Listening Session Paintings

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I received this in an email today:

"Our greatest possession is resonance of our own true heart,
and the greatest gift you can give to anyone
is the gift of your listening, attention and love".

Unfortunately, the source was not attributed, but this beautiful statement is very much at the heart of what Imagine Learning is all about.  I awoke this morning thinking about how many of us receive wounds in our early lives. Sometimes these wounds are so deep that parts of us and sometimes most of us are immobilized from growing.  Instead of acting to find ways to heal, we actually just wait.  Sometimes we spend our whole lives waiting for someone to come along and show us how to take away the pain.

This is not a rational telling like we hear from people when we are experiencing doubt about our lives. You've heard the phrase "It's going to be all right", or, "you going to be OK, trust me".  Somehow these are momentarily comforting but they are not the type of comments that help someone who is deeply wounded get up and move forward in their lives.

In the work that Imagine Learning is doing, we are discovering that real listening is walking beside that person, leaving all judgment behind, and opening as completely as possible to their story.  This requires opening in such a way that the person telling the story actually feels your deep presence. Through this, they feel you "hear" their story and then through that, they can begin to hear their own story in a completely different light. In that listening alone, healing begins to take place and they know that they are not alone.

The Listening Sessions we are conducting around the country and the rest of the world are in some small way attempting to do that for young people.  It is our way of giving them a few moments of deep listening, in which they find hope and a sense of connection to themselves, each other and a future they can have a role in designing. It is a way for them to briefly find the "resonance of their own true heart".

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Castle Rock...well, Rocks!

We have just completed a Listening Session in Castle Rock, CO where we had a beautiful time with some amazing people.  Nate, Lily, Emmy, Kayla, Tim, and Megan all provided wonderfully creative and thoughtful responses to the questions as well as told the most amazing stories about their lives.

A very special thanks to Tam Hill who made it all possible.  She was a tireless recruiter and helped throughout the process. It was a lively evening that came just after six inches of snow had fallen a couple of days before.  Conversation was stimulating, exciting, moving and delightful.  The paintings turned out beautifully and we are pleased to report they are home safe and sound in San Francisco.

We thank all of you for the amazing participation, time and willingness to share.  We also deeply appreciate your courage, your commitment to changing education, and your passion for life.  Welcome to the growing world of Imagine Learning! Here are their paintings:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Restoring Harmony to Young People

I love how curiosity can lead anywhere... I was reading the book Holy Personal by Laura Chester, which is about private places of worship that individuals create for themselves. Within the book, the author tells the story of an artist, Michael Dowling, who has put a small chapel in a root cellar in his home. It was really amazingly done, but what struck me the hardest was the following part of his story.

Michael had a talent for art at an early age, even drawing things from his subconscious that were symbols that were ages old... however when (and I quote)... he was eight, his art teacher was teaching the class: The Six Steps to a Perfect Tree.

"So there I was, looking out the window, he recalls. It was a beautiful fall day. I had my crayons and I was coloring and coloring - but then she held up my drawing and said to the entire class, 'This is the worst tree I've ever seen a child draw.'

Unbelievable. But the thing was, I believed it. Suddenly everything was split in two - everything had a right and left, light and dark, wet and dry, visible and invisible. It was a time of confusion. My intuitive knowledge got put aside
, it's so hard to retrieve that earlier sense of things. I remember showing the bad tree drawing to a little girl across the street, Jane Nicholson. She loved it, so I gave it to her".

Suddenly everything was split in two - everything had a right and left, light and dark, wet and dry, visible and invisible. It was a time of confusion. My intuitive knowledge got put aside...

I believe all young people are born with innocence and a beautiful sense of harmony with the world. They understand from the beginning that everything is one, that we are all connected. Possibility is king and their creativity is alive with their curiosity pushing them to learn at incredible speeds. We may hold the common belief that we grow out of this natural state, but I wonder if it is not the fact that events such as this one that Michael experienced and so eloquently stated, or hundreds of smaller ones, take us to a very different place - that of separation. Separation from parts of ourselves and from those we respect and admire around us.

