Getting in the Holiday Spirit

YAT,-children,-The-Night-Before-Christmas-imageBy Aubrey Murtha – For my last blog post before the holidays, I thought I’d share one of my favorite Christmas poems.

It’s really hard to go wrong with the classics, especially during the holiday season, and something about this poem transports me immediately back to my childhood.  For me, Christmas lasts from about November 1st to mid-January.

Before I even have my Halloween costume off (this year is was a penguin ensemble), I am usually playing Michael Buble’s Christmas CD and enjoying a nice cup of cocoa because, why not?  The more Christmas spirit, the better, I’d say.  In fact, I think we should carry the Christmas magic with us all year round.

Maybe this poem will help you find that magic if you are struggling to discover it right now.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
by Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

What to Shop for When Preparing to Study Abroad

By Clare Jorgensen — Did you know that there are over 200 Marquette students who will be spending the next semester in various countries abroad?   And that includes me! I will be going to Madrid!

christmas gifts study abroad

During this time of buying and returning gifts from the holiday season, I thought it would be appropriate to give some advice to these many students as to what to look for or what to ask for from family members that will be ideal when spending a semester abroad. Clothes are obviously something that people may think to ask for in order to accommodate the different temperatures that students may encounter, but there are some items that could be very useful.

During the travel process, it will be important that the students’ belongings are kept safe during the long flights and other moves they will be making. Because of this, it could be smart to buy some small locks for the suitcases, to make sure nothing unzips or gets stolen. This will also be smart for the interior of the suitcases, so important documents or money can be held safely.

Along with safety, students should be able to travel with comfort with the varying flights. Students can invest in a good neck pillow, instead of the scratchy and thin pillow that is given by the flight attendants. If excitement is keeping anyone up during a flight, then a good book or good movie will allow the flight to seem much shorter.

If anyone is like me, I plan on making various trips to countries outside of the one I am staying in during my time abroad. While I feel I am moderately proficient in Spanish, it will still be smart to buy some pocket phrase books in Spanish for some phrases I may not know, and it could still apply to other languages like French, German, Chinese, etc.

Since I plan on doing some other travelling, I know will also need various converters for different countries so I can always have the capability to charge my phone or plug in any necessary items.

When travelling, many students will save money by staying in hostels. Hostels are not as fancy or accommodating as hotels, so here are some things that could be useful: filtered water bottles, cheap sheets and towels, a small pillow, and some locks to put on the duffle bags or backpacks that students will be travelling with instead of the big suitcases.

There are countless other ideas, but these could be things that people may overlook when thinking about study abroad things to buy. If anyone has any ideas, feel free to post comments.

It has been a wonderful semester having the opportunity to write for the Marquette Educator. I hope my blogs proved to be interesting and/or thought-provoking for everyone. I hope the readers have a great break, and I hope that Marquette students will come back to campus eager and ready to start the spring semester off right!

Counseling “App-y Hour”: Apps for the Modern School Counselor


By Sabrina (Bong) Bartels – If you have an iPad like me, it probably travels with you everywhere: classrooms, your office, the lunch room. In order to help make your iPad as helpful to you as possible, here are five (free!) apps that have definitely made my counseling life easier:

  1. My Game Plan. One of my fellow counselors actually recommended this app to me, and it has come in handy. We all know the worry that consumes us when we have a student who admits that they are thinking of suicide. My Game Plan was primarily designed for the iPhone, but the app will work on iPads as well. There is a section for a Safety Plan, where students can write down their warning signs, coping strategies, people they can contact if they are feeling sad, and an automatic link to Lifeline, which is a suicide prevention hotline. Students can also track appointments under this app. Finally, the resources tab has a crisis center locator, as well as links to Facebook and Twitter accounts devoted to Lifeline and suicide prevention. It is a free app, but you can only find it in the app store by choosing “iPhone only.” Like I said, it will work on iPads.
  1. Evernote. This app has made my note-taking process much smoother and easier to read! I created a new “notebook” for each student, and then took notes in it. It automatically dates and times your entries, which makes it nice for when you have to jot something down really fast! I also “stack” my notebooks, so that all my students who have last names from A to D are all together, E through H are together, etc. The downside is that you are only able to create 250 notebooks using the free app, so that is a challenge if you have more than 250 students. I would recommend using Evernote for those students you see frequently, so you can ensure that the students who need the “notebook” have it (that was my mistake.)
  1. ClassDojo. In addition to being a counselor to over 360 kids, I teach a class on careers to 7th graders. In order to help keep my class efficient, I use ClassDojo. It is an app that specifically focuses on behavior. I am able to give my students “points” for good behavior, which you can customize (for my class, my six “good” behaviors are helping others, being on task, participating, working hard, teamwork, and using electronics appropriately.) You can also take away points for negative behavior, like being off task or bullying. I also use it for specific students who are on a behavior plan, since it tracks all of the data. One thing I would say: this app is designed for more elementary school age children; though some of my 7th graders find it cute, others think they have outgrown the cartoonish avatars.
  1. iJournal or Notability. In my school, we have a 1 to 1 ratio with iPads, meaning that every single one of my students has one. For my students who are “frequent flyers,” I also have them download iJournal to their iPads. It helps them track down their thoughts. While iJournal is a little more structured, Notability allows students to write using their fingers, doodle pictures, and upload photos. It really depends on what your student needs!
  1. I-Qi. Mindfulness is becoming a HUGE topic right now in the school counseling field. This past summer, I took a class on it, and it was a phenomenal experience. Whether you are doing mindfulness or not, i-Qi is a great timer to have for your classroom. You can choose a time limit, and the timer will show not only a numeric countdown, but a picture of a circle slowly fading away. When the timer ends, you hear a beautiful chime instead of a buzzing sound. My students find it super relaxing, and I’m sure yours will too! You can also just play chimes to focus your students if you are doing a lesson on mindfulness.

