I plan to challenge my students to manage rather than ‘stamp out’ their biases. Thoughts?

Ask me to dinner, and I’ll ask you to decide. My favorite color? All of them, maybe blue. Favorite band? It depends.

I am indecisive at the end of the day because I am “choiced out.”

As a journalist, I am hyper-aware of my choices, knowing each one influences a story’s tone and trajectory. Who should I interview? What should I wear to meet them? How much space should I dedicate to each fact and source? In what order should I present those facts and sources? What language and descriptors should I use? What photos and colors should I choose to illustrate my words? How should we present the piece to readers?

All this, knowing that even before I get my hands on an assignment, choices have been made. Journalists must recognize our role in the larger mechanics of news organizations as gatekeepers that decide what, how and when stories are covered. Even more important can be an awareness of what is not covered, who is not quoted and what sources are not referenced. If we see an overlooked angle, story or source, it’s our responsibility to push for stories that provide truth in context — adding value to our world.

Now, want to decide where to eat? Me neither.

Examples? Sure. For a story about generational poverty, you head to an underprivileged neighborhood on a weekday. You made a choice, and that decision means you’ll likely run into retired people and folks out of work. That is fine (as those perspectives are important), but you should make an effort to gather narratives of those working three jobs.

Sure, rock those high heels and white skinny jeans, but you might not want to wear them to interview Paul the Pig Farmer. He is likely not going to relate with you, resulting in a less-than interview, and he probably won’t take you schlepping through pig pens, which would provide oink-tastic narrative context. Your clothes, hair color and piercings do not influence your abilities as a storyteller, but you must consider how your appearance comes across to sources. If you don’t adapt to the worlds you enter, then be prepared to work around potential obstacles. It’s your choice.

If you cover immigration, and you pick photos of gangs and boarder enforcement, those are choices that leave out the image of Easu Martinez, a clean-cut graduate student at Ball State, who plans to dedicate his life to helping displaced families cobble together lives in new nations.

But aren’t you supposed to be objective?

As I choice through my day, the crusty old editor inside my head shouts “be objective, be unbiased.” The result: a checklist of equal numbers of contrary sources, given the same amount of space, in stories that taste like stale white bread.

I have begun to turn down the volume on my internal press pundit to embrace a new approach: What if journalists acknowledge that bias is embedded in the people, culture, and language on which we report? What if we stop trying to stamp out bias, but rather seek to manage it as a way to provide a narrative texture that makes stories more understandable and relevant?

To make that shift, we must turn our pens and lenses inward. We must consider what experiences, relationships and views have shaped us into who we are, and then write them down, and then paste that list near our computers to remind us to “check ourselves” on the job.

I am exploring my own biases, and I plan to challenge my students to do the same. In J101: Media and Society, we study media literacy (the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media), and it seems the perfect forum to start this lifelong conversation with ourselves and each other.

I have a few ideas …

Log your media diet for one day

I already do this one. I ask students to (for one day) detail the media they consume and log which devices/platforms they are on and how often they are on them. Then, they reflect on the meaning of their choices and whether they see any need to adjust their media consumption to (as with food) strive for a well-balanced diet. You can have Oreo cookies (TMZ and BuzzFeed), but to be an active, engaged citizen, we need some fruits and vegetables (The New York Times, CNN). Some students take on the added challenge of going without social media for a day, and the takeaways deeply influence some students’ relationships with Facebook and the like.

Masking your identity

I will bring blank, white masks to class. On one side, I will ask students to draw images and/or write words that illustrate how they believe the world perceives them (and/or how they want to be perceived). On the inside of the mask, they will draw images or write words that reflect their private self. We will debrief this exercise in class, as a way of talking about how no one side of our mask truly represents us. By asking each student to engage in this exercise, my hope is they will be slower to stereotype others based on appearance.

Exploring values, challenging assumptions

Next class, I’ll ask them to list words or phrases of five values they hold dear, then rank them from 1-5, with one being the most valuable. I will invite them to share their lists and rankings in groups, focusing on their reasoning for selecting those values and rankings. During their discussions, I hope they come to understand that everyone holds and ranks values the same, yet they have equally compelling reasons for their lists and rankings. I hope the exercise expands students’ appreciation for what motivates and inspires others.

