Thursday, February 25, 2010

Raising Gifted Children: Help Me, Kim

People often ask me for advice on getting services for their gifted children through their public schools. I'm pretty much a failure in that area myself, so I'm not sure why anyone would bother to ask me; I think it's because of this blog. At any rate, for I'm neither a doctor, a lawyer, nor successful advocate for gifted children, but here goes.

(Please note I've edited this request down a bit.)

Kim,
I'm in need of some help. I recently put my children in public school after 2.5 years of homeschooling. I consider my kids gifted, since at age 4 my son taught himself to read by listening to me teach his older sister to read.


Once in school I told his teacher that while "emotionally" and "attention span" wise he was on the same level with his age group, he was ahead academically.

The first few weeks, he got in trouble for talking out of turn because he was done with his work early, so I told him to try to keep busy and not to distract others, so now he putzes around and takes just as long as the other kids to do his work but he's bored. The teacher says she can't/won't deviate from the curriculum because she has no "proof" of his being as "smart as I claim". He's spelling words far above his spelling list and acing every test, and even bringing books to class to read that are far above 2nd grade reading levels.

What I need is a way to talk some sense into her without turning all psycho on her! How do you all do this? It was such a struggle to get him in 2nd grade, since we homeschooled (I used a non accredited program, and so without any test scores or "proof" it was a struggle). Any advice would be appreciated!

Signed,

J

Thanks for writing, J. Like your son's teacher, I have no idea is your child is gifted, but unlike that wizened woman, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

And let me tell you, in my experience, teachers appreciate you letting them know how bright and advanced your child is almost as much as they love you asking to come and observe them teaching, which is to say, not much. Not much at all.

I would recommend getting your son tested for IQ and achievement in order to have objective measures of his abilities and levels to show the school. You can ask the school to provide such testing and they may do it. Or not. In some states the school may actually be mandated to provide these for you. Even so, private testing (through an educational psychologist) though expensive (several hundred to well over a $1,000), is, in my experience, so much more thorough and may be worth pursuing.

Of course, the scores are only half the battle because the school still needs to be willing to accommodate your child. Prepare to have a meeting or three with the teachers, school psychologist and/or the principal.

A friend of mine home schooled and eventually sent her son to public school as a 4th or 5th grader. I think it took a year or two to for him to fully adjust to school and find his academic groove. Some teachers and administrators tried to lay a guilt trip on my friend that she had essentially screwed up her son up by having him at home. I would not be surprised if you experience the same. That said, somewhere along the line you will find a teacher or administrator who is more sympathetic and willing to advocate for your child. Grab on to this person and don’t let them go!

The plain, hard truth is that is that public schools work most efficiently if everyone stays in line. You will likely be chastised for having your child work above grade level and will be encouraged to keep him “in line” with the curriculum. Happens all the time. It just makes their jobs so much easier if your son is in the "right" box. *sigh*

If you can get any accommodations this year, huzzah! It's almost March, so more likely, you will be laying the groundwork for next school year. Things tend to move slowly in bureaucracies. Then again, in some states the school code spells out time lines for testing and implementing interventions; know your laws. You can start by looking at the state-by-state map at Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

Even more likely, the advocacy you do for your child will help other students down the line. Though honestly, that’s a source of cold comfort if you feel that your own child’s needs are not being met.

It's tough being the new mom in school. Volunteer, join the PTA and whatnot, so the school staff can see you are contributing to the greater good. Involvement in the school community will also help you connect with other parents who may have similar struggles. They may give you advice on how to work the system, what teacher your child will do best with a gifted child, etc.

As for the psycho part- vent to your spouse, your best friend, your private journal (there's no such thing as online privacy and anonymity, so be careful what you blog) so that you can be at your calmest and most rational when talking to the teachers and school staff.

Dear readers, do you have any other advice for J?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Marketing to Mommy Bloggers: When Bad Outreach Goes Good

There's no shortage of complaints about bad marketing efforts aimed at mom bloggers. In fact, just last week Liz from Mom-101 wrote about a pitch for Lenten meals that was sent to a lot of Jewish bloggers. To paraphrase a popular feminist slogan from the 1970s, Lent is to Jews as bicycles are to fish. They just don't go together.

I received the Lent pitch and deleted it without reading beyond the subject line. A lot of us do that. We delete quickly and mercilessly. Or worse, we take time to read and then we mock these poorly targeted pitches on our blogs, Twitter or Facebook.

