Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Monday, January 31, 2011

Confessions of a Childhood Cheater: How we can learn from and model our mistakes for our students

When I was in fourth grade, I cheated. I didn't cheat on my school work -- that, particularly my multiplication tables, I flunked honestly. What I didn't do honestly was talk to my parents about several such unsuccessful math assignments. Instead, I made the informed decision to forge my mother's signature  -- not once but twice.

The first time, I parked myself on the plaid couch of our living room and studied the roundness of her letters: the regal "E" in her "Elizabeth," the wide "z," and the perfectly shaped "h." I easily spent an hour practicing writing her name over and over before finally putting my pen down.

Two days later, my teacher and mother spoke with me about "honesty," "integrity," and "responsibility." After apologizing profusely, I was relegated to the hallway, where I envisioned what consequence would be doled to me and what jail I might end up in for my criminal behavior.

The second time, I thought I had really smartened up. Instead of writing her name myself, I decided to carefully cut out her actual signature from another paper and used a bottle of runny Elmer's glue to stick it to my work above the "Parent's Signature" line. There, I thought. I've really done it now. Ha!

"What exactly were you thinking, Kay?" my exasperated mother asked. "What on earth would propel you to do this AGAIN?!"

"I dunno," I shrugged, and I really did not know.

Were both of my parents placing subtle pressure on me to be perfect and succeed? Not likely. They both had tons of siblings, aging parents, cuddly pets, active friends, health concerns, and full-time jobs to occupy their time and thoughts.

For whatever reason, I was placing this pressure on myself, and had been for a LONG time, ever since I can remember. I am a perfectionist by nature, one who is extremely hard on myself. The story of my cheating returns to me periodically when I look at the 120 beautiful faces of the eighth graders I teach. I see kids who are eager to please, willing to shoulder their ridiculously heavy backpacks brimming with books and hours of homework. While many of my students are hard-working and honest, I cannot help but worry that they, like me, will create their own self-pressure cookers over time.

Last year, I polled my students about their number one fear. Believe it or not, it was not death or even public speaking. It was failure. With the rigorous demands of the Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum, annual local and state assessments, increased numbers of high school courses available, and cut-throat competition to gain admission into select colleges (beginning seemingly at birth!!), kids today experience even more pressure than we endured, even ten to fifteen years ago.

It's no surprise, then, that some students sneak peaks at one another's quizzes, plagiarize portions of their essays from peers' essays and the Internet, and outwardly lie to their parents about how they're doing in their classes. And it's also no surprise that many parents struggle with the distinction between helping their kids understand the work and outwardly doing it for them.

I look at my stressed, high-achieving students and want to tell them, "Relax. It's all going to be OK." But I have found one fool-proof way that adults can help kids relax: by letting them see your mistakes. When I was in fourth grade, my parents seemed perfect to me. I had never seen them fail at anything, and to let them see me fail at anything was unspeakable, especially as their only child.

Luckily, these days, I make a lot of mistakes -- big and small -- and am the first to admit to them. At school, I sometimes have a typo on a handout, hand out the wrong vocabulary or reading quiz, call a student by a wrong name, or decide to switch around my lesson at the last second without the adequate materials to do so. At home, I can become too independent, bossy, and "loose" with my wallet, especially online (ahem ahem Amazon ahem ahem).

"Ooops," I say. "I'm having one of those days, guys. I'm sorry!" And when my students are having tough days, I remind them of my own. If we want honest kids, we need to be honest adults and real role models for them. We have to let them see us both succeed and fail regularly.

It may help to remember our own relationship with our parents. As young children, we loved our parents, whom we thought of as perfect. Now, as adults, most of us love our parents even more, not because they are perfect but because they are imperfect, unpredictable, real, and human, just like us.

Let's all breathe a sigh of relief and pledge to make at least one mistake in front of our kids tomorrow. I know I will!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Shift in Educational Paradigm

The following YouTube video is well-worth the 11+ min. spent watching. It certainly makes me think about the future of education in this country and what directions we should be moving in.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and ponderings about it!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Snow Days = True Gifts to Hard-Working Teachers

I taught a total of two days this week. Monday was a professional day, Tuesday and Friday normal days, and Wednesday through Friday became bonus snow days. I really do think teachers get more excited about the prospect of a snow day than any student does.

