Two for Tuesday: Martin’s Big Words & Divergent

Martin’s Big Words: If I could pick one book to read every year on MLK Day, it would be, “Martin’s Big Words” text by Doreen Rappaport and illustrations by Bryan Collier. It’s a picture book, but the illustrations and selected quotes to truly touch my heart in a way that has continued to resonate 17 years after I first read it to a class of students.


Maybe a few pages of Martin’s Big Words will speak to you as they spoke to my students.














Which quote of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s means the most to you? Why? Share that with someone today and keep his dream alive through his big words!


Divergent: I am the teacher who relishes the students others might say are “divergent.” I love the fact that they are quadrilaterals who aren’t fitting into the round holes of traditional instruction. I also love playing the saxophone—even if I’m still improving after initially learning how to play the tenor and baritone saxophones in 7th grade.

What? Divergent and saxophone???

Listen to Derek Brown and his BeatBox Sax play, “Ain’t No Sunshine” and you’ll understand. As you listen, remember that everything you hear is created by him as he is playing the saxophone.


Derek was previously the director of jazz studies at Abilene Christian University for six years. Now, he travels the world to share his music. He achieves this unique BeatBoX Sax sound by utilizing slap-tonguing, circular breathing, a wide interest in musical styles, and dazzling coordination.

In a world of dubbing, real-time audio correction, and smart phone text corrections, it’s nice to hear a sax player who’s stepped out of the box to create his own divergent sound.

Many researchers have said that divergent thinking (looking for ideas from outside your discipline, considering a problem from a new angle) is critical for tackling problems that have no easy or clear solution. [put this paragraph into a colored text box]

I hope Martin’s Big Words and Derek Brown’s divergent sax playing encourage you to “follow your dreams” and maybe even “see them from a new angle!”

Resources for Martin’s Big Words:

*Read Aloud Lesson Plan for “Martin’s Big Words”

*Discussion Guide for Martin’s Big Words

*Video Read Aloud of Martin’s Big Words

More about Derek Brown:

*Derek Brown’s Home Page

*NPR Interview with Derek Brown

*Sax and the City: A Day in the Life of Derek Brown

I can’t talk about angles and not mention one of the best manipulatives you can get for teaching students about geometry—ANGLEGS! Visit my blog post,”Super Secondary Manipulatives- Anglegs to learn more. Order a few sets for your classroom, too!

The Power of Listening

I believe in motivation. I believe in motivational speaking. Clearly motivational speaking is popular world-wide. On Google it received 4.3 million results in .71 seconds. I can watch motivational videos on YouTube, read motivational books on my Kindle, and attend a motivational rally.
I believe even more strongly in the motivational power of listening—even though it only received 756 thousand results in .64 seconds. To top that, the only reason why there were any results was because they changed my search words to “motivational interviewing.” With our extremely busy world, there is great power in listening.
In fact, communication experts consider good listening an even greater accomplishment than speaking well. Most people will agree that listening well takes a lot more energy than talking. Former talk show host Larry King puts it this way,
Listening is one of the most important skills one can possess. We listen to obtain information, to understand, for enjoyment, and to learn. Given all this listening, you would think we’d be good at it. Research shows that we’re not. In fact, research shows that we retain only 25-50% of what we hear.
One of the simplest ways to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent. Here are a few simple things you can do immediately to practice activelistening.
If you’re more of an auditory and visual learner, you may want to watch Julian Treasure, chair of the Sound Agency, on how to use sound. In his TED Talk, 5 Ways to Listen Better” he begins by sharing the ‘7 deadly sins’ of conversation such as gossip, judging, and complaining. He then gives four positive and powerful ways to improve your conversation style.

Average & Rest

Average (adjective): having qualities that are seen as typical; mediocre; not very good

AVERAGE: My first year teaching in Prince George’s County, Maryland was an enlightening experience. As I fervently interviewed with the last administrator who had an opening, he suggested that I “be prepared to teach average or below-average students because that’s what they had in their school.” I was speechless. I couldn’t believe he had just said that to a prospective teacher. I was also “speechless” because I needed the job and he gave the final say in my being hired.

I did get the job and I spent the next three years doing my very best to prove him wrong. Actually, it was my students who proved him wrong. Every single one of my students was amazing, intelligent, sensitive, special, and unique. I would never use the word average to describe any of them. However, the school district did use that adjective quite a bit when referring to students who were not classified as “gifted” or “at-risk.” Every time they used the term “average” it made me dig in deeper to prove them wrong.

