Below you'll find unique, thoughtful commentary and information about new strengths-based approaches for mentoring and teaching to empower learners of all stripes, plus insight into our teaching tool that's also comprehensive evaluation and program management software.
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Interview with Bill Rossi
Digging in to look for the life within us and getting in touch with it brings about a release and transformation of the pain. That’s where the therapy is.
When you use creativity you can cut below the layers to get to the survival mechanism and creative spirit. If you hit that place right it’s like natural energy – healing will start to take place. — Bill Rossi
An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable emotional disorder in a given year while 9-13 percent of children ages 9-17 have a ‘serious emotional disturbance with substantial functional impairment' (www.nimh.nih.gov).
No matter what you perceive to be the cause of the continuing decline of American’s emotional wellbeing, it’s clear that we need to begin to deal with it.
How? We don’t have to look too far for ways to turn the tide — in fact, there’s a readily available antidote that was specifically developed for survival in dark times, music that we now call Blues and Jazz.
In understanding Blues and Jazz we find a powerful tool for dealing with the many challenges life gives us. It has the power of hope and the power to transform circumstance so life with spirit will somehow prevail.
Following is a 2009 interview with Bill Rossi, author of Venturing Together: Empowering Students to Succeed and creator of the educational and therapeutic approach that harnesses that power.
MHR: How do the Blues speak to the suffering of today, and how can it be therapeutic? (more)
(Looking for our Cultivating an Inner Life series? Go here.)
April 23, 2013. I wanted to begin this piece by saying, “In the wake of the Newtown shooting,” but it doesn’t seem appropriate. This morning I read about a shooting near Seattle killing five people. A week ago, a bombing at the Boston Marathon stunned the nation and was quickly followed by a shoot-out killing officer and offender alike. Before these events, there was the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. There was the shooting in Tucson, Arizona. There was Virginia Tech. There was Columbine. In our society, we are always in the wake. More aptly, we attend an ongoing wake, mourning those we’ve lost and fearing what may come next.
Of course we are afraid. We’ve watched innocent lives ended in seconds from violence we can’t understand. The immediacy of a gunshot is jarring, and gun control becomes the obvious subject of debate in our homes, our communities, and our government. It’s certainly a worthwhile discussion. The availability of guns in our country is an issue that absolutely needs to be addressed, but in the context of these tragedies, a deeper issue is denied the attention it deserves. Guns are the means by which so much violence is exacted, but that fact can do nothing on its own. The better question is: Why is this violence occurring, and how can we help prevent our children from growing into those who would incite it? (more)
By Bill Rossi
Since trauma creates tension that often feels unbearable, people have no choice but to find a release. A hallmark feature of trauma and other emotional disorders is the fight-or-flight syndrome, brought about by the intense feeling of being trapped. Another is helplessness leading to hopelessness. People suffering from serious emotional disorders need intense, positive outlets for releasing and channeling overwhelming feelings such as these. Unfortunately, positive outlets are typically limited, especially on a consistent basis, so these emotions are usually expressed and energy released in negative and destructive ways.
A potent answer lies in the artistic mediums whose very essence is communication. Being able to express the truth, however difficult, is an important part of healing and finding a new direction. The arts allow for many different, positive ways of releasing and expressing without the stigma or concern of what is the right or wrong way to feel. (more)
By Bill Rossi
Success in group communications gives students confidence in assuming responsibility for their actions, and when they’re given opportunities to understand their actions, they can learn that their actions can bring negative as well as positive responses. These are avenues of learning in which student and mentor/teacher can explore many choices before a real problem develops. When we help students understand this, we provide a pathway that leads them to become less prejudiced, and to the realization that we all have very similar feelings and that everyone wants their feelings respected, not hurt. (more)
By Bill Rossi
Relevancy in learning means that at any time the student’s experience needs to contain meaning for her. The student needs to be met where she is, and met with something she cares about, something that’s exciting to her. For it to contain meaning it has to touch or move her in some emotional way so she can be stimulated by the experience and motivated to further explore it.
As this process begins to develop in her she will, in her exploration, be stimulated to communicate her needs for clarification, a perspective, or other input from the teacher. If encouraged and assisted she will gain the confidence to initiate her own thinking and formulate some of her own ideas, which should be a major goal of education. As her guides, we need to help her see how this subject that she’s beginning to ingest and digest affects not only her but her community or group. (more)
Our country's youth are suffering greatly from current educational practices. For some specific clues as to why, check out Bill Rossi's comparison between Strengths-Based and Standards-Based education (more)
By Bill Rossi, Reprinted from Americans for the Arts' Artsblog
One two three, one two three, one two three … Nate was in a groove, the ensemble was cookin', and Miles Davis' tune All Blues had never sounded better. As the lead drummer, Nate stayed with that simple beat, rode it out to the end, then finished in perfect time. He beamed as the audience roared in appreciation, and if you hadn’t known him you would not have believed that one year ago he’d been unable to count rhythmically or sit still for more than 5 minutes.
