Tuesday, December 23, 2008

School to Eliminate Grade-Levels, Ability Equals Promotion

Here, here! A school district has decided due to low enrollment and low test scores it will no longer assign students to grade levels, but instead, promote based upon ability to master standards. This is a model used in the work world for years. What a wonderful idea -- if students are allowed to move at their own pace -- and not when convenient for administrators, teachers and other personnel. Likewise, an employee who is permitted to move at his or her own accomplishment level may reach the boardroom in record time, given the opportunity and erasure of artificial time constraints.

The question is, "What would you accomplish if you knew you could move through the learning system based upon how quickly you proved you knew the skills?"
Here's an excerpt of the original article from the Denver Post:

A school district in Westminster struggling with declining enrollment and falling test scores will try something revolutionary next year that many say never has been accomplished in the Lower 48.

Adams 50 will eliminate grade levels and instead group students based on what they know, allowing them to advance to the next level after they have proved proficiency.

"If they can pull this off, it will be a lighthouse for America's challenged school districts," said Richard DeLorenzo, the consultant who implemented a standards-based model in Alaska and is working with Adams 50. "It will change the face of American education."

To read the full story, please visit the Denver Post here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Learn to Fall

Today I received a newsletter in my in-box for writers. In that was an article by Jodi Thomas a the New York Times and US Today bestselling author of over 25 novels, including her latest, Tall, Dark, and Texan (Jove, 2008). The one tip she had for writers was "learn to fall."

Why YOU Need to Learn to Fall
It doesn't matter if you're still in the classroom or in corporate America. The world will not always give you exactly what you want. Some days, you just might get a whole bucket full of rejection, setbacks and conflict. If you can get up, keep going, focus on the goal, not the setbacks, you'll get the results you want.

Edison's Take on Falling: Falling is NOT Failing
"During all those years of experimentation and research, I never once made a discovery. All my work was deductive, and the results I achieved were those of invention, pure and simple." --On his years of research in developing the electric light bulb, as quoted in "Talks with Edison" by George Parsons Lathrop in Harpers magazine, Vol. 80 (February 1890), p. 425
No where does he say he was a failure. He just said he didn't make a discovery. How you frame your work decides your final success or other outcome.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Reply to All

A colleague of mine called me on Wednesday night and said, "Next time you write about business, please address 'reply to all.'" Then, I said, "And spam. Nothing is worse than spam, especially if it is promoting a point of view that doesn't belong in business." She agreed that sappy poems about dead relatives, religious dogma and off-color jokes don't belong in business communications.

So what is "Reply to All"?
When you receive a message from the boss and every other employee gets the same message, that does not mean everyone on the team wants to know your input or even needs to. If they are your peers, they're probably not the decision maker in the situation, but like you, needs to be aware of information that the supervisor is sending out.
  • If you have a question, reply only to the sender.
  • Do not reply at all if you're not required to and if you understand the message that was sent initially. Your supervisor is paid too much money to read an in-box full of, "Thank you" and "I agree" messages.
What is Spam?
Spam originally got its name from a Monty Python song whose lyrics consist of the same word over and over again: Spam. The repetition, lack of necessary content, and annoyance at receiving these junk e-mails can be frustrating at best.

Before you select "send" ask yourself:
  • Is this business related or related to the professional development of anyone on this team? If so, you should send it only to those who are directly connected the message.
  • Is it promoting a personal view (including political, religious, or any area that can be considered an "-ism" such as sexism or racism)? If so, STOP and do not send.
  • Is it in celebration of a holiday, cause or event that the company is sponsoring? If so, send it along to those who will need to make work adjustments to be on board.
  • Is it in celebration of a holiday, cause or event that is not connected to work, professional development of any staff, or just sounds like fun? Unless there is a precedent set by the management to send out such information, don't do it. You never know who you may offend and it might land you in a chair in the human resources office if supervisors feel you're not using work time to do your job first, and play on your own time.
  • Is it religious in nature? Unless you work for a religion-based company, don't send it. The world is full of enough discrimination without someone having to hear, yet again, how your point of view is good, right and best. Be respectful and responsible and never assume that "everyone" at the office celebrates the same religious holidays or customs. It is simply narrow-minded in this global age to believe that everyone is the same.
In short, e-mail is a tool for business when you're at work. If what you're sending does not support the business or the message of the company, you should save those messages for your circle of friends or social media sites that you access off the clock.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Entering and Exiting with Grace

Imagine you're in a meeting that has already begun. Five minutes into the session, someone barges in announcing, "I'm sorry I'm late. Can you go back to the beginning?"
He is told by the meeting chair, "No, we're moving forward. If you have questions after the session, please speak with me."
The latecomer announces, "But I couldn't find a parking place! You're not fair."
Then, three more people walk in late demanding to know what is going on and the situation snowballs into a meeting filled with tension.

What's unacceptable about this situation?
  • Is the the meeting chair's response that the meeting is moving forward?
  • What about the first tardy attended who interrupted?
  • Did he set a precedent for the other three tardies?
From this scenario it is difficult to know for certain for the full circumstances. However, if the chairperson has said the meeting will continue, he or she has the final say. Period.
If the latecomers are indeed late, they ought to have the class and understanding not to interrupt when they enter, but to come in quietly and get their bearings before asking questions.

From a business point of view, questioning a supervisor, anyone running and meeting or in authority in front of others in the same manner the first man did may result in disciplinary action and exclusion from further meetings, even if he had a legitimate excuse solely because he was rude, inappropriate and obnoxious.

