Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 45

Michelle Holdt, Creative Compassionate Classrooms

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Show notes

The Restorative Power of Arts in Education

Michelle Holdt is the founder of Arts Ed Matters, a nonprofit organization that works to promote access to arts classes in public schools. She is the founder of Creative Compassion, a new organization that addresses the crisis in education. She is also the Arts and Restorative Learning Coordinator in Santa Clara County. Holdt has been working since 2010 to address the issue of access to arts classes, teaching teachers how to integrate the arts into their academic curriculum. Holdt has also developed workshops on the Art of Self Care, which includes mindfulness and restorative practices. Additionally, Holdt is certified in restorative practices, which she teaches as an alternative to discipline for restoring problems when there has been harm. In 2022, Holdt moved back to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she currently resides with her three children.


Access to the Arts through Education

Will Bachman and Michelle Holdt had a conversation about Michelle’s journey since graduating from Harvard. Michelle created her own major in theatre, child psychology, and education while at Harvard. After graduation, she received a fellowship from the Stride Right Foundation through Phillips Brooks House to lead theatre workshops for deaf children, mentally ill adolescents, and other special needs children. Michelle then went on to teach drama for close to 20 years in Chicago, Albuquerque, and San Francisco. She realized the inequities in terms of who gets access to the arts and decided to take a leadership and advocacy role for arts education for all students in 2010. 

Michelle Holdt is the founder of Arts Ed Matters, a nonprofit organization that works to promote access to arts classes in public schools. She is also the Arts and Restorative Learning Coordinator in Santa Clara County. Holdt has been working since 2010 to address the issue of access to arts classes, teaching teachers how to integrate the arts into their academic curriculum. Holdt has also developed workshops on the Art of Self Care, which includes mindfulness and restorative practices. Additionally, Holdt is certified in restorative practices, which she teaches as an alternative to discipline for restoring problems when there has been harm. 


Building Community in the Classroom

Michelle discussed the importance of taking time to build a community in the classroom in order to ensure that students feel safe and engaged in the curriculum. She also brought up the mental health crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. This crisis is being addressed by the US Surgeon General, Dr. V.T.E. Murthy, who is pulling together an advisory and leading speeches and meditations on self-love. Restorative practices are a proactive way to build a sense of community and safety in the classroom which can help combat the mental health crisis in our youth.She believes that people around the world are still in trauma from the pandemic, and that they need to do more social and emotional learning in order to heal. 


Mindful and Compassionate Practice

Michelle Holdt utilizes mindfulness and self-compassion to help her approach her day. She practices meditation for five minutes each day, which she believes has made a huge difference in her life. She also employs a strategy of self-awareness to course correct not so helpful thoughts about herself and others. Holdt has also started a project called Compassionate Clips, where people can write to her and ask for a two to three minute audio clip on a particular topic they are struggling with. She then offers them reassuring and kind words to listen to as a mindfulness meditation. Finally, Holdt lives her life by Rumi’s poem, The Guesthouse, which states that we should welcome and entertain all guests, even if there are sorrows and dark thoughts.



05:25- Interview with Michelle Holdt, Founder of Arts Ed Matters and Arts & Restorative Learning Coordinator

13:54- Thinking Strategies and Tableau for Critical Thinking and Curriculum Connections

14:38- Embodied Cognition and the Benefits of Play-Based Learning

16:36- The Benefits of Integrating Arts Education in Schools

27:10- Building Classroom Community with Restorative Practices

27:16- Restorative Practices with a Creative Twist

36:06- Self-Love and Trauma in Education

36:54- Pecha Kucha Presentation: Cultivating Self-Awareness and Compassion Through Mindfulness

43:50- Creative Compassionate Strategies for Educators and Leaders

46:35-  Retirement and Parenting

49:49- Reflection on Professor William Alfred: A Mentor and Friend

52:30-  Exploring the Impact of Arts Education




Film: Arts is the Root (Why Arts in Schools Matter)

Book Radiance the Art of Self Love:

Pecha Kucha: PechaKucha Presentation: Cultivating a Creative Heart-Centered Practice





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92_Report Michelle Holdt


Michelle Holdt, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 90 T report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with Michelle Holt. Michelle, welcome to the show.


Michelle Holdt  00:15

Thank you. I’m so excited to be here with you. Well,


Will Bachman  00:17

so Michelle, tell me about your journey since Harvard.


Michelle Holdt  00:22

Well, it’s been quite the journey. So just a tiny bit about my time at Harvard. When I was there, I created my own major and theatre and child psychology and education. And I knew pretty early on that I wanted to work at the intersection of those fields. So right after Harvard, I actually received a fellowship, while at the very tail end of Harvard in the spring of 92, I received a fellowship from the stride right foundation over they make, you know, kids shoes, and it was through Phillips Brooks House, it was a public service grant for a year to go to Chicago and lead theatre workshops for deaf children, mentally ill adolescents and other special needs children. And so I did that for the first year, upon graduation, then I became a drama teacher. And I taught drama for close to 20 years. In the Chicago Well, I was in Chicago for a couple of years, then Albuquerque, New Mexico for four years where I did a master’s degree in theater education at the University of New Mexico. And then I spent a good chunk of time, 24 years total, in San Francisco, California. And about 20 years into my teaching career, I had seen all of the inequities that exist in education in terms of who gets access to the arts, and specifically, it’s particularly bad in California, although it’s not so good all over the country. And so I left my teaching in 2010, and decided that I should step into more of a leadership role, and an advocacy role for arts education for all students.


