“We have met the ‘enemy’ and he is us.” – The Parent/Teacher Rift

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The assistant principal of the J.F. Deering Middle School in West Warwick, Subhash Chander, wrote a commentary in the Providence Journal, which ran on September 13th entitled, “Parents must do more than just buy school supplies”.  At first read, I thought – absolutely – excellent points. Well said. But then I noticed the one-sided view that this principal chose to use in addressing parents. And I could actually see a finger waving back and forth, admonishing me, the parent. I started to remember my experiences in my encounters with teachers over the years, when I would ask questions, or suggest something. That awful, tenuous, careful push-pull feel of it all.

Like a presidential rebuttal I feel compelled to respond and ask this of Ms. Chander, “what is a teacher’s responsibility”? And not to plagiarize in any way, I’ll use some of her own phrases. As an administrator are you focusing first and foremost on reinforcing with your teachers, what it takes “to be ready for the school year”?

When sentences begin with, “To parents: The least you can do is start taking an interest….” you’ve already lost the ‘we’re a team’ point.

My children are in their mid 20s now. They were educating in public schools in the Cranston school system. They went on to public university education, then beyond to advanced degrees. They have good jobs, here in RI.

No, I was never a helicopter parent. But, I was always ‘there’ – for events, concerts, parent teacher meetings, etc. I even had a strange few years on the PTO. I looked at homework assignments, provided a good dinner and study time at home, pulled back on extra curricular activities when I could see that was interfering. I did the dreaded dioramas and helped in the equally dreaded poster board presentations. I struggled to understand the new rubrics. I agreed to let my kindergartener not worry about mispronouncing words, as the new reading methods didn’t are about that (don’t ask about a 20-something’s pronunciation faux pas, to this day). I gave up on the old math of memorizing “times tables” to the new math (have you gone to a farmer’s market and watched the young people struggle to make change from a $10 when you have spent $5.71 – watch it – it’s the “new math”). That “better way” of doing math far exceeded my ability to understand and keep up at some point around middle school.

They excelled academically and are thriving as individuals. Given a poor teacher year or a year fraught with unresolved school issues, they managed to get through pretty much on their own resolve.

My visits to the schools were few. But they were almost never well received; my requests never greeted with openness and a ‘spirit of cooperation’. Teachers were unavailable, unaccommodating, wouldn’t look you in the eye, didn’t return phone calls, for the most part. Of course, there were a few outstanding gems, to be remembered for a lifetime.

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This principal writes, “To Parents: the least you can do is take an interest in your child’s education” – let me write this: “To Teachers: please take an interest in your student’s life”. Talk to them. Ask them on a daily basis what they do outside of school. Ask them what’s important to them. Don’t ever assume they have all the support they need for academic excellence. Ask them if they need extra help. In talking to your student, please let them know that you will stay in touch with mom and dad. And do it. And when you talk to the parents, do so in a friendly and inviting way – do not stop maintaining those connections, even if you find parents are very busy and may not have the time to talk to you when you can talk to them. After all, these days, it is easy to stay in touch with parents using electronic media.

Always remember that you are accountable. And that teaching effectively is your primary responsibility – and you will be reviewed on your performance. I have no doubt that you are busy and overworked and under resourced.

Think of ways to welcome parents to your classroom – establish a hotline if that works well for you. Teach your students to respect education and of course the people who teach them every day. Provide an environment in the classroom that fosters respect for all people. Show your students that you respect their parents, too. Never disparage your student’s parents, or home situation in front of your student.

As teachers it is imperative that you share your student’s educational journey not only as “the teacher”, but also as “a person”. Let your students feel that you are their best support in education. Encourage them to discuss anything with you, that they don’t need to hide the fact that they may need something they are not getting in the classroom or at home; let them know you are right there for them. Create an environment of open discussion around topics related to education. Create that environment with your students’ parents, too.

Yes, “children who are ready to learn are easiest to each.” Remember, parents who are welcomed and know what they can do to help can be your best advocates. Know that some parents will fail their children, and be ready to help support these young people as best you can; it is not their fault. Nothing could be more valuable than ensuring a promising future for your student through education. After all, this is why you chose to do this for a living.

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Here is the link to the original op ed, and it is printed in its entirety, below…

http://www.providencejournal.com/opinion/commentary/20140913-subhash-chander-parents-must-do-more-than-just-buy-school-supplies.ece

The back-to-school frenzy is over and schools have finally opened. Kids have gotten their wish lists taken care of and parents have spent or overspent their budgets in their desire to get their children ready for the new school year. The students are back to the classrooms after a gap of almost three months and teachers are ready to roll out the new academic year.

