Awakin Calls » Andy Smallman » Transcript
Andy Smallman: Kindness as an Avenue to Awe
Guest: Andy Smallman
Moderator: Anne Veh
Host: Birju Pandya
Birju: Good morning good afternoon good evening everyone! Welcome to this week’s Awakin call with our guest Andy Smallman. We will be getting started just in about a minute here. In the meanwhile, we ask you to sit tight. Good day and welcome again to this week’s Awakin call. I’m your host, my name is Birju. Let us begin with a moment of silence just to cultivate our own sense of presence in this moment and ground ourselves for the next ninety minutes. I’ll call our attention in a minute. Once again my name is Birju.
I wanted to offer a bit of context for this Awakin call series before we get started on this particular call. Every story is the beginning of a conversation and whether it's with ourselves or with others, we've noticed that stories can be powerful agents of personal transformation- partially because they have the power to change our hearts along with their minds. The purpose of these weekly calls is to share stories of incredible change makers from around the world and through these guided conversations - in this case, our moderator is Anne Veh - our special guest speakers are able to share their powerful personal stories not only through their their philosophical understandings but through their actions, their experiences, their insights and our hope is that these conversations plant seeds for a more compassionate and service oriented society in the world that fosters the inner transformation journeys of many out there.
In the end, each of these calls is a team of service space volunteers whose work allows us to offer this beautiful space and we’re thankful to them for all of the work that they do behind the scenes to co-create the space.
As I mentioned today, we are grateful to have a wonderful guest speaker with us, Andy Smallman, whose personal journey speaks strongly to theme of the day which is around how kindness can promote a sense of awe in oneself and in others.
Once again, the theme for today is awe and kindness and how the two can be interrelated. We have the great pleasure of having as our moderator, Anne Veh today. For those who don't know, Anne Veh operates as an independent curator of several art installations, art projects; She's also been a longtime volunteer with service space collaborating in wonderful projects whether they are magazines or movies and behind all of that kind of work in the world, work in volunteering is her own spirit of bringing joy and awe, I would say, into all of those practices of the aesthetic and the heart. One place where I've seen that take root is when my wife had the opportunity to volunteer with her in some of her work with school children bringing the heart and spirit of kindness into that space and just noticed that behind every action is the spirit with which we do it. And, Anne’s spirit with which she engages with action is one for many of us in this community to be inspired by - so, Anne, thank you so much for joining us today as the moderator. Do you have any reflections to share on the theme of the week before moving into the interview part of today's call?
Anne: Thank you, Birju, it’s such an honor to moderate this morning’s call and it is my favorite topic of kindness and so grateful to be in conversation this morning with Andy. I mean actually I think a reflection is I woke up this morning and you know this week for some reason I’ve had really an active mind which is unusual for me to wake up with an active mind but this morning I woke up with this quiet. And I was so grateful and I had time to just step out into the garden and I had a rose bush that was actually not doing very well the last year and I thought I was going to lose it. So, I’ve been tending to it. And this morning, it had the most exquisite bloom, you know had the colors of a deep sunset. I’m just so profoundly grateful for just the kindness that is all around us in every moment and the joys of even spending a little time with a rose bush to begin my day. And, I'm grateful for this theme and this conversation this morning. Andy’s life really inspired me to really take note of the really simple and sometimes unnoticed kindnesses that are always around us. So, I’m very very grateful. And good morning to everyone.
So with that I'd love to introduce Andy. Andy welcome. Andy is an educator, a father and a friend to all. He is infectiously kind and energetic. His enthusiasm for inspiring kindness and designing for kindness is legendary from founding a community school in Seattle based on kindness, to helping design the international Compassion Games, to starting “Kind Living” a website to inspire people to both recognize and bring more kindness into their lives .. there is no stopping Andy!
Andy sees the wholeness and innate kindness in every child, in every being. Children are powerful teachers and at Puget Sound Community School, the students design the space; learning happens in circle - a safe space where everyone is at eye level and equal. There are windows in every room; nature and community are always present and available. And Andy says, a big part of being a community school is that we get out into the community and interact.
I was touched to learn a favorite pastime of walking his puppy Benson to a neighborhood treasure, the “give and take garden” that the two came across by accident. Here, a child creation, one can leave a special object and take an object hence the name, “Give and Take.” What touched me was how this tiny garden raised so many profound questions and reflections in Andy. In a recent blog post he writes, “I hesitated for a minute before taking the ring, thinking that perhaps the taking should all be done by children. Standing at the garden, I was quickly reminded of a philosophy of accepting things that I shared in a recent kindness class, the idea that there is no giving without someone receiving or taking.”
So with that, Andy, I’d love to begin this conversation by just asking you to share a little bit more about the give and take garden and how this garden continues to inspire you.
Andy: Well thank you, Anne and wow! that was a very honoring introduction! Is there any chance that I could just have you walk with me all the time and introduce me at any event or, you know, just whisper in my ear occasionally, something, I mean that was really spectacular. Thank you I really feel honored. Birju, similarly, ServiceSpace is a tremendous inspiration for me and all the different projects that happen there -I've been following service space and involved probably six or seven years now.
Thank you to all who participate. So the “Give and Take Garden” - I love the way that you said it Anne as it was perfectly phrased because it was a complete accident really. My wife and I got a puppy last fall and of course one aspect of having a puppy or dog is that you want to go for walks. I have been a runner for quite a few years and have run these neighborhood streets but at the pace jogging, I don't notice things in the same way that I do walking and especially having had years of experience of kind of just going fairly quickly. Not to say that I'm a fast runner, but compared to walking that my focus then is breathing, is hearing my footsteps on the concrete, trying to get into a kind of that runner's rhythm and I really wouldn’t notice things in the same way that I do walking especially with a puppy who has to stop and smell things - you know puppy has his own pace and rhythm.
I've been trying to pay attention to that and not just dictate to him what my rhythm is and say we've got to keep it going. So I've just been kind of awed by the things that I'm noticing that have been there all along, I'm sure, and some of which come and go but they're all there. Kind of like Ann Dillard wrote in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, there are all these treasures for us to find, do we have the eyes to see them? And so, walking with Benson one day, I was going down this slight hill and I just saw this tiny patch of land and it had this purple sign that was painted purple with kind of scrawl - the give and take garden and a smiley face on it. It really just spoke to me in that moment on so many levels like he said and I just stopped and I took it all in. There were little toy cars and there were little figurines and rocks arranged just so and little plants that were done. I just started in my mind because you know we get to be these self creators who we can create our own reality and whatever we want to do, it's part of the brilliance of being human.
I decided I would tell myself the story of how this all got here. It doesn't have to be true and it doesn't have to not be true but I imagine, based on the evidence if you will before me, that this had been put together by a child. Everything about it made me think that some young person who is still tapped into that wonder and beauty of being human and haven't been I guess influenced by the obligations of growing up. I then pictured that this particular child had a parent, mom or dad, who understood on some level the importance of nurturing that and when the child was sitting out in their front yard at some point, and this a little parking strip...so, it's between me and it's really on the corner of an intersection but it's between the sidewalk and the street, and there's this just this tiny piece of land. In Seattle, homeowners are responsible for that little parking strip, to maintain it. So I imagine this parent was trying to support their child and together they just made it happen. In walking past it, I thought, ok the first time when I found it, and Benson was sniffing all around it, I didn't think that I should take anything, you know cars, trucks, that sort of thing.
