Seeds for a Better World

I’m writing a new book with some cool folks — a field guide for a better world. The goal is to translate the core design principles of the natural world, and show readers how to apply those principles in the service of creating better human systems (including, and not limited to, our schools).

To do it right, however, we need your help. So here’s the idea, and the challenge:

Imagine a small metal tin filled with colorful index cards — sort of like your Grandma’s old recipe box, but in this case, instead of each card showing you how to make peach cobbler or yummy meatloaf, they’re showing you how to build a better world.

Now, imagine that each seed/card outlines something tangible to do — the sort of thing that anyone, anywhere, can apply and “plant” in their own life and work immediately (since our own behavior is the only thing we can actually control).

Next, imagine that these seeds are scattered across the following six categories of individual action: TEACHING, LEARNING, PARENTING, LEADING, CREATING, and BEING. And imagine that every seed/card has a front and a back that outlines the what (do I do), the how (do I do it), the who (gave me this seed), and the why (should i make time to do this?

By way of example, here are three, properly titled and categorized, along with their authors and a way to go deeper.

But the real question is, what would be your seed(s) of contribution to the tin?

Maybe it’s an idea/recipe original to you, or maybe it’s an excerpt from some super useful thing you read by someone else. But if you could only provide a single seed/idea/recipe to be planted in the service of building a better world, what would it be?

Standing by for all clarifying questions and ideas, and thanks in advance for your thought and creativity!


One of the most important questions any school or teacher can ask is simple: “How can we be more thoughtful about what we do?”

Unfortunately, it’s not the question we ask most frequently. The question schools and teachers have fallen in love with — “What more should we be doing? — is much more dangerous. It also leads to the creation of unsustainable systems.

The better question, the sustainable question, the question that frees up resources for schools to do more is the question of reflection and refinement.

Schools are better when they create spaces and expectations for reflection.

Formalized protocols for the adoption of reflective practices abound — though a good place to start is What’s most important, however, is simply creating the space and support for reflecting on the work that is already being done. And while it would be ideal if this reflective practice started with the principal, it could start anywhere.

In fact, it should start everywhere. Department chairs, classroom teachers, sports coaches — we can all be models of reflection to those with whom we work. That’s why reflective practice means asking not, “What more can we be doing?” but “How can we do what we’re already doing. better?”




All parents experience times when their children say things and get upset about issues that don’t seem to make sense. At moments like this, however, one of the least effective things we can do is jump in and argue with our child’s faulty logic. Instead, we need to recognize that our children are experiencing a right-brain, nonrational, emotional flood, which guarantees that any sort of logical, literal left-brain response will only make the situation worse.

Instead, try this: Connect with the right. Redirect with the left.

When a child is upset, logic often won’t work until we have responded to the right brain’s emotional needs.By letting our children know that we hear what is upsetting them, we show that we are tuned into how they are feeling. Instead of fighting against the huge waves of emotion, we surf them.

After responding with the right, we can redirect with the left through logical explanation and planning. It won’t always do the trick, but Connecting and Redirecting will almost always work better than Commanding and Demanding. It’s as if you’re a lifeguard who swims out, puts your arms around your child, and helps him to shore before telling him not to swim out so far next time.





  1. Sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Take 3 slow, deep breaths.
  3. Set a timer for 5 minutes.
  4. Relax into your body.
  5. Clear your mind.
  6. Keep going.

Meditation is all about the practice. Don’t get too focused on whether or not you’re ‘doing it right’. The process of redirecting your focus to the present moment is where the benefit comes.

One of the most valuable aspects of it is that it builds resilience over time, not only during a meditative sit, but during stressful moments in your daily life as well. With regular practice, you’ll begin to notice more space between events and your reactions. You’ll find that you are more able to make choices in how you respond rather than acting on impulse.  

Breathing out slowly through your mouth stimulates the Vagus Nerve which connects with almost every organ in your body and immediately sends signals to your brain to relax. Your heart rate slows, as does the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) into your brain.

