Try Vs Do

In the immortal words of Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”  Statements like “I’ll try harder,” or “I’ll study harder” make me cringe.  We often say “I’ll try harder” after falling short of some goal. For example, when your kids do poorly on a test or you don’t achieve your ideal time in a triathlon.  “I’ll try” is vague and there are no actionable steps or commitment to improve. “I’ll try harder” is a cope out; it’s easy to say but hard to define. ”I’ll do…” on the other hand requires commitment and makes you accountable.  It obligates you to be specific and define how you’ll accomplish your goal, turning your commitment into a plan of action.  It’s a skill to learn how to breakdown desired outcomes into actionable steps.  It takes effort and it can be difficult to come up with specific plans to do better next time. It applies to us, the adults, and it’s about modeling and teaching our kids to work smarter too.

Learn to work smarter

I love competing in half-ironman relays on the bike.  My first year competing, I fell way short of my goals. I started each race on fire before petering out and  willing myself across the finish line. I said to myself “I need to try harder,” next year.  But, my results were the same.  With no plan on how to improve, I essentially trained the same way   Then I looked at my process and realized I had been flying by the seat of my pants.  The idea of developing an actual training plan seemed incredibly daunting, but I knew I needed to be accountable to someone beside myself.  So I found a coach. He came up with a training plan with workouts tailored to me  considering that it takes me longer to get fit and longer to recover. I had to email my coach each time I completed (or didn’t) a workout. For me, this step is what I needed to train when I didn’t feel like it.  Come race time, I performed much better and restored my confidence and joy in racing.

What about with your kids?

Let’s say you are checking out your kid’s portal or received a notification (I highly recommend turning these off) about a test grade that starts with either D as in Delta or F as in Foxtrot. This is a great catalyst to sit down with your kid and chat. If they fall into the trap of “I’ll study harder,” this is your cue to put your coaching/Yoda hat on.  Ask them what that means. In the beginning, just one actionable task can be considered a step in the right direction. Walk through their process to get ready for the test and ask them what they think worked and what didn’t. Work with your kiddo to develop a super simple plan of one or two things they might do differently.  Maybe they need to check with their teacher and get feedback, or use a calendar to schedule study time.  Perhaps there are tools they could use like quizlet (or even better, parents) to test their knowledge before tests.  Whatever the plan, your student is now on the road to doing instead of just trying.

If you catch yourself or your child saying “I’ll try harder” stop and ask what that means. How are you going to create action?  “I’ll try” gives you an easy out if things don’t go well again next time.  Develop a plan with actionable steps and you have a way to measure success. If you catch yourself or your child saying “I’ll try harder” stop and ask what that means. How are you going to create action?  “I’ll try” gives you an easy out if things don’t go well again next time.  Develop a plan with actionable steps and you have a way to measure success and something to revisit if you don’t achieve the desired outcome. Remember, missteps are opportunities for growth while continuing to develop your resilience muscle.

(Above Photo by on Unsplash)

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Want a different outcome? Start with communication basics

Communication skills matter. Yet when it comes to our loved ones, sometimes we forget how to do it. Our choice of words, tone, and body language are the difference between productive conversations and the explosive ones where everybody shuts down.   We sometimes forget that our kids, even the teenage variety, are still children. They are not small adults. It falls on us to teach them effective communications skills by modeling the correct behavior. Some kids can be more challenging than others but when our conversations are full of emotion, no one is listening or learning. So where do we start to ensure the communication basics are always top of mind?

Step one is dealing with feelings. Listen to and acknowledge your child’s feelings, don’t dismiss them, even if you don’t understand them. As Elaine Mazlish explains in her book How to Talk so Teens will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk, you have a better chance of being heard if you start by letting your kids know they have been heard. This is actually the case for adults too.  Acknowledging your kids’ feelings creates a safe place for them to talk by letting them know you are in their corner. This can be hard to do when they are irrational, acting out, or being disrespectful, but that’s when it’s most important keep ourselves from escalating and making things worse.  These behaviors are merely symptoms of an underlying problem or frustration they are dealing with but can’t figure out how to communicate.

