Today it is my great honor to speak with Linda Lantieri about her work in New York with The Inner Resilience Program.
The most amazing and beautiful things can arise out of the ashes of terrible tragedy. Few opportunities for such change exist more strongly than that with the teaching of mindfulness to our youth, because they create our societal future. Various programs are addressing that need, and today’s guest has been at the forefront of that effort.
Linda Lantieri has been in the field in education for 40 years in various capacities: classroom teacher, assistant principal, director of a middle school in East Harlem, and faculty member at Hunter College in New York City. Currently she serves as the Director of The Inner Resilience Program whose mission is to cultivate the inner lives of students, teachers and schools by integrating social and emotional learning with contemplative practice. In 1985, she co-founded the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, a research based k-8 social and emotional learning program that has been implemented in over 400 schools. Linda is also one of the founding board members of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. She is the coauthor of Waging Peace in Our Schools, editor of Schools with Spirit: Nurturing the Inner Lives of Children and Teachers, and author of Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children.
Today’s quote is from Jan Chozen Bays’s book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant, and Other Adventures in Mindfulness” —
“When we find ourselves caught up in the compelling and complex inner screen of our mind, we need to remember that we have an option. We can shrink or ‘minimize’ the current screen down to a small icon on the bottom of the mind-screen and open up the serene blue sky of our inherently boundless, clear mind. A few thoughts drift across the screen, like wispy white clouds. We are lifted above the narrow world of ‘I, me, and mine’ to a place of serenity. The small icon of our worries and plans can be opened up whenever we wish.” p.97
TM: Our guest today is Linda Lantieri, Director of the Inner Resilience Program. Linda, welcome to Present Moment.
Linda: Pleasure to be here.
TM: So glad we’re having a chance to have this conversation because we’ve been talking for several years on e-mail and I’m glad that we’re able to talk about this wonderful program that you’ve developed and what I’d like to do is start by having you tell us a bit about your background and how you first encountered mindfulness.
Linda: Sure. Well, I guess the word for me more is how I sort of made room for my inner life–uh, which clearly includes mindfulness, and, uh, I would say it really began probably when I first began teaching and began to see what other needs children had beside the ones that were normally the ones that teachers paid attention to, in particular their academic needs–uh, began to be very aware that their social and emotional needs were ever so present and then in some cases actually interrupting what was happening in the classroom in terms of their learning. But then, uh, during that period of time–and this was in the late Sixties–I encountered, uh, an opportunity to learn to meditate. And actually I visited my mom one day and she informed me that she had, uh, prepared to sign us both up to learn a meditation technique. And that really was the start for me. Um, we both learned that technique together and I would say I soon developed a daily habit of that and then began to read more about mindfulness meditation and began to sort of move this daily practice that I was doing that was actually a more mantra-focused meditation to more of a mindfulness meditation. And so I then became a regular meditator, um, mostly on a daily basis; and there’ve been periods of time in my life that I have not done that, uh, but for the most part, uh, the majority of that time I have seen the, the daily benefits of, of a practice.
TM: It’s interesting this is first time I’ve heard someone who learned the practice as something their parent signed them up for as an adult. Did your mom continue with the practice after that–
Linda: Full on! And I have to laugh now because I remember when we left that day and then we subsequently both went on to a six-week meditation course that we took at separate times in our lives with a lot of silence, et cet’ra, and I remember her saying when we came back from the first teaching: this might not be something we’ll tell the pastor about–and I just have to laugh about that because I feel like she helped me know that one could integrate this sort of practice in a way that was also friendly to other points of view and other ideologies and she continued to be somebody that both meditated and prayed her whole life, actually.
TM: Interesting. So you then began a course yourself of learning, exploration, reading, and most important, practice. How did that unfold for you over time?
