Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

A Warm Conversation and a Cup of Coffee: Final Revision

A Warm Conversation and a Cup of Coffee
“A Revelation in Education”

“Where you place your eyes is what you will always see”

This book is dedicated to all those teachers who listen to their hearts, teach from this place of innate wisdom, and serve the other in extravagant ways

This book is dedicated to Andrew, my greatest teacher. He keeps life real, tests my patience, accountability, intuitive gifts, and reminds me to not “play teacher” His sensitivity and authenticity are gifts that are irreplaceable.

This book is dedicated to Sarah, who encourages me to view the wholeness and beauty of each person in this world, transcending the outer layers which sometimes are not so relationally pleasant or true.

This book is dedicated to Regan, who is the free and loving spirit of every child in this world. She churns the imagination and lets go of what she can see with only her eyes.

This book is dedicated to Sam, who quietly lives in the space between child and adult. He reminds me to nourish the quiet and gentle nature of all persons, young and old.

This book is dedicated to Spencer, “Bubby” who learns in extraordinary ways and requires the imaginative leadership of all his teachers to ignite his passions and gifts of which there are many.

This book is dedicated to Mr. Pickett. He taught from the heart and connected with one young man that will never forget his compassion and desire to serve another.

This book is dedicated to all those teachers who listen to their hearts, teach from this place of innate wisdom and serve the other in extravagant ways
Lori L Desautels


Teachers change lives! For better or worse, their presence with students affects change. School environments, administrative policies, and content expertise do not hold a candle to the gentle “personal philosophy” that radiates from teachers who create relationships with their students. Techniques, strategies, and methodologies are important, but we must begin with a compassionate philosophy as the building block for securing happier, productive, and creative students, teachers, and parents. This philosophy must be discussed and shared because as simple as it is, we have forgotten the power of a compassionate presence. Compassion discussed, revered and implemented is the warm conversation we must return to. It is a conversation that must be solution oriented rather than problem oriented, and this takes incredible awareness and a shift in attitude.

There is good news in the world of educational reform because there are teachers, administrators, students, and parents who care. They care deeply and are creating positive experiences and classrooms where students feel secure and are encouraged to discover their passions, passions and innate geniuses, embracing mistakes as the greatest learning tool. This is not a book about shoveling schools out from beneath a pile of dysfunction and centralized chaos or platitudes filled with the all that is wrong or erroneous and leaving it at that! There is a growing and heightened awareness of the many challenges our schools face, and when this awareness is activated, change is inevitable.

I have been studying and researching various opposing opinions, methodologies and mandates from a national transition to teaching program, Teach for America, comparing and contrasting its premises to the intelligent and forthright writings from former educator and New York State “teacher of the year,” John Taylor Gatto. The two viewpoints and approaches appear quite opposite in structure and function but their desires for students and the desired end results may be the same?

I am currently one of the instructors for the Teach for America graduate students who are first and second year teachers in Indianapolis, Indiana, a Midwest sanction of this national transition to teaching program. I am struggling with this organization’s seemingly compulsory flavor of teaching methodology and mind set for approaching and affecting national change within our public schools. I also believe strongly in self-directed and experiential learning, the collaborative method John Taylor Gatto describes as the congregational principle from his book “Dumbing Us Down.” I believe as a culture, we have been conditioned by many factors to be extremists in our words, thoughts and behaviors, and with this attitude of absolutes, we miss out! I believe Mr. Gatto and Teach for America could benefit from a philosophy embracing a balanced perspective of rigor, assessment, and a compassionate presence. We forfeit the force that drives every individual to feel better or more successful and that is compassion- defined as an awareness of one’s struggle or suffering and a desire to assist in alleviating the suffering, because when we do- we benefit and are further able to change our perspectives, attitudes and the fluid flow of positive emotion and thought.

