Form and Formlessness

Over a cup of coffee, my friend Elsie Spittle and I sometimes have conversations about form and formlessness. We spend time together in the moment, allowing life to express itself in whatever way it comes. We go all over the map and in those verbal wanderings there are nuggets of truth that evoke deep and meaningful "aha's."  

We had one of those exchanges recently, and it reminded me of a life lesson hidden away in the recesses of my mind. The recollection led to a great belly laugh at how insecure thinking led me astray and how my students' courage brought me back into synchronicity with my 3 Principles understanding.

Years ago I was asked (cajoled, guilted, talked into) instructing an Adolescent Psychology course at the university where I was teaching. A professor had suddenly quit and they were stuck.  "What the heck did I know about Adolescent Psychology?" I thought. So, being totally insecure about it I got into my head and spent a day for every two hour lesson creating form. After all, the text book knew, I didn't!  Boring, uninspiring but "correct" theory was being taught!

After about the third lesson, the students revolted and said "this isn't what we want. We want something real and applicable." I was humiliated, ready to quit, ego crushed, and I came home and licked my wounds. Poor me.

The next week I went back with one little sticky note  with the topics I hoped to cover written down. No form, no notes, no PowerPoint, no big plan, no hours of prep, just trust.  The first time was scary but that soon changed.  I sat on the edge of the table at the front of the classroom and began with "so...what happened when you were out in the schools this week?"  The student teachers had the most amazing stories and insights about their teaching and offered up the fertile ground to introduce the topics I was meant to cover if they fit, and amazingly, they always did.  It was all inside out, built on beautiful insight, wisdom and true knowledge or "felt meaning" from their guts. That was the big and abiding lesson for new your inner instincts and you won't go wrong, and I was modelling it for them. Authentic, honest, teaching scaffolded on their prior knowledge.  The power of those lessons was palpable as we grew in depth of understanding together. The engagement of the learners was evident, they were hooked and the feeling of the group energy for learning was totally in evidence.

So...why did I highlight the words above? Those were the guide words for how to develop a good lesson plan.  Students had to tell how they would create that in the classroom for every lesson taught and it was being modelled for them in each of our classes.  I could never have sat down and written up such amazing engagement strategies as those that came from the student's mouths. This was remarkable and they were getting lessons in real-time that showed them that trust and deep listening can go a long way in creating the best lessons.

This is not a "fly by the seat of your pants" exercise - that can lead to a Lord of the Flies classroom environment. A Plan B is never a bad idea and having a toolkit in one's back pocket is sound teaching practice.  But, far and above, the best lessons happen when the teacher is ready to take that leap of faith and follow the mystery of the tableau that is laid out before them.  It is what makes a good teacher a gifted educator.

Compatibility Mode

This is a magical time of year when amidst all the hub bub swirling around "out there," I find myself moving toward the quiet "inside" my own being.  This morning I lit a fire and sat staring into the flames as they sprang to life and warmed the room.  A nice cuppa, a book of reflections on my island home, and I was enraptured by the peace of a very chilly, winter morning.  

I pondered all the things that I have such gratitude for and I was left in awe at how abundant my life is. At the beginning of my eighth decade of circling the sun, I feel like a teenager with infinite possibilities stretched out before me, ones of connection, of service and precious moments where I am simply noticing.

What a grand way to see life...always new, forever beginning again...the great spiral unfolding…a world without end.

I am sharing a link to an article of mine that was published December 8, 2016 by ASCD.  I hope you enjoy reading it and that you discover a myriad of ways to tell your own stories.

I wish all of you the very best of the holiday season and a healthy and vibrant 2017.

Freedom Comes from Letting Go

"Throughout time human beings have experienced insights that spontaneously and completely changed their behaviours and their lives, bringing them happiness they previously thought impossible."

-Sydney Banks


This is a story of twelve year old twin girls both living through what externally appeared to be the same story - a marital breakup, the move to a new home, new town, new school all with the need to create a new friendship circle.

What was most interesting is that while the form and circumstances appeared to be exactly the same for these girls, their reactions provided evidence, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we all live in separate realities. It was certainly fascinating to observe.

Carmen and Roxanne looked identical - their mother's smile and their dad's desire to be on the go 100% of the time. While you couldn't discern who was who by looks, in personality, there was never a problem.

Carmen viewed the world through dark colored glasses. Even when participating in activities she claimed to like, her response was the same "That sucks!" While tiresome to hear constantly, those around her didn't buy into her negativity: they ignored it or simply walked away. Carmen seemed to have no inkling of the dark cloud she created for herself.

