It was October 2004 and a fight was breaking out between a girl and boy at one of New York City’s most overpopulated, underfunded, and crime-plagued high schools. Teacher Stephen Ritz was just about to call for help when the boy reached under the classroom radiator and grabbed a cardboard box. As he lifted it, the box broke – spilling out dozens of bright yellow flowers with long green stems.
“The class gasped as if the boy had pulled a rabbit from a magician’s hat.“ Stephen describes in his autobiography, The Power of A Plant.” “Fists instantly stopped flying… The boys now clamored to give flowers to the girls. The girls wanted a stem or two to take home to their mothers.”
Stephen had totally forgotten about the box of bulbs he’d received weeks earlier. He’d stashed it under the radiator, never considering that the warm steam would cause the bulbs to bloom and the box to deteriorate.
The positive effect of the plants on the students moved Stephen deeply, he knew it was something he had to build upon. So the next day he took the students to their local park to plant the fully flowering bulbs. Students gardening in the middle of the Bronx and daffodils blooming in October attracted attention – even newspaper coverage. Media coverage is a novelty for many individuals but it was doubly meaningful for Stephen’s students, the majority of whom had endured great hardships in their young lives.
The success of the gardening day inspired Stephen to create a Green Teen team and, over time, flip his entire curriculum to integrate gardening as an entry point for all learning. The result? Near perfect attendance and graduation rates, dramatically increased passing rates on state exams, and behavioral problems reduced by half. Equally significant, Stephen introduced fresh produce into the daily diets of many children who previously lacked access.
But benefits did not end at the school doors. In the poorest congressional district in America, with the nation’s highest concentration of brick housing projects, Stephen has partnered placing students in over 2200 local jobs and replaced blocks of concrete with farms and gardens. His achievements have earned him recognition as one of NPR’s 50 greatest teachers and top ten ranking in the Global Teacher Prize. Today, Stephen partners with organizations from “Canada to Dubai and Colombia to Cairo” to bring the power of a plant to children.
It is with great honor and admiration that we recognize Stephen Ritz’s magnanimous contributions in the field of environmental literacy with our 2017 Global Presence Humanitarian Award.
Kantabai Salunkhe was a working mother of 12 who wanted to open a savings account. The banks in India refused. Why? Because she was only able to save five rupees – or less than one cent – per day. Her account, the banks explained, was not “affordable”.
Social Entrepreneur Chetna Gala Sinha refused to accept such an explanation. “Why not create a bank that cares more about Kantabai than the bank?” she asked. This simple reframe resulted in Chetna creating the Mann Deshi Bank – the first bank and business school for rural women in India – and thousands of women starting and expanding small businesses.
Faith in every individual’s capacity to excel in Life Skills when unique starting points are respected and compassionate education embraced is core to Parenting 2.0 advocacy. For this reason, we were honored to recognize Chetna’s trailblazing work in the financial arena with the 2016 Global Presence Humanitarian Award at P20 Talks 2016 in Goa, India.
P20 Talks is the world’s only professional conference for Life Skills professionals. Hosted by Parenting 2.0, P20 Talks alternates combined international conferences on varying continents in even years with regional gatherings in odd years. P20 Talks international conferences feature multiple short power presentations by Life Skills professionals structured around the format of Life Skills Report Cards. The goals of P20 Talks reflect those of Parenting 2.0 and its educational non-profit, The Global Presence:
On behalf of the eight thousand Parenting 2.0 members worldwide, we thank Chetna and everyone participating in P20 Talks 2016 for being the change the world awaits and raising the bar on life skills education in the 21st century.
Life Skills Educators from four continents gathered in Dublin, Ireland Sept 14th-16th for P20 Talks 2014 – the world’s only professional conference for Life Skills educators. Their mission? Illuminating the centrality of Life Skills in every avenue of human interaction and transforming the Life Skills educational process. Life Skills, as defined by Parenting 2.0, are
“Mandatory skills every human being learns in some measure to thrive individually and commune optimally with others.”
Examples include such critical arenas as financial and emotional literacy, fitness, time management and safety.
