Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School - including a book giveaway

In 2005 Eva Moskowitz, believing she could build a better elementary school than the dysfunctional ones she visited, left her position as chair of New York City Council’s Education Committee. She along with Arin Lavinia, a former teacher and national literacy consultant, went on to create Success Academy Harlem. In just 3 years this charter school became one of the top schools in New York City and State. In the spring of 2009 their students took New York State’s standardized for the first time. They were the top-scoring charter in New York City. 

There are now 3,500 students attending nine Success Academy Schools with five more schools slated to open in this summer.

How do they do it? What is their secret?
Eva Moskowitz the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools and Arin Lavinia the designer and developer of Success Academy’s THINK Literacy program have written a book to share their secrets:

Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School

The book details Success Academy’s THINK Literacy curriculum which produced the dramatic results in their student’s reading and writing skills. Some of the differences in their culture and curriculum include:

- Students attend class almost nine hours a day (7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and stay for an hour of after-school tutoring if needed and some are back again on Saturday mornings. They bring homework assignments home each night.

- There is a huge emphasis on teacher training. Teachers are given hundreds of hours of training every year beginning about four weeks before classes begin. Also during the first two years of employment a teacher has minimally six months of training.

- The teachers are given time during the school day for planning and lesson preparation.

- Success Academy ups the rigor bar. The majority of American schools underestimate children intellectually. Success Academy challenges and pushes educators and students to stretch themselves every day. Rather than teaching slow enough that all the children get a lesson and boring the other students, the academies encourage teachers to teach as quickly as possible, setting the bar very high and encouraging the students to meet the high standards and learn quickly.

I was asked to read and report on this book with the following writing prompt:
Stagnation, being unable to accomplish one’s job at a high level, is one of the greatest sources of low teacher morale. Why do you think this country treats teaching so differently than it does other professions?
The way I see it for many years this country was content with keeping the public school system running status quo. It reminds me of the “because we’ve always done it this way” mentality.  Innovation or improving teaching methods was not a priority. See the following passage from the book:
Albert Shanker, who stood up for serious reform as president of the American Federation of Teachers, once said that public schools had fallen into the same trap as the U.S. Auto industry of old, thinking quality didn’t matter because it had a largely captive audience for its products.
Somewhere along the line public schools became lazy and complacent, just like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. A lot of things came together- grade inflation, social promotion, the breakdown of discipline – and made public education a mess. (Pgs. 13-14)
The current statistics are grim:
Currently it is not just Singapore, South Korea, and Japan that are putting our schools to shame; it is also Finland and Canada. A dozen of the world’s most prosperous countries now graduate more students for college, and only eight of the thirty four countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have worse high school dropout rates. (Pg. 144)
After realizing the country’s schools were in trouble the country did what it does best – threw money at the problem:
We spend well over $10,000 a year on average, educating each of the forty-nine million children and teens in public schools. No country in the world except Luxembourg spends that much. (Page 9)
Then we became convinced class size was the problem. We cut class size from 25-1 to 16-1. The focus now is to get more teachers into the classroom as quickly as possible. According to Career Jockey, to combat this issue, many colleges and universities are offering accelerated teaching degrees to students that already possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a variety of fields. Once they’ve completed the courses and passed their state’s teaching license exam, the student is considered a full-fledged teacher and able to look for work without having to student teach.

I am certainly no expert, but after reading Mission Possible, I have to believe teachers should be required to have more education and training not less.

If you would like to learn more about Eva Moskowitz or Mission Possible you can find Eva at:

I was compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Giveaway:
I have an extra copy of Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia's book Mission Possible to give away. This book is not just for teachers or charter school operators it is for anyone with an interest in improving teaching and learning in our schools.  The book includes a companion DVD providing clips and interviews.

To be eligible for the giveaway:
1. Leave a comment below
2. Include your email address

The drawing entry will close August 5, 2012

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We've never done it that way before!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I'm 50-Years Old and Still Can’t Think on My Feet

For most of July my boss, our company’s CFO, has been out of the office due to a family emergency. In the interim I've been covering for him. At first it was kind of fun – doing or delegating his work –  most of which he shouldn’t be doing anyway. But as the month drags on and I and our accounting department fall further behind, playing CFO has stopped being fun.

Then our HR Manager (regular readers may recall I've had issues with her in the past) decided our payroll person was incorrectly processing some of our payroll deductions. She called me into her office and began berating this employee behind her back telling me how stupid she was. Instead of standing up for my employee I offered to look into it. I went back to my office and searched how to process the specific deductions on the website. What our HR Manager had concluded didn’t make sense. I came up with a couple of examples as to why, braced myself and went back to her office to explain why she was mistaken. Of course I couldn't convince her and she ended up insisting she needed to check into the matter herself. It has been two days and I still haven't heard from her, so I assume her sources informed her she was wrong. If our CFO had been here this would have been a simple fix - I would have asked him, he would have said our payroll employee was correct and the HR Manager was wrong end of story.

This is such a minor incident why does it bother me?
Because here I am turning 50 this week and I still can’t think on my feet. I don't have a thick enough skin to stand up for my employee and articulate my thoughts when I am put on the spot.  When my boss retires in a few years I will never be strong enough to be the CFO on a permanent basis. Several years ago while re-reading my journals I discovered two years in a row I had written almost the identical entry on my birthday – in the upcoming year I am going to work on becoming a stronger person.

So here I am turning 50 and still challenging myself to becoming a stronger person in the upcoming year.

