children, education, environment, school, science

Step 273: Environment Science Gets Its Due in Maryland Classrooms

My friend, Michael, author of Like a Fish In Water, sent me a link about environmental education in the Maryland Public School System. Previously, the system only required a single lesson on environmental education some time between kindergarten and 12th grade. Now, environmental science must be woven into the curriculum, covering specific topics. Originally, the mandate was to establish a separate environmental science as a graduation requirement. That original mandate didn’t pass but getting more environmental science into the curriculum within existing subjects is a start.

It still shocks me that many people don’t see the connection between caring for the environment and public health, that they don’t understand that there is no such thing as an unlimited natural resource. There are limits to the stresses that our environment can withstand, and we are running up against those limits at a frightening pace. Kids have to know how their actions impact the environment, and it’s our responsibility to teach them how to care for our shared world.

Additionally, the environment is a practical, truly tangible platform that can be used to enhance learning opportunities across a variety of subjects, physical and chemical sciences, math, history, and design to name a few. It opens the door to discussing higher education and career planning. It makes the facts we learn in school relevant and applicable in the world that surrounds us.

Nature is an infinite, wise, and patient teacher if only we will sit with her a while to hear what she has to say and see what she has to reveal to us. It’s a living, breathing lab for us to explore and wonder at It’s the closest thing we have on Earth to divinity, and I’m glad Maryland students will finally get the chance to learn more. Hopefully, other states will hop on board, too.

For a link to the full article, click here.

children, education, school

Step 272: Class Size Isn’t the Be All End All of Education

An article appeared in the New York Times yesterday showcasing a Massachusetts school that didn’t let large class sizes stop them from improving test scores. By bringing writing and reading assignments into every school subject (gym included!) The school is now outperforming 90% of other schools in Massachusetts. Reading and writing bring to bear creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and enhanced language capabilities. They foster independence, making class size less of a factor in academic success.

The debate about size has raged on in a number of areas: raising kids in the country versus the city, large university lecture halls versus small seminars, big corporations versus family run small businesses. Each has its pros and cons. For the past several years, small classroom size in public schools has been a hot-button issue. The example of the Massachusetts school doesn’t give us a definitive answer one way or the other, and maybe that’s the point. Any circumstances can breed success – it’s the individuals that comprise the group that can truly make the difference.

To read the full article about the school in Massachusetts, click here. What do you think? Is class size as big an issue as we make it out to be?

children, education, family

Step 271: Parents May be the Most Important Piece of the Education Puzzle

The airwaves are bustling and bristling this week about education. Our U.S. school system is making front page news like never before. Sadly, sometimes it takes a crisis to raise awareness.

Yesterday, one of my readers of this blog who has decades of experience in education voiced his opinion about one way to repair the system: parents. Get them interested and engaged, and the system has a far greater chance of turning around. Yes, teachers are important, critically important. Though consider how many hours a child spends with a teacher versus a parent. Consider that parents are responsible for a child’s living conditions, what they eat, where they sleep. Parents are largely responsible for their children’s emotional and mental well-being. Combined, all of these “non-education” factors come to bear in a big way in the classroom. If a child is hungry, sick, or lacks confidence, how can they focus on math, science, and reading? Social programs can only do so much.

My reader’s comment about parents being involved in public education made me consider how involved my own mother was in my education. Sometimes, we didn’t have enough to eat. We were part of the free lunch program for as long as I can remember. We almost lost our house a few times. We had trouble paying bills. For a good portion of my childhood, we didn’t have health insurance. Our childhood had a lot of instability and sadness and fear. But the one constant was my mom. She served on the school board. She went to every parent teacher conference, every sports event, every band concert. More than anything she cared about our education. She didn’t have time to help us with our homework – she always worked 2 – 3 jobs so we could get by. I came to value education and where it could take me in large part because my mother valued it. I wanted to make her proud of me, and I knew my high grades made her proud.