Traditionally, parents have been the primary educators of Life Skills – parents rarely formally educated themselves. The result is low competency levels passed generation to generation and crisis management dominating societal dialogue.
Twentieth century increases in dual parent employment, divorce, excessive academic expectations and geographical separations among extended family members have all placed unprecedented pressures upon a previously impoverished Life Skills educational process. Media headlines provide painfully real report cards daily for failing to embrace a more dynamic curriculum.
“Reliance on parents to teach human beings the wide array of skills they are guaranteed to need to succeed in the twenty-first century communicates a gross lack of appreciation for their complexity,” states Parenting 2.0 Founder Marlaine Cover.
P20 Talks is hosted by members of LinkedIn’s top ranked Parenting 2.0 group, which counts more than six thousand professionals in over eighty countries as members. Organizers alternate combined professional conferences in even years with regional gatherings in odd years. P20 Talks 2012 was held in San Diego, California USA, P20 Talks 2016 will be in Goa, India. The regional gatherings are spearheaded by Ambassadors for Parenting 2.0’s charitable educational organization – The Global Presence
The highlight of P20 Talks is the recognition of individuals and corporations making magnanimous contributions in the Life Skills arena with The Global Presence Humanitarian Award. For P20 Talks 2014, they recognized Rob Mather’s life saving work around the world via the Against Malaria Foundation. AMF provides long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) to populations at high risk of malaria, Since its founding in 2004, AMF has raised $19.4 million and distributed 6 million LLINs.
When my daughter Alexa was in first grade, it was routine for her to collapse on the couch with her backpack after school and report how many “Cards” her classmate Jesse turned that day.
“Cards” were behavioral cards. Each student started the day with a green one. When a child did something the teacher – “Mrs. Steen the Mean Machine” – deemed inappropriate, she turned the card to another color. First offenses earned a yellow card, second orange, third red etc. After turning four cards, the student was “disciplined” by being confined to the classroom during recess.
Jesse happens to be Alexa’s first cousin. She adores him. It distressed her greatly to see him publicly shamed on a daily basis – hence the urgency of her after school reports.
Cards, when conceived, were accurately considered more compassionate than previously employed “three strikes with a switch” strategies. Since they failed to decrease students’ humiliation in the mandatory curriculum of mattering and feeling competent among peers, however, they still struck hearts if not hands.
When a child struggles with math, we say the math is difficult. When a child struggles with self-regulation we say the child is difficult.
Why? Self-regulation is a skill, a skill that benefits from the same educational process of every other skill: an accurate initial assessment of starting point, reasonable steps to success, proactive instruction, commitment to practice over time, praise for incremental progress and faith in capacity for mastery.
Shame retards the educational process. When the human brain experiences fear or stress, oxygen flow to the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain where rational thinking occurs – is reduced and stress hormones preparing the body for fast aggressive action are released. The capacity for self-regulation and learning become more difficult, not less.
In the same manner we don’t consider a first grader learning addition as “misbehaving” and a tenth grader learning calculus as “behaving”, the terms are no more appropriate when a child is learning self-regulation – or any other Life Skill.
Weeks and months passed, Jesse’s “behavior” did not improve. Instead, he grew to accept turning cards and being punished as normal. His classmates learned to judge his whole character and perceive him as a “bad” student rather than respect him as a peer learning a particular skill.
Teachers are not typically educated in means to teach self-regulation, neither are parents. When a child cries while shopping with adults, he is more likely to be lectured or spanked than he is to be respected as learning, overwhelmed, and encouraged.
Dictates and punishment dominate the educational process of Life Skills. The good news is, this can change. It changes when we remove behavioral lenses and put on educational lenses. It changes when we respect every human being at every stage of their life journey as learning and doing the best with their circumstances. It changes when we recognize that struggling children aren’t “bad”, they are struggling. It changes when we cease feigning competency in arenas where we ourselves are not skilled and embrace the wisdom of others. It changes when we commit to change.
Viewing close ups of the chins of competitors in the 2014 Skeleton event – a mere two inches above ground as they mimicked human bullets shooting head-first, 90 mph, down ice-paved half-tunnels – even die-hard Winter Olympics fans found themselves asking “Are they nuts?”