When you enter or exit a meeting already in progress, do so silently and with grace.
As my mother said to me countless times, "You can make people smile when you enter a room or when you leave a room. The choice is based upon how you act around others." I say, in the business world, how you act also determines your opportunities.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cell Phones and Professionalism

Unless you work for a cellular service provider, it is almost never acceptable to take calls during a meeting, training, class or discussion with another. This includes allowing your phone to buzz away endlessly as a persistent caller tries to reach you during such a professional event. Most schools, colleges and universities included, ban cell phone use in the classroom to prevent cheating and to make sure students are paying attention in class.

Penalties for Mobile Phone Use in Education and Business
  • If you're in public k-12 education, the phone can be confiscated. One district I used to work for required offenders' parents to come in and collect the phone and repeated offenders could be given in-school suspension.
  • If you're in college, you can be barred from the rest of the class, and sent home for disruption.
  • In any academic setting, if you're texting or taking calls during and exam, you can be charged with cheating and expelled.
  • One networking group I belong to charges members fees if their phones go off during a presentation ($1 if it rings or buzzes, and $5 if you take the call).

The crux of the matter is this: cell phones are not appropriate in all situations. Know that unless you have express permission to use them in business or academic settings, you will face consequences, even if the only repurcussion to be thought of as an absolutely rude person.

Remember: The perceptions others have of your seriousness and professionalism can hurt your career beyond repair.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Failure is Gateway to Success

Peter Shankman of Help A Reporter Out sent me this video today. If you are afraid to take a risk, it may be the message you need to get up and try.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Attitude Influences Opportunity

Have you ever applied for a job after earning your training in the field and not been able to find work even if positions in your field were abundant? Take stock in your academic performance and you might be surprised. The truth is that the problem may have started your first day of school. Did you groan over the magnitude or type of work you were given? Did you threaten to quite because it was too hard or you just didn't get it? Ever hang out in a pack of students and gripe about an instructor? Were you a student who "texted" in class and didn't go the extra mile on your homework and classwork? Although these things are not directly related to you knowledge base, they did influence what other people saw about your personality and what you had to offer. That impression will remain with them, and haunt you, long after graduation. Teachers, deans, admissions reps and placement officers all ask each other, "Who goes the extra mile? Who always came to class no matter what? Who did the best work and is the best representative of our school?" I can promise, the negative, no-show, nay-sayers are not the ones that get the job of their dreams. Every negative choice these people make take money out of their own pockets for their future. The choice is simple. Life is chaotic and full of surprises. Work and training require effort, application of knowledge and everyone wants to be associated with positive people who get the job done. If you're not with the program from day one, you won't be hired when all is said and done.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

When No One is Watching

I believe that integrity,  responsibility and respect are best shown in a person's character when they believe no one is watching. Recently, a class of college students and I were talking about the harsh realities of working retail and service sector jobs. A student told the class that she hated customers who always wanted something for free. She gave an example of a man at a fast food restaurant saying, "And that's buy one-get one, right?" Instead of saying, "I'm sorry, sir, but we do not have that special here." She said, "Yes, sir. You'll get one free." Then we went around the corner out of his sight, spit inside the bun of a sandwich and gave both to the man with a smile. 

Now, several things flashed across my mind in this situation. First, I can't believe she would do such a disgusting act. Secondly, she lied to a customer to get some kind of revenge, when he was asking a question she could have given an honest answer to. Third, she admitted to this atrocious act in front of all her peers and a teacher who is in a position to recommend her (or not) for future employment, and she showed absolutely no remorse. 

What do you do when asked to do something that is not policy? Do you cave in to make a customer happy? Do you lie to the customer and do what could get you fired? Do you take revenge on someone for an innocent question? Do you celebrate your indiscretions and wonder why blessings don't come back on you?

As an educator I'm often told by students I've got an attitude or I'm "cold" because I will not bend on deadlines or policies. I have worked far too long and too hard to build up integrity with those I value. If I were to break a policy to appease a student or customer when I know that doing so will put my company/school in a bad light, make my supervisor question my integrity or make me appear as a pushover when push comes to shove, I am the one who will pay the highest price for my choice. 

Here's an example. A student gets ill during an exam and must leave class. Later on, that student comes to me and wants to finish his exam. Do I give him the same exam knowing he's had several days to look up answers to the one he's seen before, knowing no other student got that opportunity? No other student would see if he did the same exam. It would be my word against his, right? It is worth far more to me to say, "I'm sorry, but I cannot let you retake the same exam. You can, however, take a different version of the exam at a later date." Then set a date with the student to come in outside of class hours to make it up. The student may tell me I'm unfair, that my attitude stinks because I'm implying he cheated, and so forth, but in the end, doing the right thing is worth the momentary wrath of someone who has put me in a position to make a call of integrity, responsibility and respect. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Testing Success

Long before the birth of No Child Left Behind, students have suffered test anxiety. Workplace testing is no exception. My husband works in an industrial job that must comply to its own set of standards for safety as well as OSHA standards. On occasion, usually annually, all employees are required to watch a video about some aspect of their duties and then take a test upon the content of the video. Even as a teacher I did the same annual process for knowing what to do with blood-borne pathogens. Each time I was tested, and my husband has been, and my students are tested, the discomfort immediately begins.

Common Responses to Testing
1. Anger, thinking the material is not important and the testing process is a waste of time.
2. Stress, including fear of failure.
3. Misplaced anger, blaming the enforcer of the testing for all the tester does not know and does not like about the test.

Solutions to Testing Anxiety
1. Know that rarely do tests matter in themselves as much as the knowledge the test addresses. Know that tests are just a tool to see what you know about a particular subject. They are not designed to make a fool of you or to humiliate anyone.
2. Ask yourself: A year from now, will it matter if you passed the test the first time you took it? In most cases, it does not and second or even third chances are given if need be because mastery of the information is key, not the assessment device.
3. Do you have time to study or prepare? If so, use it wisely. Some business tests, such as employee handbook and ethics tests are purposely created to allow the tester to view the material being tested upon during the test itself!