How can you increase your chances of a snow day? I continue to learn more innovative, bizarre methods. I myself prefer the snow dance and "Don't expect anything!" approach, but the ice cube thrown into a toilet, salt over the shoulder, and wearing of PJs inside out methods are also popular with my colleagues.

I'd like to think my awesome snow dance had something to do with our snowstorm arriving earlier than expected this week. I woke up randomly at 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning and could tell it had snowed, even without my glasses on. For the next few hours, I could hear the ice steadily hitting the side of our building and windows. I, of course, became as excited as a six year old on Christmas morning about to go downstairs to open my gifts. I held my cell phone tight and waited, back in bed, confident that a snow day would be mine. At 4:59 a.m., I received that long awaited text message from a colleague indicating we indeed had the day off. The impressive part? She had even beat the county's automated text alert system! Now that takes talent.

So, you may ask, how exactly did I spend my bonus free time? Instead of sleeping excessively and spending all my money on, I decided to make Wednesday an UBER productive day. A decluttering seminar I took at First Class, Inc. last Saturday has motivated me to get organized, remove all my junk and unnecessary items, and experience a renewed sense of freedom with a clutter-free space. So, I spent the majority of my day finishing the decluttering process in our condo. I had filled trash bags and additional stuffed bags to donate to the Salvation Army to prove it.

Today, in celebration of my hard work, I decided to treat myself to lunch and a matinee with a fellow teacher girlfriend who was equally as excited to spend her snow day doing something fun. It was wonderful to reconnect with her and trade stories over difficult and always entertaining students. Not one to remain idle, I spent the evening back at home replacing all of the photo frames in our condo with newly printed photos from the local CVS. I am a photo freak, and it feels great to have some new, fresh photos from our travels in the past year adorning our home.

As I finally dug my car out of the snow in the back parking lot, I heard my coat pocket vibrating. Three colleagues had simultaneously informed me that we were off again on Friday due to emergency weather conditions and the continued massive power loss in our county. Rumor has it that the majority of the sidewalks and school parking lots are also still not plowed. Whoops! But hey, I'm not complaining!

Last year, DC had those two crazy "Snowmaggedon" blizzards that resulted in several feet of snow and a week off from school each storm. I was doubtful we would have ANYTHING like that this year, and we really haven't (yet), but this unexpected five-day weekend is a blessing. It is almost as if God is smiling down on us teachers and thanking us, albeit through the inconvenience of everyone else and wrath of Mother Nature.

Thank you, storm, and thank you, God, for affording me this time to get my sanity, mind, and sleep back in check. I can now fly to Houston tonight for my winter marathon (first of the year) with a clear mind, heart, and attitude. After all, we all could use a little extra "gift" time to declutter our lives, literally and figuratively. Be safe out there everyone!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Education at Forefront of Obama's State of the Union Address

Every year in late January, I sit down with husband and my green tea with honey to hear what the President has to say about the state of our nation. There's no doubting that President Obama is a gifted speaker (I think one of his most moving speeches occurred two weeks ago after the tragedy in Tuscon). I was pleasantly surprised, however, to hear Obama focus on the state of our nation's schools throughout this important address. 

What has really changed with former President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind act? Have schools really improved? Are students really learning more, or have they just become better test-takers? Are teachers finally given the respect and trust they deserve?

While Obama's Address certainly does not answer all of these important questions, it did force us to think about how we are serving our next generation of children and what federal education law, if any, can help change our schools for the better. I found myself moved to tears and refuse to lose hope for a better tomorrow for our students and profession. Here is the best blog entry I have found about the education part of the Address:

Obama Makes Education a State of Union Centerpiece
By Alyson Klein on January 25, 2011 8:52 PM 

Obama Gives the 2011 State of the Union address
By Alyson Klein and Michele McNeil
President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to put education front-and-center on the national agenda, and on the agenda of the newly divided Congress. And he tied his education proposals, including the long-stalled reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, directly to the nation's economic future.