And guarantee if you strapped someone from the 18th century in the passenger seat as you drove 80 mph down a freeway, or flew 300 mph 30,000 feet above ground, they would ask the same about you.
Whether someone is deemed as heroic or crazy has little to do with their actions and everything to do with perspective. Perspective permits humans to pin medals on soldiers dropping bombs on villages and label mentally-ill children shooting up classrooms “monsters”. Perspective inspires care and compassion for people with cancer and justifies condemnation and incarceration for those suffering the disease of addiction.
Here’s the catch….unless someone has somehow figured out how to be the exception to all creation, she is always doing the best within her circumstances ….given her capacities and respective challenges.
Admittedly tough to remember when a gun is pointed at your head ….or upon learning a loved one is dead.
The veil that separates one human being from another is never more seductive than when it appears to protect, nor ever more blinding.
So where does such knowing leave us?
Exactly where we are, each of us learning to ride this skeleton of a body we have been given, a skeleton that – with only the rarest exception – is hard-wired to love self and others. Some of us winning Olympic medals, others struggling simply to make it through another day, but each of us appreciative of care, coaching, and encouragement along the way.
When the stream began trickling for P20 Talks 2012 – the world’s first professional conference for Life Skills Educators – it was several months before our line up of Thought Leaders from multiple continents was confirmed. After announcing plans for P20 Talks 2014 earlier this month, presenter slots were filled within days.
Why the change?
Simple logic would credit the world class charm of our location – Dublin – and the prior success of P20 Talks 2012 in San Diego, California. Or the more than 100 Parenting 2.0 members stepping up to serve as Global Presence Ambassadors in 2013 and the book about our advocacy “Kissing the Mirror” becoming an amazon bestseller. Indeed, P20 professionals alternately cited all of these as factors when signing on.
But the most common reason people credited is logic not easily described. And truth be told I attempted writing about something entirely different this month to avoid the challenge…..
You can be courageous or you can be comfortable but you cannot be both. Brene Brown
Well… “To hell with comfort” once again..
Nearly every professional volunteering as a Thought Leader at P20 Talks 2014 – as well as those that served as Thought Leaders at P20 Talks 2012 – privately confided to me that they’d felt drawn recently to do “something” more. Not in an ego-based, agenda-driven way, just the opposite. Something simply larger than themselves, something undescribable was calling. One woman said she quite literally felt “pulled,” another described the sensation as “someone pushing her back..”
I get it. I feel the same…….sucked in by something larger than me, something that would be as difficult to resist as breathing….
Something I have come to call the “The Flow of P20.”
The Flow of P20 has a power of its own, an energy greater than the sum of its parts. While some credit me for initiating it – due to my role as founder – the truth is I am just the same as everyone else, one trickle absorbed and moved along by a larger, loving river of consciousness.
The good news is that when we succumb, when we relinquish the need to take charge and direct, life begins to flow in and support us with equal ease – connections that somehow previously eluded us become everyday occurrences. Long-time host of “Full Power Living,” Ilene Dillon, spoke to the dynamic when she publicly confided the following after signing on for P20 Talks 2014, “I’ve recently been making friends in Ireland – never before happened in 70 years!”
So this is the greater logic, uncommonly explored or acknowledged while it may presently be: When human beings step out selflessly in service to their fellow man, life miraculously steps in to support them in exponential measure.
Thank you Parenting 2.0 for this phenomenal education!
Editor’s note: P20 Talks 2014 will be held in Dublin, Ireland Sept 14th-16th. Early registration begins May 1st. Discounted hotel rates will accompany early registration.
Every human being ever born arrives hard-wired with two assignments – thriving and communing optimally with others. Free will does not mean you choose these assignments, merely the amount of suffering you and others endure until you acquire better skills.
People who excel in this Mandatory Curriculum are our Curriculum Scholars. Nelson Mandela, who made the great transition at the age of 95 on Dec 5th, 2013, is one of humanity’s finest. Mandela not only thrived personally despite obstacles that would have left others disillusioned and embittered, he empowered millions of others to thrive also.
