Looking Forward Through the Lens of Why

So what about our kids’ education? What is Redesign? Why are we doing it?

Ginger Lewman UCET 2018

I heard Ginger Lewman speak last week at a huge tech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, UCET (with 1700+ participants in attendance of the conference).

Ginger talked about the “second half of the chess board” and Pall Payasam. She used it to help us understand the concept of exponential leaps in technology. She also used it to help us wrap our minds around where we are currently on the chess board as a society.

I invite you to look at that legend here:

Social Scientist and Bringers of the Future say we are already about 6 spaces on the second half of the chess board, toward the last square. Our kids will need to understand a world of flying cars, unmanned trucks and cars, restaurants and stores that have no people working in them, and scanners that can detect disease and cancer without ever touching our bodies. That stuff is already here. It is just not brought to scale yet. But our kids and our grandkids will live in a world none of us can even really imagine.

This world will be highly technical. Innovation will continue to drive it and it is a race for the Bringers of the Future every single day.

Our kids will need to understand critical thinking, design, unintended consequences and collaboration – all on steroids. We are not just making leaps and bounds as a society, we are leaping exponentially. We are now advancing so quickly, the average person, (like me), can barely wrap our minds around this.

Almost every single aspect of our lives has been advanced by technology. Yet our schools still look and feel for the most part like they did 100 years ago. Rows and bells and compliance and standardized tests. So often our kids are being asked to learn information that they can get on google.

Some may agree with me and some may not, but in my opinion, the product of No Child Left Behind are young adults and current students whose largest driving questions were/are “Is this going to be on the test?”

Now, to Redesign. Our employers and innovators are telling us, we are turning out a workforce that is woefully unprepared. Not just in one area, but in MANY areas. There was a massive listening tour by Randy Watson and KSDE. They talked to urban and rural areas. They talked to Chambers and business leaders. They talked to parents and community leaders. They talked to students.

Next they mined data. They began to understand two things. That according to the National Student Clearinghouse AND the US Department of Labor, public education has a long leap to make to truly help every student become a healthy thriving adult and meet the needs of the current and future workforce.

The thought process is moving away from test scores as our only predictor of success and moving towards, what really matters. Creating Thriving employable/employed adults who are equipped to handle public and private life.

So this looks like Personalized Learning for EVERY student. Can you even begin to imagine what the sheer thought of this concept has done to teachers? Truly capturing learning in public education that is best for each individual student?


To me, this seems like a Moby Dick. But, Kansas is leading the world on this.
Yes, you just read that right. Kansas is leading the world.

Additional pieces are Civic Engagement, Project Based Learning and of the highest priority for schools now is Social and Emotional Intelligence.

It is no secret our country and our communities, big and small are struggling socially and emotionally.

I am a parent of three boys. I am not highly concerned about achievement for my kids. They are living a life that is higher up on the Maslow’s Pyramid and achievement will come naturally for them.
I want kids who know how to be nice, know how to show up, know how to collaborate and invent and design and create and most of all, kids who know how to care for those among them that are struggling.

My kids and their futures are so much more than a test score.

Redesign is scary. It is messy and we are going to have to give up some cherished beliefs and really look at where we are and where we are going. Change is messy. Transformation can be painful.

I am really proud of USD 418. I have been hanging around several Redesign schools this year. My hope is that in the face of adversity, USD 418 does not back down. You have accepted a brave challenge to figure out how to transform school, which will transform lives and our community.
Our teachers and administrators have been researching, and discussing and reaching out to parents and the community and researching some more. Many educators who are a part of this, have been spending incredible extra hours, thinking this massive overhaul through and trying to put it into action. I want to thank you. I see you and your sacrifice. I am grateful.

I will close with this.

If it is the right thing to do, it will be hard and there will be opposition.
Don’t back down. The future is here.

Healing Trauma and Solving Poverty

I come from the trailer park and now spend countless hours helping families move out of generational poverty and into the middle class.

There’s plenty of discussion to go around about the topic of poverty. Oddly enough, there is a great deal of talk and research, but it seems society has a difficult time truly helping people walk completely out of poverty. Which is why I believe I have encountered and now cultivate something very special. In the past 7 years I have brought myself and three sons completely out of poverty and have helped countless families do the same. Lives changed forever.

The most powerful part of the process I use are relationships. Relationships between generationally poor and generationally middle class people. These relationships turn into friendships and these friendships become transformation.  

Which is what intrigues me most about the Trauma-Responsive movement. It is  wired around healing and empowering and connection. Around relationships. Relationships are Resilience. When I first encountered Jane Stevens, https://acestoohigh.com/about/ , at a conference, she said something profound in her training:

“When building the trauma framework with communities, the fundamental practice is that we approach the community by saying, what do you need us to know, and what do you need from us — versus, outsiders, who have never experienced the problem, coming in with all kinds of solutions they have conjured up from observing.”





She may or may not have known that she struck a strong chord with me, as this is the cornerstone of the way I set the table in my projects for people to engage and start their journey out of poverty, out of the trailer park, out of the chaos.