Will Bachman  02:08

And when you say, Who am and say, who gets access to the arts, are you referring to participating? And, you know, creating arts in terms of arts education or being able to attend the theater, the concerts, museums, the the art?


Michelle Holdt  02:23

Well, essentially, it’s all of the above. Good. I was focusing my work in that world of arts education. All right. And specifically public schools in California,


Will Bachman  02:33

and just say more about that. So arts education, you see, there’s inequities. How does that manifest so in some schools, like lower income districts, they, like don’t have a music program or arts program? Oh,


Michelle Holdt  02:47

absolutely. Yeah. So California, although people think of California, so abundant state with, you know, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood and so forth, actually is one of the worst in the country for public school funding. They’re currently like, for the fifth, they’re 47. When I, I ended up making a documentary film about it, from which is available on YouTube, you can go watch it, it’s called arcs is the route. It’s 11 minute, sort of an informational film that addresses this very issue that we’re talking about. The arts include for five disciplines, theater, dance, music, visual arts, and media arts. And in California access, specifically, which is where I was working. It’s very, very limited. So yes, low income school districts and schools, but really across the board, even in the I had worked in, I had left my teaching position in an incredibly affluent school district. And even there, they were cutting the drama program that I was running, and they did not have a visual arts teacher did not have a dance teacher, and they started music, fourth, and fifth grade. So really, kids have access to one discipline, typically, and it starts in fourth and fifth grade. And that is optional, too. They can opt in to take an instrumental music class. In middle school, things get a little bit better. There’s some electives at times. But really, especially for elementary school, access is limited. And then even in middle and high school access is limited due to the sort of pressure to take all the academics. And so a while arts classes may exist, or not even always full. Or students may be put in a remedial class and then have no room on their schedule for arts, which also is an access and equity issue. Because those who are in remedial classes actually probably need the arts or definitely need the arts more than anyone. And there’s plenty of studies that show that when arts are in place, academics improve. And so I went to work to addressing that issue in starting in 2010. So I founded a nonprofit called Arts Ed matters. And we, as I mentioned, creative documentary film. And then we were typically hired by schools and districts to train their teachers in something called arts integration, which we were actually trading classroom teachers, not art specialists, training classroom teachers how to use the arts within their academic curriculum.


Will Bachman  05:25

Tell me about what’s been happening since 2010, with your nonprofit.


Michelle Holdt  05:31

Well, I kept the nonprofit in place till let’s see, I guess it was 2020. So for 10 years. But what happened during that time, is that we were teaching the arts and I was working with teachers during professional development. In 2017, I also stepped into a halftime role in San Mateo County, which is south of San Francisco, as their visual and performing arts coordinator. So overseeing arts education for 23 school districts. 92 schools, or 94,000 students, 172 schools. And while I was doing all of that work, what I was also noticing was a different crisis in education, which has to do with student and staff mental health. And I created a workshop at the time, probably around, actually around 2015. And that was based on some of my own personal journeys as well, entitled The art of self care. And that workshop includes arts practices, but also includes mindfulness. And I began teaching that when I was an employee that the San Mateo County Office of Education, and when the pandemic hit in 2020, it was a huge demand for that workshop and similar workshops that I continue to lead workshops based in mindfulness and then something else called restorative practices. And restorative practices come out of Originally, the indigenous communities, and then they were first adopted by the justice system. And then later public schools, and restorative practices essentially sitting in a circle. It’s designed to be a community building strategy where everyone has a voice. But it’s also used as an alternative to discipline for restoring problems when there’s been some kind of harm. So I was then trained in that as well. And I’m a certified trainer and restorative practices. And my work pivoted again. So from teaching drama, to teaching teachers how to teach drama and visual arts, to bringing drama and visual arts into these other practices, more healing modalities, mindfulness restorative practices. And I took a new job title, I was the arts and restorative learning coordinator in Santa Clara County. And then in this this past year, 2022, I made a major life decision and give up moving and living in the Bay Area, and moved back to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I currently reside. One thing I didn’t mention in all of that story is also that I have three children. I have a 23 year old, who is a graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology. I have an 18 year old who is a freshman at the University of Hawaii. And I have a 14 year old with me here in Albuquerque as a freshman in high school.


Will Bachman  08:34

Amazing. So a lot of different things I want to explore. I want to get to the restorative justice restorative practices. Absolutely. Before we get to that, when you were teaching the classroom teachers how to integrate more arts in the classroom. What were some of the things you were doing? And you know, what, what, what, what course like, you know, math class, or English, social studies, science, so was this kind of art appreciation? Like, oh, you know, we’re doing math and look at this beautiful practical or something? Or were you also kind of actually integrating art? So maybe an English class, they’ll act out a scene from I don’t know, Henry, the second or something? What tell me about both sides of it. What kind of practices were you teaching the teachers?