Being comfortable with being uncomfortable

Continuing to build on self-exploration, we will dive into how we look at the world, specifically the assumptions we have of other places, people and situations. I’ll ask them to create a list of words, phrases or categories of people, places or situations they do not understand (i.e. stay-at-home moms, farming, lesbians, female pastors, slang, Muslims, vegans, children, selling drugs, old people, racists, people with kids at Walmart at 10:30 p.m. on a school night).

I use the phrase “do not understand” because synonyms for “unconscious bias” are words like, bigot, ignorant and senseless. Since we are coming at this exercise from a place of curiosity, I want students to feel open to share their biases as we seek to manage those fears, misunderstandings and lack of awareness. I’ll invite students to share a few items on their lists to discuss why, for instance, someone might rarely wash their clothes or not shake your hand when introduced.

Then, I’ll introduce an assignment that will likely be met with groans. Before the end of the semester, I want them to have a meaningful interaction with three of the people, places or situations they listed. We will spend at least two classes talking through interview best practices and what constitutes a “meaningful” interaction. I will meet with each student to discuss their three items to ensure they feel comfortable and confident (and aren’t putting themselves in harm’s way).

Sound terrifying? Well, that’s the job

As a journalist, you regularly have to enter worlds you know little about and adapt enough so that you can build relationships or engage in experiences that lead to information and quotes you weave into a meaningful narrative. In public relations and marketing, you engage with various target audiences and flit from client to client, managing different industries and organizational cultures and expectations.

Students choose: A personal or industry approach

I’ll let students decide whether they want to approach the assignment on a personal level or as an industry experience. For instance, journalism students can approach the person, place or experience as if they’re writing a story or focus on a personal interaction. Public relations or advertising students can interact with their three people, places or situations as if they are doing research about target audience for a client of their choice, say Ball State (and they could speak with the person about his/her decision to come to Ball State, campus involvement, stressors and any obstacles and opportunities to improve campus culture).

We will pair these assignments with a review of articles and public relations case studies that do a good and a poor job of managing bias to provide narrative context that enriches story. Based on these experiences, we will practice writing articles or creating brand messages that consider our own biases and give context to those assumptions.

By the end of the semester, I hope each student is “choiced out” because it means they are making choices through each stage of the writing process — from idea formation, to sources, to clothing, to when they go where, to editing, to photo and graphic selection and, finally, to presentation.

Thoughtful storytellers and strategists produce powerful, compelling work. By understanding our biases and those that are part of each story, we are more in command of the arrogance, denial and prejudice that can sneak into our prose. The outcome is stories that are more fair, comprehensive and human.

Applebee’s or Olive Garden? I hope each of them can’t always decide.

Want more? Read my teaching philosophy.


My Budding Teaching Philosophy

Among the greatest lessons I’ve learned are from trees: to cultivate a strong foundation, to stand alone and tall but to remain rooted in community; to collaborate with others for better outcomes; to grow around obstacles when you must; to embrace disturbances as part of the climb; and to commit your existence to nurturing a more vibrant, connected world.

I adopted these truisms during my professional career, and they continue to guide my relationship-based approach to equip the next generation of storytellers and strategists with expertise, confidence and connections.

Back to the forest: Imagine if every tree was the same height, every bark the same pattern, and every leaf the same hue, shape and size. A stroll through the woods would be as uninspiring as walking down an aisle of stacked, 8-ounce Tupperware. But, thankfully, each tree is as unique as our students, shaped by internal and external conditions that outfit some with thick, scarred skin and others with the thinnest of exteriors.

Regardless of their divergent trajectories and capacities, students share a common climate during this accelerated period of growth, as they work to establish themselves in a new environment, alongside new companions. Each is eager to foster connections and expand his or her reach, but depending on their variety, condition and placement, students may emerge during our time together or flower long after we nourish their roots.

An affirming, industry-driven environment

I don’t refer to students as oaks or weeping willows (that’s weird), but thinking of them as such encourages me to embrace their wonderfully unique characteristics, just as I would celebrate the diversity of the woods. It reminds me to consider the climates they weathered and previous access to nutrients. It helps me realize that although I may pore myself into them, I may never see them reach their full potential; but I pore anyway, because I know it matters. Because I once benefitted from the shade and support of others, even when I wasn’t ready to sprout.


