Weddings. Mortgages. And a writing template worth copying. – SCN Encourager

Do you dread writing “construction bond rationales” and other similar pieces that require a comparative analysis of some kind?

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 10.19.27 PMI do.

Writing to you about communications and the work we do in our schools is a blast.

Writing up a straight-forward presentation of specific facts and figures for a broader school audience takes effort.

A lot of effort.

I was reminded of this reality the other evening when Cindy and I were discussing the future wedding plans of our daughters… and I was given the news flash that the girls and their beaus were having fun “house hunting.”

What’s fun about house-hunting? (I wondered to myself.)

“Don’t be surprised if Kate asks you about down payments, mortgages, and stuff,” she alerted.

Cindy’s not a teacher, but she said this to me in a way a teacher would warn her students that a pop quiz might be on the horizon.


I wasn’t worried.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 9.57.50 PMI’d been saving up relevant articles and links for the last several months.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’d read any of them, but having a hodgepodge of articles and links within easy reach gave me the confidence of a poor man’s Warren Buffet.

As I began looking them over later, I was impressed so much by this article written by Maryland based financial advisor David Vogelsang, I have to share it with you.

Not because it’s about 15 year vs. 30 year mortgages.

But because of the way Vogelsang turned his comparative analysis into a conversation.

His article offers an effective template for us to follow.

If you have the time later or over the weekend, you may want to see if you agree.

Here are the 10 essential elements that Vogelzang employs so well.

1   He begins with a significant “real-world” decision and then frames it in a “this or that” format.

2   He asks his readers “what do you think?” at the very beginning, not at the end.

3   He develops a common story: showing how two different paths move toward two different outcomes, with a bit of mystery woven in

 He engages readers by asking even more questions without making them feel stupid.

5   He teases reader interest throughout. Notice when he inserts “… at this point…”

  He comfortably layers (not piles on) additional information and updated calculations.

7   He doesn’t over-do the questions, either. He also highlights a maxim: The good is the enemy of the best.

8   He connects his chosen maxim to a clear fact and a common sense conclusion.

9   He doesn’t rush to a finish. Rather, he still gives another little “nugget.”

10  And if items #4-9 had no value at all, he sums up with a simple “moral” that allows readers to still take away a good lesson.

Vogelsang scored a perfect 10, don’tcha think? 

I hope you do, too, especially in learning Vogelsang’s pointers about mortgages.

If I start fumbling my explanations of them to Kate, I may need your help!





Rising to the occasion when Air Force One rolls in

Talk about pressure.Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 8.07.51 PM

And you know what they say about having only one chance to make a great first impression.

Hosting a Very Important Person is an effective way to heighten awareness of local issues, become part of national news coverage, and position your organization as a leader.

But it’s not easy duty for public relations professionals – especially when planning timelines and security details are tight.

To find out what it takes to host a VIP, I reached out to Jessica Westra, a freelance publicist who was the primary local organizer when President Barack Obama visited a retooled Johnson Controls Inc. advanced batteries manufacturing facility at Holland, Mich., in August. 2011.

Jessica told me the experience still feels surreal.

MOVE Communications of Ann Arbor had the JCI publicity contract. Owner Don Hart knew of Jessica’s work planning grand openings for a children’s museum and a nightclub venue in nearby Grand Rapids. He also knew that she lives in Holland and that her husband works at JCI. Figuring Jessica may already know JCI products and important Holland players, Hart outsourced planning for the JCI lithium icon battery plant opening to her.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 8.09.48 PMJessica said her plans for a ribbon-cutting event featuring corporate leaders and West Michigan dignitaries were essentially complete when she got a “please stand by for an important message” call from JCI executives six days before the opening.

The bombshell: President Obama wanted to attend the event. And that changed everything.

“My heart leaped with excitement, then it fell,” Jessica said. “I realized this event had to be of presidential quality. I had only six days to plan it. And the world would be watching.”

Meet Jessica Westra

The amazing benefit of the everyday and humdrum – SCN Encourager

Aiming for the “extraordinary” may be a mistake.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 7.56.39 PMI’ve cancelled my ticket to the “Wow ‘Em with Wonderful Writing!” boot camp.

There’s a research study from Yale (the university, not the lock company) that says that you wouldn’t want me to go.

The study, refuting the famous tagline that “things go better with Coke,” posits that things actually go better with “each other.”

