Stories from the field, Part XII: Mindfulness for the little ones

Stories from the Field are small moments about how mindfulness impacts the students I work with (and in return, how they impact me), in hopes of capturing what it means to learn and use mindfulness. This story comes from Lila Yoga Studio in Portland, ME:

Finding tree pose during the story, Penelope and her Puppy Mind

Finding tree pose during the story, Penelope and her Puppy Mind

After a year of working primarily with adolescents, I was both nervous and excited to match the energy of little ones in a Yoga and Mindfulness for Families offering at Lila Yoga studio. Just before 2:00pm on Sunday, 4-6 year olds raced in the door and immediately started grabbing eye pillows to toss into the air. After retrieving one that hit the fan and flew across the room, I managed to settle us down onto our mats, mamas behind the kiddos. 

We started with a round of introductions, using an animal motion paired with our name to share out. The room was full of peregrine falcons, giraffes, and chipmunks by the time we made our way around the whole circle.  I asked to raise their hand if they had a brain (most kiddos did), and told them we would be learning about our crazy brains.

Kids hold mountain pose as I tell them about Penelope's next move

Kids hold mountain pose as I tell them about Penelope's next move

I taught them how our minds are like puppies, and we have to train them so that they do what we want them to do.  We went on an adventure together to help Penelope find her Puppy Mind, passing through cat pose, frog, boat, snake, tree, mountain, and airplane until we finally found Penelope's puppy mind at home. We trained her by putting one hand on our brain, one on our belly, and took 5 deep breaths together.

Next, we pulled brain fist models out of my box (literally just our fists) and learned about the different parts of the brain and their jobs. After that, we drew out brain maps in families, labeling the different parts of the brain and their primary function. Finally, we identified the part of the brain we were trying to train today (the PFC). 

To train the PFC, we practiced listening to the sound of the bell, and then just the sound of the room. This helped us with our voluntary attention. Kiddos notice the sound of the wind in the trees, cars passing by outside, and other kids rustling in the studio.

After all this training, we blew off some steam by taking our yoga poses into action, crab walking, soaring, and hopping across the room. 

We closed by mamas and kiddos cuddling up for a squeeze and release activity, followed by a filling the body with heavy red liquid activity. 

One mama's reflection:

I thought Erica really held the kids attention during the class. She a loving yet firm approach and the kids seemed to respond warmly to her. My son has looked at his brain map a few times since and we have practice putting one hand on our ‘PFC’ and one of the belly for five breaths. I love the mix up of movement, brain lesson, coloring and connection with mama at the end. What a fun way to introduce the monkey brain to the kiddos.


Tips for working with the little ones:

1. Keep 'em moving. This means incorporating yoga, or breath and movement, throughout the practice.

2. Teach the brain structure. Nothing is cuter than hearing a 4-year-old say "a-myg-da-la." They can do it, just don't overload them with too many big ideas.

3. Make is a story. You can tell them, or you can take them on a journey. 

4. Let them make it their own. Their favorite animals. Their animal walks across the room. Their tree pose may not look like yours, and that's okay.

5. Choose props carefully. They might have different ideas for their function.

Stories from the Field, Part X: But what is it? Defining Emotion.

Stories from the Field are small moments about how mindfulness impacts the students I work with (and in return, how they impact me), in hopes of capturing what it means to learn and use mindfulness. This story comes from a STEM high school in Portland, Maine:

Anger, fear, joy, disgust, and sadness from  Inside out

Anger, fear, joy, disgust, and sadness from Inside out

I like Pixar's Inside Out as much as the next person.  If I'm being honest, I probably like it way more than the next person. I use these characters to think about my emotions as harmless little muppets who I can comfort and soothe. I think the whole film gives us great insight into our mind. However, watching the movie just offers us a way of symbolizing, and even working with, them. It does not really give us a clear picture of what emotions actually are. 

The challenge of defining "emotion" 

So take a minute to grab a pencil and paper. Write down the word "emotion."  Then, write the definition.

How'd it go?  We might we know emotions so well, but when it comes to defining them, things get muddy quickly. 

Here's how the conversation with my high schoolers went on the first day we tackled this topic. 

Me: Okay, so tell me what you wrote down as the definition of emotion.

Student: A feeling.

Me: Can you explain what you mean by feeling?

Student: Um...emotion?