In the work we must do with our children, healing is required if we are going to help them grow back toward that natural understanding of creative energy, curiosity and oneness with all things.
If we can develop learning journeys that protect their innocence, enable them to find their true gifts and the inner strength to hold on to them as they grow, it will be a joyous future for all of us.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What others are thinking

Kia ora to the IL community.
I've just been reading this Action Spark weblog & really like many of the things the writer says about institutional education. It's very relevant to those of you in the US but, of course, these issues of youth disengagement from education are happening here in NZ, too.

Presently, we are battling massive budget cuts to Adult and Community Education, Early Childhood Education and Education for Sustainability. Our conservative government (National) seems to be tracking NZ away from a course set toward sustainability and life long learning. Educationalists such as myself fear the direction we are taking bodes ill for our future. The government has, however sunk money into private education to the tune of NZ$35 million much to the horror of a number of us - this NZ Herald article captures that.

I do hope that you in the US continue to do some wonderful work with young people searching for a new learning pathway. I may be wrong, but my impression is that there is renewed hope for education right across the US after years of neglect. We're looking forward to hearing from Syd Golston, President of your National Council for the Social Studies, when she speaks at our Social Science teachers conference in Sept. Will keep you posted.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Don Tapscott on Self Organization by Young People

This short video is a wonderful synopsis of the abilities of young people to create dramatic change in the world. It gives a short encapsulation of where we are and then discusses how young people have grown up in technology and thus are capable of using for tremendous good in the world. The video was created for corporate executives to view after NetChange - an event held in Toronto last week, so it might appear a bit odd for our purposes. But if you think about learning as you watch it, you will see the possibilities.

A message from Don Tapscott from SiG @ MaRS on Vimeo.

The ability of young people to self organize has massive implications for education. It is a given in young people's lives, yet it is not an integral part of their learning in schools. We must hold this possibility in deep regard as it is a way for young people to speak with their true voices in a manner that can come from the heart.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Beauty in Small Places

Yesterday, I received this video of a young 17 year old named Declan Galbraith singing a song when he was 9 or ten years old, called "Tell Me Why?" I was literally moved to tears, not only at the message but at his passion for almost demanding an answer to the question.

I researched into Declan a little bit and he was born in 1991 in England. He has been singing for most of his life. He is no longer in school as his performance schedule was too demanding, but he is instead being home schooled. He is mostly known in Europe and Asia, although since I got this in an email, I am sure he has a following here as well.

Declan, a different knowing of ourselves is required. One that - if we were to discover it quite early in our lives - would serve us and all life on the planet well. Then, we would not feel the separation, the loneliness from ourselves and from the Source of life that leads us to do things that lead to the problems you are asking about. This will come, but we are going to need young people, who have found their wisdom at an early age, to help make it happen. You have inspired me and I hope will continue to inspire others to keep asking inside themselves to listen within for the answers. Don't get lost in the glamour and fame, but keep using your voice, which comes from your heart, to raise the questions we need to hear.

Education has to be able to bloom young people who can brilliantly master the problems they are inheriting. As you can see from Declan, they are immensely capable and their potential unlimited. Beauty comes in small places and sometimes with more power and potential than we ever dreamed.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A beautiful new school opens in Aotearoa New Zealand

Today, 9.30am a new school was brought into being by a group of people who share a powerful vision for education that values the whole person and wishes to nurture the 4 quadrants of our beings - the heart/ taha manaaki , the mind/ taha hinengaro, the spirit/ taha wairua and the physical aspects/ taha tinana.
The school, Seven Oaks, is located on an area of land within the city of Christchurch, an area they share with a community organic garden, and so the tamariki's learning will be deeply embedded in the whenua, the land.