My amazing students in NEWS 397: Muncie’s Food Report, which we renamed Harvesting Hope, gave me a tomato plant!! So, not a tree … but still roots and leaves 🙂

I adapt my instruction and assignments to align with various learning styles and interests, and the visual reminds me to sit beside students rather than try to manage their growth. It inspires me to share my journey and convey that I, too, am a one-and-only-ever-me tree, and I am still learning, course-correcting and emerging alongside them. Our industry is as unpredictable as the weather, and I share my scars and triumphs to clear out weeds that threaten to block my students’ success. I push critical thinking and resilience so they learn to grow around or confront challenges, and I encourage humility so they own up to and learn from the mistakes they will make.

The eye of an eagle, the touch of a butterfly

My expectations are high, and I review writing, photography and design with the eye of an eagle, marking drafts with the ferocity of professional standards; but my grading reflects the touch of a butterfly, as I reward honest efforts based on individual progress. Good writing emerges during the editing process, and students must grow comfortable with feedback, rewrites, feedback and more rewrites until all parties are satisfied. As such, I invite students to rework assignments until their writing would be ready for a professional editor or their marketing proposal would be ready to send to leadership — and that is when I assign a grade. Tests and quizzes are open book, because journalism is about one’s ability to find an answer or solution, rather than memorizing and repeating what others deem as truth. I don’t expect any of us to know all the answers, but I do expect us to adopt the critical thinking skills, grit and resources to find and interpret them.

If we were all born into this world as tall, wise oaks, it would be a stuffy, boring existence, indeed. When I find myself saying things like, “kids these days,” I push even harder to listen to, be present with and open to students’ energy and passions. They are hybrids of previous generations, built stronger and wired to solve tomorrow’s challenges through emerging technologies and trends. Educators who minimize students’ knowledge and perspective miss out.

‘You get out of it what you put into it’

I strive to encourage students to become more active in their learning and to consider education as the act of saying “yes,” again and again, to enriching experiences that fashion them into “the most interesting and impactful person you can be.” Trees that stand immovable when new construction crowds out their sunlight wither as much as professionals who resist change, fear creative risk or do not want to put in the time.

I pair industry curriculum with assignments that encourage self-reflection and new experiences. On day one, students’ sign the syllabus (to acknowledge they have read and understand it) before they write a letter, draw a picture (or however they want to express themselves) to visualize a successful class and semester. At the end of our time together, I pass their work back to them to reflect and assess.

Before the semester’s final break, I ask them to take a picture that illustrates where they are and/or where they want to be. The assignment provokes students to end the semester strong, but it also challenges them to consider visual storytelling, rather than relying only on words. I create assignments to tackle all aspects of the creative process (research, writing, design, layout and photography) so that they appreciate each step in the process.

During break, they also engage in an “unternship,” which requires students to get out and do something they’ve never done before (anything from rock climbing or volunteering at a soup kitchen to going to a museum or driving home without the radio). They return to share lessons they can apply to their personal and professional lives. The outcomes are powerful, and they grow as much (or more) from theses assignments as they do from grammar worksheets and headline writing exercises.

Embrace new interpretations of the field

For years, I felt the profession required me to check my humanity at the office door. No more. I now jump at most any opportunity to practice “community or justice journalism” because in all that journalism is and can be, I believe there is space for a participatory variety that transforms writers and photographers from observers into storytellers, driven to recapture the hearts of their communities.

Rather than trying to stamp out bias, I acknowledge that preferences are embedded in the people, culture and language on which we report. I strive for fairness instead of “objectivity” and manage bias as narrative texture that presents more relevant, compelling stories. A Journalist’s work can inspire empathy, understanding and action, but journalists do not need to stop there. They can also take action — working alongside neighbors to engage in productive conversations and work toward solutions.

I share these and other interpretations of the field as well as my varied career from newsrooms to marketing departments and back again, which is a path some professors told me would corrupt my spotless journalistic reputation. This jagged path has strengthened my work and made me more marketable and resourceful, and I remind students of their limitless options.

In this together, I share their frustrations and joys

I continue to freelance, as a magazine journalist and marketing consultant, so that I can weave those experiences into my classroom and remain connected with the pressure of deadlines, stimulus of feedback, and sting of the internal critic. I enter every assignment with hope and curiosity, and I enter each classroom with the same.