Defining an "emotion" is incredibly challenging. It is not just hard for us laypeople, but even scientists are still hotly debating the issue. At article in The Atlantic titled, "Hard Feelings: Science's Struggle to Define Emotions" explores this difficulty. Joseph LeDoux, a professor of neuroscience and director of the Emotional Brain Institute at NYU, stated, "'It's been said that there are as many theories of emotions are there are emotion theorists.'" The field is still evolving, and what we believed to be true in the 1950s when scientists first turned their attention to emotions has been challenged repeatedly. 

Carroll Izard compiled surveys from 34 emotional researchers and created this description: 

Emotion consists of neural circuits (that are at least partially dedicated), response systems, and a feeling state/process that motivates and organizes cognition and action. Emotion also provides information to the person experiencing it, and may include antecedent cognitive appraisals and ongoing cognition including an interpretation of its feeling state, expressions or social-communicative signals, and may motivate approach or avoidant behavior, exercise control/regulation of responses, and be social or relational in nature.

Our response as a class: Huh?

Emotions....Physical sensations

Image from  PNAS study

Image from PNAS study

I asked the class to come up with our own personal, intelligible definition. We started by trying to understand the physiological component through a Mindful Schools exercise I have dubbed the "emotional vaccine." I spoke an emotion at a time and asked them to notice what sensations arose in their bodies. After three emotions, we would open our eyes and share out. While there was some consistency for what students reported out about their experiences— a swelling of the chest for "pride" or sinking in for "sadness"— there was also some diversity. For example, some students reported feeling anxiety in their heads and others in their bellies. We followed this by reading a study published in PNAS called "Bodily maps of emotions" that showed cross-cultural consistencies in body sensations in response to specific emotions. Then, we read the afore mentioned Atlantic article, which began with Paul Ekman's study demonstrating the universal correspondence of facial expressions to particular emotions.

Whether or not body sensations were universal still seemed up for debate from our experience, but we decided there is definitely a physiological component. 


Emotions....caused by chemical release in the brain

So it has something to do with physical sensations, but what else? This short video helped us understand where they might originate in the body:  

From it, we learned, "emotions are the effect of...chemical messages traveling from our brain to our body." By adding the two together, and doing a little word smithing, my students came to consensus on this definition:

Emotion: (n) An instinctual reaction to a circumstance that is caused by chemicals released in the brain creating bodily sensations.

"It's so sterile to describe something so...you know?" one student remarked. 

"I do know," I replied like the English teacher I once was, "that's what poetry is for."

Poetry and Pixar.

Stories from the Field: Part IX, The Rumi Trigger

Stories from the Field are small moments about how mindfulness impacts the students I work with (and in return, how they impact me), in hopes of capturing what it means to learn and use mindfulness. This story comes from a STEM high school in Portland, Maine:

Yesterday, I handed out Rumi's poem The Guest House to the small portion of my class that made it back the first day after break. This poem, written by the 13th century Persian poet, is a classic that has been passed around in meditation and yoga circles for centuries. It has been one of my personal favorites since I encountered it during my yoga teacher training. I think of it in my darker moments. It reminds me of the possibility of embracing all the intensity, of sitting down with it and listening carefully, so that I may glean wisdom from the pain. 

I have shared this with hundreds of adults in my life through yoga classes, mindfulness classes, and personal exchanges. Usually adults admire its profundity and wisdom.

My students, never ones to passively internalize what I offer, had a different response.  We started by reading the poem aloud. I asked the students to write down what they thought the author meant, and if they agreed or disagreed with the message at the bottom. After a few minutes of writing, I asked them to share out loud.

"Clearly this author is romanticizing negative emotions, or has never felt them himself," one student began.

"Yeah, I mean, maybe this is a good poem for people who are generally happy, but you can't just invite it all in."

"Has this person even ever been depressed?"

So...not moved to a higher plane of understanding through this great 13th century Persian's words then?

What I was so struck by, what made my heartache for them, was not their words, but the known pain that was welling up just behind those words. My students were not speaking abstractly. They were speaking from their own personal experiences. They were terrified of their own pain and darker emotions. They weren't just in disagreement, they were mad at him for even suggesting they should sit with them, welcome them, entertain them. 

"We shouldn't be pandering to these emotions," one girl asserted.