Linda: In those days, there weren’t many opportunities to practice in the company of a community of people as there is now. And so I’ve tried to find any way that that could happen, from retreats that were centered around my Christian background to retreats that were from other different backgrounds that gave me an opportunity to really bringing in the silence and the reflective part of it and knowing that I could meditate in any kind of situation that I could have that kind of inner time for. So that’s a little bit about how [that] evolved. I would say that at the beginning I did not see a place for it, however, in the field I was in, in education. And that was only later when I began to–in particular write the book “Schools with Spirit: Nurturing the Inner Lives of Children and Teachers” where I had just been in a three-year program as somebody who was a Fetzer Senior Scholar with the Fetzer Institute. This was an experience where eighteen of us from all walks of life had been brought together and were chosen to reflect with each about how to bring a more holistic perspective to the various fields we were in, and I was chosen for the field of education. And during that three years, I had lots of opportunity to be with these eighteen people in retreat-like settings with plenty of time for reflection and part of what I also did during that time was to edit the book “Schools with Spirit: Nurturing the Inner Lives of Children and Teachers.” And that was when I began to really realize that we can be quite protective of the separation of church and state and still bring in the kinds of practices and ways of being in the classroom that would honor children’s and teacher’s inner lives.
TM: And that is one of the most important benefits of mindfulness programs for people to understand, is that they are independent of one’s ideological views; they are based on our shared biology as human beings and how our minds work.
Linda: Exactly. And also as Jon Kabat-Zinn, who’s done so much to move the meter on moving mindfulness forward, has said, that it really–this, this present-moment awareness of what the concept of mindfulness is, is so much about, what distinguishes us as human beings, that we have that ability, that is, that human ability to be aware of where we are, what is happening in our mind, in the present moment, without putting a judgment on that, without feeling okay or not okay about that, just really acknowledging it.
TM: So you were the editor of that “Schools with Spirit: Nurturing the Inner Lives of Children and Teachers” in 2001; did the Inner Resilience come after that or was it being formed at that time?
Linda: Oh it did. Um, basically what happened is that, as I was editing the book, uh, which was published by Beacon Press–and I had written a book before that, “Waging Peace in Our Schools,” so I was quite friendly with Beach Press–uh I found that as I was writing the book I, I was being asked to rush it more and more and more and finally when I brought in the final edited copy of–at least my edited copy–I asked the senior editor why the rush, that happened, and her response was that she was about to leave Beacon Press and she was very concerned that anything on her desk would be held up and she just didn’t want this to be held up. And I said, oh so when is it coming out and she said the third week of August 2001. I said oh, okay; she said it’ll be in all the bookstores then. And of course–I live in New York City; I’m a former teacher, principal in the New York City schools, and my office at the time was eight blocks from the former World Trade Center. Uh, the third week of August, 2001, hit all the bookstores, and of course ten days later we were in the middle of the catastrophe and the aftermath of the September 11th attack. And my office at the time–I was–was, and still am, the co-founder of something called the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program–and my national office of that work, that was in many, many schools at the time, and still is, is eight blocks from the former World Trade center. And sure enough, I began to see educators struggling to cope with their own sense of helplessness and feelings of despair without any personal support. And also at the time same, what happened is that the September 11th Fund approached me to really help the schools in Ground Zero recover–because I was somebody that was known to the New York City schools, having been a former teacher, administrator in the New York City schools, and worked at the central Board of Ed for many years. So those things converged, and I don’t think we knew at the time we were forming an organization; I think we knew at the time that we needed to be able to create and sustain the teachers who were very much affected by what was happening. And it was clear that we needed to sort of hit the ground running with what we need to do, and since I had just been through an experience myself of three years at the Fetzer Institute as a Senior Scholar, doing this for myself, I began to realize that what we were doing with each other were some things that we could do with teachers, from things like retreats to teaching them mindfulness practices, et cetera. And so the concept of the Inner Resilience Program was really created based on that. And then during that time there was a small group of us and one of the people, Madhavi Nambiar, is our Deputy Director of Programs, she began the work–there was time in-between when she went and moved to California and her life continued and then she came back to be the Deputy Director of Programs–so it was a small group of us who really founded this work and it was a very hands-on what-do-teachers-need and what is it–[that] the students eventually need. What happened on that day is that most people don’t know that five thousand children, in the company of two hundred adults, ran for their lives, in eleven schools that really were forgotten in terms of being rescued. It was a pretty serious potential situation of, beside the catastrophic event, the chronic trauma that it would bring forth, uh, in terms of that. And so there were a lot group of teachers and teachers and parents who really needed some good support very quickly. And that’s how we began.
TM: It’s interesting that this wonderful program, which is finding such great use in our school systems, came out of tragedy.