Getting things done

Ok, so I have heard and acknowledged my child’s feelings, now what? As you know sometimes it’s just about getting things done like chores or participating in packing for a trip. It is vital that our kids learn the skills of taking care of themselves, their surroundings, and helping out their family.  Here are some more tips from How to Talk so Teens will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk  that both my husband and I utilize with our teens which have made a positive impact in our family dynamic:

  1. Describe the problem and leave the accusing comments at the door. Last summer we entrusted the boys with the job of painting the fence in the backyard.  Instead of using the utility sink in the basement, they decided to clean their brushes in the bathroom.  Needless to say, there was paint splattered on the walls, floor, counters, and sink. I wanted to say “What is wrong with you?  Look at the mess you made!  That wasn’t very smart.”  Instead I pointed out the mess, calmly explained that the bathroom is not where we clean paint brushes and asked how they would rectify the situation. They both agreed to clean up their mess and use the utility sink in the future.  No fuss, no muss and they happily finished the job with no further incidents.
  2. Say it with a word or a gesture. Less is more. In our house, it can consist of just saying: “Sam, dishes” after which Sam usually says “Oh, yeah” and then puts his dishes away. I have explained why putting the dishes away is important before but the teenage brain likes to forget.  There’s no point rehashing the why and getting into a lengthy exchange that just results in eye rolls and unnecessary animosity.    A quick reminder is all that’s necessary and its mission accomplished.  With all the repetition, he has learned breakfast isn’t over till you put your dishes away.
  3. Describe what you feel without attacking or mocking your student. We have a non-negotiable rule in our house that there are no phones in the bedroom at night, yet somehow my youngest “accidentally” brought his to bed a few times one week recently. This really pushes my buttons because I consider this sneaky and deceitful. So I told him that I was upset and felt that finding his phone again in the bedroom made me not trust him. He proceeded to explain that he had to show his brother something and then forgot to bring his phone back downstairs. My response was simply, “Ok, but that doesn’t change the rule of no phones in the bedroom when it’s time to go to sleep. My job is follow through and if I make exceptions, what’s the point of the rule.” He understood how I felt and handed over the phone and that was it. In this case, by explaining how his actions impacted me before simply taking his phone, we avoided certain conflict and hard feelings. Moving forward the phone stayed in the kitchen when he went to bed.

Communication is an art form that when perfected elicits positive relationships with those around us.  When spoken to with respect, kindness, and patience, we are fulfilled and open to one another. Some days I am better than others in modeling this behavior. When I misstep, I take a breath, apologize if I bungled it, and try again. By sticking to the basics we build a connection with our kids instead of alienating them. The goal is that they know they can come to us for anything when life hits them hard. What can you do to improve to the dialogue with your kids so you too can have better results?


Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash


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Air traffic controllers & Your Kids Brains

I had the opportunity this past weekend to tour the air traffic control tower at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport located just outside Denver, Colorado, RMMA. RMMA is a general aviation airport servicing everything from student pilots in small propeller planes to sophisticated business jets. Even huge tanker planes that fight wildfires throughout the Rocky Mountains fly out of here. The view from the tower is incredible.  High in the air with a backdrop of snow capped peaks to the west and downtown Denver to the east, I thought to myself this had to be the best “office” in town. I quickly realized however that this was serious business where highly trained professionals worked tirelessly with no room for error.

I sat in awe as the controllers guided a variety of planes through their airspace to safe take offs and landings. It was like a finely choreographed ballet, with aircraft all over radar screens being given detailed instructions constantly, one right after another.  Their job is in the top five most stressful, responsible for remembering and recalling vast amounts of information, maintaining constant focus, and managing multiple tasks at once.  On a busy day, the work is so physically and mentally exhausting that the controllers switch off every hour to stay sharp and even nap on break to recharge

Why am I talking about Air traffic controllers?

It got me thinking about students with ADHD and Learning Disabilities.  The National Center for Learning Disabilities released a report that shows 1 out of every 5 students has Dyslexia or attention issues.  These students are like an air traffic controller without a radar to help make sense of all the chaos in the air.