I felt that the first responsibility I had was to give something so I made a point to come back, and when I had come back on a walk in the next couple of days, I brought a little toy car that I had that was actually I think something kind of given to me out of playfulness I believe by my mother during a holiday in my Christmas stocking. And so, I thought that was a perfect thing to set down there and I left it there. When I came back again a couple days later, it was gone, and it just tickled me to no end that something that I had given had now been taken. I hoped that anyone else who might participate would think the same way but I really kept trying to imagine the curator, this child, of maintaining and following this. And I could, I mean there's so many more pieces around this, from now it brought others there or I attended a workshop in July and was given a little stone with the word courage on it at the end, and I wanted to leave that there, so I blogged about doing that. Yeah, it just means a lot to me in the sense that I think there are neighborhood treasures for us to go out and find if we just take the time and develop the eyesight to find them.
Anne: Oh, thank you, Andy. I can imagine the...you know just what's living in the child who actually created this, or the inspiration for him to create this little garden, and the joy of seeing what's taken and what's added in. I can imagine just a daily ritual of visiting the garden too.
Andy: I hope so, you know it's a story that I like to imagine it. I did go by...I've been out of town for the last month basically, on vacation, and I got back on Sunday and took Benson up there Monday. Seattle has had a pretty rainless, believe it or not, rainless summer, so things are pretty dry and I noticed it was a little dry in the give and take garden, so may need to give a little rain.
Anne: I was really touched in reading your blog post about the give and take garden and you mentioned a stone that you had left in the garden with the numbers 1, 4, 3, and you mentioned that there was a story connected to one of your students at Puget Sound Community School. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Andy: Sure. Some of those stories get overlapped into a couple of stories but let me start with the 1, 4, 3 aspects story because that one to me is profound in a lot of ways. So, to give you the context of that...for years PSCS, that's Puget Sound Community School, and people are interested it's simply PSCS.org, and at PSCS, I facilitate a lot of classes. So, the school doesn't have any mandated academic classes but we do offer things to students. The idea is for the students to match, well, basically their goals and their goals often change to the things that they're doing in the present. I always say this to people, "I want you to live your life in the present and not as constant prep" because a lot of what we do to young people is we're constantly telling them that they need to do this because it will serve them in the future. I want them to pay attention to what they want to do in the future and plan things in the present that excite them in the present so they get practice of mindfulness and engagement in the present.
So, I offered a class, and I do it quite regularly, on the idea of human development, that's my masters, in human development, or even one aspect would be self actualization. So, I was presenting Abraham Maslow's theory at one point, the hierarchy of needs, and at the top of the hierarchy talks about these people who are self-actualized, and in most cases, people present like Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King Jr or Gandhi. I just thought that in those cases, those people seem so out of reach to American children. They seem old and that's the rare, rare, rare example, and I don't think self actualization is just for those rare individuals. I think it's there for anybody with mindfulness in practice. So, what occurred to me was Mr Rogers, Fred Rogers of the Mr Rogers TV show.
I thought that would be somebody that the students might find more approachable and I found an article that was in Esquire magazine in 1998 that this brilliantly written article by guy named Tom Junod who got to spend extended time with Mr Rogers, and then the article basically is what his experience was following Mr Rogers for a week or something, and how Mr Rogers, whether he was filming a show or whether he was you know fixing food or whatever, he was the same. There was no disconnection between who he was behind the camera or whether he was in front of the camera, and that was very pronounced to me from a consistency standpoint. He didn't play a character, he was always himself and that was meaningful, but in the article one aspect of Mr Rogers day was that he would weigh himself every day, and Tom was privy to watching Mr Rogers, like stripped down to his boxer shorts and get on a scale at the gym, and every day Mr Rogers had been at the scale and saw the numbers 1 4 3.
He weighed a 143 pounds and he said to Tom that I weighed 143 pounds as long as I can remember. So, he decided that there was meaning in that because Mr Rogers and he said, "There's one letter in the word I and four letters in the word love and three letters in the word you", so every time he looks at the scale he sees an I love you message. That touched me and it touched me in such a way that I was interested with this group of students many years ago. The Internet were starting to grow and things would go, and that new expression, would go viral, how do things go viral online. I had the idea of trying to start like a 1 4 3 movement to see if it could take off in some way. We would create buttons and maybe hand out things on city buses and just try to present this idea that love is all around you, through the concept of 1 4 3. So we created these little buttons and they were simple 1 4 3 on the button with Mr Rogers’ initials underneath it, so F M R, his middle name is McFeely. So, that didn't take off and go viral online but certainly touched a lot of people...and one of the people it touched was my niece who was a student in a suburb of Seattle in a big public high school.
Her name is Stephanie, and Stephanie brought it into her big, public high school in some way, and that kind of touched me too. So there were people that were participating in the 1-4-3 movement, if you will. That Christmas Stephanie was at the Pike Place Market, I think, and found a stone in a stand, like just a little shop--a stone with 1-4-3 on it. It didn't have the F.M.R. initials on it, but it was the same font that the student and I had chosen for our 1-4-3. So she bought it for me as a holiday gift and it was such a touching gift. This now is years and years ago. Stephanie just turned thirty this summer. Stephanie and I regularly have dinner together, and these kinds of things are meaningful to her as well, but I told her about the Give-and Take Garden. I said, I want to leave the 1-4-3 rock you gave to me for Christmas several years ago there. Are you OK with that? And she thought it was a great idea, So I walked over there and left the 1-4-3 rock, and the next time I came back it was gone. I thought that was pretty spectacular as well. So that's the 1-4-3 story, and now I look for the number in different places. The most recent post on my blog, which is kindnessandy.com, is about Benson and me walking. It was just this past Monday and we saw 1-4-3 that had been spray painted on a sidewalk, so I took a photo of it.
Anne: That’s such a beautiful story, Wow. That is just such a beautiful story. Well, you know, listening to you, and how you honor storytelling I’m curious to hear a little about how you and your wife Melinda came to, or what was the inspiration behind, starting the Puget Sound Community School and what led you to found a school on kindness. So start there…
Andy: That’s a lovely question, and I love talking about it and I always think maybe when you and I were chatting the other day. Well, there's the long version there's, the not so long and there's a longer version and then there's the longest version of that story. But there's no short version, so the simplest way that I can put it is that I think I don't want to sound disrespectful to any fans of public education. You know, it has its place, but I just have concerns about it. I call myself the product of public education in the 1970s and early 1980s. I graduated from high school in 1981, and by that I mean the product being is, I did really well by all public school standards. I had a high grade point average. I got off the chart SAT scores--that sort of thing.
