The Target Strategy

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In continuing with our blogs about writing strategies, here is another approach that might work. The Target Strategy is a strategy that can help a writer at the beginning of the drafting process. It can also help keep a writer focused and organized while working.

Time, Audience, Reason, Goal, Excitement, Tone

Time: Pick a time period, work for that period, and then take a break. Studies have shown that our brains can only focus on one thing for 45 minutes to an hour. Embrace taking breaks as a way to keep you sane while writing.

Audience: Never forget who your audience will be because it can make a world of difference in how you write. If your audience is a teacher or professor, you need to be more formal and scholarly. On the other hand if you are writing to friends or something more informal, you can be more relaxed and use everyday language.

Reason: Make sure that your writing has a clear purpose. Whether you are writing to educate or entertain, it should not be hard for the reader to figure out what you are trying to do.

Goal: Before you start make sure you can define the goal of your writing. And as you write, make sure everything connects to that goal.

Excitement: What about this subject is important to you? If you write about what is exciting for you personally, it can help make your writing be more significant to your audience.

Tone: Always make sure your tone matches with the subject matter. Having a clear tone can express how you feel and how you want readers to feel.

Before You Write

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Sitting down with a blank page when you have to write something can be daunting. When writing, knowing where to start is a big part of the battle. One of the simplest ways to write a good paper is to make sure your thoughts are organized. Here are two easy strategies that can help you get prepared to write a well-structured paper.

Fast write

Take a set amount of time, perhaps 3 minutes, and write as many ideas about the subject as possible. This helps you get out creative thoughts as they come, without worrying about if they make sense for your paper.



Clustering is similar to Mind Mapping (see previous blog post). The difference is that you do it quickly and aren’t focused on the organization of it. Start with your main idea in the center, and create branches as your creative thoughts start to flow.


Making sense of it all

Don’t worry if your page starts to look confusing because the purpose of these strategies is to get all your thoughts to a place where you can see them. Once you have written down all your thoughts on a subject, you can start to group together thoughts by which ones are similar. This way you can create an organized structure which can be used for writing your paper.

Parents & Social Media

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Your child being on social media is pretty much unavoidable. You can try and keep them off major social networking platforms or keep them from having a phone, but one way or another they will find a way to the things they want to see. Here are some tips for dealing with teens and social media.

Get Informed

Learn about the popular social media platforms and how they work. Understanding the way they work will help you know more when you hear your child talk about what they are doing online. Read reviews in your app store or look for videos on Youtube from credible sources that can help explain different sites.

Talk to them about it

Don’t be afraid to ask your kid about their social media–what they are on, how platforms work, and who they use it to talk to. Sometimes kids tend to forget that social media can be like a watering hole in the desert. You can surround yourself with your friends and family, but there is nothing to stop predators from joining you if you aren’t careful. Remind them of the danger of speaking to strangers online, and how public the internet is.

Trust that you have raised a good kid

Social media can be a way to give kids a little taste of freedom while they still live at home. If you know your kid has good common sense, have faith in them to make good choices.

Get on and add your kids

As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to have a Myspace (man, that makes me sound old) if I didn’t add my parents. If you are nervous about what your kid is doing on social media, make them add you so you can keep track. This is a good idea, especially if you are struggling to trust them.

Mel’s tips for the summer

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Dear Trinity Families, …and I capitalize​ Families​ because tops, yep, tops is what you all are:

Obviously, a bit unofficial and casual as I touch base, Let’s all be unofficially relaxed these weeks. You all (Mid-Atlantic version of y’all) did a great job this year, and I look forward to next.

BUT not too fast/quick/speedy here:

Students; Read AT LEAST two books. As the wonderful writer James Michener stated:

If you don’t wear glasses by age 30, consider your life wasted. So read. Do yourself the honor. Reading on the beach or in the mountains or at the pool is wonderful. If you doubt my words, try it. If you don’t find it wonderful, I’ll give you a lollipop when you return.

How about a bit of service work? Just do 5 hours. Call an organization (Humane Society, Children’s Hospital Ward, Assisted Living, Food Bank), and document how you feel afterward. Show me the documentation, and you know the outcome; lollipop!

Now, in honor of your folks, cook (or prepare) a meal every week. It MUST include cleaning up afterward and must include a dessert and salad.

Have a great one. Laugh, pray, hug, laugh some more. Be kind. Enjoy. Don’t burn, stay healthy, be impeccable with your words, don’t take things so personally, assume nothing, and always give it all you’ve got. (Plagiarism at its finest) And ​DO NOT,​ go a single day without telling your people how much you love them. If you do this every day, I’ll give you a lollipop.