This new school presently has only 12 children/ tamariki enrolled but others are waiting in the wings. These pioneering children and their families have begun a wonderful journey of exploration; they have seen a different way of educating the next generation that is affirming and life enhancing. This is the same journey that Imagine Learning is taking with various groups around the globe - so wonderful to know that eventually many more children and young people will be experiencing the joy of learning in environments that nurture them. Kia kaha, kia manawanui to Gaike, Trent, Bruce & others on the initial team, for bringing this vision to fruition.

For more information on The Holistic Education Trust, Seven Oaks School and the Journey to Brilliance visit their website.
I'll keep you posted should there be a newspaper article on the opening in the next few days.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Message from the Dalai Lama

At the end of the talk someone
from the audience asked the Dalai Lama,
"Why didn't you fight back against the Chinese?"
The Dalai Lama looked down, swung his feet
just a bit, then looked back up at us
and said with a gentle smile,

"Well, war is obsolete, you know. "

Then, after a few moments, his face grave, he said,
"Of course the mind can rationalize fighting back...
but the heart,
the heart would never understand.
Then you would be divided in yourself,
the heart and the mind,
and the war would be inside you."

He also said,

"Never give up
no matter what is going on.
Never give up.
Develop the heart.
Too much energy in your country
is spent developing the mind
instead of the heart.

Develop the heart.
Be compassionate.
Not just to your friends, but to everyone.
Be compassionate.

Work for peace in your heart
and in the world.
Work for peace,
and I say again,
Never give up,
no matter what is happening.
No matter what is going on around you.
Never give up!"

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Beauty of Cameron

This morning I had breakfast with Cameron Maddux, a friend of mine and a person with whom I taught at the Academy of Art for a couple of years. We talked for a long time about Imagine Learning and all of the wonderful things that are happening. He was and has been a deep believer in changing education. He has a young son, Sam, who is a beautiful sprite of a lad, full of creativity, energy, and curiosity. He worries about what will happen to Sam's light as he gets older and faces high school and more.

So as we were finishing our breakfast, he reached into his pocket and pulled money out of his wallet and handed it to me. At first I thought he was trying to pay for breakfast, but then I remembered he had already paid for breakfast! I realized in a flash he was giving me a donation to the cause!!! It was an overwhelming gesture of generosity, but moreso, belief in what we are doing. "This should cover a listening session," he said. I tried to give it back but he wouldn't hear of it. "I am passionate about what you are doing," he said.

Folks, this is the first donation to Imagine Learning! I believe in the purity of the seeds we plant in the world. As the person charged with holding the integrity of the seed of Imagine Learning, this first money could not have come from a purer intent or a more beautiful human being. It was a very moving moment.

This is the way money should flow in the world - through people's beliefs in the intentions of others and answering a calling inside to support those intentions. We thank you Cameron for your generosity and your wonderful belief in what we are doing.

I think I will go to the bank and open the flow!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Listening Session in Deli, India

Many, many thanks to Imagine Learning team member Anne Stadler, who is traveling to Deli, India and as a part of her travels has arranged to lead a Listening Session at The Modern School when she is there in April. This expands our International effort and it will be exciting to read the student's answers to their questions and to see their thinking in the paintings. Thank you Anne!!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Importance of What is Not

We join thirty spokes
to the hub of a wheel.
yet it's the center hole
that drives the chariot.

We shape clay
to birth a vessel,
yet it's the hollow within
that makes it useful.

We chisel doors and windows
to construct a room,
yet it's the inner space
that makes it livable.

Thus do we
create what is
to use what is not.

I love this verse (11) from Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching. I read this book often, but in this case, it is so appropriate to what I have been working on. I am working on a presentation about why we need a whole new question in education; about why the old system has served its purpose; and that young people hold a Knowing within themselves that is filled with Wisdom.

The stanza that reads:

We chisel doors and windows
to construct a room,
yet it's the inner space
that makes it livable.