So I was a success, but I had no idea who I was when I graduated from high school nor what I wanted to do. I just had been playing this game for years and years and years. I knew how to take tests, so I was lucky in that way. I knew how to please teachers so, you know, maybe I was lucky that way. So whatever it was, it manifested into what were these, to me, meaningless records of my success, but I didn't know what I wanted to do at 18. I had the wherewithal not just to go to college-- which I think a lot of 18 years olds say, well, I don’t know. I guess I’ll go to college now. Or Whatever, but do you have the means to go to college? It wasn't as expensive back then but still you know.
So I ended up taking off. I first was a busboy in this yellow restaurant. I had a buddy of mine who was a lot older than I was. He was in Alaska and he hooked up with a guy on a string of radio stations. So I ended up working as an AM D.J. for a year in Seward Alaska. I started studying Eastern philosophy on the side. I was inspired by the old David Carradine Kung Fu T.V. shows that came out in the 70's. That was a real huge deal and was actually a huge source of inspiration for me. I was just trying to look inwardly. So I started studying things like Buddhism or Daoism and found a lot of meaning.
I traveled around for another couple of years. I had these entertaining jobs that paid the bills, but I felt very unfulfilled while I was doing them. I had a good friend of mine who knew that I enjoyed spending time with children and she suggested that I look into the Big Brother program. So I did that and it in KIng County in Washington State as they do in many places with the Big Brother program. I went into the office and talked to a caseworker and then spent the next two months going through their training and background check process. I was matched with this little boy in 1994 soon after I turned 21. I was matched with a third grader and it was in that moment that it's like. I can pinpoint different times in my life where, however you want to describe it, but you know that you're being directed.
At that point I knew that I was supposed to be an educator. I'm an educator whether I know it or not. I said, get the societal training that allows you to to do it more officially. So I decided at that point that I would start looking into going to college. I looked into a couple of programs and the one that spoke to me was the Evergreen State College which is in Olympia. So I started at 22 years old, and within a month of being at Evergreen, I reacted to why couldn't I do this when I was thirteen. Evergreen is a very student centered on college where if you have the means in the wherewithal and you have to focus, you can really take things to an an independent level and learn in an individualized way at Evergreen. I did and so that was exciting for me. I had it in my mind that the end result goal was to become a third grade teacher. That's where kind of I was moving in the direction of, if you will. Opportunities and things would come up. I even wrote about one of these for the interview for today's talk about meeting the father of this severely brain injured boy and how it just opened up other possibilities. But when I graduated from Evergreen, I still wasn't a certified teacher. I went on to a master's program to get my teacher certificate and in the midst of finishing that up and being certified to teach in both Washington and California, I ended that program writing a paper that basically was about why I am not applying for teaching jobs. I called the paper, “First- Do No Harm.” I suggested that teachers, upon their graduation, should have some form of a Hippocratic Oath--to do no harm.
You know, it was a little perhaps over the top, but it was in the spirit. So here now I was a certified teacher but I don't want to teach. The challenge with that was I didn't find any environments that I thought were honoring of both the students and the teachers. Over the next couple of years, I did some substituting to pay the bills. I did some tutoring on the side where I could really interact with students the way I wanted to. Through a series of kind of crazy coincidences, I was asked to be a part time teacher for six months at a private elementary school outside of Seattle called The Little School. I took that job, and so Wednesday afternoon they came in and was there with with a group of fifth and sixth graders from December through June. At the end of that year which would have been 1991 the director asked me if I wanted to take a full time teaching job at the little school with their oldest student the fifth and sixth graders.I said I’ll do it if I can write my master's thesis about trying to empower the children to take charge of their education and they said OK. So that was the 1991-92 school year was my thesis year. In that thesis, I first proposed this idea of community based Middle School. Over the next couple of years,I had a number of parents appreciate the way that I was educating their kids in this classroom. Together Melinda and I --and I'll give a little more detail about her later-- but we decided we were going to make a go at creating a community based middle school. Melinda's background at that point had been in administration. So I brought this educational vision and passion for student empowerment and Melinda brought structure. Those are the two things that I suggest that if anyone's trying to start a school. They need to have a passionate focus on what you're trying to do and you need to make sure that you put your administrative structure in place. Those two things together have what I believe allowed PSCS to not only be around now, but to thrive. So that was kind of the background for getting that started and what I was suggesting is that the way that the mainstream educational system or the conventional educational system in the United States and beyond is antiquated. The memorization of so much stuff. Choosing which things that students should should learn.. How long they get to learn them. Only being with people your own age. Being in a building all day long, instead of connecting out. These are all industrial age conveyor belt kinds of concepts and our society is so focused on that as an infrastructure that we don't know how to get out of it. So part of PSCS has been to be a school for the 21st century, but also a model of how do we work with with young people and integrate them into the community. So that's kind of the long-winded background of how and and I started a school.
Anne: That is extraordinary to hear you share and all of the people that came together and quite a special relationship that you Melinda have to work so closely. You know to have a marriage so strong. It could have been a source of a lot of stress, but I'm hearing such a deep listening from you, and as you shared, you at certain points, you knew you were being guided, or you know there was a direction that was coming, and to have that trust, and that leap of faith, especially in a marriage too is quite extraordinary.
Andy: Well I appreciate that, and it is just what it is. For us, it's just kind of normal, but you know I think, looked at from a comparison standpoint, I understand why people have told me that before. In the founding year of PSCS and even in the few years getting rolling, people would want to you know compliment or talk about this risk that we were taking, and then specifically you know "what's happening?"
I'd say, "I really don't feel like this is a risk on the level that you're talking. I get it, you know, I'm not dumb. I understand why it would seem like a risk." But I would respond in a couple of ways: One, because I felt like I'm channeling this, was part of it, I mean it's coming through me -- it's not me -- it's coming through me and it's my role to help make it come into being and there are others who have their own role in making that happen. And then the second piece, thing, that I found myself telling people when they talk about the risk is the bigger risk was NOT to do it. And by that I mean I remember saying to people even at the time Melinda and I were -- we just turned thirty one when we started the school -- is "I don't want to be 70, 75, 80 years old and look back and say 'I wish I'd done it'" and we have the wherewithal at 31 to go -- you know, if this doesn't work we're interesting, capable people, we'll go do something else if we have to but this is what we should be doing NOW. And how do you live and then, in that sense, it's both building in the now with an eye toward how that moves you into the future. Part of the risk that people were having was we had just put a down payment on a house and we had an infant and no savings -- so you factor all of those things together, we've got a baby, we've got a mortgage, we've got no savings and we quit our jobs to start a school and we said "yeah, that doesn't seem risky."
Anne: [laughing] That's so beautiful. I want to go back to ask you about some early memories -- or life experiences you have had -- or mentors who have inspired you, and I'm also hearing that third grade is a very rich time; you've mentioned third grade a couple of times. And in terms of your own experience and then experience of having a relationship with a third grader ....
