How can we educators bring wisdom to our students – wisdom about themselves and about their relationships with others? This is the question that was asked by Sr. Joan Madden back in 1968.
As her students left for the day, Sr. Joan Madden had an epiphany. Her students entered kindergarten and left in 8th grade with knowledge and skills, but very little wisdom about themselves and their relationships with others. From this desire to bring wisdom to her students, she studied with Carl Rogers at his Center of the Person and with Dr. Raymond Corsini, an Adlerian psychologist at the University of Hawai’i. From an understanding of what human beings need to thrive, she birthed Ho’āla, which is Hawai’ian for “awakening of the self.”
Awakening Wisdom, as it is called today, is a school culture approach to support adults and students in their authentic growing of self-wisdom and social emotional skills for well-being and enhanced learning. There are many social emotional learning programs that work well in a few schools, but not in many others. We believe that tied to the effectiveness of these programs is the health of the schools’ culture where educators and students thrive.
What conditions in a culture support people thriving? Awakening Wisdom’s approach begins with what human beings need to flourish: belonging through trusting relationships and autonomy through voice and choice. With this foundation, Awakening Wisdom invites and guides both adult and student learners to shift their mindsets toward those that empower and engage them in creating a healthy space for all. This shift in mindsets is guided by the core living values of Awakening Wisdom:
Sr. Joan’s wisdom is needed now more than ever as students and teachers are reporting incredibly high levels of stress and apathy. Beyond self-reporting, the outcomes are stark. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among teenagers (1), and teachers continue to leave the field at alarming rates. With the pandemic, the needs of students for social emotional wellbeing are even greater.
These unfortunate realities demand bold thinking and action to approach the core issues. The strengthening movement of social/emotional learning to create thriving school cultures focused on meaningful, resilient relationships gives us reason for hope.
With over 45 years of development and refinement at two schools – Ho’āla School in Hawaii and River School in California, Awakening Wisdom has supported thousands of students to be responsible, respectful, and resilient. The nonprofit Ho’āla Foundation for Education (HFE) was formed to share Sr. Joan’s wisdom with other educators and schools so that more students might benefit and flourish, especially now with the growing lack of wellbeing of our youth. HFE has offered its foundations course in Summer Intensives and worked with educators in Hawai’i, California, and Doha, Qatar.
board member emeritus
Breanna has a decade of experience building network-based initiatives across Hawai‘i and globally with government, business, and community partners to advance sustainability and climate action.
She is a freelance writer, facilitator and strategist for sustainability and community-focused projects based in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, and previously served as the Director of Operations & Partnerships for Hawai’i Green Growth, which was recognized by the United Nations as one of the world’s first Local2030 Hubs for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Breanna serves on the Board of Directors for Hoʻāla Foundation for Education, and is Board President for Kanu Hawaiʻi and Zero Waste Hawaiʻi. She has worked with diverse coalitions, including Volunteer Week Hawaiʻi, Aloha Connects Innovation, 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, the Local2030 Islands Network and many others. She is an alumnus of the Obama Foundation’s inaugural Asia Pacific Leaders program with changemakers from across the region, and was named one of ʻ40 Under 40‘ business and community leaders by Pacific Business News in 2020.
Breanna was born and raised on Maui, and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Leadership for Sustainability with the University of Vermont to study opportunities for transformation at the intersection of education, social/emotional wellness and regenerative systems.
Mary Lynn has been in education for over 25 years. She was introduced to Awakening Wisdom during her second job at the River School in Napa and it has been part of who she is and how she teaches since that time.
She has taught grades 4th-9th grade and is thrilled to be a part of the Awakening Wisdom team. Mary Lynn has a strong project based learning background and has taught various subjects in middle school, worked as an instructional coach, and has taught ELD to children and adults. She is currently teaching 5th and 6th grade at the Bolinas School in California. She has her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, with a strong emphasis on social-emotional learning models that support the whole child. Mary Lynn loves to travel and has lived and taught in Mexico, Japan, and Brazil. When she is not working with kids, she loves to be outside hiking, paddle boarding, swimming, or reading a good book. Her favorite teaching quote by Parker Palmer, sums up much of her educational philosophy, “we teach who we are.” She is looking forward to being a part of Awakening Wisdom and is eager to collaborate with our outstanding staff!
Each day brings newfound insights into my awareness, for a moment quenching a thirst for understanding, only to give way to a greater openness to possibilities. That’s what having children has done for me – made me realize I am an eternal child. This is something that years of meditation, reading philosophy, going to church, and hashing it out with willing friends has been leading me toward. And my children seem to be the Jedi masters atop the mountain calling out – what are you doing down there?!
Finding Awakening Wisdom has been much like this. Although I only recently encountered the organization, the philosophies and ways of being resonated down deep, in a place of familiarity and calm. It wasn’t much of a choice to ride the wave, yet a natural turn, and I’m delighted to support the effort to share the light. In my own way, as an educator and non-profit social activist, my inner wisdom has been slowly awakening. Stumbling upon Awakening Wisdom reaffirms and celebrates my experience of wu wei, an effortless flow into the current of life.