My eldest daughter, Ari Cover, emailed me a photo of her swearing in as a lawyer in the state of California on the same day Mandela passed. The reminder that new Curriculum Scholars begin their humble journeys daily comforted me as I contemplated the capacity for others to carry Mandela’s torch forward.
A few days later I underwent a highly recommended diagnostic procedure. Emotion imprints memory so if you’ve ever had a colonoscopy, no further description regarding the setting for what I will share next is necessary. If not, picture yourself in a hospital bed; needles and wires taped to multiple points on your skin, hospital “blues” covering about as much of your backside as a baby’s bib, and dozens of glowing people bustling about with smiling faces – because, after all, they engage in this extreme level of human care dozens of times daily.
In discussing prior hospital visits with one luminous nurse, Jenna, she shared with me that she was the mother of twins. Without my prompting, she added that one of her sons had a higher than average aptitude for reading, the other below average. Her anxiety about this single skill being purported to determine her sons’ adult success – understandable given the US constructs prisons based on third grade reading levels – grated against her higher intelligence.
I applauded her intuition and reassured her that, “Human beings Mandatory Curriculum – more important than reading – is feeling competent among and engaged with peers. Prioritizing this, throughout every educational process independent individual learning curves, delivers success.” Jenna’s eyes sparkled with unintended tears and she replied, with a renewed fire burning in her voice, “I would love to get a group of people together to discuss this.”
Not only was Jenna wholly unaware of my day job as Founder of Parenting 2.0 – supporting more than 3500 members in over 65 countries doing precisely that daily – she was also unaware of my feeling that I was flailing in my role as torch bearer.
For our second annual professional conference, P20 Talks 2013, over 100 Ambassadors were invited to organize regional gatherings. I’d signed on to host one in my new city of Corvallis, Oregon. Yet here it was mid-December and – thanks to the combination of attending other’s events, record freezing regional temps, icy roads and snow – I’d yet to do so.
I often coach others in the importance of keeping the faith even when all odds seem against you. “Human beings are not the exception to all creation”, I remind them, “it is a benevolent universe and it will support you in surprising ways when you step out in faith and serve others.” Indeed it does. Indeed it does.
Spirit is one of the foundational items on the Life Skills Report Card, located under the top category of Personal Care. Popular while it is to equate the term spirit with religion or cheerleading – I included it on the Life Skills Report Card to represent energy. When people’s energy levels are low we describe them as “dispirited”, when they are high we call them” inspired”.
Factor in the ways human health and happiness improves when people live highly inspired lives and it is easy to agree that human beings are hard-wired to be inspired. As with other foundational Life Skills, like interpersonal communication and safety, free will does not mean we get to choose the class – merely the amount of misery we endure until we improve our competency levels.
So how do we empower children with tools for excelling in this critical life skill arena of spirit? What skills did you learn? Who were your teachers? Who are they today?
“We’ve got spirit yes we do, we’ve got spirit how bout you?”
During my “oh so cool” high school years, chanting this popular cheerleading phrase held about as much attraction for me as singing nursery rhymes. As one of five sisters growing up in the era of feminism, I simply did not get the double standard of all-girl cheer squads cheering for all-boy athletic teams. Then God, in all her wisdom, gave me two daughters – one became a competitive gymnast and Captain for her high school cheer squad. The T-shirt she wore read:
“Athletes lift weights, cheerleaders lift athletes.”
Me of little faith. The mistake I made in high school was thinking female cheerleaders had the short end of the stick in the equation. Today, I know that encouraging others to persevere during times of struggle is even more personally inspiring than having others encourage me.
Today, I not only applaud cheerleaders singing their spirit song, I also possess deeper appreciation for the wisdom of my childhood nursery rhymes and sing them too.
“Love is like a magic penny, hold it fast and you won’t have any. Spend it and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor.”
Before I was a mother, I fell completely for the idyllic picture television commercials provide of parents rocking infants for pleasure. Once I had my own baby, however, I learned the true Hollywood story. New parents rock babies because they are sleep deprived and teetering on the boundaries of sanity.
