What might your students discover by entering into conversations over holiday meals that are gratitude-based and curious? Hear Adam Fishman describe his experiences exploring sustainability with teachers, students, and communities. Discover why gratitude is a door opener to curiosity and connection. Gain resources to explore the possibilities with your students.
Visit the Onora website here.
Contact Adam: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steve [Intro]: 00:31 Hello and welcome to the Teacher edition of Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding and my curiosity is peaked whenever I explore with teachers, the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate and support their learners. Thanks for listening. I’m delighted that you’re here.
Steve: 01:04 Food for Thought: Gratitude-based Curiosity Conversations. I recently learned about gratitude-based curiosity conversations from Adam Fishman, the co-founder of Onora, an organization focused on action around environmental impact. Adam frequently joins with schools, teachers, students, and communities exploring sustainability. I invited Adam to describe gratitude-based curiosity conversations and to share a project that he’s currently coordinating. Welcome, Adam.
Adam: 01:41 Steve, thank you so much for having me. What a gift to get to share this with you and all the people listening.
Steve: 01:47 Great. Let’s jump right in and we’re going to come up with a description for gratitude-based curiosity conversations. And I’m thinking we can break it down into pieces. So start first with why gratitude-based?
Adam: 02:02 Yeah. So everything that we’re about to talk about, by the way, the reason why we’re collaboratively founding this thing. So this is
a new movement and we’re pioneering this new approach to education and problem solving. And everything we’re gonna talk about is actually stuff that we’re co-creating together and collaborating, how do we pioneer this new movement? So the gratitude-based – why is that? That’s in contrast to the problem-based, which is how I started my environmental impact journey and getting woken up to climate change and getting woken up to a lot of the things that are really scary to learn about, which I know a lot of kids, a lot of adults come to me with a lot of anxiety. Just since I run an environmental impact startup, a lot of people come to me with these feelings.
Adam: 02:47 And so this problem base was really dominating, and I was actually running a program for high school students that were trying to channel that anxiety into a positive climate project. And gratitude-based was an unexpected discovery. So we had been using the typical problem based approach to picking a project. And so we asked all the students to look about in their communities, and let’s look for all the different problems that we see, and then we’ll come up with all these ideas together. We’re gonna co-create all these different possibilities, and then we’ll filter through our values and do some meditation, some self listening, and then really be like, alright, this is the project that feels right to us, that’s authentic to us. And the most unexpected thing happened where when I asked the students to identify problems in their community. Not a single student could identify a problem, which perplexed me too. Like all is good in the neighborhood, in the backyard.
Adam: 03:45 And so it didn’t feel right though to me to to just ask them to start getting pissed off about something and to go look for things to get anxious and worried about. It just didn’t feel right to be like, “well, what about this? What about that?” and just start asking them to look for holes in the world. And so our guiding philosophy for our lab and for all of our programs is, what would happen if you led with love instead of fear? And so we decided to take a dose of our own medicine and instead of leading with fear, to keep going down the problem path, we just said, alright, let’s just take a look at what exists at our schools. The fact that we have lights, the fact that we have heat in the winter, air
conditioning in the summer, we have cafeteria, we’ve got food, we’ve got all these green spaces.
Adam: 04:28 What’s the positive impact and positive ripple effects happening because of what exists, regardless of all the problems behind the scenes, all the things we might not like? So when we put out some ripple effect questions of like, well, what are the ripple effects happening here? We had students that were uncovering that because they have trash cans at their schools, it was helping them make friends and get into college. We did not expect that to happen. And just by saying, the fact that you have trash cans, what’s the positive impact happening? And then because of that, what’s happening? And so as we went down the line of ripple effects, this expansion of consciousness and awareness of ripple effects was happening. And we’re like, alright, there’s something here. And so this actually gets into the curiosity piece of how did we go then from gratitude to curiosity, is we said, how can we then continue on this pathway of creating a project to to do something and create a change?
Adam: 05:27 And our typical problem approach is, I know better. I know solutions. I’ve read about this thing. I’ve heard about this thing. I do this thing differently and it’s better. Let me now go tell you what I think you need to do. And so we typically have lead with telling. So problems in telling fear which we know is fairly divisive and does not make people open to having a conversation let alone discovery and creating together. And so we said, alright, let’s continue this path of leading with love. What would happen if we actually went to the people responsible for all that goodness we’re now aware of all that stuff we’re so grateful for now and said, thank you? Provided that positive feedback loop like the feedback loops we get in nature and asked them questions about “what do you love about this?”