Roxanne, on the other hand, took things is stride. The circumstances in her life, while hugely disappointing, did not send her into a tailspin. Roxanne looked for opportunities to play with new friends and to find out more about this place they had moved to. Carmen resisted the change. Roxanne embraced it!

Yet, as we often have observed over the years, another "everyday miracle" took place.

The girls had a very compassionate and insightful teacher. This chap, blessed with the loving heart of a Mother Teresa, the wisdom of the Buddha and and the persistence of Gandhi set a writing task. The students were to keep a daily journal of their feelings "in the moment." There was to be a complete/not complete mark and a self assessment but no evaluative comments by the teacher. However, he did promise to read the entries.

Three weeks into this four week project the "everyday miracle" occurred. Carmen wrote "You never will be set free until you can forgive with all your heart." Carmen let go of all the resistance she had to the changes in her life and in that moment, everything changed. It was her breakthrough moment and it placed a new piece of software in her head and with it, a change in how Carmen felt about her life. Carmen had set herself free - something nobody could do for her. A true inside-out transformation.

"Never underestimate the power of an insight...sometimes an insight is worth all your previous experiences in life put together."

-Sydney Banks

There is a way!

I feel exceedingly grateful that I got to work next to people who asked themselves the question "what is essential in this present moment for this child?"   Usually we are bound by words and constructs like "core curriculum" and "no child left behind" among many others across the globe, concepts that reduce human beings to a common denominator usually missing the mark on what the essential learning is for that person at that particular time.  

There is a formula, that of mind, thought and consciousness - that governs all human functioning and, when our filter is through these principles we are starting in the right place: the essential place; the underpinning; the foundation. When we get a glimmer of knowing this for ourselves, we begin to see it as the place to start – the place where we are indeed, all the same.  It is the common ground.

This brings to mind a wee girl who came to school unwashed, hair askew, filthy clothes, teeth unbrushed.  Of course, social services was aware of the situation but when the child came to learning assistance for help with reading, the teacher, Erna, asked herself the big question "What is essential here?"  And, she knew what to do.  Task #`1: create a cradle of caring in which the child could grow.

How can a child learn when she feels ugly, is dirty, stinks and nobody wants to be near her?  How can that feel when you are six and longing to belong?

Erna knew that this was about empowering Paulette, helping her to find confidence from inside-out, not about “fixing” her, and so she set to work.  Each morning Erna had a routine that she kept with Paulette.  When she got off the bus, her first stop was the spare staff washroom. This had been set aside as a learning space, a novel one, but a learning space nonetheless.  It was about learning life skills.  Here Paulette was taught how to have a "birdbath" in the sink, what soap and a washcloth were for, how to brush her teeth, to wash her hair in the sink and comb her hair.  Erna made sure that the bathing and changing of clothes was done in private – demonstrations were provided in “how to” and then Paulette was left with the privacy to do it herself.  Each day there was a clean set of clothes for Paulette to put on and eventually, she was taught how to wash her own clothes in the school's washing machine.

Erna found the courage to be honest with mom and tell her what she was doing.  No judgment, just respect, acknowledging mom was doing the best she could and presenting this as a learning experience for Paulette. This in itself spoke volumes because this very young and troubled mom became a learner too.  Abandoned when falling pregnant at 13 she was a needy nineteen year old herself.

Before too long, huge strides had been made and the morning routine was no longer necessary because it was happening at home.  Both "girls" had grown and with the help of some of the community, an old washing machine had been found, a clothesline rigged up and clothing shared.  Life had shifted to a more positive one for mom and Paulette.  

And reading?  Once the essential learning "in the moment" had taken place, the story in Paulette's head was rewritten and our wee girl flourished.  Before long, Paulette was a competent reader and writer and she was now an accepted classmate.  “Thought creates reality,” as Mr. Banks so often would say.

Many years later I came across the now-adult Paulette.  She is living her life in a state of mind that is confident and healthy - a competent and successful businesswoman.  A life transformed by caring and compassionate people who helped Paulette uncover her inner wisdom and change the story in her head.

Another “everyday miracle.”

"This conversation (about the Three Principles) is just a description, a description of how it is as human beings for us, all 7 billion of us, all operating through this system, like gravity, it's dependable....when there's certainty, the plus is it's off your mind.  The word that comes to mind is trust, trusting there is a system."

Peter Anderson, Headteacher and Three Principles Facilitator, UK

Supermind Ed Talks, January 13, 2016

Being in service

Lots of times we don’t get the opportunity to see or hear of results from our being in service and, when feedback comes, it warms the heart.

