To Class of 2020

June 2001 - Roman Catholic Saints Calendar  Back in 2001, my students invited me to give the commencement address at the high school where I then worked. Finding the right words wasn’t easy, but in the end, my advice was pretty generic: take risks, be the best version of yourself, find ways to make the world a better place.  

In June of ’01,  9/11 was still more than two months away, the US wasn’t engaged in a two-front war in the Middle East, no one forecast the Great Recession. And a pandemic? What’s that?

Class of 2020 Graduation Cap Pin | PinMart  For the Class of 2020, though, there will be no processions, no group hugs, few of the rites of  closure associated with commencement. They will be moving the tassels on their mortarboards in the same isolation in which they finished spring instruction.

Many of our community college students are among those accepting diplomas in cyber space. Their plans vary. For some, the next stop was to have been the workplace. Others had secured transfer spots at four year colleges around the country. And now?  They are all in this vacuum of uncertainty.

What advice can we offer them?  Poets&Quants | The Coronavirus Commencements: MBAs Celebrate In ...

  1. Though you are accepting your credentials in quarantine, you are not alone. The people in your lives who have supported you are still here, proud of what you have accomplished. Let them share this milestone. Send photos. Video chat.  Accept congratulations and encouragement.
  2. A pandemic is new, but commencement is always an event of contradictions: an ending that is called a beginning. You are simultaneously thrilled and terrified, exhilarated and exhausted, confident and cautious. Understand that your experience–amplified in 2020– is at once singular and collective. Embrace your emotions as the fuel you need to take your next steps.
  3.  Anticipated access may be blocked right now, but new entrances are opening every day. Find your own way into your future. That will look different for each of you and will require effort and thought, but look at what you have already achieved; with work and creativity, you can do this.
  4.  And remember, the world needs you right now. No pressure, but you and your classmates represent hope. In what you have learned about your chosen field, about the past and present, about yourselves, see optimism, see potential, see solutions. We see those things and have high expectations for you.
  5.  Finally, trite as it all sounds, define your success in human terms, by the people you love who love you back. Be the best version of yourselves. Fear no mistake. Resolve to do one thing each day to improve the world you inhabit.


Class of 2020: What We Lost in the Abrupt End to College | TimeTo the Class of 2020, you will have stories to tell. You will face obstacles and opportunities no other class has seen. But you got this. Do what you have to do and do it well.






Lessons for the White House from Middle School

NOTE: It’s been some time since I went full-on political in this blog, but current events have put us all in harm’s way, changing daily life, maybe forever. We now routinely face life or death situations.  More than 72,000 Americans have succumbed to a torturous death by Corona virus. 72,000 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends. 72,000 lives.  Small businesses are closed, some with no prospect for survival. With job loss, people have also lost access to employment dependent health insurance. In the Michigan statehouse, armed protesters demand an end to the state shutdown. Hungry families line up at food banks across the country. Front line workers put themselves at risk to save lives. 

In the midst of this deadly mess, federal response has been chaotic, ineffective, juvenile. The Senate Majority Leader tossed a lit match into the dry brush of  partisan politics when he called this a blue state vs. red state issue. The president has let us down: he disregards science, manipulates public sentiment for personal self aggrandizement, makes impulsive,inaccurate statements, refuses to take responsibility. 

There’s a lot to be learned from a middle school project.

When I was still teaching middle school, our 8th grade English capstone project was an autobiography. Through a series of structured assignments, students wrote their own life stories as they worked their way through excerpts from the autobiographies of people from all walks of life: Malala Yousefsai, Tim Russert, Sandra Cisneros, Sonia Sotomayor, James McBride, Christopher Reeve, Barak Obama. It was a chance for kids to see their own lives parallel to the lives of those who have changed the world in some way. More than this, it was a chance for kids to see these game changers as kids themselves. The excerpts I chose for our readings centered on childhood and adolescence.  The project culminated in an evening gallery style presentation where students shared their work with their families, friends, and faculty.

An overwhelming student favorite in this unit involved reading Chapter 2 of Colin Powell’s book It Worked for Me and his 13 Rules of Leadership. The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State describes his early life as the son of  hard working Jamaican immigrants. His 13 Rules offers life lessons for success and satisfaction.

