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Happy Thanksgiving

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Tell Me Something Good

confetti_5878997537By Sabrina Bartels

This past week, one of my students mentioned that he finally got to go see a Marquette basketball game. He was so excited to share this experience with me, and immediately launched into a description of the arena, the players, and how cool it was seeing a court that has hosted Marquette alums Dwayne Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Steve Novak. He spoke about how near it was seeing all of the student section, wearing their blue and gold t-shirts, turn their backs on the opposing team when they were announced, and how his favorite part was when the student section threw confetti in the air to celebrate Marquette’s first basket of the game.

This made me smile for so many reasons. It’s been a little bit since I went to a Marquette game, and even longer since I attended a game and stood in complete awe of what was going on around me. If I really think about it, I can remember the very first time I attended a basketball game: I was with a bunch of girls from my floor, and as we were walking in, some upperclassmen gave us a bunch of newspaper. We were perplexed until we saw all the students around us ripping the paper into tiny squares. We automatically followed suit. And when Marquette scored their first basket that night, everyone threw their confetti in the air. As it rained down on us, I remember thinking that there was no way any moment was more perfect than that one.

It’s been four years since I started counseling, and sometimes I worry that I have lost some of the wonder and awe associated with my job. Sometimes, I forget what drew me to counseling in the first place. Some days, I am so exhausted and frustrated with the drama associated with being a middle schooler that I miss some of the fun, charming moments. I miss the lessons that I’m learning. I’m so fixated on what is “wrong” that I’m not always thinking about the positive, good things that are happening at work and in my world.

So I decided to start writing down some of the good parts of my day, to remind me why it is that I’m a counselor. Here are some of my favorite things:

  • A parent told me that I’m someone her daughter really trusts.
  • A kid stopped me in the hall on my way out the door. She told me to go home and eat because I “work way too hard.”
  • A student told me I was beautiful (never mind that the next words out of her mouth were “for being that old!”)
  • I spent some time with one of my students helping him catch up on work. The smile on his face when he finished it all was amazing.
  • A bunch of our Student Ambassadors made posters and visited classrooms to promote our food drive. Having students conquer their fear of public speaking and give a mini presentation to the classes was a great moment to watch.
  • Hearing our Student Ambassadors talk about our food pantry and community closet. We recently started our food pantry and community closet. Parents can donate to it, and they can take what they need from it. When explaining this to our Student Ambassadors, all of them were very compassionate. Many wanted to know what they could do to help, from volunteering to help organize the pantry, to donating more clothes and food to help stock our shelves.
  • A few of my students volunteered to help a student with Down’s Syndrome. They let him eat lunch with them and taught him how to play Uno.

Take the time to remember the good things!

A Quick Guide to Graduate School Applications

graduates_of_brunswick_high_in_2007By Nick Rocha

Applying for graduate school is often a daunting task for students who are attempting to balance work, school, and family life.  Submitting an application, asking for letters of recommendations, and writing an essay takes both time and energy.  Students who are currently working on applications or students who are interested in attending a graduate program after their undergrad might benefit from these 4 tips.