What matters most in testing is to recall it is one tool to assess your knowledge and proof you've had the opportunity to learn the material at hand. Everyone wants to be successful, and your employers and teachers also want you to know the material. Approach the process with an open mind and you'll get further faster, and possibly never have to take that particular test again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Killing the Messenger

Over the years, I have had the inauspicious occasion to see students and employees turn on teachers and middle managers because of the messages they are told to deliver, and uphold. For example, if you enroll in college and take an entrance exam that says you need remedial or preparatory English or math before you can take any other classes, what do you do?

Reluctant Student Reactions:
1. The unbelievers get mad and challenge the test. Some even demand to re-test.
2. Those who are mad about the test, enroll and don't stop griping about it.
3. The semester begins and students are reminded they must pass the class and it stirs up their emotions enough that everything the instructor says, no matter how positive the words or inspirational the message is delivered.
4. Several classes go by and students become belligerent and verbally attack the instructor with comments like, "You work us too hard. I didn't want to take this class anyway. Is this something you came up with or do we really need to do this because I am going to have to quit my job to keep up with all this garbage you gave me!" 
5. Students go into other classes in "packs" and gripe about "having to take that class" and never address the issue properly, instead spreading venom and ill-will. Even if the other instructors try to help mediate and address the problem. (A sure sign the students know nothing will change, and they don't want to let the fact of the matter that they must do it go.)

In short, these students are killing the messenger. Their dean, admissions representatives, and instructor did not decide they needed to take the class. Their ABILITIES dictated what needed to happen. The instructor usually is working from an institution-approved syllabus that sets what must be covered to get these students up to speed. Still, all verbal attacks are directed outwardly (at the school or the teacher) instead of students taking a moment and saying, "Okay. I don't like that I have to do this, but I know I can and I'll prove to them this is easy for me and maybe in the end, if it isn't, I'll learn something I can use in my future." 

How to resolve the problem?
1. Head-on. One dean went into an instructor's class and said, "Who is mad they have to take this class?" Then was sure to add, "Well, this is required and somehow/someway you showed as deficient. You're already on the way. I want you to be competitive in the market. To be competitive you must have the best skills and to let you move forward without knowing this is a disservice to you. Anyone who let you do so did not have your best interest at heart." Some students liked this meeting and owned up to the reality it was a necessary step in moving into their career of choice. Others did not.
2. Be honest. If a student still can't "get with the program" and the message is that the hurdle is required to move forward, that student simply will not move forward. That may mean dropping out of school altogether. Although the instructor, dean and institution do not want this to happen, sometimes a student just is not ready.
3. Those who drop out because they don't want to take that remedial/prep class may realize down the road that they DO need to get such training to move forward and when the discomfort of life becomes unbearable, then, and only then, will they say to themselves, "I need to make a change and if that means I need a preparatory class to get where I want to go, I'll do it."  I know one student who did so and admits, "I refused the first time because I thought I knew it all and it was a waste of money. Then, I realized I hated my job and wanted more for my life. I went back and took it. I learned a lot that teachers either never taught me before or I had just missed it."

In the end, 
if you are angry over having to do something you do not want to do, 
it is probably out of fear. Change is difficult. 
No one wants to be unsuccessful or labeled as stupid or less-than in any capacity. 
Realize no one is labeling you 
and that class you don't want to take is 
your ticket away from that label for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reunion. com Invite Apologies -- Computer Glitch Spam

Dear Friends of School Room to Boardroom,
Against my wishes and actions, it appears Reunion.com has spammed all of my contacts in my private e-mail lists to invite people to register for their services. This was not done intentionally, and the full story is listed here this morning.
It will not ever happen again, as I will not ever use their services, and I am deeply sorry for any breech of trust this spam has caused. 

It is not professional, 
or responsible 
to mix social media with business, 
and this inadvertent error 
has caused undo stress for many people that
I value most sincerely.

-Mel. Edwards

Monday, October 6, 2008

Beginnings and Goals

Today, at Virginia College in Greenville, SC, over 300 new students will begin the path to receiving a college diploma or certificate. Beginnings are exciting and stressful. Here are a few quick tips for success.

  1. Don't lose sight of your goal.
  2. Plan out the steps to reach your goal.
  3. Work at your goal a bit every day, even when you're not required to do so (such as attending class or being in the office).
  4. Find like-minded individuals to share your goal with and help you along the way.
  5. Ask for help if you need it.
Whatever your goals in life may be, these steps will help you from the classroom to the boardroom. Success begins with you.

Best wishes to all students today!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cost of Expert Advice and Knowledge

It seems in this day and age everyone seems to be selling their knowledge. Person A gets certified in a course and is suddenly an expert in that field. Person B lives the path necessary to become well-versed in a subject but doesn't have a "piece of paper" to back it up. Who is the better resource? 

What Are You Seeking?
If you know what information you desire, you can easily find out if Person A has experience that matches what you are looking for. If you need paper credentials for a raise, no matter how much Person B knows, your supervisor may not believe your training was rigorous or targeted enough to warrant the boost in salary. In the end, make sure what you are learning meets your needs, and the outcome you desire. If it does not, you may be due a refund, and just might go to the one person you overlooked in the first place to truly master the details you wanted all along.