After reading Secretary Powell’s suggestions for positive leadership, kids came up with their own rules:

Resist the urge to distract others. This was hard for me. I like making my friends laugh by doing dumb things. It doesn’t usually go that well, though. This means don’t create a fuss to make yourself a star. You might get a few minutes of fame, but in the end, it doesn’t get you very far. This has worked for me because in the beginning of the school year, I was making way too many jokes. I fell out of my chair in English class. I piled up the weights on the scale in science. People started getting sick of me and my jokes, especially the teachers, and my grades were going down. So once I stopped distracting people, I spent more time working in class. The teachers noticed and told my parents I was trying harder. Now I am on the high honor roll and ready for high school.”

Be honest. Telling the truth is very important.  Besides, people almost always find out when you lie. It’s not that easy to talk your way out of a lie. I found this out the hard way alright. One day I wanted to go to the mall with my friends but my mom wouldn’t let me. I was begging. I promised to do anything she wanted me to  but she still said no. So I told her I was going to someone’s house and her mom drove us to the mall. The second lie I told was that my mom knew where I was going. It was pretty easy to pull all that off because people still trusted me then.  Of course, my mom found out. I kept trying to make excuses by lying even more, but that only made things so much worse. Finally, I told the truth. I still was punished, but I learned a lesson. It wasn’t worth it. Plus, it took a long time before my mom believed anything I ever said.  After you lie, you aren’t trusted anymore and that feels terrible. Be honest.”

Read the directions. This sounds silly, but it’s good advice. In fourth grade, our teacher gave us this test and I can’t remember the whole thing, but it was a list of ten directions that told you to read through all ten instructions before doing anything else. Naturally, no one read all ten steps. Everyone just started rushing through the worksheet like it was some kind of race. The first nine were activities like write your name on the back of the page and then draw a heart around it or write a sentence using three spelling words. Number 10 said to do none of the activities, just wait for everyone to finish. To this day, I still remember that test and I always read the directions.”

It isn’t always about you.  I didn’t make this one up. My Grandma told me this from when I was just a little kid. I used to complain about a lot of things. Too much homework. My sister was annoying. I wanted my own phone.  Then Grandma told me to count how many times a day I was using the words “I” or “me” or “my.” She explained that there are just some times that it didn’t have to be about me. She said I was important but I wasn’t the only person in the world who mattered. This has worked for me because people appreciate it when you put them first and it helps you get along with others. Furthermore, you want to know that people will do this for you when you really need it. Finally, when everyone sees the big picture, life is just easier and better.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is my number one rule for life. Mrs. McDougal and Mrs. Smith are always there for me when I need help. But it wasn’t always easy to ask for help. Sometimes I felt like everyone else knew things I didn’t know. It seemed like I was the only one who didn’t get it. No one likes feeling stupid.  So I didn’t ask and I tried to fake it all the time. Let me tell you, that is hard work! You don’t learn anything when you keep trying to pretend you know everything. The thing is, no one knows everything.”

Love one another. There isn’t that much to say about this. It kind of speaks for itself. No matter what someone wears or what kind of music he likes, he is still a person. Love him just because he is a human being. You don’t have to love all the things he does, either. But you might.  If we can all just love one another, we can be better at all the different things we have to do. Give a person a chance and you could be surprised at how things turn out. It could be hard at times. But it is so worth it.”

Good advice for middle school, good advice for the White House as well. As for the rest of us, we have a choice to make come November. When 8th graders demonstrate more maturity than the current president, it is time to make a change. 



What A Pandemic Has Exposed About America

Tragedy and challenge can bring out the best in us.Caring for Those Who Provide Care: Frontline Workers Receive, Need ...

The evening news is full of images of front line heroes as they continue to fight the good fight.  Health care workers, first responders, truck drivers, delivery workers, grocery clerks, teachers all show up daily. These are the folks that have healed us, kept us fed, found ways to engage our kids.

Church Food Pantry Clip Art - Bing images | Food drive, Canned ...And there are those who continue to serve their communities, filling needs as these needs crop up: hunger, unemployment, loneliness, fear. Grassroots activists are a lifeline for so many.

In these people–during the worst of times– we see the best of humanity. They inspire us to be better than we are; their courage shows us what we could/should do.


The flip side of tragedy–the ugly underbelly– is also there for the viewing.


Individual villains

Scammers prey on us, price gouging goods suddenly essential to health. Too-good-to-be-true internet offers threaten our most vulnerable.  There will always be people among us willing to take unfair advantage of adversity, happy enough to use grief and fear for personal gain.