Mostly, I delete. But depending on my mood, the pitch, the PR person or agency behind the pitch*, I might take a moment to write back. I might include information on the types of pitches that will resonate with me. Or I might send a quick note, "Thanks for thinking of me. I'm going to pass on this, but feel free to touch base again in the future."

On more than one occasion, when this bad outreach has come from a brand I like and trust, I've written or even picked up the phone to say, "I know you can do better than this. What's going on? Can I help you?" This "reach back" has lead to interesting conversations, new relationships and, sometimes, even a new client.

Which is not to say I'm encouraging every mama who's had a blog for at least six months suddenly going around pitching herself as a social media expert for hire. Frankly, I cringe at the thought.

But if you're preparing to move in that direction, you might want to pause before you hit delete or send out that snarky tweet. You might open some doors instead of slamming them shut.

It's not that you will reach out, instantly become someone's hero and walk away with a sweet paycheck. You probably won't. In fact, you may get a door slammed right back in your face (see this old marketing post, about 10 paragraphs in, for one precious example).

Still, you may may find someone who is willing to talk with you or listen to your words of wisdom as long as you don't charge them, which, like writing for free sometimes has a pay-off. And sometimes doesn't**, at least not a tangible one.

Just as I wrote early this year that all feedback is positive, I guess if I pull out my rose-colored glasses, I can say all outreach is good.

No wait, I'll need rose-colored glasses a bottle or two or wine before I could say that.

End note: Just noticed I started a post with this same title back in December 09. Same basic idea, but slightly different direction. That unfinished draft contained a link to Ciaran's post over at , R-E-S-P-E-C-T. What your PR means to me.

*Of course, the corollary is that when I see the names of other reps or agency I delete without reading.

**By the way, if you talk to a brand rep for a few minutes or even a few hours over the course of several months, do not refer to that person, agency or brand as your client. Clients mean contracts. Clients mean pay or at least a spelled out pro bono arrangement. Don't risk embarrassing yourself and ruining your reputation before you even have one.

Peruse my best marketing to mom bloggers posts listed chronologically by topic at MomImpact (and take a moment to sign on, as well).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Real Estate Market

Maybe you've heard it's not a great time to sell? Check out my post at Roost to read what I learned from meeting with several local real estate agents and asked them to look into their crystal balls to predict the future.

How to be a Better Blogger

These are take-away notes from a blog conference I attended a while back. No, not Blissdom, Blogalicious! Yes, it's office-cleaning week and I'm digging up all sort of old notes!

I don't have a source for these notes, but here goes: how to build a better blog in four easy steps:

  1. Show Up You don't have to write every day, but show up consistently. Three times a week is a reasonable goal.
  2. Add Value There's no point in writing everyday if you're so pressed for material that you wind up posting your grocery list, cut back on your posting schedule.
  3. Engage Users Ask questions, foster dialog instead of merely broadcasting your thoughts.
  4. Add Functionality Make it easy for people to share your posts, dig through your archives and whatnot.Check Spelling
What are your simple blogging tips?

(Yes, Blogalicious is billed as a conference for women of color, but it's open to anyone who enjoys learning from a diverse group of women. It was a fabulous conference in 09!)

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Big News!

In the last few weeks I've dropped hints about an exciting project I've been working on behind the scenes and here it is...www.MomImpact.com!


In some ways I'm merely formalizing the brand to blogger outreach and marketing to moms work I've been doing since 2008. In other ways, as I see unfamiliar names on the growing list of members, I realize that I'm creating something much bigger, which is both an exciting and intimidating prospect.

Along with the official, albeit beta, launch of MomImpact, a division of Positive Impact, Inc., I'm pleased to announce a new client. It's a local client with a national reach that give meaning to the term Sweet Home Chicago. Click over to check them out and be sure to join MomImpact (grab a button! Tell your friends; it's open to all social media moms- mom active on any social media channel, not just bloggers.)

Thanks for my fabulous clients, I've got a special thank you gift for MomImpact members who will be at the Mom2.0 Summit later this week. Please let me know if you'll be there!




Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dear Jon

Dear Jon,

I have to admit I've held an odd fascination with Stephen Colbert ever since my husband introduced me to Strangers with Candy, that bizarre and twisted take on after school TV specials. And Colbert's ironic take on conservative politics held my attention, but during the 2008 election, you became my true late night love (well, after Google, Twitter and, of course, my husband).