The words of Rumi have always spoken so clearly to me that I wasn't sure what to do when they were shot from the sky and sent to a fiery death. I know I myself struggle to be with the full spectrum of emotions, but I have also always thought that I am working towards a place where I can more fully be with them. I wanted to know more.

So I left them with two questions:

1. Why might someone believe that we should be with our emotions and see them as "guides from beyond"? What benefit could there be to sitting with emotions?

2. If not this, if not, "welcoming and entertaining them all," then what? 

We came back together the next day with a full class and these reflection questions clearing the way. I wasn't sure where we were going to land, but I knew we had to dig back in because I wanted students to have more time to explore that idea and to deepen my understanding of their perspective.

 After rereading the poem, I had students reflect in their journals, discuss in groups of three, then rejoin the whole class for a complete discussion. This time, greater nuance came through. One student discussed how pushing emotions away isn't going to help, but sometimes when you have an "inappropriate" emotional response to an event, you should try getting into the other person's shoes instead of entertaining that emotion. Another talked about how emotions are an essential part of processing, and she can't actually choose whether or not they occur, so the poem didn't seem to make sense. A few thought you should accept whatever comes, because you can't actually fight it, like it or not. 

I still find the initial response of those few students, from the first reading, so telling. We are incredibly resistant to our negative emotions, and even the idea that we should have to be with them can be triggering. It is counterintuitive to imagine that actually sinking in and being with an emotion can be the way to make it dissipate. But the monster in the closet grows larger and uglier until we finally work up the nerve to crack open the door and peer inside. Only then can we see reality. 

Stories from the Field, Part VIII, Beware the Pseudoscience

Stories from the Field are small moments about how mindfulness is impacting the students I am working with (and in return, how they are impacting me), in hopes of capturing what it means to learn and use mindfulness. This story comes from a STEM high school in Portland, Maine:

Image credit: The Daily Beast

Image credit: The Daily Beast

My work with Baxter Academy students has been exhilarating. I am teaching an elective mindfulness class there I call Wise Minds in which I have twelve students for an hour a day, four days a week. This allows for some serious in-depth exploration of the topic. Furthermore, they have chosen to be with me, which creates a different vibe than those who were forced to endure me in the classroom per their teacher's orders. That said, I don't get off the hook easily.

I made the mistake of offering data that seemed like a fun way to start a discussion about the impact of technology on our attention:

 "According to the New York Times, humans in 2015 are said to have the attention span of 8.25 seconds, which is less than 12 seconds in 2000, and the 9 second attention span of a gold fish."

That's interesting, I thought.

They immediately tore it apart: 

"I want to know how they are measuring that data. How do you even measure the attention span of a goldfish?"

"Perhaps comparing our attention to a goldfish doesn't mean anything because we, as humans, had a lot of predators, so of course we are easily distracted. Goldfish are human bred, I think, and so they don't have any natural predators to look out for. It is just trying to make us think our attention spans are too short, but really it's not a useful comparison."

And my favorite:

"I'm sorry to say this, but that's click bait. It sounds like pseudo-science made to support some pop psychology silliness."

I loved it!  They were right! I went home and immediately tried to figure out where those numbers came from. Numbers the New York Times, The Telegraph, Time Magazine, and countless other news sources and blogs quoted. They cited a Microsoft study, which I then read. Lo and behold, this statistic did not even come from their work, as they cited a website called Statistic Brain for these particular numbers. When I went to that website, there was no evidence of where they got the data. I wrote them an email. I am still waiting to hear back.

To these students, I say, bravo. When I taught English in DC, this was exactly the kind of work I was trying to get my students to do. I wanted them to be critical thinkers and media consumers. I like using research and science as a way of talking to students about human phenomena, but I need to be careful about mindlessly feeding them "facts" without investigating their validity. Science is still important to me, and I like that it helps us universalize our experience and understand ourselves in a larger context of humanity. But it's not everything.

In the end, we found a rich discussion by observing and reporting on the experiences from our own lives. We talked about our own tendency towards patience and impatience, and how technology may or may not contribute to that. We thought about the impact our phones and computers has on our well-being.

And the next day, I had this exchange:

"Your classes are like horoscopes," one tenth grade student declared as she came in the door.

"Oh?" I responded, "How's that?"

"It just seems like each day applies to my life! Take yesterday. We were talking about patience in class, and how impatience can hurt us. Then, the next class I had writing, which I am usually impatient with because I find it very tedious. But this time I just realized it and was able to go in really calm."

