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Planning for Peace with Peace of Mind

Planning for Peace with Peace of Mind

Written by Elie Goldman, Peace of Mind teacher

My name is Elie Goldman and I am the Peace Teacher at DC’s largest public elementary school. There, I teach the Peace of Mind program to every 2nd-5th grader, nearly 600 students every week.

A few months ago, I opened peace class by posing the following question to my students: Why do we learn and practice peace?

“To give us tools to be calm in this crazy world,” said Emily.

Emily is a fifth grader. She has attended peace class once a week since 2018, when she began pre-K at this school. While only 10 years old, Emily has spent more time learning peace than me and most of us who may be reading this. I bet we can learn something from her.

Emily, what kind of tools are you talking about?

“Mindful breathing techniques. There is Gravity Hands, Take Five, Fireworks Breaths, Four Square Breathing, Rainbow Breathing, Squeeze and Release, and a lot more.”

These breathing practices from the Peace of Mind curriculum are simple and short.

Gravity Hands – lift your hands up as you breathe in, lower your hands as you breathe out.

Take Five – trace the outline of one hand with your other pointer finger. Trace up your fingers as you breathe in. Trace down as you breathe out.

With a duration of 3-5 breaths or about thirty seconds, these techniques are well-designed for a young child’s cognitive capacity. They are also destined to change our world. Just like Emily.

So, Emily, how does practicing mindful breathing help you calm down?

“It gives me time to relax. When I’m more relaxed I notice my feelings more. Then, I can manage my emotions better and avoid conflict with others.”

That sounds important.

“Yeah. It is. Mindful breathing helps so that I don’t flip my lid and do something that I will regret.”

What is your lid? And how do you flip it?

“Your lid is your PFC (prefrontal cortex). It’s the part of your brain in charge of keeping your emotions and energy calm and cool. If you feel threatened or in danger, your PFC flips and loses control of your brain. Instead, your Amy (amygdala) takes control.”

What is your amygdala? And why do we try to avoid letting it take control?

“The amygdala is the part of your brain beneath your PFC. Your amygdala is in charge of your “fight,” “flight,” or “freeze” responses. It helps us make smart decisions when we are in physical danger, like running away from a bear. But, if it is in charge when we are in emotional danger or when we feel our ego is threatened, we might say or do things that hurt others and that we will later regret. It will lead us up the conflict escalator instead of down.”

And mindful breathing helps your PFC take back control of your brain from Amy?

“Yes, it helps resolve the conflict in our brain so we can solve or avoid the conflicts on the playground or with our siblings. When our lids are not flipped, we act with more mindfulness and kindness towards others, and we can think before we speak.”

That is good. Kindness is good. So is thinking before you speak.

“Yeah, you have to make sure what you are about to say passes the THiNK test.”

What is the THiNK test?

“It is a way to make sure what you are about to say is True, Helpful, Necessary, and Kind. If it’s not all of those, it probably doesn’t need to be said. We learned about it in the book Tyaja Uses the THiNK Test.”

What does the ‘i’ stand for?

“Me! I need to think before I speak.”

Emily is one of nine hundred students at school. While each student processes Peace of Mind’s classes in their own minds and bodies, they are being trained to resolve conflicts peacefully. If students are never taught how to navigate these tensions on the playground or with their siblings, how do we expect them to address conflicts later in life?

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must use our minds as rigorously to plan for peace as we have used them to plan for war.”

Peace, especially world peace, feels impossible to achieve if it’s thought about as a utopian status quo of love and non-violence. Just as any educator scaffolds a learning goal or standard into smaller, attainable lessons, we must make peace attainable in our community through consistent and connected lessons. Programs like Peace of Mind make this possible.

Mahatma Gandhi teaches that peace begins with our ability to resolve conflict; “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”

Five years ago, Linda Ryden, Peace of Mind’s founder, wrote in the Washington Post about how her job (my current job) had never felt more important. After documenting how the Peace of Mind program led to a decline in fights and bullying at school, she wrote, “All children need to learn these skills — not just the ones who are referred to the school counselor for extra help.”

Peace of Mind teaches conflict resolution: it teaches all kids how to manage big emotions, get along better with others, and solve conflicts before they escalate.

It’s not hard to tell how embroiled we humans are in escalated conflict. As we see in our own relationships with ourselves, each other, and our broader communities, it can be difficult to practice our ability to cope with conflict and “to be calm in this crazy world,” let alone develop our collective ability. If we don’t give our city’s students like Emily the tools to prevent and navigate conflict today, then when will we be able to start planning for peace?