You see, when I first bumped up against the poverty resolution project in my own community, I was pretty beat up. I was living in a trailer that should have been condemned, with three little boys who were struggling at the hand of my deficiency as a mother and I knew it. Poverty was my code and it drove every single aspect of my existence – good and bad. I was exhausted and everyday I experienced varying degrees of powerlessness and overwhelm.


Not to mention the shame.


I drank shame straight from the jug on a daily basis. I was failing as a mother. My love for my sons was fierce, but my ability to parent was in short supply. So, the first night I wound up at the “class to get people out of poverty,” I was both suspicious of the middle class presence and terrified of being judged. The facilitator took me and about 7 other moms into a room and the first thing she said to us was this, “We see families struggling in our county and we think poverty is the root cause of it and we want to solve it. And we need people, like you, who are living it to tell us how to do it.”


Those words Changed. My. Life.


Nobody from the middle class had ever once asked my opinion about what was going on down at 90 degrees below the poverty level.


The other most remarkable piece about that statement was this:

For the first time in my 3 decades in this small rural community, I heard someone say, “We see you now. We really see you and we are sorry and we want to know how we can help.”


Asking and Responding.

Instead of Reacting and Telling.

What happened to you?” Instead of “Why do you do that?”


Shortly after this encounter, my life started ramping up toward what I consider a miraculous transformation from the trailer park to a powerful new life full of wonderful people and a material rich experience. Yes, I now have a home and a good vehicle and my kids do not know scarcity. Which is a wildly big deal.


However, the biggest deal, is I have a purpose. I have a community. I can contribute. And I can still be authentic and do not have to hide my past. My malady and calamity became my automatic entrance into the lives of countless new families as I speak their language and identify their own pain through my story. Though relationships and meditation, I have been healed of my past hurts. My ACE’s. https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/


This is so powerful.


AND because of this movement, I have been brought into an incredible canvas of possibilities as we all begin to push the language of love and resilience…as we begin to seek healing for ALL brokenness…as we begin to omit punishment from our innermost places. I believe with all of my heart that with the Trauma-Responsive framework, we can win.


Relationships heal people. Love wins. Community offers hope and purpose. These cherished stones are not built in isolation. They are polished from the ebb and flow of spending time with people and seeking ways to help them find their best selves and allowing them to mirror that possibility for own lives.


I am watching friendship after friendship form between people from generational poverty and people from generational middle class. I am witnessing resilience occur through this process. I am seeing single moms become the people they were designed to be. I am observing histories of trauma suddenly become springboards for transmitting deep insight to communities about how people end up on certain life courses. It is powerful to be a small cog in the wheel of communities and generations healing in rural America.


Never in a thousand lifetimes will I be able to repay the universe for where it has brought me. Never in this life will I be content to rest. I have families to build. Communities to heal. Lives to turn from at-risk to at-promise.

With this incredible life has come boundless opportunity and friendship. I have been blessed to be  part of a partnership with Jim Sporleder from the documentary Paper Tigers, https://vimeo.com/110821029 . We are hosting a conference together. The conference is designed to bring in all kinds of people for the biggest conversation of both healing trauma and solving poverty. I am keenly aware that trauma is not isolated to poverty. That it affects all of us. However, I work with countless families to help them walk out of poverty and they ALL have high ACE scores. Every. Single. One.

And I would add that poverty is its own special kind of ACE. For any of us who have hung around this movement, we know that trauma is not isolated to the ten ACE study indicators. It is so much more than that. When I train schools, I help educators understand that the two key components for trauma are powerlessness and overwhelm. I lived in poverty for 39 years of my life and I guarantee it is full of powerlessness and overwhelm.

And the beauty of this is, that to both heal trauma and solve poverty and truly transform our communities and institutions, we use the same resilience building frameworks.

Please take a moment to look at our conference. We are currently requesting proposals. We would love to meet you. The world needs your resilience building superpowers. #Lovewins


To Zoe’s Mom: I See You



I am not even sure where to start. But, I know I need to write about this. I need to give this to the world. Perhaps to another mother who is facing the darkness and can’t see her way out. Perhaps she is watching her children caught in the cyclone that is her life. I think she is who I am writing this for. And maybe for me too.


I am doing some amazing work with a community that is fast becoming dear to my heart. I look at the people who keep showing up that are trying to wrap their heads around the trauma-informed movement. People who are deeply committed to the lost, the marginalized, the addicted, the incarcerated, the foster kids and the parents who have lost their children to the system. In the room where these gatherings take place, there is love and a desire to learn how to solve some of our most horrific societal problems. These champions are all bought in to the concept that the people suffering beneath these stories are in desperate need of healing. That our communities and our systems are also in need of healing.


We unpacked the truth about the ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) science today. Collectively, we deepened our learning that trauma knows no socio-economics, no race, no geography. Trauma is universal and it is not about “them.” It is about “us.” The coalition is building and we are on the brink of spilling this movement into many circles. Into many families and into our own homes.


However, all of this is for another day. Another blog post.