"This is our generation's Sputnik moment," he said, alluding to the nation's 1960s-era investment in research and education spurred by concerns after the launch of the Soviet space satellite.

While calling for a five-year federal spending freeze, the president—without giving budget specifics—also proposed spending more on education as part of a campaign to "win the future."

"Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine," Obama said. "It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."

Obama called for a new bipartisanship and civility in Washington, and education is one of the few areas where there is the potential for bipartisan cooperation. He did not propose any new initiatives for revising the nine-year-old No Child Left Behind Act. Instead, he reiterated his commitment to changing it.

Hewing closely to the ESEA blueprint he released last March, the president framed the law's renewal as an attempt to build on the success of his signature, $4 billion Race to the Top competition and to find the right role for the federal government in education, while at the same time raising expectations for students and schools. That blueprint proposed replacing the law's main yardstick—Adequate Yearly Progress—with a new one aimed at measuring whether students are ready for college or a career. And it proposed moving to a growth model, where schools get credit for improving individual students' progress.

"And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible and focused on what's best for our kids," he said, which elicited applause in the chamber.
"Race to the Top," he said, "is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation."

Obama also announced an initiative to train 100,000 new teachers in mathematics, science, technology, and engineering, or STEM subjects. He plans to expand "promising and effective teacher preparation models" for STEM teachers.

In fact, some of his statements about the teaching profession, including his proclamation that the country must "reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones," drew strong applause.

Last year's effort to reauthorize the ESEA was overshadowed by other domestic priorities, including the health care overhaul law. The chairman and ranking members on the committees and subcommittees overseeing education policy—the so-called "Big 8"—met regularly with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. House and Senate education committees each held hearings on the blueprint, but neither chamber released a bill. Still, discussions continued at the staff level, particularly in the House, throughout the summer and fall.

The president's budget will call for a "bold restructuring" of federal education funding, White House aides said in advance of the speech. That sounds similar to the changes the president proposed for K-12 in the still-pending fiscal 2011 budget, which sought to combine smaller programs into broader funding streams. But Congress didn't take the administration up on those suggestions.

Obama also called on Congress to revamp immigration laws so that high-performing students who came to the United States illegally as children can work toward citizenship, and talented foreign students who come here to pursue higher education are able to stay and contribute to the economy.

He said he wants to see a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill this year that includes what's known as the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for undocumented students who pursue higher education or the join the military.

But the DREAM Act faces long odds in Congress; it failed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate last year, even though there were more Democrats in the chamber at that time. And it's going to be especially tough this year in the much-more conservative House of Representatives, now controlled by Republicans.

This isn't the first time the president has asked Congress to reauthorize the ESEA. In last year's speech, he called for an additional $4 billion in federal spending on K-12 education along with reauthorization.

As is customary for presidents in this annual speech, Obama trumpeted last year's successes. Among them: the 11 states plus the District of Columbia that won the $4 billion Race to the Top competition, which pitted states against each other to propose bold education-reform plans, with significant buy-in from local districts. The administration is seeking money from Congress to extend the program for an additional year.

And with the Obama administration prodding them along, all but seven states have now signed on to create common academic standards for all students—another move that the president touted in his speech.
Obama also highlighted a key education provision in the controversial health-care overhaul legislation—one that eliminated private lenders as the middleman in federally subsidized student loans. The savings, which could be up to $67 billion according to one congressional estimate, are to be reinvested in the Pell Grant program to fund more financial aid for college students.

He also asked lawmakers to make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which can provide up to $10,000 for four years of college.

In a sign of how important education would be in the speech, first lady Michelle Obama's box was filled with students who personify the issues Obama talked about. Among them: a community college student who created a fully adjustable motorized chair for disabled people; a middle schooler who designed a solar car; and a 16-year-old who developed an emerging cancer treatment that uses light energy to activate a drug that kills cancer cells.
Reaction to Obama's speech from inside and outside of the Capitol was generally positive, sprinkled with some constructive criticism.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the ranking member of the Senate's K-12 policy subcommittee and one of the chamber's experts on K-12, told Education Week that reauthorizing ESEA "is an area where we can be bipartisan," adding he's "hopeful" for its passage.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, agreed. Education is one area where lawmakers can "learn to flex their bipartisan muscles," he said, adding that he expected a "bunch of good ideas" as policymakers debate the next iteration of ESEA.