Linda: Yeah. Exactly. Well I think that–right away, when we started to first convince the powers that be, who were giving us these large amounts of money, that we really needed to deal with the adults first and we needed to be there for the adults first. That was a hard sell, because there were many children in need, but we were realizing that how do we get to the children if the adults are not whole. And so that took a while. But once that happened, we realized that those adults probably needed what we were doing on September 10, 2001. And really that was a real eye-opener for me, that I realized that I’d been in the field of education, I had been working toward helping to bring in social and emotional learning into the mainstream of education, but I hadn’t realized that teachers’ transformational development was something that would matter so much and would have such an effect on children’s outcome and their own outcome as teachers if we’d paid attention to that. [indistinguishable] tragedy that moved me in that direction but then we realized that this was sorely needed in general in the work of education.
TM: Yeah, teaching the teachers and caring for the care-givers are often missed in what we do and that’s so critical, to make sure that they’re able to provide the support and education that needs to be done as their primary function.
Linda: Yes and the interesting thing is that often we don’t realize how much this experience of, you know, compassion fatigue is there, where–I would really call it empathy fatigue because I think when you’re experiencing compassion you’re not fatigued by it–but, but certainly when teachers give more or any of us give more than we’re quite able, because we are open-hearted and we experience the pain of others, and we’re not sort of taking care of ourselves in a way that there’s something we do that balances that, that that giving becomes, as a dear friend of mine [Wayne Mueller] says, “we begin to do good badly.”
TM: [chuckles] That’s a good way to put it. So tell us about the program itself: what is it and what is it you’re walking to accomplish; out of those roots of disaster, how is that–how’s that grown; what are you doing now?
Linda: So in the last twelve years the Inner Resilience work has taken on many different forms. So at the very beginning we were very New York City oriented and we lead many residential retreats; we offered many what we call” nurturing the inner life” classes where we were actually teaching people various mindfulness practices that they could be exposed to; we ran yoga classes; and also during that period of time began to co-write and develop our curriculum, our K-8 curriculum called “Building Resilience Inside Out.” But that was not until about three years in. We, we stayed with the transformational development of teachers at the very beginning and then did some parent work as well. So then there was the next phase where we began to add the curriculum component and at that phase we began to also be aware that what we were doing was very ground-breaking, was very cutting-edge, and we were working in one of the largest school districts in the country, and we began to get calls from different places because at that point there was already a surge of interest in the area of mindfulness. And so that took us to, believe it or not, South Burlington, Vermont, which was a very different setting, but I felt that we would have a lot to learn from a setting that was quite different from the New York City schools, and whether what we were doing with teachers in this setting had any relevance for teachers in a very, very different setting: small school district; mostly Anglo population of kids and teachers; rural; and very, very different. And as a result of that work, which was three years, back and forth, we began to realize how what we had developed really had significance for the field of education in general. And then we moved to various other school districts–in one situation–and we are still in the school districts of Youngstown and Warren, Ohio, through, originally a federal grant sponsored by Congressman Tim Ryan, who had a deep interest in mindfulness–he has written a book, “A Mindful Nation”–and so we began to go there, we began to have a–effort in some schools in Span–we just went to places that both wanted to really develop this work in a deep way and also wanted to learn how to do it inside a public school system. And so as we come to this period of time with the Inner Resilience Program, I feel we’re more in a place of really documenting some of the things we learned, creating manuals of some of the practices and activities we have been doing with teachers, so others who are now very involved in this work can learn what we’ve learned. And I really see the next part of our time not so much having more sites that are literally the Inner Resilience Program but more providers and non-profit organizations that have gone in this direction learning from us in terms of what we learned and how to do this well. So I think we’re going to probably, and we have been already moving in that direction, more of an advisory role to the field.
TM: So tell us about some of your programs–a, a little bit more–in particular maybe your K-8 program.
Linda: Well the K-8 program happened before my most recent book “Building Emotional Intelligence: Skills and Practices to Strengthen Children’s Inner Resilience”–so the curriculum happened first and as I mentioned the group of teachers that we were working with in New York City really felt like they were ready to not only build their own inner resilience and enhance their own emotional intelligence but do that with children. And so I took the first crack at what that would look like but there was a lot of help from this group of teachers back and forth trying some of these things out. And what we came to was an age-appropriate set of strategies around teaching two specific practices: one we call relaxing the body through progressive muscle relaxation and a body-scan and the second what we call focusing the mind through a mindfulness exercise–that happens at each grade level and is grade-specific. And we also have included in that curriculum a CD of these guided contemplative practices that Daniel Goldman decided to be part of and is the actual voice on the CD. And the CD helps teachers at the point at which they’re ready to actually do the quiet-time that we talk about. But there is a lot that happens before each lesson; a lot that happens after each lesson; and then the teacher use the CD to actually have that structured quiet-time. So that’s a little bit of what it looks like.