Andy: Yeah, I appreciate you picking up on that. And I didn't notice that until later, and I think it was something that was a message for me on some level -- and in fact still is, and I'm still needing to study what that message is. My experience in third grade was really bad and so -- I was born in Omaha, so I was born in the Midwest in Nebraska and my parents were the P.T.A. presidents I believe that year and so very involved in public schools and dedicated and you know very volunteer-oriented. And the recollection that I have of my third grade year is that initially I was to be placed in a third-fourth grade combined classroom with a couple of teachers and my older brother's just fifteen months older than me and going to be in that class too -- and some weight decision was made to not put me in that class perhaps because my brother was there. And instead I was put in a third grade class with a teacher that scared me -- and I didn't really have the self-awareness to recognize that I was frightened by this teacher and it wasn't really until years later that I connected some of the dots. So the teacher is in my recollection -- and you have to take this with a grain of salt that's appropriate, it's a recollection of a scared third grade boy now looking at this many many years later and have looked at this many many times over the years -- but my stereotype of her is the classic schoolmarm. So we're talking like 1970, 1971 -- Midwest, third grade class, and the way that the teacher would direct you was, I mean the teacher was the authority -- you did what she said, you moved in the way she said, you sat where she said you would sit, you you didn't get up unless she tells you you could get up -- it's that classic kind of school situation that we have as a stereotype. The way that she would move you, though, if you weren't quick enough or you weren't doing what she wanted or she just didn't want to take the time to tell you and she just was going to move you was that she would move you by your ear lobe, so she would she would take a student and and grab their ear and pull them to where she wanted them to be.
So during that year my parents as P.T.A. presidents were honored as lifetime members of the P.T.A. and my recollection of this is that this was an evening event that they were going to be so honored -- I have two older brothers and I think we were home maybe with a babysitter -- and then we were going to be a surprise for my parents so we could be there to see the ceremony, and we were brought into the school and my recollection is that the meeting was in the gym, which was also the cafeteria and that next to that was a hall and we were kept in the hall and then we were going to be brought out when the ceremony -- for the appropriate moment was -- and my third grade teacher was the one given the task of watching us and when it was time to bring us out you probably now can guess how she brought me out in front of that room full of people. And I remember being pulled out by my ear, and it was humiliating and awful and I've, you know, nearly wet my pant -- it was so awful for me. That was the year that I started having night terrors and by the time I was in fourth grade I was hospitalized for a week and remember electrodes being attached to my head and my family being in family counseling/behavior modification form to try to figure out what in the world was causing this. So, and I just you know I had no connection -- you don't question adults and -- but that was third grade for me and it was my biggest shame that as much as older brothers may tease their little brothers, the one thing that I think my brothers knew that you left alone was you didn't out the fact that I screamed at night. I don't recall them ever telling like a neighbor, child or somebody -- it was just humiliating and I honestly, I wouldn't talk about that till well into my twenties, so when I was at Evergreen.
So that was third grade and then, like I said, I was matched at twenty one with this third grade boy and so I didn't connect that -- and I didn't even connect the fact that my motivator to go to college was to become a third grade teacher. So I didn't see that until after the fact -- and you picked up on it right then. So somewhere in there I've been healing that little boy.
So what I also tell people is that I believe that I have -- my, if you will, my gift or my ... sometimes I like to refer to this as ... even everyone has them... you know "what is your superpower?" -- I think mine is empathy for children and really an understanding and patience. So I like to believe that children can be with me and feel safe and secure and that they know that they're going to be respected for who they are and not try to be made into something else -- these are all founding principles of PSCS.
So I believe that was nurtured through that experience of my night terrors and in third grade, and so while I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone, I also wouldn't trade it for anything at this particular point -- that it's part of my past and background and who I am and I find myself regularly with the first-year students which tend to be the younger students -- and we serve middle and high school students, and so there are a lot of sixth and seventh graders that are new -- we'll do a lot of circles like you said and I'll facilitate something this fall called "new student seminar" and sixth- and seventh-grade seminar where we just come together and just talk. And I'll tell them this, and it will often open them up to talk about their story and I tell them "everybody has a story and when you hear it you can't help but appreciate and love that person a little bit even if you don't quite recognize it when you hear someone's pain, you feel a little more connected to that person."
And I think one of my motivations for being now is to help people know that and recognize that and to help them develop that empathy without having to hear the story. So if you know that everyone has a story and you can only really respect or care for someone when you hear it, how about we just assume they have a story and care and respect for them before we hear their story. So that's my, some of my background.
Anne: Oh, thank you so much for sharing; it is a profound story and to realize like, some of our, I think, greatest challenges in life are places that carry the most sorrow, you know, become our greatest gifts and, like you said, you know kind of in a way your superpower and the empathy and seeing that you have, and how you have been able to nurture that not only in family and friendships and in relationships, but in an entire school.... I'd love for you to share a little bit about you formed circles in the school and also about the students' role and how much freedom they have ... could you walk us through a typical day?
Andy: Yeah, that's a common question and I always smile when I hear it because it's such a reasonable and legitimate question and then I always have to kind of give a little caveat to it, that I guess there are typical days but there's really no typical day in a school like PSCS. But we do get into rhythm and routine, but I don't want to imply that there aren't other things that happen. But to the point of your question, every school day basically begins in circle and we call it "check in" and it's facilitated by one of the students and we never know who's going to do it so the role of the adults at the start of the day -- and our school day is 9 to 3:40, and we've done that for years, so now a lot of schools are starting to have a later start time here in Seattle because of the obvious need for adolescents to be able to sleep in so that sleep schedules are such, we've been doing that for I don't know 15-20 years.
And so at nine o'clock the role of the adults is to be sitting in a chair in the circle and being silent and that's all the teachers, that's me, that's whoever's there. So and the school is big enough now where -- we'll have 50-51 students this year -- so we don't have a big enough space that everybody can actually be in one circle, so we there's the outer circle will be chairs, and then people will sit on the floor in this particular model when the whole school comes together.
But inside so there's a circle of chairs that captures or that holds us -- kind of holds the space -- but anyway at nine o'clock one of the students and, like I said we never know who's going to do it, is going to say "hey let's get check-in started" and at moment that student, that particular human being -- whether they're a sixth grader or twelfth grader -- holds the authority in the room and our job is now to pay attention to that person and give our respect to that person who's now going to run the meeting for the next, and it's usually about ten minutes. And they start with announcements so they'll say "anybody have any announcements?" and if I have an announcement like anyone else in the circle I'll raise my hand and wait to be called on and then I'll make my announcement.
And announcements would range from things happening at school that day to visitors that are coming to upcoming opportunities to, you know, standard kinds of things. The next thing that they'll do is that they'll confirm that there are a couple of students who can get the kitchen at school in a state that it will be ready for the day -- and we don't have job charts at PSCS. What we do is have volunteers and so there is a list that the students have created that says kitchen and then there's AM for morning and PM for afternoon, and the students, a facilitator at check-in will ask for volunteers and then the names will get written as to who wants to do it in the morning and who wants to do it in the afternoon. So during that morning meeting the student who's leading, the facilitator, will confirm that there are two students available and ready to do it on that morning and they'll take care of that business right after the check-in meeting is over and that simply involves emptying the dishwasher and making sure the counters are clean. And if you don't want to do that that's fine you don't have to -- we don't want mandated, we don't want you to feel mandated to do that -- but we do help the students understand that without people contributing, that the community really doesn't work and we don't want it just to be following, fall back to the adults so they learn within that.
