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Category Archives: Conflict Resolution

How fulfilling it is to be a TEACHER!!!!! Yesterday we had a reunion of student leaders of the Diversity Workshop Program from Blair HS. It was so sweet the way they ran out to the car when I turned up, gave me a group hug and wanted to know about my granddaughter, my book, etc. This love came from years of showing up every day, planning meaningful experiences for my students, listening, laughing, helping them find other teens who were having similar experiences, bonding, building skills to help others, learning to love one another on a deep level. It created a community among us that is very deep and real. We KNOW one another after years of leading “Hidden Identities” and “Speak Outs” together in the Diversity Workshop. We are an intense mutual fan club, based on years of very deep and meaningful work together in a crucial period of change for them….and ME!

They nursed me through that last difficult year of my formal teaching career when a particular administrator was trying to kill our workshop and the Peace Studies course, in the name of “teaching to the test” a la “Every Child Left Behind” mandates. I tried my best to remain kind and patient. I tried to apply all the conflict resolution skills I taught the kids, but my young friends knew I was suffering and were a great comfort. We did our best to preserve the wonderful program that had helped thousands of teenagers; but eventually it was stopped, transformed into a club that could no longer hold workshops in classrooms. It was necessary for me to remove myself, so that at least that remnant and the Peace Studies classes could survive with other teachers leading them.

My zen teacher would say “let go.” All things transform, change, pass. I have let go of the day to day classroom schedule, let go of running the powerful Diversity Workshop Program at my old school. When we let go, we allow new fresh sprouts to bloom. Every year, I had to “let go” of several hundred seniors I loved as they transitioned to college or work. The letting go was necessary, so that they could develop their own lives, their own gifts to the world. It was good practice and gave me so many more children to love. I am deeply grateful for my 27 years of formal classroom teaching and for all the other opportunities I have had to teach and learn throughout my whole life. May I remain a student and teacher until I die.

What a thrill to see each of these former students continuing the life transforming work of the Diversity Workshop in their lives and in work with other young people, with rape victims, with art, music, film, with immersion in other cultures and issues that need their insights, enthusiasm and love. They will always be part of me and I part of them.

The Diversity Workshop LIVES!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of leading a Diversity Workshop at a local high school. This workshop was one of the great passions of my teaching life for 20 years in two public school systems. It is so powerful, energizing and hopeful!

It pumped me up, reconnected me to teens, took all of us to a deeper level of sharing, especially in Caucuses, Hidden Identities and Speak-outs. There were so many examples in this group of suffering from alcoholism, conflicts with parents, suicide and cancer, in addition to prejudice and stereotyping. Leading the workshop requires a great deal of skill and training to help young people open up so much pain and to look at solutions.

The workshop is even more powerful when led by teenagers. They learn to listen deeply, to help other students connect to friends who are sharing similar forms of suffering and solutions. Sharing cuts pain in half, bringing it out into the open in a setting where confidentiality and respect are the rules. The DW makes it possible for young people to hear that there is someone else suffering from depression, an alcoholic parent, death or stereotyping in the same way, to help bring them out of isolation. Also to hear that another student cherishes her Jewish faith or Latin food or loves to create art, creating connection and hope. Revealing some of the pain and joy with teachers and counselors who can also follow up with individuals and find inspiration in becoming workshop leaders themselves – such a joy for me! It works! It’s still about the most powerful model I’ve found for taking a group of teenagers to a very deep level of sharing in one amazing three hour session. The possibilities for other classes and activities flowing from it depend on the commitment and enthusiasm of a few teachers and students. I am so happy to help younger teachers carry on my tradition of the Diversity Workshop and Peace Studies classes!

Watering seeds of Hope, peace and joy feels so GOOD!!!!!!

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups and nations…” This is the fourth mindfulness training in the Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Last night my meditation group, the Washington Mindfulness Community, recited the Five Mindfulness Trainings, as we do every three weeks. I shared that our retreat at the beach was filled with even more silence than our usual life, in which we have a great deal of space for silence and meditation. The silence and immersion in nature allowed me to quiet my mind and ready me for hours of deep listening to friends last night and today.

As we let go of the visible ocean waves, we tried to carry them into our “work week routine.” My husband returned to his day job and I to tasks relating to the women’s meditation retreat I am organizing for early October. I enjoyed returning to my regular meeting schedule and to three appointments involving listening to women friends. This is one of the greatest gifts of my life – opportunities to listen deeply to others who are suffering from the death of a parent, a battle with alcohol, or simply the ever changing challenges of relationships. I love having the space in my life to listen to others, to work on my motherly instincts to “fix” or “help.” Just listen, Joann. Remember the waves, the clouds. They don’t always speak, respond, answer. They just flow gently. They ARE. Is that sometimes enough? The Diversity Workshop, a program I led for almost twenty years for high school students, taught me that just listening can often give great relief to the sufferer sharing her story.

One friend asked me what to do when other people won’t listen, when dearly beloved friends fight and can’t speak kindly to each other? When words have caused harm, how do we make amends? How do we restrain ourselves from making the communication more difficult by defending ourselves? How do we listen not only to the words that are said but also to the language of the eyes, the body, the tone of voice? Can we respond with our hearts to the fear of a dying parent who is saying hurtful things to us? I observe how much my heart opens when I can breathe three times, feel the suffering of the other person, seek to understand rather than be understood. Do I always do this? No. But it is my path to peace.