Saturday, August 29, 2009

Back to School Basics for Teachers

Well, so much for summer break. The grind is just around the corner. Yeah, I know two months isn’t long enough, but hey, it’s pretty good. Start getting in gear to go back to the professional attire and mindset, early morning rising, and don’t forget to get your bladder in shape so that one daily visit to the rest room will be enough.

Okay, let’s go down the checklist for the things you’ll need to get prepared for the inevitable day:

1. Don’t forget to wait until the last minute to get your teacher supplies at the teacher store so you’ll have time to make an hour worth of phone calls while you’re waiting on line because all the other teachers waited for the last minute also.

2. Get started writing your lesson plans for the first couple of weeks, but don’t get too attached to them because you know they’ll change once you get in the swing of things.

3. Remember to agonize over picking that first day’s book that you’ll read to your class. Of course, they will be absolutely enthralled and give you 100% of their attention – they’ve been waiting all summer to have this book read to them.

4. Create a new schedule plan. No more beach days; no more waking up at 10am; no more having the use of a restroom ANY time of the day; no more use of the phone anytime of the day; no more eating whenever you want; and no more peace and quiet.

5. Start working today to get your body and mind prepared for 30 restless kids with different personalities, strengths and weakness; for 30 sets of parents with different personalities; for the school administration, and for your co-workers. Start building your strength, stamina, and inner resilience – you’re going to need it.

6. Get your mindset in order. Repeat the following mantra 100 – 1000 times a day:
My days in class will be productive and calm; my students will not affect my well-being; I will remember my teaching skills; my students are great and I love them; my students enjoy learning; all my students will pass the State tests with flying colors; my students’ parents are wonderful as is my school administration.

7. Calm your nerves. You will be able to teach again; you will be able to get back into your professional mode; you will be able to concentrate on what you’re doing.

8. Watch those late nights. Be sure to start at least a week before school and go to bed at a reasonable hour. You will definitely need your rest.

9. Mark the calendar: 180 working days to go until next summer’s vacation – let the countdown begin!

If you like this article, you may like the August 25th post: Back to School Countdown, just scroll down a bit!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interview with the Authors of The 5 Keys to the Great Life

On August 20th, I posted a review of The 5 Keys to the Great Life. To refresh your memory, here is the first paragraph:

The 5 Keys to the Great Life is unique in that it is written by a brother and sister team. Both authors have impressive credentials in their chosen fields of law, management, education, and psychology, combined. With the number of self-help books out there written by every Tom, Dick and Harry, it’s refreshing to read one from writers who actually have an educational background and job experience in the area they are advising others on. In addition to all this, they have both been through burdening health and family problems. These personal experiences provide them with additional insight into coping mechanisms and tools that they impart to the reader.

I found the book interesting and informative and sent the authors a few questions for an interview. The authors, Dr. Tomi Bryan and Dr. Jerry White, graciously responded with the following answers:

1. I enjoyed your book and found it interesting. I like the way you used Moonstruck, Po, and the Big Bang Theory shows to get your points across. What made you choose these three in particular?

First, we believed people would be able to relate to these examples. Second, a visual is so powerful and these entertainment mediums offered an exaggeration of the point we wanted to make. An exaggeration is the extreme of a behavior and so it provides a lot of space in which to see ourselves. Finally, humor was an integral part of these examples. Because laughing and a sense of humor is essential to the great life, these examples aligned with our philosophies.

2. In Chapter 6 you mention that you felt compelled to do it all because if you refused you might not be loved anymore. I’ve dealt with trauma and having to take care of others in my life, but I don’t think it was out of a need to be loved. I believe it was out of an innate sense of obligation and responsibility not to let loved ones down. Which do you think is the core reason for most people who care for others to the point of it affecting their health?

Many people who care for others are in the discipline we call Helpers. Helpers are notorious for not making themselves a priority. The result is Helpers most likely don’t eat right or don’t get enough exercise. They compromise their own health in pursuit of helping others. Our belief is that this unselfish behavior is borne out of the love of helping others, which includes an innate sense of obligation and responsibility.

3. Also, in Chapter 6, you reference coaching one’s self as a team leader would his team. Do you think the average person would be able to incorporate these types of strategies into their lives? As an example, within the family dynamics, there are times when an individual cannot distance himself from other family members.

We believe people can incorporate these strategies into their lives by courageously practicing them. Everything in life is a choice. Integrating these strategies is simply a choice to acknowledge that what I am doing is not working so I am going to try something different.

You are correct. There are times when we cannot physically distance ourselves from others. What we offer in the book is a mental strategy for distancing yourself. The challenge is to create mental boundaries through the use of the deflector shield, Aftertalk, or simply learning to say in your mind, “This person is no longer on my playing field and what they say doesn’t impact me.” These strategies require practice (because we have to start somewhere) so that they are integrated into how we operate. The more we use the strategies, the better we will be at using them.

4. In the book, you have many quotes from qualified individuals and also philosophies, which is your favorite quote or philosophy?