So once that's done, the last thing or the third thing that happens at check-in is what we call "appreciation" and this is perhaps THE most significant thing that happens at the school -- more significant than classes or the creation of the schedule or the activities that the students do, or the independent work that they do -- is this concept of appreciation. And it was an idea that I had years and years ago that we as humans have a propensity to focus on the negative, and appreciations is a concentrated effort at PSCS to focus on the positive. And so we can have and end this meeting in positivity, and when I first described this to people it often just sounds hokey and on many levels I can understand that -- until you are there and experience it and it seems like one of the most naturally human things to do.
And what happens is they'll say "anybody have any appreciations?" and just like the other situations people will raise their hands, get called on, and you hear people say "hey, I want to just acknowledge and appreciate the bus driver today -- I don't know why but he was singing out the stops as we were, as I was coming to school." Somebody else raises their hand, "I want to appreciate my mom; she got up early today and made me pancakes." So some appreciations end up being stories that take a minute; others are just people naming a name and it goes as long as it needs to go. And then check-in is over. The facilitator dismisses us, and that's 9- like I said 9:10. The two people who are confirmed to do the kitchen go do that, and then the first activities that the students have collaborated with the teachers to create starts at 9:20 and we go on from there.... We bookend it at 3:30, we have check-out and it's basically the same thing that I just described happening at the end of the day, and it takes 10 minutes at the end of the day. So we come together in circle and end in circle, and that's whole school.
During the week there are other times that there are circles, that we call seminars where people are meeting because they're in a similar situation in school like to become a senior to be a student on the path to graduate. You come together and you agree that you're going to be part of senior seminar where that twelve graders all work together with at least one of the members of the staff. They do that all year long, and they get together once a week to support each other. There are other seminars like that. There's advisory where each of the teachers advise roughly eleven students. So the eleven students come together with that teacher for about ten minutes a week just to be a group and support each other in that way. So while we don't have academic requirements we do have some minimal what would be community requirements, presence requirements, and attendance of these seminars. Check-in/check-out are mandatory presence which takes all of twenty minutes of your school day. And like I said they're spectacular things. That appreciation concept has become so profound in our school that it forms the basis of our graduation ceremonies where each graduate is honored in appreciation for about twenty to twenty-five minutes each at a ceremony where all the students sit on stage. The seniors come forward. They spent a year writing a statement of belief, a credo. They present their credo. They've chosen someone to speak on their behalf and then they sit down, and for a spontaneous twenty minutes people tell stories and appreciate that person. I get up and hand them their diploma to applause. So our graduation ceremonies are day long events.
So if each each student is honored for about thirty minutes twenty of which is in spontaneous appreciations, and we have like six to ten graduates, you can you can start to imagine what that ceremony is like.
Anne: You know I'm listening to you and I'm in awe. It's just extraordinary to even imagine what a gift for a child to have this form of education. I feel grateful to be able to ask a question but I hope, I know there will be a lot of questions for you today.
But I'm also smiling because in the service-based community we come in circle a lot and our awaken gatherings that happen all over the world are a very similar format. It's just confirming and makes me smile inside that this is something for which we're wired. We're wired to come together, we're wired to share stories, we're wired to be connected and to take it to the level of a formal education is really quite extraordinary.
Andy: Well the thing that makes it extraordinary in a lot of ways, and it creates fear in a lot of people too, is that we're not requiring the students to take academic classes. So it kind of blows people out of the water this idea of "what do you mean? You've got high schoolers and you don't make them take English, you don't make them take Math? And the answer is yes, we don't make them take those things, and they don't need them to graduate. What we're trying to do is, really I try to make it simple: we're trying to help our students develop strong self-awareness skills, and we're trying to help them understand what it means to be community aware so that you're part of something bigger than yourself. My belief and my founding vision for PSC is if people are healthy, if they're in healthy environments, which is what most parents do for their kids, we don't need to require them to do things. They will demand of themselves things at a higher level than we can require of them. Because as soon as we say you must do this thing that I'm making you do they don't learn it for themselves. They don't learn it for life. They don't learn it because it's passionately intriguing or important to them. They learn it to get it done and then to check it off of the list. And so much of what we do to high school students and middle school students is teach them to check boxes that are meaningless on so many levels. And so much of their life is how do I get an 'A'. It's not about do I want to learn the subject, it's how do I get an 'A', what do I need to do to get the credit. And I want to eliminate that from the conversation and have students be driven to do things that that they are excited to do, the belief being that they have an entire life to learn so many things. Let's get them practice in living a life of meaning in the present. That's the best, if you want to call it, prep for their futures is feeling connected and feeling important, and feeling that their lives have meaning now; not after they graduate from college or grad school or whatever it is; that they have meaning and purpose now. So that's what we really work to do. And when it's when it's happening it is a spectacular thing! Students don't want breaks to come; it just feels good to be there.
Anne: I am also thinking about - as a family - at Puget Sound Community School - you don't only involve students. You involve family. And I am sure even bring teachers in - is a very special experience. Because it is quite a collaboration.
Andy: Yeah. You got that right. And I do say that. I think it may be on the website that we talk about - that we don't just enroll students. We enroll families. And that we see that all this is a part of a collaboration. And that we all connected. And so the important role that parents play. And we try to help parents too- to understand how to be parents in this environment. When society tells you - that you gonna have so much fear. Since there are no mandatory academic classes, students - if they have homework for instance - they choose something that has homework - they are choosing it. And parents are so conditioned to be the homework police in our culture. And one of the first thing i tell them is - "Don't be the homework police!". That you just enjoy your relationship with your child. A lot of avoidance happens in adolescence between children and their parents because of school. Because parents are feeling like “I’d better be the one". And teachers are putting pressure on me to make sure that the kid gets a math homework done. So now I got to put a timer. And now I got to try to leverage the fact that they want to play a videogame; to this math assignment. And the point is that it poisons the relationship. And I don't want that to happen.
Anne: Absolutely. In fact i remember when my daughter was in English 3rd grade at that time. And the school she was attending they didn't give homework to the child until 4th or 5th grade. And so she and a bunch of her friends came home and "We want homework.We want homework.” And like they are demanding homework. And we were having a parent evening with the teacher and saying our children are really wanting homework. "What do we do about this ?" It is so great. That it was coming from them.
Andy: And that is an interesting thing too developmentally. Seen that a lot of times within in our schools. Third and fourth grade is obviously little bit younger than what I been with the students I work with. But even in middle school , sometimes the students will start thinking that they are not going to measure up to their neighborhood peers. Because they are not being forced to do something. Or they don't have a grade. And even parent sometimes are " How do I know how my child is doing if you don't give me grades to look at?” Or " How do I know?" . What I try to do is really turn it back to " What do you know?", " What do you feel ?" , " What is your relationship with your child?". With the students themselves- they have a hard time recognizing the things that they do naturally. Like if you hold a passion or strong interest that they work so hard at. They have more time to do those things. A lot of we are conditioned to think is that you have to experience some pain in school in order to be learning something. And that is so not right. That from a human standpoint - that we learn the best of things that give us the most joy.