Michael Thompson, clinical psychologist and author, says these average students tend to fall through the cracks. They are known as “woodwork” children because they are typically quiet, biddable, and good students. Their only fault is that they don’t stand out from the crowd. A school district typically spends less that 35% of their budgets on the average learner. After all, they don’t “need” any special attention. I found that all of my students were “at-risk” when they didn’t get what they needed and what they deserved.

I have found that adults are the same way. They, too, are amazing, intelligent, sensitive, special, and unique. Adults also blossom when treated as extraordinary.

Have you ever been called average? Have you ever been treated as if you were average? How did that make you feel? How did you react?

Now, think about the times that you were treated with class and dignity; times when you were given priority. Did you feel special? Did you act differently because you were treated that way? Knowing this, how will you respond to the people around you… none of whom are average…

REST: One of my Granny’s favorite mantras was, “Your best offense is to rest.” As a child this seemed like punishment. As a mother of preschoolers, it was often impossible–even at night. As a mother of teenagers and working a full-time job, I need rest more than I did when they were toddlers, but when and how?

Sara Mednick, who wrote the book Take a Nap! Change Your Life, has some helpful hints:
1. The first consideration is psychological: Recognize that you’re not being lazy; napping will make you more productive and more alert after you wake up.
2. Try to nap in the morning or just after lunch; human circadian rhythms make late afternoons a more likely time to fall into deep (slow-wave) sleep, which will leave you groggy.
3. Avoid consuming large quantities of caffeine as well as foods that are heavy in fat and sugar, which meddle with a person’s ability to fall asleep.
4. Instead, in the hour or two before your nap time, eat foods high in calcium and protein, which promote sleep.
5. Find a clean, quiet place where passersby and phones won’t disturb you.
6. Try to darken your nap zone, or wear an eyeshade. Darkness stimulates melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.
7. Remember that body temperature drops when you fall asleep. Raise the room temperature or use a blanket.
8. Once you are relaxed and in position to fall asleep, set your alarm for the desired duration.

Want to Dive in Deeper?
What it Means to Be Average: The Twisted Standards for Quantifying an Individual’s Value
9 Valuable Principles That Will Make You Treat People Better
Experience Teen Drama Overload? Blame Biology
Why You Should Take a 10-Minute Nap Every Day
How to Power Nap for All Day Energy

My favorite illustration of rest comes from Henry Drummond:

Two painters were once asked to paint a picture illustrating his own idea of rest. The first chose a quiet, lonely lake, nestled among mountains far away. The second, using swift, broad strokes on his canvas, painted a thundering waterfall. Beneath the falls grew a fragile birch tree, bending over the foam. On its branches, nearly wet with the spray from the falls, sat a robin on its nest.

The first painting was simply a picture of stagnation and inactivity. The second, however, depicted rest.

May you find your place of rest in the crevasse of whatever thundering waterfall life may bring this week!

As always, I believe in you and what is possible when you believe in others. Quite frankly, I know you’re AMAZING!



After receiving this Two for Tuesday, Dr. J. Medgar Roberts, a Teacher Specialist from Kennemer Middle School in Duncanville ISD sent me this…I was touched by his response and knew it should be a part of this MOTIVATION & INSPIRATION post.

I’ve spent most of my career advocating for “average” students. We do a disservice to young teachers giving them either difficult classes or “average” classes, using the justification that since they are new they need easier classes. The truth is that veteran teachers get the “good” classes, choosing to teach the Pre-AP and gifted classes and leaving the other classes for teachers who don’t have the seniority to have a voice. That path isn’t always in the best interest of kids.


As administrators learned that I was a “good” teacher—whatever that means—I was encouraged to teach Pre-AP or even AP classes. I always refused. My feeling was that those kids didn’t really need me. They had plenty of advocates and fans—teachers and administrators who would teach them, love them, and fight for them. They had a lot of people in their corner, classified as “good” teachers, that were more than happy to have those classes. Additionally, there was seldom a question of whether those kids could learn. I don’t mean to say those teachers aren’t good at what they do. There was no way to stop them from learning almost no matter who the teacher was. The question was usually what they would learn and how fast, not whether.


“Average” kids, on the other hand, always had that question mark above their heads. There were people who had questions about whether they could learn or whether they would learn. They needed better examples of teaching and learning, people who believed in them, and teachers who weren’t afraid that their test scores wouldn’t be high enough to get in there and maximize their potential. Those kids need good teachers, too.


