Saturday, February 26, 2011

Social Media: Creating Insular Communities

This post is cross-posted from The Cooperative Catalyst, a community blog of which Will is also a member.


Just recently I got into a discussion on Facebook with some of my mother's friends about the goings on in Wisconsin. To make a long story short, we disagreed about a lot of things including tax cuts and unions.  I ventured to my mom's page to see some of the other discussions between her friends around various issues (usually threaded from an article she posted) and I found myself shocked. "This is crazy talk," I was thinking. It was the equivalent of watching Fox News or listening to Glenn Beck. Then I began to think a little.......

Were one of these people to scan the conversations I have online they would probably label it "liberal shenanigans" or even "crazy talk." However, we are not a part of each other's conversations. Social media has a way of creating insular communities where we only read and discuss what we agree with. Comments tend to be supportive and originate from people who share the same views.

As my mom stated in a conversation we had about the discussion, it's hard to talk to people who don't agree with you. It often feels like a war. This is especially true when using social media tools that limit us to asynchronous commenting or using limited characters. In addition, sometimes comment areas and online conversations can lose civility due to the format and the fact that there is no face behind the words being said.

Still, it is important that we engage those with whom we disagree. We need to hear the other side. We need to engage the other side. It's how we better understand our own beliefs. Sometimes, we may even question our long held beliefs and really reflect on them. They may also learn a bit from us as well.

One of the reasons why I love participating in this blog is because we challenge each other's thinking. Still, at the root of it all, we are like-minded individuals. I wonder what steps we can take to engage people who may not agree with us or who may think we are 'liberal crazies.'  Obviously, name-calling and labeling will have to be the first thing to eliminate, and remaining civil is key, but I'm wondering whether it's worth a try.
For the record--my mom is very open-minded.
Mary Beth Hertz is a Technology Teacher in North Philadelphia. She blogs at Philly Teacher and can be found on Twitter as @mbteach.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Career Journeys: Deven Black

by Deven Black

Photo credit:

I started working for pay when I was sixteen. By that time I’d worked on or managed several political campaigns for offices ranging from the NY State Assembly to President of the US and had dropped out of high school, twice. Two slightly-older friends and I started a small newsletter covering New York City politics and that led to a job as a program producer at an independent non-profit radio station in the city.

In the ensuing three decades, after dropping out of college, I helped organize mothers receiving public assistance, worked as a radio news producer, a newspaper reporter, a radio newsman, a radio talk-show host, taught at an alternative public high school, tended bar, did voice-overs for commercials and industrial films, wrote advertising, became a restaurant manager, got married, got a college degree and started teaching at my alma mater.

Of all that, the only thing I planned to do was get the college degree and I waited until, at age 40, found the right college to suit my way of learning and thinking.

Eventually I left restaurants and had a kid. While I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next I started hanging around my son’s elementary school while they had their all-school morning meeting, The principal noticed how kids of all grades kept approaching me (and not the other parents there) and how I interacted with the students. He suggested that I become a substitute teacher while I figured out what I wanted to do next.

A year later I enrolled in the Fordham University Graduate School of Education in order to become a special education teacher. A month before my 51st birthday I started working for the NYC Department of Education as a special education elementary school writing teacher.

I thought that was what I would do for the rest of my working life.

I didn’t even do that for the rest of the week. My principal must have heard of my checkered work-history because in the course of my first year teaching I was assigned as the teacher of a 4th grade self-contained special ed class for six weeks, the same with a 5th grade class for six weeks, then the writing teacher for those two classes (what I thought I was hired to be) before spending the last four months of the school year as the teacher-cum-referee for a small group of occasionally violent emotionally disabled 5th grade students.

Since then I taught second grade science and fifth grade social studies one year before moving to a middle school where I taught sixth grade for two years, READ 180 for two years, before starting this year as a 7th & 8th grade social studies teacher.

One Friday in early December my principal asked me if I’d ever thought of being a librarian. By Tuesday I was one. To stay one I have to get an MLS degree, and I need 18 credits of it by the end of August. Grad school!!!