When we keep our eyes on a positive perspective instigating “change”, the desired outcome has a greater chance of highlighting all that is going well, while people are more open and flexible with their thoughts, words and actions. When one is negative and constricted in his initial approach about anything, defense mechanisms gear up and prepare for confrontation, the battle of right verses wrong! Our children and adolescents deserve so much more from us when it comes to their education and our preparations respectfully explored and implemented for their future.

All children are born with an excitement to explore, create, and interact. We are relational beings. Research reports that establishing and maintaining healthy relationships drives our intrinsic motivation to feel happier, secure, and increases positive emotion especially during perceived stressful events. Most children enter pre-school and kindergarten with enthusiasm and a curiosity to play and imagine, while gradually defining who they are through connecting with other children, teachers and adults.

It feels to be a time when political and educational reformers around the country and within individual states are continually developing, reinventing and rewrapping core content standards for teaching the subject areas of language arts, math, science and social studies. Although forward movement takes action, I believe at some point we must stop doing and rethink the philosophical foundation upon which these educational standards, benchmarks and core assessments are founded upon. We are entrenched inside a bureaucracy that contributes to a multi-billion dollar industry creating more standardized assessments measuring singular test scores within these subject areas calling for one solution and one right answer, and yet are we addressing the cornerstone needs of our students? Below are some questions that we must consider before we move ahead. What are those needs? Are students happy in school? Do they feel secure and safe, secure enough to make mistakes and learn from those instruments of learning? Do they feel stimulated by the instruction and content? Are they curious? Do they feel purpose and relevancy when standards and subjects are presented? Do they feel successful? How important is it for students to feel successful knowing they spend 12,000 hours plus inside classrooms and schools through a span of 12 or more years of academic preparation? Does acquiring higher test scores in math and science equate to personal fulfillment? Were the inventors of Under Armor, Google, and Disney World successful because of their high math and science scores? “How,” is one of the most important components inside the teaching and learning process. Teaching a child how to problem solve, how to critically think, and how to get along with others, while seeing diversity as a gift rather than an obstacle to penetrate is part of this global conversation. Do we stress in schools our commonalities as humans or are we subconsciously or consciously focused on our differences?

When 18 year olds enter college, the work force, or trade schools, how many of them are asking, “How do I find meaning in my life?” “What is my purpose?” “What do I do now?” How many are just living in the present moment with no idea of how to plan for a future? How many young adults at this age live for Friday night? It has been my experience as a teacher, mother, instructor in higher education and school counselor that the many of our young adults are asking, then pondering these life forming questions, feeling restless with preparation and we need to listen to them, verbally and nonverbally. When my own 19 year old son is restless, ornery and struggling, his grades in school drop, he loses things, and he is irritable. When he is taking care of “business” and aligning himself with the people, experiences, and things that will lift him up, his grades in school improve! For me, his grades are a barometer for managing life, yet this doesn’t equate to self-fulfillment or personal happiness. As educators and parents, we begin listening with a five word question that initiates the “conversation.” How may I serve you?

If world peace is truly a global desire and all individuals begin life inside the arena of a learning and teaching culture, as educators, we must become responsible for mentoring the emotional and social needs of our future world citizens. When we mentor, we do not spoon feed information, knowledge or content into the mouths of our students, as that knowledge may be irrelevant within a few years. We listen, we inquire, and then we gently guide them to their self-initiated passions and strengths. We begin to model self-initiated instruction where children and adolescents remember and re-create their strengths. We must assist our students in developing a process for: arriving at thoughts driven by feelings that create a channel for personal happiness, develop an appreciation and acceptance of our human differences, create purposeful experiences in and out of schools, coupled with a flow of ideas that never dry up! How do we begin to delve inside these notions recreating an educational system that emphasizes compassion? We begin with each student, parent and educator. We begin to focus on what is going well, what is going right, inside classrooms, schools and our homes. If we are to affect change, then turn around schools and effective leadership start with a compassionate driven perspective, one that takes time and a hard look at the benefits and obstructions of compulsory schooling. A compassion driven curriculum is neither trite nor fluffy. It is educational rigor at its finest and best practice for all.

