Creative Lives: How Students Thrive

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The following is a sample from the first chapter of our training Program manual. Each chapter of our workbook demonstrates how we have applied Ellen Tadd’s Framework for Wise Education in the field, and offers concrete suggestions for working with individual students, personal practice, and working with groups!

Chapter 1 - INSPIRATION

“Inspiration is an uplifting response
that makes us feel glad to be alive.”  —Ellen Tadd
  

   Inspired children are enthused about learning, open to new ideas, and experience connection with others and the world around them. Sustaining a positive, inspired attitude fuels an inner spark that helps kids pick themselves up and get back on the bicycle, flex with a change in plan, master the next spelling word, or reach out to the new person in class.     

   For too many children, ongoing stress, anxiety, or even depression have become common. Others avoid hard work, persuaded that immediate gratification equals happiness. Many find it difficult to quiet anxious or negative thinking and experience enjoyment. Through understanding the crown chakra, we are better able to help them turn these patterns around and cultivate an innate, abiding enthusiasm, which can help see them through challenges, stumbles, falls, and new learning.

  As teachers, you have observed the crown chakra in action more than you realize. Consider the following example:

   I am observing a group of 3rd- to 5th-grade students and their teacher, engaged in planting raised beds in our after-school garden; they have divided themselves into task groups. Ted, 11, is somber, stands back and watches others work. He needs encouragement to take up a task, then dabbles at it without vigor or pleasure. Marie, 9, runs from group to group and needs frequent assistance to come back to her own assignment. Max, 8, is excited when he gets the shovel he wants, but is furious when he is not the first to plant a bulb. Anna, 10, enjoys weeding and turning soil. She talks and connects with her friends and teachers as she works along. Anna has fun, and gets a good deal accomplished.                               

   Time revealed these to be habitual patterns for these kids. On the surface these behaviors might seem unrelated, but when viewed through the lens of the chakra system, they reveal good function or weaknesses in the children’s crown chakras. You’ve likely seen these behaviors in your own students. Ellen Tadd’s chart offers an overview of common patterns associated with this chakra, and can be used for a quick assessment of the children in our garden.

Crown Chakra Attributes & Common Patterns 

Well-functioning
Feels good to be alive
A sense of connection
Comfortable with spontaneity
Feelings of devotion
Inspired by many things
A sense of trust
Able to experience a sense of fun 

Diminished Pattern
Feeling discouraged
Contracted, or depressed
Closed mindedness
An inability to act spontaneously
A sense of isolation

Dominant Pattern
Feelings of exhilaration or excitement associated with avoiding responsibility
A lack of attention to detail
Irresponsible behavior
A carefree, invincible feeling that can be dangerous
Desiring reward without doing the work to earn it

© Ellen Tadd “A Framework for Wise Education Unpublished Manuscript” (Introduction)

Ted’s crown chakra was diminished. All children experience discouragement or fear. For Ted, this had become habitual. He needs help opening his crown, and releasing the worries that are blocking his ability to connect, enjoy, and open to new experiences.

Marie’s crown chakra was dominant. An excited state in the crown chakra typically interferes with focus and concentration (skills that are associated with the 3rd eye chakra), and impedes a child’s ability to stick with tasks and build strong skills (associated with developing a strong base chakra).

Max’s crown chakra flip-flopped from dominant to diminished. He has deeply absorbed the notion that “happiness is getting what you want, when you want it.” His mood is dependent upon external circumstances and the actions of others. When things go his way, he is excited; when they do not, he is quickly discouraged.

Anna’s crown chakra was well-functioning. Let’s take a closer look at Anna, who was so happily engaged in weeding the garden. The details of her personal life may surprise you: 

  • Anna’s mother left the family 18 months prior (and had not seen Anna since)

  • Anna was the oldest of 6 children

  • She took on much of the housework to support her single father

  • Her dad showed signs of stress and exhaustion.