I didn't think I should blog about this. My challenge is so ordinary and there are others who have written about similar projects - Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (I couldn't take all the crying),  Noelle Hancock's My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir (Her dialog was atrocious - like nails on a chalkboard) and Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun (Happiness is her job how can the average person find time for this). Then I came across Danielle LaPorte’s post "The Biggest Threat to Your Creativity" where she writes:
... is the fear that it’s already been done, said, created.

(So why bother?)

Say it, do it, make it anyway —

but tell YOUR story along the way.

The story of how you came to know what you know.

The story of what you want to know more of.

The story of why you do what you do.
        The story of how you came to care.
And that’s how you create what’s never been created before
Danielle Laporte has inspired me. I’m going to do this. My 50th year is going to be all about:
Finding my Strength
For starters I have added Danielle Laporte's book The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms to my reading list.

I have signed up for the Chopra Center's 21-Day Meditation Challenge beginning July 16th. Guided by Deepak Chopra, and other master teachers I will learn practical techniques for becoming more calm, centered, and happy. The challenge is  21 days because studies have shown that it takes 21 days of consistent behavior to change a habit or create a new one.

I am also challenging myself to read books about those who have persevered and succeeded despite having obstacles in their lives.

I have a few other ideas, but nothing definite.  Have you taken on a similar challenge? Do you have any suggestions for me? If so please share.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Walgreens Way to Well Heath Tour Coming to Milwaukee

The WalgreensWay to Well Health Tour with AARP is a community outreach program that provides free health tests, consultations, and educational materials to the underserved communities that need it most – those that have the highest prevalence for leading diseases and highest uninsured or unemployed populations. The tour is part of a $100 million initiative to help Americans improve their health by providing early detection for chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

The tour includes a fleet of four health tour buses that are traveling throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico now through December.  The tour will be in and around Milwaukee beginning July 12 through August 4th.

The free health tests provided include:
·       Cholesterol

·       Glucose

·       Blood Pressure

·       Body Mass Index

 ·       Body Composition

 ·       Skeletal Muscle

 ·       Reseting Metabolism

 ·       Visceral Fat

 ·       Real Body Age

The tests are valued at over $100 and only take about 20 minutes to complete. Anyone 18 and older is encouraged to visit the tour - no appointment or insurance is necessary. Plus, each Wellness bus has at least one bilingual certified staff member on site. Visit to find your nearest tour stop location.

The health tests take place on the bus, although if a person is disabled or needs assistance the Wellness Tour staff will make the necessary accommodations, which may involve conducting select tests in a private area outside of the bus.

What about follow-up information?
After the health tests are performed, a pharmacist or wellness staff member provides the results and reviews them with the consumer. Visitors have access to free educational information on a variety of health and wellness issues that are available in both English and Spanish. Additionally, they will receive a free one-year AARP membership offer. Visitors are encouraged to see their Walgreens pharmacist, doctor or health care provider with any concerns.

Want to help? Here is how you can contribute?
If you can't make it out to visit the tour and still with to contribute, you can do so by purchasing Walgreens brand health and wellness products. 1¢ from the purchase of every Walgreens Brand Health and Wellness Product, up to $3 million annually. will support bringing preventative wellness services to local communities through the Walgreens Way to Well Fund.

"I was compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own."

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Sunday, July 01, 2012

How not to lose your cool while manager screams at you

The owner of my company has an intense type “A” personality.  He’s in his seventies and currently holds the position of CEO.  Over the years I’ve seen him lose his temper many, many times reducing his targets to jellyfish. Recently I experienced his anger first hand:

I was busy working on a project due in a couple of hours when our CEO interrupted me asking if I’d notarize some personal papers for him. He said something about where I should notarize as I searched for my notary stamp.  I took the forms and began filling in the date when I realized I was about to notarize someone else’s signature. I said this is for Mr. Smith?  He grabbed the forms and began screaming at me, “WHY DON’T YOU LISTEN.”  That is my brother’s section. I told you to notarize here.

I managed to keep my cool as I completed his request.  He did say, “How did you like being yelled at?” (Which was probably his way of apologizing) as I notarized. I responded with “I’ve been yelled at before.”      

How did I manage to keep my cool?
I was able to put his anger into perspective. Fortunately I had been reading Anne Kreamer's book It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace.  A couple of days earlier I had read the following paragraph:
Anger in response to frustrations encountered on the job is one of the most pervasive kinds, with 69% of our survey respondents reporting having been frustrated during the past year. This sort of anger lets off steam and relieves stress and almost half the people surveyed cited the perception of coworkers not doing their job properly as prime motivator for frustration – driven anger. (Pg. 58)
As the CEO was screaming at me I realized he was lashing out due to his frustration with my lousy listening skills.  Imagining where his anger was coming from shifted my focus from being yelled at to feeling guilty for not listening.

Another common technique given to change perspective is to imagine your opponent as a two-year old having a tantrum while wearing a diaper.

I kept breathing:
I discovered why breathing helps us remain calm in Penelope Trunk’s book Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success.  Practicing deep breathing was one of the techniques Lindy Amos, a consultant who teaches people build connections through authenticity, gave Penelope to practice at home: Penelope writes:

Lindy told me an American Indian proverb: “The difference between fear and excitement is breathing.” She said, “Fear causes your breathing to become shallow, your muscles to tense, and your brain to go blank.  We communicate to have impact. If we’re not breathing, we’re not even present. There is no chance of having impact if you aren’t even present.  Deep breaths free your constricted chest, oxygenate your blood, and put you in charge of your brain again.” (Pg. 108)
Perhaps most important I have learned something from all of this.  In the days that followed instead of brooding over being yelled at I made a conscious effort to really listen to others.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve my listening skills? Have any of you been yelled at in the workplace? How did you manage to stay calm?

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