I went to Penn because of my mom. She wouldn’t let me lower my standards of the college I could get into. She wouldn’t let me stay home and go to school. She wanted to me to go away to the very best school I could go to. It was hard. I struggled for my first two years at Penn. I had a hard time adjusting to a place that seemed so out of reach to me. Everyone else around me seemed to have means beyond anything I could ever dream of. I worked several jobs and put myself through school with the help of lots of financial aid. I studied all the time just to catch up. Eventually, I found my bearings, largely because I got involved in theatre, but even more importantly because I’m stubborn and proud. I couldn’t give up and go home. I had to keep trying to live a better life. That’s what my mom wanted, and so that’s what I wanted.

I had good teachers, in public school, at Penn, and later at UVA, where I got my MBA. Those teachers inspired me, pushed me, challenged me to be better than I thought I could be. And with just those teachers, I would have built a decent life. But my mom’s involvement and concern for my education helped me strive for more than decent – it keeps me working for something extraordinary. And as I think of it now, my blog reader was absolutely right – parents have the ability to turn around the whole system just by showing their care and concern for what their kids learn. I’m living proof of their power.

children, education

Step 270: Sounding the Alarm on Public Education

This week NBC is running a special in-depth look at education in America, Education Nation. It is a loud, profound alarm – our schools are in trouble, and by association our nation is in trouble. Not because of the financial system or the housing crisis or the erratic Dow. Our nation is in trouble because we are failing our children, an entire generation of them, before we’ve even given them a chance to succeed. We are letting them down and counting them out before they even get in the game.

I care deeply about public education. I am a product of it and I’m hoping to turn my career towards it in the not-too-distant future. As a way of shining a spotlight on it and raising some more awareness of the many and varied challenges, I will feature a story every day this week about public education, a reason for hope, a cause in need of support, an inspiring person or organization. I hope this week of stories will inspire you to get involved.

Education doesn’t need some of us, it needs all of us. Without a system that functions effectively and efficiently, nothing else we’re doing matters. And if we can successfully find a way to educate every child this country in a way that helps them grow up to be productive members of society, we have more benefits to reap that we can even imagine. Every social issue – health care, the environment, public safety, foreign affairs, the economy – has a greater chance of success if we can improve our education system. It’s the root challenge, and therefore the root remedy, that heals every one of our other ills.

We are past the point of voluntary involvement. Our children need us. All of us.

choices, creativity, decision-making, determination, passion, patience

Step 269: Stubborn Persistance Pays

“Stubbornly persist, and you will find that the limits of your stubbornness go well beyond the stubbornness of your limits.” ~ Robert Brault

Phin and I head out early every morning for an hour-long walk, and I use that time to hang with him, get my own bearings, and meditate on where I am in life at that very moment. This often sends my mind just out over the horizon, into my not-so-distant future. What is it I’m really trying to do? What really matters?

These morning walks often have me thinking about limitations: financial, personal, professional. Sometimes these limitations really grab a hold of me and just won’t let go no matter how much I try to shake them off. I try every trick in my bag to make my limitations vanish (or at least my perception of them) and very often they just hang on, unabated. They are stubborn to say the least.

This morning I tried a different approach. What if I didn’t try to completely bust my limitations but instead just sat and talked with them? What if I could show them that my dreams and I are even more stubborn and will not be dissuaded? I will work around them and do what it takes to get where I want to go. And what if I could see my limitations as gifts, as teachers, rather than roadblocks. What can I learn from them, and more importantly from my fear of them?

As I considered this idea, I could feel my breathing loosen up and the creativity started to seep back in. Limitations exist to give us some bumper lanes, to actually heighten our creativity and provide some structure in which to build the life we want. It’s easy to get bogged down by them, to wish that that they would just melt away giving us complete and total freedom. The truth is that there will always be some kind of limitation on us. No resource is entirely unlimited, except creativity. Limitations may be stubborn, but they’re nothing compared to the creativity we can amass and put to good use to get where we want to go. Persist. Just persist, and see where that takes you.


