Conferences & Workshops

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Empowering Students to Make School Meaningful

Date: Thursday - December 01, 2016
Time: All Day
Location: Mohonk Mountain House

Mohonk Mountain House
New Paltz, NY
Phone 845-255-1000
Thursday Dec. 1 - Friday Dec. 2, 2016
Speakers: Lauren Porosoff and Jonathan Weinstein

Empowering Students to Make School Meaningful

This 2-day residential workshop is for teachers and administrators of all grades. Participants will create a supportive network of professionals who can work together to create more meaningful relationships between school and student.

Even in excellent independent  schools, students get told to sit down, be quiet, and do what the teacher says. Behavior scientists would call school an “aversive,” and like other aversives, school is something students do their best to avoid – even when they’re in the building. Putting heads on desks, looking at the clock, texting, whispering, skipping assignments, skipping class, doodling, groaning, complaining, doing minimal work…the list of behaviors that students use to avoid school is depressingly long.

Teachers tend to respond to acts of avoidance in one of two ways. One way is to alter the consequences. Punishing the behaviors (with low grades, detentions, “talks”) might work in a specific context but also makes school more aversive. Another way teachers respond to avoidance behaviors is to alter the antecedents: they create a more pleasant learning environment with active lessons, learning games, stretch breaks, fun projects, smiles, jokes, inspirational speeches, and whatever other tricks they’ve picked up. Teachers have the responsibility to make class engaging but aren’t always equipped to do so, and even a brilliant teacher in a well-resourced school will struggle to engage all students at all times. Is there a different way to respond to student avoidance?

Contextual Behavioral Science (CBS) proceeds from the assumption that behavior is best understood in functional relation to its context. The context of behavior includes biological, social, and cultural influences; developmental and learning history; and the person’s current psychological and physical environment. At school, students may have little control over most elements of their context, but even if they can’t necessarily change what school is, they can change what school means.

In this 2-day residential workshop, participants will experientially learn activities that empower students to change the psychological context of school – by making it a place where they clarify what makes their lives meaningful, notice and pursue opportunities to make schoolwork meaningful, and handle the inevitable struggles associated with meaningful behavior change. After each activity, we’ll discuss ideas for how to follow up, create variations to match students’ needs and backgrounds, and address challenges. We’ll also explore how teachers can turn academic assignments and one-on-one interactions into contexts for students to discover meaning and vitality at school.


(All Sessions in the Main Parlor; All meals in East Dining Room)

Day 1: Finding Meaning in School

9:30 - 10:00

Arrival and Registration


What makes our lives meaningful?

Shape of My Life: artistically representing the relative importance of different valued domains


What makes learning meaningful?

Significant Moments in My Life as a Learner: making and discussing timelines of important learning events




What would it look like to live meaningfully at school?

Grading Classes: defining what makes school meaningful, assessing classes based on these criteria, and noticing how to make school more meaningful

Values Origami: making fortune-tellers that show how values aren’t things but qualities of action that make life meaningful


How can students make their academic experiences meaningful?

Behavior Brainstorm: collaboratively generating ideas for behaviors that serve values and committing to one behavior

Focus Stickers: making icons to represent values-congruent action and using them as visual cues to do that action

Help-Seeking: reading case studies about students who would benefit from help, connecting help-seeking to values, and sending a help-seeking email


Free time, settle in room


Cocktails and Dinner

Day 2: Making School Meaningful for Students




How can I create curriculum that will give students opportunities to do work they find meaningful?

Curriculum Design Challenges: designing academic tasks that students will find more meaningful

Curriculum Design Charrette: collaboratively refining the task to increase the potential for student engagement




How can students develop the willingness to do meaningful work, even when it’s hard?

Passengers on the Bus: overcoming thoughts and feelings that can get in the way of values-consistent action by imagining them as passengers on a bus

Singing Shoulds: relating more flexibly to messages about what we should feel, do, or be

On Your Plate: imagining struggles as foods to be savored, altered, or left uneaten


How can I activate students’ values through my interactions with them?

Practicing ways to use open-ended questions to help students assess workability and activate behavior change



Lauren Porosoff has been teaching for 16 years and consults on curriculum design and professional development. She is the author of Curriculum at Your Core: Meaningful Teaching in the Age of Standards (Rowman & Littlefield 2014), a guide to designing curriculum beginning with values clarification. She has written for AMLE Magazine, Independent School, Kappan, Rethinking Schools, and Teaching Tolerance about how students and teachers can contact and commit to their values at school.

Jonathan Weinstein, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to working with veterans, he was an early contributor to the Mississippi Center for Contextual Psychology at the University of Mississippi. He participated in the development of Relational Frame Theory and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy during his graduate training. He has presented at multiple international and regional conferences on topics relating to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in groups.

Lauren and Jonathan are currently working on a new book about how teachers can empower students to make school meaningful. They have led many sold-out workshops for NYSAIS

Public Transportation - Easiest is bus from Port Authority with a short cab ride to Mohonk. 7:00 am departure on Thursday will get you to Mohonk just in time for the first  session.

Or Metro North to Poughkeepsie, with long cab ride to Mohonk. The 7:19 from Grand Central will get you to Mohonk jsut in time for the first session.

Registration is a 2-part process. Be sure to do both. Registration open in the Fall, 2016. 

1. Reserve your room with Mohonk using one of the following:
Click here: Mohonk Residential Reservation Form for room and all meals.
Click here: Mohonk Day Guest Reservation Form (Meals Only)
Reserve by phone: 800-772-6646
Need car service? Please give the Mohonk 24 hours notice, or call a local taxi.

2. Registration and Credit Card Payment*

Regular Registration Fees apply within 2 weeks of the event
    •    NYSAIS Members - $335.00
    •    Non-members - $370.00

Early Discount of $30.00 will apply until 2 weeks before the event
Late Fee of $20.00will apply within 2 days of the event.

Questions about registration? Email

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