Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Power of Staying Positive: We're Profiled by The Mom Entrepreneur and Working Mother

In addition to blogging and working as a freelance journalist, I am also the owner of Inkandescent Public Relations — a PR firm I officially launched this fall.

I left a good-paying part-time job as the leader of corporate communication for a global futurist firm to embark on this new venture, and although I had an inkling that the economy was faltering (I worked for futurists for two years, after all) I hoped for the best and took the plunge. So when our financial institutions tanked and the recession firmly took hold, I continued to stick to my plan and hope for the best.

How could I not when that's what I always tell my kids to do!

Then in October, while surfing through the hundreds of reporter queries that I daily field for my PR clients, I saw a request for stories for a column called "Lemons to Lemonade" to be posted on a terrific new blog called The Mom Entrepreneur. I responded, and the blog founder Traci Bisson and I began a wonderful conversation that became her Lemons to Lemonade Feature Number 8, which went live this week. (See my comments below.)

As a lovely bonus, Working Mother magazine picked up the story and also posted it on their website saying:

Hope Katz Gibbs, a freelance writer and journalist since 1993, recently left her job as a PR director for a futurist research firm to start Inkandescent Public Relations. She had decided to make this move long before the financial world came crashing down. She admits that the downturn has impacted her clients who currently include seven entrepreneurs who work in a variety of industries. But this mother of two is staying positive and moving ahead with an upbeat attitude and fresh ideas. Here's her story ...

How has this economy affected you, your business and your family? I picked a great time to start a business, didn’t I? Fortunately, my PR firm focuses on small businesses, mostly women-owned, and at this moment we are all feeling slightly recession proof (knock on wood). The reason, we stick to our knitting, so to speak, and because we all are sole proprietors — or have only a few employees — we aren’t suffering the way bigger businesses are struggling to get credit or meet payroll. I believe my clients are pretty savvy, and they realize that to keep their businesses growing they need to keep moving forward with their visibility efforts.

How are you making lemonade from lemons? I am taking my own advice and staying visible, launching my official website this month. In 2009, I plan to roll out a publishing company. And I’m trying to stay very positive. In high school they called me “Happy Hope”, so my reputation has been that I have a good attitude. It has kept me going through the ups and downs of life. You never know what is around the next bend, so keep moving forward – with a smile, a good laugh, great friends, and a full glass of good chardonnay.

Some of the outreach efforts I am doing on my client's behalf include:
• Improving their websites.
• Reaching out to reporters with excellent story ideas.
• Helping them develop new products (such as books) that build credibility and can eventually get them on the speaker circuit.

Any encouraging words you would like to offer mom entrepreneurs? Having been a reporter for 25 years, I know from the hundreds of articles that I’ve written that nothing ever stays the same — for any person or any company. (The recent fall of the banking / financial industry painfully proves that point.)

At 44, I look back and think of hours I wasted pouting and worrying. The hard times, I realize now, were truly stepping stones that moved me along my path. Even though some of those times were truly the pits (like getting left at the altar in 1991), they made me stronger and showed me that I could count on myself. That has been the most precious gift.

Now, instead of fretting, I choose to work hard, surround myself only with people that I truly like, and simply enjoy the ride. Money is great, but like my dad always said, “Money is round, it rolls away and it rolls back.” Knowing that perennial truth makes it easier to deal with the stinky times.


Join Traci Bison's

And look for a profile about Mom Entrepreneur Traci Bison next week on my other blog

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning

Author / educator Marc Prensky’s book begins with a warning: “You are about to hear a message that, while absolutely true, will fly in the face of prevailing wisdom about computer and video games: Computer and video games aren’t as bad as you think they are. In fact, there’s good reason to believe that they do a tremendous amount of good.”

And so it goes in Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning, a 254-page paperback published by Paragon House that outlines why, and how, the technology provided in games is actually helping prepare children for the jobs and work they’ll do as participants in the 21st century workforce.

In chapters that include, Economics and Business Lessons for a 10-year-old from a Computer Game, and Video games are our kids’ first ethics lesson, Prensky convincingly argues why it’s a good idea to let children have access to such titles as The Sims, Harvest Moon, and Zoo Tycoon.

James Paul Gee agrees. The Tashia Morgridge Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote the book’s foreword, and insists, “Marc knows the power of good video games. He knows the power of the technologies behind them. He knows their potential for social revolution and what gives them their great potential for good. Most importantly, Marc knows that game designers have learned to harness deep and powerful learning — learning in the sense of problem solving, decision making, hypothesizing, and strategizing — as a form of fun, pleasure, engagement, even flow.”

How does this happen? Prensky explains in Chapter 4: “Our kids are not like us: They’re natives, we’re immigrants.”