However, COVID-19 has exposed systemic flaws that extend beyond self-serving opportunists, societal inequities that, in better times, remain under wraps.

Feeding the nation

Weaknesses in our food chain that emerged even before COVID are suddenly more pronounced. Recalls of tainted beef and romaine were signals of deeper concerns with our food supply. Widespread infection in meat processing plants across the nation prove that our reliance on industrialized food production is misplaced. Trump tried to insist that these plants remain open despite the dangers to their workers’ health.  Today, supermarket meat department shelves are empty and fast food restaurants cannot fill orders for burgers in many of their locations.  Diary farmers in central New York have had to dump huge quantities of milk even as families in other locations are having trouble putting food on their tables.


Cost of Subsidised Wind & Solar Puts Power Out of Reach for ...Statistics clearly show that the pandemic is hitting under-served communities hardest. No one should be surprised; poverty makes everything that is bad worse. The poorest among us are most at risk for illness, abuse, unchecked addiction, illiteracy.  Population density in public housing makes residents more vulnerable COVID. Poverty means limited access to nutritious grocery options, healthcare, transportation, education, employment.  In 1961, in his inaugural address, JFK told the world “Never before has man had such a great capacity to control his own environment, to end hunger, poverty, and disease, to banish illiteracy and human misery.” Guess we haven’t used that superpower yet.

Health Insurance

As the pandemic puts people out of work, more are losing their health care, exposing the problems with insurance tied to employment. What happens if you–or your child–breaks a leg, has appendicitis, or needs mental health care and you are no longer insured because you are no longer employed? The pandemic is making us rethink options like Medicare for All, concepts that just a few months ago may have seemed too extreme for  a moderate voting bloc. No American should have to forego medical care for lack of insurance. We owe each other that much.

Hate and Exclusion

Fear is normal during a pandemic. Racism shouldn't be | Crosscut

And then there is the quiet shame of our culture: the racism, misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism and ultra-nationalism that have existed in the shadows of our famous documents and monuments. We are seeing a rise in hate crimes. Public demonstrations where protesters arrive armed with weapons of war have become part of our national fabric and these protesters are spouting angry rhetoric of hate, rhetoric that has, sadly, been condoned by the president. Crimes against minorities and alternate lifestyle groups are on the rise. Are the promises of equality and respect just talking points or are we willing to put our money where our mouths are to promote these ideals?

What will we do?  Personal Action Plan Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

These are but a few of the glaring societal and cultural nasties the pandemic uncovered. At some point, the acute emergencies associated with the pandemic will ease. At that point, we, as a society, as a nation, we face some serious decisions. The pandemic forces each of us to confront these flaws.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his daily COVID briefing this morning, said that this country is not blue, not red, but rather red, white and blue. Will we leave fellow Americans behind? When the immediate threat of this virus ebbs, will we have the same strength of character, the same courage that our everyday heroes are currently daring us to emulate? Will we emerge from this catastrophe stronger than we were at the start? Will we rediscover our humanity?



What technology can–and cannot–do for our students

Logo Png Logo Zoom Yesterday I had my first full-length Zoom writing conference with one of our community college students. Up to now, my colleagues and I have been supporting students via an email based platform. Our “dialogues” have taken place in our inboxes. Within obvious limitations, our staff has labored endlessly to make this option work for our students.

Yesterday’s conference was a success from both an educational and a technical perspective. It went off without a hitch and the student left the meeting with a plan and confidence.

Zoom reminded me of what I love about this post-retirement position: our students. And so, it reminded of how much I miss the human element of education, the conversations that constitute learning.

What Technology Is Doing For Students

Free Email Cliparts, Download Free Clip Art, Free Clip Art on ...  Throughout the campus shut-down, we have been grateful that tech has given us the means to continue to do what we do. Students and staff have been able to remain safe at home and move toward a successful completion of the spring semester. I won’t lie; in theory, I embrace technology, but when it came to putting my money where my mouth so often is, I was tentative, hesitant. Nevertheless, I took the leap and thanks to a great set of instructions and my coordinator’s encouragement, cyber space is safe for another day.

So, yes, computers have kept us from falling into an instructional abyss. But there is so much we cannot accomplish with our small screens.

Computers Can’t Create Community

Students and teachers come together to create distinct learning communities. By accidents of scheduling and proximity, a list of names becomes a class and, under the right conditions, a class can become a family. Every grouping is different. When I taught high school English, I carried a pupil load of 125 kids in five sections. Though we worked through the same novels, short stories and poems, every interaction was unique; no two discussions ever started or ended exactly the same way.

