Fast Flight Friday – August 30, 2019

Fast Flight Friday – August 30, 2019

Labor Day and Girls?

A lot has changed since that first Labor Day weekend way back in 1894. The technology-driven  workplace, worker and environmental safety, and a global marketplace are just a few. One of the biggest changes? Working women.

It’s a long way from the days when women were restricted from participation in the workforce; with more barriers falling every day. In fact, today nearly half of the workers who drive the American economy are women. Yet in 2019, gender inequality is still a significant challenge to overcome.

I could cite a mountain of statistics to illustrate unequal opportunities and wages, but when I think of our role as teachers, mentors and parents to inspire and empower, my thoughts turn to preparing young women to persevere, pioneer, and change our world (including the equity gap) for the better.

There are a lot of ideas about how to help girls and young women discover and exercise their power, so for this Fast Flight Friday I am excited to introduce you to some truly wonderful places to start the conversation. A few of my favorites:

I hit this website almost once a week for inspiration.  The site bills itself as “The world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls” It delivers on that account and more with thoughtful blog writing on a broad range of topics – from famous women spies to how to help your daughter express anger appropriately. They regularly feature girl-centric literature with comprehensive reviews and interesting groupings of titles, and it’s hard to  resist collecting them all!

Targets girls (and boys) 10-14 with profiles of exceptional women who have achieved success while overcoming obstacles. The range of women and careers profiled is broad and includes many women of color. Like A Mighty Girl, the site has added sources presented in their blog where they introduce modern and historical women and perspectives. In addition to videos, SheHeroes offers a weekly podcast. This is definitely one to check out.

The idea here is that girls should have access to “diverse and accomplished women role models to learn from their experiences and discover their own path to empowerment.” It’s friendly, well-organized and has an accessible, high quality,YouTube-style presentation. The site also has tools for exploring college majors and preparing for careers and themed activity ideas.  Bookmark? Yes!

This one is STEM specific but the wacky host, Sophie Shrand, really keeps it engaging with her focus on the science that is all around us. Set up in an episode format so viewers can browse and find something that hits their mood. One of the great features is that you can often “experiement along” with easy to find materials and instructions. A favorite, and definitely worth a visit, or two.

Be fearlessly you,



The one thing I will do this new school year

The one thing I will do this new school year

School bells and backpacks certainly bring out the advice. My email and newsfeeds are crammed with articles about how to make this a great school year: healthy lunches, organizational hacks, how to find a tutor, budget school supplies, and lots of homework tips. Including the thousands of offerings about grit, mindset and mindfulness, that’s quite a list. Is it possible to get it all right?

You can’t and you won’t.

There is one thing though, that every teacher, parent, mentor and friend can do: Encouragement!  There is a lot of stress for students today (which is a whole other article) and with it comes an abundance of negative thoughts, feelings and talk.

When in a “negative space,” our brains are not at their best.  In science-y terms, negativity and stress ramp up the amygdale, preparing the body for crisis. When this happens, the prefrontal cortex does not function at full capacity, lessening our ability to concentrate, think creatively, and process information.

Positive emotions generally do the opposite.

Positive words are like a rich, internal reservoir from which a person can sustain their motivation. They become a part of the narrative that guides their development and, impact the brain’s neuroplasticity. Given this amazing power, it’s not surprising at all, that often we can recall words of encouragement we’ve received for years to come.

Let’s be clear; I’m not talking about heaping doses of empty praise. In addition to all sorts of negative effects, kids can see right through that.

I do mean making an effort to offer genuine encouragement; sharing observations that help children understand themselves, and how their strengths drive their success.

Rather than rolling my eyes when the kid who wants to talk about nothing but soccer approaches, I’m going to say (and think)“Your passion for soccer brings me joy.”

In the midst of an argument, a carefully placed “It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in” might send the discussion in a new direction. And conversely when someone listens to my point of view, “Thank you for respecting my thinking.”

When a young person demonstrates kindness, or an appreciation for another human being, I won’t let it go unnoticed by calling out the action with a simple, “Thank you for your kindness, What you did was very generous, I appreciate how you put yourself in someone else’s shoes….”

We tend to measure life with the big benchmarks; the final grade, the championship game, the diploma or degree earned. Those successes are not a single moment, but a compilation of perhaps thousands of small wins, incremental achievements, and daily actions or behaviors that together, add up to a life of accomplishment.

In her diary, Anne Frank reminds us that “Everyone has inside of them a piece of good news.” If there is one back-to-school tip you adopt this year, let it be to highlight that news: little triumphs, the quiet wins, and above all, the actions and habits that lead to a lifetime of success.