As I got to know Anna better I observed that despite these challenges, Anna: 

  • Chose outfits that pleased her

  • Arranged overnights with friends to have fun 

  • Sought some quiet time alone each day

  • Sought camaraderie with teachers and friends 

  • Read books she loved

  • Easily opened to new opportunities

  • Enjoyed the pleasures of her life

    Anna had intuitively and deliberately built inspiration into her daily regimen. Staying inspired was not the only factor in her resilience, but it was a critical factor. Her openness, her pleasure in connecting with others and exploring life—each of these graces helped her move through a stormy time for her family. Even when she expressed sadness, Anna could process her feelings without becoming overwhelmed. Anna’s striking example inspired our staff and positively influenced her peers.

   I’ve learned through experience and training that what came naturally to Anna can be taught to and learned by other children.

INDIVIDUALS AND THE CROWN CHAKRA

In this section, we spend time reflecting on individual needs, including our own. 

Opening a Diminished Crown Chakra

    My student Ted joined our Creative Lives After-School Program (CLASP) in 5th grade. He appeared chronically worried and was withdrawn from the group, keeping to himself at snack or on the playground. He never once smiled during the first week. The second week I led a conversation with all the kids—thirty K to 5th graders—sharing a story about the role that inspiration plays in my own life, and then asking what most inspired them. Ted chose not to share. As he left that evening, he confided: “Ms. Burford, I didn’t talk because I just couldn’t think of anything. I really don’t know what inspires me.”  

Universal and Targeted Approaches

    Over the next 8 months, the CLASP team and I implemented universally helpful strategies from a Framework for Wise Education in targeted ways for Ted. The results were powerful.

Discover what inspires your students
   Children have different passions and interests that can be clues to their contribution and fulfillment as adults, fuel their engagement at school, and help us build connections with them. 

   I made a deal with Ted that within three weeks, we’d find something that really inspired him. I told him that knowing what he loved to do, learn and think about, was an important part of being himself. Ted was intrigued. Within days of our conversation, Ted came to me with a shy smile on his face. “Ms. Burford, I found three things that work for me, drawing, playing with my dog, and having fun with my family!” This was the beginning of a growing connection between Ted and me and an important piece of detective work by Ted that guided the program staff. We could build on his love of drawing!
    More specifically, Ted was passionate about drawing mushrooms, in many variations. Ted signed up for a year-long art class at CLASP, and loved it. Over time, his drawings shifted from tiny, contracted work that used only a portion of the paper to large-scale, flowing, and unique renderings of fungi.

Help them discover new areas of inspiration
     As inspiration grows, so too does a sense of connection with others and the natural world. As we gained his trust, our team became adept at encouraging Ted to explore new enrichment classes. One staff member encouraged him to take her poetry class, from which Ted shared his writing with parents, teachers, and friends at a community arts night. Another team member helped him discover a love of running, and worked to improve his stride and speed on short-distance challenges.
    Ted no longer seemed contracted and closed; he was building a relationship with himself and connecting with new friends.

Support their ability to focus
  Some students have difficulty opening their crown chakra without also having strengthened their third eye; the center of focus and seeing details clearly.  We will discuss more about the third eye in the next chapter and discover how this center is critical to sustaining good function in all of the chakras!  
   As Ted pursued his interests and focused in on the details involved in painting, writing, and running, his focus center became more engaged. When there was a moment for coaching, individual teachers encouraged him to keep developing his “wise view” -- his third eye. The more focused Ted became, the more he relaxed his crown chakra. For Ted, focus and trust in the learning process developed hand in hand. 

Help students gain self-awareness
    The more students know how to help themselves gain good function in each Framework category, the more likely it is that they will. Staff members reflected our observations with Ted when we had a moment with him one-on-one. “You are opening up to new adventures,” or  “You seem enthusiastic when you run!” or “Doing what you love is an important way of taking care of yourself” are examples of positive feedback aimed at helping Ted recognize his ability to find happiness from within.    “When you are inspired, you seem unafraid.” or “What do you notice about your thinking when you are inspired? Is it quieter? Happier?” are feedback and questions that helped Ted recognize the impact of becoming more inspired. Ted responded positively to our team effort. He became visibly more relaxed with his peers and displayed more trust in the learning process.