Developing and Writing a Diversity Statement | Center for Teaching ...   This has been true of my experience on the collegiate level, too.  Sharing writing  demands a level of trust. When we meet students in face to face conferences, our first job has nothing to do with subject verb agreement or thesis statements or text-based evidence. Initially, we have to find ways to prove to students we respect them and their work. We must meet our students where they are. We are creating community, a risk-free zone where it is safe to share the written word.

Each of my colleagues has his/her individual way of making this happen and each of them does it so well. It is the people that make our little corner of the world so successful.

And this is what on-line instruction lacks: the human element, the exchange of ideas, the give and take that characterizes learning.

The Best of Both Worlds

After the threat of this contagion passes, I hope that we can hang onto some of the new ways we have found to stay connected. Even for a newbie, Zoom is a wondrous tool for challenging times.  But I hope we never lose the humanity that we need for real learning.




Corona Blog: How Community College Students Are At Risk

From one student to another: How to handle being homesick at WSU ...

Because of the threat of COVID-19, college students nationwide are now finishing the spring semester on line. In response to this challenge, colleges and universities– like Boston University and Cornell– have announced wholesale changes to their grading policies. Commencements have been postponed or cancelled.  On platforms like Canvas and Edmodo, professors are laboring to create a semblance of continuity and community while maintaining the integrity of their courses. Students are logging on, commenting on one another’s threads, getting through required reading and submitting papers.

It’s a brave new world alright full of uncertainty, isolation, anxiety,  and disappointment.

Full disclosure: I am new relatively new to the community college scene; I am not an expert on collegiate achievement. I am privileged to have found a post-retirement position in a community college academic support center as a writing tutor. Therefore, anything you read here is derived from personal observation as opposed to from data driven research.

Completing the semester will be difficult.

Navigating the novel circumstances created by the novel corona virus is challenging for Novel Corona Virus/COVID-19 Resourcesstudents with every ideal resource in place. For community college students, completing the course work they began–and paid for–in January could be a task of Herculean proportions.


Some community college students won’t be able to access the internet.

Computer Engineering BS Degree | Michigan Tech AdmissionsIt’s easy to assume that everyone is equally cyber linked. But the reality, however, is that some students don’t own computers or printers. They rely on on-campus hardware and connectivity to access library data bases, to submit papers, to get to and print assignments and readings. Under ordinary circumstances, these students find what they need at school.  These aren’t ordinary circumstances. Those resources are no longer available. In addition, under current conditions, other options–public libraries, for example–are closed, too.  Our community college is offering  a limited number of students loaner lap tops, but not every school can do this and it doesn’t solve the problem of accessing the internet.

Academic support across the curriculum continues to be available to our students, but that, too, is internet dependent. Accessing tutorials that had physical presence on campus now happens on line. So much of the support the tutors provided students happened during meaningful dialogues. There is just so much that cyber communication can do to reinvent those conversations.

There is discipline, comfort and support in the classroom.

In addition to on campus resources, seats in classrooms provide students with a predictable routine. There is accountability in being members of a  physical learning community. Many of our students are new to the collegiate experience. Others are aduThe Modern College Classroom | Featuring my BU New Media stu… | Flickrlts returning to school after many years.  The discipline and routine of attendance help students meet the academic expectations of college achievement.  Once on campus, professors reinforce independent learning through lecture and in-class activities. There is no substitute for the human interaction that takes place in class.


English Language Learners are particularly at risk.

And what of those students for whom English is not their first language? Our campus has a designated center for international pupils, a place where they share the challenges of attending college in a new place and where they find additional resources and support. There are an estimated 49 languages spoken on our campus, but instruction is conducted in English, a disobedient, unruly tongue. Think of through, rough, though; the same sequence of letters result in three different sounds. We use definite and indefinite articles. Verbs and nouns have to agree. Capital letters and apostrophes. There, they’re and their.  It’s hard enough for those of us who grew up speaking English.  Students whose native languages are Spanish, French,  Chinese, Farsi, Croatian, Greek are tackling  demanding coursework across the content area. Face to face instruction allows English Language Learners to participate in discussion, to ask for clarification. On campus, these students have lifelines. At home, in academic isolation, they muddle through using the imprecision of translator apps–if they have access.

Then there are the external pressures on community college kids.