What is a Fair Price for Knowledge?
Market rates for training range from the ultra-low to astronomical proportions.   An Ivy League education can make your career in some fields, but for others, what matters is what you have done with the training your have received. I have taught English to students who with two years' education have walked away with a diploma into an electronics career that garnered them wages that exceeded mine, and I have a master's plus 30. Is this fair? It all depends upon the value people put upon your services. 

I once paid a plumber $800 for a few hour's work. It was essential and we needed it done in a hurry by someone with the proper certification/training. We never had the plumbing issue again, but I don't usually make $800 for a few hours' work. 

No one calls an English professor saying, "I must have this resolved today or it could ruin my house." The value of what I do isn't on the same par with the loss of a residence in most people's opinions. I do not personally know of anyone who lacked a grasp of proper English or business writing skills who got into a bind that would cost them their home on that very day if it were not resolved. However, I do know many who immediately lose out on other financial opportunities because they do not know the two basic rules of school room and boardroom business
Be Respectful 
Be Responsible. 

I'll write about lacking English skills at a later date. If you read carefully above, I said anyone who "got into a bind that would cost them their home on that very day." This eludes to the fact lack of some skills may cost you your income in the future. The price for ignorance can be staggering.

The bottom line is this: Learn all that you can that will help you become successful and respected in your field, and never do it at the expense of someone else's feelings or integrity.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Play Nice - Personal Beliefs Should Not Prevent Job Duties

If you listen to the Vice-Presidential candidate debate between Palin and Biden, you should have noticed that in spite of their differences, they had common etiquette guide their responses to the moderator, and each other, when the debate began and ended. 

In the workplace, we often disagree with our peers or supervisors. For example, in the political climate, many are talking about who is qualified to be the next President of the United States. I work with a gentleman who is close friends, and former business partner of Jim DeMint. That lets me know up front who he respects politically. What if I don't like what DeMint holds dear? Do I blurt it out to my colleague and then get "into it" with him or do I respect that we live in a democratic society and we can each have our own point of view?

When opinions hurt performance...
If you do not agree with a supervisor or peer on deeply personal issues, you are still expected to carry out the duties of your job without bias, as they are required to do the same. I once had a supervisor who said to a secretary, "I can't believe a woman with  your (insert religious affiliation) would actually have a bumper sticker for that candidate. Of course, you know you cannot put that on your car. As a representative of this company, we are expected to not display our political affiliations where our customers can see them." 

The supervisor was inappropriate for her personalization of her attack against the secretary's reasoning and equally out of line for the comment about her religion. However, she was fully in bounds to state that company representatives were not allowed to display bumper stickers for any political candidate where customers might see them as long as this was a clear policy that applied to ALL employees in ALL elections. 

If this supervisor had treated her secretary unfairly due to her political views, the supervisor's job may have been in question. Would the secretary be free to "blow off" work because of her hurt and disappointment in the supervisor's comments? Absolutely not. However, she did have full recourse to make a report to a human resources representative about what was said for the record, especially if she feared the supervisor would retaliate based upon who she believed the secretary intended to vote for. 

The bottom line is this: Your personal beliefs should not prevent you from doing your job, or you may lose your job for failure to follow your duties. If you know up front that you have objections to duties that the job requires, you might want to consider a different employment option altogether. 

Habits Worth Keeping - Persistence

According to Discovering and Exploring Habits of Mind, Edited by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, the very FIRST habit you should develop and retain is persistence.

Without persistence you are more likely to not complete your tasks, achieve desired results, or make new inroads in all areas of life. When Peter Pamela Rose auditioned for Guildhall, she wasn't the only student. In fact, over one thousand students auditioned for one of 24 spots. Did she give up? No. In fact, she went with the knowledge that if she got in her father said he'd pay for it. Then she gave it her all, and she got in. 

So, how does this apply to you if you don't want to go into acting and have no intention to be an inventor?
Persistence applies to your social life, work and education. If you go to an evening concert and see an attractive person you'd like to date, but someone else is close to them, do you give up? Say hello? Ask for a date? It all depends upon your persistence level. 

When I met my spouse, Brandon, I figured we were so opposite that it would never work. I persisted in listing the qualities of what I felt a kind, loving, reliable, trustworthy spouse would be and we continued to spend time together as friends. I also went on a few dinner dates with other men. Then BAM! One of the guys, who I'll call Joe, who kept calling revealed not only was he a smoker (something that my body could not handle long-term due to allergies) but Joe was an ex-con and had been convicted for a crime that could ruin my career if we'd been associated as a couple. I ran away from that one just in time. Shortly after, Brandon got over his shy ways and opened up to his true personality. We're headed to our six anniversary in February. 

Persistence can get you the skills you need for your dream job by finishing the required training in record-time with good grades. It can help you get a raise by consistently achieving your goals and shining in front of the brass. Additionally, your life will be better for it. As one colleague likes to say, "Done is beautiful." Don't worry about perfection. Having a degree in hand is all most employers look for. Even in Med School, the person at the "bottom" of the class is still called "Doctor."
post edited due to reporting error, republished with correction

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blogging and Your Role as a Student or Employee

Blogging is so popular that you might believe that no one will ever see your work other than a few close friends and random followers. Did you know your company's public relations firm might be trolling for comments about your place of employment? Those comments you make about a classmate might wind you up not only in the principal's office but expelled?

Yes, in America we have the right to "free speech" but that right does not extend to slander or libel. If what you say infringes upon someone else's right to do business or lead a life unencumbered by harassment, you may wind up in court.

Perhaps discretion is the better part of valor (thank you Mr. Shakespeare). Think before you blog, or send an e-mail or any other communication that vents about others. If you hurt their livelihood or cause a disturbance that keeps business-as-usual from happening, you may pay more dearly than the original incident you're venting about it worth.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Title is "Mister"...until familiarity is earned

Ever have a teacher that told you to call him "Mr" even though your brain said to call him by his first name? Here's a story that will help put the respect back into the title and remind us all to use these titles unless given permission to do otherwise.