Adam: 06:15 What does it even take to make all this goodness possible? Are you aware of other ways that this stuff is done that you think would be awesome if we can do too?” And so what this actually looked like was students then got all excited about this, were like, how do we actually then bring this to our schools? And so then for their sustainability clubs, rather than going down the project of we want to improve our cafeteria, which actually happened, the sustainability club, one of the students brought this to their club and said, instead of going to the cafeteria and telling them all the things we wanna change, which was literally what they were planning on doing, he said, “What do we love about this? What are we grateful for? What is amazing about our cafeteria?” And then they actually literally went to the cafeteria and thanked the cafeteria workers and provided that feedback loop and told them what they love about this, told them about what they’re grateful for, and then started to ask questions of like, “what is even take to make all this possible? What worries you about where things are going?”
Steve: 07:18 I’m in effect discovering what I didn’t know,
Adam: 07:21 Discovering what I didn’t know. And it’s essentially that a game of discovery and possibilities unfold when you’re just entering in a place of gratitude and curiosity. And my background was in market research and consulting. And so the word I would have was interviews. And so I had shared with someone early on that what we were doing was teaching kids how to do market research. How do you solve problems and start projects? And I was teaching these market research skills. And when I said the word market research, everyone was triggered in this audience. And after we started talking, they’re like, this isn’t market research and you’re not interviewing people. You’re having a curiosity conversation.
Steve: 08:04 Powerful phrase, powerful phrase.
Adam: 08:05 Yeah. It’s a game of discovery of how much can I discover? And the thing that I would say to every single student that had joined this program, which is that you’re not a means to an end. So you being in this program, learning how you can channel your energy into these projects, yes, you’re gonna be helping the planet, yes, you’re gonna be helping the future of our program, but you’re not just some means to an end. This has to be breathing life into you. This has to be fun and enriching and regenerative. And so these curiosity conversations, it’s not just about what you want, what are the ripple effects you’re creating for the people you’re having these conversations with? How are you discovering what lights them up and what makes them come alive? And that’s the game of discovery that these curiosity conversations unfold.
Steve: 08:53 The research that’s coming out on gratitude – tying that gratitude piece in is, it’s all reinforcing.
Steve: 09:02 Keeping a gratitude journal builds my energy and then I go and thank the person and it builds their energy. So now we’re gonna add curiosity and conversations, which network us. It all has that building component to it.
Adam: 09:19 And so there’s two parts of the research that now putting this phrase gratitude-based curiosity conversations – there’s two things that have always been there that for me, it’s been crystallizing. Because this is learning for me. We’re building the plane as we fly. I say co-founder because we’re collaboratively co-creating this. This is not like, oh, this all makes sense, we know this, we’re discovering how to now put this into practice as well. And so there’s two things that it crystallized for me about research that’s been out there. One is around gratitude, and the other is around how information gets shared. And so around the gratitude piece, because there’s a lot of things to get worried about right now, a lot of things to put us in this fight or flight response, when we’re coming from that fear based approach, when we’re coming from that fight or flight response, we’re gonna bring that energy into the space as we go.
Adam: 10:12 The people you connect with, they’re gonna sense that fear-based energy coming from you and it actually closes people up to conversation and communication. The armor goes up of like, is this a threat? It’s gonna activate, it’s gonna send that conversation to the amygdala and make me wonder, can I open up? Is this even safe to open up? And so by taking that time going inward before we go outward and try to change the world, reframing the way we view things inside, can change everything. And so it starts with going in before we go out. So that’s the first part, which I know is like in and of itself, we can spend a whole podcast talking about. But the other part is around information theory. And so way back, we’re talking like early stages of internet, and how does information get shared, Claude Shannon wrote about information theory. Kind of pioneered how does information get shared?
Adam: 11:09 And if you think of it as kind of like the bandwidth of communication, like me and you are exchanging information right now, and we have this openness where I can share, you can share and we’re discovering together. But when we’re in this fight or flight response, when we are triggered and polarized and divided, information can’t flow freely. That bandwidth is restricted, it’s inflamed. And when we help that inflammation go down, that bandwidth expands and that is room for discovery and co-creation and new possibilities that we didn’t even know existed. And questions do that. If I just tell you things – we had to ask what would happen if we lead with love instead of fear. That was the the question that my friend asked me that opened my eyes to how to view the environmental state of the planet from a different lens. And so questions help open up that bandwidth of communication, just like it did with the students. It allowed us to see things from a different perspective.