It’s a bit late but grow something outside. A plant, flower, green pepper plant, etc. It’s good for the soul if you have one, and great if you need one.

See if you can go ONE FULL DAY without your electronic device. Few of you have the power or strength or self discipline or integrity or heart to do it. In fact if you can do it I’ll give you a …

Just text or email me at the end of that day and…

It’s inappropriate to say I love you to you individually, but frankly I’m too old to worry about that nonsense, so I will openly state that… ya’ll are okay.

Be well. Be very well. Xx-


Organized Chaos: Mind Mapping

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If your child is a creative learner, then you know organization is a struggle for them. As a student I always got the same feedback on my paper; my ideas were good, but my writing was all over the place and lacked structure. Even while writing this blog, I struggle to make sure my writing isn’t going off in five different directions.

During my senior year I learned something that helped me be able to fake organization for papers, mind mapping. Don’t get me wrong, I had used mind mapping before, but it was in very structured worksheets in the fifth grade. The focus of mind mapping is to help get ideas out of a students’ head and onto the page, so it doesn’t need to be extremely organized, just easy for the reader to understand.

The Main Idea: The topic, main idea, or subject should be in the middle of the page and bold enough to draw your eye.

Branches: The branches are used to start your ideas about the topic, don’t worry if they seem like they don’t make sense. The sole purpose of branches is to get ideas out of your head and onto the paper.

Twigs: The twigs are under each branch where you list the details or information that support your branches.

Doodle: Feel free to doodle related to the topic to help the message sink in.

Group: Once you finish writing branches and twigs full of ideas, start grouping branches together. As you begin grouping branches, think of how you need to structure your paper.

The Cornell Note Taking System

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A common struggle students have is taking good notes in class. This method was created by Cordell Hoek while teaching at Cornell University in the 1940’s, but it still a popular way to help students organize information. This system works by dividing the page into three sections notes, cues, and summary.

  1.  Record

In the notes column, write down the important information like dates, keywords, facts, and ideas from your reading or lecture.

  1. Questions

Use this section to write down your questions, questions you think will be on test and quizzes, record relationships, and establish continuity. This section is focused on critical thinking and making connections to the greater meaning behind facts.

  1. Recite

Cover the note section of the page and see if you can answer a few of the questions from the cue section. This will help you to know what concepts you need to review before quizzes and tests.

  1. Reflect

Ask yourself things like; ‘what is the importance of this?’ or ‘how can I apply this?’ and ‘what effect can this have?’.

  1. Review

After class or reading, use the summary section to summarize the notes section and think how what you have learned connects to information from previous lessons or what you have learned in the past.

The 8 Keys of Excellence

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Growing up, school was a struggle and not just for me, but for my entire family. My mother worried constantly about my grades and me getting into a good college, which made her hover over me every day when I came home from school. Her worrying made my dad stressed which led to lecturing, and all this just made me less interested in school because I thought school was to blame and not me. As a teen my only concern was sports and hanging out with my friends, until I learned something that really helped me to bring aspects of my life into perspective, and it’s called the 8 keys of excellence. If you have been by my office you will have seen  the 8 keys on the wall, as a constant reminder of the lessons they’ve taught me over a lifetime.


As educators and families, we work every day to make sure our students are living with integrity, and being the best forms of themselves. Living with integrity means making sure that your actions are in line with your values, and this can be hard. To have true integrity we have to constantly ask ourselves are we being true to us, or being what we think other people want to see.

Failure Leads to Success

I can honestly say at least one teacher probably explains this to a student once a week, but it can be a hard message to truly understand. To fail at something can be a massive blow to our ego and self-esteem, but it’s only a failure if we aren’t able to learn from it. Mistakes should make you humble, and drive you to do better with knowledge about what you need to do better.

Speak With Good Purpose

Thinking before speaking is pretty simple as an adult, but as a teen it’s not so easy. The teenage brain is driven by so much emotion that words often come out without a second thought. Remember that words are powerful, and everyone thinks differently so everyone will react differently. If people focus on speaking positively and with the best intentions, the number of miscommunications and undue hurt feelings can be avoided.

This Is It

This is similar to a more sophisticated version of YOLO (You Only Live Once) as the kids say. This is it means focusing your attention on the moment, not worrying about the future. This is not saying go do something reckless because it seems cool, but focus on the positives of your life as it currently is. Life is far too short to spend timel looking forward for something better.


This key is about putting your full heart and soul into everything you do 24-7. When we live committed, we can boost our confidence, and avoid indecisiveness. Commitment sets us on a positive path, that allows us to overcome any problem.