But those who’d known him – who'd seen his eyes light up at that first simple beat and watched over the year as he learned to focus, to listen, and to succeed – we knew what had happened. Nate had found himself through the arts.
The challenges Nate once faced are growing more common every day. Attention deficits, oppositional defiance, and incidents of youth violence and suicide have increased as our society has largely looked the other way. As our focus has gone off taking care of our kids, the opportunities for them to discover and express their voice have diminished. As ARTSblog readers know, the arts can fill this need. (more)
By Bill Rossi
Do you work Afterschool with many different types of students whom you try get to know individually? If so, perhaps you find it difficult to maintain the focus and direction needed to get the most progress out of each student.
It’s easy to get sidetracked when you’re trying to be attentive to who your students are. Unfortunately, this can really diminish the structured and goal-oriented direction that students need for learning.
A thoughtful, structured plan is essential. I found this to be really challenging for years, so after more than 25 years of working with many types of alternative learners I would like to offer some of the effective ways I have used to build a kind of structure or architecture that will optimize your learning time with students as you get to know them better and better. (more)
By Bill Rossi
With its focus on a narrow, one dimensional performance, standards-based education not only misses the point, it compounds the mistakes of traditional education by discouraging and repelling those students who can’t relate... (more)
By Dawn Smelser
Over recent years I have been struck by the feeling that our young people are falling through the cracks and felt disturbed and protective when listening to adults complain about kids being unfocused and withdrawn. At the same time, I have noticed a growing social awareness around the environment, politics, agriculture, and so on, and observed so many kind hearted, open minded people putting together and running organizations to benefit the greater good. I have often wondered why, then, with all of these new developments and community awakenings, are our youth slipping through the cracks? (more)
By Bill Rossi
Standards-based education often fails students as individuals because teachers are rarely encouraged or trained to determine what is relevant to each student. Not addressing students from culturally and emotionally relevant standpoints can have the same result as planting good seeds in sand. In its drive to produce a particular score, standards-based education can beat the life out of students and put them at risk or, for those who are already at risk or traumatized, further the problem. Go here to read more about relevance in learning.
By Christina Lengyel
I strongly believe that the very deliberate style of mentoring presented in Venturing Together can pick up the slack that society leaves between itself and its children. Most importantly, it fosters the kind of attitude that is necessary to change the status quo. With programs increasingly using the Merge approach, I hope that if I have children they will grow up in a culture that genuinely appreciates them as individuals. (more)
By Bill Rossi
Education should encourage self-discovery and enable students to engage with themselves and think for themselves. It should fill the students’ emotional needs along with the intellectual. Students need to be able to create an inner dialogue and converse with themselves in order to form a foundation that makes them whole and turns the tide of fragmentation within, i.e., to heal or fully grow. Many students turn away from education and actually turn against it because they are not engaged, stimulated, or motivated and because it is not an opportunity for self-development or healing. (more)
By Bill Rossi
|Learning the Merge way feels more positive than school because in school it seems like I’m always rushed around. It seems like everybody’s supposed to be the same. Here, I’m encouraged to be an individual. — 14 year old student|
What really constitutes an educational environment? Actually, since children and youth are constantly learning, everything that goes on around them is an educational environment — adults and peers are their teachers, for better or worse. Unfortunately today’s environment contains many negatives; hopefully in time we’ll realize the meaning of the saying (more)
By Mary-Helen Rossi, Reprinted from Americans for the Arts' Artsblog
For decades now, community arts programs have gotten funded based on their case studies and assertions as to the benefits of the arts. And why not? Those benefits are real, and incredibly valuable. But case studies and avowals aren’t exactly tangible and they just aren’t cutting it any more.
While “Prove It” has become funders’ new mantra, most arts groups are simply unprepared. How the heck do you prove those more intangible qualities that we all consider to be most important? How do you track and assess the light in a student’s eyes when he feels confident, empowered, and successful? (more)
By Christina Lengyel
Western culture is suffering some serious wounds. In my undergraduate studies, I became much more attuned to the specific nature of our societal dysfunction. I studied African culture heavily in my anthropology program, and I began to see that on a psychological level the advantages of living in a collective society often outweigh the disadvantages faced by many developing nations. While those living in the United States have had the benefit of relative stability and material wealth, we also have the detriment of the neglected spirit. (more)
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