I hope my students struggle because writing and creating isn’t easy, frustration when stories fall through and overwhelmed by the complexities of complicated stories. I hope these agitations ignite a gritty determination to tell stories that matter, and I hope they know I will always be there to commiserate with and encourage them in the brightest and darkest of days.

Classroom Practices to Motivate, Engage and Inspire

On the first day of all of my classes, I start by sharing a few motivational thoughts in addition to all the typical syllabus and class expectations information. I also give out my cell phone on the syllabus and tell them that they can call me if they are ever in an emergency. Nobody has ever taken me up on it, but I think they appreciate feeling like I am there for them, even outside the classroom. I also talk through campus resources often not mentioned, including the campus food pantry, and discuss fun things to do in Muncie to encourage them to get out and explore the city.

I remind them that:

  • You are here because you are smart, capable, and ready for greatness.
  • I am here for you, and I want you to succeed.
  • SAY YES to new experiences/be the most interesting person you can be!
  • Lean in to challenging conversations and feelings.
  • Love where you live.
  • HS was about tests. Now, apply classroom knowledge to advance our world
  • I embrace feedback.

Letter to Self

Their first assignment is to sign the syllabus, acknowledging that they have read and understand it (it’s the last page of the syllabus). Then, I ask them to write a letter or draw a picture (or however they want to express themselves) on the back of that syllabus acknowledgement. The letter is a self-reflection about how they want the semester to look (they can look beyond the semester, but it’s a nice pause before we dive into the semester). At the end of our time together, I pass their work back to them to (again) reflect.

Professional engagement

Building relationships with professionals is critical to understanding the field and making connections that can help students get that first internship or job, then advance in the field. I don’t grade this “assignment” because I don’t want to push this on any of them, if they’re not ready/willing. But, I outline how to connect with professionals and then ask them to interact with that person at least five times throughout the semester. I guide them through the experience, and several students have gone onto get jobs or create lasting professional connections/friendships because of the assignment.

Our Next Chapter

Please take a photo of something that represents your life now or where you want your life to be. I’d love for you to write a word or phrase on a note card that speaks to where you want to go/where you’re at. If that won’t work, feel free to write over the photo with a font that aligns with the image/concept (in post-production, so PhotoShop, for instance). Have fun being creative and thinking about how you’ll take on the rest of the semester!!! Attached is an example. Have fun with this creative exercise!


Golin PR company pays interns to go out and do something they’ve never done before for three months, then they give unterns a job. Unterns must come back and apply their experiences/take-aways to their work. So, I ask you to take Spring Break to do something you’ve NEVER done before, and I mean NEVER. Then, I want you to reflect on how you might apply XXX experience to your personal and professional lives. No set word count, and it doesn’t need to be epic and you don’t need to have some major revelation. Sometimes the act of doing something new, talking to someone different, etc. opens doors we might not realize or adds value that we don’t experience/realize until much later. Thanks!!!! I look forward to your reflections.

Related: Read about my efforts to help students to manage rather than “stamp out” bias.

My Conversation with Michelle Obama

Last Tuesday, I talked with Michelle Obama.

There happened to be 12,000 other people there—at Bankers Life Fieldhouse—but it felt as though the former first lady talked directly to me. Her words ignited my spirit, which has, admittedly, wilted by feelings of hopelessness amid the expanse of senseless acts and impotent discourse.

A former student and her parents treated me to tickets to “A Moderated Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama,” hosted by Women’s Fund, which invested the $1 million in ticket sales to advance the lives of women and girls in Central Indiana.

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From left: Me, Grace, and Mary Jo, the former student and mama who treated me to tickets to “A Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama” on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

It wasn’t so much what Mrs. Obama said, but the way she said it—mirroring the grace and honesty of her public service. As she spoke (one day after the National Portrait Gallery unveiled her portrait), I pictured that triangular dress portraying her as a mountain—reaching up and inspiring others with an easy, no-nonsense beauty and strength.

Here are a few lessons I scribbled in my notebook, which I converted into a PowerPoint, which I made my students sit through and discuss.

Role models are sitting across from you, stirring your mac and cheese

“Find a mentor,” she urged us. “But the greatest role models and mentors aren’t only ‘out there, speaking at podiums,’ they are often in your daily life. Michelle said she always has and continues to rely on family for guidance and support. Don’t dismiss the people closest to you.