As my career advanced and my “average” kids surpassed the expectations of many of those Pre-AP classes, people tried to dismiss their success by saying it was the kids. That somehow I’d found the magic bullet to get the counseling staff to only assign me the “good” kids even though my course description was for the “average” kids. They missed the truth.


The truth is that every single kid I was assigned was special, just like every kid they were assigned. The difference is that I took the time to find out who my kids were and what made them special. Their gifts may not have been academic, but when I found their giftedness I also often found the key to their academic gifts as well. You are correct: in the right environment every kid has an intelligence, a sensitivity, a uniqueness, and an amazing little kernel of humanity that blossomed when properly nourished.


I am fortunate to have never been called average. In fact, I credit that fact as being the reason why I have always felt special and gifted. There is nothing special about me except that I have always been made to believe I am special. It is my goal as an educator to share that feeling with every students with whom I interact. Everyone deserves to have their gifts discovered and lauded by people they respect. The content will come if the recognition comes first.

Thank you for sharing! I always enjoy reading your reflections.



Wax on. Wax off.

As a young child I learned how to wash and wax a car. Because I was the youngest and shortest member of the family I always had the bottom (and, in my humble opinion, the muddiest) part of the car to clean. It was wet, soapy, and messy work, but it paid enough to go get an Icee from the local Pack-a-Sack when we finished.

However, after watching The Karate Kid (1984), washing and waxing my vehicle has never been boring. In fact, it is quite entertaining as I repeat the lines “Wax on” and “Wax off” as I clean. No, I never learned karate, but I did learn a few life lessons from watching that movie. Here are my top five.

1. Yes or No. There is no “guess so.” When Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) asked Daniel (Ralph Maccio) if he was ready to learn Karate, Daniel’s response of “I guess so” angers Mr. Miyagi. Miyagi compared Daniel’s lame response to walking down a road: walking on left side of road is fine, walking on right side of road is fine, but walking down the middle of the road will eventually get you squished. You have to make a choice.

If you are going to eat healthier, you can’t try it for a week or two while going out every night to McDonald’s. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat less and move more. You can’t just think about doing it and wish you could do it. As Yoda, my favorite Star Wars character would say, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

2. First learn stand, then learn fly. Mr. Miyagi has agreed to teach Daniel karate on the condition that Daniel does everything he says to do and doesn’t ask questions. Daniel desperately wants to learn how to do the Crane Kick. In order to do the kick, one has to have incredible balance, intricate form, and a lot of confidence.

If Daniel had gone straight to the stump to learn the kick, he would have failed. He had to build up to being able to accomplish his goal. Oftentimes, we want to rush our growth, but it’s unnecessary and can even be counterproductive. If you put in the hard work, the rewards will come.

3. No such thing as a bad student, only bad teacher. Teacher say, student do. Mr. Miyagi repeated this to Daniel to reinforce that the responsibility for learning is placed first upon the teacher who will deliver instruction and guide students. As teachers, parents, friends, and family members, we need to look at our own reflection first, before we ever criticize the learner.

It’s also essential that the student does what the teacher tells him or her to do. Daniel wanted to ask questions about Mr. Miyagi’s methods of instruction, but he didn’t have the experience or knowledge to know what was best. Following the instruction was key to his winning the competition.

4. There are 2 rules of Miyagi Karate. Rule Number 1: Karate for defense only. Rule Number 2: First learn rule number 1. Just because you can overpower someone, doesn’t mean you should. This can be physical or mental. Most people understand Rules 1 & 2 when the person is bigger or knows martial arts. It should be for defense only.
I’d like to share an example of Mental Rules 1 & 2. One of the greatest educational theorists I’ve ever met is Bob (Robert) Marzano. At a learning conference we were asked to form a value line indicating our level of understanding of his theories. We tried to put him at the front of the line. After all, they were his theories. Marzano wouldn’t do it. He said that others understood it better and were the practitioners using the strategies on a daily basis. He went to the middle of the line. His humble attitude helped us all to learn more from him.

5. Wax on. Wax off. Mr. Miyagi has Daniel doing chores around his house such as waxing all of his cars, painting his fence, and sanding his floors. Daniel fails to see any connection from the chores to his Karate training. He thinks Mr. Miyagi is using him, not teaching him. (Sound familiar parents?)
Finally, after much practice with specific movements (wax on and wax off are clockwise and counter-clockwise motions), Miyagi reveals that Daniel has been learning defensive blocks through muscle memory performed by the chores. Daniel is then amazed at what he has learned through what he thought were mundane tasks.

