Zach Morris on Whole-Person Learning and Differently Wired Students

gender nonconformity kids

​This week I’m talking with Zach Morris, the executive director and development of curriculum and instruction at LEARN Inc. LEARN Inc. is an non-for-profit school in Missoula, Montana in the United States which is approaching education in a thoughtful and alternative way, and with powerful results, especially for their neurodivergent students, which make up to 75% of the student body. Their mission is to facilitate individualized learning opportunities that honor neurodivergence, encourage social collaboration, and foster whole-person growth. And as a result, the kids at LEARN are getting the opportunity to develop with confidence and feeling seen for who they are.

I know that this education piece—figuring out how to help our child develop a love of learning and reach their full potential—is one of the most challenging pieces of raising differently wired kids, and I just have to say that talking with Zach left me feeling inspired, hopeful, and motivated. Zach believes there is a different way, and he’s doing his part to push the needle forward. Together we talk about the the philosophy of nonviolent communication, what can happen for our kids when we practice compassion with them, and how parents like us can bring some of Zach’s philosophy into our lives to support our kids. This was one of those mind = blown conversations for me. I hope you like it.


About Zach Morris

Zachary Morris M.Ed is a leader in education. Serving as executive director and development of curriculum and instruction since LEARN inc.’s inception, he is committed to the cultivation of a thriving student-centered learning community built on compassion. Zach holds a Montana State educators license, he is HANDLE level 1&2 certified, and he is an active pursuant of Non-Violent Communication practices. His current research targets neurodiversity and learning.


Things you’ll learn from this episode

  • What it looks like when education is grounded in compassion and the principles of nonviolent communication, ecological literacy, and whole person learning (social, emotional, physiological, and academic)
  • Why Zach believes the key to education is individualization and diversity within the system
  • How a child can be shifted from feeling they do everything wrong to feeling like they can are heard and can contribute
  • How Zach helps a child with PTSD from their previous educational experiences recover
  • How parents can incorporate Zach’s philosophy into their daily lives
  • Why Zach believes that we have choice in everything


Resources mentioned for whole-person learning


Episode Transcript

Zach Morris  00:00

I have students coming to me that are in elementary school having been diagnosed with PTSD from their educational experiences. I have students in elementary school that have been kicked out of all of their learning facilities or have refused to go to school. And now I’m seeing those same students talk about our school through the terms of we, I’m seeing these students come and propose project ideas. I’m seeing these students become leaders really for themselves in their peers.

Debbie Reber  00:32

Welcome to the Tilt Parenting podcast, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing, and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber and today I’m talking with Zack Morris, the Executive Director and Director of Development in Curriculum and Instruction at Learn Inc. Learn Inc. is a not-for-profit school in Missoula, Montana in the US, and it’s approaching education in a thoughtful and alternative way. And with powerful results. I know that this education piece, figuring out how to help our child develop a love of learning and reach their full potential is one of the most challenging pieces of raising differently wired kids. And I just have to say that talking with Zach left me feeling inspired, hopeful, and motivated. Zach believes there is a different way, and he’s doing his part to push the needle forward. Together, we talk about the philosophy of nonviolent communication, what can happen for our kids when we practice compassion with them, and how parents like us can bring some of Zach’s philosophy into our lives to support our kids. This was one of those mind equal blown conversations for me, I hope you like it. And before we get started, I wanted to invite you to join over 600 other parents and take part in our free virtual differently wired seven-day challenge. Every day for seven days, you’ll get a short video delivered to your inbox featuring a practical shift you can make in your world to help you have a more positive and optimistic experience and parenting your unique kid. You’ll also be invited to join a private Facebook group with other parents who have participated in the challenge. We’ve heard from parents that the challenge has made an immediate difference in their day-to-day life. And that’s great news because that’s exactly why we created it. To sign up and get started right away, visit And now I’ll get on with the show. Hey, Zack, welcome to the podcast. Thanks,

Zach Morris  02:34

Debbie. Nice to be here.

Debbie Reber  02:36

Nice to have you on. We had a really interesting conversation last week. And I was furiously taking notes as we’ve talked about all this stuff. So I’m really excited to bring our listeners in on the conversation. So as a way to get started, would you mind just telling us a little bit about who you are and what you’re doing? And through your school?