Though it can be intimidating to begin, even this short five-minute meditation, practiced frequently, can bring noticeable stress relief and peace into your life over time. For best results, try longer meditation sessions (20 minutes or more) a few times per week. Then, these five-minute sessions will have more of an immediate impact when you need them!




6 thoughts on “Seeds for a Better World”

  • Kitty Dixon says:

    Sam, thanks for asking. What a great idea for your new book.

    Example 1:
    To reframe a conversation around what’s working, what’s possible, what’s doable instead of what’s isn’t…to praise approximations…. To do this you would use prompts…..

    Let’s talk about what works before jumping into what doesn’t….
    What were they attempting to do?
    I like the way you started….
    I saw you do ‘x’ which is a great place to begin…

    Build on what’s working which often means to see an aspect of what is going well, even if overall it doesn’t appear to be. Find the strength and build from there… as success breeds success.

  • MaryElizabeth " MB" Merritt says:

    Seed-Card #1 MaryElizabeth Merritt, Ph.D.
    Provide learning friendly spaces by employing the Social -engagement practices of Stephen Porges’ Poly-Vagal Theory.
    All mammals have a nervous sytem that is optimally engaged by providing a safe environment. This can be done by the quality of voice tone, eye gaze, safe touch, arm , expressive facial expressions and other factors that basically assure the students ( through neuroception) that it is safe for the brain-body to relax and optimal learning can occur.
    According to Porges:To effectively switch from defensive to social engagement strategies, the mammalian nervous system needs to perform two important adaptive tasks: (1) assess risk, and (2) if the environment is perceived as safe, inhibit the more primitive limbic structures that control fight, flight, or freeze behaviors. This happens through comlex communication between the nervous system, the gut and the heart!
    Safe states are necessary for positive social behavior, and for accessing the higher brain structures that enable humans to learn and be creative.
    This hearkens a bit to Dan Siegels ideas for parenting.

  • Joan Caldarera says:

    Agree on Assessment Before you Begin
    (Teaching and Learning)

    Grading is one of the most vexing problems in teaching. Do we grade only for content? For following the directions? What about innovative thinking? Are we influenced by student engagement in class? Are we concerned with whether or not they complete all the work, regardless of the quality?

    Why not discuss together with the students what you think is important for them to get out of your course before you begin, and agree on what each one can commit to doing and maybe even what percentage of their grade it is worth. That way the individuals are recognized for their particular strengths and they are put on notice that they have agreed to do something out of their own choice. In the end, they see how satisfying it is to make their own goals and to meet them. Many lessons learned on top of what the course is about! Plus, as a teacher, you only have to assess work that the students have joyfully completed.
    Joan Caldarera

  • marilyn margon says:

    To create a program for & with students to meet other students with backgrounds and experiences other than their own; to keep a journal/diary of thoughts, feelings, frustrations, and positive experiences.

  • Teaching/Learning

    It takes a village to make sure children can read.

    Our schools spend a lot of money on assessments and tests of various kinds. Not necessary. Use the local paper or a popular magazine. Point to a paragraph: “Read this.”

    Hopefully, the child by the third grade reads through the paragraph in a routine manner. Fast or slow is not the crucial thing. You hope you don’t see the kind of blatant mistakes that reveal serious problems.

    Surprisingly, it turns out there are only a tiny set of mistakes that children can make. Leave out a word. Add a word. Guess wildly. Reverse the word (“saw” becomes “was”). Any of these mistakes indicate that the child is on the road to becoming a functional illiterate.

    The majority of public schools tell children to memorize sight- words. This leads to a superficial or spotty mastery. Children make strange mistakes; typically the problems become permanently implanted.

    Once you train children to guess, they have a lot of trouble not guessing. If the only way a child learns a word is to memorize it on sight, what do they do with an unfamiliar word?

    The point is, there’s a quick screening device that lets parents, teachers, and others identify problems while a child is still young. If adults test the children in their immediate world, we could save a lot of misery.

    What happens now is that children reach middle school and high school, locked in more or less where they were in elementary school. Children don’t understand what has been done to them, and cannot ask for help. Adults don’t know how to help.

    The best thing is to identify kids with reading problems and start over with phonics. You can save the child.

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