An Introduction to The Path Forward in Challenging Times

The Academy for the Love of Learning is excited to announce our one-day collaborative workshop with The Sky Center: The Path Forward in Challenging Times: Building Resilience through the Practice of Awareness. Facilitated by Lisa Faithorn, PhD, Erin, Doerwald, LCSW, CMT-P, Randle Charles, and Grietje Laga, the workshop invites educators, administrators, and service professionals to practice awareness, reflection, and learn how to respond rather than react to school and community based challenges while enriching their experiences of life.

In an interview with Lisa and Erin, they share the origins of the workshop, the meaning of the title, and the intention of the Path Forward. Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts with insights into The Path Forward. Learn more by visiting the workshop listing or contacting co-facilitator Lisa Faithorn.

Origins of The Path Forward 

Erin: So my memory of The Path Forward coming together is a shared effort. It was very synergistic. The Sky Center had a couple of our orientations at the Academy for the Love of Learning. We felt incredibly inspired by the sense of abundance and holding that the space offers.

And we have a program at The Sky Center called Mindful Education. The mission of this particular piece of programming, that aligns with our mission of suicide prevention, is to hold space for teachers and for their own restoration, self-care, renewal. After the Parkland shootings, we had a vision of wanting to hold a retreat in collaboration with the Academy for the Love of Learning, feeling that context is such an important piece of renewal, the offering of a time and place for expression and reflection and also just the lens that the Academy offers. We wanted to see if there was a way to explore working together and sharing our missions and offerings, something that would be healing to the school communities.

Another piece that plays into The Path Forward is that The Sky Center offers workshops in the school communities to help teachers, educators, and school staff build resiliency. As we’ve traveled around to school communities doing and offering workshops, feedback that we hear repeatedly in school communities is teachers expressing a sense of toxic stress, overwhelm, and overexposure to vicarious trauma. They sense that they haven’t been offered the education or training around how to hold the space for their students.

: This also is actually true for the Academy’s Teacher Renewal program. Yes, we’re interested in providing a place for respite, the experience of being nurtured, and calmness. The beauty of the place, the Academy campus, in itself has an impact on anybody who comes. But beyond making people feel better, the Academy’s primary focus is on providing experiences, reflection on the experiences, and practices that can actually become tools and skills for participants to utilize and keep learning and evolving and  more capable of “waking up” as human beings. There’s a real emphasis on building core capacities and skills.

The Academy approaches professional development for educators by thinking about the core of the being. It’s not about learning how to manage your class better or even how to bring practices into your classroom or into your life that might make you feel better. It actually goes deeper than that: it is exploring core capacities that we have as humans such as flexibility, vulnerability, empathy, and others and how we can practice and strengthen these capacities. Building our core capacities enables us to more easily operate out of balance, equanimity, and openness when confronted with challenge.

We want to offer information, practices, experiences, and opportunities to go inside to connect with self so that whatever you choose to do, you can do it from a more authentic and responsive place.

: You stated that so beautifully, Lisa. That’s part of the synergy of The Sky Center and Academy collaboration: offering insight and awareness around practices that empower participants to have the skills, insight, wisdom, and tools to go forward. It’s about tapping into a source within ourselves that cannot be depleted.

Intention of The Path Forward
Erin: One didactic piece that is relevant and a core of what we want to offer educators, administrators, and service professionals on this day of renewal, restoration, and awareness building around their own resiliency is an idea that was presented at a workshop called First Do No Harm, Trauma Sensitive, Mindful Awareness Practices by David Treleaven. The idea originates with Dan Siegel and then was expanded upon by a woman named Pat Ogden. There’s this piece around a term Dan Siegel originally coined called the window of tolerance.

The window of tolerance talks about optimal arousal states, which relates quite beautifully to what educators know as the proximal zone of development.  I think we can make some correlations for educators between the proximal zone of development and the window of tolerance. The window of tolerance talks about the optimal zone of arousal where learning and performance is possible. When we go out of our window of tolerance, we go either into state of hyperarousal or hypo-arousal. In hyperarousal, our thoughts are disorganized. Our cognitive processing is not online. We’re agitated. We’re jumpy. A lot of this correlates with trauma symptomatology. Hypo-arousal is when we sort of go numb. Hyperarousal is too much feeling. Hypoarousal is too little feeling.

We want to be able to regulate our arousal states and bring ourselves back into our window of tolerance when it’s appropriate. Sometimes rage is appropriate. Sometimes going into dissociation is appropriate when we need to care of ourselves within a particular kind of context. We need to yell and scream sometimes. Or we need to go into our flight or freeze sometimes. The problem is we find ourselves burning out and not sustaining our optimal level of performance as educators, clinicians, or administrators, because we’re operating outside of that window of tolerance as our cortisol levels increase.

When educators have been in toxic stress for too long, they can find themselves outside of their window of tolerance. This relates to resilience, because, ultimately, our resiliency boils down to how often we are operating within our window of tolerance within an arousal state. Our nervous system is regulated in line with the context of the environment that we’re in. When we’re operating either in hyperarousal or hypo-arousal for too long, it creates sickness either emotionally or physically.The window of tolerance is going to be the heart of the didactic piece that we want to offer and will expand upon with experiential exercises that help us work with understanding on gauging our arousal states.

:  And that’s really what self-regulation means, which is a take-away tool of the workshop.

This is what I love about the complementary nature of what we both, the Academy and The Sky Center, bring to the workshop. The Academy has been using the term well-being rather than resilience. We’ve been using it as a pointer to exactly that kind of state, the window of tolerance, that you’re describing, Erin, in a much more clinical way. It’s the place from which we can learn and grow, so that we can have optimal performance.

I was also thinking that an important component of gauging our arousal states is the capacity to slow down and really be present with ourselves. From presence and awareness, we can then move toward choicefulness. The bigger practice is being present and aware of multiple dimensions of our current realities in order to choose a response rather than unconsciously react. Out of choice -and recognition of why we’re doing something, choosing a particular response, will takes us into social emotional learning. It is not only naming your state of being or feelings but also being able to name what you need.

: Yes! That’s it. That’s the heart of what we’re doing. The window of tolerance is the place we learn, perform in, and connect with others. It’s the place from which we make wise decisions.