Congressman Tim Ryan Introduces the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act

tim-ryanCongressman Tim Ryan has been a force for the support of mindfulness in our military and schools and now he is expanding that support with the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act. The act, co-sponsored by Congressman Dave Loebsack, Congressman Tom Petri and Congressman Matt Cartwright, amends the Elementary Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to allow funding for teacher and principal training and professional development to be used for social and emotional learning programming.

“I have already seen what teaching social and emotional learning skills can do for a student and their classroom,” said Congressman Ryan. “Teaching social and emotional learning skills is based on

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Implementing Project Happiness: Paddling Downstream

(See the end of the post for important Handbook ordering info!)

September 21, 2009

By now almost everybody is back at school (including those people on the quarter system who like to make everyone else feel jealous in August and early September!) and in the thick of things. I am incredibly pleased to report that we have more than twenty schools using The Project Happiness Handbook so far and that there are even more getting ready to take the plunge. Meanwhile all of us on the Project Happiness team are gearing up and are excited to take the plunge right along with you!

As many of you know, however, our curriculum isn’t quite in yet… (I put that in a smaller font hoping it might get less notice!) Our Assistant Director, Rolando Sandor, has been hard at work for several months polishing the Handbook, from fixing typos to improving the layout to making it easier to reference different sections. The good news is that the Handbook is a lean, mean happiness machine! The bad news is that it will not arrive in our offices until some time later this week.

I have received e-mails from many of you and have talked to others, so I know that this is a bit of a setback. Moreover, it is difficult for me to dive in and help in the way that I want when you are not all up and running with a physical textbook. But, following the curriculum’s advice, I have decided to paddle downstream and try to go with the flow.

So as the school year gets started, here are some things I can do for you:

• Look at your objectives/goals for a class and make detailed suggestions about Project Happiness activities that might be the right fit.

• Help you brainstorm extension activities that work for your program.

• Provide you with excerpts from the first chapter to get you started.

Connect you with other like-minded facilitators for collaboration.

• Help you develop a fundraiser to raise money for the curriculum.

• Point you to resources on social and emotional learning, mindfulness and active listening.

• Even engage in geekiness around writing, language and Project Happiness as a fellow linguistics enthusiast!

And to facilitate my role facilitating the facilitators (!) I am establishing regular virtual office hours. From 1:00PT/4:00ET to 2:30PT/5:30ET on Mondays and Wednesdays, I will be available to talk. And, to make sure everyone gets to communicate with their favorite distance tool, there are three ways to connect with me:

• Via phone at (650) 833-3882 (I can call you back in the continental U.S. and Canada)

• Via Skype with the user name abbykonopasky

• Or via Google chat with the user name abby@projecthappiness

You can e-mail me ahead of time to let me know you’d like to talk or you can just go ahead and contact me. Also, if those times are inconvenient, just contact me and we can set up an appointment that works for both of us. I can’t wait to hear how things are going and how I can support your vision for Project Happiness.

Abby Konopasky
(650) 833-3882
abby@projecthappiness.com

Important info on Handbook preordering

An Invitation to Teachers: The Project Happiness connection

Catching up on some very important reading!

The new Director of Education catching up on some very important reading!

September 13, 2009

Hello to Current, Past, Prospective and Eternal Project Happiness Teachers:

I’m writing to introduce myself: my name is Abby Konopasky and I am Project Happiness’ new Director of Education. For those of you who have worked with Maria Lineger, she’s still on board, but we couldn’t keep her away from the hands-on, experiential work that is so critical to our program. I am fortunate to have her foundational work to build on and her guidance to do it.

Let me start by telling you a bit about my path to happiness, and Project Happiness in particular. I come from an academic family and I carried on the tradition by getting a Ph.D. in an obscure field: Slavic Linguistics. I taught Russian, then writing, then English, linguistics, pedagogy and ESL in my final academic position at the University of New Orleans. Then Hurricane Katrina not only wiped out my home, but my job and community as well. I was 8 months pregnant with my first child at the time and saw the obstacles to my happiness as insurmountable. My husband used the opportunity to change careers, starting law school at Stanford University the next academic year. I went with him as my daughter’s primary caretaker, unsure of precisely where I belonged: Mother? Educator? Researcher?

Without knowing it, I was completing a Project Happiness curriculum of a sort. I worked on self-awareness, identifying the things about my job and my parenting that brought me lasting happiness and developing self-confidence. I learned self-management and how to combat my Monkey Mind, particularly my feelings of depression. Through trial and error I developed a cadre of positive thoughts about myself and my future. I worked on social awareness and social management, finding joy in showing empathy and compassion to other mothers of young children at Stanford. We developed a loving and interdependent community, working together and negotiating our differences.

Nearly 4 years after the heartbreak of Katrina, I decided that I wanted to use my gifts to improve the lives of adolescents. That brought me to Project Happiness as a volunteer and, as they say, the rest is history!

It is not, then, the SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) research studies or the pilot program testimony that make me such a strong advocate for The Project Happiness Handbook. It is, rather, my own personal journey: the gifts of self-discovery are too precious and the risks of self-ignorance too great for us not to share these tools with our children.

And you will find that I am a strong advocate for the curriculum (perhaps too strong for some of you!). Adolescents need help finding the eye of the storm*, particularly in the face of obstacles like:

•Bullying:
http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/09/03/high.school.put.downs.study/index.html,

•Depression:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/saffo/detail??blogid=79&entry_id=46284,

• And even national anxiety over things like the swine flu: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/08/health/08well.html?hpw.

While Project Happiness is not a cure-all, it is a way to start the conversation, a way to give adolescents, parents, teachers and even the community a common vocabulary to open the lines of communication.

This year The Project Happiness Handbook is being used in many locations (across the U.S. and Canada and in Rome, India, Nigeria, Guatemala, Australia and Nepal) and in many contexts (performing arts, leadership, yoga and meditation, living skills, adult enrichment and teacher preparation, to name a few). But we would love to spread it even farther and broader. And we want to help existing programs explore the curriculum’s rich resources and build new ones.

To that end, I’m putting out a call for connection. How can our team help? I can help you navigate our large curriculum, make lesson plans, facilitate project-based learning, make your classroom a more mindful and nurturing place, and create opportunities for your students to reach out digitally and in person. E-mail or call me any time.

Also part of this call for connection is an invitation to reach out to other like-minded facilitators. What are you doing with The Project Happiness Handbook? What is working for you? What are you struggling with? Would you like to connect or collaborate with another class? I invite you to either respond to this blog post (go to migration, click on Blog, and then on What do you think?) or join our Google group for facilitators by e-mailing me at project-happiness-facilitators@googlegroups.com.

I look forward to meeting, speaking with, or e-mailing with all of you over the course of this exciting and challenging school year. I wish you luck guiding your students on their journeys and continuing your own journey. I am still in shock that I get to work with such extraordinary teachers on such a remarkable project. So bear with me as I get used to ‘directing’ the program – I will be looking to you and your students for the true direction.

Abby Konopasky
(650) 391-7012
abby@projecthappiness.com

*See page 26 in The Project Happiness Handbook. “The Eye of the Storm” is an activity that teaches students to find the calm center in the midst of struggle.