Archive for the ‘Advisory’ Category

York Middle School Works to Counter Negative Self-Talk

June 25, 2013

Did you see this article online?

“Beautiful’ messages in girls school bathroom counter negative ‘self-talk

Beautiful message

Fifth and eighth grade girls at York Middle School worked together to paint yellow boxes resembling Post-it Notes® on the girls’ bathroom walls and filled them with positive comments to offset the negative self-talk that so often occurs when young adolescents see themselves in a mirror. Inspired by a Post-it Note campaign started in North Carolina, school counselor Wendy Porelle shared the ideas with fifth grade girls.  The ideas resonated with them, and soon they teamed with eighth graders to bring the project to fruition at their school.  Some of the comments include:

  • I (heart) your smile!
  • Make today ridiculously amazing
  • Nothing’s impossible

I love the fact that fifth  and eighth graders worked together on the project!  This type of collaboration builds a sense of community across the school and builds a positive school culture.  I am also impressed that the school recognizes the detrimental effect negative self-talk has on adolescent development and is taking action to promote social-emotional learning as well as academics.  Visit the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning to learn more about the connections between achievement and social-emotional learning:

Well done York Middle School!

THERE’S STILL TIME . . . to attend the NELMS Annual Conference

March 25, 2013

It’s a sure sign that Spring is right around the corner.  “Meeting the Multi-Faceted Needs of the Middle Level Learner” convenes next week, April 4 & 5, in Providence, Rhode Island, where there will be green grass and blooming flowers(I hope!).  Don’t miss two days of inspiring, invigorating, relevant professional development.  If you need help or ideas on how to fund this incredible opportunity, contact the NELMS office, and check out the full Annual Conference program.

Inspiring Keynote speakers:

Tom Burton on “Magic, Motivation & Our ‘Sparkling’ Middle Level Students”

Carol Ann Tomlinson on “The Demographics, Research & Ethics Of Differentiation”.

Engaging ticketed luncheons and targeted full and half day sessions (a sampling includes):

“It’s More Than A Name” – Tom Burton

“Listen To What The Students Say: Student Profiles That Invite Differentiation”  – Carol Ann Tomlinson

Student Success Plans + “Cutting Edge, New” Advisory = Student Success – Earle Bidwell

Digital Tools for Project Based Learning – Jill Spencer

How Can We Use Strategies and Assessments to Prepare for the Transition to Common Core State Standards? – Deb Scarpelli

Exploring and Applying Web 2.0 Tools and Resources in the Middle – Chris Toy

Courageous and Collaborative Leadership in the Middle – Lyn Ward Healy

Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner Friendly Classroom – Carol Ann Tomlinson

Timely and relevant concurrent workshop sessions based on the concepts contained in Turning Points 2000 and This We Believe

Another Service Project! Maine Based PuppyRescueMission

March 17, 2013

My last post focused on the Tacugama Chimp Sanctuary in Sierra Leone. Just today I read about another project that would definitely appeal to middle grades students because it is about bringing to the U.S. dogs and cats that our soldiers in combat overseas have adopted. What makes is really cool is that its chief organizer is a Mainer, Anna Cannan from Ft. Kent!

Anna began PuppyRescueMission because her boyfriend, stationed in Afghanistan, wanted to find a way to bring home a puppy of a stray dog who had alerted soldiers that a stranger was nearby.  The man turned out to be a suicide bomber, and the U.S. soldiers were determined to take care of the dogs who saved their lives. Long story short, Anna began the PuppyRescueMission to raise money to bring this dog and others to the US so they could be with the soldiers when they too came home.

It’s very expensive to transport these animals to their new homes so the organization is continuously in fund raising mode.  Students looking for a service project would find this a worthwhile endeavor.