Are the children ready for the school year?

This is a question that baffles all at the end of every long nonproductive vacation. What does it precisely mean to be ready for the school year?

Because few students faced serious intellectual challenges during vacation, the teachers are going to have to design remedial course work to prepare them for the curriculum. It is every teacher’s wish that the summer vacation would be devoted to some productive academic activities. During the summer break, learning invariably takes the back seat and a sizeable chunk of the year is devoted to unproductive activities only remotely related to education. Hence many students end up losing one-fourth of a year’s worth of education. Staying stagnant and inactive for three months, a child’s brain is sure to regress.

Do the parental responsibilities end with the provision of school supplies?

Education of children is a complex matter and cannot be entrusted to specialists alone. True, teachers are entrusted with this responsibility and paid for it. But children’s education is a joint responsibility of parents and teachers. Teachers cannot fulfill this responsibility singlehandedly.

The majority of the teachers do fulfill their professional obligations to the best of their abilities, but children spend a good part of the day at home or in their communities. That is where parents have a role to play. By doing little things, parents can make a significant contribution toward the success of their children in school.

To parents: The least you can do is start taking an interest in your child’s education. It starts with talking to your children on a daily basis about whatever transpires at school every day. Never think that your children have grown up enough to handle their educational responsibilities on their own. The more involved you become in your child’s education, the more successful your child is going to be.

In talking to your child, please stress that you will stay connected with his or her teachers. No matter how unwelcome children find your visits to, or contacts with, school, do not stop maintaining those connections. These days, it is easy to stay in touch with the teachers using electronic media.

Always remember no one is more accountable for the education of your child than you as parents. You do not need to be a college graduate in order to help your child become a responsible student. All you need to remember is that education is important for all, and as parents it is your prime responsibility to continue to inculcate love of learning relentlessly.

I have no doubt that, as parents, you are busy ensuring the supply of things of daily needs and are quite hard-pressed for time. But please note that nothing could be more valuable than ensuring a more promising future for your children through education.

Thus you should establish a hotline with your child’s teachers, and help teachers feel comfortable communicating with you. Teach your children to respect education and the people who provide education to them. Respect for teachers is a cornerstone of successful education. Never disparage your child’s teachers in front of your child.

As parents, it is imperative that you share your child’s educational journey with them at a highly personal level. Let your children feel that you are their best support in education at home. Encourage them to discuss anything and everything with you as this way they will learn not to hide things from you. Create an environment of open discussion in the house around topics related to education.

Remember that children who are ready to learn are easiest to teach.

Subhash Chander is assistant principal of the J. F. Deering Middle School, in West Warwick. He is a former professor of English in India.

Ice buckets and broken hallelujahs…

Is there a coincidence that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has played out in such a dramatically successful way – literally all over the world – at the same time we have been victimized by some of the worst news stories in recent memory?  Piling up on us so rapidly, it seems surreal.

Beheadings!  Good Lord…the thought.  And threats to our world, right here, in the USA.  Threats this time that aren’t about bombing buildings; threats that look quite different indeed. Evil does walk on this earth. And it tapes itself and goes on YouTube for the world to see. And – we – watch.

Ebola!  Spreading wildly and uncontrollably – watch the maps, watch the countries turn “red” with notations of new outbreaks.  No known cure.  A doctor and a nurse in full white and plastic protective bubbles.  Will they live or will they die?  And when – but not if – will it be that someone flies to our shores on a jet plane and infects thousands. And they will. And will this potential drug work? And if it doesn’t, will this be the plague to wipe out millions? And so on….

Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!  Almost in the dead center of our country – Ferguson, Missouri. A young black man, perhaps guilty of shoplifting a few cigars, maybe shoving someone, or having a scuffle with law enforcement, maybe even a little high, gets shot dead with 6 bullets riddling his right side, starting with 2 in his head, and down his right arm that witnesses have said was raised in the universal “Hands UP! Don’t Shoot” symbol. And his body lays in the street for 4 hours; with his parents watching the flesh of their flesh, and the blood of their blood oozing into the hot pavement.  No white sheet gently shrouding him.  No priest saying words and drawing crosses.  He just lay there, getting stiff and cold, in the heat.  And the world in Ferguson ignited like a match carelessly flicked onto anxious, hot embers of a community who has had enough – a world which now sings back “We are Michael Brown”.  And how did we get here?  I think back to the race riots in the 70s, when white girls were afraid to walk on the very white East Side of Providence.  When flames of anger made it unsafe.  When young black people tossed rocks out of cars, and more, at sheer desperation of their lot.  Of their life.  Not a lot of guns and knives back then…but rioting and fighting and fear were weapons enough.

