Beyond Hashtags and Likes: Moving to Action

A week from today is #GivingTuesday.  This year, The Helix School is participating in this campaign.  And, it got us thinking: What’s this all about, anyway?

Thanksgiving.  Giving Thanks.  #Gratitude.  #Blessed.  The season is now upon us where we are reminded to be grateful for what we have, to help those less fortunate, to be generous in our donations, in our hearts, minds and our worldview.  

In overly simplified terms, we celebrate Thanksgiving because almost four hundred years ago two groups of people, the Plymouth colonists, and Wampanoag Indians, came together to share an autumn harvest feast.  These two groups had vastly different backgrounds, life experiences, and visions for their futures. And yet, amidst their differences, this group gathered to share meals and stories.  

What a different world it is today. Or is it?  Sharing a meal and telling stories is still one of the primary ways that people come together to learn and listen.  Because when you sit with people, and you are open to sharing your story and hearing theirs - even with people who appear to be so different from yourself - you soon see how much more alike we all are than different.  The key here is sharing.  Sharing what we have and what we know with others so that they might benefit.

The practice of generosity in heart and mind leads people to pause, park their judgments, give to people less fortunate and to organizations working to improve the lives of others.  When working with children with autism, there is an abundance of opportunity to practice generosity and share in each other’s worlds. People with autism take in their surroundings differently.  They focus on different pieces of their environment that many neurotypical people may simply skip over or never notice.  At The Helix School, we work to build bridges between their world and ours by finding what is interesting and exciting to our students, using that as a catalyst to guide their learning, whether that be in reading, math, or social-emotional-life skills.  Once you begin building that “Shared World Bridge”  with students with autism, you realize how much we all have to learn from each other.  And in the end, understanding each other leads to a fuller, more harmonious life for us all.  As Harry Stack Sullivan so famously said “We are all more simply human than otherwise.” 

The reminders this season to be generous can be helpful, but the simple act of liking a social media post or typing a hashtag before a word is not an act that impacts.  Giving of yourself, your resources, and time for the betterment of others is indeed what changes the world.  So tell your stories, connect with others, and give to organizations that are making a difference. And if you have given to The Helix School, thank you. Generosity is what keeps our doors open. If you would like to donate, you can do so here.

Purpose & Intent

It’s finally officially autumn, though the signs of summer being ushered out have been all around us.  Did you notice the shadows that now cross your path that only weeks ago were not there? Or the low light that is now cast through the afternoon windows that just minutes before seemed brighter?  Change.  It’s always happening, whether or not we are paying attention.  

Deliberate, purposeful change is altogether different than the inevitable changes like growing older, the weather and the seasons.  Deliberate change takes thought, effort, flexibility to take risks and the willingness to adeptly shift course.  At The Helix School this year, as was discussed in last month’s blog post, we made growth our keystone habit after reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.  We are working to grow with purpose and intention and along the way, we are embracing the messy business of change.

One of the ways we are cultivating our growth momentum is by looking outward.  Although we are doing plenty of work looking at our internal systems and processes, we understand how important it is to connect with others, share our story and create opportunities to make an impact within the larger community who are working and living with autism. In order to best serve children on the autism spectrum, we must reach out to other schools and organizations.  We cannot operate in a silo.  THS is an excellent, small school which must remain small in order to best serve our population.  So even if we could be a school with 100 children, that is still just 100 children with autism when there are thousands of families in the Bay Area alone who are dealing with this.  We want to make an impact, to change the way children with autism are being educated.  And so in big and small ways, we are reaching out, leading a hand, collaborating and joining forces with other organizations to learn from them, share our knowledge, and extend our impact.  

How have we started doing this? In the last few months, we joined forces with the DIR/Floortime Coalition of California, an activist group located in San Diego and lobbied with them in Sacramento to help families get insurance coverage for the developmental treatments prescribed by their doctors.  We were successful in sharing our story to the California State Assembly and now the bill sits on Governor Brown’s desk.  We are sharing our expertise by starting a training program to help public and parochial school educators better understand their students with autism by giving them a developmental perspective and tools to use inside their classrooms.  Last month, we went to the TEDx Marin conference and shared the importance of providing a specialized education to children with autism with many of the over 700 attendees.  We have joined the Marin Autism Collaborative and we are working on parent outreach with them.  And finally, we have been approached to help develop a task force on special education in Marin County.

Growth always involves change, but not all change indicates growth.  Take time to stop and ask yourselves, in the midst of your own busy lives, “Am I growing and changing with purpose?  Or am I being carried away only by the change that is inevitable?” 

The Helix Monthly: Growth

Welcome to the Helix Monthly, a monthly (obviously!) blog about the goings on at The Helix School.  

Over the summer our faculty and staff read “The Power of Habit: What We Do In Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg.  For those of you who have not read it, and we strongly suggest that you do, Duhigg explores the science of habit formation. He takes an in-depth look at both the habits of individuals as well as organizations.  Habits in an organization are actually the precursors to processes and routines.  Duhigg uses examples from his own life to show how he changed some of his habits, but perhaps most interesting were the examples of large, well-known companies that changed their organization’s culture for the better by focusing on what Duhigg calls “Keystone Habits.”  

Keystone Habits are habits that start a momentum of change, like a domino effect. Within an organization, keystone habits alter routines to produce a positive impact on a multitude of levels.  This got us thinking:  Could THS benefit from having a keystone habit, and if so, what would it be? 

We decided the answer was yes, as an organization, Helix could benefit from focusing on one big thing this year, something that would impact many other processes and have a reverberating positive impact throughout the school.  We determined that our keystone habit would be Growth.  Growth across the organization will serve as an indicator that the different parts of our school, from admissions to fundraising to teacher trainings, are working together.  We realized that if we can increase our growth across all functions of the school, then it will be because the Helix team pulled together to strive for excellence.  Growth will be an indicator that we are making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution.  

A key to focusing on growth this year is first to acknowledge the small wins and build on each one of them.  “Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes,” says Duhigg. Secondly, it is important that we have everyone involved in asking themselves, “Is what I am currently doing contributing to the growth of The Helix School? Am I stretching myself? Am I going out of my way to make things better than they were the day before?” Finally, it is essential that every person - from teacher to admissions director to board member - understand that they each hold the key to being a significant contributor to our overall growth.

As a school for children with autism, celebrating the milestones of their progress - both big and small - is what we do every day.  By noticing and acknowledging the small wins in our students as well as in ourselves, we build a culture that honors a path towards growth.  And of course, these small successes collectively lead to bigger and more significant changes. 

The famous NFL coach Vince Lombardi said, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” Well then, with our team of teachers and administrators focusing on growth within themselves as well as for their students and the school as a whole, there leaves no doubt that The Helix School is already on it’s way.