Anna first started a Facebook page:

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 4.31.52 PM

The organization now also has a store and a blog:

After investigating these sites, individuals, homerooms, advisory groups, teams, or an entire school might be inspired to get involved or create some other type of service project using this one as a model. Anna Cannan has certainly demonstrated that one person can make a difference with hard work and ingenuity–she sounds like a good role model to me!  It is also an opportunity to help students become savvy consumers of the Internet by having them research the reliability of the site and the percentage of funds raised going to the actual cause–two habits students need to develop in order to make good decisions about getting involved with organizations/charities they read about online.


Fitzpatrick, K. (2013) “This is my way to say ‘Thank you’ to our heroes!” Woman’s World. 3/18/13. p. 26.

Looking for a Service Learning Project? Tacugama May Be the Answer!

March 2, 2013

Watching us

  • Orphaned or abused chimpanzees,
  • A sanctuary that has survived 10 years of civil war.
  • A desperate need for money.

These are the ingredients of a service learning project that will intrigue and inspire middle school students.  On a recent trip to Sierra Leone in West Africa I visited Tacugama, a sanctuary for chimpanzees.  Their goal is to reintroduce the chimps back into the wild, a long and expensive process.

Over 20,000 chimpanzees roamed the forests of Sierra Leone in the 1970’s, but now there are only 3,000.  There are a variety of reasons why the numbers have dropped drastically:

  • Their habitat has shrunk.
  • They are captured for medical research or to be sold as pets.
  • They are considered ‘bush meat” and when times are tough they are hunted for food.
  • They are highly susceptible to human diseases like HIV.

All most ready for release!

The Sanctuary rescues chimps that are often in dire circumstances.  Baby chimps are adorable and so human-like that people often want them as pets.  However, a full grown chimp has 5 times the physical strength of a man, so the cuddly baby grows into a unruly adolescent that can wreck a home in minutes and into an adult that is dangerous.  Hence they are often chained and caged under deplorable conditions.  The Tacugama staff works hard to rehabilitate these chimps so they can live free. Click on this link to read about the history of the Sanctuary:

 What faces mean

It takes about $1000 to support one chimpanzee for a year. However, smaller donations are welcomed.   Schools, teams and/or advisory groups might find supporting this haven for battered and endangered chimpanzees a worthwhile project.  More information about supporting Tacugama can be found at this link:

Finally, there is a blog that students may find interesting (  The posts explain what is happening with individual chimps; the photos are wonderful!  Readers will learn a lot about chimps as well as the Sanctuary.  We often never know what inspires our students to make specific career and life choices — reading about the chimps of Tacugama may just be a catalyst for future decisions related to international travel, non-profit work, or veterinary work!


Free Webinar–You Are What You Post: Create a Positive Web Presence

May 6, 2012

Free 45-Minute Webinar

Help Students Understand and Manage Their Digital Footprint

You Are What You Post: Create a Positive Web Presence

May 9, 3 pm EST

May 9, 7:30 pm EST

May 10, 9:30 pm EST

To register

Can’t attend one of these three live sessions?

Register instead to provide On-Demand access for your entire student population!

You Are What You Post: Create a Positive Web PresenceOn Demand

To register:


Jill Spencer, Chris Toy, and Ed Brazee will offer a free webinar through
JK Thomas & Associates Ltd.

You Are What You Post: Create a Positive Web Presence

It is sometimes difficult for an adolescent to think beyond next week, let alone several years in the future. In addition, they have tendencies to occasionally act first and think later.  In today’s world of instant access to information about everything and everyone, impulsive postings  have long lasting ramifications.  Colleges, businesses, even parents checking out their child’s prom night date use the web to ferret out information about applicants.  Our young people must learn to be proactive in building their online reputations, and it is incumbent on the adults in their lives to help them understand that process. This webinar will be an invaluable resource for understanding the possibilities and challenges inherent in one’s online life.

