I am passionate about teaching skills for communicating across difference, whether the differences arise across the kitchen table, in the classroom, the board room, or across religious, racial, and political divides. My work draws on the insights of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication and incorporates my decades of experience as an educator, non-profit director, parent, and partner. I’m a certified trainer with the international Center for Nonviolent Communication.
In college, I studied English and Hebrew Literature at Harvard, then earned a teaching credential through the Stanford Teacher Education Program and went to work as a high school English and drama teacher. After five years of teaching, I wanted to think about education from a wider perspective, so I went back to Stanford for a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Teacher Education. I sought to explore how school could be more meaningful for kids. My research focused on how topics that might be meaningful to students -- those with moral, existential, and spiritual importance -- are studied or fail to be studied, in high schools. Sadly, the very questions that seemed like they would fascinate young people, and those essential to citizens of a democracy, questions like, “What would constitute a just war?” or “Should we put limits on scientific inquiry?” were almost never discussed in the classrooms I observed. I wrote a book sharing my research on this topic, called Moral Questions in the Classroom.
Photo by Sheila Menezes
I went on to direct the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES), a national non-profit school-reform organization focused on creating more equitable, flexible, personalized, and meaningful schools -- schools that would prepare people with the skills for participation in a viable democracy. While at CES, I co-authored Teaching as Inquiry and Choosing Small.
In the meantime, I had the unbelievable good fortune to meet and marry Inbal Kashtan. As I mention in the description of my work with couples, Inbal and I both had taken to the ideas of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as our relationship was just starting. I think we’d have done well as a couple, in any case. But I also know that the deep trust we were able to develop in our early years, the capacity to face tough times, the quick repairs that we were able to make after disconnections — all of these were greatly aided by our mindful communication practice, based in NVC.
When our son Yannai was born, we decided that in parenting, too, we would try to to embody the ideas of NVC. What an amazing journey that was for the three of us. Together, we decided (and re-decided along the way) that Yannai would homeschool, directed by his own curiosities and passions and his own pace and flow. Inbal and I played key supporting roles in that endeavor. It would take a lot of space to list the names of the books we read together or the adventures the three of us embarked upon as part of the homeschool we called “Life Lab.” It was indeed a life lab, full of plants and animals, stars and galaxies, beakers and burners, rocks and rivers. I couldn’t be more grateful for the togetherness and mutual exploration of those years. In many ways, the three of us were all students at Life Lab — and we learned a lot. Alas, “Life Lab” is no longer formally in existence. Yannai has gone off to college, where he’s slated to graduate in 2020.
During those “Life Lab” years at our house, Inbal became a much-beloved teacher of Nonviolent Communication. The project she was most passionate about was using NVC in parenting. Inbal believed that the practice of parenting could be vital social justice work, and she developed, among many other programs and practices, the first NVC Family Camp, whose "offspring" continue all around the US and in other countries; the Parent Peer Leadership Program, a path for parents to learn and then share NVC with other parents; and she wrote Parenting from Your Heart, still a go-to resource for learning about parenting with NVC. Inbal also lived with cancer during those years. I am so very sad to say that she died in 2014. Her memory is a great blessing to me and many, many others.
To have more flexibility during those years, I left my work in the school-reform world, became self-employed, and focused more on teaching NVC and working as a couples coach. Since 2006, I’ve taught NVC and coached communication in a wide variety of contexts. The work has been a great gift to me, because I believe that how we talk matters so much in all of our relationships, and I’m passionate about sharing skills and awareness that make more successful communication possible. I have also been blessed to be a faculty member of the Mandel Teacher Educator Institute since 2006, where one of our core principles is "how we talk matters."
When I’m not teaching or working with clients, I love to hike in my beloved redwood forests in the hills of Oakland, California and to camp and hike in the wilderness. Below, I take in the incredible beauty of Mt. Denali.