At an early age, children do not recognize color, race, status, diversity or ethnicity in a negative or competitive light. They accept what is before them with a hearty appetite to learn, to discover. We know through the early processes of familial and societal conditioning, a child’s values, beliefs and culture are formed. These formed belief systems often times create the divisions and stereotyping of people in later years, clearly erasing much of the naïve and loving nature of that which is innate to all children in this world. Research also presents a novel view and understanding of human development that exceeds our genetic composition. We now understand that genetic inheritance is less than 50%; approximately 30% of our holistic health landscape and that environment and the enrichment of that environment or lack thereof affect the major emotional, cognitive and social functioning systems of each individual.

Here is where the critical conversation must commence. Are we able to create a balance of assessment driven mastery examining student performance and growth, as we begin dialoguing about an enriched curriculum embedded in compassion-compassion for one another, our work, education and the process of thought? To be compassionate is to be creative, innovative, accepting and appreciative for the variety of individuals, cultures, circumstances and experiences our lives generate and present. We can’t afford “not” to have this conversation! It is a way of being with one another, rather than continuing on this fast track of “doing.”

National Core Standard- Compassionate Curriculum

A compassionate curriculum will be explored and discussed in three parts. First and foremost, we must ask one another what he or she needs. How may I serve you? When we do not understand another, tempers flare, agitation is provoked and we lose sight of the aptitudes, skills, and gifts each of us contributes to one another and this educational cauldron of diversity. We then must listen and listen deeply where understanding another’s mind and heart is activated with clarity! The third component of a compassionate curriculum is “creation.” When we understand the needs of our students, parents, children and colleagues , it is only then we can begin to create a place, a presentation of subject matter, thought or ideas that aligns with another’s belief systems, abilities, interests and strengths; modeling the most significant interpersonal skill that all people need when creatively relating to one another – empathy. When we empathize with our students, colleagues, parents and business associates we intuitively open our eyes to a perspective that we might not have discovered or understood before asking, listening and designing a way to stay connected with understanding. Please join me in this process of creative envisioning as we begin to develop a curriculum, a national core standard, a platform that is the cornerstone for creating compassionate, creative and purpose driven individuals who begin to listen to one another, but mostly themselves; in the place where education begins and ends! When we discover another’s innate genius, assisting our students to reach “within,” to the heart, we inadvertently discover our passions, aptitudes and strengths as well. Inside this story, you will experience, repetitive notions, read similar concepts, hearing parallel ideas written within different contexts. Old habits die hard, and it is only through practice and repetition that new ways of relating to one another and ideas become permanent.

Before you read another page, try this little experiment. If you are struggling with someone, a family member, business partner, co-worker, etc., feeling agitated, annoyed, or misunderstood, approach them and the situation in a novel way. With an intention to listen, ask, how can I make this easier for you? What do you need? How can I help? Then observe. Observe the angst; anger and frustration gradually slip away, as the question is posed with sincerity and authenticity. This is where the magic of discovering empathy begins to open pathways of understanding and creative exploration. Learning and teaching are now able to open up to cooperative and collaborative components, where broadened perspectives drive compassion and ultimately, exceptional teaching and learning.

Is it not time to place angry and agitated nationalism, separatism, world wars, exorbitant military spending, and an intense intolerance of one another into a locked box? This worn out container holds the old stories of pedagogy and political baggage no longer applicable in this world brimming with possibility of global communication and collaboration. It is time we create space for creative service to one another, embracing a conversation that holds compassion in highest esteem and a national standard that will enhance the acquisition of educational content and skills needed in this ever changing world. I am excited for the day when my children and grandchildren will be video conferencing with students from Japan, India and China who together will create a communication and performance based assessment that will align our countries with a deepened respect for the rich diversity each holds, rather than worrying and placing competitive edges inside the hearts and souls of those who were born to relate, to inquire and wonder! We now begin…

This work I do is an offering
from my hand and heart.
Let the imagination awaken the power that
is within each student, releasing healing communion throughout the world.
Shelley Richardson

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