Observe and appreciate your family and teachers, who work hard to support you, she added. You can take the greatest life lessons from the single moms and the quiet grandmas of the world.


Mrs. Obama brought her mom “kicking and screaming” to the White House. Michelle talked about the importance of family in outfitting her with a solid foundation she has built on throughout her life.

It’s not about stuff

To those potential mentors and role models, she reminded them, “Kids don’t need a lot of stuff. I didn’t have a lot of stuff. I just want parents to know it’s the time in. It’s not the stuff.”

Life in the White House taught her how to establish and maintain boundaries. She fiercely guarded time with family. Her girls, she said, “traveled all over the world, but what they cared about most was whether or not Barak and I were there for them, whether we made time to listen and be present in their lives.”

She grew up in a community of moms who didn’t interrogate their daughters, but when Michelle and her friends were playing, “they were in the next room, listening like hawks.” The mamas knew when to jump in and when to let life play out.

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity

“There are very mediocre people who run things, because no one is telling them they can’t,” she said. “You are just as capable, but you can’t be at the table if you’re not prepared.”

Make yourself the most interesting you, saying “yes” to new experiences and challenging yourself to explore other worlds, ideas, etc.

She encouraged the young to “do the work now to figure out who you are, what you stand for,” so that when life gets busier and people or experiences try to shake you, you will stand firm. “Nobody can take that knowledge and confidence of self away from you,” she added.

Be the one and only ever you. Most everything has been done before, so don’t let that little detail stop you. Nobody has ever said, written or done that thing in the distinct way you would say or do it.

Be OK with the fact you don’t know everything, but use that understanding to drive you to learn and grow every day.

Inform yourself and take action

We need good people in office, and everyone—on all sides of the aisle—should vote. An engaged, informed electorate leads to a progressive, productive society.

“If you don’t vote,” she said, “you are allowing your grandma—who you wouldn’t let pick your outfit—choose the direction of our nation.”

On how she confront’s poverty: “There’s only so much you can say to folks when you know their opportunities are at zero. You can’t tell someone to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they don’t have any boots.” The better use of our time, she said, is to apply ourselves to fixing the problems that those in need are facing.


Be persistent and assertive

Push through your inner drumbeat of doubt. Michelle talked about growing up knowing that “because she was brown” people were scared of her. “That kid you’re afraid of,” she said. “That’s me, I’m that kid, and look at what I’m about, what I dedicated my life to.” Think of how much potential we are squashing by making kids feel this way, casting aside opportunities and hope before even trying.

Similarly, push through people’s low expectations of you. Michelle knew there were haters out there, but she didn’t think on them. She kept putting herself out there, making herself relevant, using her voice, and learning from failures.

Know that people who love you most might be holding you back. Her elders grew up in a time when the world was scary for black people, particularly black women. They sometimes cautioned Michelle against experiences or campaigns because they “were afraid for me, wanted to keep me safe.” Be aware of those tendencies and follow your gut, but the answer is often—push on, do it.

Don’t wait for others to GIVE you ideas or ASK you to do. Come up with solutions to problems others cast aside as insurmountable or haven’t seen coming. Ask for a new opportunity (then rock it), and speak up when something doesn’t make sense. Those who raise their hands and do the work, get noticed.

Don’t waste a seat at the table

Once you’re asked to join a table, use your voice. If you use your voice, and you’re kicked off the table, it wasn’t a table you should need to be on anyway.

If you don’t use your voice at the table (because you’re fearful of being kicked off the table, for instance), you are wasting a seat. Jump in and make yourself relevant. The people who asked you to the table likely asked you because they don’t want to hear more of the same, they want to hear YOU.

Michelle gave an example during her time as a lawyer: “I was the only black woman at the firm, so I joined the recruitment team, with the goal of ensuring we diversify our pool of candidates.” She asked to be at that table, and they gladly added her to the team (and she made a lasting impact on the firm’s culture).

Fashion should work for you, not the other way around


Look professional, and dress for the job you want, but be appropriate for the situation. If you’re going to a farm to interview a farmer, dress like you’re going to a farm to interview a farmer. If not, you’ll get those heels muddy and will likely create a barrier between you and the source, resulting in a less productive, meaningful conversation.