   I was fortunate to have frequent contact with Ted’s parents and school counselor. Through conversation and inquiry we began to share the strategies we were using to support Ted’s growing sense of inspiration, trust, and enjoyment. Because we worked on helping him as a team, there was a real consistency to the messages he received about himself.  Ted’s classroom teacher noted that his engagement in class was growing, he was smiling more, and he was a more adventurous learner.

Shrinking a Dominant Crown Chakra

     Like Marie in our opening gardening story, my 3rd-grade student showed Wally signs of a dominant crown chakra.  On his first day of CLASP, Wally, threw himself down on the ground and rolled around on the floor when he arrived at the check-in table. Wally had great physical exuberance, a big voice, and a tough time accepting personal responsibility for his missteps. This child needed to move, yet when he had recess time to release energy, his behavior was often chaotic. His wildness made it difficult for him to connect with other kids, who tended to avoid him or criticize his behavior. Wally could quickly ricochet from the super-high state to the super-low: “No one likes me. Everyone is always against me. I hate this stupid program.” 

Universal and Targeted Approaches

     Wally exemplified an extreme dominance in the crown chakra. Over the next three years, our team employed the following universal strategies in targeted ways for Wally:

Help students become grounded and build focus through strengthening their discipline (base chakra)
The base chakra is multi-faceted; it deals with order and details, but also with disciplines of the mind, body, and inner life, and with care for resources, as we will explore in chapter 7. Focusing in on details also engages the third eye chakra (more on this in chapter 2).
  This is a win-win for students with a dominant crown. A stronger base chakra feels grounding -- an important counter balance for inspiration and enthusiasm in the crown chakra. Focus in the third eye helps shrink the crown to an appropriate size as students perceive the consequences of their attitudes, words and actions. Ellen Tadd often states, “Be as disciplined as you can be and as spontaneous as you can be!”
Discover order. One day I led a group conversation with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders about how to add inspiration to hard work. I shared my adaption of a song from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, that I created to get my son inspired to help with house cleaning when he was small: “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, we’re cleaning up, let’s go. It feels so good because we should… Hi Ho, Hi Ho . . .” After our discussion, I assigned the kids to deep clean our storage areas while listening to some inspiring music. As they began to tackle their individual assignments, I played a Bach Brandenburg Concerto because it embodies the beauty of Bach’s sense of order and structure in composing.  I was able to spend some time one-on-one with Wally:
Wally became quiet, contained, and contented during his cupboard assignment (straightening out some very messy supplies containers). He did excellent work. At the end of the class, we spoke:

  Wally: Ms. B. . . . I think I really like putting things in order.

  Me: I can see that. It seems you’re good at it.

  Wally: It just makes me feel peaceful inside. I like it. Hmmm.

  Me: Creating order is beautiful . . .

  Wally: It’s just such a peaceful feeling I have.

  Me: You’re not excited; you’re content. Now that you have free-choice time, I wonder if you can keep the same feeling of calm and content in your next activity?

  Wally: For my free time, can I just keep cleaning? ...Which he did, remaining truly helpful until the end of the day.

Develop inspiration and discipline in tandem. It turned out that acting was a big draw for Wally, offering a natural vehicle for his kinesthetic gifts, abundant energy and big speaking voice. We encouraged him to act in a CLASP theatrical production which would help build discipline, attention to detail, perseverance and follow through. For a month, Wally channeled all his energy into writing, rehearsing, memorizing lines, creating a costume and props, and ultimately into his performance, which drew great enthusiasm from the audience (including his classroom teacher!).
Meet physical needs. Wally needed help channeling his exceptional physical energy in a positive way. We also suggested his parents enroll him in karate—a way to tap his strength while encouraging order and discipline.