Zach Morris  02:58

Yeah, well, my name is Zack Morris. And I am a learner. And that’s, that’s really how I see myself. And I think that poises me in a space to be an educator, and mostly being what I see an educator being is a model learner. And so I started a school called Learn Inc, that’s, that’s built on some platforms of compassion and, and whole person learning. I’m really passionate about all of the needs and opportunities within education, sort of beyond academics. And we can get into that a little bit more. But I’m based in Missoula, Montana, and ultimately just trying to change the paradigm of education, empower people in their autonomy, and their choice in their learning and want to spread that to as many people as possible.

Debbie Reber  03:47

Well, hopefully, this podcast will help get your message out to more people. But obviously, I mean, just in that introduction, you touched upon so many things that are in complete alignment with what we’re doing until parenting and what we hope to do, which is shifting the parenting paradigm about how difference is perceived and experienced by parents so that you so that differently wired kids can experience their lives more fully and feel more confident and peace in who they are. So there’s a lot of alignment here. And so it was actually another guest on the podcast, Dr. Melissa Neff, who connected me with you. And she said, you have to check out what this guy’s doing in education. And I went to your website for your school, and I was blown away by the model. And I said, I have to have you on the show. So can you tell us a little bit about your school and what it actually looks like?

Zach Morris  04:40

Yeah, so the model is grounded. You know, above all, I say it’s grounded in compassion, because I think compassion sort of spills over into these other platforms that the model is really based in. And so in regard to compassion, a huge pillar that we stand on is nonviolent communication a practice pioneered by Marshall Rosenberg, I really encourage people to check that out, he’s got a slew of books, I’d say start with the Speak Peace in a World of Conflict or  Language of Life, I just can’t speak enough about that language practice. And I really see it as a lens for observing the world and interacting with people. And so compassion is a huge part of the model. And within that, and again, I think sort of taking its place within all of these other aspects is, we’re really grounded in ecological literacy, which is essentially a system thinking based approach, really passionate about whole person learning. And so we like to address the social, emotional, physiological, and academic needs of a student and their learning opportunities. And it really also kind of getting grounded in a Socratic approach. You know, I think that’s where I started to pull a lot from initially was, how can we provide students with an opportunity to learn how to learn as opposed to just learning what to learn? And I think that’s really what we’re always coming back to, is, it’s so much more about giving students opportunities to cultivate their thinking skills. And that kind of even comes back to a lot of Piaget, sort of theory and practice and things like that, as adopting a practice of helping individuals develop their thinking skills, and thinking goes so far beyond language, you know, thinking is really this multifaceted action that we take for, for self-regulation, I think, you know, it’s a way that we, we make sense of the world around us. It’s the way that we plan. It’s the way that we set intentions. And so, so really, just helping students think critically, creatively tap into their divergence, and really uncover the uniqueness within themselves so that they can contribute that to the rest of the world.

Debbie Reber  07:01

Well, first of all, before we get deeper into your school, why did you do this? Like what is your personal why for creating this school? It’s clear from just the way you introduced, the model that you’re creating in your school that you’re super passionate about this. And this is part of who you are. But can you tell us a little bit about how that is?

Zach Morris  07:23

Yeah, I think I think I experienced such a fruitful support system growing up support for me, manifesting me with perspective, from healthy models outside of me and all those things, but ultimately provided a platform to uncover myself and decide for myself, and with the hope, I think, from people around me that that was going to start to align with things that were sustainable, sustainable, socially, sustainable, emotionally, sort of sort of all of those things. And so, as I got into, you know, my adult life and started getting into my professional life, and really feeling drawn to education, and learning, and just was so tapped into my curiosity at that point, and just wanting to grow just this sort of incessant desire to expand, I started getting into the education realm, and very quickly experienced that I didn’t see students having this level of support to uncover themselves. And so I saw a lot of manifestations within students that looked like apathy that looked like pain that looked like shame. And I needed to be part of something different. And so I ultimately set out to create a learning community where students wanted to be, and that was sort of the reductionist intention I think was how can school be a place where given the choice, students would choose to come? And it all sort of started to blossom out of their hair and just sort of germinate all of these other ideas of like, well, what does that include? What does that look like? What would entice someone to want to be part of their own learning to become an active participant? You know, I think that’s where it came out of a lot to was seeing that I think a lot of students were at least in the traditional models that I was a part of. Earlier in my career, students were really engaged in education on this passive level, it was sort of come to this defined class that’s been settled for you get this information. Here’s our to do list that I’ve set out for you, and really this passive experience. And so when it came down to time for a student to be an active participant, they almost didn’t know how, because they hadn’t had a lot of practice. And now I was teaching English literature and writing early on and in secondary schools and middle schools. And so a lot of my work was helping students tap into their creativity and their divergence and all that and I was, I was seeing not a lot of Spark and I wanted to reignite that flame for students.