Steve: 12:06 Well, Adam, I know that you’ve got a project in mind that can invite people to test out your thinking with a personal experience.
Adam: 12:19 Yeah, let’s put this into practice. So we’ve been running actually programs with students, with citizens of all ages all over the world for the last year ever since we discovered this and we wanna make this more accessible to everyone. How do you put this into practice in your own life without having to participate in a whole formal program or go through this whole training? And so we’re calling this food for thought, and I want you just keep in mind of, with the holidays coming up in particular, we wanna put this out there as an invitation for how you can bring gratitude, curiosity, ripple effects, how you can bring this into your students’ lives and into your own lives during meals over the holidays in particular. Think of this as kind of positive conversation starters.
Adam: 13:05 We have three kind of categories of questions that we invite you to bring to the dinner table, bring into the holidays. And so one is around getting more connected with people at your table. Second category of these positive conversation starters is around getting more connected with the persons who prepared the meal. And the third is getting more connected with where the food comes from. And so these conversations starters, they’re intentionally designed with gratitude and curiosity and connection in mind. And I just wanna put out there about maybe how this is different than like, you can go online and say, “what are some fun questions to probe conversation over the holidays,” right? You can do that or just make a gratitude list and which all our things that fun I encourage you to do. What’s different is, we’re inviting you into co-creating, how are we pioneering this new movement?
Adam: 13:55 How are we getting this reframed way of being into the world where it’s leading with love and community building rather than fear and divisiveness? And so I’m gonna just share some examples of what this looks like. And so teachers definitely keep in mind how these curiosity conversations using this gratitude-based learning can be leveraged for even project based learning in your classroom. So just some examples of questions and how I’ve even put them into practice. So thanking the company. So I actually was at dinner with my grandparents in Arizona and I said to them like, I’m just so grateful that we get to be here enjoying this meal together. I’m so curious – if blank hadn’t happened in history, if whatever it is hadn’t happened in history, we would not be here right now getting to enjoy this meal together.
Adam: 14:42 You can go back as far as you want. “If this hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be here.” And my grandpa, within a second said, “oh, that’s easy. Renee Leveck.” A name of someone I’ve literally never heard of before. And he was like, “yeah, he was the leader of the separatist movement in Quebec and that’s why we immigrated here.” And I was like, “well then how did we end up in Arizona of all places?” And it unfolded our family history, which I didn’t even know. Just from a simple question leading with gratitude and curiosity. Another is around thanking the chef. And so I was at a dinner and it was actually around Passover and there was a new type of matzah at the table, and I think the person who had hosted dinner, I was like, “this is just amazing.
Adam: 15:26 I’m so curious. What is this new type of matzah? What is this?” And it was called shmurah matzah, which is a matzah that’s intentional. It’s made with hands, it’s all made by hand, it’s put in the oven by hand, taken out by hand. And I was like, “well, how is that different than all the other matzah that we eat?” And they’re like, “well, those are made with machines. And the intention with shmurah matzah is that since it’s made with hands, everything about this is intentional. There is intentionality to every aspect of the cooking, the preparation, everything.” I had no idea. I’m 30 years old learning about this for the first time. And so then the third, I wanna share this is about thanking the source and where the food comes from. My friend Wyatt, who is the friend that planted the seed, what would happen if you lead with love instead of fear, he had participated in one of our citizen programs around getting more connected with your food system when we were first really first learning how do we pioneer this and do this in the first place.
Adam: 16:12 And so we were inviting people to go to have a conversation with farmers at the market and just see how this would unfold. And he went up to this cheese maker and he was like, “I love your cheese. I’m so curious – this is different than other cheese. How did you get into cheese making and why do you make it this way?” And the cheese maker said, “well, actually where I grew up, no one had any intestinal issues with like lactose and stuff. And then when I came here, I started having issues.” And so there was something different about the cheese.
Adam: 17:00 And it turns out there is with pasteurization and different way the cows are raised and the land and the world of regenerative agriculture and the microbiome, they had this rich conversation. And then the guy said, “you know what, you wanna just come out and come over to our place and I’ll show you how to make cheese?” And he went there and they literally handmade cheese together. And as conversation unfolded, and this is a friend my age who, we’re trying to navigate our career and what do we do with our lives, this person was in his sixties and he literally had shared how he had more or less six different careers. Each decade was like six different careers on four different continents from the spectrum of in Hollywood to finance to politics to now cheese making.