I grinned, "Yes, the hope is that you can apply this stuff to your life. Believed me, I use it every day."

Newburyport Wellness Day: Stage Fright Revisted

2001 Graduation from Newburyport High School- I'm the front left.

2001 Graduation from Newburyport High School- I'm the front left.

As a young student in grade school, I could not get up and speak in front of people without incapacitating fear. I wrote an entire speech in high school on, "How to look ridiculously nervous while public speaking," and illustrated it perfectly with my strained shaky voice and nervous laughter. I avoided the stage as much as possible, and performed only in large musical groups where I could hide behind others. But today I stood twice in front of over 150 adults and shared what I had learned about mindfulness.

Today I went down to Newburyport, Massachusetts to deliver two keynote addresses and lead four breakout workshops in the very school district from which I graduated fifteen years ago. It was a surreal experience to stand in front of a stage where I sang a Pocahontas medley and played orchestral pieces with my middle school classmates. Even more, to have an auditorium filled with past classmates and teachers of mine. My favorite math teacher, Mark Littlefield, was there, and we commiserated on students' addiction to cell phones. My favorite English teacher, Debbie Szabo, introduced me and delighted in learning something from one of her former students. My middle school math teacher in one of my breakout sessions said she remembered my face from 21 years ago. It was an honor to be able to offer something back to these educators who helped shape me. And still...

I will not deny that for the first 10 minutes of my first keynote address, I was shaking in my boots. Literally, my legs were vibrating as I had everyone arrive in their bodies. But I used that nervousness to share more about the nuances of mindfulness. I explained that we could notice internal cues in our bodies, like my shaky voice and fluttering heart, which was a result of my nerves. I shared that mindfulness does not necessarily rid us of uncomfortable emotions, but does help us be more comfortable in the discomfort. We don't necessarily get rid of our foibles with mindfulness, but we can be with them more gently. 

And so, by not denying or fighting my anxious energy, but acknowledging and embracing it, I found it dissipated on its own accord. And for the rest of the day, through four break out sessions and a second keynote, I felt a greater sense of ease and lightness. This is what the practice offered me today: alleviation from the added suffering I heap on to challenging experiences, space to honor what was, rather than needing it to be different, and trust that the emotion would subside when it was ready. 

So I hope the teachers of Newburyport gained a deeper understanding mindfulness today. I hope they understand that it does not eliminate thoughts and emotions, but brings us more clarity around them. It is a tool that takes a long time to develop, but ultimately bears fruit that is worthwhile. It allows a woman who was terrified of presenting anything in front of any size audience to return to her old school and speak openly about her passion. 

For more information on the wellness day, please see the article in the Current, "Newburyport Teachers to Host Professional Development Day."



The importance of personal retreat

Pain, right shoulder blade, excruciating. 

The pain in my right shoulder blade was almost immediate when I sat down. As I sat in stillness, I wondered about where it arose from. Did I hurt myself?  Was it from the two and half hour drive getting to the retreat center? Was it ever going to go away?

This was the beginning of a five day silent meditation retreat I attended over school vacation. I didn't have any particular goals for the time beyond strengthening my own personal practice. I was unprepared for the intensity of the experience from the first moments of beginning.

After the second day of sitting with this pain, I began to get angry at it. What the hell?  I'm healthy. I take good care of you. What's wrong with you? Can't you give me one moment of relief? As the anger built, I found myself grow more rigid in my seat. More upright. Taller. Holding on against the pain. Gritting my teeth in frustration as it intensified. 

By the third day, I was so frustrated I was nearly in tears. I dreaded coming to sit for the forty-five minute periods the community came together. When the pain came up, I started panicking. I fantasized again and again about getting up and leaving. I stretched aggressively to the left and right in desperation to escape it. And still, it persisted. 

On this day, we were allowed one group Q & A with a particular teacher. Oren Sofer, who teaches with Mindful Schools, was one of the teachers of this retreat. I came to him with a question about the panic, which was arising alongside the pain. He told me I could consider skipping some of the shorter sits and use that time for walking meditation, which I preferred (and didn't find painful). And he said this: Be gentle. Be gentle with it.

As I went on my first walk-instead of-sit, I cried tears of relief. I didn't have to force it. I was given permission to back off.  

