Radical reform: Why I quit my teaching job in the U.S.

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Over the course of my adventurous and unconventional life of self-imposed nonconformity, I’ve been able to discipline myself rather well, at least in terms of my diet and exercise routines. I suppose it’s something I learned from my industrious, multi-talented father, who completed every project he ever started and got up before sunrise every day without an alarm, like clockwork, to read the newspaper and start his workday as a geeky computer engineer.

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I was born into the privilege of hearty New England stock and raised in an upper middle-class Boston suburb where I was given an excellent education, graduating as valedictorian of my high school class and again four years later as valedictorian of my college class. For my krista-and-shawn-copyvaledictory speech, I braided my hair in corn rows, dressed in a traditional African style gown and quoted the transcendentalists, urging my classmates to live a life of nonconformity. Both my parents and my grandmother taught me to not only refine my intellect, but to also be conscientious of my diet and to take good care of my physical body.

My grandmother collected innumerable glossy magazines with color images of slim women eating salads and promoting the latest diet trend. She kept scrupulous recipes of everything she cooked in a categorized file system with notes about nutrition content and caloric intake. Grandma frequently baked oatmeal cookies and bran muffins and brought them to our house when she visited. She’d point out the merits of her specialty baked goods: “I didn’t use much sugar. Too much sugar’s not healthy for you, you know.”

Years later, when she was too old to live by herself, she would move into my parents’ house in Florida and keep up her healthy diet routine. When I visited for what I suspected would be the last time, she said, holding her salad bowl and munching, “See, Jen, I still eat my salad every day.”

“That’s good, Grandma,” I humored her.

She said, “When I went to see the doctor, he told me I must be doing something right. To keep doing whatever I’m doing.” She chuckled.

krista-nmsu-student-copyAs an educator, I assumed that teaching my students about how to keep their bodies healthy with a thoughtful diet should be an integral part of their education. Luckily, as an educator in a private school, I was granted enough freedom by a relatively progressive administration to start a small organic garden in large plastic tubs I obtained from a farmer friend who donated the materials to help me get started.

In the classroom I would share a little something from my own snack bag, like raisins or trail mix or fresh fruit. Apparently I had this freedom before the time when kids were stricken with rampant nut allergies. I attempted to make a positive influence on my students’ lives in the same way my parents and grandmother had on mine. Sharing healthy food and commenting about healthy diets.

In the U.S., I had established over ten years of a successful career in special education as a consultant in public and private schools; in addition to earning certification and practicing professionally as a Licensed Massage Therapist and yoga teacher. I earned a Master of Arts in Education and gained a wide range of experience working with children and adults who were diagnosed with developmental and learning disabilities. I enjoyed working in the field of education, but I felt deep dissatisfaction with what I deemed to be a restrictive, top-down model that limited my creativity and freedom to design my own curriculum.

I became disillusioned with the public school system in the U.S. and envisioned an innovative approach that involved outdoor, experiential education on an organic farm. I published two books that instantly became bestsellers in “Experimental Methods in Education”—a good sign that I have the support of people I’ve never met but, nonetheless, they must share my radical ideas about education.

Absenteeism due to sickness—a cold, sore throat, flu, stomach issues—was all-too-common over the course of my years as a schoolteacher. It seemed to worsen as the years went by. I noticed the same ill fate of my colleagues, who seemed to suffer from carrying too much weight, lethargy, fatigue and general malaise. It appeared to me that physical sickness and the concomitant complaints about said sickness were part of the everyday fabric of the school day, an obvious problem that was rarely addressed in ways that would make a significant difference.

When I proposed to the director that we start every day with physical fitness that included exercises, breathing and maybe a few minutes of silent meditation, I was given a cordial smile, told thank you, yes, but we already have PE, and besides there are more important things to talk about at the beginning of the school day. Morning meeting consisted of boring talks where the kids sat in a huge group, fidgeting and listening reluctantly to two men, the director and assistant principal, set the tone for the day by reinforcing the rules and generally reminding everyone who was in charge. And, oh, by the way, your tiny physical body in need of movement can wait till after lunch to move around in any satisfactory way. Until then, stay still and listen to the boring lecture.

