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Teaching a new mindset about death & dying in our schools by redesigning old views of the process.

All students would learn about death & dying in school. The process can be "re-imaged" as a beautiful part of life instead of scary or sad.

Photo of heather kelly
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

My idea is designed for all students going through our public education system. This shift in mindset could change how everyone perceives death. Through education we can better prepare all people for this truly beautiful part of life. We were not meant to be here forever. We were meant to come in to this world, find our "why" & use that to enhance the lives of others. I watched my grandmother embrace death & the process was beautiful & inspiring. We need to empower everyone the way she did me.

My idea would be to include a Death & Dying class in all schools. Education can make any situation that is daunting or scary much less frightening. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful woman in my life named Annamae Kelly. She was my grandmother. She taught me some amazing life lessons, but the best was how to embrace death as a natural part of life. She embraced her death & the process included everyone in our family as we gathered at home to witness the best life lesson one could ever teach. She had a blood clot that could have been medically treated but chose instead to embrace the natural process of death & invited our entire family to be with her as she faced what most fear. I was also lucky enough to have attended a high school that taught Death & Dying in the curriculum. I learned about death & grief. When you understand something it is no longer scary. We need to start educating everyone to embrace death as a natural part of life & to use our mortality as something positive to change lives forever.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Perhaps design a unit on death & dying to be included at the High School where I teach & after survey the students involved on the perceived benefits of the program. I have been in education for 20 years & we are forgetting to teach the "whole" being. Recently we lost a student to suicide & I have watched as an entire school of 2,000 struggled to understand, recover & grieve. We need to redesign education now & include programs like these with the same rigor we give our standardized testing prep

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Getting input from the community on how to make this idea a reality would be helpful. The community could also be very valuable on helping design what the program could look like. The communities stories and experiences could help shape the content of the program. All members of the OpenIDEO community attended school at some point in their lives, therefore everyone would have impact on how to make this a reality.

Tell us about your work experience:

I have worked in education for 20 years. I have an MFA in new media. Currently I teach Photoshop & Innovation at the High School level. I have designed a number of new programs for my school. I'm interested in this particular challenge because of my unique end of life experiences & perspective.

This idea emerged from

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Photo of Elaine Glass
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I think "little" losses should be included, examined, celebrated, too - like when a fellow student or a teacher moves out of town. What did they mean to us? How will we remember them? Will we keep in touch and how often? 

Photo of heather kelly
Team

yes! that is a fantastic idea!!!!

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Hi Bill - Thank you! I love the course title suggestion. When I was in high school the nuns called our course "Death & Dying" & I couldn't wait to take it... but I am not the norm! I completely believe in consciousness existing after death. I read "Proof of Heaven" & the author is a neurosurgeon. He wrote in great length about his own near death experience. He spends a lot of the book "proving" that his experience was "real" & how his consciousness existed after he was reported "brain dead". I agree with approaching the implemented course the way you have described! Thank you so much for you feedback! I look forward to hopefully collaborating with you on actually putting this into practice!

Photo of Bill
Team

Hi Heather,

I would suggest another name for the course such as "Life Completion" rather than death and dying due to the baggage and negativity attached to those terms. When addressing high school students, I refer to the "body finally shutting down and consciousness detaching from the body" rather than the person dying. It is very clear from mountains of research that consciousness detaches from the brain and persists beyond brain death (check out the 800 pg book, "The Irreducible Mind" by Crabtree, Gould, and Kelly--esp chapter 3). The course should be part of a larger series on life which could focus on the essential issues of finding purpose and meaning in life; the primacy of forming, nurturing, protecting and maintaining relationships; and how real happiness can only be achieved by bringing it to others. To me this sounds better than teaching kids that they are just meat robots, formed by accident in a meaningless universe, programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and to finally break down and cease to exist. The course would be life and love affirming, improving the lives of the child, their future partner, their family, their community, our society and our world.

Photo of Bill
Team

Hi Heather,
Please contact me regarding this great idea. I am the regional medical director of hospice and AIM for Sutter Sacramento. I am also a national and internationally published writer. I recently had the opportunity to present the topics of death and hospice to 4 classes of high school seniors. It was a fantastic experience for me and the school has asked me back for next year. I made the subject light and entertaining as well as humorous at times. I ended with some of the "goose-bump" stories my staff and I have experienced which confirm the persistence of the consciousness beyond its separation from the body. We change the culture by changing the youth. Yours is the best idea of any I have read. Let's make this happen!
Bill