“Today’s students—kindergarten through college—are the first generation to grow up with this new, digital, technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, DVD players, videocams, eBay, cell phones, iPods, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. As with all immigrants, some of us have adapted to our new digital environment more quickly than others. But no matter how fluent we may become, all digital immigrants retain, to some degree, our ‘accent.”

Do they really think differently? Well, yes and no, says Prensky. “We hear parents and teachers complain so often about the Digital Natives’ attention spans that the phrase ‘the attention of a gnat” has become a cliche.”

But, he points out that kids’ attention spans are not short for everything — like games, music, or anything else that actually interests them. Why? It’s the result of years of experience with digital objects they simply crave interactivity and expect and immediate response to their each and every action.

“Unfortunately, traditional schooling provides very little of this,” he insists. “It isn’t that digital natives can’t pay attention; it’s often that they choose not to. Interestingly enough, they don’t have to succeed, at least not all the time.”

What have we lost? Assuming that Prensky is right about the reprogramming of the digital native’s brain, he concedes the one area that appears at first to have been affected is their inability to reflect. “In our twitch-speed world, there seems to many to be less and less time and opportunity for reflection, and this concerns many people,” Prensky writes — adding, however, that on closser inspection reflection actually may be going on beneath the surface.

“In observing digital natives, I have come to see that reflection, like so much else in their world, is something that is simply happening faster,” he suggests. “Whenever a player loses in a computer game and has to start over, their mind races to the move that got them to that point and they ask themselves, ‘What did I do wrong?’ and ‘What am I going to do differently next time.’ This is reflection at its most effective, although it is rarely if ever verbalized or made conscious.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny

With the excitement surrounding Barack Obama finally settling down, I started thinking about what it is that makes him such an inspirational leader. The obvious comes to mind: He's calm and clear, profoundly reasonable, and a great storyteller who can whoop up a crowd and leave them feeling better for just having listened to him. My kids, 13 and 9, have also touched by his power — and have had the incredible experience of being part of the political process.

In a nutshell, Obama is just the kind of teacher every kid — and adult — wishes they had in school.

All this noodling reminded me of "32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny," a magical book about the big heart and impact 3rd grade teacher Phil Done has had on his students. I remember sitting in bed reading through the 288-pager, and the tale was so engaging I'd be rolling on the floor in hysterics – or so touched that a tear will suddenly appear. The book that was that darn good.

“After my first week of teaching, I knew I had to write this book,” Done explains from his home in Northern California. “But after a day of working as a third grade teacher, I had absolutely no creativity left in me. So for years the book just lived in my head.”

Then about two years ago, Done had the opportunity to teach in Eastern Europe. He learned something interesting while abroad: He didn’t have to teach his class alone. While one of the other teachers was working with the students, Done found time to write.

By 2004, the book was finished and after several attempts he finally found an agent who believed in his project. She took it to a publisher – and after a bidding war that was won my Simon & Schuster, “32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny” made its way to print.

The book hit stores in August, made the back page of the highly popular “Real Simple” magazine that month, and has only received accolades from critics, readers, and even some of his old students.

“The publisher suggested I put my web address in the back of the book, and although I didn’t think that anyone would contact me I’m thrilled to find that every day I get emails from teachers, parents and the kids I used to teach,” shares Done (click here: “They are all so excited about the book, and they all say the book has touched them. This experience has been wonderful, but I’ll be ready to go back to the classroom next year. I miss my kids.”

Following is an expert from the introduction of Phillip Done’s “32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny.” Enjoy!

I Am a Teacher

I read Charlotte’s Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every year, and every year when Charlie finds the golden ticket and Charlotte dies, I cry.

I take slivers out of fingers and bad sports out of steal the bacon. I know when a child has gum in his mouth even when he is not chewing. I have sung “Happy Birthday” 657 times.

I hand over scissors with the handles up. My copies of “Velveteen Rabbit” and “Treasure Island” are falling apart. I can listen to one child talk about his birthday party and another talk about her sleepover and another talk about getting his stomach pumped last night – all at the same time.

I fix staplers that won’t staple and zippers that won’t zip, and I poke pins in the orange caps of glue bottles that will not pour. I hand out papers and pencils and stickers and envelopes for newly pulled teeth. I know the difference between Austria and Australia.

I plan lessons while shaving, showering, driving, eating, and sleeping. I plan lessons five minutes before the bell rings. I know what time it is when the big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on the nine. I say the r in library. I do not say the w in sword.

I put on Band-Aids and winter coats and school plays. I know they will not understand the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re.’ I know they will write ‘to’ when it should be ‘too.’ I say “Cover your mouth,” after they have coughed on me.

I know when a child does not understand. I know when a child is not telling the truth. I know when a child was up too late last night. I knew when a child needs help finding a friend.

I am a teacher.