Respect for teachers that gave respect and made the class interested in their subject. This happened to be science in both cases. My hobby outside of school was paid for by my paper delivery and fruit delivery both on bike and foot. I came across the Radio Ham shop and bought the parts, tools and circuit diagram for the crystal radio sets. I connected one end of the circuit across a 5V battery and the earth to the water pipe, next placed the headphones across the other end. This allowed me to hear stations from all over the world. Then I asked my science teacher about transistors and he lent me the Mullard Red Book on Transistor Circuits which I built over the next three years. The last science teacher was the first Indian teacher to teach in Edinburgh, Scotland and his test was if you could jump onto the 3foot high science table. You could then call him by his first name. Until then it was mister.. He managed to get everybody to pass their science exam.


Eric Sutherland
T/A Trog Associates Ltd
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Beware of the Evil English Teacher?

In my freshman and junior year of high school, I was blessed with the same English teacher, Mrs. Starke, the most feared woman in all of Miramonte High School . Not known for my reading and writing skills, I cringed at the idea of her freshman course and even went so far as to try to switch teachers. When that failed, I knew I was in for the long-haul. Through fear and public humiliation, Mrs. Starke taught me the art of writing, including the names for every word in a sentence, and strategies for public speaking. A few students failed her class, an extremely uncommon occurrence at my high school, but the majority carried on to become stronger writers and speakers. Today, I can’t write a sentence without thinking -- “appositive…followed by a subject…then a verb…and concluding with an adverb clause.” After two years of Mrs. Starke, she made me into a “grammar fanatic,” and even to my surprise, I find enjoyment in dissecting and reconstructing sentences in new ways. I am endlessly thankful to Mrs. Starke, who I never dared thank in high school, probably due to fear. Today, I attribute much of my success in business to her teachings. In May 2007, I started a public relations company, Elm Publicity Inc., and employ the lessons of Mrs. Starke every day!

Beth M. Cleveland Principal Elm Publicity Inc.
415.283.7333 Elizabeth@elmpublicity.com

Organizational Skills and Time Management

Perhaps the most valuable lesson which I ever learned in school was to keep track of books, crayons, etc. In my personal as well as my professional life, that talent has translated itself into organizational skills and time management opportunities.

Another learning point I remember realizing in 5th grade was that there are favorites in every class; the favorites are the ones that generally get off easier than others. Isn't that true in work life as well? I think the earlier a child instinctively learns this, the better he or she will fare in life.

I actually had a teacher with a philosophy: Some get it sooner, some get it later, and some don't get it.

Alan Guinn, Managing Director/CEO
The Guinn Consultancy Group, Inc.

Oct 1st - A Day Made Better

Dear Readers,
What have you done to show appreciation to those who have mentored you -- either educators or business leaders? Below is what OfficeMax is doing for teachers on October 1st.

“A Day Made Better” is a company-wide community initiative founded by OfficeMax in partnership with Adopt-A-Classroom. This annual, one-day event was created to provide teachers with essential classroom supplies—supplies that they often purchase themselves – and garner national support for teachers in tough economic times. Teachers spend about $1200 out-of-pocket on classroom supplies each year to offset budget cuts, according to the NEA’s online survey of 3.2M members. This year on October 1, OfficeMax and Adopt-A-Classroom will surprise and honor more than 1,300 teachers at 1300 needy schools across the U.S. with over $1,000 worth of classroom supplies (printers, cameras, supply carts, leather chair, etc). Plus, schools will receive Adopt-A-Classroom startup kits to continue giving on a local level, and OfficeMax discounts from its MaxPerks teacher rewards program. Through “A Day Made Better,” OfficeMax hopes to educate and motivate the public to support and partner with schools in their community via Adopt-A-Classroom.

For more info, you’re welcome to check out the event announcement and “A Day Made Better” video from 2007 at www.prnewswire.com/mnr/officemax/34614/.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tests to Toilet Cleaning, Do it with Integrity

Recently, several people were asked what positive life lessons they learned in school that have gone on to serve them in life and help them be successful in their careers. Here is one response:

"I attended a private school in Danbury, CT that was a self-help school. We had not janitors. We, the students were given chores to clean the school at different time throughout the day. I learned how to mop a floor and clean a toilet! Very useful!

More than that however, was the school's honor code. After every test, we were required to write on the back of our papers 'On my honor I pledge that I have not give nor received any information on the test.' and then were were to sign it. What this taught me was integrity in my work whether that was mopping a floor so that it shined or being rigorously honest about my answers on a pop quiz. Today, I have brought that integrity to my own business and I can tell that my clients truly respect that. This honesty has helped me to run a successful business and for that I am very grateful."

-Peter Pamela Rose
Master Life/Career Coach,
Chiropractor for the Mind

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mentors Required

For people to achieve what they have dreamed, they need  examples of other achiever, and a road map to get there. It is infinitely easier to stay with the norm and not grow, but tremendously powerful to achieve what your heart desires. This holds true for all of us, from the youngest student to the most senior executive.

Who is a Mentor?
We all are. Anyone who has achieved anything can mentor someone who has never done that same task, climbed the same ladder or earned the same recognition or skill level. As my friend and colleague Dr. Carolyn Brightharp of Virginia College, Greenville, SC, campus likes to say, "Each one -- teach one." 