Your brain is not your student’s brain

Your student’s brain does not see the world as you do. The frontal lobe where executive functioning (working memory, planning, organization, task initiation, attention, and self-regulation) occurs is not fully developed until the mid to late  20’s. It is the last part of the brain to develop.  If a child also has ADHD or other learning differences, their executive function skills can be three to five years behind their peers, which means it will take even more time, practice, and support to develop these skills.  As parents, we must understand how our students process information and navigate day to day tasks. has a great simulation you can use to visualize and experience the world through your student’s eyes.  Once you understand how they learn and interpret the world around them, you can better tailor interventions, accommodations, and systems to gain skills and build self-confidence. Then your child can build their own radar to process and manage all the information that is coming their way while knowing they have a team behind them.

Recharging the Brain 

For students with attention and learning deficits, going to school and completing homework is like being an air traffic controller on a super busy day.  They will have worked hard to focus and complete tasks all day long and will be tired, frustrated and even cranky when they come home. Just keeping up will be exhausting as they are likely putting in two to three times the effort of their peers.  They too will need lots of breaks to recharge. Take the time to talk to your student and discover the best way for them to recharge.  Is it a physical activity like playing basketball, exploring their creative side by drawing, or simply kicking back and daydreaming?  Most kids today will say they “need” time with their screens, but this should be limited as the constant stimulation only drains the brain further.  Experiment with your student to find healthy options that work for them.

When I met the controllers at RMMA, it was clear they were passionate about what they did and took great pride in keeping pilots, passengers, and their planes safe. They were given the training, community, and rest necessary to stay at the top of their game.  Are we as a community supporting students with different learning styles in the same way; offering compassion and support while they learn and discover at their own pace?   Meet them where they are in the developmental process and marvel as they keep the dots on their radar screen from colliding!

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Five Ways To Engage Students In Current Events

I’ll never forget one particular project that I gave my kids during a rainy afternoon. On this particular day indoor lunch and recess took up my lunch break so I gave them a quick independent project to give me a spare moment to eat.

The project turned out to be an insightful one. I gave them a hypothetical million dollars to spend wisely on anything that would prove to be the betterment of our society. I love giving open ended assignments of this variety to encourage creativity and developing a student’s inner voice. And this project did not disappoint.  Students came up with some tremendous ideas, with everything from humanitarian efforts, ways to improve technology, and ideas on how to improve the environment.

Then there was this: One student wanted to use his million dollars to build a wall around Colorado. This was during the height of the 2016 presidential election, and a border wall around Mexico was a trending news topic. I asked the student why he wanted to build a wall around Colorado. As a history teacher, I knew it wasn’t a far fetched thought. He mentioned he wanted to do this for security reasons, to help control the hugely growing population here in Colorado, and to create jobs. Ok, I said, that’s fine. But there’s just one problem. I didn’t think one million dollars would be enough to build a wall. He looked around, in thought. It’s ok, he said. Utah will pay for it. Wow, was that a timely comment!

Let’s face it, the news isn’t always good, yet it’s ubiquitous in our lives. And let’s also face up to the fact that students of all ages know what’s being reported. From storms and earthquakes to a divisive political climate, your kids definitely are impacted by current events in ways that can affect them socially and emotionally.

So, how can we do our part to ensure our students are engaged positively in our sometimes scary and divisive news cycles?

Step 1 Make the conversation age appropriate. Kids know what’s going on, but their perceptions are entirely different compared to parents, teachers, and adult mentors. How a high school student interprets an event will be far different than a middle school student, which will be a world apart from an elementary student. Therefore, a great way to present current events is to follow a rating system. Would you let your elementary school watch an R-rated film? As kids get older you can have a PG-13 conversation, but keep it more PG the younger they are.

Step 2 Encourage independent thought with a strong moral compass. Think back to the 2016 presidential election. It was pretty nasty at times, with a lot of controversial statements. Students have a wonderful innocence about the way they see the world. Instead of criticism, ask them what they would’ve said differently, or ask them what they would do if they had been similarly insulted. The news cycle can be negative, but that doesn’t mean students can’t come up with positive alternatives.

Step 3 Have students come up with solutions. I always tell my students that they are going to inherit the problems that their teachers and parents couldn’t solve. It’s very important to present them with ideas to turn these challenges into opportunities. Be it through the jobs they will create, or the courses they will study, teaching students that every problem has a solution will help create a forward thinking society.