If I had been in charge of the school, things would have been a lot different. A lot of things. But the differences I wanted to see were forced into under-valued, under-paid, after-school offerings to a small percentage of the student body who were corralled into taking my yoga classes because they didn’t want to play other competitive sports. I would have preferred to make yoga a daily part of the school day for both my students and my colleagues.

Years later, teaching full-time as a special educator at a similar private school in California, I would propose similar ideas to an even more progressive administration. But still, there were more important, pressing matters, like stuffing mostly useless information into the kids’ heads.

Never mind the scientific literature indicating that kids’ brains and circadian rhythms are wired in a such a way where academic, rote learning doesn’t come naturally to them until well after mid-morning. The healthiest, most natural thing for young bodies to be doing is what agrarian families in a homesteading situation would do at the start of the day: take care of the animals, work in the fields, shovel dirt and poop, haul heavy things, get dirty…. Yet, in our schools—places where we are supposed to be teaching people basic skills—we seemed to be ignoring the things that mattered most and forcing our kids to be dutiful, unthinking automatons following arbitrary rules that they would prefer not to follow, if my observations were at all accurate. It seemed like the kids were always breaking the rules, anyway. So, why were the adults so determined to enforce rules instead of giving the kids an opportunity to discipline themselves?

In my opinion, self-discipline can only be taught by example. It can’t be forced on anyone. People need to discipline themselves of their own accord. It’s not my job to dumb anyone down with rules and useless information that they will soon forget as soon as the exam is over. But it is my job to take care of myself and be the best person I can be, which might have some kind of positive influence on the people around me.

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Although my ideas for radical reform of the education system failed to take root in the country of my birth, I haven’t given up on my ideas, yet. I doubt I ever will.

Parama w guitarists at ComitanI quit my last teaching job at a public school in the U.S. over five years ago, gave up the comforts and conveniences of my privileged lifestyle, and took my innovative ideas with me south of the border to the tiny country of Belize, where I purchased an acre of fertile land and started building an off-grid homestead in the company of like-minded neighbors.

I published a series of books in 2014 that have been on Amazon’s bestseller list in “Experimental Methods in Education” since their publication date, indicating to me that people seem to support my ideas for radical reform of methods in education. You can check out my books here, and if you would like to visit me in Belize and participate in an interactive workshop where we explore these ideas, you can find out more and register for our next workshop here.

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eBook series now available:

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Join me for yoga classes, therapeutic massage, and wellness retreats:

Cotton Tree Lodge in southern Belize

 

The STAR Method: Healing Others with Therapeutic Touch

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The STAR Method (Module 2): Healing Others with Therapeutic Touch

Now available as an eBook on Amazon!

“Healing is the fruit of love. A healer must learn to love everyone, including oneself,” said Grandfather Jaguar.

For the past five years, I have lived in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico—the heart of Mayan culture and civilization. Within the past year I moved to a mountainous region in southern Mexico, where I met Grandfather Jaguar, a Mayan shaman, certified naturopathic doctor, and “curandero” (traditional healer). He invited me to be his apprentice and offered to teach me the Mayan healing techniques and teachings.

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Since I have accepted my apprenticeship, I have dedicated myself to a process of self-healing and profound spiritual growth that feels both overwhelming and exhilarating. I have learned that self-healing can be a process of growth and discovery that requires time, dedication, and courage. I think that we should not be alone in this process: We need each other. Everyone can learn how to heal others.

“We need to learn how to heal ourselves without modern medicine,” Grandfather told me. “In the future humanity will go through a lot of suffering during a long period of purification. Modern technology cannot save us. We need something much simpler—healing with the hands—the most basic, simple form of healing.”

Module 2 of The STAR Method teaches how to heal others with therapeutic touch using a simple sequence of thirty hand positions. Each hand position has a connection to the body’s subtle energy system, also known as “chakras” (energy centers). The STAR Method is designed to result in a variety of physiological benefits.