Where do you find a Mentor?
Look to someone who has done what your heart desires. Want a PhD? Ask several people who have earned their degree in a field you are interested in. Don't stroke their egos so much that you make them sick, but honestly say, "I want to achieve what you have. Can I buy you lunch and ask you questions about it?" Many times you won't need to buy lunch, and I have found usually the best and brightest give of themselves freely in this manner all of the time. Those who are curt and stingy usually have issues you don't want to be locked into dealing with.  In the end, find a mentor you trust, whose ethics match yours and with whom you feel comfortable asking questions. You'd be rewarded and can then pay it forward to those who need your expertise in the future.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Power Point is Killing Us All

There is an insidious disease called powerpointitis it affects the creator and the viewer. The creator doesn't know how to do a presentation without this slide show beast and the viewer is doomed to watch slide, after slide, most often being read to them, with no graphics that illustrate a point, but instead endless bullet points, cheesy sound effects and stock graphics that any elementary child can learn to master. 

Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, this scenario seems to be life as normal for many school rooms and far too many corporate cultures (although I hope once someone gets to the board room they're more savvy by that point). What can you do about it? 
1. Not use Power Point at all.
2. Use the software but don't use the stock templates, images and sounds. Instead, opt for putting some effort into the process.
3. Swear on your mother's (hopefully future) grave that you will never, ever, under any circumstance READ a PPT presentation to your audience. 
4. Have your slide show include the marketing and sales elements that we all know work -- list the uniqueness of your idea, the benefits of knowing it or acting upon it, and the rewards of following through. Leave everything else off the slides and save it for discussion (if you must bring it up at all). 

With a little luck, on all levels, the bad habits of Power Point usage will not plague schools or corporations any longer. Let's kill powerpointitis once and for all!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Silence is Golden

Ever have a classmate or peer who wouldn't be able to last five minutes into a meeting or course session without adding a comment? What reasons do you feel this person had for incessant chattering, even if it was with the teacher or manager?

As an educator, in the school room, I had several students over the year that I actually had to say, "You have three opportunities to talk during class today. Make those comments and questions your most important because you are as important as your classmates, but not more important." It usually worked, especially when I would said, "Okay, this is your first comment. You'll have two left," and so on. 

What does an effective manager do in the board room or training room? Say that you can visit that idea later and move on? Sometimes. Yet others allow their employees to totally monopolize a meeting or training session. We can't always blame the students or employees for breaches of etiquette. Sometimes the person in charge is equally to blame for not stopping it, and peers make it worse by grumbling about it or laughing every time the offender speaks up again, and again. 

The bottom line is, don't be the offender and don't let it happen in your office or classroom. Nobody is worth 90% of the team's time and effort and repeat offenders my find their feet hitting the bricks because they're not a team player.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Randolph-Macon Academy Grads Realize Success from School Lessons

Recently, several professionals were asked by School Room to Board Room (SRTBR) to cite lessons they learned in school and how those lessons made them a better professional or led to their success as an adult in "the real world." These responses begin appearing here today. When possible, the person to brought the response to SRTBR is noted in addition to the responders themselves.

Celeste Brooks, Director of Public Relations at Randolph-Macon Academy, asked alumni to respond and some very strong examples appear here today.
(Thank you to Celeste and to all who participated! Your experiences are invaluable!)

Response #1:"My classmates would be the first to agree that during my five years at R-MA, I rebelled against the military training. At the time, I considered the constant drilling, standing in formation, and protocol a pain. It wasn't until college, and later as I began my career, that I realized why our military trains this way. It is to teach each individual the importance of working together as a team or unit and how to take charge of a situation when necessary. In group situations, I immediately found that my instinct and training led me to recognize the goal, organize my fellow students or co-workers , provide the necessary leadership to make a plan and make assignments to get the task completed. At first, I was astounded why others did not do the same, but then I realized, they hadn't gone to R-MA. I had learned the power of leadership despite myself and I appreciate it to this day.

From a strictly career standpoint, the superior teaching and support I received from my English instructors at R-MA and my opportunity to write for the student newspaper gave me the basis for what has been an over 30-year career in writing for a living. I have written everything from advertising copy to film scripts, from news releases to magazine articles, from speeches for the Governor of Virginia to annual reports for major corporations and I credit R-MA for encouraging me to follow my talents into a successful and fulfilling life's work."

(Of course, the current students won't really believe any of this until they grow as old and "wise" as I am.)-
Jeb Hockman, R-MA Class of '69Manager, Member & Public Relations
VA, MD & DE Association of Electric Cooperatives
Post Office Box 2340, 4201 Dominion Boulevard,
Glen Allen, Virginia 23058-2340(804) 968-4070

Response #2:
My senior year English instructor, Ron McManus, worked very hard to help his students improve their writing skills. He pushed us towards writing excellence and even though it was somewhat painful at the time, he achieved his goal, at least with me. I've never forgotten a statement that he made in class; he said, "If you can write a good business letter, you can write your own ticket." Those words stuck with me through college; I managed to do well in courses that emphasized writing skills. Law school was made easier (if that's possible!) because of the skills learned in high school. I had a successful career and was able to retire before I turned 60. I attribute a great deal of that success to Ron McManus and to those words he spoke so many years ago.
Curtis Thomas, R-MA Class of '63,
Placentia, California

Response #3:
I was one of the few cadets who transferred into R-MA for his SENIOR YEAR of High School, 77-78 season. Having never been exposed to military protocol and regulations this was a major adjustment in mind and body! While in public school I always did well in academics and sports and found being one of the best an easy task without too much effort. My first English class at R-MA was with Colonel McFarland, whom I admire and respect to this day. I wrote a paper that would have easily been graded an 'A' in another school and turned it in to the Colonel. The next day in class I received the paper back with a huge red 'F' on the cover!! How could this be? I had misspelled three words in my outline and he went no further into my paper.....F!

