(#365) Listening For Stories Of Inspiration

May 21, 2017

Inspiration from a woman who did not let circumstance
dictate her outcome.

[Note to my readers: Today’s post marks the beginning of the eighth year of this weekly blog.  Thank you for following, sharing, and commenting.]

Stories. They surround us. Some have the power to illustrate, instruct, and inspire.

Minutes before I delivered my commencement address to the Florida State College at Jacksonville Class of 2017, I had a front row (literally) seat for a young woman’s touching story about her journey.

Lyse Medina, the FSCJ Kent Campus Student Government Association President, delivered a 4½ minute description of her journey as an immigrant, a daughter, a student, a leader, and a person with heart and determination.

Her tale is one of perseverance and resilience. “My past did not define me, but it did lead me to where I am today,” she told the nearly ten thousand people before us.

Video recommendation for the week.

Rather than tell you about Lyse’s speech, listen to it. Learn and grow from it. Her story in her words. A reminder of the importance of community colleges in our society. And a powerful dose of inspiration from a young woman who did not let circumstances dictate her outcomes. She envisioned her dreams and she will continue to define her journey. I am glad to have met and learned from her.

My appreciation to FSCJ for sharing the video and to Lyse for allowing me to share it with you. Note: The video should start with her introduction. If it does not, move to minute 52 for Lyse.

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

For information about and to order my new book, Stories About Teaching, Learning, and Resilience: No Need to be an Island, click here.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

My podcasts: The Growth and Resilience Network™ (http://stevepiscitelli.com/media-broadcast/podcast).

My programs and webinars: website  (http://stevepiscitelli.com/programs/what-i-do) and (http://stevepiscitelli.com/programs/webinars).

Pearson Education publishes my student textbooks for life success—Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (3rd edition).

(c) 2017. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

(#351) Show Don’t Tell

February 12, 2017

Saying it doesn’t make it so…too much talking mutes the story. 

The teacher becomes the student—again.

This past week, I received a full manuscript review and critique of (what will eventually become) my first novel.  The reviewer—a student of mine from thirty some-odd years ago—did a masterful job of pointing out the challenges as well as a few bright spots.

As I read and reread her critique, one of my writing offenses fell in the category of “Show Don’t Tell.” In other words, my characters and narrator did a lot of talking when they should have been taking action to move the story forward.  Or a character would label something as “desolate” or “beautiful” but not fully paint the picture. Saying something is “desolate” does not have the same punch as painting a picture of desolation for the reader. Saying it does not make it so.

My manuscript reviewer said this (“show don’t tell”) rears its head with many novelists (at least, I guess, the ones who struggle to grab the attention of the readers).

Photo (c) Steve Piscitelli

Photo (c) Steve Piscitelli

I thought back to the times I worked with students and their essay writing.  Often, they would “tell” me that something was “major,” “critical,” “important,” or “sensational” but would fall short on proving or “showing” how the descriptor was apt.  They failed to support their assertions with detail.

In short, too much talking mutes the story—whether that story is an essay, a book, a memo, or a policy initiative.

I can see a lesson here beyond academic or novel writing.  Think about how we might encounter or be guilty of using “show don’t tell” in our lives.  We either think we are clear or do not know how to paint a picture for the audience.  Our dialogue ends up muting the point. What we say or do not say stands in the way of making powerful connections.

For example:

Around the house.  My wife and I plan on building and planting a raised-box garden in our backyard. We read about how to do it. We said that we would “put it in the backyard.” But until we actually drove some stakes into the ground, all we had were words, little action. The stakes provided a visual of where the garden will eventually stand. It “showed” us location, sunlight, actual size, and potential challenges and assets.

In the gym.  Ever work with a trainer in the gym? Do you want one who will tell you about each piece of equipment but nothing else? Or would you get more from a trainer if she “showed” you how to use specific equipment to target muscle groups important to you?

Learning with video.  An effective “How To” video does more than just tell you what to do. It will “show” and label steps for you. It provides a vivid description.

At work.  A boss who wants a healthier workplace has to do more than provide information (written or spoken) that exalts the importance of diet, exercise, sleep, and downtime.  He has to “show” it by modeling appropriate action.  (Don’t tell me to disconnect when I go home—and then expect me immediately to respond to a late-night email.)