Dress to succeed at the task at hand. Michelle said, “I’d tell my staff, ‘if you want to make me happy, get me on the grand with some babies.'” On those days, she didn’t wear an A-line skirt and gaping blouse, she wore slacks and a collared shirt, for instance—still professional, but she wasn’t fussing with her clothes (looking awkward, less confident). She was giving her heart to those babies, and the photographers (who were ever present) captured that authenticity and confidence.

You’re only as comfortable with others as you are with yourself. Observe trends and try to work them in, but don’t be a slave to fashion. Stick to what looks good on your body.

Show up. Be on time. Focus on relationships.

She emphasized the basics of social skills and politeness, summing it up with: “Act with decency and with some compassion and with an open heart and nobody can take that away from you.” Listen like you want to be heard.

I added a few here:

  • Don’t pass in front of others (like between art at a museum and someone viewing it).
  • Hold the door open for others (and if someone does it for you, say ‘thank you.’
  • Remove sunglasses, hats and earbuds.
  • Let people exit an elevator first before walking in.
  • Don’t get too personal with questions (yep, I don’t follow this. I struggle with small talk).
  • Say please, thank you and you’re welcome.
  • Firm handshake.
  • Be on time, or even a bit early (working on this one).
  • Look people in the eye when talking to them.
  • Keep your fingernails clean (so many more to add re: personal hygiene and meal etiquette).

I felt closer to Michelle Obama than any other first lady, but our nation still emphasized her domesticity and failed to play up her impressive personal and professional background long before she met Barak. Read more about the Princeton and Harvard graduate at Biography.com.

I wasn’t fully aware of the scope of her reach while in the White House, either. She guided these initiatives: Let’s Move!, to address childhood obesity; Joining Forces, to support veterans, service members and their families; Reach Higher, to inspire young people to seek higher education; and Let Girls Learn, to help adolescent girls around the world go to school.

For more information about the Women’s Fund and to donate, go to WomensFund.org.

Salon Sisters: How to talk to kids about race

Nearly a dozen Muncie friends gathered in my living room to discuss how to talk to kids about race. Downstairs, our children read diverse books and colored pages that reflect everyone in our community, our world. Molly Ferguson, assistant professor of English at Ball State, facilitated the conversation based on materials she acquired from her sister, a psychotherapist and diversity advocate.


Molly left us with the below conversation guide based on age, as well as the following articles and resources that address this issue:

I hope you find these article and the below tips/book suggestions helpful as you navigate discussions about race and culture with the little people in your life.

Conversation guide by age:

Infants to 2 years: Talk about physical differences, including race and gender, and the importance of accepting everyone. Name and appreciate differences together.

“Global Babies” – Global Fund for Children

“More, More, More” – Vera Williams

“My Nose, Your Nose” – Melanie Walsh

2-4 years: Invite your child to notice various physical traits. Children arealready making these observations; talking about them gives children permission and language to voice them. In psychological research studies, books portraying positive interactions across racial difference have been shown to reduce prejudice.

“Shades of People” – Sheila Rotner Sheila Kelly

“The Colors of Us” – Karen Katz

“A Rainbow of Friends” – P.K. Hallinan

“Say Hello” – Rachel Isadora

“The Skin You Live In” –  Michael Tyler and David Lee Csicsko

“Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity” – Aya De Leon

4-8 years: Talk about prejudice of all forms, maintaining an open forum for kids to report and discuss instances of prejudice. When presented by a relaxed and practiced adult in the context of a broader, ongoing conversation, these types of stories can invite provocative conversations, memorable learning, and the development of empathy.

“Chocolate Me” – Taye Diggs

“Skin Again” – Bell Hooks

“Amazing Grace” – Mary Hoffman

“Mr. Lincoln’s Way” – Patricia Polacco

“The Ugly Vegetables” – Grace Lin

“Ron’s Big Mission” –  Rose Blue and Corinne Naden

A series about historical figures, including “I Am Rosa Parks” and “I Am Jackie Robinson,” etc. – Brad Meltzer

“Let’s Talk About Race” – Julius Lester

Age recommendations based on the average child’s developmental readiness. Children who are introduced to the concept of race in the early years in an age appropriate fashion may be ready sooner for stories which introduce the concept of racism (with the focus being eliciting children’s thoughts and feelings and on developing their critical thinking skills).