Michelle Holdt  09:20

Well, absolutely. The examples you listed are some of the things we would do, but it’s actually speaking of Harvard. It has some of its origins from the Harvard Graduate School of Education Project Zero. So I was trained at Project Zero and I became a faculty in a program in the Bay Area that no longer exists. It was called the Integrated Learning Specialist certificate program. And it was 120 hour training in arts are 130 hour training and arts and arts integration for classroom teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade classroom or single subject or or our teachers are really for principals or counselors or, or teaching artists anyone who’s sort of has their hands in public education. And through that, that course, I would say faculty, the first 30 hours was an introduction to arts integration. The next 30 hours were the arts, used as assessment. So really sort of looking with students at what students understand and meaning making and how they can show you and demonstrate their knowledge through the arts, their knowledge on any particular topic. And then the final 30 hours was on collaborative curriculum design. And then there was 10 hours of electives. So I was faculty in that program. But then I was bringing that program into all of the teaching I was doing through art said matters as well, or that that pedagogy that philosophy, so we would often begin, and I still practice this, I teach teachers how to make something called what I call an artful journal, or an arts based research journal. It’s basically like collaging, painting, stamping on drawing doodling in hacking a blank book or building one from scratch. And then using that as a place where you take notes, draw pictures, sort of document your learning. So that’s something that I still teach to this very day, and also practice both professionally and personally. So I build these books. And then I take much of my personal note taking in them, as well as writing down plans, lesson plans, career plans, so forth. So usually my courses, almost all my courses begin, whether depending on how much time I have with the teachers, I, it could be just a 10 minute exercise with a quick small pile of materials or a larger, an hour and a half with access to more materials. So once we’ve done that, and I give the analogy, I had once heard of a private school for boys where the sixth grade boys build their own desks before they sit at them. And I tell the teachers have your students build their own book before they write in it, because it will increase engagement with writing, and with visual arts as well. So that’s sort of the bookmaking process. And then we would teach simple art strategies, visual arts, usually visual arts and theater, although sometimes I would collaborate with a dance teacher as well, that tied directly to that can tie directly to classroom curriculum, but they are really also isolated arts experiences. So when you mentioned looking at a famous piece of art, we do that as well. I’m trained in something called Visual Thinking Strategies, BTS, which is has three questions what’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? And what more can we find? And it really increases critical thinking skills for the students so they could look at a picture, talk about it, and make meaning and let them know also, that there are no wrong answers that it’s really art is about is about interpretation meet these in the eyes of the viewer, what are they thinks going on, in that picture. But then we’ve adapted those thinking strategies as well. I teach something in theater called Tableau, which is making a frozen picture with your body. And so you can use those same questions when looking at a tableau as well, or listening to a piece of music. What do you think is going on in the song? What do you hear that makes you say that? What more can we find? And then we would then provide concrete examples of how, you know, the other example you cited, like, how could playing this drama, this drama game connect to your English language arts curriculum, or your science curriculum or social studies curriculum, you know, more in depth character, study of character, or upsetting? Or many of the sort of, there’s so many natural ties between theater and English language arts, but really many of the other classrooms, of course of study as well.


Will Bachman  13:54

Probably the most powerful thing that I remember from social studies in high school was I think, 11th grade, where we were studying like the 19th century and we did this roleplay where you got assigned, you know, you could be meta neck from Austria or, you know, each person got a role, right? And then it was kind of improv role playing where we negotiated I think, what the council Vienna or something, I’m not sure, but but, but instead of doing that, like it put you into that person and playing that role, and trying to embody them was so much more powerful way of learning the material than just reading out it from the outside. So, I love what you’re telling


Michelle Holdt  14:38

you cite that example, I actually do use the word embodied cognition, which is understanding something in your body. I was working with a group of first graders years ago in San Jose, California. This was a school that was very, very low income the teacher was on a prescribed scripted curriculum for the kids. She had to be on a certain page each day A curriculum itself was I found very dry and stale. And but I went in and spent a week doing a theater residency with her first graders teaching them about Tableau. And she said, at the end of the week, they had to take a test every single week on their workbook. And she said their scores for comprehension and vocabulary had gone through the roof that week, because yeah, they had experienced it in their body, they had made it more playful. One of the things when I talk to teachers about is that kids learn through play. It’s their natural language. There’s a famous dancer blanking on her name right now. But the quote is, we spend the first five years of kid’s life teaching them to walk and talk, and we spend the next 15 telling them to shut up and sit down.


Will Bachman  15:48

Man, that’s so true. That’s so true.


Michelle Holdt  15:50

It’s not how kids learn. You know, school, public school or school in general is so much about compliance, sit at your desk and be quiet and listen to me while I talk at you. I’m also know about Paulo Freire II and the pedagogy of the oppressed, and he speaks about the banking system of education in which I will deposit knowledge into you, and then you will regurgitate it back out to me, versus how do we teach our kids to, because they’re already naturally creative. So we have to invite and encourage that creativity. But how do we also encourage them to be critical thinkers and to bring their own voice? Well, it’s not through handing them still prescriptive curriculum, but rather, you know, inviting their creativity, their voice in the classroom, the arts are really incredibly magical tool for that.


Will Bachman  16:36

Yeah, I mean, I’ll mention the book, weapons of mass instruction by John Gatto, who was the New York State Teacher of the Year, and then he quit in the middle of his tenure, because he was so frustrated. And the book is all about how our public schools are a remnant of the 19th century, need by, you know, entrepreneurs to and business people to train factory workers, right to be compliant. And these farmers were just like, I’m not gonna sit in, you know, factory all day long doing, you know, same thing. And schools are designed to teach people that skill, and we haven’t really evolved that much. What does the


Michelle Holdt  17:14

Ken Robinson speak? So that same he had some really incredible TED Talks? He’s late Sir Ken Robinson, he’s phenomenal and addressing that crisis that schools were designed for effective for getting the poor kids off to the street and into factories. So that’s why they have things even like a bell of school bell that rings to go to the next class, but to factories had bells that would say, when’s the next time to you know, go to your lunch break? When school hasn’t public schools haven’t caught up? Really, we are facing a huge crisis in education, that haven’t caught up. And certainly with the introduction of technology, kids can grab their phone, they can find whatever they need on Google. So why should I bother memorizing those facts? Why should I bother regurgitating that thing to you? Why are you asking me to just sit still and listen to sort of, you know, I say a lot of teachers, unfortunately, I love teachers, I work in education. But I have this analogy of the Charlie Brown analogy, the wah wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, you know, that the kids are just like, What are you talking about? That’s not interesting to me.