Is particularly significant to me because it says that we spend more time trying to build a space than focus on what is not in it... in other words, the inner life of a child is much more important than grades, policies, procedures, standards of learning, tests, desks, bells, and on and on. The inner life of a child is more important than money, and thus every child deserves to be in a setting that has been built for his or her inner life, no matter the cost.

Life becomes livable when we find the beauty of our inner life. This cannot be manipulated into students, forced upon them through external motivation, nor can it be feared into us by a system designed to determine for us whether or not we are a failure. Life becomes livable in a structure where love, compassion, light and abundance predominate. It's the hollow within the vessel that makes it useful and the hole in the wheel that drives the chariot.

For too long, we have been consumed with the structure and instead, should be pouring our attention into seeing what what is not.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Listening Session Paintings from The Center School

These are the two paintings that came out of the two groups from The Center School. Both contain wonderful stories. The first I call "Always More", which says it all right there, but notice how the group focused on the middle of the tree, ignoring the roots and the upper portions. Each branch is a branch of opportunity leading to a new learning experience. All of the splatters represent creativity that is raining down on everything. The building signifies the more industrial side of the experience, while the red sun dominates the picture with its vitality and liveliness. The clouds express such feelings as love and that even though things can go wrong their is another always another chance.

The second painting I have dubbed "Eye of the Beholder". It has been designed to represent several stories. Moving vertically from the bottom right, the drawing signifies coming into
the learning experience rather unformed and then as you emerge from it, you explode into the world. The top right stands for no matter what you do, you can always bring creativity into it. The top left has the words live, love and laugh, expressing values the experience would offer as well as a sense of being free. Finally, the eye is the wisdom gained from the experience.

Both are wonderful. Thanks to all of you for participating!

Friday, January 16, 2009

The President's Wishes for his Kids and ours

Even though his inauguration has a few days to go, President-elect Obama published a letter to his daughters in Parade Magazine entitled:

'What I Want for You — and Every Child in America'
By President-elect Barack Obama

Before I comment further, the humorist (and ex-PR guy) in me laughs at the fact that he is so busy the only way to communicate with his daughters is to write them a letter in Parade. Too funny... but it turns out the letter is meant for all of us. And what he wrote is beautiful:

"When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me-about how I'd make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn't seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn't count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that's why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.

I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential-schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them...."

This is a beautiful sentiment and a totally worthy objective... he does not say he wants our students to go to schools where they become test literate, but schools that are worthy of young people's potential. He talks about inspiration and wonder. YES! I hope he will really listen to his own heart and call for a reprioritizing of our goals for young people. I hope he will listen to the young people that are his children and their friends and as a father, push to make the schools worthy of their potential.

That would be a beautiful intention. Imagine Learning that is filled with wonder, imagination, creativity, inspiration, excitement, challenge, exploration, and last but not least, compassion and love. I can!

I was in a meeting with the Compassion Action Network in Seattle this week and through our inspired conversation, I began to think about how if we asked the teachers and students whether compassion was built into the very structure -- the objectives, standards, policies and procedures of the school system -- we would hear a resounding "very little, if at all." Yet, it was exciting to think about beginning an effort to design a system where compassion and love were essential in its creation.

It would be a much different world for our children Monday through Friday. Go President Obama!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Center School Listening Session is Wonderful!

Today, we had a really engaging Listening Session in Seattle with 8 students from The Center School. Thanks to principal, Lisa Escobar who totally got what we were doing and did most of the leg work getting it set up. Ankober, Ann, Arielle, Claire, Hong, Isaiah, Lucas, and Riley gave some powerful and insightful answers. It was fun, their concept paintings were cool and I think a good time was had by all.

It takes a lot of courage and faith to walk in to a Listening Session without really knowing what is going to occur, but everyone jumped right in and did a wonderful job. In the next couple of days, I will post photos of the paintings and later, when all of the consent forms are in, photos of the session. WE THANK YOU ALL!!!