Charley “GoFundMe” Isaacs: Boy genius, comic artist, and wee entrepreneur with classic big-brother-tude

Each month, I give a friend $20. The catch: They cannot spend it on themselves. This month, I gave Wilson Isaacs $20, and he (reluctantly) donated it to his older brother Charley’s trip to Japan.


“For Japanese ice cream and candy, of course,” fourth-grader Charley Isaacs responded as to why his parents should shell out $2,000 for him to go to Japan. After talking to their son about Mount Fuji, the Meiji Shine, and a few other iconic sites he might see between bites of Mochi (sticky rice with ice cream filling), Becky and Mitch agreed to let their son travel to the Land of the Rising Sun “IF AND ONLY IF” the sweet-toothed kiddo pays his way.

So, the inventive 10-year-old created a GoFundMe page, which rewards beneficiaries with hand-drawn pictures of their favorite superhero. In three months, more than 35 people (including this mama) have contributed a total of $1,535 toward his goal of $2,450, which includes spending money for entrance fees and all those confections.

At $50, “Uncle Jeff” was Charley’s first donor among a string of $1 to $100 gifts posted with well wishes and requests for drawings of Batman, Spiderman, and Raven, “but not the Teen Titan Go Version, the DC one,” to name a few.

RTV6 got wind of Charley’s “super” fundraising efforts and, on National Superhero Day (April 28), aired a story about the Burris Laboratory School student’s creative enterprise, which he has supplemented with selling Pokémon cards at a garage sales, taking on extra chores, and mowing a few lawns.

Since the $20 interview concept is that I give money to someone who can’t spend it on themselves, Charley’s younger brother, Wilson, (reluctantly) agreed to accept my $20 only to pass it on to his older brother (oh, the hardship of being a younger).

Charley then answered a few questions:

Q: So, you’re headed to Japan. Tell me about the opportunity.

A: My school does a cool thing where the fourth and fifth graders can go to Japan in October. I think about 9 boys and 10 girls are going. I’ll be paired with another boy from Burris, and we’ll stay with a Japanese family and then go to school there for a whole week.

I’m raising ALL the money myself to go on the trip, about $2,000, by doing lots of things. I made a video about it.

Q: How did you come up with the idea to thank donors with superhero drawings?

A: I like drawing. I love superheroes. I search Safari to get a reference, then I go from there.

Q: What are you most excited about?

A: Trying out the candy in Japan and the ice cream. I’ll celebrate my 11th birthday while I am there, so that will be cool.

Q: Why did you decide to go?

A: I thought it would be fun.

Q: Why is studying abroad important?

A: What is study abroad?

[MOM: When you live and learn in another country.]

Oh, to learn how other people do stuff and try new things, and do different things. Thumbs up emoji.

Q: Your brother gave you the $20. What do you want to say to him?

A: Thank you Wilson.

Q: What is your favorite thing about him (Wilson)?

A: This is a hard one. I don’t like my brother too much. Just kidding, mom. [LONG PAUSE]. What did you say the question was?

Q: What is your favorite thing about him (Wilson)?

A: I don’t know. Wilson is whispering things I should say. [MOM: Charley, what do you like about your brother?]. I don’t know. [WILSON: His favorite thing to do is fight with me.].

That last interaction was worth at least $20.

I wish Charley great adventures in Japan. And as he continues to draw his heart out to raise the remaining funds, I hope he pauses to look in the mirror—to see the mighty presence before him. Because, Charley is a superhero, with many more years ahead of him to live out the qualities we admire most in these fictional characters: Integrity, focus, and a desire to help others/do what is right; to see and be the good in the world, to be resourceful, and to take a stand as well as chances.

I look forward to continuing to watch Charley learn and grow into a man who does great and small things to make the world a better place.


The Batman Charley drew for me as a thank you for donating to his trip. Isn’t it amazing?!

Our Next Chapter: Three creative exercises to help students find purpose

See my feet? They are dirty from playing outside with my kids. The sparkly, chipping nail polish (applied by my 5-year-old) reflects my beautifully rich and imperfect life. These feet have carried me so far, and it is with them I will step into my next chapter, titled “FEARLESS.”


If we are to author our own story, write our own song, what is the title or first line of your next chapter or verse? I asked my students this question and challenged them to take a picture of something and include a word that describes their next chapter.

