Why we should put the little people first

It’s state budget time! And Arizona is into a budget surplus, and out of excuses. We could fund education. We could even begin to “restore the years the locusts have eaten.” Here’s the letter I sent:

Dear Governor Ducey, and Arizona Legislature,

What if all our children grew up to contribute their full potential in the world? What if we provided the education they needed, all the way through college or technical training?

Cultures who honor teachers (and parents) understand that children are our future.

Education spending is the most selfish way to tax ourselves. We improve the critical thinking of fellow voters and the emotional intelligence of our neighbors, spark innovation, train our workforce, expand our economy, raise property values, reduce crime, and raise the most taxable salaries. It’s a tax hike in disguise.

If we prefer to pay for more police, prisons, blight, recession, that’s an option.

My 27-year-old son is the successful product of a great Arizona education—elementary through ASU. His brother, attending the same elementary school, had to navigate a dismantled system. Thanks to No Child Left Behind and the AZ legislators’ response to that (omnipresent testing), immigration and legislators’ counterproductive response to that (ending bilingual education), my younger son struggled in his early years: filling out boring AIMS worksheets, waiting for English Language Learners to catch up, and surviving playground gangs. It took research, effort, patience, and winning an enrollment lottery to move him into schools that work, the kind all of our children deserve to attend.

After what our federal and state governments have done to education, it is amazing we have any teachers left, or that anyone majors in Education. We are beginning to understand how brains work and people learn, and we are training marvelous teachers to capitalize on that. Then we don’t let them use what they know. We legislate stupidity, teachers struggle to teach the best they can, and we can’t even pay them a livable wage.

Teachers should not have to live in poverty, inherit money, or marry a “real’ breadwinner.

Let’s do something revolutionary: fund education, pay teachers a competitive wage, and educate ALL our children.

A+ image from WritersResort blog

Gwyn Nichols

A few of you readers also live in Arizona. I’d love to hear your stories. Here’s how to stay informed on Arizona education funding (including the upcoming Proposition 123), and send your own thoughts: http://www.expectmorearizona.org/blog/2016/04/27/first-look-whats-inside-proposed-arizona-budget-education/

And for the rest of you across the country, around the globe, I’d love to hear about your educational system with its trials and triumphs. (I wrote a college paper on education in rural Tunisia, so I kid you not: I want to know.)

Don’t think of a purple giraffe (and what else not to say)

giraffe-skin-background-purpleA company I admire allowed an employee to blog, “You probably don’t want to come to our conference, but here’s why I think you should.” Really? I don’t want to come to your conference? Now that you mention it–I guess I don’t!

Are you telling people what you don’t want them to think, or don’t want them do? And then are you surprised when they (your customers and clients, your children, the general public) think and do the opposite of what you wanted?

When we tell a child, “Don’t touch!” what does the child do? And at lightning speed?

Toddlers hear our command as “Touch!” The “Don’t” does not register. Grammatically, that is the imperative. And our tone makes it an urgent command. To negate what we commanded–do NOT do what we forcefully said–is linguistically sophisticated, over their tiny heads.

Even mature brains take longer to process a negative, thinking, “This–no, NOT this.” And even if ignored, negative words retain subliminal impact: “You probably don’t want to come to our conference.” “These are not the droids you are looking for.”

If we want people to understand us, possibly even do our bidding, then tell them what we want them to do, not what we don’t want.

Say your cat or your antique vase are endangered by tiny hands. Guide the tiny hand as you say and demonstrate, “Touch it gently. Gently.” You might want to supervise and remind, “Gently,” or remove the object of interest, but the child’s joy and cooperation will amaze you.

Sometimes we need to warn. If it is a hot stove, we can say, “Hot! Owie!”

ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) used to warn, “Don’t drive drunk!” That message includes “Drive Drunk!” That is like telling a toddler, “Don’t touch that stove!” I wanted to scream, “No! Tell them what TO do–like Designate a Driver!”

Not long ago, ADOT switched to “Drive hammered, get nailed,” which prompted at least one attorney to post billboards: “Got nailed? Call us!”

And finally this week, ADOT got it right. The signs now read, “Designate a Driver. Avoid a DUI.” YES! Give that reviser a raise! I expect the revision to prove more effective than checkpoints alone.

It’s easy to write, “Don’t think of a purple giraffe,” and forget what happens in the reader’s brain. What’s your favorite Purple Giraffe?

Reading is for Babies

Father reading to baby The American Pediatrics Association says, “Immunize your children against illiteracy.”

NPR’s Audie Cornish interviewed Professor Susan Neuman about new evidence showing that the younger you read to your children, the better. Reading benefits babies, from earliest vocabulary development though later achievements.

Were you one of those lucky children who was read to?

