Your Relationship with Alcohol Part 1: Defining the Problem


(Photo Credit: rogue3w)

Over the last several years, as Chris and I have worked together on TFA’s National Mental Health Team, we have fielded a number of questions related to alcohol and substance use in the corps. These questions generally center around: what is the difference between being a low-risk social drinker or a high-risk drinker? After all, not all drinking is bad. One of the biggest challenges in dealing with concerns related to alcohol is determining whether or not a problem exists.

Let’s start by looking at the difference between low-risk drinkers and high-risk drinkers.

Signs that you may be a low-risk drinker:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends:
o   Women have one drink per day or seven in a week.
o   Men have no more than two drinks per day or fourteen in a week.

 All of the above recommendations are based on standardized definitions, where one drink equals:
o   12 oz. of regular beer
o   5 oz. of wine
o   1.5 oz. (a shot) of 80 proof liquor.

Signs that you may be a high-risk drinker:
o   Are you finding that during the weekends you often binge drink at a party and spend half the weekend trying to recover?
o   Have you started to rely on a few beers at night in order to calm your nerves?
o   Do you ever find yourself driving after having a bit too much to drink?

How can you know whether you are a low risk social drinker or possibly a high risk drinker?
  First, it helps to know the real number of “drinks” you consume. Want to know how many “drinks” are in that cosmo or screwdriver? You can use the drink calculator to find out.
o   If you are unsure how your alcohol consumption stacks up, this tool from the NIAAA helps you size up your level of risk based on your alcohol consumption habits. Plug in how much you drink and how often, and it can help you determine whether your drinking pattern is no risk, low risk, increased risk or highest risk.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know might have a serious problem with alcohol:
o   Check out the following guidelines on what qualifies as alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence: If these guidelines apply to you or someone you know, you might consider reaching out to a counselor or making use of AA resources within your region.

Tune in next week for “Your Relationship with Alcohol Part 2: Self-Care.” In this post we will discuss sustainable ways to incorporate positive coping habits into your routine to avoid feeling the need to rely on maladaptive coping, such as excessive alcohol consumption.

Pop Links 10.14.14: Free Public Universities in Germany; 12 Years of No Child Left Behind; 15-Second Vocabulary Contest

  • Germany just removed one of the biggest barriers to students achieving higher education! As of last week, all of German public universities are officially free for German nationals and foreign students.
  • 2014 was supposed to be the year that the ambitious goal of 100% proficiency among American students was to be achieved, but the country is far from that goal. NPR explores  what happened to No Child Left Behind.
  • Give your students a chance express their creativity and expand their vocabulary! Enroll them in the New York Times’ 15-Second Vocabulary Contest. 
  • TFANet Resource: Inferences
By |October 14th, 2014|Pop Links|0 Comments|

Six Tips for Fostering Grit in our Youngest Learners

“We will be kindergarten readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and learners!” was the rallying cry of my pre-kindergarten classroom, as we began our morning meeting each day. A growing body of knowledge shows us that grounding students in literacy, math, science, and social studies makes them more than just kindergarten-ready – it prepares them for long-term school and life success. So does another essential trait which doesn’t fit neatly into any one subject area: grit.

Grit is a measure of a person’s determination, persistence, and self-control. Grit is what will keep your students from accepting failure, big or small, and from letting it hold them back. Some might think it has no place in describing three, four, and five year-olds, but the reality is that early childhood classrooms provide the perfect context for building these skills in children, the foundation for which begins at birth.

Today, grit will help kids in your classroom finish that puzzle (determination and persistence), cooperate in imaginary play with their classmates, and play simple board games (self-control). This sets the groundwork for a lifelong ability to pursue challenging long-term goals. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research, grit can also contribute to better grades and, in the long-term, contribute to higher earnings and a more positive view of their own life.IMG_2459

Teachers play a critical role in developing grit, and preschool/Pre-K teachers can do many things to help kids get “grittier.” Here are six things you can do:

  1. Get familiar with your state’s early learning standards. Many of the skills that underlie grit and self-control are right there in your state’s early learning standards/guidelines (each state calls theirs something unique!). Look for domain names like cognitive development, social & emotional development, general knowledge, or cognition. Becoming familiar with these standards will help you become a more intentional teacher.
  1. Keep the small promises you make to your students. Research shows that dependable adults help foster better self-control. Make sure that you’re keeping those small promises; when you say “I’ll be right back,” “I’m going to go grab the crayons for you,” “You can go back to finishing building that right after lunch,” do it to show that you follow through on your word. Have time in your daily schedule where you’re available to move around and work with students individually.
  1. Have children develop plans before heading to centers. Prior to letting students choose their centers (the independent learning stations you’ll see in early childhood classrooms) have students make a plan for what they’ll do in their center of choice. This might be having students choose their first center and “writing” down what they’ll do in that center prior to starting play. This will help children focus and sustain attention on the task they’ve planned and feel more autonomy over their own learning. A great model for planning for play is used in the High Scope curriculum.
  1. Get creative with sorting activities. Believe it or not, asking children to sort cards first by shape and then asking them to switch the sorting rule to sort the same cards by color is a sign of self-control. When children are asked to do something that might not be their natural instinct, their brain is forced to develop a certain level of self-control. Switching up the way you ask children to sort is just one way to develop flexibility and control within the brain.
  1. Point out when students persist. When you see students building something in the blocks center over and over or attempting to get their drawing just right, narrate what you saw: “I see your tower kept falling over, but you used smaller blocks on top and didn’t give up building” or “I saw you start your writing a few different times and you kept going to finish your drawing even though you looked frustrated!” Praise children’s effort instead of the outcome. Of course, young children might reach peak frustration and need to step away from a task for a bit and letting children know that taking a step back is OK is part of helping develop their persistence.IMG_1682
  1. Model these skills yourself! As you’ll soon see, your students notice your actions and hang on your every word. When you express frustration with a task, but persist in completing it and, if you do fail at a task, show your students how you can reflect on the problem and try again. I know when I planned a science experiment that didn’t work, I was embarrassed to fail in front of my students, but together we wrote down what went wrong and I brought new supplies to have a successful experiment the next day.

Though I wasn’t familiar with the word “grit” at the time, creating an environment in my classroom which fostered its various aspects helped ensure that the 20 children in my classroom, all in school for the first time, went from shyly entering through the door to becoming autonomous learners who were deeply engaged in the learning opportunities at hand. By implementing some of these tips, and identifying opportunities for expanding upon these ideas, you’ll see growth in all skill areas for students. Early childhood educators have long had a hand in proving that school-readiness goes beyond the typical academic subjects, and your kindergarten-ready readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and learners will be on your way to showing this from day one!

Sara Mickelson is an education specialist focused on early learning at the Rhode Island Department of Education and a Houston ’09 alumnus

Motivation Monday: Change


By |October 13th, 2014|General|0 Comments|

Pop Links 10.9.14: Community College In NYC; Bill Gates Plan For History; Teenage Brains & Education; Code Studio

  • Highlighting some of the challenges community college students face in urban environments which cause them to take an average of six years to earn a two year associates degree.
  • The College Board is not the only entity trying to shake up the subject of History in schools. The New York Times reports on Bill Gates’ plan to revolutionize history instruction after being inspired by a Ted Talk.
  • While a lot of resources are invested in understanding early childhood education, not enough attention has been paid to how we educate teenagers, says a Temple University researcher..
  •, the site with a mission to get more American students coding, has created a more student and teacher friendly site to make it easier for students to get involved in the movement. Among other things, Code Studio has a more fun interface and allows teachers to keep track of student progress.
  • TFANet Resource: Conflict

How’s Your Sleep?


(Photo credit: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig)

Getting enough sleep can be extremely challenging. For most people, two conditions must be met before we can fall asleep: 1) we must be tired and 2) we must be relaxed. As teachers, the feeling of being tired is probably not the problem. I bet you are exhausted! Instead the challenge to your sleep may be due to factors that hinder you from being able to relax. Such factors include stress (feeling like you should stay up working), anxiety (worrying about a particular student), and daily habits (drinking large amounts of caffeine). Your level of relaxation at bedtime is something you can influence. Here are some tips that should help you relax so that you can get to sleep:

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day — I know this is a tough one, but it creates an expectation and habit for your body that will really aid in your ability to sleep
  • Bed is for sleep (and sex)…and that’s it — You want your brain to have an association between the bed and sleeping. Don’t confuse your brain by grading papers in bed, watching TV in bed, eating in bed, or reading in bed. All of those activities should be done elsewhere.
  • Don’t consume caffeine or nicotine past the mid afternoon — This really varies from person to person, but if you’re having difficulty sleeping, making this change can really help.
  • Avoid alcohol at night. — Yes, having a drink does slow the system down and can actually bring sleep on, but alcohol also has a tendency to disrupt sleep patterns, and usually doesn’t contribute to a full restful night’s sleep.
  • Don’t go for a run and then dive into bed– Exercise is fine in the evening, but ideally you should finish your exercise routine a couple of hours before you are ready to go to bed. This will result in your body being more tired.
  • Establish a bedtime routine that incorporates relaxation– Relaxing at bedtime is half the battle. Create a routine that incorporates relaxation. Take a warm bath at night. Spend 10 minutes reading for pleasure. Avoid activities that activate your brain or make you tense.
  • Don’t toss and turn in bed– If 15 minutes have passed when you are lying in bed, get out of bed, do something relaxing, and go to bed again once you feel tired. When you toss and turn in bed, your brain is associating your bed with not sleeping, which is the opposite association you’re trying to create.
  • Don’t watch the clock! If you do, you’ll just think, “Crap…it’s already 1:30am and I AM STILL NOT ASLEEP,” which doesn’t help you to feel relaxed. Cover or turn around your clock.
  • Don’t worry in bed — We all worry. It’s a normal part of life. But try not to worry in bed (remember, bed is for sleep). If you find yourself worrying in bed, try writing down the things that you are worried about and give yourself permission and time to worry about them the next day. In bed, simply tell yourself, “I will give myself some time to fully worry about that tomorrow.” If that doesn’t work, and you find yourself continuing to worry in bed, get up and worry somewhere else.

I challenge you to set a sleeping goal for the next week. This goal might address the number of hours of sleep you plan to get each night, it might involve incorporating two of the tips listed above, etc. It’s up to you. But give something a try and see if you notice a difference in how you feel.

Hero or Villain?: 4 Resources for Exploring Columbus

October 13th is Columbus Day! Will your classes be celebrating?


(Photo Credit: Internet Archive Book Image)

We began our study of Columbus last week with the guiding question, “Is Columbus a hero or a villain?” The initial belief among my 5th grade students was that Columbus was a hero. However, as we exposed the class to Columbus’ own journal and various nonfiction texts,they began to question their original opinions.

This week, my students will be asked to answer the question, “Should we celebrate Columbus Day?”  They will need to create an argument either defending the celebration or advocating for its elimination, using text evidence to support their opinion.

This unit has been extremely engaging for my students and has given them the opportunity to deeply explore primary resources and nonfiction texts. I can already see that their thinking about Columbus has evolved and I recognize a growing excitement for learning about explorers’ impact on our world. If you’re looking for some resources to address Columbus Day, or other historically inaccurate holidays, I encourage you to check out these resources!

1)     Columbus’ Journal

Primary resources can be challenging but this one is worth the struggle! When students realize these words are straight from Columbus’ mouth, they become totally engrossed.

2)       You Wouldn’t Want To Sail With Christopher Columbus

This nonfiction text uses cartoons and humor to engage the reader. In addition to content, you may also use it to start a conversation about text structure and author’s craft.

3)     Encounter

This book gives students the opportunity to see the world from a different point of view. The narrator in this story is a Taino boy who suspects Columbus is misleading his people with his trinkets and smiles.

4)     Christopher Columbus: New World Explorer or Fortune Hunter?

This nonfiction text is unique because it exposes students to the positive and negative consequences Columbus’ explorations. This book and the other books in the “Perspectives on History” series have helped my students improve their critical thinking and questioning skills.


By |October 7th, 2014|General|0 Comments|

Pop Links 10.7.14: Finnish Education in the US; Nobel Prize Announcements; NYTimes Education Blog

  • While experts agree that racial and socioeconomic factors make it difficult to compare the education systems of the United States and Finland,  a Harvard professor says there are three key elements of Finland’s successful system that can and should be emulated here.
  • Starting yesterday and continuing through October 13th, the 2014 Nobel Prize winners will be announced. Check out the full schedule and watch videos of the announcements with your students!
  • Find neatly packaged current event stories to discuss with your students on the New York Times education blog, The Learning Network!
  • TFANet Resource: Bill of Rights