After my surprise and anger wore off I learned a valuable lesson which has served me my entire life. Attention to detail and the "little things in life" are the most important ingredient to success! In addition, always strive to be the best you can be which is most probably better than you are!By the way, my very next paper submitted to Colonel McFarland was an 'A,' which I worked very hard to maintain. After R-MA I was the honor graduate from platoon from Parris Island USMC and served for four years. I spent the next 20 years as a Massachusetts State Trooper and earned my degree in Criminal Justice from UMASS while on the job.
Sgt. Daniel M. Clark USMC (80-84) MSP (85-05 ret.)
R-MA Class of 78

Randolph-Macon Academy, founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12. It is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and students in grades 9-12 participate in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. R-MA is located in Front Royal, VA.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Who To Blame?

This morning, on NPR's Morning Edition the guest was billionaire Wilbur Ross. For those who do not know the man, he's made a bulk of his living turning around companies and selling them and earned a handful of unpleasant nicknames for his mode of operations, including "vulture." Regardless of his mode of operations, in this interview, he makes a point that when things go wrong, so often people blame others or circumstances that they have no control over. For example, if a business is doing poorly, management might cite labor unions as the problem. Manufacturers might blame lower priced labor in China undermining the company. Rarely do people look at themselves and the actions they take on a daily basis as something they can improve upon to turn a company around.

Who do you blame when you do not get the results you were hoping for?
If you blame yourself to the point of being paralyzed by your fear, this is as big of a problem as blaming everyone but yourself. Instead, note what went according to play. Look at what factors you had an influence in and what factors you did not or could not anticipate. If there were problems within your control, what can you do differently next time? Is the damaged contained, or will more problems spring forth if you don't act immediately? By answering these questions, you can get a more objective measure of who is to blame, if anyone. Then, make changes in your behavior so that it never happens again. Learning from your mistakes is sometimes the most poignant lesson of all.

Monday, September 8, 2008

When the Boss is Away...

Yes, we know, the mice will play, but honestly, those who want to get anywhere in life, know where the limits are and what is appropriate behavior.

At Work
Example: Boss is out of town on a Friday. Who is to know if you slip out early?
Answer: Everyone still in the building, from the custodians on up. Unless you have a prior agreement with the boss that leaving early is fine, don't do it unless you're willing to deal with the consequences. You can bet your next raise that someone out there will work the full day and then either tell someone you left early, or find another way to make sure people knew...by doing something that you couldn't respond to because you were gone. In the end, you need to ask yourself, is it really worth the risk?

At School
Example: There is a substitute teacher in the room and a test is being given. You didn't study. Do you tell the sub the test is open notes when it shouldn't be?
Answer: Don't lie. You'll get caught. If it was supposed to be open notes and the regular teacher forgot to tell the sub, the burden of dealing with the fallout will belong to the regular classroom teacher. If you lie, it may be considered cheating and the consequences for that usually are an automatic zero with no chance to make up the test. Some school districts treat tests as major grades, and one zero can deduct 10% of your grade for a quarter. The risk just isn't worth it.

In the end, it goes back to responsibility. Do the right thing. Always.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Justifying Policies to Students and Employees

There seems to be a common culture of students and employees "questioning authority" instead of being intelligent and reasoning why rules and policies exist and abiding by them. I know as an employee, if I didn't like the culture of the job, I had the right to resign. If there was a serious issue, such as workplace harassment, I had a way to get the situation handled. If I had a personal struggle, there were employee assistance programs in place. Never once did I feel it was appropriate to become belligerent because I didn't like the rules or get into disagreements with my superiors as a student, educator or business woman about how stupid I thought the rule was.

Some rules are not fun. If a rule exists, it means someone, somewhere messed up and is causing issues for everyone else. If we were all respectful and responsible all of the time, there would be no need for rules or the law.

As a teacher, I continually remind students to do the right thing, but the big question is, what can we do with those who refuse? In the business world, before long, they tend to lose their jobs or quit. In school, students tend to fail, or worse, drop out altogether. Either way, retraining, re-educating and retention programs are costly on many levels. Wouldn't it be better for us all, especially with those who are frustrated with the system to find a better way?

Possible Answers:

  • Superiors should examine the rules and see if they're all necessary.
  • Employees and students should have handbooks of expectations and must agree to abide by the policies outlined therein.
  • Employees and students need to know proper ways to handle grievances and problems that are genuine.
  • We all need to stop whining and just do the right thing.
  • If there is a rule or policy that infringes upon the safety and well-being of students or employees, there must be a way to restructure or remove it in a manner that is constructive for all parties involved.
  • Remember, a job and an education, in most places in considered to be a privilege. In America, we consider equal education to be a right. However, educational systems cannot be all to everyone. The system should exist to benefit the greater good, and help everyone attain the skills necessary to leading a healthy, productive life. Happiness is a choice, not a promise. Rules and policies are to be followed as written (and enforced by those who are the gatekeepers) not by picking and choosing. Do the right thing, all the time. When you mess up, admit it, and don't do it again.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Technology Introduced In Schools for Future Success

Where did you first learn to use a computer? If you're approaching middle-age, you probably saw your first computer in school. If you're younger, you may have grown up with one on hand. The same goes for graphing calculators, projection televisions, Promethean boards and so on. Now, a public middle school in Chapel Hill, NC is introducing iPod Touches for all students and teachers.

Some people are up in arms over the expensive choice. However, those who support it understand that technology is a tool and to be competitive in the work force and with the global world, students must remain abreast of the ways these tools can augment performance, not undermine it.