Israel and Gaza in their non-holy war, blowing each other up in the sacrilegious name of religion.  Picking up pieces of dead children, men, women for quick funerals, ‘as required’.  Then calling for “ceasefire” so all can cleanup.  But at halftime, someone launches a rocket, and we’re off again. Like some insane WWW fighting match, but there are, and will be, no winners here.

Putan-esque horrors in Russia & the Ukraine, reminding me of the ominous music in elementary school, when we would watch those videos, in our dark classroom, of the Red Dragon and the spread of Communism, surely “coming to a country near you”.

Deport them!  Illegal children rushing over barbed wire and fences, wading through streams, and now just walking in and over to law enforcement saying – here we are, arrest us, give us a court date, and my God, we’re home free…we’re home now, we’re in A-me-ri-ca.  And they disappear into our states on hot buses and trains. Wide eyed they go to the light of their cold and broken Hallelujah.

We’ve pretty much lost sight of the children.  And the Ukraine is bubbling in our minds.  Israel & Gaza, for this week, nowhere near the front page. What has captured us in this time of such woe?  What has given us joy at this hot and humid summer’s end?

The Ice Bucket Challenge. A moment in time. A silly, personal action that we share with millions on social media, inspiring laughs all across computer tops, iPads and iPhones – in a nanosecond.  The Ice Bucket Challenge existed before this summer.  It has popped up every once in awhile for different charities and causes.  But this year.  This year was so different.  An obscure disease – actually called an orphan disease – afflicting “only” 30,000 people in these United States.  Maybe the small numbers reminded us of how we feel against the global times we live in and the hopelessness we carry around with us to effect any change at all.  In a time when we surely feel like pulling up our drawbridges and watching out very carefully for just our own.  A time when for some inexplicable reason purchasing four cans of Dinty Moore beef stew to put in the basement next to the two cases of Poland Spring water seemed, well, proactionary.

But there was this thing you could do.  This cold bucket of ice thing.  And you could dump it over your own head.  Shock your own self.  And take a video of it.  And share it.  On YouTube.  And all the rest. And call out your friends – and your not so friendly friends – hey, I’m making you do this, too.  Ha!  And then go to your computer and donate money – lots of money – to this writing, over $70 million dollars, nationally.  Approaching $1 million in the state of Massachusetts, alone. And it’s spreading around the world.  Israel, Gaza, the Ukraine, probably not.

And for two or three weeks the little worlds we live in threw buckets of ice water over our heads.  A personal moment of control over this bombardment of grief in our world.  Have you done it?  Even on a really hot day, it jolts you.  It’s as if the memories of a beheading, of a boy lying in the street oozing blood into the pavement, of dirty, homeless children flooding this land of made-up dreams, of rockets red glare, red dragons, and bleeding eyes, were put out of our minds and our hearts for just a little while.  We took control over our mental anguish and turned it positive, and joyful, and helpful, and hopeful.

A bucket of ice.  Who knew?  Who knows the power it will have on inroads to a cure?  But in each of our small worlds, magnified on the screen of social media, we took control, we chose to laugh, we chose to do something rather dramatic, rather beautiful – we chose to be the essence of who we can be, each one of us.  We chose peace for a moment or two, or maybe because we shared it in those nanoseconds, the peace lasted a little longer. And in our gigging, shivering, wetness, how beautiful are we!

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: Rev:19:6

 

Swimmingly Disruptive

Heat. Water. Poverty. Children. Bureaucracy. Politics. Convening like a perfect storm in the summer of 2013. A community pool was empty. In the heart of the inner city of Providence. More than empty, it was riddled with damage. Rusted and old and hot, the sun reflecting off its chipped and peeling white paint. A pool shouldn’t be hot. It should be an oasis. This one had a history of being more than an oasis. It was a lifesaver. A veritable lifesaver to children who had nowhere to go in the heat of the summer. Adults remembered learning the lifelong, lifesaving, skill of swimming. For others it was a diving board out to a pretty cool life of success.