Help them gain self-awareness through personalized strategies 
  It can be challenging for children who have a pattern of avoiding detail and responsibility to shift into self-awareness -- it can seem like less fun! Steady shepherding with clear observations that give language for a child’s experience can help counter resistance to this feedback. 

     Bringing awareness to the child’s state, giving simple ways to take action, and reinforcing successes are all important ways to guide their growth. The CLASP team intervened as needed to help Wally refocus -- before he became overly agitated or unfocused. For example, we would say, “You seem wound-up/excited/confused. Do you need some time in the quiet corner to reboot and get focused?” When necessary, the question became a directive: “You need some time to tune in. I want you to head to the quiet room right now and use your focus strategies.”
   When something worked well for Wally, we shared it with caregivers. His parents’ plates were full, so we shared in bite-size chunks, observing both his strengths and weaknesses. For example: “Wally has a fabulous energy battery. We are working to find ways to help him use this energy with focus, attention to detail, and follow-through. What he has is a gift; how can we help him make the most of it?” 
    Our interventions and support were not a miracle cure. Wally’s behavior pattern did not shift overnight or dramatically.  However, both Wally and I better understood what he needed to work on. I felt less frustrated by his growing pains; he experienced less shame. Over the next three years, I observed him grow in responsibility with teachers and peers, better attend to details, and develop stick-to-itiveness with long-term projects after school. 

     After graduating from CLASP, he came back to report that had received a bicycle as a gift and was riding everywhere on it. “It’s good for my big energy,” he shared.

You and the Crown Chakra

Before considering how to address the crown chakra in groups, let’s attend to your own crown chakra. Modeling a healthy sense of inspiration is essential for working with children; each individual in a classroom contributes to the overall classroom dynamic – including ourselves!  Our own impact on the students we serve cannot be underestimated. Imagine that, more frequently than not:

  • You are inspired in your work 

  • You easily connect with students

  • Your happiness does not depend upon how students are doing

  • You can listen deeply, both to others and to yourself

  • When kids are scared, they don’t also scare you

  • Colleagues and children alike note your ability to handle the unexpected

     There are many benefits of good self-care in the crown chakra. To cultivate these benefits, I incorporate the following practices from A Framework for Wise Education into my daily plan:

  • Discover how your crown chakra functions. Use the Framework overview chart at the beginning of this workbook to help you understand the negative habits, attitudes, personal, or health issues that may be impacting your crown chakra as you teach. Review the crown chakra chapter in Tadd’s book, The Wisdom of the Chakras, to help uncover the root causes of any negative patterns you discover and address them.

  • Integrate inspiration into the everyday. A beautiful place to meditate, flowers on the table, a walk outside, a music or dance break, time with family and friends—do at least one thing that inspires you every day. 

  • Develop a personal meditation practice. Daily meditation will help you experience the function of the crown chakra for yourself. (See the “Crown Meditation” below). If you already meditate, this exercise is simple to add at the beginning of your routine. Opening your crown chakra will give your entire practice a feeling of expansion: 

Crown Chakra Meditation from The Wisdom of the Chakras:  “There are three steps to achieving a sustained meditation. 

  1. The first is to produce the open, airy feeling at the top of the head. Inspiration is an obvious tool to bring this about. Singing a song, reading a poem, or envisioning an uplifting image or event are all possibilities . . . Whatever works to produce the open, airy feeling . . . should be focused upon before meditating. 

  2. The next step in the process to achieve and sustain meditation is affirmation (see affirmations below) . . . The affirmation should be repeated until an expansive feeling grows.”  [Note: repeat the affirmation slowly, leaving more silence between repetitions as you are able.]

  3. The third step is to discontinue the use of the affirmation and work to hold the mind still. If brain chatter returns, go back to the affirmation.”  