Michelle Rai joined Inland Empire Health Plan as Chief Communications and Marketing Officer in March 2020. She oversees IEHP’s communications and marketing programs and guides the development of long-term marketing strategies, including media relations, internal communications, digital communications, and social media marketing.
Michelle has over 20 years of experience in public relations, communications, marketing and education. Prior to joining IEHP, Rai served as Assistant Professor and Chair of the Communication Department at Pacific Union College in the Napa Valley. Before her role as Chair, Rai acted as the College’s Public Relations Director and Public Information Officer.
Michelle holds a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from Golden Gate University. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and communication from Pacific Union College, where she received the prestigious Educator of the Year award in 2016.
Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Michelle enjoys tennis, volleyball, traveling, exploring exotic cuisine, and spending time with her family.
“Throughout my life and career, I have had leaders and people I admire comment on this indescribable quality or maturity that they have observed in my behaviour; whether it was in relation to how I have dealt with people or in difficult situations. When they ask where I learned those qualities, I used to shrug and say “That’s just what I’ve always done. We learned to do stuff like that in school.” Usually, there is a look of confusion and disbelief. This is the moment that constantly reminds me of how unique Ho`āla (known today as Awakening Wisdom) is and how it has fundamentally shaped my life both personally and professionally.”
“From your first day at school till the day you walk out of its doors, you are reminded that all of your actions have consequences. Through processes like clearings and classes like nurturing or connection you practice understanding and empathy. There is a realisation that there are multiple truths to each story depending on your perspective. Understanding these key principles and taking responsibility for your actions have profound positive effects on those around you. These are just a few reasons why I am passionate about helping the Ho`āla Foundation for Education spread its mission. In today’s world where kids are influenced by false idols and a culture with diminishing respect of self and others, I think that it is as imperative as ever to get this philosophy into more schools.”
”There have been periods in my life when I felt just the right amount of unhappiness and dissatisfaction, which I used to take stock of my life, evaluate my options, and make strategic choices. These choices have transformed me and made subsequent decision making simple and fast. I live easily with my choices even though implementing them has been hard
Thus, I came to the U.S. from India as a 19-year old student by picking the least expensive universities in the U.S. and the ones with the lowest application fees; to the Napa Valley wine industry although I didn’t drink alcohol; and to the renewable energy industry without knowing, then, the difference between a kilowatt and a kilowatt hour.
I am married to Seena (to whom I got engaged after a 10-minute meeting). My daughters, Parvathi and Priyanka, are currently enrolled in River school.“
Sarah Sarkis is a Licensed Psychologist, Psy.D. and writer with a private practice that blends her strong psychodynamic and insight oriented training with more traditional behavior and mind/body techniques to help her patients leverage insight, change, and growth. She’s studied extensively the use of mindfulness, functional medicine, hormones, and how food, medicine and mood are interconnected.
Originally hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, Sarah now lives in Honolulu, Hawaii. She studied at Georgetown University, Boston College, and George Washington University. Her influences include Dr.’s Hyman, Benson, Kabat-Zinn and Gordon, as well as Tara Brach, Brené Brown, Irvin Yalom, Howard Stern, and Bruce Springsteen to name only a few.
Please visit her home on the web, The Padded Room, to join her mailing list, read other essays, or connect with her about collaborating.
“As a parent of a child who went through River School, I saw firsthand the Awakening Wisdom program and Ho’āla philosophy through the actions of my daughter who gained confidence, self-reliance, and resilience in finding her passion and purpose. As a parent, I learned how to be an advocate and help my son find his voice in getting the support he needed both academically and emotionally in a more traditional school setting. Through my work with at-risk youth, my goals are to mentor them to stay in school, make good choices, and assist them with access to community services. I want to empower them to see the bigger picture, to be leaders for the next generation, and to steward kindness in making schools and communities more inclusive environments. I am always researching new multi-arena approaches to improving student emotional and social wellbeing.
Volunteering has been a way for me to create community opportunities for youth through teaching gardening skills, helping with service projects, advocating for social emotional wellness and promoting access to the arts. I believe every adult can make an indelible difference by mentoring a child and that mentoring can be life changing.”
Amir Shafi is an Information Technology executive in Silicon Valley with over 22 years of experience, worked with several multinational organizations representing as a CIO and other key leadership roles in Information Technology. His vision and technical skills were instrumental in the success of Beats by Dre headphones at Monster, Inc., where he designed and implemented an end-to-end solution that helped global law enforcement agencies to confiscate illegal and counterfeit shipments of Beats by Dre headphones. He started a management consulting business helping organizations with brand protection services, delivering custom solutions to block movement of counterfeit products into global markets. He’s currently working at Salesforce as a Senior Program Architect, helping organizations with their technology and integration needs. He recently implemented a solution for a large healthcare client of Salesforce in California for COVID-19 exposures, implemented automated tools for contact tracing to track the source and prevent further exposures.