Anne: The question that curiously , comes up for me Andy is - are other schools following suit? How do you see the ripples of all this loving kindness and growth and focus on human development - how do you see that in your greater community or other schools coming to you for advice? So curious.
Andy: Yeah , yeah! That's a lovely question. And when Melinda and I were starting this school and with our founding board - we are also a 501C3 non-profit. So we are governed by a board. And one of the ideas initially was to be - it was even written in our mission - to be a model. So part of my work was going to be trying to do this as a kind of reach-out work. I found that in the first ten years of the school , it was pretty exhausting to do that. My wife and I had a second child. And do all the things with the school. So kind of scaled that back. But I haven't ever turned any one down who wants to talk to me about starting a school or come visit. So we do tremendous amount of - I wouldn't call it outreach now - but it is in-reach - people find us and then want to know more. So I am taking regular calls. People come in to visit as far away as Germany. And I help someone in Puerto Rico. And still do for years - who have tried to do similar things.
The thing I tell people who are interested in starting a school is- I don't want you to replicate what we are doing. That, I don't think that's the way to go about doing it. I think the thing that you need to do if you want to start a school is find where your heart is. And follow that . And if you find that you are inspired by something that what we are doing; then by all means take that in. But you have to put it through your own interpretation of what that is. So don't just try to copy us. But try to use us as an inspiration. So that's a bit of the coaching that I do.
I find that I also get a lot of contacts from educators who want to talk more about implementing kindness in schools. And there are stories related to teachers reaching out to me. And part of what makes some of their challenge so much harder than what I do is, the rest of the things that they have to do Is that literally - at the PSCF - we have a provision that you can stop what you are doing and bring everybody together. A student can do this. A sixth grader can say "Hey - I want everyone to come together and listen to me." - it is called a super meeting. And that can stop a class or it can stop a another activity. But what I mean by - let's say a teacher learns about me through this call and in some other way and wants to reach out and talk about - "Ok - how can I implement a kindness circle in my school?" - I can give them all kinds of ideas. And the challenge to is it; whether some of what's causing some of whatever the challenge might be is related to some of the structures within the school that the teacher doesn't have any power over. Does that make sense?
Anne: Yeah! Wow! I wanted to share this Andy. I have been so blessed to volunteer with other service space volunteers in bringing kindness circle to local middle school and high school . And we have this relationship with one Waldorf high school , where we been coming in the beginning of the year. And also at the end of the year for a kindness circle and a gratitude circle. And I was just thinking about the teacher of the senior class every year before they start the schooling year - and she said "Wow! we really miss you and look forward to bringing more kindness into our day and into our year. And it just made me realize that there is so much gratitude but also invitation for more kindness.
Andy: I think we are driven. The way Dalai Lama phrases is to say "it is just who we are.” I think that baby toddlers - little children- are naturally kind. They don't necessarily have the sophistication to know how to exactly to act on that. But if you really look at little beings - I think that they really are spectacularly wired for love and sharing and kindness. And of course there is other pieces of development that are going on there. And I also think that we are very wired for empathy. And for kind of being tuned in to each other. So connectedness. And I think that's there are lots of things that cause us to lose some of that - because of the way that we have structured our world - competitively so much. And then when you get to be a five year old - you are put into a more formalized school. Typically If you haven't already. And then you are told each day if you are not reading - then there is something wrong with you. And so there are all these kinds of challenges that , I think, move us away from something that's natural. And a lot of what I find, that I do , is to just try to guide people gently back to who they always have been. Not that they stopped being that. They just lost sight of it.
Birju: Andy, this is Birju. As you were going about the conversation, I was just finding my curiosity deeply sparked and I was writing down questions as we're going out of just a sense of aliveness. And I'm curious if I could jump in and ask a few.
Andy: Sure, please do. I love it!
Birju: First of all thank you for what you do in the world and in the spirit with how you do it. One of the strongest questions that came up for me was, if you had any stories of how the children that you worked with changed over time as a result of going through these kinds of practices? Especially because you see them across years, is that right?
Andy: That's correct. Yeah. So my favorite story actually starts back at the school I taught at before starting PSCS, and so again, that's the little school. I had this...he was a 5th grader I believe at the time, placed in my classroom and his name is Johnny. And I'm still connected with him; we're actually close friends. I just got an email from him inviting me to his house warming with his wife. You talk about time, he's a fifth grader back in '92, '93 somewhere there. What I learned in getting to know Johnny is, Johnny is profoundly dyslexic. He wasn't reading, he wasn't writing at that time. By the way, I told this story before and it even got written up in a book that was published about a year ago, talking about kindness.
Johnny though, as I got to know him in that year, is as soft and caring as a young fifth grader as I had met, just a real soft soul. I just had this concern for him moving on to middle school, what was going to happen. And I had a conversation with his mom, and I said, just be sure wherever you send him to school, that he doesn't start thinking that there's something wrong with him cuz there's not. He's just not reading and writing the way his peers are at that point. But Johnny then became one of my great teachers that year and that he said something to me that is actually the seed of all the kindness work that has come. He said "Andy", students have always called me by my first name, "Andy, why are we...", and he was referring to the general population, "why are we so focused on the negative?", and he was referring to the way that the news worked and the way the newspaper worked and the way we talked to each other as people, that we focused on the bad things that were going on. And he said, "wouldn't it be a lot more interesting if the news reported on all the happy things that are going on in the world instead of all the unhappy things? that instead of talking about the people that got into the car accidents, we talked about all of them that didn't?" And this is a fifth grader saying this to me, and I thought that was such a profound idea. So I gave him a level of structure which became the Good News Newspaper that he started, basically trying to tell the positive stories and giving him some practice writing and reading.
As you might guess, Johnny became one of the founding students of PSCS and his parents, among the founding parents, who I'm still connected with. His dad was instrumental, his dad is a guy name David Spangler, that people can look up. David's well known in, especially Servicespace type of things. So, Johnny came to PSCS and I kept thinking of the things that he was saying and in that first year, I found a mailing list. In 1994, I managed to get all the students dial up internet accounts that were in PSCS which was kind of remarkable. And Newsweek magazine was so fascinated by it, they wrote a full page about our school, simply because I had gotten the kids connected online in 1994. And one of the things I connected them to was a teacher in Europe who was connecting children with Holocaust survivors via email. And kids anywhere in the world, could write to him and ask a question of someone who had been at Auschwitz and other concentration camps. I thought, this is spectacular, you'd send your message out and everyone who was part of this mailing list could read your questions. The guy would go interview the survivor and then write up their response and it would be disseminated to everyone again. This is incredible!!
There was no graphic internet, this was all text driven in 1994. I connected that idea to Johnny and created the first kindness class with the same concepts. I got a hold of that kind of mailing list type of software and then I would send out a theme on Sunday nights: Do something kind for our neighbor, Do something kind for someone you are in conflict. So I would send out this idea, it would go out to whoever would wanted to participate: students at PCSC, parents at PSCS, people in Europe, people in Australia, whoever. And then by the end of the week, people would write back and tell their stories. Meanwhile Johnny keeps growing and being connected to who he is, which is predominately kind. And he suggested we have an in-person kindness class for the students. And so we were having these in-person classes and we would meet out in public settings. There was one time, Johnny had this idea, and we were in a mall outside of Seattle.