Encouraging people, and lifting someone else up is far from easy. Finding the positive amidst an overly busy and sometimes negative world – and being present in that moment to notice it – takes intentionality. But the benefits are far-reaching, and valuable beyond any measure.

We can!

Week 4 Strategy: Organization

Week 4 Strategy: Organization

The college process is a multi-month exercise of taking in and managing a lot of information. And all that information that matters in getting the money you need and making a solid college choice, not to mention saving time – which is at a premium senior year.

Staying on top of deadlines and paying attention to detail are essential, and having an organization system specific to your college journey is best tackled before classes start, or within the first two weeks of school. You need a planner, too but that’s a post of its own!

I’m a fan of a hybrid system: an old-school binder AND electronic docs well organized into folders. Why not just make it all electronic? You definitely can, but hear me out on the binder thing.

Here’s what works best in electronic folders:


Drafts of your application essay(s) and personal statement(s). You don’t have to write here if your composition process works best on paper, but when you get the draft close to completion, it is worthwhile to transfer it into electronic form. This will smoothly accommodate last inputs and edits and, you’ll have it all ready to cut/paste when the deadline nears.

Bonus One. Typing your essay is anothe rofrm of editing and revising.

Bonus Two.  You’ve got a changeable piece of writing you can use again for similar prompts in scholarship apps.


Brag sheet. You can create yours electronically or manually – whatever works. For ease of customizing it for your recommenders, and sharing via email or Google, electronic doc is the way to go.

These things are efficiently managed in paper format:


Usernames and passwords for each college. Also notate challenge question answers etc. (This could be captured in a spreadsheet also)


Your school transcript. You’ll be referring to this quite a bit when you’re filling out applications. Paper is less distracting than toggling back and forth between sites and increases accuracy as you manually input numbers and info from one source into another.


FAFSA information. Usernames and passwords. Misplacing user credentials for the FAFSA can end in major frustration so make sure you’ve got it all together. Also, note the email address and phone number you entered. Best practice – write all of this down as you are doing the FAFSA! 

Print copies of FAFSA generated reports (like the SAR) because they provide info about your federal aid and are an early baseline of the $ you have available to you. Some students print out a copy of their completed FAFSA. 


Entrance and placement exams info. Yes, this is generally handled electronically. Still, having paper copies of score reports makes them easier to digest and to share with coaches or counselors. Ditto on storing your user credentials.

Depends on your style:


Your college list will be fluid over time.  Pencil-Eraser or Cut-Past metholds both work.


Scholarship lists. Do consider electronic spreadsheets so you can save links for quick access when you’re ready to apply.


Letter of recommendation tracking.

Also in the binder:


Materials and letters you receive from colleges or acquire while on a visit.  Organize according to college.  Later, you’ll add acceptance letters, financial aid offers.


Written instructions provided by your high school counselor. Most schools have procedures/policies for transcript requests and letters of recommendation. All in one place will be a time saver.

Hope you find these organizational suggestions useful. If you have a system that works for you, by all means, continue on. Just make sure you’re taking control!

Organize on!

Fast Flight Friday – August 9, 2019

Fast Flight Friday – August 9, 2019

Happy National Book Lovers Day!


For book fanatics, today is almost better than Christmas! Here’s what I’m planning for my own celebration, along with a few favorite book lover quotes. Hope you’ll be able to join in the fun.


Visiting the Library.

The smell of old books, the crinkly plastic dust jackets and stacks upon stacks of free books. “The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history.”  Carl T. Rowan


 Dropping in on some old friends.

What was your breakout book? The one that sucked you in like nothing before and changed your whole outlook on reading…and life? Lord of the Flies tops that list for me. Started it this morning and am loving my time with Piggy and Ralph. “The thing is – fear can’t hurt you any more than a dream.” William Golding


Sharing the joy.

Less than a block away, one of my neighbors has erected a little free library. It is painted a cheery red and I live for the days that I drive by and someone is there browsing. Little free library is a nonprofit organization that promotes neighborhood book exchanges. There are more than 90,000. Find a new read or leave a favorite story for someone else to discover. Check out this website to find a little library near you.


Having tea with Bilbo.

Some writers just know how to write food.  The Van Tassels feast in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is written so vividly you can taste the donuts, pies and cakes.  Just thinking of the first chapter of the Hobbit, An Unexpected Party, filled hungry dwarves eating seed cakes, apple tarts and raspberry jam has my mouth watering. I’m serving tea at 4:00 and serving this delicious tart. 

Treating myself.