The funny part of all this is that no one who knows me thinks of me as a flexible person.

What is the key to my ability to adapt to changing requirements, changing assignments and changing careers? Curiosity and knowledge.

I have always wanted to know everything. For about five minutes in my life it seemed possible. The impossibility of knowing everything has not deterred me from trying to learn as much as possible about as much as possible.

My curiosity allowed me to recognize that everything in my life, the schooling, the wandering, the violence and the seeming aimlessness, has been an opportunity for learning.

And all that learning has added up to a holistic view of the world. To me, the world is one. We are all interconnected on such deep levels that what appear to be national, racial or any other differences among us are relics of our imaginations or illusions much like mirages.

Where others might say I’ve had a variety of careers all I see is one, the career of being me.

I’ve just been me in different venues at different times; the expression of me has varied but the essence has not.

I don’t recommend that anyone else try to be me or live the kind of life I’ve lived. But I do recommend that you live your life with the curiosity, the exploration and the passion I’ve filled mine with.

Deven Black is a student of life. He was born and raised in Manhattan in New York City and after dropping out of high school used that as a learning laboratory. At the age of 50 he became a teacher and in the process that throughout his life he’s been both teacher and student simultaneously. He sees no reason to change anything now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's Time to Embrace Our Idealism

My friend and colleague, Mary Pat Champeau, brought over a Netflix video for a few of us to watch at the Institute for Humane Education. It was called The Girl in the Café, and I figured she’d just landed upon a really entertaining film and wanted to share it. “Just send it back when you’re done,” she said. I wasn’t supposed to be home that evening because of my Aikido class, but my back was hurting, and so I decided not to go to class and watch the film instead. I’m so glad I did.

The Girl in the Café is certainly an entertaining film, but its entertainment value is trumped by its great message. Revolving around the G8 summit and the Millennium Goals to (among other things) eradicate extreme poverty, the take home point is that we must stop dithering and compromising our values; we must stop defending the indefensible; we must stop conflating idealism with utopianism; and we must commit to meeting goals that are, beyond a doubt, achievable, if we harness our will to achieve them.

The next morning, I read an AP article about farm groups joining together to fight bad publicity and improve farmers’ images. In the article, Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, is quoted saying the following:
"So often people advocate for a utopian world and it's not doable.... Feeding the world requires us to kick up some dirt and create a few odors. That is just a reality of producing food and fiber that may not fit in with the utopian vision.... The vast majority of people are reasonable people, they just need to know that you can't have the perfect world."
What Cornely is implicitly defending are egregious farming practices in which sentient beings are crammed into cages and crates in which they can barely move, routinely mutilated without painkillers or anesthesia, forced to live (and die) under conditions so inhumane that were such atrocities perpetrated on dogs or cats the people responsible would be thrown in jail. He is also implicitly defending practices that are causing such horrific pollution that wildlife, too, routinely die by the thousands, as waste lagoons burst and their contents spill into waterways.

Having watched The Girl in the Café the night before, Cornely’s words were particularly cynical. By resorting to utopianism as the alternative to institutionalized cruelty and destruction in our modern farming practices, he tries to appeal to those “reasonable” people among us who might be swayed that striving for a more humane, sustainable, and healthy world is either impossible or downright silly.

Idealism is too often perceived as a weakness, a form of immaturity, a sign that a person is not yet wise. Yet Martin Luther King, Jr., was an idealist, and so was Mahatma Gandhi. Nobel Peace Prize winners, Wangari Maathai and Aung San Suu Kyi, are also idealists. Even the founding fathers of the United States were idealists, and without William Wilberforce’s persistent idealism, what might have happened in the British Parliament during the endless debates about the African slave trade? Today, it is the tireless efforts of millions of changemakers across the globe – fueled by a belief in a better world; fueled by idealism – that is creating systemic change leading us closer to peace and closer to restoration. Without idealists who envision a safer, saner, more equitable world and who are willing to work toward it, the fate of billions of people, animals, and the ecosystems upon which we all depend, would be far worse.