Add to these obvious obstacles the other factors that put community college students at risk. Out of economic necessity, they may be working one, sometimes two jobs, while trying to keep up with their studies. They may be balancing family obligations with coursework. They may be the first in their families to attend college. They may face food insecurity or the threat of homelessness.

Community college students have to dig deeper for strength to succeed.

The pandemic has changed life as we know. The things we took for granted just a month ago have suddenly morphed into a landscape we never could have imagined outside of a sci-fi novel. I hope that students across the nation find ways to make it through these tough times. I fear, however, that many will be discouraged. Community college students have both more to gain and more to lose during these challenging times. To them I say: don’t give up; you can do this.  The problem with the push for more college degrees





COVID-19 and High School Juniors

On social media, parents and kids are lamenting the things the Class of 2020 will miss because of the COVID-19 pandemic: proms, ceremonies, yearbooks.  Image result for images of graduations

Yes, all of these anticipated rites of passage will be sacrificed in the name of social distancing for the common good.  And yes, it is sad that these kids will not have the closure activities they expected. But…we don’t always get to say what happens next.


It’s the kids who are currently juniors who stand to lose ground right now.

Historically, spring has been when high school counselors help eleventh graders and their families initiate the college search/application process.  Spring is when those of who have taught English 11 typically got our students started on writing the dreaded college essay. Spring is when many colleges ramp up recruitment and campus tours.

This spring, however, is unlike any we have ever seen. Teachers and students are hurtling toward the year’s end via cyber portals and on-line learning. College admission exams scheduled for May have been canceled (at least one school–Boston University–will go test-optional for 2021 undergrad admissions). Local and state tests may–or may not–be factors in pupils’ GPAs.

So what can high school juniors be doing to stay engaged in the college application process?


1.If your school offers the option, reach out to your guidance counselor. This expert has Image result for images of guidance counselrosaccess to the most current information about what you have to do and when you should do it.  Your counselor will likely have access to your academic records, too.



2. One of the things your counselor will likely suggest is to compile a resume of sorts. Create a table of your high school and community activities.  List the name of the activity and a description of the role you played. Be comprehensive. Think of extra-curriculars–sports, student government, clubs–and community/church projects.  Include employment, too.  Colleges often want to know what–beyond academics–you will offer them. Don’t despair if you don’t have an extensive list. Admission committees are good at what they do and they know when students have merely dipped a toe into dozens of activities to pad the resume. Image result for images of high school activity sheets

3. Start thinking about the kind of college experience you might like. Yes, this is a challenge because no one knows the future. But you can start thinking about it.  Consider if you think you would be happier in a rural or urban setting. Do you believe you’d like a small/big school? Public or private?  Two year or four year? Commute or dorm?  How far from home would you like to be? Do you have a specific major in mind?  You can use answers to these questions to begin thinking about specific colleges. Image result for images of college campus

4. Do some research. Access websites of colleges that seem to fit your needs. Take the virtual tours. Look at admission requirements and access an application if you can. Think about the academic offerings and explore student life. It is a good idea to take notes because after you have “toured” a couple of colleges, they can all seem to blend. Do keep in mind that web sites are sales pitches, intended to attract potential applicants.


5. Pull up the Common Application at Poke around the site. It will give you a good amount of information about the application process.  While not every college accepts the Comm App, more and more schools have gone this route. See if the schools you are interested in are among those listed. You can also check out the  application essay prompts. Some colleges will be satisfied with essays submitted through the Common App; others require supplemental essays. Image result for images of common application


6. Use the Common App prompts to write practice essays. The essays are intended to let you show the admissions committees something your other documents will not tell them. Use the essays to showcase something unique to you, something you will bring to their collegiate communities. You can choose a prompt to describe a job experience, the positive outcome of facing an obstacle, accomplishing something you believed to be impossible, a person you admire. You want to consider how the experience you write about has changed you. What have you learned about yourself? About the world around you?  It can help to open with an anecdote, a story to drop your reader into the moment.  Image result for images of students writing


Eventually, this moment of uncertainty will pass and we will get back to school. Life, as we knew it, may never be the same, but with a little luck and a lot of fortitude, we will emerge smarter and stronger.





When This is Over,What Will We Have Learned

Image result for images of optimists


People who know me know that I am an optimist. So, yes, I believe that this, too, shall pass.