Debbie Reber  09:58

So cool, and I love you know, just the first word you mentioned when you were describing your school is the word compassion. And it’s just not a word that you often see paired with education. What does that actually look like in your school?

Zach Morris  10:14

I think it looks like honoring neurodiversity. And this is a term that that I use, and, you know, I think aligns with the way you talk about differently wired kids and, and things like that. And I see neurodiversity as the recognition of human variation. And so I see neurodiversity as a web that we all exist somewhere on. And so creating a platform where students are met with an approach of compassion met with a model of compassion, I think it necessitates honoring the neuro diverse experiences of individuals. In honoring this looks like an understanding woven into everything that we’re doing with students that says, you are valuable, you have unique needs and experiences. And you can contribute to individual and collective wellbeing, if you have what you need to navigate that. And so it looks different for all students. And I think that’s the key to education is individualization and diversity within that

Debbie Reber  11:24

Is that difficult to do. I mean, I’ve had a guest on the show, we were talking about twice exceptional education. And she was saying that there really are so few options for kids in terms of a traditional school, or just any school setting other than homeschooling, because the needs are so diverse in terms of what they need support in and what that looks like. So is it difficult to meet all those needs,

Zach Morris  11:49

It is, depending on the structure that is set up, you know, it doesn’t, it doesn’t feel so difficult in the structure that we’ve created at learning. However, it felt extremely difficult when I was in some other more traditional sort of settings. And I think the two biggest things that can create challenge for that and can create challenge for you know, teachers, even within the traditional model that are trying to create these environments is that it takes an extreme amount of resources, and it takes an extreme amount of patience. And for any parent that has tried to create this type of setting an environment within their own family, you know, they know that to be true as well is that the patients that we have to tap into the pace, the time to, to be able to truly meet someone where they are, and not just demand compliance, but instead be able to facilitate critical thinking and navigation within conflicts within dysregulation with all of that, it, it’s hard to do, if we’re all working towards the same thing today, supposed to be doing it at the same pace, you know, and so I see learning to include really unique processes for students. It includes varying paces; it includes diverse methods of demonstration. And that’s a key that we tap into here is that there are so many ways that you can show what you’ve learned. And that’s going to happen at a different pace. And that’s going to happen at a different process than perhaps anybody else who’s standing next to you. And so it’s really meeting the students where they are. But that takes smaller student teacher ratios, perhaps that takes more time for teachers to be able to cultivate what their students are even working on, you know, if we are talking about, by the end of this grade, everyone in this class is going to be at this level of success in these areas. I think we’re going to see lots of breakdown for students.

Debbie Reber  13:56

The model sounds so amazing. And I asked you this when I first talked with you, when is the Amsterdam branch opening? But when you describe all of this, I have so many like, yes, of course moments. And it makes me just think, what is the point of education? I mean, what you’re describing makes so much sense. And in meeting student’s needs, and really creating lifelong learners and creating confident humans who know their strengths and their weaknesses. And they know how to kind of create the life that they want. And then you think about a more traditional model where like you said, everyone has to end up at the same place at the same time. And it’s really about pushing kids through this system. And it really makes you wonder what is even the point of that other than it being a place for kids to spend time.

Zach Morris  14:44

Right. And I think that’s where education can really fall into creating productivity and that productivity being singularly defined. And that’s an idea that I want to challenge as well and to say, you know, what is productivity? What are we trying to be productive in? That’s something I’m asking students all the time, you know, I’ve had students, especially secondary students that have maybe gone through a traditional model up until joining us. And this, this idea of actively leading your own education and in sort of being met with compassion, and honoring all these things, it’s foreign to them, and kind of unsure what to do with it and how to proceed and, and so I can see them go into these places of, of self-shame, when they perceive that they’re not living up to the standards of productivity that have been defined for them by the adult world. So I’m trying to remind students all the time of like, well, what are we trying to be productive in right now? You know, are you? Are you needing rest? Because if you need rest, and the actions you’re taking, are not providing you with restful opportunities, then are you being productive? You know, but I think being productive and rest is not something that currently the culture that I experience really ceases as valuable, you know, but I want to kind of extend that idea of what we’re trying to be productive in. And I think it’s, it includes a lot more aspects than perhaps the typical Monday through Friday school schedule, addresses.