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Last summer, in the throes of heat and humidity, the absurdity of the situation steamed to a flashpoint. Open the pool. Fix the pool. When would it be done?  A poor neighborhood with small children who wanted to swim in the heat of the summer waited. And then the answer came – it would not be opened. It would be destroyed by a city administration hellbent to make a “cement pond” (to paraphrase Ellie Mae Clampett) out of the whole thing.  Maybe make a water “park”, with little fountains spraying up out of concrete. Or, as one radio talk show host said – let’s watch the kids get their crotches spritzed instead of learning how to swim.

It seemed like an outrageous injustice that would bring so such negative press that surely the administration would see the error of their ways and reverse themselves – maybe even throw a pool party to prove their mea culpas – and ‘what were we thinkings’.  But alas, the wingtips of a politician, and maybe more than one, who all should have known better started to grind into the sand. The more the people asked ‘why’, the louder the silence from the brick office space became. A grinding, seething silence that grew deeper each day. The incredulity of it all was shocking – almost to a one.

Figuring out the ‘why’ is usually what happens next.  But there was no time – there was no time.  Cement trucks were hovering in the dark people thought.  They might have been.

What happened next happened without plan, yet it was exquisitely executed.  It did not involve parading young sweating children out to beg for their pool.  The tactic was a classic disruptive model for change.  For those visual learners, here is a graphic to illustrate the paradigm.  (Credit here to Ted Santos, CEO of Turnaround Investment Partners).  What happened could have been planned out but it wasn’t. It happened by instinct, and was fueled by expediency – and the injustice of it all.leadership_disruptive_model_ts

People began to talk – each coming from their own perspectives and interests. There were advocates for the black community, one coming with a historical perspective who began to organize under the banner of Swim Empowerment.  He even put his own money towards a comprehensive study of why many African-American children and adults do not know how to swim as compared to their white neighbors. He held a community meeting. More people came and talked. The director of the department of health attended and shook his head. Local legislators came. Swim professionals from the “Y” and coaches got involved.  All establishing the bottom of an effective disruptive change pyramid – people with integrity, responsibility and accountability.

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Social media began to flicker as social media does. The conversations rose to a din. The din rose to outrage. People felt passionate and didn’t hesitate to say it.  A “Save the Pool” page on Facebook was born and hashtags developed.  A solid core of people were “in” – they were a committed core, giving this life. The next tier – commitment.

The engagement of a local talk show host quickly won an ally to the cause. Daily he raged on and on, and was joined by others – demanding the official who was ultimately responsible return his calls. No return calls. Silence. More talk show chatter. Support came as a gushing splash, spurred on by the silence from the hot brick building downtown. The community had taken its stand. (see tier 3 of our pyramid).

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Compromises began to be discussed.  “How about filling in part of the pool so it wasn’t deep enough to dive in?” No, the group said. You can’t learn how to swim in a wading pool. “No money to fix the pool.”  Legislators and contractors and community leaders rose up and said – we’ll fix it for free.  “We need to study this whole thing.” “And, oh, by the way, we’re going to fill in the other pools in the city.” By now it was clear the short summer season was passing by. Don’t touch the other pools, the group said, not to everyone’s agreement – but if you don’t touch them, we’ll agree to a [dreaded] commission to “study this”. The goal was clear – the only purpose of the commission was to get the pool open for 2014. We will “study” how we will do this, but we WILL do it. A declaration was made.

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Early in the process – the action step – began. The pool would reopen. Not to be fooled again – and recognizing the devilish details, questions were asked – when, where, how, who. Pressure. More pressure.  July 1st. The pool will be repaired and it will open on July 1st.

Construction began this June, and it was watched diligently, for any possible delays. In the last week of June, the repairs were completed. The water flowed into the pool. And it waits now – warming up – for its debut as this community’s oasis.

It will open tomorrow with a press conference. This year, the talk of making more water parks or cementing in of deep ends is gone – the whole crazy no-pools issue has had a complete breakdown.  There is talk of swim lessons. Around the city. And BBQs for families around the pool. There have been no apologies or explanations – still silence. There will be a lot of people to thank, but for fear of omitting, perhaps it’s best to say this: the story is about the kids smiling, happy to be swimming in the pool, not about the politicos who will want to claim victory or credit in a big splash. Not about any one person really.

