & Sports Training, by George Beinhorn.

 

[2] “The Secret to F-M’s Success: There Is No Secret,” Tom Leo and Donnie Webb, Syracuse.com, December 10, 2010. http://bit.ly/2JT3vnn.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Stotan: The Secret of Fayetteville Manlius,” XCNation/RunnerSpace, September 23, 2013. http://www.runnerspace.com/news.php?news_id=180217

[5] Lore of Running, op. cit.

Ch. 1: Introduction

For more than fifty years, the Living Wisdom Schools have pioneered a radical new approach to educating young children — an approach that empowers them to be happy while they excel in school and life.

In education today, there’s a quiet but powerful groundswell — a grassroots rebellion against the government-mandated “No Child Left Behind” and Core Curriculum initiatives that have hamstrung teachers, alienated students, and distorted the purpose of education by preventing children from receiving the best possible experience of school.

The Education for Life philosophy can be simply stated:

At school, the factor that most assuredly
promotes deep, engaged, lasting learning
is happiness.

Parents are often dumbfounded when they hear the Living Wisdom School teachers proclaim that a happy, arts-enriched, highly individualized curriculum promotes more efficient learning than the “academically rigorous” curricula offered by other schools.

They are nonplussed by the suggestion that the LWS curriculum gives children a deeper education because the teachers are encouraged to teach principles and review content with each student until they have a firm grasp on concepts before moving on, instead of skimming the surface of the subject matter in an ill-considered rush to demonstrate good test scores.

 

Young people who are subjected to a one-sided, academically overloaded curriculum are at risk not only of receiving a superficial education; they end up mentally and emotionally less well-prepared to succeed in high school and beyond. Perhaps most troubling, they are less likely to acquire important personal qualities that are defining among successful people.

One prospective parent, during a visit to LWS, protested, “But these kids can’t be learning — they’re too happy!”

Yet groundbreaking research has confirmed beyond any possibility of doubt that happiness and school success are intimately connected.

What are some of the qualities that we, as parents and teachers, should encourage in our children to prepare them for success in high school, college, and life?

Aside from the knowledge and skills required to succeed in a profession, surely it’s fair to suggest that there also needs to be a deep wanting to do worthwhile and wonderful things.

There has to be a confidence, self-knowledge, positive expectations, and an ability to work well with others — all qualities that must be deliberately nurtured. They cannot be imposed from without, nor will they magically appear as a side-effect of good grades and test scores.

These personal qualities, which are highly predictive of career success, cannot be nurtured by only trying to motivate kids to get good grades. Any motivation that grades and test scores provide will be superficial and will fail to touch their hearts. Worse, it may encourage a dependence on external recognition that can never be fully satisfied. After one test, there will always be another.

As will become clear in the chapters that follow, success and happiness come most reliably to those who are focused enthusiastically on the process — who are not postponing their happiness until some vaguely imagined future, but are able to rejoice in the expansion of their powers today.

 

 

Testimonials — Theater Magic 2015

Testimonials for

George Washington Carver:

From Slave to Scientist to Saint

March 2015

(Watch the Video)

“Your students have great stage presence, especially when waiting through technical difficulties. And, performing, they’re a delight. I love their choral work and the way they pace and emphasize their lines. They taught me a lot about George Washington Carver. I loved the play.” ~Retired Middle School Teacher

“Marvelous! Very well done. Impressive. Each and every one a star!” ~Teacher, Delphi Academy

“Amazing production. We have always enjoyed every play of your school every year. Thank you!!” ~Teacher, Delphi Academy

“Absolutely tremendous, and what a story to tell! Thank you!” ~LWS parent

“Great production. The kids were impressive!” ~Grandparent

“The play was amazing. The coordination, costumes, acting, and dances were great. Thanks, LWS! We asked our children what they felt and learned from this year’s play:

‘Love wins all hearts.’ I try to remember that.’ ~8-year-old.

’George listens to his inner voice and follows it.’ I try to do that in school and soccer.’ ~10-year-old”

~Visiting Parents

“These plays are always inspiring and educational. What a marvelous experience for young people to develop knowledge of the theater, confidence, and self-esteem.” ~ Audience Testimonial

Testimonials from Delphi Students

“Thank you for the great performance. It was so realistic. I had a blast!” ~Neel

“Your play was magnificent! I liked how you put a lot of facts in your play. My class and I really enjoyed it. We also learned a lot. I thought the costumes you used were beautiful! I appreciate the amount of work you put in your play. ~Noele

“You put on a really great show. It was very educational at the same time. I never knew George Washington Carver went from slave to scientist to saint. I also really liked the sayings that he said. I also never knew that George Washington Carver wrote a letter to Booker T. Washington and that a man died because of an angry mob. I also can’t believe five-year-olds were in the play too!” ~Pranav

“The George W. Carver play was amazing. How are you so brave on the stage? I did not want the play to end. George W. Carver rocks! (So do you!)” ~Jaiswal

“The play that you did was very nice. I like how it kept me entertained and learning at the same time.“ ~Tia