Will Bachman  18:19

What does the research say about the benefit of integrating more arts education in schools? So a lot of, you know, people might sort of think, Okay, well, you know, the real the real meat of the school is, you know, reading, writing arithmetic, that’s like, what we really need the kids to learn. But what what does the research say? Imagine you’ve delved pretty deeply into the literature as part of your nonprofit, that, you know, in terms of getting kids to either stay in school or do better in their other classes, or to be more engaged or anything about, you know, when you have more fine arts, theater, music, and so forth.


Michelle Holdt  19:07

Absolutely. I mean, there’s, there’s, there’s some research, not enough, I would say that it’s a field that not enough attention is being paid to it. And one of the pieces around research, specifically looking at schools is that there are so many factors. And so sometimes even when research is conducted, they can’t say, well, we can 100% prove that this was because of the arts, you know, because there’s so many other factors in this in the school day, and then, but certainly there are studies that show increase in engagement. The big one that people of course, want to look for is increase in test scores. And there are some studies that reflect that as well. But it I would say that in general, you know, I would look to somewhere like Harvard Project Zero. They’ve done a lot of qualitative research. arts versus quantitative. So they sort of they’re sort of incredible. I mean, I learned that when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, I took some classes at the Ed School and something called teacher action research, you know, where you can sort of read teacher narratives of their experiences of introducing the art into their classroom. And usually, those are pretty transformational and powerful. Some of the numerical data and, you know, we need more to be collecting more of that. I know, West Ed is also doing some of that research. I would say, in general, that I am a qualitative researcher versus a quantitative research. I’ve mean, I’ve worked in hundreds of schools, I’ve worked with hundreds of teachers over the years. And so for me, the qualitative data is more just literally seeing the impact on students faces and teachers, when teachers come up to me afterwards and speak to me about how it impacted their students or, or how this training impacted their teaching. So for me, it’s much more qualitative and experiential based, like having everyone come up to me, you know, I can’t tell you how many times the teacher will sort of show up at a PD and they’ll say, I’m not creative, or I’m not an artist. Unfortunately, that message has come through school through their own schooling. I don’t know if you know, the work of Brene Brown, but she talks in her shame research that 85% of people had an experience in their public school education, where they were told they couldn’t do something where they were shamed. And they weren’t talented and close to them, but 70 75% of those same people, it was an experience, a creative experience in the arts. So a lot of teachers walk into my classroom and say, you know, I can’t do this, and that the very ones who say I can’t do this, or I’m not creative, or I’m not an actor, I’m not an artist, end up actually being the ones who shine the most, and who are the most moved by the experience? So I’ll also get questions from teachers like, what about the shy kids, you know, for when I teach drama games? What about the shy kids? And my answers? Well, I taught drama for 20 years. And I can count on one hand, how many shy kids I’ve met, meaning kids who didn’t want to participate, because I was teaching to their language. So language of play, is also teaching through the sort of philosophy of everyone’s included. So when sometimes people think of theater, they think, Oh, I’m going to be put up on stage, I might even be on stage alone, and everyone’s going to be looking at me. Well, that’s terrifying. But instead, what I play are games where everybody’s playing, and no one is looking at anyone else, because we’re also engaged in the game. And so that automatically creates safety in the room. And then when there’s safety, there’s risk taking. Yeah.


Will Bachman  22:42

Well, while we’re on this topic, I will just give a shout out to the City University of New York, Creative Arts team, CUNY cat. For any parents in New York, it has been a godsend for my son, my oldest, he has participated from sixth grade up to 12th grade and it is a free program that CUNY runs. It is amazing as after school, once a week, the kids get together and they make up their own play. They make up their own skits their own, and they improv all fall and then they make up like when they practice and rehearse one and then they present it to the parents. It’s been such an incredible I mean, my son just comes alive in those sessions. So, you know, for any parents in New York, check that out if you if your kids any client that way at all.


Michelle Holdt  23:35

Only theatre or is it other arts disciplines?


Will Bachman  23:37

No, it’s theater. It’s, it’s, it’s CUNY cat. It’s like, it’s creative arts theater, maybe it’s a theater program. And the kids participate for free because the graduate students at CUNY who are learning like, you know, aspiring or getting their master’s in drama teaching. This is their laboratory, right? So they get you know, the laboratory for their students at CUNY. And it’s just such an incredible experience for the kids. So totally recommend that. I want to ask you about restorative practices. So my friend Julian Mallozzi, made a film a feature film about restorative practices, restorative justice, and I include a link to that in the show notes. Tell us a bit about it. Yeah. Tell us a bit about your Julian was your classmate, of course. And made a film about that. And what tell us about your kind of the the type of restorative practices that you focus on and how it manifests in the school system? I’ve heard about it in sort of the criminal justice system where they’ll do restorative justice, but talk about how it plays out in the school system