“The STAR Method is something I have been waiting for,” Grandfather told me one day when I visited him in his ancestral home, where he likes to sit in his favorite rocking chair next to a bougainvillea bush, wearing a straw hat. When we visit, I am treated like his daughter, as he shares stories of his youth and apprenticeship with a Mayan elder in the jungles of Mexico.

“Healing with the hands has been used for millennia by many traditions around the world,” Grandfather taught me, “The STAR Method has its roots in many ancient traditions: Oriental, Hindu, Greek, North American, and Mayan. The STAR Method is based on techniques that we use in the Mayan healing tradition.”

Years before meeting Grandfather in Mexico, I created The STAR Method as a technique for stress management early in my career as an educator and consultant in private and public schools in the U.S. The STAR Method was originally published as an article in a peer-reviewed journal for educators. Throughout my career, I have found that children and adults benefit from the application of therapeutic touch—the application of the hands on the body to promote health and well-being—on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level.

Scientific studies show that therapeutic touch can benefit patients who are diagnosed with many different many chronic diseases and medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis. Clients who have received a full treatment with The STAR Method share positive feedback:

“For 21 days I have applied The STAR Method, and my life has undergone a stunning transformation. The technique has taught me to discover within the depths of my being that which I cannot find anywhere else: Complete self-acceptance and utmost gratitude.” –Documentary Filmmaker, Monterrey, Mexico

The STAR Method goes beyond stress reduction and relaxation. The STAR Method is a tool for personal achievement, designed to support the process of healing and self-transformation. The STAR Method is a practical, complete system for self-healing, developing self-awareness, transforming the body and mind, and self-realization of one’s unique mission on Earth—the fulfillment of one’s highest potential.

Radical reform: How and why I created The STAR Method

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I vividly remember the day one of my first-grade students, a boy diagnosed with childhood depression, came into my classroom with a sullen expression and announced, “I hate school.”

I empathized with his feelings.

After a decade of teaching in a variety of settings, I had realized that schools were highly stressful places. Outcomes that were measurable by filling in bubbles and marking checkboxes seemed to be paramount to everyone’s health and happiness.

I had learned, with a sense of despair, that the education system was failing our children.

As a full-time special education classroom teacher and consultant in public and private schools across the US, I have taught in a variety of settings to students of all ages who are diagnosed with moderate to severe developmental disabilities and learning disabilities; including autism, dyslexia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). I hold a Master of Arts in Education with a specialization in Special Education. My jobs in Special Education have been demanding and, at times, exhausting.

One of the most notable features of participating in the education system was the high degree of stress that I observed in my colleagues and students. Teachers came to work frazzled, fatigued, and bogged down with endless paperwork. Students exhibited stress, anxiety, frequently came down with colds and other sicknesses, and held negative attitudes towards learning in general.

I developed my own routine for staying healthy, fit, and energized while holding down a challenging full-time job. By the time I started working in Special Education, I had already become a Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher. I continued to study and practice a variety of holistic modalities and techniques extensively. I was determined to use the tools I had learned to maintain my own health and wellness and manage job-related stress.

I would wake up by 4:00 AM every morning before school to do my morning exercises: meditation, yoga, deep breathing, jogging, swimming…. By the time I arrived to work at 7:45 AM, I had sweated my butt off, expanded my lung capacity, and found my inner peace for the day.

As I personally witnessed how my students were detrimentally impacted by high levels of stress, I started to use proven, therapeutic techniques with them in the classroom. As a Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher, I found practical ways to integrate my background in health and healing into my teaching curriculum. To help my students relax and concentrate better, I taught them simple breathing exercises and physical movements that were proven to improve academic performance. I offered yoga classes to my colleagues after school in the multipurpose room. I received encouraging, positive feedback and support from my school administration.