From that moment on, I felt something shift inside. Not the pain. The pain was still there. But how I approached the pain. I began to really notice the pain. Notice that when I breathed in it lessened slightly. Notice that there was an occasional breath when it was completely gone. I noticed that if a subtly shifted my weight to the left hip, sometimes it would ease the intensity. I began to imagine it being hugged from all sides. I let go of my judgments about the cheesiness of this and said to it: It's okay. I hear you. I know you're uncomfortable. I'm here. 

And I felt different. I felt like I could come to sit without the fear. I could be comfortable with the discomfort. And it translated into other parts of my being. My yoga practice shifted. Whereas I was in the habit of ignoring minor aches that arose in a typical practice, I began responding to them and backing off. I slowed my movements and really took note of how it felt in different parts of my body. I looked at how I was trying to force myself to be okay with recent events in my life and my responses to those events. Could I be okay with the being upset? Or could I at least be okay with the disappointment of being upset? Was there some level at which I could let go of the judgement and be okay with whatever was?

Translation to the classroom: We are capable of being uncomfortable.

The Thursday before I left for my retreat, three boys walked out of the classroom at the alternative high school where I was working in week 6 of curriculum. When questioned by a teacher, they cited that they thought it was "hippie b******" and didn't want to go anymore. I asked to speak with them after they returned to the class, but they refused.

Before I came to the classroom today, I asked the teachers to ask everyone to stay for just two minutes of time. When I got there, I wasn't sure what would happen. I thanked them for being there, and told them the story of the silent retreat. "Sounds sh*tty" one student responded. "Yes," I replied, "It was." 

I told them I was sharing that story because I saw how I was asking some of them to do something that was uncomfortable. That they thought was dumb, maybe. And that I didn't need them to like me, or like mindfulness, but I hoped that they would try and be uncomfortable for that time. I told them that I asked this of them because I could sit for five days in pain, and the only difference between me and them was more practice, so I thought they could handle the twenty minutes, no matter how rotten. I told them they could choose to stay or leave, it was up to them, but I hoped they would choose to stay and try it. Because sitting with it has power by showing us how we can stay with those crappier moments in life.

Then I paused...

And no one moved.

So I began the lesson.

The power of personal retreat

In the end, this retreat was even more powerful than I imagined. It didn't just give me access to a deeper insight or knowing through the experience of being with my own discomfort. No, it also translated to the classroom, and allowed me to connect my students to this crucial insight. I sat those five days for myself, yes, but I also sat them for those boys, who maybe needed that reminder that they could do it, even if it was hard.

Heronfield Academy, Meet Mindfulness!

The Heronfield campus is an old converted horse farm that has rustic charm.

The Heronfield campus is an old converted horse farm that has rustic charm.

On Monday and Tuesday this week, I had the opportunity to meet with the welcoming students and staff of Heronfield Academy, a small middle school nestled away in Hampton Falls, NH. I joined the staff on Monday afternoon for an hour introduction to the practice and scientific basis for mindfulness. Through a study in Buddhism, many students had already been introduced to meditation. Flanking a round table, the staff talked about how it felt to sit with an attention anchor, like sound or our breath, for short periods of time. We also explored the usefulness of offering these practices to the students. As a former middle school teacher, I have witnessed the importance of giving this age group tools to stay present for their lives.


On Tuesday morning, I led a twenty minute community meeting in which the 83 students, staff, and I explored the experience of sitting with an anchor. A couple of brave students admitted they felt weird, and many noted they felt calm. One teacher how she noticed she was congratulating herself on doing a "good job" when she was able to follow her breath. 

I am always awed by a room full of people sitting in silence. Even in one minute you can feel the energy of the room shift. It was a beautiful quiet that morning on the farm. I am so grateful to have shared the space with these young people and the staff that nurture them.

Stories from the Field, Part VII, New Kid on the Block

Stories from the Field are small moments about how mindfulness is impacting the students I am working with, in hopes of capturing what it means to learn and use mindfulness. This story comes from an alternative learning program just outside of Portland, Maine:

After leading a "Smartifier" for the REAL School in December, I came back this month to start working with the students. There is always an adjustment period when you walk into a new room, and I was definitely feeling some new kid feelings. The first day I was in recruitment mode and tried to convince the crowds in 10 minutes or less that it's worth trying this weird thing (the teachers for one of the classrooms ended up volunteering the whole class, so I sold it well enough to hook the staff, anyway). The other group of four or five students literally ran away from me as I approached (the gym is a challenging space to recruit). One refused because I disrespected him when I asked them to sit by not saying please.  I only got to speak to one or two students who stuck around.  