TM: So Linda, what are so of the on-going challenges you’ve run into in nurturing these programs in the school system?
Linda: I think one of the biggest challenges is something I mentioned earlier on, which is convincing school systems to invest in the personal development of the adults who are serving children. And the incredible benefit that that eventually has, and not even eventually–almost has in an immediate way. And so I think that’s one of the big challenges because right now we have in many, many cases failing school systems in terms of how kids are performing; we have all kinds of magic tricks that are coming our way in terms of what can change that around; and there’s not a lot of energy or feeling that devoting time in teachers’ formation would be the way to go. And so I think that challenge is out there. I think the more we do this work and have some of the research that proves that that is a good way to go, I think that will continue to be somewhat of a challenge, because when young people are not doing well in reading or math, what often happens is that teachers are taught how to do more tricks around reading and math. You know, they’re not taught how to be more focused, or relaxed, or have better concentration, or how to deal with stressful situations in a different way. So that connection is not so known right now.
TM: Yeah I think you’re right. It’s baling wire and duct tape; it’s Band-Aid instead of dealing with the core problems of how do we teach inner resilience and emotional intelligence.
Linda: Exactly. And I think that we often feel that if we can’t see immediate changes on test scores then an intervention is of no worth, you know, and yet, as many of us have said in different ways, we then don’t prepare kids for the tests of life because we’re preparing them for a life of tests, you know. I mean, unfortunately. And that’s what many teachers feel right now in terms of what’s happening in education and what they’re experiencing. And so, now more than ever, they need to find a time to cultivate their inner lives and, and integrate that into their way of being with children.
TM: So looking at the flip side of that situation, what are some of your personal success stories, the ones that inspire you to keep going?
Linda: Well one of the things that inspires me to keep going is how a little bit of doing this with a group of teachers can have such dramatic effects. I have had experiences where teachers have been on retreat and have disclosed at the end of the retreat that they had a letter on their desk that basically said that they were leaving teaching. And that they were going to go home and rip that letter up. You know, from those kinds of experiences to having just the solid workshop that you know by the end teachers have been so receptive to what has happened and have had so much awareness that has gone on, that you know they’re going to be in better shape for themselves as well as the students the next day. Uh, I also find, for example, that the work in Ohio is continuing with almost–I have to say almost–as much fervor as when we had a million-dollar grant from the federal government. And that has to do with how much they had been helped by what they experienced, and knowing that both their school district, their teachers, and of course eventually their students are better off for choosing to make that a priority in their district. So that certainly feels like a success story. And I think what keeps me going is that when teachers are exposed to this work, they get more courageous about doing the tough things they need to be doing right now for kids–but the right things for kids: without some kind of support like this, that makes them explore their own inner lives, their own values, their own reasons that gone into teaching to begin with, I think that it’s a dim possibility of whether they will stay into teaching. And we know some of those statistics, of half of the folks leaving, you know, before the first three years of their teaching career, so we know that we have a real problem in the United States and several other countries where teaching is no longer a profession that people are deciding to see as a calling and spend many, many years in that calling.
TM: Mm-hm, yeah there’s not a longevity for the career for teachers–
Linda: Exactly. But I feel that places that are bringing in this inner work, this mindfulness work, are definitely also improving the possibility that teachers will be able to hang in there, but also feel as though they have not compromised their values in doing that. They will find a way to be in integrity around it in the classroom.
TM: For those of you who are listening to the podcast, we will have links to all of Linda’s books that we were discussed here, and we’ve been talking about the Inner Resilience Program and the website for that is InnerResilience-TidesCenter.org, and I will be linking to that on this episode page so be sure to check that out as well as Linda’s own website, LindaLantieri.org. Our guest today: Linda Lantieri; Linda, thank you so much for being with us on Present Moment.
Linda: Thank you for having me; it’s been a pleasure.
Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez
The music heard in this podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. You can visit his website to hear more of his music, get the full discography, and view his upcoming tour dates.