  1. Ask for letters of recommendations early. Professors and academics are often busy on their own work and responsibilities, so it is imperative that you ask for letters of recommendation early on in the application process.  Some experts recommend giving professors at a minimum three to four weeks to write a letter.  Many graduate school applications require the professor to submit the letter on to their website or complete additional questions about the applicant.  Make sure to send a resume to the professor detailing your relevant experiences and why graduate school is the next step for your career.  In addition, it is okay to contact your professor to ask about the status of the letter of recommendation when the deadline is approaching, but do not constantly ask them if they have submitted it yet.
  2. Establish a hook. When you are drafting your essay, it is important to spend a considerate amount of time on your first few sentences.  A hook simply means that you engage the reader in a meaningful way to encourage them to continue reading.  Students can talk about a powerful interaction with a teacher or a professor.  Some students can talk about the first break through that they had with a difficult student during their student teaching experience.  What is important is that you develop a narrative that captures the reader and provides a sense of mystery.
  3. Look for application fee waivers. This is something that is often overlooked by students.  When submitting applications to different graduate school programs, the application costs can add up quickly.  Many graduate school programs offer some information on their websites on how to apply for application fee waivers.  Students who have completed service work such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps are sometimes eligible for a waiver.  If you are low-income, participated in summer research programs, a McNair scholar, or demonstrate economic hardship you may qualify for a fee waiver.  It is important to note, however, that many graduate schools offer application fee waivers on a first-come first-serve basis so it is important to look for opportunities long before the official deadline.
  4. Establish connections with professors you want to work with in graduate school. Who you will be working with in graduate school has a significant impact on your overall experience and your retention in the program.  Spend some time finding professors at your dream graduate school who are conducting research in an area that you want to get involved with.  Don’t be afraid to ask your current professors if they know anyone from those schools! Academia is actually quite a small place and you may have someone you know who can get you connected to someone at your graduate school.  If you have the opportunity to visit the prospective graduate school prior to applying, I encourage you to do so.  That will give you the chance to see not only if you are a good fit for you, but if the school is a good fit for you.

Finding and applying to graduate school is like dating.  Not only are you being assessed on your ability to contribute to the graduate school, but you also have to make a decision on whether that particular graduate school program is right for you and whether you want to pursue it further.  Finding your niche is not an easy process, but once you have found it things become that much easier.

 

The sky is not falling.  It only looks that way.

clouds-in-blue-sky-14094113785iyBy Nick McDaniels

We in the education community, many of us anyway, were not elated by the confirmed election of Donald Trump on Wednesday morning. My students, worried about what a Trump presidency means for our society, for their lives, were terrified. As I launched into my impromptu lessons about the powers of the president to quell fears on Wednesday, among the many questions I answered, among the many opinions my students voiced, one piece of wisdom from a student seemed to rise to the top: “our life probably won’t change that much…” a student said.

Frankly, he’s right. Or at least, I think so. George W. Bush will be remembered in history as one of the weakest presidents of all time and Barack Obama as one of the strongest.  Neither dramatically shifted the day-to-day life of the average American, each having eight years to do so. That is not to make light of their impact, because both unmistakably altered the American experience, nor of the importance of the presidency. But it is to say that the likelihood that a president as unconventional as Donald Trump, no matter his degree of crassness and hate, will drastically change the day-to-day life of the average American is fairly slim.

So if that is true then, with our societal fabric pulled to its tensest level in about half a century, it is not a mutually exclusive to suggest that both President Trump will not impact our day-to-day lives and that the sky is not falling. In fact, the reason I suggest that the sky is not falling has nothing to do with the person in the White House. It has to do with the students in my classroom.

I have never seen a more richly accommodating and empathetic generation of students as the one that is developing before my eyes in my classroom with each successive year. This generation of students is the response to the rhetoric of hate and divisiveness. They exhibit a generally more open and welcoming disposition toward others and their ideas. I have heard such a generality as the one I am putting forth confirmed by many of my colleagues.

So the sky isn’t falling because, in the ebb and flow of society and its politics, the response to what may seem a wrong turn for America, is already generationally positioned to control our country in just a few years. The sky is not falling, it only looks that way, because these students–my students and many others–are starting to pull the ground upward.

Dr. Bob Fox Honored at Community Engagement Symposium

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Dr. Bob Fox and Penfield Children’s Center were honored at the first Community Engagement Symposium held on Marquette University’s campus on November 15, 2016. The award for the Community Engaged Partnership Award recognizes a “faculty/community organization partnership that demonstrates excellence in respectful, bidirectional collaboration; makes a positive difference in the community; and enhances knowledge.”

Since 2003, the Behavior Clinic has served inner-city families with young children with developmental disabilities. Offering mental health services for children who are experiencing significant behavior and emotional problems, the Clinic also offers specialized training and supervised clinical experiences for graduate students. In addition, research in the clinic contributes regularly to the field of pediatric mental health.

Congratulations to the Behavior Clinic and Dr. Bob Fox, making a difference in the lives of Milwaukee’s youngest children.