This spontaneous, informal, beautifully executed disruptive model – one where people risked possible retaliation, their jobs and votes – bolstered by historical data and facts – spurred on by the urgency of it all and permanency of any failure – with its effective use of the raising of voices and the disruptive media of talk radio and digital news – what can we learn from this stunning success? I don’t propose an answer, but I do pose the question – and I think we should pose it more often.

It is said – “The Disruptive Leadership Model™ empowers organizations to purposefully reach that point which is outside of the business as usual current instead of depending on hope and luck. It is a very effective model for empowering people and organizations to responsibly come out of a comfort zone and produce results that would have never occurred in the paradigm of business as usual. In fact, most breakthroughs change the future of the person or company [or organization] forever,” – Ted Santos.

In this year that has witnessed the loss of Maya Angelou and before that, of Nelson Mandela – what causes speak to you?  What change do you want to see? Make a little noise. Tweet a louder tweet. There are great tools today to bring disruption into very staid systems. Think less about the same ol’ way of doing things if you want to see big change in this, your, lifetime.

Try being more disruptive.  Once you dive into that pool and you learn how to swim – you might very well have changed your own future – and society will be the better for it.

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The Stalling Time…

Another treatise on women lacking confidence has come out and met with the usual national PR splash.  Put it in on the shelf next to the one that says we aren’t leaning in.  The lacking confidence one is by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Atlantic’s May 2014 cover story, called “The Confidence Gap”.  Kay and Shipman write that, despite being just as qualified as men, women often hold themselves back.

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Well, let’s look at that for a moment, as a truth.  Why would that be?  Is there a reason we would hold ourselves back?  Back from the tippy-top positions.  The ones that require you to be super-glued to your job, working 12 hour days, being a bit ruthless to succeed, and for a time, putting everything – family, spouse, and self – on the back burner.

A colleague of mine who is, by any measure, at the very top of her field, has written a book – “Sweet as Pie, Tough as Nails”.  She has had personal sacrifice to be there, at the top, some of which I wouldn’t write about, but which would not settle well in my sense of success, balance, life.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled.  Stalled!  Now that is an interesting word choice.  And I would agree.  We have “stalled”.  But I believe it is a deliberate and intentional stall. And a healthy one. Men should try it.

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When men tell women what they lack or how they should change or do something differently, it comes with a certain “oh, well, they don’t really know us” – but when women receive accolades and get interviewed on national talk shows because they are “eating their own”, telling other women that yes, we don’t lean in enough; we don’t reach for the very top, we aren’t equal, we lack confidence, women perhaps rush to buy the book, rush to be better, to work harder, to read advice columns on how to ask for a raise, or how to lead, or how to get less sleep, and fit more hours in the day.

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As we sit here in our “stalling time”, let’s think about our success.  I won’t attempt to define it here.  Because that would be as wrong as telling us what we need to do.  For each one of us it will be different. For some it will be family, children, and being there for a period of time to fully participate in it all.  For others it will be years and years of education and then – a role as a doctor or researcher who will quietly save lives every single day, without time to think if she’s leaned in or not.

As the pendulum of home – work – home – work continues to sway, we seek equilibrium, most of us.  We seek balance and energy.  To walk through our lives energized, and not exhausted.  To not need Ambien to sleep and drown ourselves in coffee, or worse, to get on with our day.

As I look back at my 50-something advice to my 20-something daughters I say, go ahead and stall.  Now’s a good time.  You’ve got the education and the path is before you.  Stall, just for a while.  Watch your path.  Measure your life.  Lean in one way – or lean in the other way. Or lean a little bit in both.  Think of your tombstone and read the obituaries.  How would you like yours to read?  Think of, gulp, me.  Where do I fall short – and why?  What choices did I not have freedom to make?  What would the choices have been if I was free to make them?

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Stall.  Define yourself.  Lean in for no one. Have the confidence to stand still and think. When you put your foot forward on your path, you might know more about where you want it to go, rather than jumping on for a ride you may not want to go on.

Think about balance.  Think about pendulums.  Think about standing still.  Being quiet.  Look at the ocean.  Write your 5 year plan.  Write your obituary.  Write mine.  Stall as long as you want.  And remember, you can always come back and stall – again.

T-Shirts, Buttons, Songs vs. Tobacco and Addiction

Something great was supposed to happen 14 years ago.  They said it would.  We celebrated the day, the very day that would come – in the year 2000 – that the goal would be reached. 

