Tag Archives: business

How to Be the Best in Your Freshman Year

We are almost half way through the freshman year.  It seemed like just yesterday when students arrived with high hopes and dreams, and a little apprehension. As the weeks progressed, many kids fell into their old study habits.   The old habits work for some; and a few need to change their habits.  In a few more weeks it will be exam time,  and exams are something new to many of the kids. Science teachers will give review packets full of the terms and information they studied all semester.  Math teachers will give hundreds times hundreds of math problems.  History teachers will hand out packets full of questions about who killed whom or what happened in ancient times (when the teacher was a kid).   I will hand out a half sheet of paper that informs kids to use handouts I have already given them or resources they can find on the World Wide Web, which I invented.  (Just reviewing fiction there.)

Besides preparing for exams I have also recognized 5 ways for freshman to succeed:

1. Don’t let fear rule.  It is difficult being a freshman.   You are the new kid, going through changes that can be confusing.  Facing the fear and gaining confidence is the #1 success driver.  Every one of the hundreds of classes I have taught has had a student who started out shy and unsure.  Then, he or she begins to participate in the small groups, gains confidence when others ask for help, and then adds to the whole class discussion.  Too often we think we have to be ready to present an idea to a large group.  Instead, talk to one or two people.  Speak up in a small group assignment.  Others do want to listen.  I remember Janie.  She would was quiet during our first class discussion, but once she was in a group of 4-5 people, she was a born leader.  She was in her comfort zone.  After gaining confidence, she joined Mock Trial and performed the role of attorney in front of many people.

2. Network.  Make friends with successful students.   Schools don’t like to label kids so they give reading groups nondescript names like blue group, red group, etc.  However, the kids know who the better readers are.  Being nice to someone who is better in math or science or English can help a person learn new ways to study.  I remember Jared and Nick, who did not know each other.  They were paired together for a Study Buddy activity.  They became close friends, met others, and their grades began to improve because they enlarged their network and added to their support system.

3. Smile and say hi to people.  Smiling is contagious.  Too many kids walk through the halls or sit in classrooms and feel lonely.  I know from personal experience.  When I was a student, I waited for others to say hi to me first.  At a class reunion a classmate told me she thought I was stuck-up.  I did not think about how others saw me.  I expected others to make me smile.  I realized the happiness comes from making someone else smile.  Now, I say “Hi” to as many students as I can.  Sadly, some kids may go through the whole day without someone talking with them, even for a moment.  The most successful students I see are the ones who smile and say hello to others.

4. Leave  your options open.  Explore topics in classes.  Take time to learn more on your own.  I remember Jenny who enjoyed acting out scenes from Romeo and Juliet in class.  The next year she went out for the school play and got a major part.  Another student, who loved art class, noticed all of the art work depicting scenes from mythology.  He started researching more and more about how different artists in different time periods depicted the gods.  Now, his goal is to work in an art museum.

5. Know what is expected.   Pay attention to what the class wants.  Of course, I am referring to behavior and assignment expectations the teacher has.  However, the others in the room have expectations.  To truly be successful with others, you have to be cognizant of their expectations.  Being the class clown may get you laughs, but it won’t get you classmates who want to work with you, unless, of course, the grade is based on laughs.  The other morning, I had the class answer a question about our reading and present it to the class.  One group had the class clown, a student who did not do the reading in it, and a student who wanted to get a good grade.  The concientious student asked to move groups and I allowed it.  I felt the clown and slacker earned the right to flounder together, with the clown having to do all of the work.  The funny thing is the next day the clown made sure he had his work completed and asked to be in different group.  Will he continue to improve and take his work more seriously?  I hope he does and continues to be a clown because he is funny.  We may be watching on the Tonight Show or watching his TV show one day.