Cornely and the Farm Bureau fighting reforms follow a long line of people who dig in their heels to protect the status quo, no matter how destructive and unjust that status quo is. They prey on our fears and doubts, our inertia and apathy, our greed and our self-centeredness. They urge us to feel superior if we are “pragmatists,” even though there is nothing pragmatic about practices that cause harm and suffering and misery.

It’s time for all of us to embrace the idealist within and refuse to succumb to the messages that would keep us inert. This does not mean we should be utopians or refuse to compromise when compromise serves the ends we seek. It does not mean that we should perceive the world – or other people – in either/or terms, taking sides rather than seeking viable solutions. It means that we should envision the world that we have the power to create and take all the necessary steps to achieve it, practically, and with every ounce of our idealism intact.

And we must nurture our children’s idealism, ensuring that they never fall for the myth that wisdom lies in abandoning your ideals and that “reasonableness” is a sign of maturity. Instead, we must raise them to be solutionaries who use their great minds in service with their loving hearts to change unjust and inhumane systems, understanding that their idealism can and must be harnessed effectively and practically for the good.

Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education,, and author of Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; and The Power and Promise of Humane Education. She has given a TEDx talk on solutionary education and blogs at and Humane Connection.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Build A Career Rooted In Your Strengths

by Robin Roffer

Reinventing your career or your business starts with building on your strengths. So why is it that we focus so much on our weaknesses? Perhaps it’s because we were told as children "you can do anything you want if you just put your mind to it.” I have said this to my own daughter as she struggled with the piano, guitar and riding a bike. No matter how hard she tried, it just wasn’t natural for her to be good at those things. I’ve come to believe that putting so much energy into improving our weaknesses is a set-up to fall miserably short of our own expectations.

During my annual performance reviews as a young marketing executive at Turner Broadcasting, I would be praised for my accomplishments and receive a healthy raise. Inevitably, my boss would share with me the one area he felt needed improvement. Being a people-pleasing perfectionist, I would walk out beating myself up, obsessing over that one thing, never celebrating all the talents he recognized.

We spend so much time banging our heads against the wall trying to “fix” what we perceive as broken, when we would be better served building on our strengths. Instead of struggling to swim upstream against the current, shouldn’t we use our strengths to guide our careers? Yet, so many of us choose jobs and professions that require mastery in areas that don’t play to our individual strengths. As a result, we live our entire lives without ever uncovering our greatest talents and potential.

Writing down your top five talents, those things that come naturally to you and your top five strengths, those areas where you perform with mastery will set you on a positive course. Especially, when you take the time to consider how you can use your talents and strengths in today’s market.

If you have trouble recalling your strengths and talents, try to remember some of the amazing things you’ve done in your life. What did you learn about yourself from these experiences? What pushed you forward in your most challenging times? Now, go back and pull out those strengths and talents that can serve you well in business.

Recognizing where you’ve been is key to discovering your personal strengths and where they can take you. Keep these character defining experiences in mind and refer to them if you start to doubt yourself. Use them to prove to yourself that you can meet any challenge you are facing today. Reinventing yourself can be scary at times, but when you root your personal brand in your strengths, you’ll be less likely to beat yourself up when times get tough. You will be that much stronger when challenged.

It’s time to stop focusing on what's wrong with you and start improving those talents that come naturally to you. I attend seminars and work with coaches and consultants to keep building my strengths. I encourage you to evolve by focusing on areas of your chosen profession that utilize your greatest talents or create a business that plays to your strengths. This path will insure deeper personal fulfillment and greater financial success.

Robin Fisher Roffer is a reinvention and personal branding specialist. She is the author of Make A Name For Yourself: 8 Steps Every Woman Needs To Create A Personal Brand Strategy For Success and The Fearless Fish Out Of Water: How To Succeed When You’re The Only One Like You. She’s also CEO, Big Fish Marketing, Inc.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Closing the Passion-Gap: Believe in Strengths!

by Amy Sandvold

I am intrigued by Will's Strengths Project. I come at this topic from the perspective of a school principal. Working from strengths aligns exactly with what great leaders from your people's strengths. Yet what we claim to want and what we actually reward in practice are two very different things. It's called The Passion-Gap and it's filling our classrooms, boardrooms and workplaces with a lot of unhappy and unproductive people. Read this daily meeting agenda on Angela Maiers Blog to see a real world example: How Not to Empower!