Schooled by Covey

BThe_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_Peopley Claudia Felske — I’m not sure what my principal thought when I walked into his office a few years ago with a poster board under my arm, declaring that I must “stay in the second quadrant.”

I had shaped perpendicular lines into four quadrants on the board and told him that I would take on the role of English Department Chair if and only if I could spend most of my time in the second quadrant. No, the second quadrant wasn’t some higher plane of being; it wasn’t hippy jargon or some metaphorical proclamation. It was a part of a time-management strategy I’d learned from best-selling management guru, Stephen Covey, whose Seven Habits of Highly Successful People has become perhaps the quintessential self help book.

Covey has been on my mind again lately as I notice how the demands on a teacher’s  time are increasing exponentially with no end in sight. Applying Covey’s time matrix to a teacher’s day clarifies what’s happening in the current educational climate and suggests what this means for the future of teachers, students and the state of education.


Covey’s Time Management Matrix

First, the matrix. Covey’s quadrants use “urgency” and “importance” as filters to examine how we spend our time: Do we spend our time wisely? Do we focus on long term goals?  Or are we constantly in emergency mode, neglecting what’s most important?

Here’s my take on a teacher’s  schedule in four-quadrant form:

Quadrant 1: Urgent & Important

  • This is where teachers spend 80% of their time.
  • Often preparing for 5 or 6 sections of 4 or 5 different courses,  with a single hour of preparation time provided per day, teachers are generally operating in emergency mode, struggling to stay on top of  “What am I doing in class today?” much less tomorrow, next week, or next month.
  • In the moments they are not sprinting to keep up with the teaching partof their day, they are trying to manage the needs (make up work, test corrections, extra 1-on-1 help, parent calls etc) of 125+ students while trying to also keep on top of grading and returning those 125+ students’ assignments and assessments with timely and meaningful feedback.Businessman Overwhelmed with Paperwork

Quadrant 2: Important & Not Urgent
(insert crickets chirping)

  • Few teachers have the luxury of spending any time in quadrant 2.
  • This  is a tragedy with enormous repercussions because this is where innovation happens, where vision comes into play, where planning allows significant change, where reflection makes room for improvement, where new ideas germinate.  Without quadrant 2, we can all but forget about meaningful reform, about improving classroom practices, about increasing student learning.

Quadrant 3:  Urgent & Not Important

  • This is where where teachers spend 20% of their time.
  • This is where we process paperwork not tied to what happens in the classroom.
  • This is where we attend meetings not related to what happens in the classroom.
  • This is where we jump through state and federally mandated hoops not directly related to what happens in the classroom.
  • This is the single most frustrating part of education today.

Quadrant 4:  Not Urgent & Not Important

  • This simply doesn’t happen in schools today; there is no extra time, so there is no wasted time. There is no down time, period.
  • Teachers are lucky if they have a chance to take a bathroom break much less eat lunch.
  • The days of faculty lounge camaraderie—crowded tables of teacher chat during lunch—are over. Most teachers now eat their lunches in their classrooms while swimming in quadrant 1.

Stephen Covey contends that most people erroneously spend the majority of their time in quadrants 1 and 4 (in emergency and trivia modes) when they should be spending most of their time in quadrant 2, where the big picture stuff happens.  He says to live a life consistent with your mission, your values, your goals, you need to spend the majority of your time in quadrant 2.

That was why I had walked into my principal’s office with that poster board under arm. If I was to take on an added responsibility, I needed it to reside in quadrant 2. I wanted to create a larger vision for the English Department. I wanted to do more than just complete forms, order supplies, and manage department drama.