In 2008, I finally understood all the great things I'd heard about you and your show. You don't merely offer a snarky take on the political news of the day, you offer a smart one.

I am continually amazed by your interviews. You seem knowledgeable, well prepared and though you typically provide a few laughs during the process, you often ask deep, probing questions that yield thoughtful responses. Good stuff; it's more than I expect from late night TV.

Thanks,

Kim

My friend Amy from SelfishMom asked her blog friends to join her on a "Dear Jon" Valentine's letter round-up, knowing that many of her momblogger friends go to bed with Jon each night.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Linda Silverman on Gifted Children: There's more to school than academics

Just as my Twitterfriend was prepping a Linda Silverman post on her new blog(!), I was digging through old blog fodder notes from this same woman. My friend heard Linda speak, whereas I merely heard someone speaking about Linda's work in the context of highly gifted children.

I have been meaning to publish these notes as well as additional posts on Linda's work on visual-spatial learners as it relates to gifted children since my days at BabyCenter's Momformation blog. Clearly, like so many gifted issues that weigh me down, this one has been on my mind for a while.

I cringe when I hear teachers and administrators patiently (patronizingly?) reminding me that there is more to school than academics. In general, I agree. I think extracurricular activities can add a lot to an education (in fact, sometimes they are more beneficial than the curriculum), but what the folks don't realize is that these "life lessons" or take-always from the classroom are not always what they would expect and certainly not what they would want.

Back to Linda Silverman. As I heard it, she says this about a child who is, say, chronologically six, but academically nine-years-old and placed in an aged-based classroom.

That child's life lessons include:

How to live without real friends on the playground or "fit in" by joining uninteresting games with unfair rules.
How to wait patiently.*
How to explain things so that their peers will understand.**
Delayed gratification at pretty much every turn.

The lessons are not taught by a single instructor, but nonetheless are pounded in relentlessly, class after class, day after day.

Based on experiences I've had as a mom, I'd add these:
Classroom rules often go unenforced.
It's more rewarding to be a troublemaker who reforms his ways than it is to follow the rules from the get-go.

What lessons would you add?

*The corollary is "If everyone else takes so long to do this, I must be a lot smarter than they are."
**Arguably a lifelong skill, LOL.

The Dark Side of Blissdom

I'm having a great time checking out new blogs after Blissdom and, well, frankly, going through the post-Blissdom post is kinda like on big virtual hug. I came across these posts that are notable and thoughtful, just not as warm and fuzzy.

Malia over at Just Malia realizes that after a trip to Nashville, she's got a a new journey ahead of her.

Cecily at Uppercase Woman becomes an honorary lesbian and questions the nature of God (not to mention the Tea Party folks).

Both are worth a read, though admittedly I opted out of reading the bazillion comments on Cecily's post.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Comedy of Errors in Chicago

After receiving an invitation to take my family to see the premiere of the Short Shakespeare version of The Comedy of Errors at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, I floated the ideas by my boys, ages 9 and 11. The nine-year-old jumped at the idea.

The 11 year-old took some convincing.

Once he acquiesced, I realized that a schedule conflict prevented him from seeing the play, after all. A comedy of errors, indeed.

It was my first time inside this lovely theater in the round and my son. As my son and I looked around excitedly waiting for the show to begin, I took a minute to brief him on the show's complicated story line. In a nutshell it's about two sets of identical twins separated early in life that unexpectedly and hilariously reunited years later.

The Bard's original play has been cleverly re-imagined as a 75-minute Depression era traveling WPA show. This may sound odd when you read it, at least it sounded odd to me, but it worked.

I was delighted to see my son on the edge of his seat as he watched the story unfold. As a smile broke out on my face, he turned to me and whispered, "I don't really understand what's going on, Mom."

Oh.

The good news is that the play is so delightfully full of physical comedy that it almost didn't matter. Comedy of Errors is advertised as a play for ages 8 and up, but younger audiences will stay engaged by virtue of the fast paced action and physical antics even if the story confuses them.

The acting was top-notch, but performance aside, one of the highlights of our morning was the chance to talk with the cast afterward in a Q& A session. We also had the chance to mingle with the actors in the lobby after the Q&A, but someone was suddenly feeling shy, someone else had to pee and our stomachs were getting rumbly.