There were still pay phones at the time. And he had the idea of putting a dollar bill under a pay phone and then we'd find the number and we'd go to another phone and we would call it. If you remember back to pay phones, and if it rang, if you were walking by a pay phone and it rang, what would you do? Johnny was fascinated by questions like this? Most people walk past it but the people that stopped, you want to engage with them, those were interesting people. And so, he had taped a dollar bill underneath the phone and so he'd say to them when they picked up the phone, "Look under the phone, there's a surprise for you!" and they would get the dollar and ...so there's lots of stories like that with Johnny. As he moved through the school, he continued to grow and develop. He now has a Masters and works with kids in the autism spectrum and developing a private practice for helping kids who have more social or neurological needs. He's in his thirties and one of my good friends.
Birju: Wow. My gratitude for sharing the story and brings up follow ups. I'm also noticing there's a caller in queue. So I'd like to invite the caller in.
Sarah: Hi my name is Sarah Grace. I have literally have tears because I'm so moved by what you've done for me, I'm almost 63 and I'm ready to come to your school right now! For me, school was a nightmare, a complete nightmare. And I just moved and just wanted to say how much I appreciate what you're doing. The only year that wasn't a nightmare was my second grade year when I was in New York City at an alternative school which was pretty unusual for that day and age. But we moved a lot and I went to many different schools and each one was a nightmare. And I do know that I have some kind of form of dyslexia and learning, I had some inabilities, but I had a hard time learning in that kind of environment and there was a lot of cruelty. But I want to say, when my son went to school. First of all I homeschooled him, in the first grade, and that was the most amazing year for me, personally, because it was a 100% child led. And he completely led it. And I'm just amazed by him and when I sent him to school, which was just difficult because I had imagined homeschooling forever. But you know, I just saw such changes in his whole demeanor and he was really bored a lot of the time, but at least he had a dad that did amazing things with him outside of school. I just can't say enough of how moved I feel, just cheers, because this would've been the way for me. Thank you for what you're giving. It's amaze-amazing. Thank you.
Andy: Sarah, thank you for taking the time to call in and say that. It's really meaningful to me to have people affirm the work that I'm doing and that those with me are doing. And I also appreciate just hearing some of your stories. It's not surprising probably to learn that, I hear stories like that a lot. It reinforces this idea to me, that we have work to do, as a culture and as a society to try and respect and honor children better. And you're at 63, I can hear within your voice the pain that you have still, with your school experience.
Couple other things that might be useful. We involve people of all ages. It's community schools, obviously our enrollment is children, but people that have the desire and interest to share with students, we bring in as volunteers and when I tell people about our volunteer program as I try to I don't care what it is you offer to the students, I care that you love it. I want a students to be surrounded by people who are excited by what you are doing and that's if you were local That's what I'd be saying and the other thing that occurred to me is if I heard your last name correctly I think there is some meaning in that and did you say your last name is Grace?
Sarah: Actually that's my first name Faragrace.
Andy: Got it. I love it. Well that's a lovely name it was it seemed out relevant to the conversation.
Sarah: Thank you.
Birju: Thank you. So I wanted to follow up on what you were speaking to there Andy, that I'm just thinking about like if I had to put my cynical glasses on or one of the things that would immediately come to me is Oh you know you're going to teach children kindness and not anything else and they're going to grow up to be flower children who are either starving artists or yoga teachers and so you just spoke about someone teaching young people on the artistic spectrum and I'm curious if you can share any more about what happens to people who have been exposed to to learning in this kind of way. Do they become people who can adjust in this culture and society or people who are working to shift this culture in society?
Andy: Sorry, I mean there's going to be a kind of an answer that’s yes so this thing is when you really allow people to grow up in an environment that allows them to know who they are and what they're growing into, they will grow up into the diversity of the culture. I mean we've had students who moved on from PSCS years, most choose to go to college and getting into. No it actually isn't that difficult if you know what you want to do. So most do that. We've had some going to the military. We've had some who volunteer. We have some, a lot of students, to be it's big in the culture are involved in tech in some sort of way. One of our early students is working in New York for Google. So you name a category and we probably have somebody who's doing something like that. One here in Seattle is a tattoo artist and I love hearing from her and fact there is a Facebook exchange going on over the last week because another former student came in and after I have Mr Rogers tattooed on his leg by her hands, she posted it on her Facebook page and people from and she graduated ten years ago were saying, “Hey, have you told Andy yet?” and so she was reaching out to me and I thought you know that's spectacular. So it really just runs the gamut of society of what people are interested in and what they go do I will say we can do having more socially progressive, but that's probably not a big surprise.
Birju: Thank you thank you let's let's go to our next caller.
Caller: Hi Andy, this is Emily Chamberlin. So as Faragrace said just extraordinary to hear more of your story deeply moving and I have found hope hard to come by lately and it is it is lovely to sort of see how deeply you embodied that. I just have a really brief reflection and then a question at you had the privilege of having Andy as a participant in a retreat that I offered in July and so I heard a bit if this story, but I've heard a lot on this call about how transformative this approach to education is to students, and I just want to say that I taught it at Quaker school, a friend’s school back East, with a very similar philosophy for sixteen semi years.
And it is so deeply transformative to teachers as well. I was formed by that school. I remember someone saying to me when I first, as a relatively young teacher when I first joined the staff saying something like your charge is to recognize and respond to the light in each of your students and colleagues and by light you know they would mean that it and it were however you want to name it but that changed everything about my relationship with my student with my colleagues, with my work, with all of life honestly because I came to understand it's not up to you to show me that light.
It's up to me to keep coming back around and around and around and sort of answering it in you and so it becomes a living practice and that's what I hear in your story Andy which is so inspiring to me. It's so powerfully embodied in every aspect of what you do.
Andy: Emily I am so thrilled that you dialed and wanted to be part of the call and chosen to comment and I want everyone to know about Emily.
She is a facilitator for Center for Courage and Renewal and I attended this workshop about a month ago and it was really the way I described it to people since I've been back is I think I got to experience what it's like to be a student at PSCS. And the way Emily facilitated this with her with her partner in the way that the Center for Courage and Renewal, actually does its work I was like wow now Emily on the phone here. I am really touched and so pleased to hear you say the things that you're saying. And if people were dialed in earlier I told the story about coming back from this workshop with a little stone that Emily had given me and the other participants in it had this word courage on it and it was while we were in our closing circle at the workshop that I was a part of in July that that these were handed out but that I have the vision that goes on to give and take garden and there's a picture on my blog of me setting it there at the give and take garden and Emily you'll be pleased to know it's no longer there.
Emily: Oh good. Andy, can I ask one quick question? I don’t want to take up too much time but I was struck by the story of your third grade experience and sort of that paradoxical relationship between the place of greatest pain in the place of greatest giftedness and I've always loved …. nice poem kindness which talks about to know the place of deepest kindness then you need to know the place of deepest suffering so I just wondered if you had anything you wanted to say maybe about the relationship between kindness and the suffering.