Michelle Holdt  24:48

click. So I’m trained through the International Institute of restorative practices, I RP, and I’m a train the trainer so I’ve been trained to train teachers And in public schools, what we really speak about with restorative practices is it’s 80% proactive and 20% reactive. So the 80% is really about building classroom community. Sitting in circle, you know, the teacher gives a prompt, the kids go around and everyone, you know, there, there are circle agreements, when you first gather in the circle, and when you first introduce restorative practices, agreements, like everything that said in the circle stays in the circle, or respect, speak from the heart, listen from the heart, respect the talking piece, which are a sharing protocol, depending on what the sharing protocol is the right path stage, just enough trust that you’ll know what to say. So the group, and then the invitation is put out, would you like to add any other additional ingredients, I usually introduce circles with an exercise and I really, I teach this exercise, not just in circles, but in all my classes, I teach it to all anyone, any kind of leader. So this or this could be done at your dinner table with your family. If you run a team at your, at your job. This is a great exercise to do with your team. It’s called one word. And the way one word works is the facilitator or the leader, or the person at the head of the table, whatever it is, gives a prompt to the rest of the group and they try to answer go around in a circle, and try to answer the prompt with one with one word. So it could be basic prompts, like, first name or favorite flavor of ice cream, I then make the distinction. Well, but my favorite flavors, mint chocolate chip. So that’s technically three words. So yes, you can use more than one word, but not a complete sentence. Although later, we slowly work up to a sentence, and then a paragraph and so forth. But playing the game one word. And I can send you will have sort of a PDF of the prompts for sample prompts for one word, that people who listen to this podcast later can access if they would like to use them.


Will Bachman  27:10

That would be amazing. We’ll include a link in the show notes.


Michelle Holdt  27:14

Perfect. So please start with one word.


Will Bachman  27:16

So for the classroom, just paint a picture. So like, what grade is this for? And is this like social studies class? Or is this like someone’s call


Michelle Holdt  27:24

grades T K through 12? All right. So I was actually at a school site this past Friday, leading demo, restorative practices lessons, I was actually nine classrooms is a little overwhelming, because the nine in one day, but just went from one to the next. So they were very sort of quick mini lessons. So the teachers can see it in action. So I actually bring I lead a workshop for teachers called restorative practices with a creative twist. So I don’t just teach straight restorative practices, I bring a little bit of my arts background, I just can’t not bring in my arts background. Is this


Will Bachman  27:59

taking place during like one of the normal math or English subjects? Or is this Do they have a class that’s


Michelle Holdt  28:05

maybe it’s during the school day, so I was in the school that was a TK through eighth, eighth grade school in Redwood City, California. And so I was, you know, sitting down with four year olds, as well as, you know, 1314 year olds. So I’d begin, shall we gather in a circle, either seated on the carpet or seated in chairs, I will do a couple of just really simple drama, warm ups like stretching or making silly faces, or just something to sort of come into our bodies and come into the moment. And then I introduced the one word strategy first. So giving them some simple prompts, like their name or their favorite color, especially the younger kids, like the littlest bit four and five year olds, it’s really, really simple prompts. Although even for the four and five year olds, I asked the question I got was able to get to the question, what do you do when you feel sad? And we went around the circle and each kid was able to answer what do they do when they feel sad, and it was pretty profound to hear that from them in terms of their self awareness, in terms of their knowledge of coping strategies, or how to take care of themselves, you know, anything from go into my room and get quiet to build a fort that I hide in to get a hug from my mom. They all had something that they knew or cry just anything that they knew what to do when they felt sad draw a picture. Yeah,


Will Bachman  29:29

and for like the kids that not necessarily preschool pre K, but for the kids in fifth grade, or 11th grade or something, is this. Like some schools will have like a health class or an executive function class or some kind of thing? That’s not their normal subject. Is this taking place then? Or just, oh, you know, English class. Okay. Today, we’re gonna have restorative practice.