Debbie Reber  16:16

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s really about questioning everything, questioning all these kinds of assumptions we have about what schools should look like, and what a student should be able to do, you know, stand up in front of a class and deliver this talk, or, you know, there are these kind of markers that even those of us who, you know, I’m homeschooling my son, and I still find myself butting up against these ideas that I have of these markers he needs to reach or these milestones he needs to reach in order for me to have been a successful teacher and for him to be successful, and they’re really based on not great information, you know,

Zach Morris  16:54

Right? Well, and it takes such a heightened awareness to be able to sort of step back from that and look at that and say, “Is this aligning with what our mission is?”, or “Is this aligning with what we’ve set out is is serving for us right now?” or “What we’re working towards”. And so even myself, I need to peel back from myself a little bit, sometimes in and look at what I’m trying to do, because I was raised in a traditional educational model. And so I can even see myself slip into some of those ideas, sometimes that are serving, sometimes not serving sometimes, but I really have to have to check in constantly. And so I think, for me, the in what I’ve what I’ve seen in, in my direct research, and in my indirect research, is that self-reflection is really the goal of education and learning, I think, because in self-reflection, is where we learn, you know, it’s where were we determine if what we’ve engaged worked for us and worked for those outside of us. And we need to be taught how to go through that self-reflective process. And again, that pace, that pace looks so different, to be able to go through that it necessitates failure and necessitates perhaps doing something, you know, quote, unquote, the wrong way, which I don’t even sort of ascribe to that that right or wrong, you know, us versus them sort of mentality. But we need to be able to go through those processes and reflect with other people and really think about, is this aligning with what I’m trying to do for myself? And for those outside of me. And that’s a question I think people aren’t necessarily given the opportunity to ask themselves a lot. Yeah. And so I see learning as really having this, this huge exploration phase. And within that exploration phase, we have a multitude of experiences. And through those experiences, that’s when we can reflect on it, and adapt. And then we kind of start that process all over again, you know, so I really see learning as this cyclical experience that sometimes ebbs and flows in a big circle. And sometimes it’s a micro circle, you know, we might go through that explore, experience, reflect, adapt scenario, in a matter of 30 seconds, sometimes we go through that process in the course of a day or a week or a year or an entire lifetime. And so I think helping students see the value of exploring, experiencing, and reflecting on their experience, so that they can choose in the next moment, how they want to respond, how they want to pursue. I think that’s really where the fruits of learning reside.

Debbie Reber  19:34

You know, I wrote down the word curiosity as you were talking, and it seems, you know, like it really is helping students adopt a curiosity mindset. What does that look like? You know, you mentioned you have students who transfer into the school who don’t really know how to even begin and I’m wondering if there’s even kind of like a detox period or you know, an unschooling period that has to happen. So what Is that transition like,

Zach Morris  20:01

Yeah, we talked about that a lot around here and how students initially really need a healing opportunity, you know, and again, that pace in that process looks so different for all individuals. But that looks like space, I think. And that looks like time. And that looks like kind of peeling back as an educator and as an adult in this person’s life, trying to support them, peeling back what my vision is for them, and what I want them to be doing and what I want them to be engaging in, and instead creating the space for them to even begin thinking about that. And as what I found that as students start to think about that, that’s perhaps really overwhelming, to then all of a sudden have the opportunity to choose to have a say in what they want to do, and then not knowing what that is, that’s incredibly overwhelming, that perhaps is just as much shame producing and pain producing as as other experiences. And so that, you know, detox period, that healing period, that rewiring period, no, that’s sort of how we talk about it around here. Is it really a time for them to rewire and start to build some new understandings of what is education? You know, that’s sort of the question I’m asking students a lot when they’re counting is what, what is even education? You know, what is school? You’re often indirectly asking them that question but trying to help them consider that it even could be something different than they’ve possibly chalked it up to be as there, as they’re coming to us. And so, in the beginning, that might look like a huge period of rest, that might look like habituations of sorts, you know, I feel in this world of devices, I see that it really starts to take shape in the beginning for students. And instead of meeting students with Hey, this is what you’re supposed to be doing or here’s what success looks like in this environment. It’s instead helping them build that for themselves and determine that for themselves. And ultimately, I see it reignite a lot of flame and reignite a lot of curiosity. And, and it really just starts with relationship building, you know, so if I can kind of come back to the start of what you’re talking about, it looks like cultivating relationship, it looks like meeting them with someone they can hopefully trust they can develop rapport with. And so that when we get to that point of learning that necessitates external challenge, you know, we all need to be challenged by people outside of us. But that challenge needs to feel like a supportive approach and action, as opposed to an attacking sort of action and approach, which I think is what happens when we feel challenged, but we don’t have a sustainable relationship with that force that is challenging us.