Andy: That's a big question too and it's one that actually I think is more about compassion than necessarily about kindness. When I'm thinking about this I have spent a lot of time and I did this spring, I facilitated a group called the Compassion Action Team and we really tried to talk about what I think is that root of your question and it's where we spend a lot of time as a group and this ranged from sixth graders to twelfth graders coming together and there may be eight or ten of them and me, and I began this by trying to have them understand that compassion is recognizing that suffering exists in the world and first looking at where they may have suffered and seeing these children start to open up to each other and then the response that would come, the human response that was naturally kind and how more compassionate. And so that's what I was trying I think to get out earlier that we all have a story and that story generally involves some suffering like Faragrace like I could hear in her just wanting to share something. She was moved to call because of the suffering she had and the kindness of her wanting to recognize that and give us the gift of calling to tell us that is it is an act of kindness in this case it is something that I will carry with me from this phone call or this awakening call. So that would be the kind of an introductory thought that I have on the connection between suffering and pain if I would I would branch that into compassion and then look at what is it that we suffered or what is the pain that we have, we just experience is part of being living creatures and how do we share that with each other.
Emily: Thank you so much, Andy.
Andy: Thanks for calling Emily.
Birju: Thank you Emily thank you for your question and for your broader work on the circle of trust.
And I would like to go to the next question that we have which is coming through the online media.
The question is from Adonia she says or he says thanks Andy for the talk. I was wondering how you see the policy of not mandating students to take classes, translate into real world experience of working at a job. Likewise, when students work for a grade in schools to fulfill a requirement, doesn't this translate into trying to get money in real life and also to fulfill an expectation? How do you equate the pressure of getting a good grade to getting a high income in real life? Thank you.
Andy: Yeah, that's a lovely question, on a lot of levels and it's a somewhat sophisticated one at that. You might guess that I get that one quite often. And behind that, I think, is this idea that if we don't have to suffer through school, then we're not going to know how to suffer at work; and I really don't want, I don't think you have to suffer to get a good job or move in the direction you want. I will say, just on the high income piece -- I'm not the least bit interested in helping students learn how to get high income. But I am interested in helping them ‘how to know who they are’ and then going for what they want. And if that’s high income, I can help them do that.
So, I don't want to assume that the measurement of success in our society is a high paying job because I see it as something else. But the idea that if they don't get some practice doing somethings that they may not want to do, then what if they're given a task in their jobs that they don't want to do? So here's how I actually talk about that with students when they're in school -- they will say to me that they are interested in going to college; and so either I or their advisor or one of the teachers will help them recognize, “Ok, what does it take to get into that college. What is it that you have to do to get into that college?” Let’s look at their website, let's talk to the admissions officer. Maybe we can bring someone here to talk to us.
And inevitably, you will find that there are things that, initially, the student does not want to do in order to get into that college. They say that you need to actually know some math or you have to do some right here. And so, at that point, they have to make a decision, and instead of me trying to create an environment in which they are mandated to do these things because...the thought in a lot of cases, developmentally, is that they're going to not ever take the hard task, which I just think is bogus because I rush to the hard part all the time. They can make a decision -- do they actually want to go to that college? And if they do, then they will do the work. And one of our teachers is an expert at helping them recognize that you actually want to do that when you want to go to that college. It's a mind shift, it's an awareness of what you're doing.
So, now let's say that you're at PSCS and now you are working your tail off because you want to go to that college. And you're doing things because you are motivated and you're internally driven to do them. I believe when you're an adult and now you're in a work situation that...there are a lot of people unfortunately that are in work situations, that they have to take a job they don't love and do things that they don't love, in order to make sure they can pay the bills. And I want to acknowledge that. If you've taken a job, ideally you've taken that job with the understanding of what the job entails. And so if something that the job entails is so distasteful to you and you can afford to not take that job, I would say -- don't take that job. But I'm talking from a fairly, I recognize, privileged position of what work you can choose to do versus what work you have to do, to survive. But my answer basically is -- students challenge themselves to do things that they initially think they don't want to do at our school, in internally driven ways rather than externally driven ways.
Birju: Thank you so much for that. One more question from our side -- how can folks on this call who are interested in, moved by what you've been sharing and the values behind what you're sharing, support your intentions in the world? How can we support you?
Andy: Aah! That's a great question! There's the kind of literal societal ways of support. The school itself is a federally-recognized nonprofit. We rely on significant donations in order to make the school work and most every dollar that is donated to us is given back in tuition aid. So families that otherwise couldn't afford to come, can come. We’re a state-approved private school that has tuition and is driven by fundraising; one of our staff members is a brilliant fundraiser...So that's one way! You know, if somebody wants to support the work and maybe they have the means, then they can make a donation to the school. Yay! That would help in so many, so many ways. Other ways that people can get involved are simply -- I mentioned in response to Sarah Grace, saying that if people are local and want to get involved, they can do so as a volunteer. And if people are just interested in dialing in to some of the things that I do, there are so many ways to get in touch with me online. Or learn more about the kindness initiatives that I'm doing -- the simplest way would probably be to go to kindliving.net. But andysmallman.com gets you there and my personal blog is kindofandy.com
Yeah, I love having the idea of….One of the things that I just really try to stress to people is -- what is it that you want to do, if you found something moving about this and want to show support for it? How do you want to show support? Send me an email! Just like I said when Sarah called -- I just love hearing people call in to say kind things.
Birju: We'll follow up with an e-mail to our callers and also share contact information in case they want to reach out. And any thoughts from you, Anne, before we close?
Anne: Well, I'm just, you know, I'm just really so grateful. Andy, you know, a lot of what we practice even within the ServiceSpace community is creating a space. And, you just, you know, it’s just in you, and me and love and kindness that create these beautiful safe spaces to have these conversations of the heart. And thank you for sharing, really, some of your deepest vulnerability. I feel like that's where we really grow, and also just honoring the unique path in each of our hearts and to really listen to what is in the heart. I just loved how you shared -- No, don't replicate what we've done at PSCS school, you know. Follow what’s in your heart. And that's such beautiful wisdom and advice, and I just wanted to thank you so much!
Andy: Anne, thank you!
Anne: Yeah, and before we close, I just had to share that, I was so, like, how do I sit still through this call...But I was watching a really sweet video about the school -- there was one of your students who wrote a kind note and she said, “Everyone smiles in the same language.” I just love that!
Andy: That actually is a story to tell too...That's a girl named Mattie who is now in grad school training to be a counselor...Yeah! She's a great story. Yeah, she created that activity...it’s in that...the random acts of kindness foundation commissioned that video to be made of P.S.C.S. A camera crew from San Francisco came up, ‘storytellers for good’ and they filmed us for seven hours and created a four minute internet video. That’s what you saw.
Anne: Well, it's quite extraordinary and I just want to thank you and all your students, Melinda, your family and friends for the richness of today's call. Thank you!
Andy: Thank you, Anne. That’s really kind and thoughtful and I appreciate that. This has really been a joy for me.
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