Looking for a bit of culture to warm your heart and soul on a drab wintry day? Head to an 11:00 performance of this show through March 6. Tickets are $20 per adult and $16 for children 12 and under. Group discounts are available.

Disclosure: My son and I attended a performance as guests of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chivalry is Not Dead, but Neither is it Wearing Pants: A Dockers Giveaway

Nothing screams "I'm a regular guy with a college degree and good job!" like a pair of khaki Dockers. But like the men in their Super Bowl ad, my husband has been running around in his skivvies these days.

Why?

The man needs a job! (Full-time as a technical writer with benefits, please. He's smart, talented and an asset to any organization, really.)

So when the good people at Dockers offered me a chance to give away five pairs Dockers, I asked if I could snag one for him. Frankly, I'm tired of having to be the one to run to the door when FedEx stops by on a cold windy winter's day.

Normally, DH is the one to do stuff like that. He's always willing to lend a hand and take on the messy tasks so as to spare his delicate wife trauma. It's been a while since we've gone out to dinner due to the unemployment thing, but assuming we were to go on a date night and it was raining, he'd no doubt drop me right at the door and slog the the cold wet parking lot to meet me. And then head back into the wet mess after dinner to get the car to pick me, his dainty flower of a wife, up.

The folks at Docker's want to know that DH isn't the only nice guy left on the planet. Is he? Chivalry is not dead! Is it?

Tell me a story about an act of Valentine's Day Chivalry in the comment section below for a chance to win one of four pairs of Soft Khakis in "Carmel" the (the 2010 version of khaki) or (hold on to your seats) "Red"(which I've been assured is quite popular).

And, by the way, I'm not a stickler or much of a VDay participant, so if the act of chivalry occurred a while ago, but you are thinking about it on Valentine's Day, that's cool with me, even if it means I'll never work with Dockers again. That's how much I love you guys.

To enter, leave a comment. Make sure you leave me your email or a link to it, so I can contact you. For extra entries, tweet this giveaway or join the community at www.momimpact.com and come back and comment letting me know you've done so. Entries will be accepted through Noon CST on Tuesday, 2/16/10.

Fine print: The only payment I'm receiving for the contest if the joy of sharing and the free pair of pants for my husband (thank goodness!). Also, the PR guy made me laugh when I got his note, so that counts for something. The prize will only be shipped to a US mailing address. This contest is not open to members of my immediate family because most of us work in pajamas, anyway. The winner will have 24 hours to contact me with a mailing address and the size and color of pants requested. Value of each pair is $52.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Another Blissdom Post: You are not Invisible

I started a little conversation on Twitter that seems worth exploring a bit. First off, let me explain that I spent several years as a SAHM, I did a little "work thing" on the side, maybe three hours a week just to make a teensy bit of money and get me out of the house now and again. But mostly, I was invisible.

If you've been there, you know what I mean. For the most part, I loved taking my kids places and doing things with them and just being with them, but I felt marginalized by society. It was as though walking around with a stroller indicated I had no brain, no voice in the larger world.

Until I started a blog.

But honestly, it was not until my first BlogHer conference in 2007, over 1.5 years after I started my blog, that I became aware of the larger conversation that is the mom-o-sphere, that I became a part of it.

And then after BlogHer, I eagerly popped over to read what new blogfriends had to say. I recall reading how Mom A enjoyed dinner with say Jane, and Jonelle and Josephine. And I'd think "But I was sitting right next to Josephine and she didn't mention me."

I remembered having a long talk with, say, Jenny, but not finding my name among the dozen or so bloggers she was so excited to meet IRL.

I was crushed.
I felt hurt and left out.
I felt invisible again.

And no doubt there is at least one mom, likely dozens, maybe hundreds, reading the Blissdom round-ups feeling the same thing right now.

We want to be recognized. We want to be validated. We want to know we matter. We want to feel a part of this fabulous community.

But oftentimes these round-up posts are hastily written after several exciting, but near sleepless nights. Sometimes it takes weeks (uh, years in my case) to sort through the large pile of biz cards we collect at conferences. Sometimes cards fall out of our neat little stack. People get left out despite our best intentions.

My advice to you: hold your head high, comment on the posts of people you met, link to them on your blog even if they didn't give you a shout-out. Continue to put your best foot forward on your blog. And then blast some Rocky theme music or a song like "I will survive" and do jumping jacks until that negative energy is out of your system.