Intended audience:

  • students
  • parents
  • teachers, administrators, counselors and other school staff members

Ways a school might use this information:

  • In advisory
  1. Share the webinar  with students in 10 minute segments and structure conversations around the salient points of each segment.
  2. Use the information in the webinar to create your own interactive lessons.
  • Digital citizenship lessons
  1. Use quotes, statistics, etc. from the webinar to frame a lesson on cyberbullying or other topics
  2. Explore the topic of social entrepreneurship using examples of adolescents doing good in the world through online social activism; perhaps spur students into starting a service learning project.
  • Parents’ night
  1. Use it as the central focus of the parents’ night program to (1) help them understand the positive aspects of their children’s online participation and (2) give them some tips for guiding their children through the maze of web.
  2. Share the registration information as a good resource for parents to access.
  • Information to put in parent newsletters
  1. Create a section of your newsletter entitled “Tips & Facts” for Digital Parenting” and use information from the webinar to give parents some concrete advice.
  2. Copy links from the webinar for parents to use  (e.g. Common Sense Media).
  • Educate your community
  1. As you advocate for additional technology (hardware, software, & curriculum integration), use information from the webinar to demonstrate the urgency of providing 21st century resources for your students.
  2. Volunteer to go to the Rotary (take students!) and other civic organizations to do a program that emphasizes the world your students will be entering as they graduate. Use webinar information to help make your case.


  • Free 45 minute webinar

For more information beyond this free webinar

Option to purchase 6 additional + 2 bonus modules that go more in depth on the topic, including

  1. First Impressions Matter: Putting Your Best Foot Forward
  2. Improving Your Digital Footprint
  3. “To Be or Not to Be” Personal Branding
  4. Being Safe Online: Ensuring Online Safety and Privacy
  5. Presenting Yourself Online—Where Will You Be Found? (Hint: More than on Facebook)
  6. Weighing the Options — Making Choices

Bonus module #1: But, What About Young Adolescents (10- to 15-Year-Olds)? A Primer for Parents, Teachers, and 10-15 Year Olds

Bonus Module #2: Raising Children in the Digital Age—Any Century Parenting

Connecting the Dots to Customized Learning

March 13, 2012

          I have no special talent.
I am only passionately curious.       
Albert Einstein

HELP!   Advance Organizer Desperately Needed!                    

Seriously.  I am not joking.  I DO need some sort of advance organizer to help me connect the dots to a proficiency-based system and customized learning.  I suspect I am not the only one.  I am working hard at understanding, because I can see the promise of this type of education.  It especially appeals to the middle level educator in me.  Isn’t this congruent with all that we have believed in and worked towards for so many years?

Here is my challenge.  How do all of the myriad of innovative practices, documents, philosophies, and organizations at play in schools right now connect to the bigger picture of this brave new world?

Proficiency Based Education         Mass Customized Learning

Common Core                                     Maine Learning Results

Multiple Pathways                             RISC  (Reinventing Schools Coalition)

Standards Based Education             Mastery Learning

Learning Targets                                 Measurement Topics

Content Standards                            Performance Standards

MCCL  (Maine Cohort for Customized Learning)

MLTI  (Maine Learning Technology Initiative)

MICDL (Maine International Center for Digital Learning)

The DOE’s Education Evolving

PBIS   (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports)

Standards Referenced Education

So I am going to work on the challenge of understanding.  The learning curve is steep.
If you figure out an advance organizer before I do, will you share?

Speaking of Oxymorons…Mass Customization: Join the Conversation!

January 14, 2012

In Bea McGarvey’s and Chuck Schwahn’s new book, Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning, the authors observe that almost everywhere in today’s marketplace, providers are using technology to better match the needs and preferences of consumers on a vast scale never seen before. Everywhere that is, except in education…so far. However, more and more educators in Maine are beginning to engage in conversations about Mass Customization and what it might mean for schools, teachers, and students. In December this conversation started off with the first in a series of monthly webinars about MCL. Author Bea McGarvey and DOE Superintendent of Instruction Don Siviski talked about Mass Customized Learning and its implications for Standards Based Education here in Maine. There was even a surprise visit from Commissioner Bowen! This month, on Tuesday January 24th, the conversation continues with the second webinar focusing on Chapters 2 and 3 of the book and looking more closely at some of the questions raised by participants in the first webinar. Come join Bea, Don, Principal Bill Zima, and me as we continue the conversation. Just click here to register!