Whether it’s eating chocolate cake, washing the car, or watching the big game on TV, it seems the vast majority of us would prefer to enjoy these activities in the company of other people than do them all alone.

Yale tags this phenomenon as the “power of the shared experience.”

Apparently, when we share experiences with other people, this is when we all score high on Yale’s scientifically-measured happiness scale.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.23.13 PMWhile I originally thought this happiness assessment was just another standardized test obligation, it’s actually on the up and up.

It clearly proves that “shared experiences” help lower our stress and bring us more joy.

And this is why I signed up for the writing bootcamp.

I’m appreciative of the work that you do and I’m grateful for your willingness to check in with the Encourager from time to time.

So I thought that – that just maybe – I could improve on the quality of our “shared experiences” by attempting to make my writing extraordinary.

Well, that was the plan, anyway, until part II of the Yale study uncovered that aiming for the extraordinary wouldn’t be beneficial at all.

Of course, I was invited to this party!

Of course, I was invited to this party!

In somewhat of a surprise (at least to me!), Yale’s research revealed that we greatly prefer shared “common” experiences, not shared way-over-the-top experiences.

For example, let’s say we’re planning a back-to-school open house or some other school-related event.

Yale would advise us to create an event that invites attendees to participate in friendly activities that are understandable and comfortable.

This is the optimal way to nurture meaningful relationships.

Trying to roll out one time “whiz bang” experiences won’t yield anything close.

Bottom line: Our comfort is found in the common.

Who’d a thunk it?

I know Cindy sure didn’t.

She was eager to see me aim for the extraordinary.

So she says.

I think she just wanted me out of the house for a few days.









Did you remember it’s Tech Tip Tuesday? (Need a “Remind”– er?)

Using Remind to Connect with ParentsI keep my iPhone around me more than I’d like to admit.

But it houses so much of my life/brain: my calendar, text messages, emails, to-do lists, documents, shopping lists. The works.

And with all of the different communication apps, text messages are still the ones that I see–>remember–>respond to.

Maybe that’s why I love using Remind in my classroom.

Remind helps both my students and parents stay up-to-date on classroom events, upcoming homework, and all of the fun stuff we do in class – many of the things my 8th graders somehow “forget” to share with their parents

If ever you’re asked how educators communicate with a new generation of parents, Remind is a tool worth pointing out. I hope my tutorial about Remind helps.

If you have questions (about Remind or my recent series on making screencasts), please email me [email protected] or find me on Twitter @ELucky9.

The #1 key to communications success should win an Oscar – SCN Encourager

“And the winner is – empathy!”

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.57.32 PMNobody will hand you a shiny gold trophy thingie for it.

But it’s the “must have” ingredient in every piece of effective communication.

And as simple as it sounds, there’s a big wrinkle – one that keeps up from consistently scoring a perfect bullseye in building strong empathetic connections with our intended audience.

It seems we just can’t get over the fact that not everyone sees the world the way we do.

Who wouldn’t value, hope for, and enjoy the exact same things, with the same level of intensity, that you do?

Or that I do? (oops!)

It’s this kind of cavalier skip-the-research-step attitude that keeps us from asking around to find out.

And when we fail to ask, we’re not as empathetic as we can be.

Here’s proof.

Try out this quick survey.

There are no right or wrong answers.

All you have to do is pick one of the four personal sentiments listed and assign one of them to every photo that follows.

You may use the same photo multiple times or not at all.

Here’s are the four personal sentiments to choose from:

#1  This looks like a lot of fun to me.
#2  This sure looks like a lot of work to me.
This doesn’t appeal to me at all.
#4  I’d love to have more of this in my life

Photo A:  Shopping
Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.30.20 PM








Photo B: Watching football on TV
Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.25.58 PM







Photo C:  A baby!
Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.32.29 PM








Photo D:  Gambling
Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.42.33 PM

Photo E:  A kitty!
Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.27.49 PM









Photo F:  Ballroom dancing

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.34.33 PM









Photo G:  Gardening

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.40.04 PM

It’s revealing to see the different choices that people can make, isn’t it?

It’s comforting to know there aren’t any right or wrong answers.

Despite what Cindy said after we took the survey at home.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Good luck crossing the intersection of News and Noise – SCN Encourager

And don’t even hope to find any red-yellow-green traffic lights.

Nothing could organize this chaos.



Today’s high impact collisions between news and noise won’t stop.

And the many veteran journalists (who are now serving the public as veteran school communicators) know what I’m talking about.