 

Writing, Rubrics, and the College Application Essay

Blank notepad and pencilBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Adam paces the back of the room, struggling to come up with an idea. “Do you think I can take a walk around the building?”

“Yes, good luck,” I say. “Maybe a change of scenery will help.”

 

Adam sighs, takes his notepad and pen with him and paces his stress in our high school’s hallway.

In the middle of Arrowhead High School’s College Essay Workshop, each student’s stress shows in a different way. While Adam paces, another student finds comfort in procrastination and college essay YouTube videos; another student reads excerpts from 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays; a group of girls discuss life-changing moments they might write about.

“I wish there were a rubric for this,” Adam says when he returns.

I cringe, as he reminds me students are taught—by teachers of all subjects—that good writing can be accomplished by checking boxes on a grid. “Adam, you don’t need a rubric. You know what you need to do. Just tell a story that shows your positive qualities. Take your best attributes—your humor, your helpfulness, your patience—and find a story that illustrates that.”

I remind Adam and the 84 other students in the workshop what they know about good writing: “Good writing is not the five paragraph essay, with the thesis at the end of the first paragraph, followed by three body paragraphs and a concluding re-statement. Good writing isn’t formulaic.” But I know that’s what students learn when each assignment in elementary, middle and high school comes with a rubric.

Arrowhead High School’s College Essay Workshop is not graded. Students attend to receive guidance on how to produce an essay that stands out in the pile of writing on a college admissions counselor’s desk. Students are nervous and unsure—and they want a rubric to ease them.

I say, “You’re in control of your own story. You can do anything you want. Your story could be one long extended metaphor. You could write your essay in poem form, or maybe as a graduation speech or even as a conversation. Do something that will make your essay unique. Let’s start with some examples.”

I show the class Justin’s essay that was read to all incoming freshmen during the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Welcome Week. I show them Molly’s essay that received a $5,000 scholarship. We read Ashley’s essay that earned a handwritten note from Marquette University’s president commending her writing, inviting her to be part of Marquette’s 2015 class with a scholarship. “What are these authors doing? What do you notice?” I ask.

Students instinctively recognize Justin, Molly, and Ashley’s good writing. The students respond: “Small paragraphs.”—“Stylistic devices.”—“They all tell an interesting story.”—“I see dialogue.”—“I see characters and a climax.”

Then the students take their observations and apply similar devices to their own words, sentences and stories.

To improve the students’ writing, my co-teachers and I read, comment, re-read, edit, and provide feedback on the drafts. We discuss, we interact, and we collaborate. The process can’t be reduced to boxes on a rubric. Because the writing is purposeful and authentic, students are invested and do A quality work (even though the workshop isn’t graded).

As Adam shifts his laptop into his backpack, he clutches his notebook. “I am really excited about my ideas. I know what I want to write about.” Adam struggles with autism and says he will write about how he uses movement to aid his learning.

“I’m really excited to see your first draft and talk about it,” I say.

“Me too,” he says as he walks out the door. “I want to hear what you have to say tomorrow.”

If you’re looking to read more about rubrics and writing, feel free to check out the following resources:

  • Broad, Bob. What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing. Logan: Utah State UP, 2003.
  • Kohn, Alfie. “The Trouble With Rubrics,” English Journal. March 2006, Vol. 95, No. 4.
  • Mabry, Linda.  “Writing to the Rubric,” Phi Delta Kappan, May 1999, pp. 678, 676.
  • Tchudi, Stephen, ed. Alternatives to Grading Student Writing. Urbana: NCTE, 1997.
  • Maja Wilson, Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006).
  • Maja Wilson, “Why I Won’t Be Using Rubrics to Respond to Students’ Writing,” National Council of Teaching English. English Journal. March 2007, Vol. 96, No. 4.

 

Election 2016 & Cinnamon Toast Crunch

-By Claudia Felske

How many of us woke up this past week feeling unnerved, fearful, distraught?