Step 4 Promote their voice on a wider scale. Students have an incredibly powerful voice. Their fresh take on the world is more than refreshing. As a teacher or parent, use this to your advantage. Have students create civic-minded videos in the class, have them write their congressperson, have them write the president, and continually engage them in civil action. Remember, students around the country want to be positive. And what’s more, students default to the positive when given the tools.

Step 5 Encourage diverse opinions. No matter where you live, be it rural America or in a big city such as Denver, diversity matters. The more students work in unison with one another, the more armed they will become to be kinder, more empathetic, and less cynical. When students learn to react to dispiriting events with kindness and empathy, the greater impact they can have on the society that are soon destined to inherit.

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What Information Do Parents Want From Schools

A Survey conducted by the National School Public Relations Association(NSPRA) looked at how parents want schools to communicate with them. One section of this survey focused on what information they want the schools to share.

What News They Want

When you are talking about what information parents want from their schools, most communications priorities are the same regardless of grade level:

  • Updates on their child’s progress or insight on how they improve
  • Timely notice when performance is slipping
  • Information on what their child is expected to learn during this year
  • Homework and grading policies

Parents also want much the same information from both elementary and secondary schools:

  • Curriculum descriptions and information on instructional programs
  • A calendar of events and meetings
  • Information on student safety (and quality of teaching, at the elementary level)
  • Educational program changes and updates (elementary level)/curriculum updates and changes in instructional programs (secondary level).

Rounding out the top five for elementary schools was information comparing their school’s performance to others; for secondary, information on graduation and course requirements.

*This information comes from an Article posted in Edutopia by Anne O’Brien, Deputy Director of the Learning First Alliance


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Praise a Student, Change a Life

Praise produces engaged students

Praise is an essential component to success

We Love To Get a Little Love

There’s nothing like some well-deserved praise. It gets us moving. It helps us stay motivated. And it keeps our eye on the prize.

There is a growing body of research that shows kids are no different. How so? It could be as simple (or complex) as brain development. Growing brains require more positive interactions. Positive interactions are healthy, and giving praise is a healthy way to communicate.

Even unwarranted recognition can be healthy. At times, even more than the warranted kind. There’s a well-intentioned theory behind the idea that rewarding kids positively is beneficial. Students are in the learning mode of their life. And, as we know, praise has far more benefits than than criticism.

How unhealthy is criticism?  Think back to your learning life. If you remember the negative moments more than the positive ones, you are not alone. They stand out because the associated emotions are stronger. But, what if the positive moments were front and center? That would be ideal, and its achievable through positive recognition. Schools that promote the positive even in the face of inevitable negatives are building life long believers.

Unwarranted Praise In the Most Difficult of Times

Unwarranted praise has the ability to lift students out of difficult situations. The traditional method of discipline focuses on punishment. Simply, history has not kept pace with society in how we work in correcting wrongs. Punishment reinforces the negative activity, whereas praise lifts self worth. NPR has a fascinating story on a school that uses praise in the most difficult situations.

The lesson is simple. Students who arrived late, were in trouble with police, or were suffering from homelessness were told how great they were. That’s right – even if you are in trouble with the law, there’s still greatness in you. Unconditional love and praise has the power to produce positive citizens. Aligned in every school mission statement should be just that: you are great because you are good.

Meaningful praise inspires, motivates, and unites

Meaningful praise inspires, motivates, and unites. As a communication tool, praise is essential. The more often a student is told they are good at something, the more likely they are to become even better.

And when students believe, they succeed, and when students succeed, our society succeeds for the long run.

Do a small part and tell a young one how great they are. Even if you think they could be better. Chances are, they’ll do better just by hearing it.

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A special thanks to our latest sponsors

special thanks to our latest sponsors
We would like to extend a very warm welcome and a special thanks to our latest sponsors.
They are helping The School Communications Agency create excellent learning opportunities for Colorado schools and students.

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Thanks again for joining with us to produce great communities in wellness, learning, and engagement. We believe students can succeed when communities take an active role.