Debbie Reber  22:47

I’m curious to know more about the student body. So I think when we talked last week, I asked you what percentage of kids were neurodiverse? And did you say around 75%?

Zach Morris  22:57

Yeah, and you know, and I kind of would even extrapolate that to say to say, 100%, because even within that, that definition of neurodiversity, I would include the neurotypical, you know, because even someone that we would, quote unquote, deem neurotypical, I think is bringing, they’re bringing all sorts of their own experience, all their thinking patterns, their pain, their trauma, in whatever capacity that is. And so I think we need to include everybody on that web. And in that umbrella, you know, but when it comes to sort of traditional diagnoses, and things like that, yeah, we’re functioning at about 75% of students who fall into that category.

Debbie Reber  23:33

Did you realize when you started the school, I mean, was that part of your intention was to support that particular population differently wired kids, or was that kind of who was attracted to the work that you’re doing?

Zach Morris  23:47

It’s the people that just showed up, it definitely wasn’t the intention. Again, I think I got into this with a very, very simple goal, which was just to help students feel more alive and more connected and engaged with their educational platforms. And so that’s, that’s just who happened to be coming to me. And that’s who continues to come to me. And ultimately, what I’m, who I’m seeing, is just not being served by the traditional models that, you know, at least exist around me here in Missoula, Montana.

Debbie Reber  24:19

I’m just curious about the transformation. Once students go through this kind of rewiring periods or the the detox period, you know, tell us a little bit about maybe an example of a student who just is thriving after being seen for who they are and being taught on their own timeline or being you know, I don’t know if he even taught is the right word, but you know, being supported to go through their education in a way that really meets their needs. What what’s possible when you do that,

Zach Morris  24:48

I think everything is possible, truly, I’ve seen so many different manifestations. The common one is simply engagement and engagement with themselves. engagement with those outside of them. And so there’s a student at our school who came to us a couple years ago in high schools or sort of started in high school, but didn’t have a lot of vision or hope, I think that they were going to be able to finish and sort of go through this process. So in initially coming to us, the attendance schedule was set quite low. And it was just going to be a small addition into their life scape, and kind of functioning almost as a supportive mentorship opportunity. Again, just real relationship cultivation. And even within that minimal schedule, it was so challenging for the student to just show up and even come through the door, because this student had so many ideas, and so many past experiences of what education was and what school looks like, and what was going to happen if this happened. And what would be the fallout of that. And so, so there was all of this anxiety and fear, even just walking through the door, knowing this place was an educational environment. And in all the previous domains that the student had existed in with this manifestation of sort of just not showing up, he was always asked to leave. And it was communicated that well, if you can’t be here, then you can’t be here. And we took a very different approach and said, well, we’re willing to go at any pace, we’re willing to go at any pace that you need, because that’s what we do around here. And so because that never happened, because he was able to not show up, and you know, maybe show up the next week and not be there and miss and be sick and all of these things happening. And it never resulted in, hey, you can’t be here anymore. And it never resulted in, you know, we really, if you can’t, if you can’t show up, then this consequence is going to happen. Because that never happened, it just continued to look like support continued to look like compassion continued to look like that student coming in and being met with all of these approaches for them to uncover themselves. All of a sudden, that’s students started showing up a little bit more, and started showing up a little bit more and a little bit more. And then very quickly, that student asked to be full time. And it has to if you could come every day. And so that simple little shift, you know, which I don’t think we even think of a whole lot with just attendance, that, to me said so much about the transformation that that student had made, that that student had rebuilt in their head, what education was, what education could be, who these adults were in their lives. And I think it was that finally trusting that I’m not going to be shown to be wrong, I’m not going to be shamed. I’m not going to be put in these experiences of pain or being told what I have to focus on right now or what’s important and what’s not important, and instead got to have a really open discourse and dialogue with the adults and facilitators in his life. I think it just opened up for him even what possibilities were and so now there’s so much more exchange, there’s so much more content exploration, there’s so much more social engagement, emotional regulation, it really just transferred formed a whole person, you know, I have a lot of parents that really the way that they describe it is just, I have a different kid. Yeah, you know, and surprise me, that’s, that’s what I see is just a full on transformation, and a shedding of whatever those anxieties and traumas in pain were to really get more to the core of themselves and being able to offer so much more, you know, I have a lot of with this student and other students who have gone through similar experiences, I hear from the parents, it’s so much more fun to hang out together. They contribute so much more to the household; there’s just I can sense the stress that has come off of them. And so I’ve seen that with students, you know, kindergarten through 12 years old, you know, I’ve I have students coming to me that are in elementary school, having been diagnosed with PTSD from their educational experiences I have students in in elementary school that have been kicked out of all of their learning facilities, or have refused to go to school. And now I’m seeing those same students talk about our school through the terms of we, I’m seeing these students come and propose project ideas, I’m seeing these students become leaders really for themselves in their peers.