Frequently Asked Questions | CDC  But I am also a realist. I understand that life will never be quite the same as it was before we thought of Corona as anything but the beer that helps us find our beach.

The optimist–and maybe the teacher– in me insist that there are lessons here, that like any experience, this should make us stronger and smarter.

We can get by with less, much less.

Image result for images of not being wasteful  We are making due with what we have, wasting less, finding pleasure in simple activities.  It is possible to stretch one meal into two. Pasta with meatballs on Monday becomes meatballs wedges on Tuesday.  Use what you have before risking an outing to the store for more. A walk or run in the woods replaces shopping for sport. Revisit old DVDs or CDs (if you still have a few.) Read the books you have been meaning to get to. Call old friends. Create a blog. Find creative outlets for energy that, in the past, you devoted to other things.

We all inhabit this world together. John Donne was right: no man is an island. Image result for images of unity

The spread of this virus proves the global connection we share. Eevn though it originated in China, calling it the “Chinese virus” doesn’t help us beat it now that it is here. This is a pandemic and people the world over are fighting the same battle to stay healthy. Anyone can host this virus: you, me, the kid next door, your grandma. No passport or visa required. What defines us is our humanity. We owe one another kindness and  support. Think of your neighbors before emptying grocery shelves out of panic. Think of the server or bartender who waited on you last month. Think of the nurse who has to self-isolate from her own family. Let’s remember the power of working together. Staying home protects you and it protects others. As Sister Sledge said in the disco era: We Are Family.

Take no one or nothing for granted; life is fragile and uncertain.

Image result for images of unity  The speed at which life has changed is proof that we don’t always get to say what happens next. We retrace last week’s steps and wonder if anyone we happened to have gotten closer than six feet to could have been infected.The plans we made last month or even last week have been upended. Grocery store shelves that were reliably full are suddenly depleted. Forget about routine medical and dental appointments. Everyone knows people who are now out of work. Everyone knows people performing essential services, often at great risk to themselves. Some of us will know people who get sick and recover. Sadly, some of us will know people who don’t make it. Call your loved ones. You may not know when it will be safe to visit again, but thankfully, we have tools to help us stay connected. Tell people you love them now.

The truth matters. Science matters.Image result for images of truth

We depend on our leaders to tell us the truth. Not propaganda. Not self aggrandizement.  Not unproven conjecture or thoughtless prediction.The truth may be scary, but dishonesty is terrifying. We also depend on our leaders to put the common good ahead of their own self-interests because that’s what leaders do.  We have to trust the experts.  In the age of GOOGLE and Wikipedia, we have a tendency to believe we know more than we really do. This is not a DIY project. This could be life or death, so yeah, science matters. Do your research. Do what we advise our students to do: access reliable sources. Avoid inflammatory outlets that promote opinion over fact.

We are more capable than we imagine. Image result for images of resilience

Finally, perhaps the best lesson we can take away from life in the time of Corona is that people are resilient. Most of us alive today have never truly been put to the test in the way a pandemic does. For sure, we have all had personal moments of great sorrow and strife.  Anyone over the age of 30 clearly remembers the tragedy of 9/11. And some of us have had to claw our way back from the devastation of natural disaster. But in our lifetimes, our nation–indeed, the world–has not dealt with crisis on this scale.  We are going to need that grit going forward because the worst may yet be ahead of us.  Our health care system will be stressed beyond our wildest thoughts. The economy has tanked. So many small businesses won’t survive.  We will have to remember what we have done and what we can do. We will have to find ways to work together. We will have to be one to meet the needs of the many. But here’s the thing: we can do it.

Frequently Asked Questions | CDC  As with any experience, how you see it becomes your response. In this moment of epic fear and uncertainty, be that person, the one who will emerge stronger and smarter. Don’t let this virus define you. Find your strength. Share your love. Look toward hope.





Please Try This At Home

Image result for clip art images of kids reading School is in session. COVID-19 has upended life as we know it. This post is for families suddenly stuck in close quarters, all trying to work from home while doing the responsible thing #socialdistancing.

You have been tasked with a huge challenge. You can take walks, cyber connect with friends, make time for board games.

But, in so many ways, these are the times that try men’s and women’s souls.

Image result for clip art images of parenting And you will still be expected to get your own work done. Here are a few kid-tested projects to keep your new class settled while you hop on Zoom to conference with colleagues. These ideas can keep them productively busy. Remember: this is about survival, making it through these uncertain and scary times.