 

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Three Steps to a Better Vocabulary and a New Job

Times are tough.  Everyone is competing for jobs.  Some folks have had to take less-than-desirable-jobs in order to pay the bills.  Do not have trepidation or anxiety.  There is a way to get a better job!  Increase your vocabulary!  Here are three easy steps to accomplish this:

1. Get motivated!  You have to want to communicate effectively.  We learned new words when we were children in order for our parents to understand our whining better.  Then, most of us grew up and became lazy.  I guess most folks are content with being called “nice.”  What spouse would like to share the same adjective as a necktie, shirt, or haircut?

2. Read!  And take the time to look up unknown words!  I loved to read Sports Illustrated when I was a kid.  Rick Reilly was my favorite contributing writer.  I had to use a dictionary when I read his articles to understand his humor.

3. Use a new word correctly in a sentence three times during the day.  For example, tell your boss, “But Mr. Scrooge, it’s Christmas Eve, only an impudent, malicious, old man would make us work.”  Later, when he tells the Salvation Army, “Bah!  Humbug,” remind him, “Sir, you are an uncaring, impudent excuse for a human being.”  And when it is finally time to go home to the family, yell at him, “Take this job and shove it you impudent man without a soul!  I ain’t working here no more!”

I can guarantee that finding the right motivation, reading more, and using new words every day will increase your vocabulary and lead to a new job!

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School is like a Business?

At the start of this school year, I wrote about Jamie Vollmer who shared with our district personnel his great story about how schools are not a business.  I have always agreed with that idea; nonetheless, I do see similarities in the philosophies and methods of running schools and businesses.

Look at what is happening in the country.  The education system is perceived as bad.  The economy is bad.  Some teachers and business people might throw up their hands and give up.  However, most of the educators and business owners I know are not giving up.  I see the smartest ones looking for new ideas, finding ways to keep clients happy, and learning better ways to lead their schools and companies.

Recently, the teachers at our school took inventory of the strengths within our curriculum and the challenges we are facing as we implement the Nation’s Core Curriculum.  We are asking ourselves, “What areas are we weakest in?  Do we need a better understanding of the data we get from standardized tests and our own assessments?  Do our current teaching methods work?  How can we refine our current methods to challenge more students?  What problems might be encountered?  What resources are available to help us solve any problems, teach struggling students, or push students to new heights?”

Business people I know reflect on similar ideas.  They examine their strengths to learn if they are strongest in customer service, customer satisfaction, quality of product, etc.  They ask themselves if they need a better understanding of their numbers or data?  They look at their sales techniques to see if they need some work.   Business owners search for available resources that will aid them in increasing productivity, increasing customer satisfaction, increasing sales, and increasing profits.

An example of the changes teachers and business people are making would be using Twitter.  I know Cold Stone Creamery in our home town tweets sales and coupon deals.  I, and several other teachers, tweet assignments.  Our clients use twitter, and teachers and businesses want to reach those clients in many ways.  We desire to make improvements to be successful.  The difference between the two is the definition of success.  As Jamie Vollmer tells it, teachers can’t throw out the less-than-perfect blueberries.

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How to Have A Productive Meeting

“I can’t wait until our in service meeting today!  It is going to be awesome to learn more about the CORE curriculum we will be using.” exclaimed Bob.

“Like, OMG, it is going to be totally Swag!!!” squealed Robin.

“I concur,”  Tim stated in his big-man-on-campus collegiate voice as he ran to the meeting.

Melissa’s eyes lit up as if she were told she was having triplets, and she shouted, “whoopee!”  

And, young Ben, the new guy in the hall, shouted “Yippie!” as he skipped to the meeting. 

“Wake up Dave!  Dave, wake up!” Sam repeated as he nudged me in the arm.  “You fell asleep during the principal’s introduction and overview on what we would be doing today.”

“Did I miss anything, Sam?” I asked as I wiped the drool from my chin.

“No.”  She basically told us why we were having meetings.

So, That brings me to Rule #1 to a productive meeting.  Attend well rested.  Research has shown taking naps is better than drinking a cup of coffee, and this must be true because I read it on the Internet.

It also demonstrates Rule #2: do not have a meeting to explain why you will be having a meeting.  