Step 268: 10 Lessons from Dogs on How to Be a Better Human

I’ve had Phineas for one week today and every day he’s teaching me something new. I just finished Cesar Milan’s book, Cesar’s Way, and have been using his advice as I train Phinny. It’s working like a charm and it’s helped me get to know Phineas as a dog, something I’ve not done with previous pets. I treated our other dogs like furry little people. I projected my human-ness onto them rather than learning from and loving their doginess.

Here are the 10 biggest lessons I’ve learned from Phineas and Cesar to-date:

1.) There is no greater joy than this moment.

2.) Dwelling on the past, good, bad, or indifferent, prevents us from celebrating all the beauty we have in our midst right now.

3.) Structure and discipline are powerful tools for healthy living.

4.) Exercise is the best remedy for pent up energy, and pent up energy must be released regardless of its source.

5.) Relationships with our pack are the most important possessions we have.

6.) Getting the life we want has much more to do with vision and determination than it does with circumstances.

7.) Calm-assertive energy is the best aura to have in any situation.

8.) A stable leader is the only leader worth following.

9.) Exploration of the world around us is one of the most worthy activities we can do.

10.) We all take in the world in a different way; empathy is about appreciating those differences and learning from them.

What lessons have your pets taught you about the best way to live your life?

change, family, work

Step 267: Thanks for the Wings

My mom and pop are on their way to Florida today, setting off for a new chapter filled with sunshine and only the things they love. The days of working for someone else’s goals are a memory for them. They’ve more than earned this new place in the sun.

I would be lying if I didn’t confess that there’s a bit of heartache in this decision for me. My parents are getting older, heading into the autumn of their lives and all that aging brings with it. They’ll be a 2.5 hour plane ride away now rather than a 1.5 hour train ride. Wit their move, I am reminded again that life is changing. Always changing, and fleeting.

At my mom’s retirement dinner this week, a large room full of friends gathered together to send her off in style and to thank her for so many years together. Some of them had such a hard time saying good-bye. I did, too. And I know it’s not good-bye to them, but it is good-bye to what has been for so long. And even though this is a wonderful, well-deserved and long-overdue change, there is a bit of mourning in it. There’s always mourning baked into change.

My brother, Joey, gave one of the speeches at mom’s dinner. It was a really beautiful sentiment based on my mom’s favorite movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. He simply said, “thanks for the wings.” And we all felt that. Even when mom couldn’t fly with us, she still pushed us out of the nest and sent us on our way so we could fly solo into whatever future we wanted. She lifted us up, and even if we didn’t always agree with her, she never prevented us from going where we felt we needed to go.

Joey got it right – thanks for the wings, Mom. And everything that you had to sacrifice to give them to us. Now, it’s your turn to get some wings of your own.

care, career, choices, commitment, creativity, decision-making, determination, work

Step 266: Don’t Lower Your Expectations

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

When I was in business school, one of my favorite professors revealed his secret for a happy life: low expectations. He was kidding, a little laughter to break the mind numbing tension caused by information overload. He lives a life of the highest expectations I’ve ever known. And it is happy one, too.

Today, I had a conversation with someone who told me she was concerned about my expectations. I was explaining that certain areas of product development like mobile and social technologies require agile development – fail fast and don’t make the same mistake twice. Involve end-users in the process. Beat it, bureaucracy. And no, taking a year to develop a new product or service that isn’t even keeping pace with competition is not acceptable.

She tried to counter by saying that without a knowledge management system in place, there isn’t a way to lower run times between product iterations. I said that building a knowledge management system also needs to be done quickly, and it’s incumbent upon every one to create it and contribute to it. I was being unreasonable and displaying my very high expectations, and I would not back down. Her response, “Well your expectations worry me.” My response, “We have to do better.”