Deadlines. Responsibilities. Life is stressful but reading is a respite from the cares of the day. Researchers have found that reading reduces stress, keeps the brain sharp and can even help you sleep better. Will finish the day, as always, slipping away with a cozy read.


Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination and the journey. They are home.

Anna Quindlen

Be fearlessly you,




Back to School Isn’t Great for Everybody

Back to School Isn’t Great for Everybody

It’s back to school season and my teaching friends are posting photos of their classroom decorations on Pinterest and asking for lesson plan recommendations. Parent friends are Instagramming photos of last minute vacations and their kids with their shiny new shoes and bright, overflowing backpacks. I too, have fallen under the spell of special edition crayon packs and the possibilities of a nifty new binder.


Yet, in the midst of all this excitement, I am thinking of some other kids; students whose families are struggling with poverty, who are going back to school without – without a carefree summer break behind them, without school supplies, without proper clothing, without lunch money. Twenty-one percent of children in the U.S. living below the poverty line, making this an all-too-common back-to-school experience in schools across the country.  


We know that the chronic stresses of poverty can change a child’s brain; inhibiting ability to manage behavior, language development and memory, among other challenges. And while addressing these issues can be complex, there are so many things we can do to help a young person face a new school year – starting with not shaming them.  


That first trip through the lunch line that singles out free lunch students from their peers. Public “unboxing” of school supplies in the classroom. Or one of my most hated first day activities ever: “Draw a picture/tell us what you did on your summer vacation,” Followed closely with the Family Tree activity assigned under the guise of getting to know your students.


Social class, race, gender, family make-up and other social differences dramatically influence how a child perceives school. When handled poorly by teachers and schools, these differences may leave a negative and indelible mark on their memories of school, not to mention their engagement with learning.


Just brainstorming here, inviting you to create a kinder, gentler back to school this year and helping kids focus on learning instead of the shame and stress of being poor and different.

Outfitting kids for success

Encourage your school and/or teacher to adopt a “shared” supply policy so each student has equal access to what they need to complete assignments and activities. And, collect supplies in such a way that won’t embarrass students who don’t have them. Secondly, most schools have their supply lists posted in popular stores such as Target and Walmart. If you are able, grab a list and outfit a student for the year, or add a few items to donate to a local classroom.

Learning at home.

We could debate the value of homework all day, but most schools are still dishing it out. Homework assumes quite a lot about a child’s home life – starting with the child having a home. Beyond that, we assume that they have a place where they can do their homework, an adult able and available to help and, the means to purchase homework and project materials.

 I’m a huge advocate for outfitting a “project closet” where students can source materials they don’t have at home and to provide the tools they need for projects, or the school science or history fairs. In my classroom, I had grab and go bags of supplies that any student could use when needed. No check out/check in system, just a note inside saying to return the bag so it could be refilled. Sometimes my students were helping their siblings, too and I kept them stocked and available with donations from local non profits and stores. And don’t forget high school students. A stack of planners to supply students who don’t have one would be as a good as gold in any high school.  

Great minds start with full tummies.

Thank you President Truman for the National School Lunch Program; hunger is bad for learning! Yet, as they are implemented today, school breakfast and lunch programs single children out by requiring them to come to school early or, by providing only the very basic foodstuffs the program will allow, while more affluent children receive “fun” meal extras like cookies or nachos. These cues are easily read, and everyone knows who is “poor enough” to get free lunch, often prompting those in the program to skip meals all together. Recently, the news has highlighted stories of schools calling out students publically (or refusing meals at all) because their parents cannot pay their portion of the reduced fee or, they are not enrolled. This is disgraceful.

 Some school districts are extending free lunch to all students. Everyone getting free meals means no one is singled out for their socioeconomic status, and goes a long way to help destigmatize poverty at school. That’s a big move and one not all districts can afford. What else can you do?

 Educate yourself on your school’s policies and procedures and speak out for practices that protect each child’s privacy and dignity. Encourage your local food bank to start backpack programs that provide take home foodstuffs right at school so students can have nutritious meals at home, too. Or, you might just grab a gift card to a local grocery or superstore to gift to a teacher to supply his/her snack drawer for a student who is obviously hungry and distracted.

One of the most effective ways we have to reduce poverty is through education. This year, as we relive memories of joyful school days of years past, let’s work together to ensure we are giving all children the chance to reach their full potential today. As the bright new crayons and shiny backpacks hit the shelves, let’s act on our impulse to get engaged. It can be as easy as purchasing a box of crayons or as big as running for the school board. Maybe your book club or church group could adopt a classroom or pursue one of the ideas here? The key to strong communities is to get involved, and as a wise colleague once told me, no effort on behalf of a child is ever wasted.

Happy Back to School!



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