Recently the education series that Christa Campsall, Kathy Marshall, Jane Tucker and I are putting together brought us a lovely comment on the difference it was making in a teacher’s life.  It made me think about my Pops and I decided to share his story.

My wise old dad said if one lived with these two guideposts in life, there would be contentment, and he was so right.

"I have to live with myself and so, I must be fit for myself to know,"


"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Pops was all about service and listening to his "guide inside."  His mom died in childbirth, he was put into foster care and abandoned by his father for six years.  Despite the lack of opportunity for love and attachment and a sense of belonging, Pops found that deep well inside himself where the everlasting arms of protection held him safe and taught him how to live a satisfying life.

Pops had a small construction company that employed seven or eight fellows.  He kept his men employed even when there was no work. Where he found the money I will never know, but I am pretty sure he always dug deep into his own pocket.  Pops did jobs for people who could never pay and he knew that doing that type of things was simply “paying it forward.”

Pops never locked a door because he said "if someone takes something they must need it more than you do."  He hired dozens of displaced people after the war to give them a fresh start and would give anybody anything he felt would help them in life.  Pops’ life was about service and the things he did, were done without fanfare, done quietly and the list was infinite.  

There were times that people took advantage of Pops’ generosity but he never got mad, he just said they had something to learn from it.

When Pops died, I found a black box filled with his little treasures: books by Mary Baker Eddy, Unitarian booklets, Unity poetry books, Emmet Fox.  I talked to my friend Syd Banks about what I had discovered and his eyes welled up and he said "he really found something inside himself, didn't he."

So, this little story shared to say that our service to those working with youth is vital and beautiful and I am so grateful to work with people who just want to "put it out there!"  Being "the hollow reed."

…make me a hollow reed, through which the pith of self hath been blown, so that I may become a clear channel through which love may flow to others.
— George Townshend, Universal House of Justice, Sept. 27, 1992

Entertaining A New Year Filled With Possibility!

Don’t spend time beating on a wall hoping to turn it into a door.
— Coco Chanel

The New Year often comes with talk of goals and resolutions, many of which fall off the page when January ends. Goals and resolutions tend to be narrowly focussed and are accompanied by the stress or guilt of "have to" or "must" or "promises" and the accompanying negativity if one misses the mark or falls off track.

Yet, entertaining the idea of limitless possibility for the upcoming year can be a freeing feeling, accompanied by feelings of excitement and positivity.

Looking forward with a purpose in mind, a big-picture possibility, then following the path that reveals itself as you move toward the vision can be enervating and exciting!  You know what you are heading toward, but have no idea what the roadmap will look like!

How does this translate into a classroom?  Well, think of teaching a class of first graders.  My big vision is that every one of the students will be reading by the end of the year.  However, if my mind is closed to only one method, not all students will meet with success. We know that students learn in different ways through their dominant modality and, as teachers, we need to be open to what those might be.  Not only do we need to be cognizant of them, we need to be adaptable to changing our methods to meet the needs of the student.  As Sydney Banks said " a dog that barks up the wrong tree isn't a very good hunter!" (In Quest of the Pearl, Sydney Banks)

We need to be "good hunters" that notice the needs of the students and stay open to worlds of infinite possibility.

Happy New Year and Happy New Paths of Possibility!

Teachable Moments

The answer is love, unconditional love. So I wouldn’t talk to the child about her fears or concerns ... I would draw out the love.
— Elsie Spittle

The teachable moment – that place where in the moment, conditions are perfect for learning to occur.  They are simple, natural and full of promise.  When the teacher and the students are “there” the perfect opportunity arises for deep learning to occur.

Are these just moments of happenstance or can we, as teachers, create them?  Sometimes they just happen.  We can be in the midst of working with our students and something serendipitous occurs: the perfect moment to share information or to note the outcome of a set of circumstances.  

But, teachers can create an environment where the opportunity for teachable moments can occur more frequently.  It is all about the teacher’s state of mind.  In a positive and affirming space, the teacher is more likely to create a learning environment where students are willing to take chances, to “give it a go,” to answer a question, to experiment with their understandings in ways they wouldn’t dare if the teacher was in a judgemental and negative frame of mind.

This was very evident in a learning resource room situation with Harriet, a young woman with a math phobia.  Harriet looked like a deer in headlights when she thought about math in any form.  She had reached fourth grade without any sense of numbers, what they were, the actions you could do with them – it completely eluded her.  The resource room teacher could see that every time this student came to join her, the fear escalated the moment she walked in the door.

What to do? What to do?  Fortunately for this young woman, she encountered a teacher who understood that to meet with success, this student would need to believe she was successful.  This was going to take baby steps but those seemingly miniscule movements would become the foundation stones for her learning.