Obama's emphasis on Race to the Top did not escape the notice of lawmakers from rural parts of the country.
Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican from South Dakota, said she thinks Race to the Top is a good program but difficult for a rural state like hers to compete in. And she called the administration's ESEA blueprint "good, but very nonspecific. I'm a person who likes specifics. But it was a good starting point."

Jack Jennings, the president and chief executive officer of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, pointed out that Obama spent little time talking about how the NCLB law would be altered.

"All he did was talk about making it like Race to the Top. He's going to have a heck of a lot of trouble with that," Jennings said, adding that many members of Congress, plus major educational organizations, see shortcomings in the competitive program that created winners and losers among states.

In an interview the day before the speech, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said that he thinks there is the potential for a bipartisan reauthorization this year, particularly with the president's sustained support.

"I expect that he will be speaking out and directly involved in this process," Miller said. "It ain't gonna happen without him." And he said there is a growing bipartisan consensus that the NCLB law is "rapidly becoming outdated. ... It's no longer a match with where schools and [districts] want to go in terms of raising standards." He said that mismatch is "leading to some odd results," where schools that are making progress with individual students are still being labeled as failures.

Reporter Catherine Gewertz contributed to this report.
Photo credit: Evan Vucci/AP

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Working for a Greener World: Teaching Our Students about Waste

A friend of mind recently informed me about some cool research she has been doing I've been doing about a (relatively) new social enterprise called Terracycle. Terracycle is one of the fastest growing green companies in the world. Their website shares a bit more about what they do:
TerraCycle’s purpose is to eliminate the idea of waste. We do this by creating a national recycling systems for the previously non-recyclable. The process starts by offering collect programs (many of them free) to collect your waste and then convert the collected waste into a wide range of products and materials. With over 14 million people collecting waste in 11 countries together we have diverted billions of pieces of waste that are either upcycled or recycled into over 1,500 various products available at major retailers ranging from Walmart to Whole Foods Market. Our hope is to eliminate the idea of waste by creating collection and solution systems for anything that today ends up in our trash.
My friend noticed yesterday that the company has partnered with another organization to create curriculums for teaching kids K-12 about waste, and thought you might find this interesting!

Check out some awesome environmental lesson ideas at:
Enjoy, and help your students be more GREEN today!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Critical Explorers: Eleanor Duckworth's Legacy Lives On!

"Learning is Messy." 

One of my absolute favorite courses at the Harvard Graduate School of Education was my T440 course on Teaching & Learning. The course, taught by my amazing advisor, Eleanor Duckworth, forced me to think of teaching as an art of developing "critical explorers" in our students, always asking them to "Tell me more...."

Since graduating from HGSE in 2007, I have been part of a list-serv for all T440 alumni. Our conversations about teaching, learning, reaching students, and pushing them to think about the WHY in all of their lessons are ongoing -- and I walk away always being able to take something new and valuable into my classroom.

Word has it that Eleanor is going to retire in the next few years. In order to ensure her lessons and legacy NEVER stops, some T440 alumni created a website and group called Critical Explorers in her honor:

From Eleanor's announcement:

Here's what's happening: In anticipation of my retiring in a couple of years, a group of us has been creating a non-profit organization called Critical Explorers to help "the having of wonderful ideas" take hold in classrooms. I am touched, honoured, and, to tell the truth, thrilled by all that this group has accomplished and is planning. Our website is almost ready, making this an exciting moment — a good time to celebrate and share with you this evolving work.

I hope you will join me in supporting Critical Explorers in any (all!) of the following ways:

» Come to the party and bring colleagues or friends
» Visit the new website
 and online curricular resources
» Join the online forum and encourage others to do so
» Consider making a financial contribution

More about Eleanor's incredible career:

Eleanor Duckworth
Photo by Janet Smith


Critical exploration in the classroomHGSE Professor Eleanor Duckworth

A classroom teacher can take on the role of researcher, observing what students have learned, while guiding students' explorations towards a deeper understanding of the subject. HGSE professor Eleanor Duckworth describes how teachers' "critical exploration" of students' behavior as they are engaged in an activity can reveal the nature of their understanding.