In music. Think of your favorite songwriter. Maybe a particular song paints vivid imagery for you.  Chances are the bard “showed” you an emotion or action rather than just told you.

You might be able to transform your leadership skills when you “show” the power of what you want your team to do rather than just telling them.

Think of the impact of this for you and your goals. A simple goal statement (in writing or in your head) might be a great start—but is it powerful enough to drive you forward? Have you created the imagery of what the goal will look like?

Do you have “show and action” in your plan—or is it just talk?

Video recommendation for the week:

Maybe I should asked these young people for help developing my characters!  Notice how they tell what to do and then “show” it.  To the head of the class!

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

For information about and to order my new book, Stories About Teaching, Learning, and Resilience: No Need to be an Island, click here.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

Check out my latest podcasts at The Growth and Resilience Network™

Check out my website  (http://stevepiscitelli.com/programs/what-i-do) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars  (http://stevepiscitelli.com/programs/webinars).

Pearson Education publishes my student textbooks for life success—Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition).

(c) 2017. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

(#321) The Nudge: Everything Sends A Message

July 17, 2016

We take chances, we fail, we learn, we grow,
and we move forward.

 Listening to a TED Radio Hour (June 24, 2016 show) piece reminded me of the power of words and self-talk.  The theme of the show was that to change habits or make changes sometimes all we need is a gentle nudge in the correct direction.  The form of that nudge is critical.  More specifically, how the nudge is presented will have an impact on results.

One of the interview guests, Carol Dweck, noted researcher and Stanford University psychologist, pointed to her research on mindsets.  She emphasized that when we want to encourage (nudge) people to improve and continue to grow we need to pay attention to our words and actions. Sounds simple but the subtleties are immense. Leaders, parents, and teachers would do well to remember that everything we say and do sends a message.

For instance, she cautions that we need to praise the effort not the intellect of a student or employee.  Praising the intellect can (according to her research) cause a person to avoid risks. Why? Because if I fail then what does that say about my intellect that I’ve been praised for? So, I take the less vulnerable route and listen to that little voice on my shoulder that advises me to remain perfect and not bring question to my intellect.  This, Dweck says, is the stuff of “fixed mindsets.”

Image: amenic181 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: amenic181 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

She found that when we praise the process (the strategy, the grit, or the progress) that nurtures growth mindsets. We take chances, we fail, we learn, we grow, and we move forward.

Early this week I was speaking to a community activist who shared her dismay with the obsession in Florida with testing school children.  Everything is about the test and getting the right answers to the test.  Either your right or your wrong—and the consequences can be immense for our children.

Rather than marking something “wrong,” Dweck suggested using the words “Not Yet.”  It does not excuse the error. It actually points out the error—but with hope for a better future the next time the problem or task is attempted. Positive and powerful rather than demoralizing and demeaning.

Think of the impact on leaders and employees when we focus on a “Not Yet” as opposed to a dismissive response to an error. Such a mindful approach helps our capabilities to grow.  This is not fuzzy talk saying we have unlimited capabilities. Rather, this approach helps us to better know our capabilities.

Video recommendation of the week.  In this short clip, Professor and Author, Richard Thaler, connect the notion of the nudge with being a “choice architect.”

Don’t forget the power of words—to others and to yourself.  Everything sends a message. What message do we send ourselves….and what messages do we accept from others? How can you be a choice architect in your life and the lives of others?

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

Check out my latest podcast (about ex-offenders and resilience).  You can find my podcast series at The Growth and Resilience Network (http://stevepiscitelli.com/video-media/podcasts).

Check out my website  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.


(#266) Challenging the Status Quo

June 28, 2015

We have to remember what we learned in our formative years:
“Know what battles to pick.”
Great advice unless you never seem to choose a battle.

I was recently asked what kind of advice I would give to the new generation of educators and students. My advice was (and still is) simple and straightforward,

Pay attention to the difference you can make.
Challenge the status quo (that includes your own status quo).
Don’t settle for the easy way.
Either you create your story—or you let someone else create it for you.