Michelle Holdt  29:49

You know, really what we’re encouraging is that it happens in all classrooms because restorative practices are actually almost I should call them like preventative practices. They’re really they’re that one When I said that 8020 ratio earlier, proactive pieces about building community and the research is very clear that when you build community in your classroom, engagement goes way up. And I tell teachers spend that five minutes, then that 10 minute, spend the 30 minutes on Friday afternoon, whatever it is, you will build a classroom community where students feel safe, and when they feel safe, then they’re going to be more engaged in the curriculum. But if you come in and you’re and your attitude is content, content content, but no acknowledging of who are you and how are you the day, or what do you care about, or anything at all, who the student is, as an individual, they’re gonna be less engaged. But if they’re like, Oh, I’m part of this community. And I also know that that kid are there. They also like the color yellow when that kid over there, their parents are divorced, like mine. And I learned that because I sat in circle. And so now I feel safer, like, oh, I can my nervous system can relax a little bit. I mean, one of the things so what I, what we were what I was alluding to earlier, and sort of getting to is what has happened since the pandemic, we are facing a massive mental health crisis in our youth. Not sure if you’re following the work of Dr. VTEC. Murthy, the Surgeon General of the United States, he is addressing this, he’s pulled together an advisory I went and saw him speak in the Bay Area last spring, it was one of the most profound moving experiences just to fit with him. fit in a room with him, he led the entire group that he was speaking to at the end of his speech after q&a, on a quiet meditation on self love. And that’s my special sauce. That’s my juice, like what I didn’t mention also, actually is that in 2019, I self published a book entitled radiance, the art of self love, a memoir, I’m using an a map, and I can share that link with you as well to put in the notes. And, you know, we’re facing this mental health crisis of unimaginable proportions. So that’s what we’re seeing in education right now. And what I’m hearing from teachers, since basically everyone went back to school in person, whether it was spring or fall of 2021, teachers are talking about students being incredibly delayed, they’re talking about a lot of behavior issues, the teachers themselves are overwhelmed and stressed out and burned out, we’re seeing a massive exodus from the, from the profession across the country. And, and it’s because I believe the trauma of the pandemic. So we walk through a collective trauma together, a year and a half of being, you know, basically locked in our homes, and separate from each other. And we are social creatures who thrive on sort of being around other people. And we were and especially children, children learn from their peers. So they were deprived of that learning for a year and a half, just looking through a screen. And we came back to school. And I believe we actually inflicted more trauma because we came back to school and all of the focus absolutely all of the focus for the first six months was stand six feet apart, put your mask on don’t touch anyone or anything. Get tested. Oh, you know, got to get that kid get that teacher tested. Get that kid tested. Get that. And not. Not that that wasn’t necessary. It absolutely was necessary. But what it failed to include was the mental health piece. How are you? That year and a half is pretty rough? How are you doing? It uh, welcome back, let’s, let’s do some activities, whatever they are. Restorative practices, mindfulness, art, anything at all, even sports, but community building, team building, welcoming people back and in any kind of healing modality. And so now they’re facing a crisis in education because they don’t have enough social workers and counselors and school psychologists to address these issues. And when the teachers I currently work with, say things like the kids are misbehaving, I say they’re not misbehaving. They’re letting you know that they’re in trauma. My mother used to refer to kids as the barometer my young kids that they’ll reflect back to us when we’re not doing well before we even know it, because they can sense it. Or I also said the kids are the canary in the coal mine. And we have this coal mine with a bunch of dead canaries in it. I’m being metaphorical, but unfortunately, literal as well. My own daughter lost a friend to suicide, January of 2022 while she was doing her college application, little girl was a freshman in college, but my daughter was a senior in high school. But and my own, my own physician told me Oh, yes, my colleague told me that the long haul hallways of the Kaiser emergency room are lined with teenage girls with suicidal ideation. Right, sort of, you know, during the hype and then coming out of the worst parts of the pandemic. So, and I think we’re going to be seeing this play out in education for quite a long period of time. So, Art said matters and 20 At 20, I put our Ted matters to sort of Tibet essentially, closed down the name and website of that organization. And I’ve opened a new organization that’s called Creative Because I also that specifically addresses this crisis in education, but I’m broadening the scope of the work. In fact, I’m going to be doing a workshop this Friday for women who were recently incarcerated. Were involved in the justice system or who, who have been recently homeless, and But first, I’m leading a workshop for this all the staff that serve, provide services for them, and then I’ll be working with the women themselves. And so, you know, I think that there’s a lot of people who are still in trauma across the across the globe from this pandemic, and we haven’t been doing enough of sort of addressing that and talking about it and, and, and healing from it. Feeling that sort of social what we call an education, social and emotional, SEL learning, social emotional learning. We have a lot of social emotional learning to do as adults in order to support our youth to do the same.


Will Bachman  36:06

Talk to me about some of your tips around self love, you wrote a whole book on the topic. So what what are one or two exercises or tips that you have for those of us at home on how we can do some more self love?


Michelle Holdt  36:23

Well, I’m going to have to remember all these things I’m going to share with you for the notes but I recently gave what i What’s the equivalent of a TED Talk. It’s called a Pecha Kucha, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Pecha Kucha this, but they came originally out of the Japanese architecture industry. And it’s a way of giving a presentation, a timed presentation where you have 20 slides, and you have a 40 seconds per slide to speak. So you have six minutes and 40 seconds to speak on a topic.


Will Bachman  36:50

Okay, I’m going to ask you to spell that term, if you can. Oh, yeah.


Michelle Holdt  36:54

Bucha Yeah, p e c h AKUCHA. And I have a recorded Pecha Kucha that I delivered in Santa Fe, through an organization called Creative Santa Fe, in November, and I can share that link. It was about how to see with a creative and heart centered lens. And so for me, mindfulness is a great strategy to start with, to sit to learn to meditate. When I talk to teachers or anyone about meditation, I say that I, I first adopted meditating, when I was newly, a single mom, starting a nonprofit working for jobs had three young children at home that I was driving to three different schools every day. And, but I took five minutes at the beginning of my day, just to sit on the sofa, and to just ground myself to focus on my breath, to just be still. And those five minutes a day have made a huge difference throughout how I approach the rest of the day. So through mindfulness, I believe that one can cultivate self compassion, or self awareness first, actually. So self awareness is first. So through your mindfulness practice, you can notice Oh, I’m having that not so helpful thought that harming thought about myself or someone else. And then through that self awareness, course correct? Oh, maybe I can make a different choice. So I also practice self compassion. So if I’m feeling stressed out or overwhelmed or anxious, I might say that just myself, it’s Okay sweetheart, I got you. I’m actually launching a new creative project that I call compassionate clips where someone can write to me and ask for a compassion, a short audio, two to three minutes on a particular topic they’re struggling with and I just will offer them reassuring kind words to listen to as their own little mindfulness meditation.


Will Bachman  38:56

I love this. I. So what do you like text back to them? This is so amazing.