Quick! Opportunity to Recognize Student Community Service

November 19, 2011

Hello middle school colleagues!  Our good friend at NASSP, Patti Kinney, just informed us about a great chance to recognize and support good things happening in our schools through the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. I’m sure there are students at your school who are involved in community service projects and activities who reflect what is right about middle level education in Maine and who deserve to be recognized for volunteering in their communities.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is the United States’ largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service.

Created in 1995 by Prudential Financial in partnership with NASSP, the program has honored more than 90,000 young volunteers at the local, state, and national level.

Currently there are NO applications for the middle level Prudential Spirit of Community Award from Maine…so there’s a really good chance of someone winning if they get an application turned in…the deadline has been extended to Nov 30.  Any middle level student who has headed up a community service project is eligible – here’s a link to the details –

So…if you know of any student that should apply, please let them know ASAP…and get the word out to other middle level folks as well!

Thanks…hope you all have a great Thanksgiving!


August 5, 2011

Gus doesn’t give up–he obviously has a highly developed sense of perseverance! Helping our students to persevere in the face of obstacles and frustration is a worthy academic and personal goal. One approach to increasing student capacity for perseverance is to incorporate small group problem-solving challenges in the curriculum.  Advisory is certainly an appropriate time, however this type of activity works well in academic classes as well.

Here’s a suggestion–don’t make the group challenges competitive and a one time event.  Instead, keep the small groups together over time and make the goal to improve their personal team “best” each time they attempt the challenge.  The “best” might be time or height or complexity. By competing against themselves, the students are less apt to give up and say, “We don’t have a chance against them!”

Also, by changing the conditions of the challenge, the team will  develop flexible thinking as well as perseverance.  Changes can be simple–no talking, have to use only one hand, some members of the group blindfolded, or use different materials, etc.

So… what might this strategy look like over time?  Watch the following video on the marshmallow challenge to see the basic structure:

Here’s an example of ways to change the challenge to keep the students’ interest and to help them persevere at problem solving:

  • Trial # 1: Basic challenge as described in the video
  • Trial # 2: No change, ask students to use what they learned the first time to make a taller structure than they did the first time
  • Trial # 3: Change the materials–instead of string and tape, give them 15 mini-marshmallows with the goal to build a taller tower
  • Trial # 4: Add a rule that they can’t talk while challenging them to build even a better tower

It’s important that after each trial to  have students  reflect in their small groups on their process for meeting the challenge:

  • What did the group do that enabled you to be successful?
  • What behaviors were not helpful?
  • What do you want to remember to do next time?
  • What behaviors or action that you used in this challenge might transfer to your classwork when you feel frustrated and don’t know what to do next?

Here are some sources of other physical problem-solving challenges that could be used:

Helping students develop perseverance is a lifetime skill that will serve them well.  We need to provide non-threatening opportunities for students to practice this habit of mind.

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. 

Albert Einstein

What Are You Waiting For? Sign Up For MLEI 2011!

June 18, 2011

There’s still time to Register for MLEI, the Institute Designed Specifically to Address the Learning Needs of 10-15 Year Olds!

Achieving Student Improvement: Effective Middle Grades Now! is the focus of this summer’s annual Middle Level Education Institute (MLEI). It will be held from August 1-4 at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine. Institute participants work on a project they design to address their school needs and delve deeply into the major learning issues in today’s middle grades. MLEI provides teams and individuals critical support from national and international experts in middle level education and technology integration. This Maine tradition attracts educators from Maine and across the globe. Recent national studies establish that student academic performance, habits, and attitudes formed in middle school are the greatest factors in determining students’ success in high school and beyond. MLEI is the only Institute in Maine that focuses exclusively on the learning needs of the young adolescent. Participants earn graduate credits or CEUs. The final day for registration is Thursday, June 30. To register, call Mikaela Ziobro at 207-859-1211 or email her at For more information, go to

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