This past week I had the opportunity to catch up with a student I taught nearly 30 years ago. She related a story about how a boss of hers, while conducting a staff meeting, was less than civil to say the least. While all of her compatriots quietly sat and squirmed a bit, my former student stood up and calmly challenged the boorish behavior. As she told the story, I beamed. She did not need my approval—but I could not have been prouder.

Stuart Miles @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stuart Miles @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Far too many times I have witnessed otherwise smart and insightful adults sit on their hands rather than challenge a wrong-headed workplace/career-related situation. Why do people fail to take action in situations clearly calling for action? Here is what I have seen and heard for years.

  • “I won’t be here long. This job is just a placeholder until I get my big break and move on.”
    • Did you ever consider you may never get that big break? The job you planned on keeping for no more than a year or two ends up being yours for five years or more. I’ve seen people like this wake up one morning, ten years later, with kids in school and a mortgage. Guess what? They are not going any place. And, like it or not, they have created a less than savory workplace environment for themselves and their co-workers by their inaction over the years. The story they are living is the story they have created.
  • “Did you see what they did to Suzy down the hall? I’ll fly under the radar, thank you.”
    • Poor managers use fear to control and (they think) motivate their workers. How long do you plan to fly low? See #1 above.
  • “If I don’t rock the boat, I’ll be safe.”
    • Hmm, again. A few waves just might make the boat a bit safer for everyone. Like my former student above, a well-directed and civil challenge might catch attention and, if not change things for the better right away, might at least put the perpetrator on notice.
  • “I will do anything to make sure I am seen as a team player so that I can continue to move up the organization’sladder. At the very least, I’ll be able to keep my job.”
    • Really? I’ve seen people sell their souls for the job. Then once they have been used up by the transactional leadership, they are downsized or otherwise unceremoniously dismissed. One day they wake up without a job, and without a soul.

Speaking up is not always easy. It takes courage and articulation skills. Some of you are born leaders, ready to take the lead. Many others, not so much. I get that. Even the quiet ones amongst us, however, can quietly support those who are out front pushing for change. If, for reasons that apply to your situation in life, you choose to remain silent, then at least recognize the potential consequences of that choice.

Yes, we have to remember what we learned in our formative years: “Know what battles to pick.” Great advice unless you never seem to choose a battle. As Edmund Burke reportedly admonished, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”

What can you challenge this week? Nothing large. Nothing outlandish. Nothing dangerous. Nothing stupid. Nothing boorish. Just a well-calculated step to find a more humane and thoughtful way to make a meaningful change for yourself, your family, your workplace, and/or your community. Consider a mentor, coach, adviser or counselor to help you sort things out and move along the best path.

Little steps create the journey. No steps create a journey of another kind.

Video recommendation for the week:

Sara Bareilles wonders what would happen if we say what we want to say.

Make it a wonderful week—H.T.R.B. as needed.

I am venturing into the realm of podcasting. Check out my first one “Powerful (Mindful) Preparation. Powerful Presentation.”

Check out my website (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

My books Choices for College Success and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (both in their third edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2015. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.


(#224) Every Student Has A Story: Great Teachers Build On That Story

September 7, 2014

A teacher’s calling is to recognize each of these types (and combinations thereof)
and reach out with encouragement, 
challenge and recommendations to appropriate resources.

[NOTE to reader: This week’s post comes from my forthcoming book (work-in-progress) on mentoring faculty.  In the weeks/months ahead look for posts on this blog that relate to the topic of effective teaching and mentoring faculty. As always, I appreciate your comments. Make it a great week!]

As cliché as it sounds, classroom teachers will have all types of students in their classes.  I did the following demonstration the first day of the semester for my students.

Three student volunteers each hold one class of water.  Into the first glass I drop an aspirin; glass two gets the type of effervescent tablet that explodes with bubbles and fizz; and into the third I drop a tablet that is used to clean dentures (it fizzes and changes the color of the water).  I then explain that each tablet represents types of students who walk through our classroom doors.

Image: Ideago/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: Ideago/

*Student #1 (aspirin): Sits there. Not much happening—not much in the way of participation or other form of engagement. Not much impact on the environment. Much like the aspirin.  Kind of just sitting there (in the back of the room).  Some days he quietly puts his head down and sleeps. No splash of any kind. 