On Day 2, I offended one of the more vocal students by calling him by the wrong name, and the name of his apparent nemesis (big oops). Even though he was disruptive, when I pulled him afterwards to check in, I made sure to make it about my error and asking him for his participation. Downstairs students were in and out of the room as allied staff members coaxed them into trying it out. 

After another week of small blunders, I found myself also making some headway. I started to notice barely perceptible signs of acceptance. Today, when I asked Sam to help me set up the projector screen, though the first request was met with denial, the second was with acquiescence. When we went through the body scan, every student but one had technology away, and not a single student spoke during that time. They even voluntarily read parts of the Portia Nelson poem we use called "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters." The downstairs group, which comes on a voluntary basis, has started to solidify with some regulars who are genuinely interested and curious about the practice. They readily offer their discomforts and comfort as we have gone through sound and breath as anchor. In both groups, the mood of the room perceptibly shifted after sitting together. In that way, we build trust.

Stories from the Field, Part V: But is it working?

Stories from the Field are small moments about how mindfulness is impacting the students I am working with, in hopes of capturing what it means to learn and use mindfulness. This story comes from a large high school resource room in Portland, Maine:

I met with a teacher after school today to talk about scheduling and how we will transition our high school students from learning about mindfulness to teaching it to others. When I walked in she said to me, "I just can't tell how much buy in we have. I think some of them like it but are pretending not to." 

This is always a thought that always arises when I am teaching. "Is it working?"  When I was teaching middle school English, I was obsessed with this question. I worked overtime on lesson plans, collected meticulous data in the form of exit tickets, quizzes, and verbal responses, and created new lesson plans based on that information. In that role, I needed to know if my students were learning exactly what I needed them to learn. I believed it was my failure when they didn't understand the material. 

Through my own personal work with mindfulness, I came to see this belief as self-defeating and erroneous. Even more, it took the agency away from my students to suggest that I was solely responsible for making sure they learned.  Tracking student mastery of standards was right on, but to maintain my sanity, I needed to be able to do that without attaching my emotional wellbeing to their achievement. 

I cannot force students to value or appreciate anything; no matter how much I believe in the power of mindfulness, I cannot make students to see it.  I can offer metaphors, personal anecdotes, research, neuroscience, and above all else, experiences, to demonstrate what it can mean to pay attention to our lives.  To give them experiences that perhaps will show them the value. To need them to take something in particular away is to create my own suffering.

We also can never be certain how work that is so internal truly lands. I have heard countless anecdotes, from my peers teaching mindfulness, about the most disengaged-looking student making insightful comments about mindfulness only at the very end of the course. For my own middle schoolers last year, I wouldn't have known it was "working" until the end of the year when they reported using it during times of stress with family, on sleepless nights, to help focus in class, and to help calm themselves down. This was despite some of them occasionally dropping fart noises into our formal practice. 

Finally, perhaps "working" takes many different forms, some visible, and some less visible. Perhaps "working" takes a longer term than we have the opportunity to see. If we expect all kids to immediately take to mindfulness, to be calm and quiet during practice, to engage without question, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. Even more, we are misunderstanding what it means to be mindful. We need to be open to the possibility that "working" may take many different forms, and may take longer than the time we have to see it grow to fruition. 

As luck would have it, one of our students stopped by as we were wrapping up our meeting. "Brandon,*" I asked, "Be honest. Are you doing any mindfulness outside of the classroom?"  Brandon was a quiet gentle kid who often sat in the corner and needed reminders about removing his headphones. "Yeah, I do." he replied, and told us about how he had insomnia, and he focused on his breathing or sound when he couldn't sleep. He talked about how he had been a "bad kid" in middle school with anger issues, and he thought this stuff could have helped to him. He was interested in our project to bring it to younger kids.  

My job is to offer the tools, and then trust that students will take what they need. It is to know that it may not look like it's working, but sometimes we plant a seed that grows differently for each student. My job is to give them the space to explore their own lives, in all its variations and permutations.

*The student's name has been changed for privacy.