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Hi Bill- thank you for contacting me! I would love to work with you. It sounds like together we could put something fantastic together to prototype. I've been teaching for over twenty years. I'm currently teaching photoshop & innovation learning/innovation lab. My plan is to have a prototype in place for the fall. Feel free to email me directly. Hakellyus@yahoo.com. My school just lost a boy to suicide. We are ready to start talking in our building about death & dying! It was the second suicide in that graduating class. Our building is ready for something like this - now! Thank you in advance for collaborating with me! Looking forward to it! 
Best...
heather 
& ps - hospice is amazing! I've had personal experiences with hospice in Michigan & your organization is the best!!! ❤️

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Heather.
I saw this article about an inspiring high school class posted in a comment on another idea here and bookmarked it for myself.   Might inspire your work?  
 http://www.mindful.org/a-matter-of-death-and-life/
 
 I found a few other references to the program as well.   
http://www.mindful.org/beginning-with-the-end/
http://www.rocparent.com/feature/education_1/harley-school-hospice-program/

Photo of heather kelly
Team

I'm tearing up! I never thought of the students working with hospice patients but it's brilliant! Thank you so much for this article. I'm beginning my refinement stage so this was very helpful! Thank you!!!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
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Hi Heather.  The video explains your plans for different age groups well!  Have you been able to share it with any teachers at your school? 

And back to your comment above about the high school program I posted the links about…..
Yes! When I watched and read the articles I was also feeling it!  A transformative experience for all.

Good luck with your work on the project this coming year at your school!
Bettina

Photo of heather kelly
Team

https://vimeo.com/177154411

Photo of heather kelly
Team

HERE IT IS!!!! My prototype video!!! 
https://vimeo.com/177154411
I can not wait to hear feedback & ideas!!! 

Photo of Manal
Team

Great idea - I'm curious to know about your progress in developing a prototype. Would you think the conversation is more beneficial as a separate course to take or as organically introduced into the curriculum as is? If the former, what sort of material are you developing? If the latter, what do you think would that look like? 

Photo of Morgan Meinel
Team

heather kelly , Thanks so much for adding me to the team! So happy to see your idea in the refinement phase!!  :)

Photo of heather kelly
Team

I am beginning the refinement stage of my idea today & wanted to take a minute to thank everyone that took the time to post a response to my idea. Thank you! Truly! I currently teach innovation at Troy high school in Michigan & constantly tell me students the importance of innovating with a group of diverse people. Your feedback & contributions are fueling my passion for making this change in education. Keep an eye out for my upcoming experience map & prototyping ideas! Looking forward to our continued collaboration towards changing the end of life experience for everyone through our schools!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Welcome to the refinement phase Heather! Here are some key questions and milestones we encourage from all ideas in the Refinement:

1. How might this idea address the unique needs of the target audience you're designing for?
2. Clearly summarize the value offering of your idea in 1-2 sentences
3. Communicate your idea in a visual way with user experience maps http://ideo.pn/UX_Map
4. Identify assumptions that need to be answered in order to validate your value offering: http://bit.ly/1Oi8ZHu
5. Collect feedback from potential partners and users to answer the assumptions you’ve identified.

Lastly, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 07/12" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of heather kelly
Team

I'm on it! Thank you! 

Photo of Claudia Biçen
Team

Hi Heather - I would love to speak with you! Please email me directly at claudia@claudiabicen.com and we can set up some time to speak on the phone. Claudia

Photo of heather kelly
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Hi Claudia - I will send you an email! Thank you for your interest. I look forward to corresponding...

Photo of Jim
Team

The topic of death and dying cannot be appropriately covered without including the "bigger picture" theistic perspectives that are critical to how humans understand their existence, life, death, and purpose. Atheism is the only religion that many public schools are allowed to teach or talk about.  How are you going to address the need for including critical topics about heaven, hell, sin, forgiveness, eternal life (or death), and a person's relationship to the Maker of eternity as part of your curriculum for a public school audience? 

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Hi Jim - I think the topic of death & dying can be demystified without teaching religion. It might even be possible to teach many different theories - as just that "theories". It is possible to teach this topic in the public schools. We have students commuting suicide - it's time we take action. I can design something appropriate. I am confident that it is possible.

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
Team

Hi Heather,  I love the idea about building a developmentally-appropriate curriculum for school kids of all ages.  It would be fabulous if there were sufficient public will and support to implement it within local school districts.  If that's a steep hill to climb in the near-term, I wonder if such a curriculum might be adaptable for a smartphone/tablet app, which could be tailored to age, and even customized to individual learners?  It might also permit development of community among kids (and their parents).  If this idea interests you at all, would love to brainstorm more with you!

Photo of Sue Kemple
Team

Ken, you address a key challenge - finding the will and support to implement such a program in schools. Your idea could be a great starting point for building a supportive community among kids, particularly those who are directly affected by death and loss. 

