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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Nature of Reflective Practice in Education

"The Nature of Reflective Practice in Education" 
By Kathy Patricia Caton ‘91

Reflective Practice: a simple and common sense strategy for an effective educational environment.

There are many valuable tools within each of our classrooms that can expand the understanding of the educator on a daily basis; those tools are generated from the wisdom of the young, our students. Exploring their readiness to learn, facilitating their classroom experiences, giving the learners strategies to combat insecurities and being a good listener are key elements in securing a valued character building classroom environment. The tools are simple and easy to incorporate into every classroom environment.

One strategy of logic that I use and talk about in my classroom is what I call “Reflective Practice,” or “Mirrored Enlightenment.” This is one of many techniques I have enlisted within the class structure that has empowered me to fine tune my intuitive facilitation skills and retain a harmonious classroom atmosphere—a strategy which I have been practicing for over twenty five years.
As I discuss in my book, Da Capo, from the Beginning: Inspiring Life Lessons from the Other Side of the Baton, I began my career at SUNY Fredonia, in the same methods classroom and student teaching environments where the teacher is at the head of the class—the lecturer, not necessarily the “facilitator.” As an “empath” and intuitive, I was able to relate to the child’s learning readiness, and I balanced my listening and observational skills while engaging students in a classroom activity. This concept was not included as a strategy when student teaching; this is one of many concepts I have incorporated along the way.

Reflective practice begins when you, the teacher, observe the students you see on a daily basis, including those observations seen outside of your classroom. Whether it be during recess, bus duty, hall duty, gym, the field or even the lunch room, observe and learn. An intuitive teacher and administrator can learn much about a student’s learning readiness just by observing how they interact in a non-academic environment. In my long career, I have only met two administrators that spend every day at recess or the lunchroom for these same reasons: taking note, witnessing, and learning.
Once the educator has made some conclusive insights relating to those students, then you can begin your next encounter with those students, reflecting from the knowledge you observed when they were not under your baton.
Next, I would then begin the class in a group activity where you, the teacher, can observe student behaviors and readiness in a game type environment within an academic setting. For example, begin each class with some sort of “Do Now” and count the class off in groups; spending the first five minutes of class encouraging students to work with others where they can be themselves, while utilizing a game model, is not only a fun but also a fundamental skill building activity. Whether it is a math, language, history, science, art, wellness, or music, exercises done in groups with a timekeeper on board helps you create a new class dynamic. This “Do Now” can be at the beginning, middle, or end of your lesson plan, depending on what works best for you and your students. My elementary students prefer to do this activity first, since it helps them focus on the task at hand. You may choose to change the time of the game daily, as that works well for middle-schoolers, who are full of energy and looking to release that energy after the first twenty minutes of any class. It also applies in high school later on in the period, especially when you have latecomers who are not quite at your doorstep in the beginning of class. 

Communicate, validate, appreciate each process in each environment, and you will surely see an evolution of supportive coordination in your classroom. Once each focused activity is over and the students have left your classroom, reflect; write your observations down in a journal. Who was working as a leader? Who were the listeners, engaged learners, or even the apathetic classmates? Assess the success of the activity. What did you learn today that you did not know yesterday about your students and how they learn? From your classroom assessment and reflective practice, write down what have you gained from each day’s experience and what you may want to amend or keep consistent in tomorrow’s learning setting.
Teaching is a practice for both the learner and the educator. If the educator attempts this new strategy, reflective practice in their daily lesson plans, they will see themselves and their pupils in a different light. This will empower you, the educator, to develop the creative side of yourself to enrich and enlighten your next class with significant success.