This teacher knew that spending time with this student in a pleasant and non-threatening atmosphere was the secret to tackling her math phobia.  Did they talk about numbers and math?  Not at the beginning.  They swapped stories:  stories about playing baseball on the weekend, about playing with cousins, about being on the swim team.  Our wise teacher drew out the confidence and love that Harriet carried inside her and when the time was right, when she saw the teachable moment, she began to introduce some number concepts.  

These were simple at first – incidental learning at its best.  Questions about the timing at swim meets, how the score was kept for each inning in baseball, how many cousins she had in town and out of town.  Soon Harriet’s comfort level had increased to where she demonstrated how timing was done at swim meets.  She brought in a stopwatch from her mother’s timing kit to show how it was done.  Next step was to bring in her personal best timesheets.  Before long, Harriet was comparing her personal bests and figuring out the difference between one week and the next.  

By tapping into her place of comfort, confidence and passion, the learning resource teacher allowed Harriet to reside in a state of mind that produced positive thoughts and good feelings.  She kept pushing the envelope a little further each day until by the end of six months, the deer in the headlights feature of Harriet’s visage had disappeared completely.

And what was the essential curriculum that this teacher taught by creating teachable moments and drawing out the love? 

  • that we live in the feeling of our thinking
  • feelings mirror our state of mind  
  • home sits inside us all the time because we reside in wisdom.

Following New Paths

No one can “fix” us, but the power to change is always one thought away from within each of us
— Sydney Banks

Little did I know a decision to keep a daily journal when taking over as a substitute principal would lead to me down a new path.  

After completing my eight-month stint, I filed the journal away in a folder called "later" alongside my other unpublished work, The Inside Track.  After all, “who on earth would want to read them but me?” my thinking told me!  

But things changed one day in 2004 when Syd Banks called and said "there's a young woman in the UK starting a program with kids.  Do you have anything you could send along to help her out?"  The only thing I had that I could mail to her was the compilation of the journal!  Unedited, unpublished but still, better than nothing.  At that time I was calling the writings See Them in their Place of Knowing.  Off it went in the mail with the intent that it might offer some simple, helpful ideas.  

I was encouraged and nudged to get it officially published but I procrastinated.... and procrastinated...and procrastinated. It wasn't until I became aware that it was being shared in its unedited state that I was moved to act! The school marm in me was horrified to think that misspelled and grammatically incorrect work was out in the great big world!  

Over the next couple of years I rewrote and refined the book to make it short, sweet and easy for busy educators to read in five-minute bites. After all, educators barely have time to breathe, so I knew this had to be manageable!

The title seemed cumbersome and I wondered how I might change it. I reflected on an earlier time when I had been gifted with the insight that the Three Principles are, quite simply, the essential curriculum. And, book one of the series was born.

Each afternoon, I met with my “imaginary new administrator” and wrote the lesson of the day. Over the course of eight months, I wrote an entire book that distilled into a month’s worth of lessons for those “inside the schoolhouse.” The stories have come from a long career that has taken on many forms in a number of different locales. All the names, locales and situations have been disguised to protect the privacy of all.

It has been invigorating to move down a different path at this phase of life, one that is refreshing and allows for the sharing of ideas and honoring of those who are rooted in love and service.

The Essential Curriculum

"Wisdom is not found in the world of form, nor in remote corners of the globe.  Wisdom lies within our own consciousness."

Sydney Banks, The Missing Link

The Essential Curriculum exists in the formless realm.  While saying it lies “in the ethers” may make it sound unscientific and illegitimate because it isn’t bricks and mortar, it is as real as the nose on one’s face.  It is so very tangible that is can be felt the minute one enters a school.  That first five minutes gives a pretty accurate indication of the institution’s “come from.”  

  • Is it welcoming?
  • Do people make eye contact?
  • Can you see evidence that students, staff and parents are honoured and respected?
  • Is there some beauty even in places that may have seen better days?
  • Is the administration part of what is happening or are they hidden away?
  • What do you feel when you walk in?

This “feeling barometer” lets us know both where we are at and where the school is coming from.  If we find we are in our place called home, our place of inner safety, we can be pretty sure that is exactly what is being engendered in the school.  The “FQ” (Feeling Quotient) is every bit as important as the IQ and the GPA and creates a space where deep learning can happen.

State of mind is the vitally important factor in The Essential Curriculum.  It creates schools where we see students “at promise” rather than “at risk”. (Kathy Marshall, et al, National Resilience Resource Center LCC)