Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Molasses Classes" no more!

When you think of non-fiction books about effective teaching strategies, “page turner” probably doesn’t come to mind.

That’s only because you haven’t yet read Ron Clark’s new book, “The End of Molasses Classes.”

First, there’s the title. What’s a “molasses class?” Clark — author, Disney “American Teacher of the Year,” and Oprah Winfrey’s first “Phenomenal Man” — explains it right away. Molasses means slow, and that’s exactly how he would describe so many classrooms in the U.S.: slow-moving classrooms sapped of all energy, with drained teachers and half-asleep students.

That’s the exact opposite of what you get at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta and with this book. Much of that is due to his writing voice—engaging, bright, energetic, just like Clark is in real life (as we know, from visiting the school often as etiquette instructors). But he also includes so many real-life examples of how he’s solved problems in the classroom and in the homes of his inspiring students, that by the end the reader feels like he or she knows them.

That’s all very well and good, you say, but what’s the book about?

In a nutshell, it’s about energizing and improving teachers so they can invigorate their classrooms, reach their students, and create a difference in education so strong that Clark calls it a revolution. Readers can learn how to do this in part by reading about RCA’s core values.

It is clear that the school is a highly disciplined environment, but that within those rigid guidelines is plenty of room to thrive and even shine. Clark and other RCA teachers push their students, often giving grades that are probably lower than what students would get at other places—but those high expectations result in not only impressive test scores but also a love for learning. Students feel loved, too: Clark visits students homes just to see how they are studying, and invites them to his house for dinner. School trips routinely include visits to other countries (global learning is a hallmark at RCA). Teachers get to work early and stay late, and think nothing of volunteering their time to put together last-minute events or even remodel a student’s dire living conditions.

The book also offers tips to parents on how to encourage their children without being “a helicopter parent,” he writes. “You can’t come to their rescue forever...Parents need to learn that there is a difference between supporting and interfering.” (Interfering, as illustrated by several examples he’s experienced, includes insisting a student hasn’t cheated when he has, or complaining about or demanding changes to grades.)

Clark’s clear devotion to his students is impressive, especially his way of becoming involved in their personal lives — a brave choice, when many teachers keep students’ home lives (especially when they are messy, and thus more in need of intervention) at arm’s length.

Not every school can have a giant blue slide that goes from the second to first floor. Not every school can rewire a classroom to accommodate a “magical red button” that triggers a strobe light display to celebrate everyday achievements. Not every school can incorporate Hogwarts-style school houses.

But there are plenty of changes people can make that cost nothing at all, other than your time and commitment. Those investments yield so much, as evidenced by the heartwarming (sometimes tear-jerking!) success stories of RCA students.

In fact, by the time you finish the book, you’ll wish you could be an RCA student, too!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Conference etiquette

Conferences are a wonderful way to learn more about your job, network, or simply explore personal growth. If you are preparing to attend one, please remember that manners are just as important at conferences as they are anywhere else.

Here are just a few tips for registered guests:

• Remember that guests paid to hear the lecturer’s expertise. Please refrain from whispering or chatting incessantly while the presenter is speaking.

• Similarly, if an attendee asks a question, let the lecturer answer it — don’t jump in to answer it yourself or otherwise derail or monopolize the conversation.

• If your workshop does not require you to have your laptop, iPad or other tech equipment out on the table, keep it in your bag and look at the presenter as he or she is talking.

• Remember to silence those cell phones! If you are expecting an extremely important call, be prepared to take it out in the hallway.

• If you have questions, write them down—most presenters will tell you there will be time at the end of the session to answer questions.

• Arriving late or leaving early can be a distraction. But what if the session you are in is starting to run late, and you have another session to attend? Stay until the last possible moment, and then quietly make your exit. Then, later, either speak to or leave a note for the presenter who was running late, apologizing for leaving early but explaining that you had to get to the next session. Be sure to tell the speaker how much you enjoyed the presentation, and mention if you've learned something new - that way, you can turn something negative (leaving early) into something positive (conveying that you learned valuable information).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month

How many times have you overheard a complete stranger’s most personal details, loudly shared during a cell phone call? Or tried to watch a movie in a theater, only to be distracted by the flashing lights of text messages?

We’ve shared before a handy guide on when and where you should turn off your cell phone. It’s a topic worth revisiting, especially since July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month!

Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of National Cell Phone Courtesy Month

In July 2002, etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore saw a need for education on proper cell phone use. Then she realized no such awareness formally existed—so she formed National Cell Phone Courtesy Month herself.