In all raw honestly, I am at my keyboard tonight because, today, I actually revisited some of my own “stuff.” Stuff I thought I had healed from. Perhaps the darkness will always be available to me. Perhaps it will always sneak up on me out of nowhere.  


My partner in this work sent me part two of a clip about abuse and the foster care system, called Removed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvqRI1Wjn14 We had watched part one as a group a month ago. The question for the group was: did they see their agency or non-profit in the film? If so, what could have been done differently for the little girl Zoe and her brother who had been removed from the home?


Zoe had been taken because she had been beaten by her mom’s boyfriend for intervening when he was attacking her mom. Zoe’s life spirals farther out of control as she is taken into the system. Finally Zoe ends up with a woman who truly “gets her.” In part two, things get hard as Zoe has to lose her brother for a second time as he is adopted out.


As I sat in my home this weekend and watched part two, I was mad. Not at anyone. But the character I found myself identifying with was Zoe’s mom. You watch as she gets ready for court. You see the boyfriend in the background. Zoe’s mom ends up on the stand and the courts are asking her if she even understands why she is there. Has she made any changes in her life to get her kids back?


The only reply she can muster is, “I love my kids.”


They respond with, “That is not the point. How have you changed? That is what we are asking.”


The tale continues and the little boy is removed permanently. The mom meets with Zoe on scheduled visits. The mom is broken and weak. She is “small” and gentle, but incapable of being what Zoe needs. The foster mom fights for Zoe and in the end of the documentary, Zoe becomes a teacher. Zoe, while certainly scarred from all of her childhood wounds and disfunction, turns out ok. Her story is not her mothers. Her story is her own.


After viewing part two, I was unsettled. I knew in my heart why. I felt my mind screaming, what about Zoe’s mom?! What about her?! I felt frustrated.


We met as a group today and showed part two of Removed. Afterward, we were in a corner handing out books for the book study. A police officer came up to me, and with gentle eyes, said, “So, I take it you were a Zoe?”


I stammered for a minute and then tears started streaming down my face, and I managed to choke out, “No, I was Zoe’s mom.” His strong and kind gaze did not change. He just nodded knowingly.


I managed to choke out, “But a group of people saved me. Saved me from that.”


By this time, he had his books and moved on, but I had lost it. I could not stop the flood gate of tears. Which is super unusual for me. I feel deeply and empathize quickly and often tear up. But loosing it is a whole ‘nother deal. One of the women I work with came up and asked what was wrong. So in broken, rapid fire bits, I spit it out, and she threw her arms around me and said, “No! You are not Zoe’s mom. You are wonderful and amazing and I love you so much!” I managed to collect myself after a few minutes and moved into the next meeting.


But I knew I needed to write this. I knew I needed to share. You see, while my boys never saw me be abused, they did live in the cyclone. My cyclone.  When my oldest was seven, my middle was three  and my youngest was one, I was cycling in and out of hospitals from alcoholism. I didn’t have a drinking problem, I had a stopping problem. Every time I would quit drinking, I would go into DT’s, (delirium tremens). It was ugly. My life was a horrible merry-go-round that I couldn’t get off. And the brutal price for continued admission was going to cost me my children. For 5 years before I got sober, I watched my life play out like some strange movie that I felt powerless to stop. Powerless. I adored my kids. But I couldn’t stop the ride. I had no idea how.


I saw that in Zoe’s mom. I know the feeling she was experiencing on that witness stand. I relived my own powerlessness. From 2006 until 2011, I lived everyday terrified that someone was going to find out just how sick I really was and rip my children away from me. In January of this year, I will celebrate my 7th year clean and sober. I will celebrate my release from slavery. I will celebrate  my redemption. I will do it in a room full of people who picked me up out of the pit of despair and loved me until I could love myself.


Tonight, I sit in a warm home with three healthy kids and a husband who loves me. Christmas is covered and our annual traditions are planned and will be carried out. I know what will happen tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.


But I also sit tonight with the memory of what it means to be Zoe’s mom. I sit with the burn of what it would have been like if I couldn’t have found the grace offered to me by people; the grace to get better. So, I am writing for all the moms and dads out there who are still spinning out from their own trauma and perhaps dragging their kids through the cycle. On the merry-go-round and you do not know how to get off.


I want you to know that I see you. I see you in the film Removed. I see you in Zoe’s mom. I see you out in front of the school picking up your kids. I see you walking to the Kwik Shop for milk. I see you. I do not judge you. I love you.


I want you to know that the only way I can repay the world for giving me the life I have now is to continue to fight for you. To relentlessly create a world where all of the moms like Zoe’s and like me have an opportunity to be met with love and grace and mercy. Have an opportunity to not be thrown away but to be saved.


There is a way out. And it doesn’t start with you being punished or discarded to teach you to do something different.


It begins with your community realizing that you are stuck. That you are powerless and that it is likely that you will not make it without our help. Our love, our support. Not our disdain. Not our consequences. You need love and resilience that is built through safe, supportive, and  understanding relationships. You are not the enemy. You are just a Zoe that grew up. I will keep you close to my heart. For me, you will not be “removed.” You will be redeemed.