The media landscape is changing faster than anyone can imagine.

Not having a background in traditional journalism myself, I can’t say I’ve personally experienced the shift in “how the news is reported and shared” the way some have.

All I know is that this online article from the BBC got me thinking.

And nope, that’s not a typo.

Although my fingers are much more comfortable typing ESPN, this article actually is from the BBC.

I’m sending it your way today because you may want to take the time to poke around in it a bit over the weekend.

Not only did I find its perspective mind-stretching, the article’s presentation style which uses a blend of text, images, links, and videos is fascinating.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 8.11.58 PM

It’s a style I wish I knew how to replicate.

It’s great way to tell a story; as memorable as it is impressive.

But hopefully, I won’t be rushed into anything.

Not being the early adopter type – I’m still sketching a BBC type presentation on flip chart paper.

And blimey, mates!  I can’t find my markers!




Sharing trusted apps is like sharing the wealth (almost).

No doubt you’ve heard the expression that sharing is caring.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 6.47.10 PMWell, when it’s an experienced school communicator doing the sharing, it’s true!

My recent conversation with Alexandria (VA) City Public Schools Public Relations Specialist Delaina McCormack reminded me of how much knowledge and wisdom school communicators possess.

As you might have gathered from my prior profile of Delaina, she is an advocate for sharing ideas that work.

That’s why she aligns the comment section of her blog posts with Disqus (pronounced “discuss”). Disqus is a free comment hosting service that uses a networked platform.

In November 2014 Disqus hosted the comment sections of three million websites.

Delaina likes Disqus because it makes comments more interactive, robust and shareable. Archiving comments makes them searchable by others who are looking for information on a topic.

“Schools face similar problems, so it makes sense to share solutions we find effective,” Delaina said. “We can learn so much from each other. No need to reinvent the wheel. Rarely is that actually necessary.”

(Of course, the down side is that Disqus combs information about commenters from their comments and can use it to target ads to them. People who are wary of “ad creep” should consider this.)

I asked Delaina to share a list of technology applications and programs that she says she would hate to work without.

Her list is too rich to keep to myself.

A big lesson from Super Bowl XLIX still lingers – SCN Encourager

And it has nothing to do with figuring out Roman numerals.

It has everything to do with how the game ended.

Perhaps you remember it.

The game was only 17 days ago. (Wha? Seems like 17 weeks ago…)

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 7.46.35 PMSeattle had the ball near the New England goal line as the clock was winding down and everyone – everyone! – was expecting Seattle to give the ball to their star running back so he could run it into the end zone and score the game winning TD.

But to the shock of all – all! – Seattle coach Pete Carroll called a pass play instead and the result was an interception by a New England Patriots rookie that suddenly ensured Seattle an unbelievable defeat.

And from that moment on, Coach Carroll was universally lambasted 24/7 by sports reporters, fan call-in radio shows, Monday morning quarterbacks, and assorted beer vendors.

The chorus of rants was in unison.

What in the blazes was Coach Carroll thinking?

That fool literally threw away the game!

I’ve never joined in with the yakety-yakkers yelping about Coach Carroll’s bonehead call.

More often than not, I always try to give the boneheads on our planet a lot of grace and understanding.

I have to look in the mirror every morning too, you know.

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 7.40.15 PMBut Chris Mortensen, an Emmy award-winning sports reporter on ESPN, had an interesting perspective a few days after the Super Bowl.

I found it a perspective relevant for you and me as well.

Mortensen said that sometimes coaches in times of chaos and high stress get their priorities confused.

“They become too focused on their playbooks,” he said, “and forget that every success on the field is the result of the players.”

“When you have great players, you have to avoid getting caught up in your fancy playbooks and proving how clever a coach you are. You don’t win this way.”

As a school communicator who likes his fancy playbooks (overlooking all of the typos and knuckleheadisms they contain, of course), Mortensen’s insights hit close to home.

When the stories of our schools are not predominately and consistently about our students and teachers – our players – we’ve fallen into the same trap that ensnared Coach Carroll.

We’ve allowed outside factors to goad us into responses and reactions that take us off our game.

And then we fumble away the truth that it’s “our players” that make the winning difference.

We shouldn’t forget this.

(But dang, I do all of the time!)

As I thought about Mortensen’s comments, I also wondered about the characteristics of “a good player.”

What makes a good player, anyway?

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 8.41.26 PMCan you really measure the quality and character of a player by his or her “stats?”

ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale says he once used a snow shovel to measure the character of a young high schooler he was recruiting back when he was the basketball coach for the University of Detroit (1973-1977).

He tells of the time he travelled to Lansing one snowy February day to see if he could visit the high school star everyone in the state was raving about.

He’d heard about Earvin “Magic” Johnson and wondered if Johnson would be all he was talked up to be.

Vitale’s visit was going to be an impromptu one – so he drove his car to the park where he had been told Johnson would frequently play.

From the warmth of his parked car, he watched Johnson shovel the snow off of the basketball in the freezing cold all alone, before Johnson picked up his basketball to practice dribbling and shooting.

Oh man, thought Vitale.

This player is special. He’s a winner.

Whoa! Hold on there, Dick!

That’s quite a speedy-kwik assessment, don’tcha think?

It’s too bad he only had his own eyes and experience to guide him.

He might’ve wanted some standardized test scores just to be sure.

All I know is… I would’ve been in a world of hurt writing today’s Encourager without ESPN.











Tech Tip Tuesday: Using iMovie to Edit Your Screencast

Just telling learners about something rarely succeeds.

Using iMovie to Edit ScreencastsWith luck, maybe they’ll catch on to your point.

But if you show them how something works, you’re well on your way.

This is the value of creating and sharing short screencasts.

Last week I chatted about screencasts and their ability to “save the day” when it came to providing tech assistance.

Screencasts can be used for topics beyond technology step-by-steps, too.

When I made my first screencasts, they were simple: show the end-user the basics, with no fuss over audio or music, and no worries about a few minor mistakes.

While I still send those out to understanding colleagues on the fly, I find that iMovie can be a quick way to edit these screencasts to give them a more polished look.

So, in this week’s tech tip, here’s a quick reference guide on how to put it all together.

Plus ! I’ve included some of my favorite tricks and tips that I’ve discovered while working with iMovie.

If you need a more in-depth iMovie “how-to guide,” check out YouTube… there’s dozens of good ones right there.

Maybe that will be my next tech tip… using an already created screencast to show how to do something.


Now there’s something Tom might be in favor of! He’s such a big proponent of “please-keep-it-simple” learning!

And remember, you can always contact me at: [email protected].

When a decision has to be made, it’s the “gray areas” that mess us up. – SCN Encourager

In the school biz, we often have to make difficult judgement calls.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 8.23.06 AMAnd when to close down our schools due to the weather is one of them.

Sometimes, though, we luck out and the reality of the situation is obvious.

Dang, I like it when that happens!

The speed and quality of my decisions consistently score off the charts when all of the influencing factors are obvious.*

But often it’s not always easy for us to discern – despite all of the information available online – which way things are trending.

And getting ahead of what’s coming our way (or may come…) is a big part of the good-decision-making equation.

But frequently, there are no facts or trends to rely on.

We must rely on our own experiences with our students, staff, and parents, and trust that our instincts alone will enable us to make a speedy-kwik call.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 7.24.13 AMFor example, I saw this infographic recently on Twitter.

It was made and publicized by a major company.

Imagine if one of your 7th grade graphic design classes created it.

Now, I’m all for the pursuit of happiness and having science recommend the various paths to it, but every school communicator I know would be waving the yellow flag of caution and explaiming, “Uh, Houston, we’ve got a problem with this infographic.”


We’d all be clamoring for a re-location of the green “family and friends” megaphone before it ever got shared, printed, and displayed on school hallways and bulletin boards.

Of course, I realize that in the real-world we operate in, this infographic probably wouldn’t have come to our attention at all until it was already up in public and people were commenting about it on the district Facebook page.

This is just one of our common realities.

Not everything in our schools can be anticipated, prevented, or modified ahead of time.

HubSpot – a pretty cool online marketing firm – believes that this reality is especially true for every communicator who sends out emails.

After all, all of our emails once we hit send cannot be altered or changed, either.

So, HubSpot has put together this helpful slideshare.

It offers 64 word mistakes that commonly crush our credibility.

Although they missed more than 40 other ways I commonly crush my credibility, their slideshare still deserves a place in the “good stuff” category.

* And in a full disclaimer, Cindy wants to know what decision-making “chart” I’m referring to. She’s seen some of my decisions at home when the facts “were obvious” – and she thinks I’m inflating my score!

Like I said, it’s our “gray areas” that can mess us up.

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