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Conversation Goes a Long Way in Building Responsive Communities

Do we communicate better today?

“Of course we do,” you’re inclined to say. “I mean, I can text anyone in the world for free, I can check in on my kids at the playground down the street, breathe a sigh of relief, and get back to that email to my boss. Then, I can share a great LinkedIn post, like my friend’s Facebook post, and send a calendar invite with my business partner. In under 30 seconds!”

All true. But is it enough? In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, MIT professor Sherry Turkle says our communication is lacking in simple basics, including the most rudimentary of all – conversation. And it’s filtering down to our students. Conversation would be a good thing to bring back to the classroom, she asserts.

“These days, students struggle with conversation. What makes sense is to engage them in it. The more you think about educational technology, with all its bells and whistles, the more you circle back to the simple power of conversation. ― “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” by Sherry Turkle.

Communication as Clickbait

It turns out, then, we may not be communicating as well as we should be, especially the digital natives, the students among us.  Think about it. Historically speaking, we’ve mostly been talking to one another face to face, straight to the point. That is, if you wanted to share something, you told your neighbor, who told his if it was important enough, and on down the line.

Maybe your neighbor lived in the same savanna, cave, or gold rush town as you did. Either way, sharing something had cache.

Without a share button to press on, it was almost always super important, and the further away the source, the more likely it got heard given the effort it took to communicate it. That’s almost the opposite today. Space is unlimited in our digital world – there are no borders.

Our interactions have gotten shorter; our attention, too. Turkle calls this the Goldilocks effect, we are never too far away or too close. It’s just right, which is not a reflection of how humans interact.

“Human relationships are rich, messy, and demanding,” she continues. “When we clean them up with technology, we move from conversation to the efficiency of mere connection. I fear we forget the difference.”

The Passback Generation

 One of the paradoxes of the interconnected world that our generation of students is entering is a so called “communication skills gap.” There are more opportunities than ever for students to connect to one another, to impress future prospects, and to build a sound digital portfolio to share to the world. But with the plethora and yet increasingly short half lives of the apps they use, students risk being bored with communication in general.

Turkle comments on this. “We are not teaching them that boredom can be recognized as your imagination calling you,” she states.

King Features Syndicate

It turns out, technology promises students instantaneous results, but the real world doesn’t always operate that way. How often do you get the yes you may need on a job offer or a college application? Turkle argues that we are not setting students up for success unless we teach with technology. Teaching to technology, much like teaching to the test, stymies engagement. Technology simply changes too fast to keep up. Instead of passing back, we might consider passing it on.

So, do we?

So, let us return to our original question. Do we communicate better today? It’s really in the eye of the beholder, or, to put it in better terms, the swipe of the user. And in this case, I really think it’s better to answer the question with other questions. In what medium do we want students connecting with one another most? With technology, or old fashioned speech, pen, and paper?

If you think students should connect digitally because that’s where the world is going, then we definitely need more social and emotional engagement in schools. If you think the latter is more important, that the older methodologies work, that’s understandable too. In my belief, the best is when both hum along together, like the white noise of a modem connecting the best in us. And what we want to do for our students is to see that technology and communication are like good life partners – growing, evolving, and communicating on equal terms.

Dilbert, by Scott Adams

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How to Successfully Brand Your Business to the K-12 Audience

You may have noticed that lots of stores like Walmart and Target use a very basic technique for reaching kids. They put products at eye level, basically guaranteeing they’re going to be able to reach what they want. As kids get older, they can reach a little higher. So that Playstation video game is a little more expensive the higher in the case it sits. And that toy gets a little more complicated, requiring not 100 but maybe 1000 Lego pieces. Why do they do this?

Consider that the Department of Agriculture finds that cost of raising a child averages out at over $230,000 – and that’s before college. So, there’s clearly a lot at stake tapping into the K-12 demographic.

Beyond putting products at eye level, here’s some easy ways that your sales team can reach students effectively, and very importantly, ethically. 