The year was 1988.  We printed little t-shirts for 5 and 6 year olds.  They were bright yellow.  The kids looked so cute in them as they put them on and the shirts went right down to their knees, leaving little sneaker feet showing.  We had bright glossy banners and stickers, too.  Wow, did they like the stickers.  Their principals and teachers didn’t as they later found them stuck to the lockers and books and walls – sorry about that. 

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There were healthy snacks brought in and parents invited, too.  There was lots of press that day, the first day of school in 1988.  We picked the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Providence for the press conference.  Mr. Kane was the principal.  I was in my 30s and I believed that if you could get these kids when they were little, then you could make it happen. You could make a difference.  I believed in that.

When they were 18 years old, in the year 2000, these bright-eyed children would graduate high school as the first “Smoke-Free” Class of 2000.  They would go forth into their adult lives living without the scourge of tobacco in their medical history, waiting like a stealth device to engage and rob them of their health and their lives, years later. Their children would be smoke-free, too.  And their grandchildren, and so on, and so on, and so on.  We were going to eliminate the use of tobacco in this country.  Nothing less.

We even had a song.  “Healthy hearts! Healthy lungs! We don’t have to stop! Because we will never start!”  We are the Smoke free class of 2000 – Two – 0h – 0h – 0hhhh!  That’s the way to go!”

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In RI, Keisha Knight Pulliam, who played Rudy on The Cosby Show, and served as the national ambassador for the SFC2000 came to visit.  I spent the day with her taking her around in a limo to schools and programs, ending at the John Hope Settlement House with Mayor Buddy Cianci.  I still remember “Rudy” saying, “Mr. Mayor, can I call you Bud?” in her fetching way (Bud was her little boyfriend on TV). The kids went wild.  There was no doubt in my mind that these kids would get it.  They would be smoke-free as 18 year olds.  We jumped for joy and sang and cheered and passed out those t-shirts, coloring books and stickers.

Over the next few years, the hoopla faded away.  The program disappeared as a priority rather quickly, and no one talked about it anymore. Notably, since the late 70s, one national health agency has raised in excess of $750 million in schools for their health program initiatives, with events held in every state.

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50 years ago this year we mark the first US Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking OR Health.  The report came out in 1964 and directly tied smoking to chronic diseases – specifically heart disease and cancer – but also other health threats.  It’s estimated that the rate of highs school seniors who smoke has fallen from over 38% to 16% today.  That’s more than a 58% decline.  We also know that each day, almost 3,900 kids under 18 try their first cigarette and more than 1,000 kids become new, regular smokers.

So how did we do with our t-shirts, vim and vigor?  And how are we doing today?  We do know a lot more about behavior change and about how hard it is to break addiction to tobacco.  We’ve nearly eliminated smoking in public places (including restaurants).  Yet we see the creep in cigar and hookah bars and efforts to smoke on beaches and in public parks taking on a civil rights tone of right wing America.  We see drugstore chains beginning to cave, under the leadership of mega-CVS to make tobacco harder and harder to purchase.  We are taxing tobacco to oblivion and beyond (and are making our state budgets dependent on it, too).

What else is going on?  We are seeing sales of individual cigarettes and flavored cigarettes rise.  And now we have e-cigarettes flourishing.  If you go to an Ivy League college watch what the students are smoking – long, thin, dark brown, European cigarettes, unfiltered – they are cool, man – cool from Europe kind of cool.  Tobacco companies have taken their wares and gone oversees – travel to Paris, China or just about anywhere and the stifling waft of smoke overcomes you in restaurants, bars, and just about everywhere. 

Our campaigns now focus on adults and on photos of people with half gone faces from jaw surgery and videos of scarred and mutilated women begging us to stop.  We have very direct warnings on cigarette packages. We have tobacco cessation programs anywhere you want to find them – and Nicorette – and fake cigarettes you can hold.  I have a colleague who walks around with a half smoked cigar – he lights it up about twice a day and takes a big puff, and then stamps it out.  He has custom made shirts and cufflinks and drives a Jaguar.  With this little brown rotting cigar butt clasped between his fingers.

ImageIn this 50th year of the Surgeon General’s report (also the 50th year of recognizing February as Heart Month), I don’t hear a call for the “Smoke-free Class of 2028” from any of the health agencies. The only website of the 3 who began the original program that even speaks to smoking and children in any significant way is the American Lung Association. 