Are you kidding me? Any creativity, inner passion, and strengths have fallen into the abyss of this gap after a daily schedule like that. I hardly believe that the leader that wrote this agenda wanted to stifle creativity and any passion-driven conversations, but that is exactly what this will do. You can call this "Passion-Gone-Bad." We have people going through the motions, following the rules and interacting with little personal meaning.

We have a canyon-sized gap between the people we have and the producers we desire. The one intangible, unquantifiable important variable that separates this gap is: PASSION!

Merriam & Webster define passion in this way: "intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction," and "a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept." PASSION is our inner strength that hooks us each day.

We define the Passion-Gap as this: The gap between what we are doing now and what we have the potential to accomplish if passion were a part of the equation.

The stuff going on in schools and in the workplace goes far deeper than frustration or lack of motivation, and way beyond simple boredom. We have to tap into our people's strengths and passions to sustain the energy, excitement, and love for learning and working for something meaningful!

What is learning like at your school? What is the workplace environment? What do our meeting agendas tell our people? Most important, how many people are passionate about their day? We can close this gap...

Parker Palmer, in The Courage to Teach (1998) pushes us to take action..."what we are missing right now is the will, the passion, and the courage to actually do and make those kind of changes..." (p. 173). Palmer reminds us that we know more today about how people learn and work than at any time in history. Closing the passion gap is attainable when we put the "PEOPLE" back into the equation. This can happen when we get to know what our people care about, know about, and are passionate about, and how to make it part of our learning and workplace---putting passion into practice. This leads me back to what William is dedicated to his STRENGTHS PROJECT, he is tapping into this very important cause. What happens when we put passion into practice and work from strengths? I look forward to following his project and seeing how we can put the People and the Passion back into what we do each day.

Amy Sandvold is a school principal & author and is passion-driven about learning. She has taught in both rural and urban schools and has worked for the Iowa Department of Education in the Federal Title I Program. She has authored The Fundamentals of Literacy Coaching (ASCD) and The Passion-Driven Classroom: A Framework for Teaching and Learning. You can follow her on twitter @SandvoldAmyM. To read more from other Passion-Driven Leaders, visit her blog at The Passion-Driven Leader.

iBio: Vanessa G.

The iBio series is where people share their stories, their lives. I wanted to create a series focused on how people are succeeding or failing on their own terms - how they meet the challenges in their lives as well as the dreams they have for themselves.

Vanessa is in the middle of her quarter crisis, but dare she say, can see the light at the end of the tunnel? She quit her original job and is now an online analyst/relationship manager for a selection of broadcast partners at a Canadian Service similar to Hulu. She also dreams of becoming a screenwriter (along the lines of 500 days of Summer and not cheesy bad chick flicks). Her blog, dareMYtruth, is about self discovery and inspiration with a pop culture twist. She hearts Betty White. You can find Vanessa on Twitter at @dareMYtruth.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The World becomes What You Produce

From the time I stood on my own student film set, I have always been about producing content that transforms and changes people's lives. What we put out there in the world - our contributions - has the power to empower others to take action and to direct the course of their lives. That is the mission of this blog. And, that is why I had to share this video, presented at a TEDxDirigo event, by Zoe Weil.

Zoe Weil is the co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE works to create a world in which we all live humanely, sustainably, and peaceably. It does this by training people to be humane educators who teach about the pressing issues of our time and inspire people to work for change while making healthy, humane, and restorative choices in their daily lives.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Find Your Strengths: The Turtle Wins the Race

by Nicole Crimaldi

For those of you who decided that your new year’s resolution was to “lose weight” or “work out more”- I hope you’ll appreciate this post. For those who have other goals for 2011, consider working out to be an analogy for whatever your goal is: making more money, spending more time with family, growing your client list, paying down debt, etc.