Taking ownership in our lives can be a hard lesson while going, but it’s important to take ownership and responsibility for our words and actions. We can’t always control everything that happens around us, but we can take ownership for our responses. When we own our life and choices, we can be a positive example for those around us.


Life throws problems at us all the time, being flexible means we are able to handle those problems with strength and grace. Flexibility is about the willingness to try something new and not getting locked into one way of thinking or doing things. When we are flexible, we can work well with others and be open to new ways of thinking.


When we are in balance, we are focusing on what’s meaningful and important in our lives. Sometime in life, we can get so bogged down with the things we believe are important, that we lose sight of what truly matters such as our families, friends, and our health.

Creative Learners VS. Organization

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How to know if you have a creative learner

Creative learners have many great traits, but some of those characteristics make it difficult for them to focus and stay organized. Some creative characteristics are that they are sensitive, intuitive, artistic, athletic, musical, and think about the big picture. Some of the drawbacks of being a creative learner are that they are often procrastinators, daydreamers, disorganized, poor test takers, and struggle to put ideas into words. Unfortunately, traditional education styles often label creative learners negatively as “problem students” when they just aren’t being catered to adequately.

How to help them at home

Make sure students have a singular place to put all school work divided by subject, either a three-ring binder or an accordion folder. Having one place to put work and notes helps to keep items from getting lost, and not to miss important information when its time to study for a test. Creative learners often don’t turn in homework, and it’s not because they don’t do their homework, but because they can’t find it to turn it into their teachers.

Using red and green folders can help students organizes homework during the day and at home. The red folder is for homework and assignments that haven’t been completed, and the green folder is completed work that needs to be turned in.


Use a planner to keep track of homework, projects, and test dates. Students should cross off items as they are completed, and make sure to keep their planner with their folder to keep everything relevant together. If you encourage your student to mark social events and holiday on their calendar, it will eventually become second nature to write everything down.


Creating a positive environment is essential for studying and homework, which is an easy way to help your student without being overbearing. Having a fan or music without lyrics can help students focus because many creative learners prefer to have background noise while working. Make sure to keep students from studying in bed, being in bed tells a person’s brain it is time to sleep, making it harder to concentrate and retain information.

Above all, the most important thing your creative learner needs is understanding. However frustrated you may become watching your child struggle, I guarantee they are twice as upset and frustrated. Taking the time to talk to your child about their frustrations and possible solutions show how much you care about their feelings, and that will go a long way with a creative learner.

Dealing with Teens and Depression

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Depression is a complex illness because unlike the flu or rash, the symptoms of depression can be difficult to spot and may appear slowly over time. As a parent, the idea that your child is struggling with an illness that takes more than just medication to treat can make us question how well we have done our job. If you think there is a possibility your child has depression here are some indicators you can look for.

Feeling Hopeless- This is one of the most common indicators of depression because it trickles down into other aspects of someone’s life. Feeling hopeless can lead someone to start internally asking the question ‘why bother?’ or ‘why does this matter’ about everything in their life. The hopelessness can start to make them think things like their friends, school, and family aren’t important, which can lead to poor grades and fighting with loved ones.

Irritability or Hostility- A person with depression is dealing with a tsunami of hopelessness and sadness, so when they are forced to do mundane tasks that in their minds are unimportant they can have a hostile reaction. As a friend or family member, it is important to try and remember that the hostility is coming from depression and not the actual person.

Extreme Fatigue- Sleeping all day and night, or being constantly tired is a sign many doctors look for when diagnosing someone with depression. Sleeping frequently stems from hopelessness and leads to people thinking ‘what’s the point in getting out of bed because nothing matters.

Other Signs And Symptoms

  • Changes in eating habits
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Reckless behavior
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Thoughts of self-harm

What do you do?

As scary as all these things may seem, living with teens with depression can lead happy and healthy lives, it just takes work. One of the most significant challenges for parents of teens with depression is the desire to find immediate solutions, but the truth is an instant solution is unrealistic. It is essential to try and understand your loved one’s situation and put yourself in their shoes. Ask questions about how your loved one is feeling, and focus on letting them know that you accept them and just want what is best for them.

Treating Depression?

Studies have shown the best ways for teens to deal with depression is a combination of finding a medication that works, and being able to have an open dialogue about their feelings. Finding the right medication can take a long time, and be a frustrating process, but finding the right one can be the key to helping a teen with depression live their best life. It is essential to talk to your family doctor about symptoms, and if necessary allow your child to speak to the doctor alone and ask any questions they need.  If your teen is too uncomfortable talking to you about their problems, you can ask your doctor for recommendations for a counselor or psychiatrist who works with teens and kids. If those are not an option for you financially, try speaking to your school about your teen speaking with a guidance counselor or school psychologist.