I applaud the principal for making the call. She's obviously a savvy woman with an eye to the future.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Business before Personal Safety?

As Gustav approaches today, I read of accounts of business owners who are staying behind, some heavily armed, to save their business from the same level of looting their properties suffered after Katrina hit and the levees broke. If I ever learned anything in school, as educator or student, it was safety comes before routine or property. Take care of people first.
May all in the storms path be safe. May we honor those already lost to the storm. Most of all, may we reach out to each other as we would hope others would help us in the same situation.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dress Code - Why it exists

We all had a dress code of some kind in our schools and workplace. The big question is, "Why?" Logic says that improper dress reflects poorly upon the wearer and the school or business, as first appearances have a strong value around the world. If it didn't, fashion wouldn't be such a commodity. Some business and schools want everyone to look similar for unity. Others want uniforms to protect clothing, or to make it impossible to discern the income of the wearers. This can sometimes backfire if a uniform is required but there are no restrictions on footwear, jewelry or handbags.

Should there be more restrictions when we live in a democracy and some see their appearance as freedom of speech?
I believe, for the most part, restrictions or regulation of any kind usually exists because someone, somewhere messed up. If you're working for another entity or going to school, your rights come secondary to safety and the message you are allowed to carry in that space. For example, a student who wears a T-shirt that is emblazoned with a message about consuming alchohol when that child is underage and in a position to advertise that message to his or her peers, is usually in violation of dress code and will be asked to at least turn the shirt inside out for the day. Unless you go to school in Gonzalez, Texas, and you might be asked to wear a jumpsuit like prisoners wear (only not in orange).

Why Adults Have Dress Codes
Other than the same reasons given above, the quick answer: Law suits. Really. Sexual harassment is tops on the list but when a woman is given the message from the fashion and entertainment world to dress like the characters in Sex in the City, or she's not trendy enough, what can she do? Layers. Keep cleavage to a minimum, don't show those panty lines or worse, that thong each time you sit down, and cover up on the job. When you're on your own or with your pals, then you can show that skin, but not when it will distract others from doing their job or give a jerk an (albeit lame) excuse to target you. Our court systems are not usually progressive and, ladies, there are some low-brainwave judges out there that will fault you for looking your sexy best if a predator strikes, even though it has been proven repeatedly that appearance has nothing to do with attacks. (it is all about power over another.) In fact, for your safety, maybe you should do that '80s power walker look to get into and from the office, and slide those heels on when you get to your desk.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Career Advice -- Where to look, who to trust?

There are millions of books, websites, and people who are willing to offer advice in business, success and life in general. So, who do you trust? Whose advice do you use and whose do you ignore, or run from?

I believe most of us accept advice that speaks to our spirit, personal nature, and goals. Sure, I can listen to Michael Jordan give a motivational speech, but when I was looking to be the best teacher I could be in the public school system, I went to people like Harry Wong. Mike was the go-to guy for the court, not the classroom.

Know When to Run
Also, make sure the group you join has the same goals. When I began as a performance storyteller I went to a guild meeting. I first noticed I was the only one in the group without gray hair, reading glasses or both. When they asked for my contact information and I handed them a business card. The president held up the card and said, "Oooh! This one has a card. Look at that!" My gut flipped and I immediately knew these were not the folks to help me grow my career. I never went back.

Some sites, resources and springboards that might appeal to you if you're just entering the workforce:

1. Your college resource and career center. I like, The Black Collegian Online, particularly this article: http://www.black-collegian.com/career/navigating-grad05.shtml

2. Free sites on the web (with the understanding that sometimes, you get what you pay for.)
Job Dig, who has the catchiest tag line, "Because everyone should dig their job" http://www.jobdig.com/articles/996/Making_the_First_Days_at_Your_New_Job_Easier!.html

3. All major career resume sites such as CareerBuilder, Monster, HotJobs, and so forth. Look for their free resources that offer advice. These guys have a business out of getting people hired, and helping businesses grow, and the more successful you are, the better they grow.

4. Professional associations, and national organizations in your field. Like-minded folks often have insider tips that other resources might not know to offer.

5. Professional organizations related to your personal life - gender, race, creed, fraternal organizations, Greek life, honor societies, craft and hobbies, all have networking groups. Just be sure not to use your day job as a way to recruit others for your personal/pet projects or you may not have that job very long.

Be aware and informed! Your success or failure is all up to you.

Do You Know the Rules?

The first step for success is to know both the written and implied (unwritten) rules for success.

I love this Legal Assistance site's list of frequently asked questions and their responses: http://www.larcc.org/pamphlets/children_family/rules_regulations_in_school.htm
Please note that this site's information was compiled in the state of CT and rules vary from state to state.

However, logic should be unvaried according to circumstances when it comes to responsibility and respect, and everyone should know your rights.

The Golden Rule: Used to be about "doing unto others" as you'd like to be treated. However, more are more I'm confronted with people who do not have a basic idea of what is appropriate. Their personal standards might be higher or lower than those they work with and complications result.

Mel's personal rule for success: Acting with respect and responsibility requires you to do the right thing every day, without reminders, even when no one seems to be watching. If you only follow policy when someone is watching, your integrity is lacking.

What are your rules for success?

School Room to Boardroom

Having been a certified teacher since 1991, I am often surprised when students do not see the connection of what they are required to do in the school environment as being connected to success in business or adulthood. Furthermore, as a business woman, I'm astounded when I notice adults who still have not mastered the basic rules of success and are dismissed from positions they were qualified for.
The purpose of this blog it to address these issues and to gather input for a new book that I'm co-authoring on the subject with Sonja Randall, of Verizon Wireless.
-Mel. Edwards