Programming Note: Those of you who have always known all there is to know about teaching can sit out this post; you know who you are. In any case, you have likely moved on to practicing medicine, running the MTA or patching a fix for the ailing Dow Jones anyway. 

  1. Interview a family member. Kids can call, FaceTime, or email grandparents, Image result for clip art images of grandparentsaunts, uncles, cousins and find out what their lives are like.  The fact of pre-COVID life was that we had very little time to just chat. With activities cancelled and people staying home, now might be a good time to check in. Older relatives are especially good sources of family and historical info. They have stories to tell; now we have time to listen.  Kids can generate a list of questions and even record the conversation on a phone. Older kids can transcribe the interview into a magazine style article. They can send thank you notes/emails/texts after the interview.
  2.   Design/invent a product and “pitch” it Shark Tank style. Kids have amazing   imaginations. Let them come up with a gadget to take out the trash or a way to keep onions from making people cry when we cut them. They can create prototypes   with stuff from the recycling bin and traditional art supplies. Let them watch an episode of Shark Tank and then script a pitch. They can draw backdrops, dress for a TV appearance.
  3. Create a time capsule. What ten or twenty items best speak to how life is lived today in 2020? (Think back to your own childhood: CDs, iPods, Jenco jeans, Saved by the Bell.) Kids don’t have to put the actual items into their capsules. They can draw or download pictures. Encourage them to explain what these items reveal about our lives.  Why is a smart phone important enough to be included? Reusable shopping bags? Tom Brady jerseys and Adidas tennis shoes?  Maybe put the capsule away and plan to open it a year, two years, ten years from now. Yeah, I know that last one is a stretch, but as long as we are dreaming, right?
  4. Write a speech. This is for older kids. Ask them to imagine they have just won an award–ESPY, Oscar, Grammy, Nobel Prize, Olympic medal–and now they have to deliver an acceptance speech. They can deliver a speech to promote a cause they believe in or maybe they have been elected to political office and they will share an inaugural address. There are examples of speeches on line that kids can listen to and use as models.
  5. What do you want to be when you grow up? Every kid thinks about this. Little kids can draw pictures. Bigger kids can conduct research and find out about the profession: training, earnings, availability and satisfaction. They can create business cards for themselves.
  6. Write and illustrate a fairy tale. Kids can revisit a story they love and put their own spin on it. Change the point of view. Set it in modern times.  Or they can write an original fairy tale. They can illustrate using traditional art supplies or computer generated images.
  7. Pick a place to visit and create travel brochure. This is also for older kids–grade 3 and up.  If you had a chance where would you go? A National Park? Disneyland? Niagara Falls? Times Square? Paris? Antarctica? The Great Barrier Reef?   How would you get there? Where would you stay? What would you see? This can be done with traditional art supplies. Some computer programs like Microsoft Office have applications for making brochures.

Teachers know that a good project provides students with multiple learning opportunities, that instruction doesn’t always look like kids sitting at desks listening attentively. Parents know what interests their own kids. We now are faced with keeping our kids engaged and encouraging their curiosity. Stay strong; we can do this!


College in The Time of CORONA

Image result for images of coronavirus Technology is a great gift in the time of COVID-19. Distance learning will allow college students to complete the spring semester even as hundreds of higher ed institutions are forced to close their physical campuses.

The miracle of Zoom, Google Hang Out and other on-line conferencing applications drops us into a shared cyber space even as this viral health threat prevents us from being in the same classrooms. Blackboard and E-School keep professors and students connected, lending a semblance of continuity to instruction. Through links and threads, students will be able to finish what they began in January.

Image result for images of cyber conferencing

Make no mistake. Technology is saving the semester for students from coast to coast. It may be saving lives, too, by minimizing personal contact. 



These platforms, however, should be a line of last resort. Why? Because collegiate learning is more than checking the boxes on a syllabus.

Mastering content is undeniably the important component of higher education. Students have to demonstrate competencies across the curriculum, solving for X, reading and writing for information and understanding, explaining scientific theory, placing events in historical context.

What On-Line Learning Doesn’t Give Students

But learning is more than  accumulating dates and memorizing formulas.  Learning is listening to what others have to say and finding your own voice to join the conversation. Learning is discovering your place in an evolving dialogue. Learning is the exhilaration of discovery as an active member of an instructional community.   On-line platform posts can merely mimic face to face discussion.