Peace of Mind educates students about mindfulness, brain science, conflict resolution, and social justice to help them develop skills to enhance their own well-being and become peacemakers. In addition to creating, developing, and sharing the Peace of Mind program, they also provide training and community for educators who deliver the Peace of Mind program to students in elementary and middle schools in the Washington, DC area and beyond. Learn more and support their work!

We Strengthen Communities by Investing in People

We Strengthen Communities by Investing in People

Co-authored by Danielle M. Reyes, President & CEO of the Crimsonbridge Foundation and Matt Gayer, Executive Director of Spur Local

At the beginning of every year, Spur Local surveys the Executive Directors in its network of local nonprofits operating with small budgets and teams to gain insights into their personal, professional, and organizational well-being. In 2023, more than half of the 95 leaders surveyed were currently, on their way to, or were recently feeling a sense of burnout. They reported a lack of staff capacity as one of their top two challenges. Across the rest of the year, difficulties with staff and leaders running at or over capacity continued to emerge as a foundational problem for our sector and our partners.

Many headlines mention “fighting” or “struggling” to characterize local nonprofit efforts to provide and advocate for stronger safety net services; efforts which increasingly involve meeting growing needs, without the growth of funding. As part of this narrative, we must recognize as a sector that people power this work. The effects of nonprofit leadership burnout can further exacerbate an already acute workforce shortage, and are inextricably tied to the health of our society.

Strong and successful organizations are well-led, and it is leaders who build this sustainable infrastructure. Investing in the nonprofit sector requires an investment in its people.

This is why Spur Local partners with the Crimsonbridge Foundation and its LeaderBridge initiative to provide local nonprofit leaders access to leadership development, with an intentional focus on creating programming and space for leaders of color. As the Washington Area Women’s Foundation recently reported, Black women and Black gender-expansive leaders in our region face a fundamental and pervasive absence of trust in their leadership.

Recognizing that leaders of color require spaces within our sector to connect, support, learn from, and share resources with each other, Spur Local designed two cohort offerings for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Executive Directors and emerging leaders. Across six sessions, local leaders of color engage in facilitated peer conversations about topics that are relevant to them, forming meaningful connections.

“At this point, we know the data about nonprofit leader burnout and exhaustion, and that it is even higher amongst leaders of color in our sector,” says Matt Gayer, Executive Director of Spur Local. “Our cohorts seek to offer a safe space for learning, connection, support–and the room to have conversations that nonprofit leaders often do not have access to.”

Historically, declines in charitable giving–the predominant trend of late–have affected smaller nonprofit organizations more significantly than larger ones. Similarly, issues with accessing institutional funding are particularly pronounced for organizations with small and one-person teams, many of which are led by Black women and leaders of color. When a commitment to racial equity in philanthropy includes funding leadership development, it improves equity of access for leaders of color–to networks, resources, and relationships that they can use not just to sustain themselves and their organizations but to thrive.

“For funders considering strategies that build equity in the nonprofit sector, increasing investments in leadership development and network building are essential,” says Danielle M. Reyes, President & CEO of the Crimsonbridge Foundation. “LeaderBridge was drawn to Spur Local because of the community building work they have done and their intentionality to create spaces for nonprofit leaders of color and underrepresented communities in the Greater Washington region.”

Screenshot against a blue background of Chiara Frechette, Spur Local's Nonprofit Programs Director, kicking off the 2024 BIPOC Executive Director Cohort virtually.

The latest 2024 BIPOC Executive Director Cohort kicks off its first session, led by Chiara Frechette, Spur Local’s Nonprofit Programs Director.

Since our partnership began in 2022, over 100 leaders have participated in Spur Local’s BIPOC Executive Director and Emerging Leader cohorts and joined the LeaderBridge Network. Of recent surveyed cohorts, one hundred percent of respondents agreed that the topics discussed in the cohort were relevant to their work and that their conversations helped identify practices or approaches to help them better overcome challenges in the future. Respondents also agreed that this programming specifically addresses concerns as a leader of color. These early results demonstrate interest, demand, and value of this work.

As a sector, let’s ensure the resilience and sustainability of nonprofit organizations with investments in people power. By removing barriers to access and increasing the availability of leadership development programs, leaders, organizations, and the communities they serve will thrive.