Uncomfortable conversation? Yes. Would I take it back and change my behavior? No. Progress requires unreasonable, unrelenting expectations, and the ability to back them up with creativity and a strong work ethic. And I mean to be a person of progress, not a person of simple adaptation to someone else’s standards. I’d rather aim high and be disappointed every day of my life, than strive for and achieve mediocrity.

choices, dogs, future, pets, priorities

Step 265: Living in the Moment

I’m working my way through Cesar Milan’s book as Phin and I get to know each other. So much of the advice is counter-intuitive, though I can already see how helpful it is to see a dog as a dog, not as a person with fur. I’m so guilty of not learning that lesson sooner. I have always seen my dogs as people, and now I know why so many of them had issues of possession and anxiety. By letting dogs be dogs, they have so much to teach us about being human. By making them human, we miss out on their distinct sense of wisdom.

Dogs do not dwell on their pasts. They truly are creatures of the moment. Their existence is in the here and now. Certainly they develop habits and associations, but 99.9% of the time those habits and associations can be undone and replaced with others. Their degree resilience is enviable.

As a I read the section of Cesar Milan’s book about how dogs appreciate the persent, I thought about how much time people spend living in the past, incurring anxiety by situations that are long gone and will never be repeated. We relive disappointments, insecurities, and sadness of our past ad nauseam. We can’t let it go. Dogs let it all go. They care about what’s happening now, in this and every moment.

Imagine if we could do that as a way of life? Get up every day with a renewed sense of hope and happy anticipation. What if we could really leave our past behind us? Would our life experience be richer or poorer if we could set aside our past and our future and just love where we are right now?

school, teaching, yoga

Step 264: Teaching Yoga at Columbia Law School

A few days ago, I posted a piece about some shifting priorities and the need for editing in my life. One of the things I’ve been considering is my interest in focusing Compass Yoga on populations that have a hard time accessing yoga classes through traditional studios. Right after I completed my teacher certification, I sent out a load of emails to schools, hospitals, nonprofits, and for-profit companies, some of which yielded some interesting possibilities that never materialized. Getting a regular teaching gig was tougher than I realized.

My friend, Sara, suggested that in addition to reaching out to law firms that I also reach out to law schools to help stressed out students. I started my yoga teaching path with this type of population, teaching a once-a-week yoga class at Darden where I was an MBA student. I offered it up as a free class to help my classmates and to build community. I really liked working with grad school students so Sara’s suggestion got me back on track.

I have one piece of advice for entrepreneurs, and more specifically for teachers who want to teach in unconventional settings: persistence pays. It’s easy to get discouraged and to go running for another piece of certification because somehow we think if we had more credential that then we’d be able to do the work we want to do. Sometimes, this is absolutely true. I’m grateful for my BA, my MBA and my yoga certification – those education experiences changed my life and my view of the world. And then I thought I needed more and more and more certificates to make myself REALLY qualified, when in truth all I want to do is teach yoga to people who can’t, won’t, or choose not to show up at a traditional studio. With this yoga mission, I’m not sure if I need more certifications. There is always more to learn, certainly, though I feel my yoga path going more toward learning by doing.

On the heels of getting my gig at New York Methodist Hospital, I recently heard back from Columbia Law School’s Yoga Club. The founder of the club is a 3rd year law student and up to her eyes in work. She heard about me and my desire to teach donation-based classes to university students after I contacted about 10 departments at Columbia trying to get my foot in any Columbia door I could find. I’m meeting her next week to get a tour of the space and learn more about the Yoga Club. My first public class at Columbia will be Monday night, October 4th. (There’s a possibility that the class will be open to the public. If that happens, then I’ll be sure to get the word out.)

Shouting dreams and priorities really does help bring them into being. I’m thrilled by this recent connection and grateful to Sara and so many of you who have been cheering me on along this path. You’ve made my work feel lighter.

With gratitude,