Whitmore is the founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach and the author of Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin’s Press, 2005) and the upcoming Poised for Success (St. Martin’s Press, November 2011). She has appeared on ABC’s 20/20, The Fox Report with Shepard Smith, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360°, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, ExtraTV, CNBC, and

So, as you might imagine, she was uniquely qualified to start an awareness campaign on cell phone etiquette.

Even though that was 9 years ago, Whitmore says she still sees plenty of bad cell phone manners, both in texting and calling, and it’s not just young people who are the offenders.

“The Millenials or Gen-Ys do more texting, but I think the Baby Boomers are catching up as much,” she said during a recent phone call. “Each generation violates their own set of cell phone etiquette rules.”

Common cell phone pet peeves include the “cell yell” (someone loudly sharing a private conversation or even argument while on the phone), calling or texting at movie theaters or concerts, and customers refusing to get off the phone while a sales clerk, bank teller or other service industry workers attempt to help them.

The phone itself isn’t a problem, she says: it’s how you use it.

“I don’t mind texting,” she said. “It’s only a problem when you do it in the company of other people, not paying attention to the person you’re with.”

These days, even young children have cell phones designed and marketed especially to them—not just toys meant to model mom’s or dad’s phone, but working cell phones. We asked Whitmore whether she thought such early exposure to technology would change the way children interact socially with others as they grow—would they, for example, be unable to look at someone in the face while talking to them, so used to communicating via texting?

Again, Whitmore suggested the phone is a tool, and it’s up to parents to teach their children how and when to use it.

“Children are receiving their messages of what’s right and wrong from their parents,” she said. “When they see their parents engaging in poor cell phone behavior, they think that’s the right way to act.”

So, parents: if you out to dinner, the movies, or anywhere else it’s inappropriate to use your phone, and you tell your children to put the phones away, that means you need to follow your own advice.

“You can’t have a double standard,” she said.

We are pleased to share with you Whitmore’s top 10 cell phone etiquette tips, used with permission from her blog. For more information, visit her website.

1. Be all there. When you’re in a meeting, performance, courtroom or other busy area, let calls go to voicemail to avoid a disruption. In some instances, it’s best to put your phone on silent mode.

2. Keep it private. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid discussing private or confidential information in public. You never know who may be in hearing range.

3. Keep your cool. Don’t display anger during a public call. Conversations that are likely to be emotional should be held where they will not embarrass or intrude on others.

4. Learn to vibe. Use your wireless phone’s silent or vibration settings in public places such as business meetings, religious services, schools, restaurants, theaters or sporting events so that you don’t disrupt your surroundings.

5. Avoid “cell yell.” Remember to use your regular conversational tone when speaking on your wireless phone. People tend to speak more loudly than normal and often don’t recognize how distracting they can be to others.

6. Follow the rules. Some places, such as some restaurants or courtrooms, restrict or prohibit the use of mobile phones, so adhere to posted signs and instructions. Some jurisdictions may also restrict mobile phone use in public places.

7. Excuse yourself. If you’re expecting a call that can’t be postponed, alert your companions ahead of time and excuse yourself when the call comes in; the people you’re with should take precedence over calls you want to make or receive.

8. Send a text message when you want to send a quick message. But remember not to text while having a conversation with another person. It’s important to give others, especially clients and customers, your full, undivided attention.

9. Watch and listen discreetly. Multimedia applications such as streaming video and music are great ways to stay informed and access the latest entertainment. Use earphones to avoid distracting others in public areas.

10. Don’t text and drive. Don’t put your life or those of others at risk. Pull over if you absolutely must send a message or wait until you reach your destination.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Terrific Tuesdays with the Ron Clark Academy

The Ron Clark Academy is such a special place, and we are honored to have a relationship with them!

During the school year, we have Terrific Tuesdays. On these days, Debra and a handful of college staff members pile into the car and head to Atlanta for a fun-filled afternoon.

On Terrific Tuesdays, we teach two classes ranging from 15-25 students a variety of topics. We cover all the basics, but also some oft-forgotten details: how to properly use chopsticks, write thank-you notes, or receive a diploma. You know, the fun stuff.

There’s also dancing, of course. We teach the Cha-Cha, Waltz, Fox Trot, Electric Slide, and the Snap. In return, we learn some new dance moves, too, sometimes invented on the spot by our students.

There’s also a gigantic blue slide.

Yes, the Ron Clark Academy has a big blue indoor slide—you see it right when you come in the front doors of the main building. Getting “slide-certified” is quite an honor. You climb to the top of the slide, listen to students down below sing a special song, and then down you go.

We just finished our second year of Terrific Tuesdays, and can't wait to return to the Ron Clark Academy the next school year!