These two rules seem like common sense, but we all know that common sense is not so common.  Face it, common sense should have told me that having children would cause me to spend money on toys I don’t play with, go to more doctor appointments for illnesses I don’t have, and  be more responsible by not eating candy for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, and pop tarts for dinner.  But, no, I did not listen to common sense.  Of course, I eventually figured it out, after the fourth child.

Luckily, today, we did not have four meetings to tell us what we were meeting about.  We stopped at two.  So, Rule #3: Never have a second meeting to explain why there was a first meeting that explained what the purpose of the meetings will be.   After all, redundancies can be boring.  Let me repeat myself, don’t keep restating the same information over and over again.

After our second meeting, we moved to smaller groups to concentrate on one grade level.  These smaller groups were then broken down further into twos or threes to work on one standard of the curriculum.  For example, my partner and I examined the standard on informational text, three others looked at the literature standard, and another group analyzed writing.  Why was this part of the meeting productive?  One element would have to be the fact that we had one of our own teachers as a facilitator, and she did not try to be a know-it-all.  She took notes to allow others the time to research the answers.  Therefore, Rule #4 is to break tasks into smaller chunks.  Feeling overwhelmed tends to cause some folks to shut down.  In addition, Rule #5 is to utilize your own people, someone who is respected by coworkers.  

Once we completed our analysis of the changes we would need to implement, we were ready for lunch.  Rule #6, of course, is to never try to be productive on an empty stomach.   Public schools provide the opportunity for breakfast and lunch for students because research has shown kids learn better when they are not thinking about eating.  At least, that is what I read in some text-book in college.  I know I work better without a “rumbly” in my tummy.

After a filling lunch of pizza and salad, we returned to our meeting room to share our thoughts.  Rule #7 has to be to allow people to share ideas.  Instead of all of us doing the same work, we outsourced parts to each other, then shared our evaluations.  All of our sharing was completed quickly.  Therefore, Rule #8 is to make sure participants keep it brief.  Do not be afraid to allow the facilitator to thank a person for sharing while telling him or her to sit down and shut up.  Even though the bruise under my eye will heal soon, throwing a book at someone is not an acceptable way to stop him from sharing important information.

Of course, Rule #9 is to end the meeting when the work is completed, not when the time you allotted is over.  By giving the participants the opportunity to work efficiently and expeditiously, they will be more productive in the completion of other tasks, like creating new lesson plans.

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Refreshing Lemonade

Today was presentation day!   The assignment was for students to create a visual and a speech that could be chosen to be presented at our school’s Veteran’s Day Choir Concert.  Despite computer problems throughout the creation process, the first round has been awesome. One student chose to honor our veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan after reading Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers:

As is always the case on the due date of an essay or project, several students swarmed me as if I was wearing dog biscuit clothes, and they were a pack of puppies.  One had to meet his mom at the office because he forgot his flash drive at home and she was bringing it in.  One had trouble emailing it to herself.  One girl’s computer crashed last night leaving her unable to complete the project, and one young man had Internet trouble.  Whatever happened to, “My dog ate my homework, or my brother lit it on fire in the garage?”

After 23 years of teaching, I am prepared for the onslaught of questions and excuses.  Furthermore, I truly understand the computer problems since I have encountered all of them myself.  I assuaged the fear of losing points and assured them that we would get through this together.  True, one or two kids may have been lazy or procrastinated too long, and this behavior will catch up to them eventually.  After all, I do have to move on with our next assignment on Monday.

Whenever one of the kids encountered a problem, several kids offered good solutions.   These kids were earning participation points because they were being problem solvers.  I saw teamwork like the kind our soldiers demonstrate.  The students were watching, listening, helping, and learning.  I believe a few kids are spending tonight redoing their projects because they want them to be better.  Competition can be good.  This is good for business.  The best products or services get the business.

Nonetheless, school is not a business.  This assignment is not completely about the final project.  Yes, the best presentation becomes part of the choir concert.  However, all of the kids enjoy the opportunity to learn, to be creative, and to assist classmates.  This is what makes a school a little different from a business. The school’s product is learning.