The five year olds who began as our nation’s Smoke-Free Class of 2000 are today about 31 years old.  The majority have probably taken much of the same path – gone through school, natural rebellion times, their own personal trials, wins and misses, and are probably settling in a career path, finding a mate, and thinking about having their children, if they are not already parents.  So, now, they have bright shiny faces looking up at them. 

The Secretary of HHS, Kathleen Sebelius has said that if smoking rates continue as they are now, 5.6 million children who are alive today will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.  One of every 13 children.

I ask the question but I don’t have any firm answer or even a guess – who will ask these children to be smoke-free?  It’s probably not even talked about that much in our homes as drug and alcohol an texting while driving, and HIV and other issues have taken front and center.

So, what is the tobacco industry doing to recruit its brand new members today?  You can be sure they are not giving out t-shirts, and buttons, and singing songs.

Dogs and Wolves – Reconnecting with my professor…

Dogs and Wolves.

This, above, is the blog of Dr. Elaine Chaika. Check it out!

Elaine was my professor of linguistics tens of years ago when I was a freshman at Providence College in Rhode Island.  An elective, at the time, Linguistics, soon became a weekly fascinating class for me.  This was a unique time to attend Providence College.  I was in the first full class of women.  Elaine was also a rarity in that year – one of the first female lay professors – much less a person of Jewish faith in a campus of Catholic priests and nuns.  PC was stretching and straining at the time – and all these years later it has done well for it and by it. A few incredible glitches recently, but that is a story for another day.

I lived on campus and had two roommates who were both from New Haven, CT.  We had friends on either side of us also from Connecticut.  PC drew quite a few Connecticut girls in that first year.  Sometime in January, sitting in our rooms getting ready to go out and having a few cocktails ahead of time, we all seemed to have gotten quite sick of each other, or at least noodgey with each other.

That very well may have come from living in such tight quarters.  In addition to our space issues we also had issues that came from the educating of the Dominicans on campus.  Such as, no, padres, women do not shower in one big shower room (they having just moved us into what before were male dorms).  And, no, it is unsafe to put metal bars on our picture windows on the 1st floor to protect us from boys who may have thrown caution out the window in favor of raging hormones and decided to leap in and fetch us) – because, well, dear Fathers, suppose there was a fire.  How would we get out in an emergency?

I digress.  After having a few drinks, we were picking on each other, and I was trying to play peace keeper.  Then someone said – “you know, none of us can understand anything you say – we never have”.  You blab on and on and we laugh at you because you speak so “funny”.  I couldn’t wait to bring this up in class – with Dr. Chaika.  And I did.

We talked about dialects and there being no “right and wrong” about speech.  I felt better.  But yet, I found I became acutely aware and self-conscious, as I equated sounding “funny” with sounding “dumb”.  Soon, meticulously articulated “r’s” came into my vocabulary.  And enunciation of familiar RI words became rote.

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I went home in the spring and had dinner with my extended family – 6/7ths of them Portuguese.  My mother said – “I don’t understand anything you are saying.  You are talking ‘funny'”.  And so it went.  I now sounded “funny” wherever I was.  I’d only hoped I didn’t also sound “dumb”!

I remembered Dr. Chaika’s easy ways, common sense approach, and I recall thinking she was truly one of the most intellectual professors I had ever had.  Not merely teaching out of textbooks, but philosophizing about life; putting lessons into context of society and history.  She was a favorite memory of a strained and odd time at this college.

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Tens of years later, Dr. Chaika is my client!  We re-met on Facebook.  She is a woman of high technology, and at our first meeting she taught me things about computers and the technology of writing using resources that are “right there, dear!” that I didn’t know. She is an author, reviewer, collector, but mostly a scholar. 79 years old wearing tight corduroys and 3 inch mules, running up and down the stairs to share things with me, with her two Maltese dogs scurrying around to catch up with her.  With Nooks and iPads and laptops scattered in every room – and her office with a four foot graphic designer-type computer screen – what a treat.

Today I am happy to share her blog.  That is the link you see, above, Dogs and Wolves.  Elaine is writing a new book about dogs and communication, perhaps to be titled, “How Dogs Civilized Humans”.  She will talk about the interconnection of dog and wolf.  And so much more.  It is my pleasure to support her in growing her social media strategy and her brand as her book grows and develops. The little ones you see, below, are Skeezix and Scamp – one hesitant and a little worrisome – the other – ok, let’s do it!  They say we all have our yin and yang inside of us…

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If you would like to follow Elaine, she has a plethora of ways to do that:

Her blog:  http://dogsandwolves-smartoldlady.blogspot.com/

Her other blog:  http://smarthotoldlady.blogspot.com/

Her website:  http://elainechaika.com/

Her FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/AmazingDogsYoursAndMine

Her Twitter:  @OurAmazingDogs – https://twitter.com/OurAmazingDogs

Are YOU the story?