Debbie Reber  29:22

It’s such a gift to be able to give to these kids. And it’s it’s something, you know, I just hear this and I’m like, Oh my gosh, you know, I just wish I had had that available for my kid and I’m sure there going to be so many people listening who are going to be looking at real estate in Missoula, Montana after this conversation. So a couple of questions, then I mean, from what you just described, so much of that gift is that piece of patience, that piece of really getting rid of any kind of predisposed timeline or idea that we have about what this should look like how long things should take, and it mean that piece of just the attendance like Yeah, that’s huge. And it makes so much sense when you describe it like that. And you know, and I’m a homeschooling parent, and I still get caught up with what we need to finish this by this time, you know, it still had a timeline. And I’m wondering, what are some of the takeaways for parents who can’t relocate and, and whose kids are in a, you know, whether they’re homeschooling actually or if they’re in a traditional school? How can parents’ kind of tap into some of this goodness that you’re, you know, the work that you’re doing with your students and the change that you’re seeing? How can we get a little bit of that in, in our relationships? What do you see the key factors being,

Zach Morris  30:39

I see, one of the key factors being integrating the idea and understanding that we have, we have choice in everything. And this is a foundational component of Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication, I would say, for all families out there, go out and read Marshall Rosenberg books, watch some of his tutorials and workshops on YouTube. It changed my life, I learned more from his work than I did in my entire grad school, in so much of what Marshall Rosenberg tells us is that we always have choice, even if seemingly, we perceive that we don’t have choice. And this is something I’m, I’m empowering parents with, and students with all the time, I often hear people talk about and one of the most common comments I get from individuals who are exploring this paradigm is people come back to Yeah, that sounds great. But ultimately, there are just some things you have to do. And that’s, that’s where I always counter, that’s where I always want to offer a different idea, a different perspective. And I would, I would say there’s, there’s never anything we have to do, we always have choice, we might base those choices on certain perceived repercussions in relation to what our needs are, and what our intentions are. And so we get directed in this choice by our experience in by what we’re trying to manifest for ourselves and for our children, and, but ultimately, at the end, we always get to choose, even if those two choices seem undesirable, we still have a choice. And there’s probably even another choice. Outside of those two choices. There are infinite choices. And so I would encourage parents to really question that half to mindset that we can so easily slip into, and then pass along to our children. You know, I just hear this in, in informal conversations with people, people all the time will talk about that thing they have to do or had to do. And Marshall Rosenberg tells us that everything that needs to be done can be done out of joyful willingness. And that’s something that I truly believe. And so that’s something I’m implementing in my own life. And it’s just changed my experience with the world and with people outside of me as if I’m slipping into this idea that whatever I’m engaging in, or whatever I’m about to engage is a have to, that tells me that I’m not thinking totally clearly about this. And that, that there is more of the picture for me to see because I am choosing, or I’m going to choose to engage this because of other things in my life, because of my needs, because of my wants, my intentions. But I am the guide of that. I’m the captain of my ship, if you will. And I truly believe that. And I think that’s, that can be communicated differently to people, especially in the education realm where it’s so much about the student needs this, and we have to do this. And we have to implement that. Parents are the best advocates for their children in that and we can stand up to the existing structures, if they’re not working for us, or if they don’t align for us. And there’s other options. And so I think those options are endless, and I don’t think it’s even necessarily just will I need this type of learning model, or I need, I need this type of opportunity. I think even just a foundational cognitive shift into the idea that I am an individual with autonomy, and so is my child. And therefore, we can explore beyond perhaps what’s just packaged up for us.

