Exploring Courage in Education 
October 2013
In This Issue
40 Day Challenge
Rubric for Rigor
Applications to Carnegie Mellon
New Writers for Wow!
Courage Quotient
Parker Palmer & Courage
Practicing Courage
Alternatives to Legal Intervention
40 Day Challenge
 For 40 days reflect each day on these 5 heart centered words:
Confidence, Consciousness (Awareness), and Community.
Write the words down, and take a few notes of what comes to mind, of what you learn or see or hear that is related.  We also have follow-up information on the CEI website about the next steps. 


Roadmap to rigor   
Roadmap to Rigor Rubric 
NAESP has developed a rubric that will help principals and teachers engage in discussions about rigor and plan for integrating greater rigor into instruction in their schools. While it can be used as an observation and feedback tool, many principals may find it easier to use this tool to help teachers become more aware of the components that facilitate greater rigor.


The rubric addresses higher-order thinking skills, deep understanding, problem solving, and metacognition. The roadmap also includes an appendix with an annotated bibliography and additional resources.

NAESP also offers Rigor Workshops that explore strategies and processes to help students move to deeper levels of understanding through metacognition, higher level expectations, and problem solving. Level I is basic. Level II provides guidance with use of the Rigor Roadmap.


If you are interested in reviewing the Rigor Roadmap and providing feedback to NAESP, or for more information on the workshops, please contact Ed Millliken
[email protected]

[email protected]  


Carnegie Mellon 
is accepting applications for their one-year interdisciplinary professional

 Masters in Educational Technology and Applied Learning Science (METALS)


Applications due:

January 31, 2014 


Information here. 


  C8 Activities 


Special Discount on

Use the code: NAESP13 to receive a 10% discount.



New Writers

Welcome to Victoria Zelvin, CEI's new intern who began work for us this month. Victoria, thanks for your contributions!


Also, welcome to Ingrid Padgett and George White- also writing for Wow! for the first time.


Contact Us  

For more information on our services and modules or for a free 2-hour consultation, contact Dr. Christine Mason
[email protected]
toll-free 800-386-2377 
or 703-684-3345 


To help us meet your needs, please include in your email  the answers to the following questions:


1. Primary concern or need:

2. Proposed dates of service:  

3. # of teachers:____  

4. What you expect from CEI:  


Carolyn Lieberg, M.A.


Visit Our Websites 

The Newsletter Archive  page on CEI's website contains a library of previous Wow! Ed editions. 


Also visit the Publications page on the NAESP website to read additional publications designed to meet the needs of today's school leaders. 


Dear Educator,


Who comes to mind when you hear of courage?  Perhaps it is Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was not only hunted down by the Taliban but who emerged after an assassination attempt as a spokesperson for the education of girls around the world. Or Anne Frank, another young girl living in fear, famous now because of the diary she kept? Or world leaders who have spoken out against evils and violence?


What do we have to learn from individuals who act with courage to uphold their ideals? Do you see acts of courage in your schools? Are you interested in increasing your school's courage quotient?  How important is courage to increasing compassion and improving the quality of living for yourself and others?  


What Is Your Courage Quotient? 

by Ingrid Padgett   

Courage comes in many shapes, sizes and forms. There are grand acts of courage, like firefighters running into a burning building to save lives, for example, but there are also smaller, more subtle acts of courage like a young person summoning the strength to overcome a fear of public speaking.


                                     Steven Kotler  

People leap courageously into action, in large and small ways, every day. In a 2011 article, "Courage: Working our Way towards Bravery," researcher and award-winning journalist Steven Kotler offers a modern examination of the requirements of fortitude. Finding that there is not a great deal of research on the subject, Kotler opts to open up a broader discussion on courage by breaking down the topic into categories and offering cursory definitions around those categories.


While Kotler's list is not definitive, it offers a starting point that dovetails nicely with the Center for Educational Improvement's heart centered approach to learning and the challenge to our e-news readers to consider our key social-emotional themes in their everyday work to educate and empower young people.


Check out a few of Kotler's definitions here in his complete post. As you review, consider your "courage quotient" and the many ways teachers can use courage as a tool that motivates students to reach their full potential.