The book is rich with quotes and philosophies, making our answer tough to refine. The book’s basic premise is that systems thinking allows us to see any system, even in the midst of mass chaos. We use that premise to unveil the operating system of life, identify points of leverage for accelerated growth, and point to structural conflicts that may be limiting personal development. Because systems thinking is the framework on which our model hangs, it is the most influential philosophy; and thus, our favorite.

5. In the Introduction, I love the micro-wave analogy and your statement that, “…the great life is more of a crock-pot proposition." What do you think is the most important ingredient in the pot?

Ahhh… an answer we can agree on without debate: The Self. The Self is the center of the Great Life Model. It is essential to living the great life to understand the relationship between the Self and the other 5 dimensions of Family, Faith, Fun, Finances and Friends. If the Self is not understood, then transformation from who you are to who you can be can’t take place.

6. Will there be any more books by you and your brother?

Yes. We are collaborating on more material now.

7. Is there anything else you’d like to pass on to our readers?

Your great life is waiting. It is simple and you can do it. The instructions are waiting for you in The 5 Keys to the Great Life!

Thank you for the opportunity to provide these thoughts on our book! We appreciate it.

Thank you both for sharing with us.

You can get a copy of The 5 Keys to the Great Life at

If you'd like to read the entire review go to:

Talk to you soon,

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to School Countdown

Five, four, three, two…yup, it’s that time of year again, rising early, getting to school on time, homework, tests…yuck!

But you know, it’s not really that bad. If you’re prepared and get into the right mindset, that’s half the battle. Everything we have to do in life and come up against in life gives us two options: (1) put a positive or good spin on it, (2) dread it.

Since you have to do it anyway, you might as well opt for Option #1.

To get you started in the right direction, here is a list to help you get in gear for, “school time, school time, good ole golden rule time.”

The Do List:

1. Many teachers have lists of what you will need for your upcoming school year. Try to find out if your new teacher has one and how you can get a hold of it.

2. To avoid needed school items being sold out; have Mom or Dad let you do your shopping early.

3. Make sure to get the items that are actually listed. If the list says “one red pen” don’t come to class with a green or purple one.

4. At least a week before school starts, go to bed at the time you normally would on school nights. This will give your body a chance to get accustomed to waking and eating breakfast early. If you do this, your body and mind won’t scream at you that first school day morning, “Hey, are you crazy? Only roosters are up at this time!”

5. A week before that inevitable morning, start a new mantra (saying): “I will listen to my teacher. I will listen to my teacher. I will listen to my teacher.” You can say this 100 to 1000 times a day. Another useful mantra is: “I will be respectful to my teacher and classmates. I will be respectful to my teacher and classmates. I will be respectful to my teacher and classmates.” Either of these two mantras is fine.

6. Make sure to get to school on time and obey your school and classroom rules. Practice Rule #5 so this won’t be a problem.

7. If you are required to have your classroom items in class the first week of school – have them there the first week…having them at home doesn’t cut it. You have to actually bring them to class.

8. What about the reading you were to do over the summer? Did you do it? Well, if you didn’t, start today. It’s better to read a least one book than none. Did you know that anything you want to be, an astronaut, a doctor, a firefighter, a superhero, all require reading. Okay, not the superhero, that just takes a good imagination.

These 8 Do's should give you a jump start on a smooth new school year.

Now for the Don’ts:

1. Don’t ignore the Do list above!

Talk to you soon,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Learn To Write for Children: 3 Basic Tools

We all know how difficult it is to break into the business of writing for children. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, it is a tough business and can be overwhelming for those just starting out. While all writing must adhere to certain guidelines, writing for children has additional principles unique to its genre.

To start, the words used in children’s writing must be age appropriate. This may sound easy to do, but it can be a difficult task. There are also certain techniques and tricks used specifically in writing for children, such as the Core of Three, sentence structure, and the timeframe in which the story should occur when writing for young children. In addition, it’s essential to make sure your conflicts, storyline, and point of view are appropriate for the age group you’re writing for.

Along with this, there are general techniques for writing, such as adding sensory details, showing instead of telling, and creating an engaging story that hooks the reader right away, along with great dialogue and correct punctuation.

This is just the beginning though, there is also the business of editing your work, writing a winning query, and following submission guidelines; the list goes on and on.

But, don’t get discouraged, there is help. Here are three basic tools to get you started and guide you down the children’s writing path:

1. Children’s Writer’s WORD BOOK by Alijandra Mogilner is a great resource that provides word lists grouped by grades along with a thesaurus of listed words. This allows you to check a word in question to make sure it is appropriate for the age group you’re writing for. It also provides reading levels for synonyms. It’s a very useful tool and one that I use over and over.

2. Read and learn about how to write for children. There are plenty of books and courses you can find online that will help you become a 'good' children's writer. One in particular is: The Institute of Children's Literature

3. The Frugal Editor by award winning author and editor, Carolyn Howard-Johnson, is a useful book for any writing genre, including children’s. It is great resource that guides you through basic editing, to getting the most out of your Word program’s features, to providing samples of queries. The author provides great tips and advice that will have you saying, “Ah, so that’s how it’s done.”