Adam: 17:48 So these conversations just unfold in magical ways and my hope is that this project of food for thought where we’re putting out these questions and putting out these containers to apply these questions is that these curiosity conversations, leveraging this gratitude-based learning is gonna pop up everywhere and you’ll find different ways to apply this to life beyond just the dinner table over the holidays, but we have to start somewhere. And I know it can be overwhelming as a student if a teacher said, “think of your three best ideas.” It’s overwhelming. But when you provide this container of, well, what are the three best ideas for how to mow your lawn? Then you can get more focused with things. And so that’s kind of the container we wanna put out here now is the holidays.
Steve: 18:36 As I was listening to you put the pieces out, Adam, the word that is going through my mind is invitational. The whole process is invitational. So the invitational sharing of the gratitude is invitational. The curiosity of questions is invitational. And the stories you told, you invited something from your grandparents and then that next piece invited further conversation and then it invites more people.
Adam: 19:07 It didn’t start with asking. It started with giving.
Steve: 19:09 No. Giving.
Steve: 19:09 That’s the key thing. It started with giving. Because imagine if they said no to the question. Imagine if they said no to the conversation. They would still get to benefit from that thank you. If you did not get the thing you “wanted” out of it.
Steve: 19:25 Yeah. I guess I wasn’t thinking of invitation as wanting something out of it, but in effect, giving is a form of invitation.
Adam: 19:34 Exactly. Giving is, call it the olive branch. It’s like if I’m traveling in an area that doesn’t speak my native tongue and I hear
someone that also speaks English, it’s an invitation, it’s a connection point, it’s an olive branch. And so that, thank you, that refreshingly different approach to connecting, it’s the olive of branch to connect and to discover together. And that’s what this does. It opens up that flow of that opportunity because this is all there. All of this stuff is there, it just opens up that opportunity.
Steve: 20:08 Let’s offer up an opportunity then. How can people who are listening in connect with you to increase ideas as to how they might
introduce this with their with their students?
Adam: 20:20 So I wanna share the link to download all this stuff. But in that link, when you sign up to download all this, you’ll also get invited, I would say like January, February, we’re gonna be doing an idea jam, where we’re actually gonna get all the people who have said, I’m curious about where this is all going. I want to be part of this movement, pioneering this new approach to learning and problem solving and community building. And we’re gonna bring everyone together virtually all around the world to connect and share. Because the way that you put this into practice will be different than the way I put this into practice. And so the link for that is onoraglobal.com/fft which is short for food for thought. So onoraglobal.com/fft. And I’ll just put this out there as kind of some tactical things as a teacher, like what could a teacher do with this?
Adam: 21:09 Invite your students to have these gratitude-based curiosity conversations over meals and provide them that question sheet from our website and we’ll have a sheet where they could literally download or even just look at their phone or write the questions down. But if you’re a history teacher, imagine what would happen if they then came back and the project was, well, share the story of your family. Share the story of that meal. Or if you’re an art teacher, share a drawing or a painting or take a picture as a family together. Or if you’re an English teacher, write about grandpa’s story. Or maybe even reflect on what it was like for you to experience a meal like this or experience what it might have been like for someone else at the table to experience a meal like this and see what unfolds.
Adam: 21:51 And I would be so grateful if you went to the website and part of that is my invitation to connect further on this and invite you to participate in this conversation and share the stories of what’s unfolding. It’ll be amazing if all you did was listen to this conversation and then said, alright, we’re gonna go out and do this. Amazing. So many positive ripple effects because of that,. we’re just creating even more by you sharing that feedback loop back and co-creating with us and saying, where can we take this thing? And so that’s my hope is that we’re building this together and not just operating in silos, which is typically how things are done.
Steve: 22:33 Well, terrific, Adam. We will post that site and who knows? I’d love to, six months from now, be sharing some stories with with listeners to the podcast who shared theirs and they could end up joining us on the podcast.
Adam: 22:52 And that phrase you just said around sharing story, that’s what it’s all about. We’re sharing story together. And that’s what I can’t wait for people to run toward the holidays coming up and to leave feeling regenerated, energized, and looking forward to the next family gathering. That would be truly amazing.
Steve: 23:09 Great gift. Thanks Adam. Appreciate it.
Adam: 23:12 Thanks Steve.
Steve [Outro]: 23:15 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com