  • Moral Courage: "This is the courage to stand up for one's beliefs in the face of overwhelming opposition. It's best exemplified by the actions of a Mahatma Gandhi or a Rosa Parks" (Kotler, 2011). Having the moral courage to remain committed to your internal compass--your standard of beliefs concerning acceptable and unacceptable behavior--is an instructional touchstone. Moral courage requires deliberation and careful thought. Teachers who help students identify with and tap into this level of fortitude are developing character, virtue, and emotional intelligence among their students. Classroom assessment techniques, reciprocal peer questioning, and conference-style learning settings develop students' critical thinking skills, and therefore help them to face and fairly address ideas, beliefs or viewpoints around the things for which they have strong emotions.
  • Intellectual Courage: The willingness to come out in favor of an idea that others find patently ridiculous is a subset of moral courage. However, there is a "fundamental difference between, say, Galileo's courage to argue that the earth revolves around the sun (based on scientific evidence) and the courage to defend an idea like creationism (that flies in the face of scientific evidence)" (Kotler, 2011). In either scenario, students who grapple with difficult or conflicting concepts ask critical questions, test their arguments against others, and are more willing to struggle through the rigors of problem solving to gain understanding. These students are also more respectful of the beliefs of others.
  • Empathetic Courage: This variation on courage gets little attention, but perhaps it should instead be the most celebrated of all categories, according to Kotler. "Empathetic courage is the ability to feel deeply for another being" (2011). While it is often described as, "feeling what another person feels," it is more about the actions one takes, because intellectually and emotionally they are compelled towards action. When courage is aligned with respect and kindness, young people grasp their personal power and are more likely to manifest ethical outcomes that are appropriate for all. Role-playing exercises, case-study discussions, and cooperative/collaborative learning (small group) strategies help students to build on current understanding and consider the implications of their actions.

In the context of our work, we must consider how best to cultivate environments that value the key themes of our social emotional learning and social justice platform: courage, confidence, compassion, consciousness (awareness), and community. Environments where young people, and indeed educational leaders, are encouraged--and not discouraged--create emotionally safe places that promote confidence. In fact, noted sports psychologist Jerry Lynch points out that in emotionally safe environments, people open up their hearts, are more willing to reach out, and are also more willing to take risks, because they are not afraid of failing. Lynch explains that we cultivate safety, internally, via our attitude. "When we focus on what we can control, our confidence goes up. If we don't feel safe, our performance suffers. We become tight, tense and frustrated" (Dreher, 2012) As a sports psychology consultant, Lynch supports athletes at the highest levels to develop courage and confidence, by helping them to focus on the things they can control instead of the outcomes they desire.


Oftentimes, adults and young people respond with courage instinctively --they know what needs to be done and they act, almost without thinking. However, for others, explicit instruction, role-playing activities, guidance, and practice developing courage in safe environments with reduced risks and fear are useful. As a part of our ongoing efforts to expand and enhance research and professional development with a mission to lead 21st century learning, the Center for Educational Improvement will continue to courageously challenge the educational community to promote increased opportunities for contemplation, reflection, and open-ended exploration that leads to growth.


In the words of one of the greatest voices of contemporary literature, Maya Angelou, "Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently."


The benefits from intentional discussions and dialogues that develop greater awareness about the value of courage are immeasurable. We hope that you continue to "unpack" courage, and that you also join us in upcoming reflections as part of this continuing series focusing on the tenets of our social emotional learning and social justice platform.



Dreher, D (2012, Feb 29) Do you live in a culture of courage or fear?

Psychology Today. Your personal renaissance: Life's true calling.   http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-personal-renaissance/201202/do-you-live-in-culture-courage-or-fear   

Kotler, S. (2011, Aug 3) Courage: Working our way towards bravery in the playing field: Sport and culture through the lens of science. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-playing-field/201108/courage-working-our-way-towards-bravery     



The "Courage in Schools" Initiative 

By Victoria Zelvin, CEI Intern, and Christine Mason, Ph.D    


The power for authentic leadership is found not in external arrangements, but in the human heart.... If our institutions are rigid, it is because our hearts fear change; if they set us in mindless competition with each other, it is because we value victory over all else; if they are heedless of human well-being, it is because something in us is heartless as well.... Our complicity in world-making is a source of awesome and sometimes painful responsibility--and a source of profound hope for change. It is the ground for our common call to leadership.
  -- Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal


Day after day in school after school across the United States and around the world, students are taught to read, calculate, and write.  In these classes, some students are "taught" what they already know. Others struggle to learn from teaching that is not geared to their needs. However, with a heavy focus on academics as the "core" of education, many students miss out on instruction that could perhaps be more vital to their survival, to their thriving, as children and adults. As adults many of us can identify a few times when we wish we had had more courage. Sometimes we even become paralyzed and unable to move, uncertain about the outcomes of trying something new or breaking out of our self-imposed ruts. Courage. Courage to be ourselves. Courage to let others see who we really are.