Additionally, on-line instruction fails to provide the reliable continuity of in-person courses. Students have built-in accountability when they have to face their instructors and peers who expect them to arrive prepared to participate. Deadlines and due dates loom larger when students have a physical presence in a classroom. On-line learning, by definition, comes with a host of computer generated distractions requiring discipline and time management.

For Now, I Am All In

All that said, I am grateful that, as a member of a team of higher ed student support professionals, I expect to be able to continue my work remotely while the nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Already, though, I miss face to face conferences with students, our discussions about Joyce’s critique of  repressive Catholicism and comparisons between Frost’s “Mending Wall” and current events. Students bring to us fresh perspectives. They ask relevant and probing questions.   Our relationships with students are built on trust and that is just one of the challenges of on line instruction. I look forward to the time when it is safe for us all to be on campus again.










Some Truths About Writing Instruction

Image result for black and white images of hands writing    When I was teaching middle school, a cadre of well meaning– but ill-formed– parents believed that structured writing instruction stifled creativity.  They argued vehemently against planning pages,  strong, specific topic sentences, and transitions on the grounds that practicing these basic writing skills interfered with their tweens’ budding imaginations.

Now that my job consists of supporting writers on the collegiate level, I feel a vindication of sorts. Professors across the content areas demand the same clear, organized and unified writing that I required of my middle school students. The very best among these professors provide students with structured exemplars and even templates to help students successfully express and defend complex–and yes, creative–thinking.  Image result for images of student writers

The reality of writing is that it is both a process and an acquired skill. As readers, it is easy to take the quality of the written word for granted. We get lost in novels that transport us and forget that nothing on the page–or screen–has been included haphazardly.  Engaging non-fiction informs, but to keep readers in the loop, these writers rely on text structure.

Writing Instruction Requires Structure

Truth.  Teachers are responsible for showing students how to best present their ideas. Student writers do not arrive in class with this skill. And they will not learn it through a series of unfocused, loose writing activities which may be fun, but which typically do little to help them produce clear, cohesive written responses. Teachers have to explicit teach and model planning.  Students have to first know what they are being asked to accomplish. They have to form a claim/thesis. They have to determine how they will support that claim. Rather than stifling creativity, refining these skills provides a springboard for effective discussion that ultimately frees student writers to take significant risks. Writing within a structure gives student writers a way to see their work with a beginning, middle and ending and the means to unify their ideas.

Writing Instruction Requires Practice.

A lot of practice. A middle school colleague likened this to riding a bike: “You didn’t learn to ride a bike only by watching someone else; you learned to ride a bike by getting on and pedaling.” (Thanks, Madeline, I still use this quote often.) Student writers improve when they are asked to write often. The steps in the process become embedded in their work. They plan. They draft. They edit. They vary their word choices and sentence structure. They do it all organically, as part of their approach to a prompt. And as they gain confidence, they are able to do this on-demand, something they are asked to do for standardized tests, for content areas exams, for placement purposes. Of course, all this practice means work for writing teachers.But. if we want our students to value writing, we have to value everything they write.

Writing Instruction Requires Time for Reflection.

Writing teachers have to build in time for students to see their written work as more than the numerical score earned. Students have to re-engage with their graded assignments through guided reflection. Using thoughtful teacher comments, they have to self-evaluate.  Teachers have to promote this through structured post-writing activities. Is the thesis strong and specific? Is the text-based evidence effective?  Is the response organized through topic sentences and transitions?  What part of this assignment was the most challenging? How is this response better than previous essays? Set two goals for your next written response.

Writing is hard work.

Image result for images of students working hard Plain and simple. This is why students complain so much about having to write. This is why frustrated parents, too, complain about writing assignments. There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes. In our district, administrators searched perpetually to buy into a “program,” some pre-packaged plan to produce stronger writers. They might as well have gone looking for the Fountain of Youth, because no such thing exists.

The good news is that technology gives students the means to revisit their writing. They can juggle sentences, search for synonyms, try on templates to introduce quotes. There are sites to answer grammar and citation questions. Yet as much as tech can help student writers, nothing subs in for the sweat factor.

Image result for images of successGiving students the structure and the tools to write well is a gift that keeps on giving. Writing clearly and concisely is more important now than ever. Students use these skills throughout their academic careers. In the workplace, they are judged by their project proposals, emails, memos and texts often sent to peers and supervisors without the benefit of face-to-face communication. Strong, confident writers will find ways to integrate creativity and imagination.