Michelle Holdt  39:02

Yeah, I can send you a link for that as well. Well, that’d be on my website. So and my website is creative. is the website. But and I’ll share that with you in the notes. But so and then another one is, I say that I live my life by Rumi’s poem, The guesthouse, which I’ll recite to you now, this being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival, a joy, a depression, a meanness. Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. welcome and entertain them all. Even if there are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight, the dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them all in. Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. That’s from Rumi, who was a 13 In century poet, Sufi poet and what I say that I say I live my life by that poem. So basically if anger shows up, if worry shows up, if sadness shows up, I welcome it in Hey, sweetheart, haven’t seen you in a while, come on in, have a seat on the sofa, okay, you can put your feet on the coffee table, I’ll make you some tea. I just welcome my emotions. And I think what we tend to do most of us is, oh, I’m too busy to feel that right now I gotta keep going, I gotta get my to do list done. I gotta get that thing for work. I gotta cook dinner for the family, or there’s a lots and lots have to do, I wrestle with my own inner to do dominate tricks, I call her Go Go gadget. And she, she wants me to get a lot done all the time, I have a massive to do list. I’m working on a trillion projects, you know, I was a single mom, three kids, you know, I can do it. I’m Superwoman. And as I age, you know, 53, almost 54. I’m like, You know what, go go. It’s nice to just slow down a little bit. It’s nice to just enjoy the moment and be in life. And it’s not always about, it’s a cheesy phrase, but I kind of like it. We’re human. How about being a human being versus a human doing? So, you know, I? So those are some strategies. So writing strategies, I teach another one called everyone’s invited, excuse me, sorry, hold on. Where are you it’s, I call it a it’s like a timed scripted protocol where you sit down, you set a timer for five minutes, and you’re thinking on a topic that’s troubling to you. And you see who shows up. First of all, maybe blame shows up so you write for five minutes, everything that blame has to say. And then maybe while you’re writing, sadness might tap you on the shoulder, I call it like your inner preschool. And you say, the sadness, hey, I’m talking to blame right now. But you can be next. And then you write down, then the next five minutes, when five minutes are up, you say to blame, thank you for sharing times up next, and write down what sadness has to say, or grief or worry, or whoever shows up. Or they might not have names that are emotions, like I would write from the voice of Go Go gadget or bossy Betty or blame ful, you know, Bob, or whatever it is, like, you decide who’s there in your own inner world. And when I teach this strategy, people realize, will a, they say wow, I feel lighter afterwards, like I’m not caring so much. And that it’s not such a heavy burden on my shoulders. But also, it brings some clarity, especially on a topic that we might be struggling with, maybe we’re had an argument with our spouse, or maybe we are worried about our job and trying to thinking about leaving and finding a new job, or maybe we are worried about our kid going off to college, or whatever it is, or our parents are passing away, and we’re struggling with their the process of you know, their hospitalization, or whatever it is, whatever the topic is, it’s a self compassion practice to really sit down and listen to who who’s showing up and everything they have to say on the topic. They call them all. So I think of like, the play the 12, Angry Men, you know, are in recovery, they call them the committee. And I just see them as sort of like individuals inside us, they make up who we are. This is also based in the war work of Richard Richard Schwartz, internal family systems therapy. And he also just published the book called No Bad parts. So there are parts, the parts of us, and so it’s about how do you welcome them back in with compassion, instead of casting them out?


Will Bachman  43:50

What for you would look like winning over the next decade? And this is a fraud question, because you’ve talked about your big long to do list and so forth. So you know, your direction might be the impact that you hope to have and on whom, or accomplishments or a state of mind that you want to achieve. But you have thought so deeply about this. I’m curious, you know, 10 years from now, what would you feel was a, you know, successful decade that you’re very proud of?


Michelle Holdt  44:28

Thank you. I love that question. I think for me, looking back 10 years from now, so I would be 5464. Thinking of the Beatles song, will you still love me when I’m 64? I would look back and I would have created the work of the website, that creative, compassionate work, to both have served public schools nationally, to have become a national initiative. That would be the Serving teachers and schools across the country. So that it wouldn’t just be a one woman show, but that I would have a team that would be providing the services, as well as my home here in Albuquerque, would be both a refuge for myself and my family. But I’m also excited and interested in the idea of having an actual space, like an art space, but that it could be also almost like a retreat center with some guest rooms where educators and leaders from across the country could come and learn, spend some time in New Mexico and learn this creative, compassionate strategies. But I also don’t even entirely feel that it has to be limited to education, I really feel like the strategies are there for everyone, for all people who are working with other people. So I think just to have that the message out there in the world to have the message and the strategies reach as many people as possible. And to have it sustain me both, you know, in terms of in terms of my career, because I’m right now I’m in, you know, sort of a woman taking a leap of faith, jumping into the unknown, creating something that I deeply, deeply believe in. But I don’t have the funds, the current sort of funding and resources to really build it and grow it. So that would be a miraculous thing, if that were to happen in the next 10 years to really grow this work. And


Will Bachman  46:35

that’s beautiful. I love that


Michelle Holdt  46:37

then. And then in 10 years, when people talk about retirement, it would be like, Well, I think I don’t think I’ll ever fully retire. But I definitely would like to slow down and be put in be playing more of an advisor role than, you know, the one who’s doing all the work. What, and also to let my kids I mean, I’d see my own children is very resilient. And I haven’t spent much time talking about them. But being a parent has been hugely impactful for me. And one of the things that I’m most proud of in my two children is that they’re resilient. That they sort of know that they can go through tough times and come out the other side. So I’ll be very curious to see, I’m optimistic. I’m not one of those parents who has, I just want my kids to be happy and safe. Really, at this point, I don’t have a lot of demands or expectations around what their career should look like. I’ve never been that kind of parent. I’ve just let them naturally be who they are. So I’m very, I bring a lot of curiosity as to what the next 10 years will reveal for my children.