  • Speak their language: Schools speak a very particular language. They’re the places of homework, tests, and recess. In your promos, play this up in a fun way. “Need a homework break?” Who’d say no to that? Lots of sports camps could call themselves “the ultimate recess.” That’s going to connect with kids in a fun way.
  • Speak their parent’s language: You’ve got to communicate with parents on every level possible. Be transparent about the health and safety of your product or service. If you can’t do that, you’re likely wasting your time and money.
  • Connect with what’s trendy and run kid-centered promotions: Products change fast. Trends don’t. If you can market yourself in trendy, fun way, you’re going to get repeat customers. And remember, a happy parent’s kids are happy. At a restaurant, it doesn’t cost much for kids to eat free, and happy parents can pass that great deal on.
  • Get yourself known in schools Sponsor events if you can. You want to create buzz around your service. Kids can do the branding for you. Are you an ice cream shop? See if you can get an ice-cream social going at school. Are you a food truck? Get yourself involved in field days.
  • Create Original Content Students are more tech savvy every year. They’re going to Google you. Probably run an Instagram search, too. In fact, you want them too – it means you’ve resonated. If you’re coming up with some cool content, that’s going to go a long way in getting them back in.

You can also sponsor a school newsletter with The School Communications Agency. We do the branding for you! Reach out to us – we’d love to hear from you.

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8 New Rules For The 2017/18 School Year

School is back in full swing. With that comes a whole host of new engagement ideas.

Some of the hottest trends right now are flipped classroom, backwards by design, and ideas centered around community engagement.

Whatever your preferred method may be, there is no doubt that the face of education is changing as fast as innovation itself. (Do you want to make a lot of money? Start an ed-tech company.)

As you build engagement in your classroom for the 2017-2018 school year, prepare students for the ever-changing work world and ever-evolving 21st skill set. Here are some New School Rules for doing just that:

  • Sit Wherever You Want: Sit, stand, stretch, jog in place – whatever you need to do to stay motivated. Consider: How long can you stay seated while maintaining attention? As we prepare our students for 21st-century skills, why not teach 21st-century posture? The workplace is a collaborative, open space, full of ideas that need to be given room to breathe.
  • Don’t Raise Your Hand: When is the last time you raised your hand in a meeting ? Did you get heard, or did someone more ambitious talk over you ? Classroom discussion is one of the greatest ways to encourage self discovery. Let the voices flow! Does it get too chaotic? Perhaps. But there’s an easy way to overcome that. Introduce the sessions with a “ticket out the door.”  Students can’t leave until they written down five good ideas they’ve heard.
  • Don’t Do Any Homework: Work life balance is one of the most important job perks.  So students need a good homework life balance. Different schools have different philosophies, but there’s no doubt when a student is learning for eight hours a day that’s probably enough. At the very least, homework could easily be cut back to a couple nights a week or with long-term projects where a night off won’t be a setback.
  • Be Late (Or Leave Early): For many reasons, school starts way too early. Early start times aren’t even conducive to the working parent, who can lose hours a week getting kids to school and killing time before their late-starting job. So, offer students an incentive to be late with flexible scheduling. Kids are growing; they’re tired. Job programs, community volunteering, and other ideas can help give students community experience. As teachers know, if you give students more autonomy, you’ll be amazed at the responsible decisions they make.
  • Come To Class Unprepared: Expect the unexpected when it comes to being a teacher. Well, you should expect the unexpected as a student, too. The best advice students can get this time of year bears repeating: be open-minded, be resilient, be flexible, be varied in your interests, and you’ll be as well rounded as any student out there.
  • Work As Slow As You Want: Every elementary classroom in the country reads the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare. Yet by about middle school, students turn into hares, racing through subjects and grades at breakneck speed. Slow it down. Drive passion. Fall in love with one thing at a time. 
  • Chew Gum: I can’t tell you how many times I was caught chewing gum in class just to be told to throw it out.  I’d have loved to have current research that shows chewing gum increases concentration, increases motivation, and is a super incentive for everyone.
  • Treat Yourself How You Want Others To Treat You: The Golden Rule teaches you to treat others as you want to be treated. That’s good, but if we don’t explain to others how we want to be treated, how can anyone know? Treat yourself right first. Take ownership. Take a high road. Ask for help. Listen. That’s what will come back to you.

Do you like these engagement ideas? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or by contacting us. We always love hearing from education professionals.

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