An educator can gain insight into students' understanding by observing and talking with students as they work through complex problems and projects. Eleanor Duckworth describes a dialogue between a teacher/researcher, Lisa Schneier, and six high school students, four of whom spoke English as a second language, as they read a poem together1. Among the students' initial reactions to the poem were:
"I don't get this."
"It don't rhyme."
"It's silly."
"It doesn't make sense."
These responses provide no evidence of what students understand about it. But the responses are revealing. They highlight the fact that the students bring their prior expectations about poetry to the learning experience. To reach an understanding of the poem, a student makes a connection from the poem to what he or she already understands.

Over the course of several sessions, Schneier asks questions based on students' comments and has the class look at the poem in different ways, such as by identifying phrases that "go together" in meaning. In the midst of an animated class discussion, a student conveys, in his own words, that the language of the poem is figurative; there are many things that the word "you" could refer to in the poem, even things other than people. This statement demonstrates a new understanding about poetry—that non-literal meanings are possible. The teacher could observe this learning in action, and with this understanding, the student is making an enormous leap, toward understanding the nature not only of this poem but of all poems.

Teachers critically explore student learning through projects in poetry, science, mathematics, history, spelling, or any other part of the curriculum. As students struggle through a problem, the teacher puts them at ease, invites them to talk about and keep thinking about their ideas, and reacts to the substance of their answers without judging them. In this researcher mind-set, the teacher refrains from signaling to the students what she wants them to say; doing so would sacrifice the opportunity to know what the students actually think. Rather than being expected to provide a certain answer, the students reveal their own understanding through their responses. This does not mean that the teacher's own curricular goals are pushed aside. On the contrary, a teacher's knowledge in the subject matter and skill as an educator are simultaneously put to work as she deepens the students' understanding and helps them to take their own thoughts further.

1Schneier, L. (2001). Apprehending poetry. In E. Duckworth (Ed.) "Tell me more:" Listening to learners explain (pp. 42-78). New York: Teachers College Press.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Do you know an outstanding young educator?

As a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, I recently heard about an award the organization is seeking nominations for. If you know an outstanding young educator worthy of this award, please make their day and nominate them!

Who Will Win ASCD's Next
Outstanding Young Educator Award?

ASCD Outstanding Young Educator Award

ASCD is seeking young professional educators who
  • Educate the whole child, helping to ensure each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
  • Demonstrate educational leadership in their school, district, and community.
  • Show a positive impact on student achievement.
  • Illustrate significant contributions to the education community.
Do you know an individual who demonstrates these qualities?

If so, nominate a colleague or you can nominate yourself! 

All nominations must align with the Criteria for Consideration available at

Nominators of the winners will receive a complimentary one-year membership to ASCD.

The OYEA winners will be honored at the 2012 ASCD Annual Conference in Philadelphia, PA, March 24–26, 2012. The winners will participate with OYEA Honorees in a year-long program of professional development and networking. The winners will also receive a $10,000 award from ASCD. 

To nominate your favorite young educator, please visit: 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

54 Marathons in 52 Weeks for 52 Children in Africa

My friend and fellow marathoner, Dana Casanave, recently completed the challenge of a lifetime. She ran 54 marathons in 52 weeks to benefit 52 children in Africa, her last marathon ending on her 30th birthday. As a mother of three, this extreme physical and emotional sacrifice was no small feat.

Please read her incredible story below and if inspired, donate to her amazing cause. Congratulations on a job well done, Dana! WOW!!!