After becoming a parent and teacher, I’ve gained a lot of admiration for Mr. Miyagi. He persevered in teaching Daniel—even when Daniel was griping and complaining. Miyagi remained calm and persistent in his expectations for what he knew was best for his student. In today’s world of 90-seconds-or-less satisfaction, sticking to your principles and doing what is best for your students/children is challenging. Those who do it have my greatest admiration!

Miyagi: First, wash all car. Then wax. Wax on…
Daniel: Hey, why do I have to…?
Miyagi: Ah ah! Remember deal! No questions!
Daniel: Yeah, but…
Miyagi: Hai! [makes circular gestures with each hand]
Miyagi: Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.

Last life lesson from Karate Kid?
Remember to breathe!

Speaking of life lessons… there are so many you can hear in a classroom if you stop to listen. Click here for a few ways to personalize learning in a student-centered classroom.

Crab Bucket Mentality

Have you ever heard about crabs in buckets? I’ve heard the “stories” about crab buckets for years. Here’s a synopsis:

If you put one crab in a bucket, put a lid on it.
Things change when you have two or more
crabs in the bucket.
When one crab begins to crawl out and attempt an escape,
the other crabs pull it back down.
No need for a lid.

Just for the record, I tried to find scientific proof for this assertion. I used three different search engines. Google even gave me 8.5 million hits, but none were based in true science. After an hour of clicking on every link, I still couldn’t find proof for the hypothesis. If I liked to catch or eat crabs I would have driven a few hours to the ocean and done my own study. But, that’s not what is at the heart of this Motivational Monday.

The characters in these crab bucket illustrations vary. The details of the stories vary. Even the science behind it may vary. But, the human analogy of crab bucket mentality is the same. When some humans see others escaping the “bucket,” they pull them back. In crab bucket mentality, the members of a group will attempt to negate or diminish the importance of any member who achieves success beyond the others. This could be out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings. It’s all done to halt progress. Their actions prove the statement –

I found a lot of articles and blogs describing crab mentality. Victorino Abrugar lists Ten Signs That a Person Has a Crab Mentality, but this is Motivational Monday. Overcoming and defeating a crab mentality are the skills we need to help ourselves and others. The image below is a great illustration of what might happen if we added a new component to Crab Bucket Mentality… ESCAPING the Crab Bucket.

What if, instead of picking apart brilliant ideas that would threaten our mediocre existence, we began listening to them. We developed a plan for helping all improve. Or, imagine a crab, or a group of crabs on the other side of the bucket building a ladder to aid our escape. They are wearing “noise cancelling” headphones and have quit listening to the negative. Because they’ve tasted freedom and they know about the struggle, they are putting their energy into helping others. They know how to get out of the bucket!

Nelson Berry describes a few simple, but effective ways to escape crab bucket mentality:

1. Stay away from negative people as soon as possible. If you have friends or even family members who are trying to put you down for no reason, it’s a good idea to just stay away from them. Create a whole new circle of friends or stay close to those that you trust the most.

2. Share your feelings. You should never allow the anxiety to build up inside you. Otherwise, it may lead to depression or too much stress. Rather, share your feelings. There are many ways to do that. You can grab a pen and paper, then write everything you want to say to those people. When you’re done with the rant, you throw them away. The purpose of writing is to let your negative feelings out, not to remember them over and over.

3. Be nice. Do you know that these people don’t want you to be nice? They are very observant. They want to find even the minutest mistake about you and utilize it to bring you down. But if you’re nice, it will be hard for them to do that. Second, you’ll feel good about yourself.

4. Practice affirmations. It’s normal to lose a sense of confidence when you’re presented with a lot of negativity, but you can always counteract that with positive internal messages. You can fill your mind with positive thoughts each day. If you’re feeling sullen, you can repeat the following messages:

I am the author of my life.
I know that I am a good person.
I am self-reliant and very strong.
I have a wall that keeps negative people away from me.

I think Ron Clark, author of the Resilient Worker, summarizes it best,

“A pot of boiling crabs does not have to be a metaphor for your life. Focus on your own journey to success and happiness. When you get there, realize that others may still be suffering. Reach back down and lend them a helping hand (or claw!). Some will still try to pull you back down into the boiling pot. Do not pay attention to them.
You will be too busy celebrating the accomplishments of others.
You will be too busy inspiring others to succeed.
You will be too busy leading the resilient and
healthy lifestyle you were destined to live!”

I’m here to lend a helping hand when you need one…

I’d love to share the story of Reggie with you. His overcoming of obstacles and learning the value of thinking critically is worth your time. Grab a tissue!