The STAR Method began to take shape as I applied practical stress management techniques in my own classroom and leveraged my Master’s degree studies to dig deeper into the current research. I discovered very little educational policy and scholarly research to support stress management training for teachers. Yet, my own anecdotal experience in the schools clearly indicated that job-related stress was a problem for teachers and administrators. The STAR Method was born out of what I consider to be a largely ignored aspect of educational policy: Our schools should not be stressful places.

Teachers are required to manage their students’ behavior through approved behavioral interventions and techniques, but are students learning how to manage their own behavior? Are teachers being trained to effectively manage their own stress, so that our children are spending most of their day with peaceful, calm, balanced, healthy adults who can mentor them properly?

With the expert guidance of my graduate degree advisor and co-author, I published my first article about The STAR Method in 2006 in a peer-reviewed online journal, Teaching Exceptional Children, entitled “Stress Management for Special Educators: The Self-Administered Tool for Awareness and Relaxation (STAR). I originally published The STAR Method as a program to help schoolteachers manage stress, prevent job burnout, and increase self-awareness of the impact of stress in their professional lives.

I used The STAR Method in my classroom and offered training workshops to other teachers and professionals within the education system. I endeavored to share the tools and techniques of The STAR Method on a regular basis with my students and colleagues. During this time, I became enthralled with the idea that all schools should have quiet rooms for meditation and ample, clutter-free spaces in which students and teachers could learn stress management techniques, like yoga and therapeutic touch.

But I knew that this wasn’t enough.

There was something missing.

For years, I couldn’t figure out the missing piece; regardless, I kept on trying to help.

One of my jobs was in a public school as a specialist for preschool children with multiple disabilities, including autism. Many of my students exhibited severe behavioral problems; for example, when they were upset, they would frequently hit, scratch, and bite themselves or other students. As a Special Education Teacher, my school district required me be certified in “Physical Restraint Training” so that I could learn how to properly restrain my behaviorally challenged students before they injured themselves or someone else.

At the time, it seemed like a good idea to me: I wanted to be sure that my students were safe in my classroom. But on the first day of training, I was horrified.

I learned that these techniques were adapted from those used in psychiatric wards and high-security prisons.

In the most severe cases, I would be required to follow an exact procedure that involved me and at least one other fully grown adult holding my preschoolers’ tiny bodies face-down on the floor with their hands restrained behind their backs. As stated in the training manual, I would be required to hold my students in this position for as long as it took to calm them down.

I thought to myself, “Holding a child face-down on the ground and pinning their hands behind their backs is supposed to calm them down?”

To me, it seemed like a humiliating, disempowering, brutal, and potentially harmful thing to do to any child, especially to a tiny preschooler. I later learned from further research that “Physical Restraint Training” is currently required by law for schools nationwide as an approved method of behavior intervention.

The instructor of the training session that I attended was a portly, middle-aged man who had used the restraint technique numerous times on emotionally disturbed high school boys. I approached him and asked, “So, let me get this straight. You’re telling me that I am supposed to flip my preschool kids onto their faces, pin them to the ground—the same exact way you do with your fully grown, adult students—and the goal of this technique is to calm them down?”

He replied curtly, “Yep.”

I excused myself from the training session and made a phone call to the supervisor of the Special Education Department in my school district.

“I don’t agree with this approach,” I said, “I refuse to treat my students this way, under any circumstances.”

“But—you are required to be certified in ‘Physical Restraint Training’. You have to comply with this district’s policies,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“If you don’t complete the training, then you will be held personally liable for any injuries that happen in your classroom…. This school district will not be held responsible,” my supervisor told me.

This was the galvanizing moment: I realized that our education system had failed our children.

I realized that the modern-day education system was frantically busy trying to force round pegs (our kids) into square holes.

The next day, I signed my resignation letter and quit my teaching job.

I had reached a point of no return. I was unwilling to compromise my integrity in order to keep my foot in the door of a stable job that required me to harm children. I emancipated myself and walked off the plantation. I was completely checking out of what I now believe to be a failed system. I walked away and started investing my time and energy into something new and different. But I wasn’t giving up: I was preparing to follow a higher calling.