Though Covey convincingly touts its importance, time spent in the second quadrant seems like a pipe dream for educators today.  I can remember clear as day a couple years ago when a colleague of mine returned from a conference completely excited about a technique she believed would revolutionize the way she taught her content. “I have got to do this!” she exclaimed. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself affirming her, “Yes, you absolutely do!”

Flash forward to today. This colleague of mine, who regularly has 5 different courses to prep in multiple buildings, some of them split classes, has not incorporated that method into her classroom practice. She is an excellent teacher, among the best in the district, but like the majority of teachers today, she is stuck in quadrant 1.  If she were afforded time in quadrant 2, she and all of her students would now be reaping the benefits of that idea she was so convinced would revolutionize her teaching. EdReform_Apple3 (1)

Simply put, teachers today are stuck in the first quadrant and the increasing demands being placed on their time will only continue to thicken the wall between quadrants 1 and 2.

Stephen Covey: If you’re reading this, give Arne Duncan and the Dept. of Education a call, perhaps a free consult. Tell them that until they create an environment which allows teachers to step out of emergency mode, until they find a way to allow teachers to catch their breath, reflect, envision, and create, any attempts at meaningful school reform are futile.

Tackling the Standardized Test

download (1)By Amanda Szramiak – I’m one of many students who never liked standardized tests.

Not only have I never liked them (I equate them to torture), but also I have never been good at them.

In grade school, we had TerraNova tests and assessments. I was always scoring “average” on them, and I never knew why.

After a confidence-destroying experience taking the ACT’s in high school, I was fortunate enough to be able able to get tutoring to improve my scores. But, I really hoped that, after I got into college, I would never be personally afflicted by a standardized test again.


The Praxis I was a lot more difficult than I thought, and it took three times for me to pass the math portion. It pains me to think about the other licensure tests I will have to take as I grow in my career. However, I think the testing I will have to endure as an educator will be beneficial and relevant opposed to the random number I received determining my knowledge.

Last week in m education course, we discussed the layers of annual testing, which are college admission testing, district-wide testing, statewide testing, national assessment, and international assessment. I already feel guilty for having to administer these tests to my future students. We also watched a Ted Talk by Bob Sternberg, who is a leading psychologist and shares the same opinions as me on standardizing testing. In the Ted Talk, Mr. Sternberg explained that his grade school teachers thought he was dumb; therefore, he thought he was dumb. His confidence level became nonexistent, and I think too many students, including myself, can relate to this feeling. Mr. Sternberg also explained that his introductory psychology course professor told him to change his major because he would never be a psychologist because of his intelligence levels.

I hope that as time goes on, the insane pressure surrounding standardized tests diminishes. There are too many stories like Mr. Sternberg’s that emphasize the negative impact a standardized score can have on a student. Mr. Sternberg has created different intelligence tests that measure students’ creativity levels, which are to be considered in college admission applications. It is imperative to include creative thinking into standardizing testing. Teachers and policy makers should always want to increase their students’ confidence, not diminish it. Although standardized tests will probably never be obsolete, I look forward to having creative assessments for students as well as seeing a change in the classification of students’ knowledge.

Dear Marquette Students: A Heartfelt Letter from Aubrey Murtha

letter-clipart-letter-mdDear MU students,

Merry Christmas and Happy Advent!  From the perspective of a college student, this is absolutely the best and worst time of year.  What do I mean by that, you ask?

Well, I guess I’ll start with the bad, first.   We are overwhelmingly stressed come December.  Our professors would likely argue that there is no possible reason for stress since our syllabi clearly state the due dates for major assignments and give us plenty of warning on those final exam dates.  And, as a future teacher, I’d have to agree.  Yet, for some reason, we consistently find ourselves cramming a million and one assignments into those last few weeks of the semester.  Once all of our papers are turned in and it seems like we can finally breathe, we are slapped in the face by the harsh reality that—oh, goodness—we may have five (or more!) huge tests that can and might determine whether or not we receive the GPA that we so desperately want to show mom and dad on Christmas morning.

Gads!  It seems as if there is no other option but to pull some brutal all-nighters in Raynor!  That’s right, kids.  Might as well bring your toothbrush and wear your clothes for tomorrow because you’ll be lucky if you make it back to Schroeder Hall to use the bathroom before your 8 AM class in 12 hours.   Don’t you just love nodding off at 3 in the morning while seated in the upright position at one of those Raynor computers?  Ah, the joys of college.

But I’ll get to that good news now.   Let’s be honest.  The only thing that is keeping us sustained at this point is the vision of sugar-plums dancing in our heads.  In just a few short days, many of us will be headed home to reunite with parents and siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents.  Forget presents.  This is the greatest gift of the Christmas season.  Throw in a few lazy days, a couple weeks of good sleep in your childhood bedroom, many non-McCormick meals, friends, family, spare moments to pray, and some time to catch up on the hobbies that you may have been neglecting throughout the semester, and you’ve got a solid recipe for joy.  What could be better motivation to study hard and tackle those exams?