*Student #2 (effervescent tablet):  Makes an initial splash.  Energetic; participatory; probably has all the technological tools (smart phone, tablet, and laptop). May even sit in the first couple rows of the classroom.  The initial enthusiasm gives way around weeks 3 or 4.  Feeling overwhelmed with all she has bitten off this semester, she starts getting to class late and missing assignments.  She cannot sustain the initial momentum.

*Student #3 (effervescent + color changing tablet): Starts off strong and eventually begins to make changes that are visible (more confident; higher assignment and test grades; leadership role in class). She always participates.  Not only does she grow with her changes, she has an impact on the class as well.

I then pose these questions to my students: “Why do you believe these students have behaved in the ways shown here?  Where do you stand (or sit) in this scenario? Which student are you—and moreover, which student do you want to be at the end of the semester?”

It is possible for all three tablets to be a metaphor for one student who starts off tentative and cautious; then gets a spurt of energy and inspiration; and eventually is a change agent for himself and the classroom (and maybe even the campus).

The demonstration, if left to itself, can be overly simplistic.  Reality is that we have as many types of students as the number that walk into the room.  This exercise does open up the conversation of why some students behave as they do and how those actions lead to long-term consequences. And what teachers can do.

Video recommendation for the week:

The list of what great teachers do is long and includes: inspire, encourage, listen, model, coach, energize, risk, create, laugh, and lead. I stumbled on this powerful video. Take a few minutes and absorb the message.

Whether you are a classroom teacher, a corporate trainer, or a community activist you will have to collaborate (eventually) with each of the above scenarios.  What is the best way to encourage the best from each?  Consider these questions as starting points for a larger conversation with your colleagues:

  • Student #1. Would you just ignore him?  Why might he be acting in this manner?  What would you say to him? Or would you ignore him and let him sleep? Why do you think he behaves in the way he does? Is he sleeping because of late night partying, disinterest—or is there a health (physical and/or emotional) or substance abuse problem?  Is he a risk to himself or others in the classroom?  Does he feel intimidated and anxious? Has he enrolled in the wrong class?
  • Student #2. Why is she losing energy and focus within the first month?  Too much on her plate?  Besides the workload, what else is going on in her life?  Are there childcare issues? Maybe she needs a little help identifying and organizing her priorities.
  • Student #3. Can she become a model student for the class? Is there any harm in letting her be the leader in class participation? Or could she possibly stifle discussion? Will other students just let her answer?  What can the instructor do to encourage other students to participate in class?

A teacher’s calling is to recognize each of these types (and combinations thereof) and reach out with encouragement, challenge and recommendations to appropriate resources.  That requires differentiated approaches.

Make it a wonderful week—H.T.R.B. as needed.

Check out my website (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

Information on my newest book, Choices for College Success (3rd ed.), can be found at Pearson Education.

(c) 2014. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.


(#212) Teachers Make a Difference—Everyday!

June 15, 2014

Think of your favorite teacher, counselor, or advisor.
What did she/he do to make a difference?

This blog post will be a repeat message for some who follow me on Facebook. It warrants repetition. So thanks for the indulgence

I just finished my 32nd year of classroom teaching. As I travel working with teachers around the nation, more and more I am asked to speak/facilitate about the non-cognitive/non-academic factors for student success. Academics is obviously important, but so much more goes into “building” and nurturing the total student.  And when these factors receive attention, they make a difference in the lives of the people in our classrooms.

Quick shout out and suggestion: Check out Today I Made a Difference: A Collection of Inspirational Stories from America’s Top Educators (Joseph W. Underwood, editor. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2009). Uplifting stories of what the good ones do day after day.


Last week I posted a simple question on my Facebook page:

Think of your favorite teacher, counselor, or advisor. What did she/he do to make a difference?”

People responded with vivid memories of a teacher or two in their respective lives who made a difference to them.  Their explanations of what a teacher did to make a difference went directly to the heart of effective teaching (IMHO)…and here (in a nutshell) is what they remember the “good ones/effective ones/difference-making ones” doing:

  • set high expectations
  • encouraged
  • had confidence in them
  • respected them and their space
  • were interesting
  • valued, listened to and respected then
  • built a relationship with them
  • had passion
  • gave you a “gift” (like in the gift of love of music)
  • engaged and interacted with them
  • had a sense of humor
  • were real people
  • were involved in their school community and
  • made them think.