If the media (social or otherwise) has any remaining credibility, about 50% of Americans heard the trumpet of doom this past week. Half of this country is experiencing a crisis of consciousness, engaging in some serious soul searching, lumbering through the stages of grief.

I need not state the obvious reasons why because, well, they are obvious…and because regardless of whether you’re on the mourning side of that 50% or the elated side of that 50%, I believe you could benefit from three words:

Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Seriously? What does Cinnamon Toast Crunch have to do with this…or anything?1001029_016000275072_a_400

Everything.

See, a couple weeks ago, I received an unexpected email at school:

Subject Line: Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

It was an email sent by a former student of mine Let’s call her Alison. We hadn’t crossed paths for 9 years, yet when I saw the email’s subject line, a smile of recognition snuck across my face. I knew immediately what this was about.

Alison began the email with some context: “You might remember that you once purchased a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for me. You also took the time after school to listen to my paper about my mom’s mental health issues since I wasn’t comfortable reading it in front of the class.”

She continued, “One day in class I was complaining about being hungry and never being able to eat breakfast since one of my parents always ate all of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Then, I remember coming to class one day and you gave me a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. I was SO grateful, happy, and shocked that someone cared. I know I didn’t express much emotion when you did that for me but I cried later that day knowing that someone cared enough about me to do that. Back then I wasn’t very good at expressing my emotions and I’m pretty sure I did my best to avoid you from that point on because I just wasn’t used to that.

“Years later, especially after I graduated high school, I started to feel regretful about never really thanking you for that act of kindness and there were many times I started writing an email to you but would exit out. However, I couldn’t forget that day and how much that impacted me even years later. Thank you so much Mrs. Felske for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I will never forget that! I went through a lot while in high school and every act of kindness that I received really mattered.”

Okay, THAT’S Part I of this blogpost, and here’s Part II (bear with me, it’ll all tie together, I promise).

A week ago (pre-election Nov. 4th) the Dalai Lama wrote an editorial in the New York Times. He discussed the global anxiety running throughout the US and across Europe, and suggested a solution. He said we must do good for others; we must “be of use.”

He cited research showing that people who feel useful are three times less likely to die prematurely as those who don’t. “Americans who prioritize doing good for others are almost twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives. In Germany, people who seek to serve society are five times likelier to say they are very happy than those who do not view service as important.”

This makes sense to me.

Buying that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for Alison years ago was a small act. At the time, what she had said in class reminded of the time I received a jar of applesauce for my birthday. Being one of eight children in my family, that jar of applesauce (my favorite food and a whole jar to myself!) was, for me, sheer jubilation. And it was that childhood memory that landed me in the cereal aisle grabbing a box of cereal for Alison, knowing that she’d appreciate it, but not giving it much thought beyond that.

What I now know is how much that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch meant to Alison. Her email reminded me what all of those seemingly small moments we have with our students can potentially mean to them both in the moment and years later.

It’s what the Dalai Lama calls a “compassionate society” where ‘selflessness and joy are intertwined. The more we are one with the rest of humanity, the better we feel.”

dalailama_blogImportantly, he reminds us that this is not a liberal or conservative cause:  “What unites us…is not shared politics or the same religion. It is something simpler: a shared belief in compassion, in human dignity, in the intrinsic usefulness of every person to contribute positively for a better and more meaningful world.”

His solution for our anxiety and feelings of disconnectedness? Begin each day by consciously asking ourselves how we can be of use.

Like buying that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Or one of a million other small acts of kindness there for the doing. For educators, there are countless such opportunities. For all human beings there are countless such opportunities.

The take-away here, pretty obvious. We need to remember the words of the Dalai Lama, to remember Alison’s email, to remember Cinnamon Toast Crunch…as a verb—the antidote to resentment, anxiety, and despair by “being of use” to those we encounter in and out of the classroom.

Now, back to Alison. Perhaps you are wondering what she’s up to these days? She is a Behavioral Health Social Worker, paying it forward, distributing her own metaphorical boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch to those in need.  

As the Dalai Lama says, “The answer is not systematic; it’s personal.”

Cinnamon Toast Crunch.


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