Debbie Reber  34:17

That is so huge. I mean, I totally share your belief that we have choice and everything. And it’s, I believe that deeply and wholeheartedly, and it’s also a really tough one for people who feel, you know, and who feels stuck. I mean, so many parents with differently wired kids, so many parents in general, you know, feel stuck, whether it’s by their mortgage, or whether it’s by you know, this job, or this school, or whatever it is. And so I appreciate you sharing that. That is something I deeply believe, and I do agree that it can be a game changer. And I wasn’t aware of that that idea of joyful willingness was something that Marshall Rosenberg talks about, but I can just see how that just that little, it’s a little thing. But when you start noticing the half twos and the musts and the should, and all the, the need twos and all the all the ways that shows up in our life, it does shift things. So thank you for sharing that.

Zach Morris  35:15

Such a common term in our language is the phrase “I’m sorry”, which I think comes with a really genuine intention, you know, I think I’m sorry, it is such a complex interaction. It’s such a complex phrase, you know, it’s, it’s trying to communicate, hey, I maybe saw this thing didn’t quite turn out in either the way I hoped or the way you hoped. And I feel for you and I, I ultimately want the best for you. And for me, and all those things. And so if I created a scenario or, or helped create a scenario where that didn’t exist, I honor that right. And I perhaps wish it was different or had happened differently. However, on the surface, Marshall Rosenberg talks about this as well. And I think this shows up in a lot of modalities and approaches that I’m sorry, necessitates that we’ve done something wrong. And that slips into subjectivity, the idea of what’s, what’s right and what’s wrong. And in all of the gray’s in between. And so, you know, Marshall Rosenberg says, I’m sorry, is one of the most violent phrases we can use. Because it tells the person outside of us that we have done something wrong, and that we perhaps feel shame. And there’s a lot of languages in the world where I’m sorry, don’t even exist. We don’t even have language for it. Salish being one of those languages, which is a group of Native American people in the area that I am in Montana. And so when I started to explore some of these concepts, that’s what also fed into that lens change. For me, that idea of how quick I am to judge myself based on the way I’ve perhaps perceived others to judge me in does that have basis in reality, or does that not have basis in reality. And so I think, another sort of takeaway for parents that I hope they can connect with, and that we can all connect with is we need community, we need we need support, and that community comes in in many forms, we need to be able to divulge the weight that we’re carrying around, we need to be able to process complex experiences we need to be able to rely on on others to offer us that compassion when we perhaps can’t offer it ourselves. You know, and so in terms of the parent and the child, I think that’s one of the best things that we can offer to our children that we see young individuals, young children offer to their parents all the time, that sort of unconditional compassion. You know, if you’ve ever seen a toddler, interacting with an adult, when they’ve really perceived that that adult is dysregulated, or having a hard time, it doesn’t matter the details of it, right? It’s just sort of that being with and so that’s something I think we can implement into all of our community structures is how can I be with someone, especially in those moments of conflict, where I can truly just help support the experience. And it’s not about whether that thing that happened was right or wrong, good, or bad? Should have happened or shouldn’t have happened? It’s, here’s where we are, and where are we going from here? And so that’s really where I see interactions between individuals being most fruitful is when it’s, here’s where we are. And where are we going?

Debbie Reber  38:45

That’s such great stuff. You know, I’m going to be downloading Marshall Rosenberg’s books on my Kindle tonight. I admit that it’s not something I know a lot about. And I’m super fascinated by everything you’re talking about, and the implications for just how it could really change what’s happening inside our families and help our children feel better about who they are. I mean, as you were talking about the words, “I’m sorry”, reminded me of a conversation I had with Asher. He apologizes a lot for things. And I’m always saying Sweetie, there’s no need to apologize for that. It’s not, you know, this is something we’re working on. It’s not a big deal, and you didn’t do anything wrong. And we were having this conversation once and he said, well, I think I’m just so used to it because I had to apologize all the time in school. And I was like, say what, like, I had no idea that and he’s like, Yeah, every time you know, I got out of my seat and I wasn’t supposed to or I touch something I wasn’t supposed to I blurt it out and I wasn’t supposed to you know, he was having to apologize and that’s so ingrained in him now and it really does impact how he feels about himself.