Courage is displayed in many ways--large and small--in moments and over time. There is the courage of warriors, the courage of saints, the courage of a good Samaritan, and everyday acts of courage.    



Parker Palmer, an educator and activist, has created a center that offers a variety of resources to help build courage, both for teachers and students.


One resource to guide teachers as they work to develop courage in the classroom is the Courage in Schools Initiative, developed by the Center for Courage and Renewal, which teaches both students and facilitators to make use of dialogue, solitude, reflection and deep listening. The Courage to Teach program provides teachers tools to create a safe and trusting space in their schools, not only with their students, but also their colleagues and within their communities. Teachers can later apply these practices in classrooms, which Palmer believes will lead to reform from the inside out, rather than attempting reform simply from the outside.


The Center for Courage and Renewal is also exploring the connection between attending to the inner life of educators and adapting those findings for the renewal of public education: 


The Circle of Trust® approach is another of the Center's programs that has applicability to classrooms. Although, Parker Palmer developed the Circles approach to increase the connections adults have to their own mindfulness, teachers could adapt this to classrooms. The basic steps involve:

  • Clarifying one's purpose and integrity through an ongoing inner journey
  • Applying deep listening and honest, open questions
  • Holding paradox and tensions in the face of complexity and uncertainty
  • Building trustworthy relationships in communities/organizations
  • Appreciating the value of "otherness"
  • Growth through seasons/cycles of personal, professional, organization

The Center offers many resources, including The Courage to Teach Guide for Reflection and Renewal by Parker Palmer and Megan Scribner (Jossey-Bass, 2007).


Courage to Teach, a 74-page book in pdf that invites teachers to reflect on the courage they need and use in the classroom.  


Living Divided No More -- Parker Palmer's description about his path to discovery on this approach and why he thinks it is worthwhile.


Practicing Courage in the Classroom  

By Victoria Zelvin    


Every day, students are taught the basic essentials of the core curriculum. In these days of high academic standards, the focus is shifting to deep conceptual understanding, evidence-based responses, and gradual skill progressions. However, there is perhaps a lesson that is just as vital that can be integrated into classroom instruction. Courage. What is courage? How can students display courage? Sometimes as part of a larger Character Education initiative, students are now being challenged to think critically about courage, to apply it in their daily lives, and to embrace it going forward.


At Dilworth Elementary, in Charlotte, NC, students are asked a series of questions to prompt critical thinking about courage. Students are encouraged through these questions and debates to figure out for themselves which everyday actions are courageous and which are not, with grade-level specific activities.


Schools also ask students to consider real-life acts of courage. In her lesson plan -- three days on courage -- teacher Leah Bergner, Isla Vista Elementary School, Goleta, CA, had second-graders read the stories of Holocaust survivor Eve Bunting. Bunting's story, Terrible Things, is an allegory for the Holocaust presented in a fictionalized account with animals in an age-appropriate plot. The main thrust of this lesson plan is: "What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right."  



           Elizabeth Eckford, Sept., 1957, goes to school


Scholastic builds on this and asks students: How do characters, real and fictional, demonstrate courage? In their online lesson plan, they lead with the Mark Twain quote, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." Students discuss the quotation, trying to define what courage is and whether or not they agree with the author. From there, students read both in a group and alone, practice modeling through an interactive puzzle and write reflective essays on how characters, real and fictional, show courage. Students also read the article, The Courage to Go to School to gain a better understanding of what others their age must face to gain an education, with a historical and a contemporary example.


After reading and writing about outward acts of courage, students are then challenged to think of quiet acts of courage. In North Carolina, Durham sixth-graders are encouraged to think about the people behind the scenes or in the corners of the story, whose acts of courage might have gone overlooked. They cite specific passages to support their findings, revealing the critical importance of all types of courage. Durham sixth-graders are then asked to think both creatively and critically, in the cumulative project, to write their own stories with a courageous person at the center.


These are just a few examples of how students are being taught to recognize courage in all its forms.

  • Courage, like patience, can be encouraged by being rehearsed.
  • Courage is boldness, but it serves others and is done with courtesy.

Teachers can lead students so that they understand more about courage by

  • Asking students to imagine everyday scenes where someone needs help; and
  • Discussing "comfort zones"; asking students to tell their own stories doing things that they (or individuals they are close to) were hesitant to do.


Alternatives to Traditional Discipline: The Seeds of Compassion and Resolution
By George White, M.A.   