I radically transformed my life over the course of the next few years. I used The STAR Method every day and recorded notes in my journals about how the exercises were impacting my life. I expanded my vision for The STAR Method to include more tools and techniques. I practiced, developed, and refined a series of physical exercises and meditation exercises to include in The STAR Method.

I designed and completed a wellness retreat in which I maintained a vow of silence for one year. During this retreat, I meditated daily. I reflected on my halcyon days as a graduate student and first-year teacher, when my naive optimism led me to believe that modern-day schools were places where children could go to learn how to be healthy, happy, peaceful, and self-empowered.

One day, I had an epiphany.

I realized that I couldn’t change a failed system from within the failed system.

I realized that I had to create an entirely new system: A radical reform.

The STAR Method that you now hold in your hands is the first instantiation of this new system. I have since written and published my vision for a holistic, experiential learning environment called The Farm School, located in a rural setting where children can learn how to be healthy and thrive in a self-sustaining community.

I moved to Central America, where I write, teach, travel, and offer seminars.

I am fascinated by the potential for a cultural revolution. By “revolution,” I am not referring to a violent one with torches and mobs of angry people. What I am proposing is a peaceful, quiet revolution—a subtle, yet powerful one—enacted from within our own hearts and minds.

A transformation from within must find its expression in the outer world.

Indeed, I believe that a cultural revolution is imminent. I believe that we are ready for something radically new.

I believe that radical reform is the only thing that can change the course of humanity, now standing at a crossroads between two radically different worldviews.

Now, I wonder: Which path will you choose?

The STAR Method: How to Heal Using Therapeutic Touch is now available on Amazon. Click here to download the ebook onto your Kindle reader.

My new book is now available!

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The STAR Method: How to Heal Using Therapeutic Touch (Module 1) 

by Parama K. Williams

The STAR Method is a practical, complete system for developing self-awareness, transforming your body and mind, and realizing your life’s mission.

  • The STAR is designed to motivate your personal transformation and self-realization—the fulfillment of your highest potential. The tools and techniques in The STAR can help you achieve personal success, health, and wellness in your life.
  • “The STAR is a valuable resource.” –Graduate Student, State University of New York
  • “A wonderful way to deal with stress.” –Social Worker, New Jersey
  • “It works! It really works.” –Public Elementary School Teacher, Belize, Central America

The STAR Method is a nonsectarian system designed for people of all ages, genders, faiths, and cultural backgrounds. The complete system will be presented in seven modules, each module featuring unique, useful, practical information that is based on current research.

By learning the tools and exercises featured in all seven modules of The STAR Method, your self-help toolbox will consist of a variety of stress management and relaxation techniques that are proven to be effective:

  • therapeutic touch
  • breathing exercises
  • physical exercises
  • positive affirmations
  • meditation
  • journaling
  • visualizing
  • goal-setting
  • mentoring

But this program can help you achieve much more than stress reduction and relaxation: The STAR Method can help you transform your life.

The STAR Method is a transformational tool designed to help you realize the purpose of your life—your mission on Earth. Only by realizing your personal mission can you be truly fulfilled.

This book offers several helpful features:

  • Step-by-step approaches to effective techniques and exercises
  • Photographs, and color-coded diagrams supplemented with useful descriptions
  • Testimonials and personal anecdotes from people who have benefited from The STAR
  • Useful appendices for quick reference

The STAR Method can help you develop self-awareness and increase your ability to make meaningful, purpose-driven decisions in your life, motivated by the realization of your life mission.

The STAR Method is designed on the premise that the body and mind operate as one integrated whole and are maintained by energy.

You are energy: You are not separate from it.

The moment you place your hands on yourself or another living thing, whether it be human, animal, or otherwise, healing energy automatically flows in a way that benefits you and the recipient. You are simply acting as a channel.