Google the word “exhausted” and you will very likely find a photo of a tear-faced, screaming toddler and a parent ready to take a hostage.
One night, when my eldest daughter was two, I boarded a red-eye flight from Seattle to DC believing that – being night time – she would sleep peacefully. Unfortunately, the plane departed later than scheduled and, having passed her routine bedtime, she spent the first hour kicking and crying instead. When a man on the flight hollered at me “Shut that baby up,” I glared back at him and asked – in a tone that made Dirty Harry’s “Make my day” delivery sound like Doris Day – “She’s two, what’s your excuse?”
Thank goodness airport security searched passengers for “all possible weapons” before boarding.
I would like to say that episode was sufficient for elevating the status of sleep on my personal list of priorities. The truth, however, is that it took the birth of my second daughter – and a short visit to a mental hospital – for me to truly get the message that sleep matters much.
Desiring to spare my daughters the pains of my own steep learning curve, I mandated “no electronics – only reading” – after 7:pm when they started grade school. Since the Harry Potter series had yet to be written, this actually served well for getting them to sleep on time. So while fellow parents debated means to get their children to rise and shine each morning, my girls simply woke on their own.
The discrepancy between my personal education in sleep deprivation and knowledge levels of fellow parents revealed itself most glaringly during their high school years and climaxed with an event called Grad Night. Popular in schools throughout the US, parent organized Grad Night celebrations aim to provide an alternative option to private parties and reduce death and injuries caused by underage drinking and driving. Grad Nights are typically all-night events and students are mandated to remain on campus till morning.
At my daughters’ school, I learned, students not only drove themselves to the event, they also drove themselves home.
Despite years of popularity and concern for teen safety, no one had ever made anyone aware that not sleeping for 24 hours impairs the functionality of the brain almost as much as two shots of alcohol. Fortunately God, in all her wisdom, spared my daughter the embarrassment of “mom” enlightening everyone by screaming from the school rooftop and graced me simply with the invitation to serve as Grad Night Chair. The year was 2005 and students have been required to be dropped off, and picked-up, from Grad-Night every year since.
Editors Note: Huge hugs to all the Sleep Coaches and Consultants educating individuals and families on the importance of sleep from the rooftops of Parenting 2.0. Special thanks to Michelle Winters who attended our P20 Talks 2013 Washington DC event and graciously lent her company logo to this month’s post.
If you were fortunate to learn to read as a child, The Emperor’s New Clothes is likely one story you remember. Hans Christian Andersen’s 1800’s adaptation tells of a vain King who falls prey to swindlers that create a robe they describe as “invisible to stupid and incompetent people.” Pride and fear prevent the King and other adults from acknowledging that the fabric – in fact – does not exist. Only when His Royal Highness marches in a public procession, does a small child declare “He isn’t wearing anything.”
Suffice to say, a fairy tale about an Emperor strutting around naked has a way of sticking in a kid’s memory. The elements of a fearful populace and an arrogant ruler are also tragically accurately descriptive of governing bodies not simply past but also present.
What shocks me most today, as swaddled, dead babies blanket hospital floors in Syria, terrorists shoot shoppers at a Nairobi mall, and the United States ticks off Cinderella hours to a governmental shut down, is the blind eye human beings around the planet continue to turn to reality.
You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.
Conflict resolution is the one skill every person needs throughout their lives – more times than they will dress themselves.
So how do we prepare children and teens to excel in this critical arena?
Despite ample evidence confirming that this educational method – consistently cited as the high bar of performance in parenting – perpetuates systemic problems rather than alleviates them, we turn a blind eye to the facts, parade in the robes of vanity, and sell the – so porous as to be wholly vacuous – “fabric of society” to generation upon generation.
The good news, as the voice of the child in The Emperor’s Clothes so beautifully illuminates, is we do not need to be either the most powerful or the most numerous to effect change. We simply need to be courageous and state the truth publicly and plainly. Doing so is the commitment of Parenting 2.0.
Editor’s Note: This blog is dedicated to the more than 100 Global Presence Ambassadors promoting a new paradigm for Life Skills Education by hosting regional gatherings around the planet for P20 Talks 2013.