52 Beginnings LogoDana

Dana Did It!!!
54 Marathons in 52 Weeks
 for 25:40's Children
  Dana Casanave completed her ambitious goal to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks. In fact, she surpassed her goal -- running 54 marathons in 52 weeks -- ending her quest on Jan. 15 in Georgia on her 30th birthday.
 This young mother of tLukehree sacrificed family time and put her body to the test for an entire year, running one and sometimes two marathons every weekend for 25:40.
   Each week she ran for a different child in rural South Africa who faces challenges from poverty, AIDS and violence. Dana made a difference -- 54 new beginnings for each of these children.
  She raised more than $14,000 during her year-long journey for 25:40 and hopes to raise even more to meet her ultimate goal of $26,000.
  The money she raised helped to pay for verifying the identity of more than 2,000 children in the Eastern Cape who are considered orphaned and vulnerable. Her funds also helped fund the expense of registering these children with the South African government so that they are now receiving monthly grants. This small income helps these children eat regularly and go to school.
  The funds you helped her raise also pay for emergency food parcels for those children who face severe malnutrition.
  The board of 25:40 thanks every single one of Dana's 150 friends and acquaintances who donated and everyone who supported her along the way -- especially Jeremy, Amira, Angelina and Austin.
  We do not have enough words to express our deep and humble gratitude for Dana, who has touched so many lives this past year.
 It's not too late. Donate now at
One Child At A Time
P.O. Box 10534 
Burke, VA 22009   
CFC #10868

Friday, January 21, 2011

The #1 Fear of Americans that MUST be Taught!

Believe it or not, public speaking is continually cited as the number one fear of Americans, even over shark attacks and death. Surprising? Maybe.

As an English teacher, I use this statistic to motivate my students to gain practice at the art of public speaking so they will become confident and comfortable with speaking in front of others for the rest of their lives.

In addition to regular classroom discussions and presentations, I also lead my students through an extensive research project during the second marking period on a controversial issue of their choice, such as capital punishment, gun control, year-round schools, smoking in public places, animal experimentation, school uniforms, etc. The students formulate one or two researchable questions, spend a week in the Media Center collecting notes and forming opinions on their topic, design a speech and visual, and then present their opinions to the class. The end goal? To help them learn how to use persuasive techniques to convince their peers to believe as they do on their topic. The long term pay-off? Students become more comfortable with their ideas and better able to present them effectively to others.

As someone who values the importance of ongoing, lifetime learning, I often take interesting seminars at an awesome adult-learning center called First Class, Inc. in Washington, DC. I now have had the privilege of taking two classes with Arnold Sanow, a speech coach who helps fellow businesspeople learn how to present their ideas in an effective and powerful manner.

Recently, The Washington Post published an article detailing his work and the importance of mastering public speaking, regardless of one's chosen career. I hope it resonates with you and helps you to understand why we need to provide multiple opportunities for our own students to learn and practice "the power of gab."

He built a business around the power of gab
By Thomas Heath
Sunday, September 26, 2010; 6:19 PM 

'The Facebook Effect," by David Kirkpatrick, is the story of how a 20-something Harvard dropout named Mark Zuckerberg built a global Internet site with more than 500 million members.
The book touches on how Zuckerberg (who donated $100 million to the Newark, N.J. , school system last week) sought out an executive coach and learned how to speak in public as part of his corporate education.

He also had the sense to seek out a mentor to emulate: in this case, Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham, who is on the Facebook board.

Most entrepreneurs, whether they are building a sprawling juggernaut such as Facebook or pitching to a handful venture capitalists, need to learn how to communicate.

Arnold Sanow, 57, helps them.

Sanow teaches executives, salespeople, managers and entrepreneurs and others how to hold an audience. He also helps people become more entrepreneurial by adding public speaking - and its healthy fees - to their business repertoire. Last week's Value Added subject, tutor Ann Dolin, hired Sanow to help her build a career in public speaking.

"People who speak well are perceived as being smarter, more competent, more trustworthy, likeable and successful," said Sanow, who spoke to me by cell phone from Syracuse University, where he was visiting his son. "People want to do business with those types of people. You can't afford to do shy."
The job allows Sanow to work from home, work when he wants, travel to cool locations and meet interesting people. He charges an average of $5,000 to $7,500 for audiences at places as varied as Kaiser Permanente, the International Nanny Association and Phillips Seafood Restaurants.