I have preschool memories of my dad reading me Dr. Seuss and, I kid you not, The Wall Street Journal, and my mom reading me a chapter of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi before every nap.

Reading to my own children was even more enjoyable. My first toddler was barely forming two-word sentences when he announced from his car seat, “No, Pat! No, Pat!” He was pointing to a cactus, alluding to Dr. Seuss: “No, Pat, no! Don’t sit on that!” My younger son, by 3 or 4 spoke fluent King James, holding a book, pretending to read, making up stories and admonitions with archaic verb tenses and expressions, never confusing it with our colloquial English.

Reading is not only for babies. Don’t let children outgrow it! Jim Trelease (The Read-Aloud Handbook) suggests that teens wash dishes while parents read aloud. Talk about a Win-Win. The Phantom Tollbooth made a favorite dish-time hit.

Reading obviously benefits brain development, language acquisition, and academic achievements, but what I love most about reading/being read to, in classrooms and families, is the social development, between the literature and the readers, and the readers amongst themselves.

  • Empathy: reading another’s mind, walking in others’ shoes, experiencing other ages, places, cultures, and times.
  • Common vocabulary, allusions, characters, and private jokes, instantly conveying a concept or strengthening a relationship.
  • It’s hard to read and argue at the same time. (Certain people can pull it off—it helps to be attached to the literal, as in high-functioning autism—but imagine where such a person would be without literature and those ensuing discussions.)

What is your favorite reading benefit? Your favorite memory of communal reading?

Interview: http://www.npr.org/2014/06/24/325229904/to-immunize-kids-against-illiteracy-break-out-a-book-in-infancy


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2014. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com

Photo © Liza McCorkle. iStockPhoto.

Want a More Effective Brain?

Do you think of your brain as a tool? Or have you confused your brain, your processes, your thoughts with your very being? You are not your brain, yet exercising your brain can do wonders for your experience of life, and your writing as well. Here are ten ways to stretch your brain:


Personally, I like Art Kramer’s advice: “Ide­ally, com­bine both phys­i­cal and men­tal stim­u­la­tion along with social inter­ac­tions. Why not take a good walk with friends to dis­cuss a book?” Yes!

And for a real breakthrough in learning, find a Brain Gym teacher.


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2012. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com

Writing Detox

Sheila Patel, MD, of the Chopra Center suggests “9 Practices for Seasonal Detoxification,” many of which you might expect from a “board-certified family physician and Ayurvedic expert.” She prescribes an organized or do-it-yourself healing retreat of meditation, mind-body exercise, foods, herbs, sauna, massage, rest, nature–and writing.

9.)  Keep a Journal
Writing is an extremely useful tool for self-reflection and emotional detoxification. Take time each evening to write about what you have been feeling both physically and emotionally. Note what you are grateful for, and then try to identify things in your life that you would like to eliminate. Write about how it will feel when these things have been eliminated—and also identify what you would like to bring into this space that you will create in your life.

Writing will change your life! Here Dr. Patel touches on several reasons for that. Self-reflection is good for brain functioning, stress reduction, and creativity, especially when focused on gratitude, and when it leads to making positive changes.

And for the writing retreats I often recommend, you may spend more time writing, but I hope you’ll also incorporate many of Dr. Patel’s suggestions. Enjoy the rest of her article here: http://www.chopracenterhealingwisdom.com/?p=452


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2012. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com

Online Learning Success

Writer silhouette, copyright Chris LeCraw iStockPhoto.com #000000818351
copyright Chris LeCraw iStockPhoto.com #000000818351

Online classes can be so efficient. You waste no time in travel or trivia, but only if you manage that time! Here are a few tips for success in the online environment:

  1. Post your assignment calendar to keep you up to date, maybe even a little ahead.
  2. Go online every day and do something to advance your learning:
    1. Check your school e-mail and your instructor feedback.
    2. Read your lessons carefully; they’re like going to class. If you skipped class, you’d be lost, right?
    3. Savor every reading assignment, and explore every media resource, even if there’s no official assignment checking up on you. I once had a student announce, “I am ‘In It to Win It!’ I paid all this money and I’m going to be here every minute, do every bit of the work, and learn everything I can!” (May I clone Tiffany?)
    4. Work on your written assignments each day, allowing plenty of time to let your first drafts rest. You’ll gather new ideas and perspectives as you go about your life. Then come back to revise.
  3. Take time to understand your learning style and play to your strengths. Love your brain for what it does best, and it will love you!
    1. If you’re a visual learner, you probably think online learning is the greatest invention ever. To add to the visual experience, you might print out your lessons or use a white board or mind-mapping program to review concepts or brainstorm for your own writing.
    2. If you’re an auditory learner, you’ll need to compensate for not hearing lectures and verbal explanations. You could record yourself reading your lessons, then listen to your own voice while you reread it.
    3. If you’re more hands on/kinesthetic, the white board idea could also work for you, and you might enjoy using post it notes you can move around or creating your own illustrations, whether high art or stick figures.
  4. Set up reminders that suit your learning style. Think like a kid.
    1. Visual: make a paper chain (like a child counting down to a holiday) and label all the links with the lessons and their tasks for the whole course.
    2. Auditory: you could set a timer to announce your scheduled study time, preferably one that plays your favorite psyche up music.
    3. Kinesthetic/hands on: the paper chain might work for you, too. Or you could booby-trap your room to catapult you into your study chair.
  5. Reward yourself!
    1. Visual: no one is too old for gold stars. Watch a movie.
    2. Auditory: play your victory music.
    3. Kinesthetic: dance, exercise, or create something.
  6. Protect your health. Schedule breaks for fun, rest, and relationships. I used to pull all-nighters in college. (Did you know it compromises your immune system for days afterward?) We all write better and more efficiently when we’re rested, nourished, and active.
    1. A great time to write is right after walking or swimming. Your brain will be rich with oxygen and your thoughts will run smoothly. If you ever feel stuck, get up, drink water, stretch thoroughly, walk a few minutes, and try again. Brain Gym® is an amazing modality.
    2. Pace your education your way. There’s no reason to die of stress: the number of classes you take at one time and the speed at which you complete them are choices you make.
    3. Include friends and family in your plans and give them reasons to be excited to support your success. Teach them what you’re learning. (Nothing will help you learn it better!) Enjoy time with them between assignments.
    4. Write every day. True, it will develop your writing voice and strengthen the skills, but the most important thing about keeping a private journal is the way you’ll use that writing to rest, reflect, and restore your perspective.
  7. Remember that your instructor is part of your support team. If life happens, keep in touch. Be aware of your school’s policies so that if you have an emergency, and need more time to complete an assignment, you know where to request a due date extension.
  8. Keep copies of everything! Sometimes technology eats your homework. Sometimes humans make mistakes. So please keep duplicates, and back up your files. A flash drive is wonderful, as long as everything is also stored elsewhere. (Yes, I’m the voice of experience.)
  9. Ask for help whenever you have questions or concerns. Your instructor is your first contact, and can also refer you to additional resources when needed.
  10. Allow the time and freedom to savor learning itself. I am happiest when I’m learning. That’s what I love best about teaching, both learning to support my students better and learning from them. That’s the magic for me.


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com

Photo © Chris LeCraw iStockPhoto #818351

“The Power of Your Past”

John P Schuster The Power of Your Past book cover 9781605098265L
My birthday present from Berrett-Koehler

The week of my birthday, I won a book! (The Berrett-Kohler newsletter I’ve recommended to you has a challenge, and I entered.) And because I was in transition, stepping from one year into my next, and even from one job toward another, I chose John P. Schuster’s The Power of Your Past. I’m still enjoying it, savoring its reflective exercises.

While many are preaching at us to live only in the present, John warns against amnesia. He agrees that we should live in today, but not without learning from yesterday and claiming its gifts. He says, “It is about gathering important insights, and the wisdom that comes before informed action.” He advocates that we not misuse the past, either romanticizing/ minimizing the past, nor getting stuck in victimization, but instead, that we reflect on our past experiences and mine them to refine our identity, remember our dreams, and clarify our choices.

John outlines a process to “Recall, Reclaim, and Recast” the past. He recognizes that not all minds work alike, so he offers graphic organizers for several approaches. He has us identify the settings of our lives and consider the places where we did get stuck (what he calls compressions) and where we found encouragement or achievement (his evocations). That alone is a great start toward understanding where we have healthy relationships with our pasts and where there’s more treasure to be found.

And another gift for me: the book is well-edited and well-designed. Too often I get distracted by my own editing brain. So far, I’ve found only two suggestions. (1) I would left justify epigrams, instead of right. (2) I’d simplify some of John’s compound, complex questions. For example, here’s the first question: “How well do I integrate the gifts of my body, my mind, my will, my feelings, my sense of play, my enthusiasm for learning, in a way that helps me to be a well-balanced person?” (Say what?) So I wrote out the question, realized the point was whether I’m well balanced, and felt relief that I wouldn’t need a week to answer it.

This book is the perfect length–just enough examples for memories to bubble up, accompanied by simple processes to inspire reflection and insightful writing. It’s warm, wise, and welcoming.

Don’t skip the footnotes. I always read them–academic editor training is forever present–and I like to read notes all at once, after I’m well into a book. John’s footnotes are the perfect blend of citations, additional readings, and conversation.

The Power of Your Past made a fabulous birthday gift. And yes, I’m already beginning the new job, the new editing projects, and one of my favorite years so far.

Thanks, B-K!


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011