Both of my children, Hibah and Hassan, graduated from River School at Napa, and I have personally seen the impact of the Awakening Wisdom philosophy has had on them. I want to help expand this model and bring in innovation and technology––the tools of tomorrow to equip today’s youth with.”
“Volunteerism has always been part of my DNA. It brought me to Hawai`i from Boston as a missionary teacher after college. It led me to the not-for-profit world, serving as a Board member, administrator and consultant for numerous organizations. It even directed me to serve the residents and staff at Kalaupapa Settlement, the former Hansen’s Disease Colony established by Father Damian on Moloka’i, as a grant writer and Reiki practitioner.
When not working on launching the Awakening Wisdom effort, I can be found on or in the ocean, both the Atlantic and Pacific. Sailing and kayaking are my preferred ocean experiences. The inspirational highlight of my seafaring was sailing on Hokule’a, a double-hulled Polynesian sailing canoe, during the Massachusetts transit of Leg 21 for Malama Honua that was part of the three-year voyage around the world using traditional Hawai’ian methods of navigation.”
”Perhaps it was my Methodist upbringing or becoming a social justice advocate in the 60’s and 70’s that created in me a desire to create a better world and to inspire youth to do the same. It’s no surprise then that I am a Star Trek fan, a believer of Gene Roddenberry’s bright future for mankind. I am inspired by my colleagues of the Ho`āla Foundation for Education who are passionate, talented educators. They give me energy to work with parents, educators, and students. Seeing students who are shy and withdrawn transform into articulate, confident learners as a result of Awakening Wisdom is truly a gift of doing this work. My heroes are the educators, parents, and students who dare to dream big and transform themselves out of small boxes into big do-ers who create a better world for all!”
As a veteran public school educator, Fern has led and managed various state programs and initiatives within Hawaii’s Department of Education. Currently, Fern fosters the advancement of Hawaii’s Comprehensive Student Support System and social and emotional practices in its schools. Previously, she worked as the Standards Specialist, coordinating efforts to update and improve standards-based tools and resources. Fern’s experience further extends with the development and innovation of teacher evaluation systems. She is passionate about ensuring that all students feel connected to their school, are engaged, and motivated to learn.
Alan has spent 30 years teaching mathematics to students in California, Hawaii, Kuwait and Qatar. In Napa, Alan taught at River School where he learned the Awakening Wisdom educational philosophy and school culture approach to social emotional learning under Linda Inlay’s leadership. While overseas, he became a Mathematics Specialist in International Schools and a Teacher Leader for the College Preparatory Mathematics program. As a math consultant, he taught 4-day workshops to groups of middle school teachers, 3-day in-service training at school sites, and 1-hour workshops at regional conferences. Most recently, at the American School of Doha, Alan led a team of teachers exploring the climate and culture of the school and developing a plan to support teacher growth and promote student well-being. Alan and the team initiated the plan, offering PD opportunities to the staff, and developing a new discipline system based on Awakening Wisdom principles of student social-emotional development.
Mason is a Facilitator with the D.C.-based organization RESOLVE, a nonprofit that specializes in designing and managing collaborative processes to solve critical environmental, health, and development problems. At RESOLVE, Mason focuses primarily on health issues, and on the myriad intersecting social issues that affect health, including food access, employment, housing, and education. Prior to joining RESOLVE, Mason worked as an ombudsman, a mediator, and spent several years in early childhood education. Before all that, Mason attended Ho’āla School in Wahiawa, HI, a pioneer of the Awakening Wisdom approach. The learning and growth Mason experienced there as a middle and high schooler profoundly influenced his career choice and the way he interacts with others every day.
Caprice has been an innovator in education for the past 15 years. She started two schools, raised $500,000 for two charter schools, and was an Executive with the SelfDesign Learning Foundation in British Columbia for 10 years. She has guided her two teenage daughters on their self-directed learning journeys since birth. Caprice has an MBA in finance from Carnegie Mellon, has been a Certified Personal and Professional Coach (CPPM) since 2000 and has developed transformative online learning programs for adults and children. Caprice also works as a leadership coach and business strategy consultant, guiding leaders and entrepreneurs to unlearn disempowering social conditioning so they can unlock creativity and resilience. She is excited to create healthy school and workplace cultures where individuals thrive and connect with their gifts and genius.
Andy is an experienced educator, having served a variety of roles in schools and in the nonprofit sector since 1996. His first foray into executing professional development for teachers was in 2003, as an assistant principal. Before long he was asked to participate on the Staff Development Committee for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, where he assisted in creating training curriculum for teachers. Later, as the Dean of a San Francisco educational nonprofit, Andy envisioned, developed and facilitated a successful year-long training program for teachers rooted in relational philosophies aligned with (what he would later find out) Awakening Wisdom’s core tenets. He has continued similar work since and is overjoyed to have finally met the amazing group at Awakening Wisdom.