So, power through, MU students, because the good outweighs the bad!  I raise my metaphoric glass (of the finest sparkling grape juice, of course) to your future successes on finals next week.  You’ll do great.  Take a few deep breaths.  All is calm, all is bright.

And once again, Merry Christmas to you and your families.

Love always,


Maybe We are Trying to Draw the Wrong Line: Thinking about “How Strict is Too Strict?”

leadBy Nick McDaniels – In this month’s issue of The Atlantic, Sarah Carr again asks very important questions about school discipline.

Her article is called “How Strict is Too Strict?”. In the interest of full disclosure, I was interviewed by Sarah Carr for an article she wrote a few years ago, which made (via The Hechinger Report it to TIME Online, and tarnished the reputations of a few teachers who were brave enough to be interviewed, as we were painted as quaint, blunt counterpoints in her article, ultimately being used to legitimize the harmful discipline policies of Baltimore’s former superintendent. That article had tremendous impact on my career, forever changing my want to trust the media, particularly when trying to communicate the nuances of a controversial issue. Time, unlike TIME, heals many wounds, and I have had plenty of time to reestablish my beliefs about school discipline, but, I had to lay low for a while.

Again, Sarah Carr, in her current article in the The Atlantic raises some great questions about school discipline. She clearly writes with her heart on the side of children, a backdrop that has allowed me to always admire her writing, on the side of children who are negatively impacted by harsh school discipline policies. She also nips around the edges of issues surrounding privatization of schools, particularly in New Orleans, where “non-profit” organizations like Teach for America and KIPP are creating schools for poor children of color in the image of the American Indian Boarding Schools, where paternalistic, 1%-centric ideas of schooling reign supreme. Perhaps she will turn the lens a little more critically on these organizations in her next article, but that may be a little too much for the enlightened, upper-middle-class, KIPP- and TFA- donating, white, The Atlantic-reading, people to handle.

In “How Strict is Too Strict?,” Carr examines the charter school discipline policies that have attempted to manage student behavior through complex systems of desired and undesired behaviors and punishments. She tracks the impacts of these policies on a few select students, and on some principles who are accepting the harsh reality that these discipline policies don’t work, are leading to more suspensions, and are doing exactly what charter schools are criticized for doing, chewing up and spitting out the children who need good schools the most, while warmly embracing those children who will fold like lawn chairs into the rigid recipe for “success.”

While shining a light on these issues is important, and it raises some good questions about educational practices, I’m not convinced that we are asking the right questions. We debate about where to draw the lines with school discipline, yet everywhere we draw it, we seem to have problems. Sometimes we are too strict (demerits for closed eyes) and sometimes we are too soft (a student must rob a person twice before facing suspension). Spending time worrying about whether certain crimes deserve certain punishments, misses the point that students act out because of a need, and that every action exhibited by a student, as Jay Gillen posits in his book, is a moral act.

Why are we not exploring the central, and ultimately unpublished, nuance I tried to communicate to Sarah Carr when she interviewed me a few years ago? The choice is not whether to draw the line here or there, nor is it whether to suspend or not to suspend, punish or not to punish. The choice is: does a behavior or certain behavior harm the school experience of one or more students, and if it does, how can we mitigate such a harm in the present and in the future. That’s not much of a choice at all, is it? It is a framework for thinking about student behavior that needs to be coupled with a critical awareness of the needs of students. If brow-beating, suspension, turning a blind-eye, etc… are obviously unsuccessful, then why are we continuously trying to draw the line at a “better” place.

Perhaps the line should be drawn somewhere else. Perhaps the line should be drawn, instead of on the front end (the infraction), but on the back end (meeting the needs of all students). In other words, instead of drawing the line for the behavior of students, we should draw a line for our response thereto. If infractions are sure to occur (remember: we are dealing with kids), and these infractions harm the school-experience of students, then we must draw the line at what meets the needs of the student who causes the infraction, and the students who are impacted by it. That means, if suspending the infracting student meets the needs of those others impacted by the infraction, but does not meet the needs of the infracting student, then we have not hit our mark. The question then becomes not one of to punish or not to punish, to suspend or not to suspend, but one of, if we don’t punish or suspend, what do we do? Counseling, coaching, individual attention, wrap-around support? All of these things schools can’t afford?

If we start asking these questions though, instead of belaboring the point that school discipline is not working, is unfair, is too strict, is not strict enough, we will then start exposing the real inequities that have put us in this line-drawing position in the first place, that are why our schools are underfunded, why the resources that work, that solve problems, that promote real, non-formulaic, but organic success for students, are not available to schools, and why, as long as we allow private entities to keep their hands in the cookie jar, the real line we should draw, that is whether the needs of all students are met, will never be drawn.

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