For a long time I had the mindset that if I wasn’t running, spinning or lifting weights to the point of limping and total soreness, I wasn’t getting a good workout. I was on the high intensity, high burn out plan. But within the past 6 months my attitude has shifted thanks to some random info I read and put together.

1. Studies following large groups of people who have lost weight reveal that 75-80% of those who lost a lot of weight and kept it off were walkers (note: they were not runners or spinners).

2. Bethenny Frankel, founder of the “Skinny Girl” empire, mentioned in one of her blog posts that working out should be fun and moderate. She suggested that if you don’t feel like working out one day, don’t. If you want some cake, have a little bit. She suggested you congratulate yourself just as much for doing 30 minutes of yoga as you would for attending a 1 hour spinning class. No matter what you do or don’t do, ELIMINATE THE GUILT.

3. Successful dieting stories reveal that those who let themselves have a free day each week to eat whatever junk food they want lost significantly more weight overall AND kept it off. These successful dieters also say that their free day quickly became so un-rewarding that eventually they had no interest in the junk food they once did.

4. And then there’s Ramit Sethi’s belief in SLOW change, lifestyle automation and a belief that monthly memberships are a total waste.

After putting together these thoughts, I realized that the only thing my “high intensity” fitness mindset did to me was: A. Cause me to limp. B. Cause me to eat like a ravenous piglet. and C. Cause me to stop working out completely for weeks at a time.

So I decided to say bye-bye to all feelings of guilt, obligation and the belief that “only intense workouts are valuable!”

Here’s what I did:

• I didn’t renew my expensive gym membership, even though I loved it there. Apparently there many more ways to work out than in the gym.

• I decided that I’d only work out ONCE per week doing something fun. So for 5 weeks, I took one Bikram yoga class per week. I went every Wednesday and blocked the time out on my calendar as if it were a business meeting. I declined any extracurricular meet-ups on Wednesday nights, even when it was hard to say no. (Note: I have never scheduled work outs in my life but recommend it!)

• Eventually I went to Bikram twice a week, and tried out several new workout classes in my neighborhood. Whoa- you can actually ENJOY going working out and you can do it without stepping foot in a traditional gym?!!

This gentle “ramp up” process lasted a total of at least 2 months. Fast forward to today, I’ve been practicing forms of hot yoga 4x per week . When I’m not there, I’m craving it. Note: I’ve never worked out 4x per week in my life and I’ve never maintained the consistency that I do now.

So this month, I challenge you to think more like the turtle rather than the hare: while the hare may run faster, s/he is simply arriving at burn out and failure sooner. Think like the turtle instead: choose slow change and don’t bother looking around to see what everyone elses is doing.

Start by scheduling 1 consistent (and fun!) workout per week that you devote to “sharpening the saw.” Not only will you find your strengths, you’ll learn a lot about what motivates you and what distracts you from your goals. Devote yourself to a guilt-free life so that nourishing your physical and mental health no longer feels like a chore but a treat.

Nicole Crimaldi is the founder of and Nicole’s websites reflect her passion for female career development and her love for both Chicago and dogs. Nicole works full time at JPMorgan Chase, practices hot yoga regularly and is a bit obsessed with her yellow lab Giada. Nicole studied Finance and Entrepreneurship at Miami University (Ohio) and lives in Chicago.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

iBio: Shelly Sanchez Terrell

The iBio series is where people share their stories, their lives. I wanted to create a series focused on how people are succeeding or failing on their own terms - how they meet the challenges in their lives as well as the dreams they have for themselves.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a passionate educator and author of The 30 Goals Challenge. Shelly is also the VP of Educator Outreach for Parentella and the Social Media Community Manager for The Consultants-E, and she is the co-organizer and co-creator of the award winning educational projects, The Reform Symposium E-Conference, Edchat and the Virtual Round Table conference. You can find Shelly on her blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, here on PEOPLEGOGY or on Twitter, @ShellTerrell.

If you're interested in being a part of the iBio series, please send me a tweet and I will get you the details.