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I start and end each of my classes with personal reflection. Being an effective, respected professional starts with being a good human, and we don’t talk in class nearly enough about authenticity, love, and honesty nearly enough.

Personal Mission

My students study missions, but many of them don’t have one. At their age, I didn’t either. I wish someone would have challenged my college self to pause to write a few easy-to-remember, not-set-in-stone, aspirational sentences to guide my life and work. Here’s a sampling of my students’ mission statements that many of them have posted on bathroom mirrors and computer monitors as a daily reminder.

If you’re needing direction, I encourage you to read “What’s My Superpower,” which walks you through generating a mission.

A student leader dedicated to learning new and valuable skills through the exploration of emerging channels. A listener, a learner, a leader.

I strive to achieve happiness and success in my own like and inspire those around me with my positive, compassionate, and honest nature.

My mission is to apply my gifts of intelligence, optimism, and humor to those around me and to any opportunity to advance society. I want to support a world that depends on and trusts the knowledge and the personal growth of its citizens. I want to live and work to take care of our Earth and encourage others to learn, innovate, and achieve with me.

I want to lead, motivate, and inspire people through my personal actions and the work I create. I want to bring people closer to each other and to products/causes that positively influence lives. I want to always explore, discover, and connect with others.

The Color of Your Summer

I end class with a reflection paper about instruction and assignments, but I always add a personal reflection to circle back to how we kicked off the semester (creating personal missions).

This semester, I asked:

List three learning goals for the summer (so, anything – academic or otherwise – that involves you exploring, seeking, or becoming).

What am you going to cut out to achieve your goals?

What color will your summer be and why?

Write a brief letter to your future self that includes some personal and professional goals (what do you want your life to look like/what do you want to be doing?)

I’m sharing a few of the summer color responses. Most of my students are writers, and I want them to never lose sight of the importance and influence of writing and creating with all our senses in mind. Yellow, green and blue were the most popular colors!

My summer will be the color of a setting sun and the satisfaction that accompanies it following a long day. A soft gold that encompasses a feeling of completeness that does not necessarily directly correlate to hard or strenuous work, but rather the content glow of someone who has done what they needed to do that day and will do it again tomorrow. This summer is going to be exhausting. I will be working 10 hour days, six day weeks in Iowa, selling satellite door-to-door. But I am committed to doing some soul-seeking so that I may have a more concrete idea of where I am heading. If, no when, I achieve this, I hope the golden glow of a beautiful sunset is only be the beginning of describing how I will feel.

I want the color of my summer to be yellow. Yellow is the color of happiness, clarity and enlightenment. I may be working a lot, but I want to make my summer bright — full of happiness, fun and new experiences. With a positive, happy attitude, this can be my best summer yet.

My summer will be green, the color of growth and vigor. I want it to be filled with good-hearted fun and giving to others/helping friends see the best in themselves. I want to work on my website and learning as much as possible, as I strive to be the best professional and person I can be.

I’m hoping this summer will be light blue — peaceful, trustworthy and open. After this insanely transformative and hectic school year, I would like to spend some time getting to know myself again and getting comfortable with my life before the whirlwind of senior year.

Summer to me is always sky blue. My biggest fear has always been storms, so I hope for clear, inspiring skies all summer long.

I want my summer to be yellow. Filled with lots of sunshine and happiness. I am hopeful I will have a fun summer, get a job in Texas, find a nice apartment and make new friends and enjoy spending time with the few I already have down there. I want my summer to be bright and happy just like the color yellow. I am very hopeful for what this summer will bring for me; it’s an exciting time in my life.

I wish them all the colors of the rainbow!! They have certainly brightened and enriched my life.

Horrific Highlights: Even the beloved children’s magazine fails now and again

My, oh, my, Highlights, you’ve come a long way in your 71-years as the nation’s fun-with-purpose publication for kids. You delighted my childhood with riddles, puzzles, and short stories; but I came across this early craft series in a memory box, and now I know why I fear clowns.

I would not, could not, should not make any of the following “fun party foods.”

And these craft pictures will haunt my dreams.

As for themed craft sections, I would say the “paper bag” suggestions were the creepiest. The “horse costume” seems like it should be illegal in at least 25 countries.

Lastly, what is happening here?


Sweet dreams …