In Module 1, you will learn practical, effective techniques for self-healing:

  • Three guiding principles for how to heal your body using therapeutic touch
  • How to activate and develop your sensitivity to the subtle flow of energy in your hands
  • How to use color—the most universal of all symbols—for personal and planetary healing
  • How to increase your self-awareness of the connection between your body, your mind, and its behavioral and emotional responses
  • A specified sequence of hand positions especially designed to help you manage stress and receive a variety of physiological benefits

When you use the techniques presented Module 1, you may find that the people around you seem to be friendlier, happier, and more loving. You may feel more peaceful and relaxed throughout your day. When you receive these kinds of positive results, then you are realizing the power of your hands for personal and planetary healing.

The STAR Method will be presented as a complete system in a series of seven books. In the next book, Module 2, you will learn how to enhance and heal your interpersonal relationships using therapeutic touch on other people. By learning the techniques presented in Module 2, you can improve your relationships with the people in your life: your spouse, your children, your colleagues, and your family and friends.

Module 1 of The STAR Method is available now on Amazon!

Journaling: A daily practice for self-awareness, health and wellness

This week I have become increasingly aware of ways that I can continue to release negativity from my thoughts, my home, and my relationship with my partner.

I cleaned up my altar space and rearranged the sacred objects. Almost instantly I noticed positive changes in my life.

I would like to share the journal process I use to reinforce positive, life-affirming truths and accomplish important goals. The STAR (Self-Administered Tool for Awareness and Relaxation) is a multidimensional model for spiritual growth and awakening based on the concept that “I create my own reality: Everything I experience originates from my own mind.”

Affirmations for this week from my STAR journal:

  • I practice radical self-responsibility.
  • I enjoy my husband’s company.
  • I publish blogs to share and help others.
  • I maintain a clean, sacred altar space.
  • My vow of silence creates peace around me.
  • I take walks to the park to appreciate nature.
  • The people I see around me are happy.

I identified realistic, short-term goals related to these affirmations. Here are some of the goals I accomplished this week:

  • Took a 45-minute walk every day to the park.
  • Reorganized my altar space and cleaned off sacred objects.
  • Contacted magazine editors about publishing my articles.

I made prayer cards based on these affirmations to focus my daily prayer on what is most important to me for my loved ones, the earth, and myself at this time.

Thank you for witnessing my STAR journal process. If you would like to learn how to use the STAR, please follow this blog for regular updates.

For long-term health, enjoying a vacation is as important as working hard.

I would like to share a daily journaling process that helps me focus on positive, life-affirming truths and accomplish important goals. I use the STAR (Self-Administered Tool for Awareness and Relaxation), a multidimensional model for spiritual growth and awakening.

  • I relax.
  • I travel safely.
  • I enjoy my week of vacation.
  • I am generous with my partner.
  • I am persistent in pursuit of my goals.
  • I forgive.
  • I love and accept myself.

I identified realistic, short-term goals related to these affirmations. Here are some of the goals I accomplished this week:

  • Downloaded new podcasts to my iPod.
  • Maintained my exercise routine.
  • Relaxed and enjoyed a week of vacation.

I made prayer cards based on these affirmations to focus my daily prayer on what is most important to me for my loved ones, the Earth, and myself at this time.

Thank you for witnessing my STAR journaling process. If you would like to learn how to use the STAR, please follow this blog for regular updates.

Nurture yourself so you can take better care of others.

This week I used the STAR (Self-Administered Tool for Awareness and Relaxation) to help me focus on positive affirmations and accomplish important goals. Here are excerpts from my daily STAR journal:

  • I accept myself as I am.
  • I am free of guilt and shame.
  • I practice moderation.
  • I receive my partner’s love.
  • I nurture myself.
  • I give myself and my partner space when we need it.
  • I trust myself. I trust my partner.

I made prayer cards based on these affirmations to focus my daily prayer on what is most important to me for my loved ones, the Earth, and myself at this time. Here are some of my prayer cards from this week:

Goals I accomplished this week:

  • Treated myself to dinner with my husband.
  • Took some time to myself.
  • Rested when I needed to.