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Ingratitude and Group Projects

Ingratitude.  A noun.  The state of being not grateful.

This was one of the vocabulary words today.  I thought I could count on the students to discuss for a few minutes what they were grateful for.  (Look!  I ended a sentence in a preposition!  see yesterday’s post).

Instead, I began the day with Mary asking, “What’s grateful mean?”  As I tried to hide my original feeling of surprise, which quickly turned to incredulousness, and ended with complete and utter angst that a student would not know the word grateful, another student nonchalantly came her rescue.

“It means thankful,” Scott interceded.

A student helping another student is not anything new.  When I was a student, I had one group project, and it was in my freshman English class.  We created a slide show of whales using a 35 mm camera and slide film.  Then, we found a song of whale sounds to accompany it.  This was our symbolic interpretation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  I am not sure of my grade, but I doubt it was good since I am still in freshman English.  Of course, all of my other teachers made us work by ourselves.

Over the last twenty-three years of my career, teachers have tried to incorporate teamwork and collaboration into lessons.  As a freshmen teacher, I have had to deal with students being able to get to get together with classmates outside of school.  I have also had to deal with one kid being a slacker, one person doing all of the work , and, of course, the one who could only give orders or negative feedback.  Next, I had to explain my logic in the grades to the parents.  The group project usually ended up with the parent, the student, and myself unhappy and full of ingratitude for the lesson.

I have found the best collaborative lessons to be similar to the impromptu lesson this morning: a student helping a student.  I can expand on the lesson by having each student in a group create a clause to use in a sentence with a vocabulary word or individually revise a paragraph then team up with others to discuss the best revision ideas or have a small group create thoughtful questions for a socratic discussion.

All of these ideas do not require time outside of class, nor do they require a complicated rubric to make sure everyone does his or her share.  These lessons require me to listen and observe.  It is not a perfect system, but neither is the work place.  There are committees or work groups everywhere that have slackers or people trying to make others look bad.  The lack of productivity will catch up with the person.  If a person hardly does any work on his or her own, I would be skeptical that he or she suddenly becomes the model student or employee when in a group.

The best collaboration brings out ideas or leads to more questions.  It is not always about producing a project or product.

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Failure is a Lesson

I look back on the first few years of my teaching career as one gigantic, humongous, epic learning experience.  I really owe an apology to the students who survived that experience with me.  These teenagers were trying to find their style and voice as I was trying to find my style and my voice as a teacher.   I was staying one day ahead of the kids and the lessons, and it was very difficult to plan ahead when I barely knew what I was going to do tomorrow.  Every night I was designing lessons that I hoped would be engaging and inspiring.  I am sure I failed a few times.

One idea, though, came from a student.  Chris had dropped out of school the previous year, but came  back.  He needed English 11 and Government class to graduate.  When other students, who looked at school as a prison, asked Chris why he would come back when he was free,  he responded simply yet powerfully, “It sucks without a diploma.”

Chris went on to explain to us that he had to move out and live on his own.  Of course, a few student’s visages lit up as if they were a five-years old and they discovered that Santa did indeed deliver toys.  Their imaginations went into overdrive as they thought of the late nights with friends, sleeping in every day, and being able to do whatever they wanted.

Chris tried to explain the reality of the situation: “I had to get a job to pay for everything.”

“That’s cool,” chimed Tony. He then added, “What did you do?  I bet you made some money!”

“I wish,” Chris hit them like a hockey player body-checking an adversary into the boards.  He told us how he tried to get a job in a factories; however,they would not hire him without a diploma.  He was only able to get menial jobs that paid minimum wage.  Plus, he had to pay rent, a car payment, and then he had a little money left for food.  He had been eating a lot of Mac-n-cheese and Spam.

“So you didn’t have parties?” asked Brad.

“Once.  And my so-called friends ate all of my food I needed to last for a week,” Chris muttered.

“At least you got to sleep in,” Missy consoled.