                  - Ellen Tadd The Wisdom of the Chakras, Lantern Books 2019 (page 12)

Affirmations for use with the crown chakra meditation:

  • “I am filled with inspiration”

  • “I am innately good”

  • “I am good because I am”

  • “I am filled with devotion”

  • “I trust in the process of life.”


     Practice the meditation diligently every day for six weeks in order to form a habit. Be sure to accomplish one step in the practice before moving on to the next. If your crown has been chronically closed, breaking through can take some vigilant effort. Don’t give up. At the end of this time period, take time to reflect. Have you increased your ability to walk through life with less mental static, more openness, less fear, and an inspiring sense of connection? Are you happier?  If “yes” is the answer to these questions, your crown chakra has opened.  

     If your crown chakra has been dominant, your task is to better integrate the crown chakra energy with strong focus in the third eye chakra, the center of focus and clarity, which we will discuss more in the next chapter. In the meantime, as you end your meditation practice each day, imagine your crown chakra energy has become quite vertical, like a pillar, rather than broad and overly-excited. The visualization of a vertical crown chakra can be supportive throughout the day and is good preparation for using the crown and third eye chakra in tandem!
   
The payoff here is greater than one would expect for such a small commitment. The inner quiet and positivity that flow through a well-functioning crown chakra are powerful antidotes to our noisy, chaotic world, and powerful attributes in meeting the challenges of teaching. Continue with this practice, making it a daily thing. Practicing this meditation will help you facilitate meditation with your students. 
    Note:
You will add some third eye practices to your daily routine that are included in the next chapter; these will help support your six-week experiment with the crown chakra. For some of us, the crown chakra will not begin to function well until the third eye is stronger.

GROUPS AND THE CROWN CHAKRA

   Groups of learners can exhibit a negative behavior pattern as a whole. This might happen on occasion, or it may be an ongoing group dynamic. Here is a classroom story that illustrates spontaneity (an attribute of a healthy crown chakra) and shows a means for transforming group discouragement into a potent learning opportunity:

   It has been a rainy, stay-inside-school day, and a particularly grouchy group of twelve K to 3rd graders is slated to attend my after-school music class. They’re tired and whiny, and some of the kids are coming off their daily medications for ADD/ADHD and/or anxiety; it’s a particularly wobbly time in their day. I’m watching them clean up from snack with the sense that at any moment, one or more will have a major meltdown. My plan was to begin class with a brief, fun movement game to get everyone engaged at the top of the lesson, but I’m realizing that today the kids need a more individualized approach.

     I decide to shift gears and reset the music room with a large table of shared art supplies, an open area for moving, floor seating, and three individual desks. At the start of class, I give the kids the following simple but unexpected instructions:

     • This is your personal time—to just be with yourself and with the music you’ll hear.
    • In quiet, find the best place for you—alone, or near others (kids do this calmly).
    • Use the next 10 minutes to do or create something that inspires you (drawing, creative
            writing, listening, resting, moving gently) while we listen to different pieces of music
            (music begins).
    • When you feel ready, you can begin to do whatever you’ve chosen.

     Students become engrossed in their experiences. A depth of contentment fills the room. When the music ends (on this occasion, I have been playing some quiet orchestral music by Copland and Barber), there is no urgency to “be first” to share about what they did, no interrupting—just relaxed, deep listening and speaking. 

     Kids note and appreciate the positive change in our group energy. We discuss cultivating inspiration as critical life skill, a way of meeting life’s challenges. We move on to the lesson plan—a discussion of West African drumming and ensemble work to learn a drum piece and song. The kids remain so engaged, focused, and collaborative that they cover most of the territory I had originally planned, in less time. They don’t want class to end!

     This experience affirmed for me that the crown chakra functions in concert with, and support of, cognitive development, focus, discipline, and social-emotional skills. Imagine the possibilities if this kind of attention to the children’s energy and self-awareness was sprinkled throughout a school day, and over many years of learning from kindergarten through high school—by different teachers, in different subjects, and by parents and caregivers.