Sanow said he still gets nervous before a speech, even though he has given 2,500 of them. He grosses $500,000 a year, but his income is half that because of agent fees and other costs.

Speaking didn't come naturally to the Bethesda native, who attended the University of Maryland. To overcome his fear, he joined Toastmasters International, an organization that teaches people how to speak effectively before an audience. He polished his act at the U.S. Marine Corps, where he made frequent training presentations as its director of marketing for morale.

In 1985, a friend told him about a bakery in Arlington County that was looking for someone to speak about customer relations to its 30 employees. The fee: $250 and box full of desserts.

It launched his new career.

"That was the first time I realized people paid speakers," said Sanow.

Looking back, Sanow said the best move he made was to aggressively market himself. Just being a smooth speaker wasn't enough.

"You must be a marketer first and a speaker second," he said. "The business of speaking is paramount."
The thing I love about Sanow and others like him is that they are such go-getters. They market themselves 24/7. Sanow is always doing business, building and maintaining relationships either with his clients or with professional agents and speakers' bureaus who find him jobs, in return for an average of 25 percent of his speech fee.

He started at the Learning Annex, where he would advertise through a newsstand brochure available throughout the Washington area. He first pitched himself as an expert in how to start a business, but he has since broadened himself into a communications trainer and specialist.

If clients can't afford his fees, Sanow is willing to make deals. One prominent D.C. hotel added $1,500 worth of hotel credit to his fee, which he used to entertain current and future clients.

He also bartered with an accounting firm to get an all-expenses-paid, seven-day Alaska cruise for his family in exchange for three two-hour speech-coaching sessions.

Sanow is resourceful. One agent, who is a salesperson for a long-distance commercial mover, tipped him off to every business moving to Washington - even suggesting his name as a teacher for public presentations.

"It generated a lot of work," Sanow said.

Sanow is an effective networker. He keeps a list of people who help him the most, including one client who sets up luncheons with other decision makers at her company.

He stays visible by advertising in the Yearbook of Experts, Authorities and Spokespersons, which helps the media find experts. That has produced appearances on CBS Evening News, ABC World Morning News and other outlets. He uses a Web site called, an article distribution channel, to increase exposure of press reports where he is mentioned.

He has authored six books, in part because being published confers a sense of expertise that clients value. His books include "Nobody to Somebody in 63 Days or Less - The Ultimate Guide to Networking and Word of Mouth Advertising." He co-authored a forthcoming tome called "Deliver Every Presentation With Power, Punch and Pizzazz."

Sanow advocates preparation as the best advice for giving a good speech. He jots down words and phrases on index cards to keep his mind focused and remind him of where he wants to go with his talk.
When he occasionally loses his train of thought in front of an audience, he makes a joke of it and asks for their help. "What's the last thing I said?" he asks. It also helps refocus the audience .

I didn't want to let Sanow get back to Syracuse University's homecoming weekend without some advice for entrepreneurs, and he provided an e-mail with some do's and don'ts.

"Don't be stiff," he said. "Be loose; gesture. Show facial expressions. Be funny. I recommend not leading off with a joke. A lot of times they fall flat and ruin the presentation."

He also advised staying away from technical terms, which is like turning on the snooze button. Instead, talk in conversational terms, and be energetic and enthusiastic. A surprising piece of advice was to know when to shut up.

"Know how to use silence to emphasize a point," he said.

Like anything, public speaking comes more easily with frequency. Sanow's motto: "Practice, practice, practice."

Before we got off the phone, I had to ask.

Who delivered the best speech he ever saw?

Disavowing any political bias, Sanow didn't miss a beat: Bill Clinton.

"I saw him around 1997 in Washington, and he knows how to connect. He had charisma, was energetic and down to earth. He jokes about himself and talked to people in the audience on his way in. He asks questions about people when he talks to them. There's a saying: Don't be interesting. Be interested."

By the way, I saw some of Zuckerberg's interview on Oprah Winfrey's TV show last week, where he announced his $100 million gift to the Newark schools.

Zuckerberg was confident, buoyant, articulate.

You would be, too, if you were worth $6.9 billion.

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