Chris laughed, “No, my job cleaning bathrooms at the gas station and stocking shelves at Dairy Mart had me at work by 5 a.m. five days a week.  In the evenings, I was washing dishes at a restaurant.  Coming to school allows me to sleep in.”

The other students started to add up expenses and think about what Chris had told us.  I am sure Chris was able to reach a few kids who would not listen to me.  Of course, there is a happy ending; Chris passed easily the second time around.  After all, this time he took ownership of his learning and cared.

Chris learned a valuable lesson in his failure.  And, he gave me an idea to help students improve their writing.  Thus began my REDO philosophy.  I began to allow students the opportunity to rewrite their essays, thereby improving their grades and learning from the writing experience.  I knew I evaluated my lessons and methods, so why not give the students the chance to do the same with their writing.    I began to see improvements right away.  I was having conferences with the students about their writing mistakes and watching them revise.  I also noticed that they started to care more about choosing the right words, improving the style, and having outstanding supporting examples.  Redoing was working!

Unfortunately, I moved to a bigger school district and almost doubled my student load.  I was having trouble keeping up with the grading, so I eliminated the opportunity for revising essays.  Sadly, I noticed kid’s writings were not improving.  They would write an essay; I would write comments on it and give it back; they would look at the score and throw the essay away.  My failure to communicate how to improve writing taught me a lesson.  I needed to return to the land of the REDO.  Now, we may write one less essay, but we are rewriting almost everything.

Today’s lesson: persistence prevails!  Didn’t Thomas Edison fail a hundred times before he found a filament that would work to make the light bulb?

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Write Right

“”Why do we have to write this essay?”

“How long does it have to be?”

“When is it due?”

Teaching writing to ninth graders takes patience and perseverance because kids come to class with a range of abilities. Most of the students arrive already knowing how to write a five paragraph essay complete with an attention grabbing introduction, thesis statement, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion.  Meanwhile, some students show up not sure what a thesis statement is or how to begin in a manner that grabs the attention of the reader.  A few students still do not understand what a paragraph is.  And one or two still have not figured out how to bring a pen or pencil to class.

Nevertheless, I begin the writing process, which is a lot more complicated than when I was a freshman.  I remember using the most amazing gadget ever invented to write my essays – the erasable ink pen!  I could wake up at 5 a.m. and ink out a “B” paper in an hour and a half.  Now, I show examples of essays to the students, help them brainstorm ideas, give them time to write rough drafts, and then take them to a computer lab to type the essays.  Of course, the kids today run into the problems of not being able to log on to the school’s server, the keyboards having the letters in a different order because of someone’s idea of a joke, or even having the entire school’s server down.

This week we suffered through the problems in the computer lab with some students having to improvise and write in ink on notebook paper.  It felt so “old school,” without the erasable ink, though.  I wonder whatever happened to those kind of pens?  

Needless to say, most of the kids did a great job of adapting to the problems and coming up with solutions.  Some figured out how to log on using the generic “student” account.  Those who were able to log on emailed their work to themselves.  I was proud of the kids for their patience and perseverance.

As any manager or boss knows, some workers will show up knowing how to do the job, some will have an idea, and some will be clueless.  Some employees will have a problem and fix it themselves, some will seek your help, and one or two will not even notice there is a problem.

We encourage and compliment those who arrive prepared with knowledge and show initiative; we guide and lead those who need it; and we begin the firing (or flunking) process with the guy with the pencil up his nose.

This morning, I saw all of this.  Well, not the pencil up the nose, but one young man was trying to watch YouTube instead of writing.  Since I cannot fire him, he gets extra special time after school with me to make up his lost work time.  (See my earlier post “Detention Again.”)

According to statistics from the federal government, so they must be accurate, 85% of jobs require writing.  However, a more important lesson was how to deal with adversity and to be able to adapt, improvise, and overcome the obstacles thrown before them.