Will Bachman  47:44

That’s a wonderful gift to give to your kids is a lack of expectations. Fortunately, my parents didn’t have any expectations, in particular, for me so hard to disappoint them. What courses or professors that you had at Harvard, continue to resonate with you.


Michelle Holdt  48:08

I was incredibly, incredibly blessed at Harvard. When I was a freshman and I was writing a paper on theater for a professor of I really didn’t like I went to a writing center for some tutoring, and an upperclassman. I wish I could find this person. I don’t know her name. But I sure do wish I could find her to thank her because I think she put me on a life path. She said, Oh, you should try creating your own major. And you should connect with Professor William Alfred. And so I ended up applying for a special concentration. I created my own major. It was called drama and human development. And I had the extreme and exquisite pleasure of sitting and having a one on one class with Professor William Alfred for three years. Right sit in his living room, he and I may read all the classics we be followed my senior thesis, I did a senior thesis working with a special ed classroom in a local Cambridge Public School, doing theater, and wrote a teacher action research narrative about it. But those three years are the greatest, one of the greatest gifts in my educational journey, just in terms of that kind of mentorship, that kind of care and attention. He was. He’s now passed on but he was one of the wisest, sweetest, kindest, most brilliant, generous, devoted, devoted man that I’ve ever met in my entire life. He got up super early every morning he would people would see him with his little top hat and his trench coat walking to church 7am 7am every morning. And I just had the incredible fortune of sitting with him. What did


Will Bachman  49:49

he teach? Remember, what was his what was his era?


Michelle Holdt  49:51

He was an English professor. He was an English professor and he’s he was a playwright. He was a poet that wrote a play that Faye Dunaway started doing and The 60s. That’s what helped make her famous at first on Broadway and then Hollywood. And he, the play was called Hogan scope. Or he wrote several plays, but that was one of them. And he taught some theater classes, I took his theater classes as well. It gave me a gold pocket watch of antique gold pocket watch when I graduated. And one of the things he said to me and I still teach it to teachers, today, I came to his came off, you know, our class, which was three hours, I basically had three hours of office hours with him every week, maybe two, three hours. And I remember one day telling him about the special ed kids. And I said, you know, they’re just copying me. I want them to make up their own shapes with their bodies, why they copying me? And he said, Michelle, imitation is the entryway into a math imagination. Like, oh, that’s it, yeah, get the kids to copy. So they have an example. They feel safe, and then invite them into their own imagination. Which is funny, because there’s the I think of the work now of Austin Kleon Steal Like an Artist. Sure love, though. And I as an artist, I’m always looking around at other people and inspired by their work, and then I create my own version of it. So on that note, because I’m aware of the time thank you for asking that question about William offered, I will always treasure him throughout the rest of my life. What and I also just really want to thank and treasure my experience at Harvard, I just want to add one little note, which is we haven’t gotten into this. But I arrived at Harvard, the daughter of two blind parents, oh, my god, local Cambridge kid who grew up on welfare, and had a younger brother who was battling cancer and passed away when I was a freshman, a sophomore at Harvard, I was offered deferred admission, I actually joined Harvard in a year, I was a year older, because I took a year off. And Harvard was one of the most powerful transformational life experiences of my entire 54 years, those four years were pivotal in terms of putting me on my path. Such an incredible nurturing career, or nurturing experience that I had when I was there. And really, it was not a not a typical education at all. Even not, I would say not even a typical Harvard education, although I’m not sure there is one. But yeah, I’m just super, super, super grateful for Harvard.


Will Bachman  52:30

What can people do if they want to follow up with you find and track your progress, we’re going to include these links in the show notes, but share their share, what’s the what’s the place that people should go.


Michelle Holdt  52:43

So they can go to my website, which is creative, they can visit me on LinkedIn as well. Michelle, M I C H, E, L, L, E dash, both h o l dI T, they’ll find me there as well. And, and I’m okay sharing my email as well. My email is m Holt at Yahoo, M holdt. at Yahoo. So please, please reach out. Connect, I would love to sort of be in conversation, if anyone feels inspired by what I’ve had what I’ve had to share and would like to connect and talk further. I’m open to hearing or if there’s someone else you think I should talk to, especially in this, this work that I’m venturing out into the world to do. I would love to make connections, not just locally here in New Mexico, but across the country. Across the globe, even I did some work recently for the US State Department teaching some teachers in Nepal. So I’ve done some national and some international work. And just would love to be in conversation with other people who want to talk about these topics.


Will Bachman  53:53

So listeners, perhaps you’re interested in bringing some of this work to your school district or your local, maybe your company, your nonprofit, reach out to Michelle and explore and if you’re interested in funding, Michelle’s arts teacher training center, then I think the the you know, you got her email address. Michelle has been a great conversation you Well, thank you so much for joining today.


Michelle Holdt  54:21

It’s been a fantastic conversation I am so I love this. You’re my first full hour podcast. And so I’m really excited that I’m like, let’s do some more. I’m ready to be on some more podcasts or anyone else on the podcast. I’m happy to be on there


Will Bachman  54:35

as well reach out to Michelle. She’s ready for number two. Thanks. Yes,


Michelle Holdt  54:39

thanks. Well, have a great day and a great week.


Will Bachman  54:42

Thank you. Bye