I’ve invested in a number of books, courses and programs in writing and marketing, and know value when I see it; these products have a great deal of value for you as a writer, and they are definitely worth the cost.

I consider these three resources essential tools in my children’s writing tool belt. But, the most important aspect of creating a writing career is to actually begin. Remember, you can’t succeed if you don’t try. It takes that first step to start your journey, and that first step seems to be a huge stumbling block for many of us. Don’t let procrastination or fear stop you from moving forward - start today!

Talk to you soon,
Karen Cioffi
Writing for Children

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Mother-in-Law’s Manual: Proven Strategies for Creating Healthy Relationships with Married Children

Title: The Mother-in-Law’s Manual: Proven Strategies for Creating Healthy Relationships with Married Children
Author: Susan Abel Lieberman, PH.D.
Genre: Nonfiction/Family Matters
Publisher: bright sky press
ISBN: 978-1933979410
Reviewer: Karen Cioffi for Book Pleasures

The Mother-in-Law’s Manual is a wonderfully insightful and at times humorous advice manual for dealing with not only in-laws, but also other family members. Having recently seen a commercial for Monsters-in-Law, with Jennifer Lopez, it was refreshing to read a much more realistic portrayal of mother-in-laws, especially since I am one myself.

Lieberman’s first chapter explains that when our children are young we are afforded an abundance of advice from professionals such as Dr. Spock. But, when our children are grown, leave the nest and marry, we are left to fend for ourselves. Lieberman’s analogy for the marriage is: “They are moving to a new country that they will create together. Yes, we get territorial. Use my bill of rights. Celebrate my holidays. Serve my food. Even if we don’t see it like a competition, we are likely to consider each deviation a loss.”

Situations that never existed before are now ones that can cause hurt, sadness, and even anger, along with satisfaction and happiness. This book delves into all the emotions that come into play. The child who was once yours now belongs to someone else. The author alludes to the fact that this is more of an issue when it is your son and you are dealing with a daughter-in-law. But, whether son or daughter, the dynamics of the family change.

The Mother-in-Law’s Manual is jammed packed with bits and pieces of wisdom. One of my favorite gems comes right after the “10 most recommended rules” for mothers-in-law which are all the same, “Keep your mouth shut.” Lieberman cleverly explains: “Even if we could follow the rule(s) and not say one word that would be heard as contentious, judgmental, argumentative, or critical […] our children would still hear contentions, judgments, arguments, and criticisms.” As a mother and mother-in-law, these are words that ring true. At times it seems you just can’t win. I thought this section was so funny, I had to read it to my husband.

It is difficult to do justice to all the pearls of wisdom in this book. It explains not to fret over the small things, our perceptions and our intent matter, when not to offer advice, and so much more. It even considers the roles of grandparents, children’s relationships to aging parents, and the aging process itself as Lieberman coins as “zippy to droopy.” She even includes a glimpse of her relationship with her own mother, the frustrations and sometimes guilt that is inevitable when a parent reaches an old age or is ill. Having taken care of a quadriplegic mother my experiences are somewhat different, but in some aspects they are the same. When watching your parent age, you wonder if you’re looking at your future.

Lieberman’s efforts produced an impressive book that all family members should read. Her research involved interviews with as many mothers-in-law across the country and from different backgrounds as she could. She even interviewed a number of daughters-in-law and sons-in-law. Many of these interviews are in the book. Some of their stories/advice sounded familiar, others were surprising. But, they all brought another element of enlightenment. Adult children who read this, married or unmarried, will hopefully gain insight into their parents as not only Mom or Dad, but as individuals with a life of their own including hopes, needs and feelings.

One final gem from the book that struck a chord with me is in Chapter Ten: “I understand my children are not my friends, that our relationship is that unique connection between parent and child. But, there is a way in which we are candid and honest with close, old friends, yet show a carefulness, a respectfulness that can be forgotten with parents. As soon as we begin to feel superior to a friend, the nature of the friendship shifts.” Lieberman hit just about every nail on the head with The Mother-in-Law’s Manual. I give this book 5 Stars and highly recommend it.

About the author: Susan Abel Lieberman currently lives in Houston and works as an executive coach. She has written five books, including New Traditions: Redefining Celebrations for Today’s Family. The Mother-in-Law’s Manual springs from the realization that her assumption that anyone would be thrilled to have her for a mother-in-law was off base. Rather than accepting family tension, she put her skills as a researcher and an executive coach to work to improve the situation. Ordained as an interfaith minister, Lieberman also holds a master’s from Berkeley, and a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburg. As a wife, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother, she is well-versed in the challenges presented by every stage of family life. The Mother-in-Law’s Manual brings her personal and professional insights together to help mothers-in-law everywhere start a new chapter in their family life.

Talk to you soon,
Karen Cioffi