ImageIn the last few weeks of 2013, there were several stories involving the media that were not about the issues they were covering or the content they were seeking to cover.  Instead, the story became about the ‘journalist’ or media personality.  The story became lost in an inopportune use of a word or phrase, an open microphone, a misguided Tweet, or an on-air gaffe, that when judged in a short time frame decidedly came out all wrong.  And in a nano-second of social media the ‘journalist/personality’ BECAME the news.  The cause, the issue, the rich content, was lost, and all cameras turned inward on the reporter.

The traditional definition of a “journalist” is:  “a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio or television”, while the traditional definition of a “reporter” is similar:  “a person who reports, esp. one employed to report news or conduct interviews for newspapers or broadcasts.”.  Also, a “commentator” is defined as “a person who discusses news, sports, or other topics on TV or radio”.

However, we are living in a time of citizen journalism, and definitions are changing rapidly.  We are also living in a time of incredible speed pressures on reporters, journalists, etc. to get the news out there – “social it” while you are still finishing the last line of copy, in some cases.  No time to go back and check accuracies or choice of words – do that later.  “Say it” – becomes the mantra designed to target ratings, sweeps, or simply radio phones to ring.  Or to be first.  Always, to be first. And in all of this – a question:  ‘where did the news go’?  What happened to the point of the story? 

Did the reporter – or spokesperson – say something that I refer to as “red flag words”?  We all know what those are.  Those of us who work in the field of public relations and crisis communication know it far too well.  An example:  Vice President Biden leans in to President Obama and comments on signing of a major healthcare bill.  Straight into his open mic go the words, “this is a big fucking deal”.  Healthcare got lost in a hushed rush to dissect the line, get it on ‘the news’ – and there it goes….out to the masses. (PR people the world over simply closed their eyes, in a thought of solidarity – ‘oh, Joe…’).  Another example:  The Pope recently issues a statement that talks about the importance of training men in the clergy.  And he remarks that failure to do this and make the right choices creates “little monsters”.  Really?  Can you write the lead headline? 

Using these examples as well as one recently by Melissa Harris-Perry where she made humorous remarks about a photo of Mitt Romney’s huge white family, complete with a single African-American grandchild placed on his knee, went very bad.  This reporter/commentator was raised in an interracial family – as a matter of fact, she relating to being that single black child in a large white family, herself.  In moments, moments!, the story was lost in an ever thundering query of a poorly placed racial joke.  Made by a black reporter.

ImageClick here:  http://youtu.be/fleGFsjmC_8

So, while it can be an average person who makes these gaffes, it is particularly troublesome to see the media do so.  It seems altogether out of professionalism to see the reporter not standing behind the story, but come out in front of it and become the story. 

This usually happens quite by accident, but with increasing frequency.  And what do you do when it happens?  In the world of crisis communications, most professionals abide by a “never say ‘no comment'” advice line to clients who find themselves in situations with a demand for comment from the media.  You can say nothing, but you must say something, is the way I’d prefer to advise.  But ‘no comment’ is a lightning rod.  It implies you have something to hide.  Or you doubly agree with your gaffe.  Or something worse is happening behind you.  And the media (once your friends) – and the public – dig in.  The story festers.  History, if there is history, gets dragged out, and the story reinvents itself over and over and develops, what we call “legs”. 

People, be careful of your words.  Don’t let a word become a story, or take your story and stomp on it. 

Image CLICK HERE:    http://youtu.be/VMkx2ZDJFjU 

Here is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford dancing to Bob Marley’s “One Love” – does anyone know why he was dancing?  (To celebrate jazz in Toronto, which was being recognized in congress that day).  This came after Ironically, a response Ford gave to the speaker of congress who had asked him for an apology:  Ford said, “How about, ‘I am so sorry’? Is that as good as I apologize? Or, ‘So sorry?’ Which one do you want, Madam Speaker? Like, ‘Super, super, super, super, super, super, super sorry? So sorry?’ Do you want me to dance around?”

Oh, well…..