And more memories were shared.

So much is written (and ranted) about assessment (as in state-wide standardized tests)…and so many times in our media we find our teachers (in particular K-12) beaten up over test scores. If the so-called establishment leaders would help to assess teachers on the skills and relationships listed above maybe there would be a better gauge for what our teachers really do.

Video recommendation of the week:

Enjoy a song from my first CD. Turn up your speakers and sing along!

Yeah, I know these are so-called “soft skills.” But, you know, the more I read about successful businesses and leaders, the more I hear about the value of these soft skills. Obviously, we better know how to read, write, add/subtract and the like.

But I can tell you, the teachers I remember kicked me in the butt–and hugged me at once. I can’t say I remember many of the “facts” they taught me–but I do remember the building blocks of life they helped to put in place.  They helped build and buttress my core value structure.

If only we could “measure” caring, charisma, passion, encouragement, and respect—and more “soft-skills.”

So, your homework for today comes in two parts:

  • Think of the teacher that made a difference in your life. What did he or she do? My guess it went beyond preparing you for a test of facts that you soon forgot.
  • If you have not done so recently, reach out to those teachers who made a difference (whether it was last year or decades ago) and thank them. They would love it.

Go forth and advocate for the teachers of your community.  And give thanks for those who made a difference for you.

Make it a wonderful week—H.T.R.B. as needed.

Check out my website (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

Information on my newest book, Choices for College Success (3rd ed.), can be found at Pearson Education.

(c) 2014. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.


(#192) Be Brave and Go There

January 26, 2014

 If I have learned anything over the years, playing it safe is usually the biggest risk…
We could well find ourselves in an unacceptable environment that we
quietly let grow around us.

Martin Niemöller spent seven years in a Nazi concentration camp.  He may be known best for his quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

While the quote may appear with some variation of wording, the message I have always taken from it is that we need to stand up when we see injustice.  Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Some very wise friends have told me for years that at times we must “surrender” and understand what we cannot change.  An old college friend (at my age, is there anything other than an “old” college friend? I digress….) and life-long dedicated educator shared with me that in order to survive it might just be better to “not go there.” And, you know at times, that may be the best option.  What was it our parents and teachers told us? “Know when to pick your battles.”

Video recommendation for the week:

Consider Minnie Jean Brown-Trickey, though.  She was one of the Little Rock Nine.  I cannot even imagine what it must have been like for those young students and their parents when they walked through angry mobs into Central High School in 1957.  Our nation benefited because those nine young and brave students went there.

Whatever the issue, there are those who will speak up and present a challenge when needed. But many, many, many more will not.  They settle for what they believe is the “safe” route. They stay “on point.” Playing it safe is usually the biggest risk.  Often times we must go there. If we don’t, we could well find ourselves in an unacceptable environment that we quietly let grow around us.

I’m not advocating boorish, rude, or disrespectful behavior. Integrity to self and those around us must remain. Speaking up and having a true conversation is critical for the health and well-being of any organization. The effective leaders understand this. The same for relationships.

Decades ago, a dear man and at the time an assistant superintendent (I believe) of a school district outside of Boston, gave me poignant advice: “If you surround yourself with ‘yes men’ [or women] they will lead you down the primrose path to destruction.”

Most of us will never face what Martin Niemöller or Mini Jean Brown-Trickey had to endure.  But we can make a dent in our universe by standing up, speaking out, and striving to thrive. It doesn’t have to be momentous. Small, measured and well-thought out steps can be effective. And you don’t have to go there alone. A coach, a mentor, a counselor, a friend, a spiritual leader or a family member can guide you. Who can help you? Who can you help?

Being courageous does not mean lack of fear. It means that we persevere in the face of fear. It is not always easy to be brave; it can be scary. And it can be exhilarating. Sara Bareilles sings

And since your history of silence

Won’t do you any good,

Did you think it would?

Let your words be anything but empty

Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Might just be a great place to go.


Make it a wonderful week— H.T.R.B. as needed.

Check out my website (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://stevepiscitelli.com/webinars.html).

 (c) 2014. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.


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