The Inner Game of Teaching

Sep 21, 2019 by

“It’s what’s inside of us that matters most.” ~Fred Rogers

Thirty-four years of creating original, innovative, progressive educational curricula for my inner-city elementary/middle school students made me realize that motivation is a key to learning anything. Sorry, but if there is no desire or hunger to do things, it’s not going to happen. And if it does happen, it will happen from inside out, not from outside in. Motivation from exterior sources cannot be sustained in the long run, unless you teach children about their inside worlds. Research shows that intrinsic is more effective than extrinsic motivation. Keep in mind that developing self- or inner-motivation in children takes time, persistence, and courage.

I don’t necessarily agree with the positive psychology movement in education. When I started teaching in the ’60s behavioral psychologists called it “positive reinforcement”: you can see how that closed the achievement gap, especially in NYC public schools, and how far it brought at-risk kids with “supposed” and “assumed” negative attitudes toward learning and low self-esteem. And there is also the self-esteem movement to raise kids’ esteem levels. That hasn’t closed the gap much either.

To give you a better idea of “The Inner Game of Teaching,” please check out my ideas below. See where they might take you in your own teaching, and how an “internal education” approach can be implemented in classrooms at the beginning of the school year, as well as schools across the United States. Imagine how these statements and processes could ideally affect your journey with students in a novel, challenging, and exciting way: 

Internal education definition: Teach students—from the early elementary grades and beyond—to discover their inside world first, and they will take those “inner-sights”—the emotions, ideas, and experiences—to classmates, friends, parents, teachers, and the world. (Please note: All upcoming photographs are images created by the author.)

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Kids might be walking around the neighborhood and see “beautiful” leaves that seem like paintings if looked at more closely. An internal education will help children save/imprint those images from the leaves, along with connected feelings and thoughts, in their mind. The image can trigger non-fiction writing on nature, the changing seasons, and how leaves show their beauty as they go through “changes.” It can trigger lessons in science describing what happens internally to create the different colors in leaves. The mind-pictures recorded in a child’s imagination can also generate poetry–creative-writing. 

Inner- or self-motivation is not only mental and emotional, it’s also “physical,” like feeling that “burn” in your muscles when working out. You experience a similar feeling inside yourself.


Education is about inner-motivation and drive: In my experience, it’s hard to manufacture this in students with positive psychology or raising kids’ self-esteem because you’re working from the outside in, and that is short-lived.

Mindfulness, focused awareness, concentration, along with my “Contemplation Music Writing Project” for elementary/middle/high school students, whether they’re from inner-city, urban, rural, or suburban areas, need regular weekly practice during the year (both in and out of school) to develop since there are internal/external obstacles and distractions to hurdle.

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Please Note: See my past BAM articles, “Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs,” Parts 1 to 5, for use in the classroom. Also, check out, another BAM piece, “Contemplation Music Writing for Educators,” which explains—and gives procedures for—how teachers can set up group practice contemplation sessions in the school for themselves. The above five articles can be accessed individually, from 1 to 5, where each part describes key aspects of “Contemplation Music Writing.”

To expand inside worlds, let your students know, and come to realize, that by keeping the inner eyes WIDE OPEN to see choices, possibilities, and opportunities, they can change and improve their academic as well as everyday lives, and, at the same time, create inner peace.

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When asking children to be aware of, or mindful, of their internal lives, you open up the “doors of inner perception,” and an imagination, that works super-fast in its infinite “self-amusement park.” If you want to take another leap into creativity—or the “unknown”—ask students to make whatever they’re experiencing in the mind and imagination G-O S-L-O-W or move in slow motion. Say to class: “What do you see, visualize, feel, think, and experience in these examples: (a) bird/s flying, (b) leaf/leaves falling from a tree/trees, (c) children racing, (d) players jumping and dunking a basketball, (e) kids jumping rope, and (f) eating a pizza pie?

Say to students: “Imagine flying a kite, only it’s in your mind. What does the kite look like? Where does it take you? Just let it blow-with-the-winds-in-your-mind and wander-wherever-it-wants-to-go. Count the different mind-pictures you visualize in your imagination. Pick a few of those pictures and describe what you’re seeing inside. What feelings, thoughts, and experiences are triggered while you observe the mind-pictures of the kite flying?

“What’s so difficult about creativity? Make things up: Create, re-create, and un-create the inner life of your mind, imagination, heart, and spirit every day in every way.” (Jeffrey Pflaum) Say to class: “Okay, so make something up! I don’t care what it is. Create something in your head right now. Let this be a fun challenge. Imagine, yeah, imagine…”

Say to class: “Your mind’s or inner eye acts as a guide, an inner compass, to help the real eyes see, perceive, and travel in the speeding world of reality. Give an example of when your inner or mind’s eye helped you see things more clearly because they were traveling at super-fast speeds on the outside. Search your mind with your inner eye to find examples of how it slowed down speeding reality.”

“INNER-SIGHT” comes from 20-20 inner eye vision (yes, you need normal vision internally as well as externally): The process of looking-in-the-dark is self-educational, self-motivating, and self-liberating for everyone, children and adults alike. This is an internal education.

Source: The Inner Game of Teaching | BAM! Radio Network

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