Zach Morris  39:52

Absolutely. And I too have seen that same experience of the adult world demanding that someone communicate that there sorry, in a given situation. And I just think the complexities are so much greater for that. So, you know, I have a challenge for you and for all parents out there as I’m trying to come up with a new word, to communicate that that complex articulation that I think we’re all trying to say when we say I’m sorry, because I don’t think any of us are actually trying to say that I feel bad about who I am and what I’ve done. But I think that’s so often what that term “I’m sorry”, communicates. And now like you’ve said, it’s so ingrained, it’s so patterned in that way, I want to find a new term that communicates that shared experience that shared, I connect with you. And I hope that you can connect with me in sort of, you know, what we’re what’s happening right here. And I kind of mentioned Piaget in the beginning. And there’s a book that has also been integral in so much of my study and practice, and that book is called Thinking Goes to School, sort of the short title for that is PJ’s theory and practice. And what is talked about in there is that thinking goes so beyond language. And so we’ve become such a verbal culture, such a textual culture, we’re trying to put all of this experience in all of these energies in all of our interactions into language. And, and some of us are perhaps very skilled in those areas, and able to read those nuances and in between the lines and things like that. But that’s not everybody, and thinking goes so far beyond language. And so how can we take our interactions beyond language, and that’s where I sort of see this, this being with approach, that’s where I see us really needing to develop structures that our power with instead of power over, so that we can truly feel compassion in that way, you know, I just always come back to this, this platform for compassion, pouring everything through the strainer of compassion, because if we want to learn, we need to have compassion for ideas that are outside of us, we need to have compassion for people that are outside of us when we need to have compassion for ourselves. And if we can’t have compassion for ourselves, if we are always falling into that mental experience of I’ve done wrong, or I’ve done bad, or I’ve done something different than I should have done, we’re not giving ourselves compassion, and therefore how can we give anybody outside of us compassion?

Debbie Reber  42:28

Mm hmm. deep thoughts? No, I love this, it’s, it’s great. I think this is going to be one of those episodes that parents are just going to really gravitate towards and be really inspired by and also be checking out all these resources. And by the way, listeners, I will include links to all the books that Zack has mentioned. So you can check them out, I know that I will be as well. And maybe we can all come up with a new word, as you were discussing. You know, Namaste, maybe some twist on Namaste, which is, you know, a similar idea. Yeah, you know, I see the light in you, you see the light in me. But I think it’s so important to, to think about that, and just, again, questioning all of these things. So I’m so excited about the work that you’re doing. I’m so happy that you are in the world doing this. Thank you, Debbie. It’s really inspiring. It’s what we need more of. And again, if you do, if you do decide to franchise, please consider Amsterdam as one of your first satellite locations. Absolutely. So good luck with the school. And please keep us posted. And is there any website or place that you want to send listeners to if they want to learn more about your work?

Zach Morris  43:44

Yeah, if people want to learn more about what’s happening at our school, they can go to And we have all kinds of information on our philosophy up, they’re starting to put up more and more resources that sort of I’ve talked about around here, and hopefully creating even more dialogue around there. I’d love to hear from parents, the challenges that they’re experiencing within education, you know, I’m hearing about it around here and just the people that I’m working directly with, and sort of in all my research, but I’d love to just hear more of those concrete details, sort of what you mentioned earlier is okay, what can people do that, that are perhaps having some of these experiences and I’d love to hear more about that and just create more dialogue and connect people with more support and more resources and more opportunities, because I want people to keep inquiring keep bringing a level of skepticism to what has been deemed as quote unquote, normal or what we should do or how it how it is.

Debbie Reber  44:44

Yeah, as soon as you talked about shifting the paradigm. I was like, I’m i yeah, that’s awesome.

Zach Morris  44:48

Well, thank you so much for having me here. Debbie. I really appreciate it. I’m so excited about what you’re doing with Tilt. I’m telling everybody I know because I think that the biggest thing is: What can we tilt so that it is better? It better serves us and it better serves people outside of us.

Debbie Reber  45:05

Thank you. Thank you so much. 

Zach Morris  45:07

Thanks, Debbie. 

Debbie Reber  45:10

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