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Heather, Ken Rosenfeld , Sue Kemple 
Might another approach be to incorporate conversations into the curriculum now, perhaps tweaking lesson plans in order to bring this topic into classrooms?   Might there be opportunities to discuss death, and end of life, as part of discussion of a particular novel in a literature class, or in a world history class studying different cultural traditions, a music class talking about New Orleans jazz funerals etc.?  The idea of bringing this into the humanities and arts in various ways appeals to me as a way to engage children in a conversation in an organic way, as part of stories, or part of a study of different cultural traditions, part of life.  Might an app or website be built to share ideas along these lines for educators?  Thoughts?

I was also thinking about rituals that exist for young children in school around birthdays.  I know there are some classrooms in elementary schools that celebrate birthdays as a group, all  June birthdays on one day together, for example.  What if there were days designated to celebrate the memory of a loved one, person,  or pet - that has passed away?  Might this be a way to bring stories of life and end of life into a classroom for younger children?  Might parents be invited and want to come in and participate as they do on birthdays bringing snacks, cupcakes?

Looking forward to watching this idea build! 

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld
Team

I really like the idea of bringing death rituals and discussions into the overall classroom environment.  My kids (kindergarten and 1st grade) have birthday celebrations for each of the kids' special days each year.  What would it look like if each child (with parent(s), perhaps) were invited to celebrate a loved one (human, pet, or other) who'd died, with story-sharing and cupcakes to honor them.  A "memory board" of photos could build a collective shrine to the dead within the classroom, reinforcing the way in which those we've lost continue to influence our communities.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

I like the idea as well.  I think it should parallel the birthday approach, and parents should be welcomed, at least for young children.  I like the idea of doing it in groups - maybe sitting in a circle and each person remembering something about the person/pet - and maybe sharing something special that is part of their memories - photo, object, joke, secret handshake …. whatever. I feel like it might be comforting for kids to do this in a group where a few people share on the same day.  If some children are friendly outside of the classroom they may also know this person/pet which would be very nice.  
One constraint may be any aspect of religious discussion.  Some may naturally bring up topics like angels or heaven, or other religious associations.  I think this is important to think about.  How might this be handled?  

Photo of Chris Lee
Team

Hi Heather,

I love the idea of normalizing death by including it as a topic so important that is actually taught in school.  The four Rs: Reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic and repose. :P

One part of teaching this in school that I fear is forcing this as a topic which then the students end up resenting. If it is forced upon them as another topic they have to learn then they do it, take the test on it and then they can forget it.

I like the idea of treating death like birth in order to create a healthier relationship with it. I know many cultures have days dedicated to death (e.g. Mexican Day of the Dead, Japanese O-bon, etc). Teaching more about those and asking students to adapt those ideas to their own life could be helpful. As long as it is sustained and relevant it would help.

Photo of Elaine Glass
Team

I especially like celebrating the death of persons or pets on one day a month and sharing stories about them and serving snacks. This is a VERY good idea!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Elaine.
Great!  I think it might be comforting to have it "built into the calendar" as young children thrive on structure.   I wonder if adding drawing as they tell stories might also be nice?
What do you all think?

Photo of Elaine Glass
Team

I think drawing would be fun for some, but I would not make it mandatory as some kids don't like to draw. Also, maybe adult or high school teen volunteers could be present that day at school and could audio record the stories and then type them up and the kids could take them home to parents and/or they could be kept in a book at school? Perhaps some high school arts class teens could draw a picture on the typed up story along with the child who told the story? Just thinking off the top of my head.

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Hi Ken - what a great idea! Yes definitely interested!! I would love to discuss this idea further!!! Thank you!

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Hi Bettina - I LOVE the idea of making a school celebration of lost loved ones especially at the elementary level! Fabulous idea!!! Thank you!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Great!  
It seems from your comments that you plan to actively work on a program and try to implement it.  Exciting!  Good luck building it.  Please post any developments so we can follow your progress!

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Yes! I am in the early stages... but think I will be able to begin something at the high school where I teach. I am probably going to start by creating a unit of study to be added to a current class. I will create a web site for the project & post when in prototype stage of the design process....

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

What class are you thinking about creating the unit for?  (I really like the idea of bringing this into classes already in the curriculum.)  

Photo of Sue Kemple
Team

Heather, I absolutely love this idea and would be thrilled to see if I could contribute to any efforts toward developing a curriculum and exploring ways to bring this kind of work and counseling into schools. I'm a former school principal and know that we spend entirely too much time in schools focused on things of very temporary importance (if they're even important at all), and often no time on the things that are the most important. Death avoidance in our culture leads to so many ills, and if we could address this in schools, we'd make some headway on positively impacting our society. I will be following this - thanks so much for sharing!

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Hi sue- I would love to work with you! I intend to pursue this idea & begin something soon! Perhaps even a prototype next school year. I'm sure your experience as a principal would be very helpful! Thank you! & I look forward to working with you!