California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law a bill that encourages the state's school districts to consider alternative approaches to issues and incidents related to school discipline and safety. This bill could be the first wave in a tide of legislation designed to eventually wash away "zero tolerance" policies that have resulted in sharp increases in suspensions, expulsions and arrests of students.


Ironically, the law was enacted just days after the U.S. Department of Justice provided $44 million to expand the number of police officers in schools nationwide.

These two approaches to school discipline and safety -- one encouraging alternative approaches to traditional discipline, such as using conflict resolution practices and mental health services, and the other focusing on school exclusion and police enforcement -- are the crossroads as school districts try to chart plans to create schools with less disruption and fewer conflicts and violence.


California legislators eventually navigated a path between the two divides by agreeing to compromise language. Assembly Bill 549  deliberately refrains from restricting what police can do on campus, but it also leaves it to school districts to decide which student behaviors call for mental health intervention and which require police action. The original bill would have limited school police to handling dangerous or physically violent situations. However, that language was removed in committee.


Simply put, the law encourages districts to update their school safety plans to include clear guidelines for the roles and responsibilities of mental health professionals and police officers in creating safe school environments. Also, the law addresses an issue of special concern to elementary schools, where bad patterns of behavior are often first manifested. It says the law encourages the development of plans and policies "aimed at the prevention of bullying."

The enactment is seen as a victory for the many organizations that have been advocates of reform in school discipline. For example, a national coalition called Dignity in Schools  believes the law could give impetus to a movement that seeks an increase in conflict resolution practices and a decrease in school expulsions, and referrals to the juvenile justice system.


In California, a state with many organizations that are part of the Dignity in Schools coalition, the new law is even more significant, because it includes language that references a successful initiative that has been funded by the California Endowment, a major grant-making foundation. Specifically, it encourages the development of school district guidelines that include "restorative and transformative justice programs." 


Those terms are references to programs such as Restorative Justice (RJ),a compassion-learning program that has shown some promise in California and other states. It is a community-based, therapeutic process that addresses youth violence by helping perpetrators understand the roots of their anger and understand how they have done others harm. In 2008, a pilot Restorative Justice program at the Oakland Unified School District's (OUSD) Cole Middle School resulted in an 87 percent drop in the suspension rate. After the adoption of the program in three other OUSD middle schools in 2008-2010, there were statistically significant declines in suspension. In 2010-2011, OUSD expanded the program to ten more schools -- elementary schools among them.   


The movement also took hold in San Francisco (SFUD) several years ago. The 4th grade students at Rosa Parks School in SFUD learned about the Restorative Justice program at Longfellow Middle School with the help of mediators and school administrators at both schools in 2011. The Longfellow Restorative Justice team went to several classrooms to demonstrate the circle process to 4th grade students, where they could share their knowledge and experience in Restorative Justice.   

According to the RJ team -- the principal of Rosa Parks Elementary, among them -- the results have been positive. One of many articles on Restorative Justice cites the following from a 4th grader who said, "empathy is where you try to learn about how someone else feels" (Myrzabekova, 2011).


Schools in Chicago, Denver, and Portland, Oregon, are also adopting conflict resolutions programs, according to an article in The New York Times. 


This movement is not new. The state of Colorado in 2011 enacted a law that ends "zero tolerance," and mandates measures that reduce referrals to the juvenile and criminal justice systems. In addition, a number of other state governments may -- like Colorado and California -- soon take steps to apply more compassion and conflict resolution to matters relating to student conduct.

For example, the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation in 2012 amending grounds for suspensions and expulsions and requiring training for certain school personnel to prepare them to find alternatives to sending students to court. It also requires school boards and districts to revise codes of conduct and disciplinary codes to reduce suspensions and expulsions.


In addition, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Washington are among the states considering bills that would limit the use of expulsions and suspensions and support students' behavioral health needs.



Myrzabekova, A. (2011, July 6). SEEDS mediator conducts the training for the landlords of Oakland. Seeds of Resolution. http://seedscrc.blogspot.com/


Looking for Books on Courage?
You might want to go back to the 1800s

Google Books Ngram Viewer: courage

Data from Books Ngram Viewer 

Google Ngram Viewer is a phrase-usage graphing tool which charts the yearly count of selected n-grams (letter combinations)[n] or words and phrases
 as found in over 5.2 million books digitized by Google Inc (up to 2008). With this system you can actually find titles and dates of publications. 
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Christine Mason, Ph.D.

Director, Center for Educational Improvement

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