On a related note, great post by Liz over at Mom-101 today on the truth about the mommy wars.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Blissdom Wrap-up: Should You Write for Free?

Blissdom was fabulous! There is so much I could rave about. The crowd, 500 bloggers strong, was just the right size, the schedule was busy without feeling packed, the sessions were interesting and useful, the sponsors were appreciated and set up in such a way that attendees didn't feel like we were in a massive trade show. And the women- such an inspiring and talented group! For details and links, I'm going to send you over to Christine Koh's thoughtful and thought-provoking blog for the Biggest Blissdom Link Love Lovefest Ever.

If you've never been to a blogging conference, one of the smaller events like Blissdom, Evo, TypeAMom or Blogalicious is the way to go. Not only will you learn a lot, but you will make more connections than at the larger events. Paradoxical perhaps, but true.

{stepping off soap box}

One thing that stands out in my mind was a whispered conversation (or five) on a topic that was not addressed in any of the panels I attended- should bloggers write for free?

This was touched upon somewhat in my session with the fabulous Alli Worthington, Barbara Jones, Audrey McClelland and Nancy Smith in which we discussed earned media (such as writing unpaid product reviews) vs. paid media (running ads or sponsored posts).

I believe it was Alli who spoke up to say that even though you write free content for your blog, a corporation should not be reposting it on their website without compensation.

But what if a blogger contributes to sites like Alli's own Blissfully Domestic, or TypeAMom or powerhouse Silicon Valley Moms Blog Group? Sites that have large audiences and run advertisements? Should you contribute to those kind of sites for free?

Only you can answer that question.

{stepping back on soap box}

In many cases, though, I say yes, you should.

First off, keep in mind that the hosts of those sites are likely not striking it rich just yet (and quite possibly never will). And even if the site owners do seem to be rolling in money now, well here's what my husband likes to remind me in regard to my consulting, "If you take into account the thousands of hours you've spent online in the last 5 years, you're billing rate is under $10 an hour."

{No, he's not nearly as jerky as he sounds.}

It generally takes a lot of sweat equity to build a successful site. But enough about the site hosts, what about you?

I mean, what about me?

I've been a volunteer contributor to the Chicago Moms Blog since it launched in 2007. Joining that blog not only introduced me to a wonderful group of local bloggers, but it instantly connected me to dozens (now hundreds) of other mombloggers. One of those bloggers hired me for a problogging position which later brought me to a consulting gig, another sent me on my first blogger junket which also led to other great experiences, and yet another might be publishing on of my essays in her forthcoming book. Hell, I went to Club Med because of a post at Chicago Moms Blog.

On top of that, I've developed lasting friendships, both personal and professional.

I'm just a click away from great advice, both personal and professional.

I've built my platform and reached a heck of a lot more readers than I would have at my blog alone.

Honestly, since I have more demands on my time, I debate my continued involvement, but for now I'm staying. I still reap something from the effort I put in and I feel little is asked of me in return.

If only more of life worked that way.

It often doesn't.

In fact, if you're not in a win-win situation, then you are most certainly the one on the losing end of the deal. If you don't feel valued, or, even worse, feel you are being taken advantage of because of your willingness to provide free content, stop doing it.

{stepping down again and tucking my soapbox under my bed}

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Marketing to Moms: Letting Someone Else do the Talking

I'm busy working on a top secret project and preparing for the Blissdom conference. Why take time out to write when my digital girlfriends have already provided brilliant fodder on the topic of marketing with moms?

Jennifer James, founder of Mom Bloggers Club, is kicking ass and taking names with her recent post How to Determine a Mom Blogger's Influence without Asking Her and pointed thoughts about brands that do not follow back on Twitter.

In recent months, I've been talking to clients about micro-influence and taking PR offline into real life and I've been thinking about it even more. Jessica Smith of Jessica Knows, and a VP Fleishman-Hillard, gave voice to some of the ideas I've been pondering in her post, The Influence Going Local. Definitely something to keep an eye on, if you ask me.

As for that top secret project, I'll be back soon with exciting news in the marketing to moms department. Stay tuned!

Edited 2/2/10 to add: Dovetailing on my thoughts about micro-influence, here's a must-read article from Wired magazine. Check out Clive Thompson piece, "In praise of online obscurity". Serious food for thought for those who are focused on reaching bloggers and Tweeters with the largest following.

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