Photo of Shiwen Yi
Team

Hi Heather, I can not agree anymore that your grandmother thinks everyone should embrace death as a part of our life. Also, I love the idea about redesign the education system or including a program that teachs student what is death and how we can accept it naturaly.
From my own experiences, i have leant a lot about death from my biology class in high school. I always remenber one thing my teacher told us : The old lives have to die in order to make space for new lives. I reckon Biology really explains what is life in terms of death and renewing from a scientific and macroscopic way , which makes young students more easier and ratioanl to think about death.  Another subject that also already in our compulsory education and playing a key role in understaning death is history .  History teachs us how to seeing the things in a mraco perspective based on thousands of years history of the world evolution.
I think adding some changes in these two subjects would be most achiveable and effective way to reform the current education system to help students get better understanding of death.
Besides, we can include some philosopy discussion and reading or debating activies in school.
Hope it was helpful:)

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Thank you! & yes:)

Photo of Rohena Round
Team

Thanks for sharing your story and also your suggestion ,Heather. Your grandmother sounds amazing...and what an extraordinary experience to have death modeled so well. I wonder whether schools would be able to teach this topic without permission from parents as many parents and families would have different perspectives depending on their religious and cultural traditions and beliefs? 

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Hi Rohena - I'm thinking that the approach would not be religious... Instead giving information about death & dying that is age appropriate. I think it could be designed in a way that is acceptable. Thank you for your input & I understand your concern!

Photo of Morgan Meinel
Team

Heather, thank you so much for sharing your ideas and personal story here. You are a true testament to the positive benefits of embracing the death experience as a natural part of life, and ultimately being in a place to help others because of it. I'm so glad your grandmother was able to provide you with such a profound and beautiful experience. 

I absolutely love the idea of integrating death awareness into our education system. If we could normalize death and dying from a young age and allow children to embrace it as a natural part of life, the entire trajectory of how our future generations and society perceive mortality could be changed for the better! Imagine that? Wow. 

There are so many fantastic ideas presented here - from integrating death and dying into already existing subjects to end of life rituals/memorials in a classroom setting. Teachers have the ability to provide a supportive and safe environment that could really allow our younger generation to embrace mortality in a natural way. This could truly have profound benefits on the way death and dying are viewed in future years to come - ultimately allowing people to have less fear, worry, and anxiety surrounding death and live a meaningful and full life. 

I look forward to seeing how your ideas and contributions to this challenge manifest. Thanks so much for sharing. 

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Thank you Morgan! My intent is to change public education before I leave here:) I see a desperate need to "humanize" our current education system! Our current system that focuses on test scores instead of people is becoming quickly antiquated. It's time to revolutionize our public education system & this is one way to begin the ball rolling! Thank you for your feedback! 

Photo of Nancy Shapiro Rapport
Team

Lovely idea, Heather. Kids learn about dying and grief whether we teach it in school or not; I like the idea of giving ALL kids an opportunity to learn how to embrace death as a natural part of life. When critical incidents (suicide, unexpected death, expected death after a long illness, etc) hit schools, there would potentially be a framework for managing the grief.

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Thank you Nancy! I'm interested in pursuing this & am in the early stages of researching what this could look like in school! I appreciate your feedback! 

Photo of Chris Lee
Team

Ned Buskirk pointed me to an inspiration item from Claudia Biçen - Thoughts in Passing . 
Building up some curriculum which uses examples like this to critically consider the values and goals promoted in media, especially in advertising, vs what people really think is important when dying might be an interesting topic area.
It becomes less a biological or psychological study of death and more a philosophical lesson on what it means to live. 

Photo of Claudia Biçen
Team

Hi Chris, I actually have just started running school workshops using my project as the material. I have done these with 12 and 13 years olds in the UK and with 15 and 16 year olds in Oregon so far. The workshops are a combination of the videos from the project along with group discussion and personal works for the students. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from both students and teachers.

Photo of Ned Buskirk
Team

Chris Lee & Claudia Biçen ... Awesome.

Photo of Chris Lee
Team

Claudia Biçen I'm trying to figure out how to type uproarious applause. :)

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Thank you Chris! I investigated the "thoughts in passing" piece... Definitely helpful! 

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Hi Claudia - I'd love to discuss what you are doing & possibly work with you! Let me know if you are interested... 

Photo of Bahenda Joseph
Team

Fascinating!  I was wondering however whether death is part of life or not because dead people do not have life. Death is part of life when an individual is not yet dead. Death is also part of life of the survivors. You can also go further and include the private schools. Only, the question is: how will your subject be diffrent from psychology, biological aging, or the conception of death by some religions [ eternal life or punishment]?

Photo of heather kelly
Team

Tim this is also inspired by your family. Our conversation tonight & Kate's life brought this idea to life. My thoughts are with you & her. 
-best heather