 

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Detention Again

I am the detention supervisor at school.  When kids are late to school or class, they serve a half hour with me after school.  In the business world, we would pretend to be Donald Trump and tell them, “You’re fired!”  However, we can’t fire students.  We can only try to help them change their behaviors.

I also monitor what the school calls Quiet Study Time or QST.  Basically, it is a 105 minute detention.   Imagine the movie Breakfast Club; kids receive QST for chronic tardiness or class disruptions.  The only difference with the movie is that I never leave the room.  Students have to work on school work or work I provide.  They do not eat, sleep, text, listen to ipods, talk, or exchange notes.  Last week I had to kick three guys out; two for sleeping/putting their heads down and one for eating candy.

I usually see students who serve once and learn to change their behaviors.  Nevertheless, I have also seen the same kids for the same reasons.  One young man even called me “Coach” as if this was his extracurricular activity.  It sounds funny, but when he was with me, he did complete his homework.  There were others like him who seemed to only do work when they were serving their detentions and QSTs.  Then, I invited them to come in to do their work even when they were not in trouble.  They laughed at first, but I told them that they would be allowed to go as soon as they finished their work.  After all, they were not in trouble.  I think they told their friends they were in trouble and got their work finished.  For some, getting in trouble, or looking like it is cool.

Another benefit is I am able to help students with their English and history homework.  Today, I had a young lady ask me for help in math.  I looked at the letters and numbers, and they did not spell any known word I have ever seen.  Since there were only three of us in the room, I escorted her to her math teacher.  She was able to get correct homework help and come back.  She was thrilled that she was able to finish her work.

So, should a person who makes a mistake be immediately terminated?  Or, should he or she be forgiven?  It is a difficult decision every boss asks.  My experience has been to get to know the person.  There may be something causing the attention-getting behavior.  So, we try a new approach to manage the person.  If the behavior does not change, then termination will have to happen.  Sometimes, we have to admit that a leopard does not change its spots.

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Technology Guru

When I first came to Pickerington, I was amazed that it had a computer lab that was open to students during their study halls and lunches.  I was thrilled when I learned that English teachers monitored the lab as a duty, instead of monitoring study hall or lunch.   I guess we were chosen because the computers were only being used for writing back then.  There was no Internet connection.

Our technology department did not trust us to do anything with the computers.  If one printer broke down we were not supposed to switch the computer preferences to the other printer.  They even went so far as to try to password protect it.  It is not a good idea to choose a password from Greek mythology and then assign a mythology nerd to monitor the lab.  I figured out the password twice and was then told to stop.  We were even micro managed to the point that if a printer ran out of paper, we were not to load it because we might break it.  The technology department lost the focus on the computer labs purpose.  It became something to control and make us all look with wonder and awe at the great job they were doing.

Besides cracking codes and passwords, I had fun in the lab.  I enjoyed the duty because I was able to grade essays, help kids with writing assignments, and get to know students in a different way.  Some students came to the lab to avoid study hall.  Some students only came to type an essay.  And some students lived in the lab and came during study halls and lunch.  One young man was Pat.

Pat was a great kid.  He was not a trouble maker, but he did enjoy trying to fix printers and computers with the technology departments knowledge.  I encouraged him to take things apart and try.  I was taught if something is broken then try to fix it.  If you are not successful there is nothing lost; so it is still broken.    I also looked at it as an educational experience for Pat.  This was his passion.  Why not let him learn in school about something he loved?   Lastly, I knew it might make the micromanager mad.  (We all have a little rebel in us.)  Well, Pat fixed many computer and printer problems.  Teachers would ask him for help before they went to the technology department.

When we do not allow people to think for themselves, they do not grow.  By encouraging Pat to fix problems even though it may have been against the wishes of someone else, I was allowing him to learn through his own experiences.  Micromanaging only creates blind followers, not innovators or thinkers or risk-takers.  No successful business can last with only one person thinking for everyone.  It takes the creativity and diversity of many.

What happened to Pat?  The last I heard was he was on the West Coast working for Apple.  I wonder what Igadget he is working on…

 

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