Kathy Patricia Caton received her Bachelor’s in Music Education from Fredonia State and her Master’s from Stony Brook University. She began her career in preschool music education and then K-12 music and theater education in a variety of schools in New York and now, Massachusetts. As a choral conductor, Kathy extended her studies at the Royal School of Church Music in the UK, founded and directed the Smithtown Community Chorus, guest conducted at Chautauqua All County Festival, and taught as tour choir director in Huntington and Middle Country Schools. Presently, she is teaching a project-based arts curriculum model at Mt Greylock High School in Williamstown, theatre education and direction at Drury High School in North Adams, and introducing preschool music education to the Williams College Children's Center. Kathy’s first book, Da Capo, from the Beginning: Inspiring Life Lessons from the Other Side of the Baton chronicles her life’s journey as an educator and relates notable jewels of wisdom she has acquired along the way.

Friday, May 2, 2014

There Are No Major Mistakes: How an English Major ended up in a Legal Marketing

"There Are No Major Mistakes: How an English Major ended up in a Legal Marketing" 
By Debra Scala Giokas, '87

When I was a student of literature at Stony Brook back in the late 80’s, the standard question was always, “What are you going to do with an English degree?” I’m sure that’s still being asked today. The same could be asked of a degree in anthropology or sociology or history. Unless your major is accounting or engineering or computer science, chances are that you are going to be questioned not only why you chose your major but, more practically, how are you going to apply it in the real world. Welcome to the plight of the student of the liberal arts.

Many people don’t value the liberal arts degree because many are still not able to make the connection between the skills you learn through your major and the job that you will be able to do. It’s your responsibility to make that connection for them.

For example, English majors bring excellent communication, interpersonal, and organizational skills to the table. They also bring an understanding of the human condition. English majors are empathetic and good listeners which could position them as a journalist, counselor, or career advisor.

Most employers require the same set of skills: communication, interpersonal, and organizational. They’ll want you to be well-versed in technology. The internet and now, social media, has set us all in a tailspin, creating opportunities that we never could have imagined decades ago. In ads, you’ll also hear terms like self-starter, or team player, or highly motivated. These are skills that can’t be taught.

The economy plays a major role in helping you to determine where you will land your first job. Depending on economic trends, some fields you began studying for may be closed off, and others you never dreamed of may show much promise. That’s why you need to be flexible. You also need a good, solid education. Translation: you need to make sure you’ve learned how to learn.

When I was in college, I never heard of my career. I never took a course in legal marketing. It didn’t exist.

So what is legal marketing? In 1977, a ruling in an Arizona court established that lawyers would be able to advertise their services. As a result, a new field of in-house marketing professionals at law firms began to flourish. I was hired as the first full-time in-house legal marketer on Long Island, and I have since worked at three of Long Island’s largest law firms. I have been at my current position as Director of Marketing at Certilman Balin for the past 15 years.

Over the course of my 25 year career, I have seen the growth in this field. Approximately 30 Long Island law firms now have in-house marketers. With its national and international membership, the Legal Marketing Association is a testament to the growth of this profession.

A legal marketer is responsible for a myriad of functions including: internal and external communications, community relations, website development and maintenance, seminars, special events, public relations, advertising, media relations, newsletters, database management and social media. It’s our job to position our firm in the marketplace and to spread the word about our areas of legal expertise. No two days are ever the same. I credit my ability to keep up with the many requirements to my solid education and the work experience I gained along the way, beginning with part-time jobs and internships.

There is a difference between selling services and selling products. It’s much harder to brand an invisible service (accounting, law, insurance) than it is to brand a tangible product such as a camera, television, or car. When people can’t see what you provide, they can question the process, or the bill, or why they should use you in the first place. A marketer of professional services must build an awareness of the service and what the client can count on. We market the promise, using a variety of tools (as mentioned above) from the marketing toolbox.

Let’s get back to my English degree. My writing skills have been invaluable throughout my career. The ability to read legal documents and cases and translate them into common language for the general public is like reading Shakespeare, and then writing a legible paper which shows a thorough understanding of the playwright’s masterpieces. To give you an idea, I write press releases, columns, articles, newsletters, biographies (even obituaries), memos, letters, and speeches, as well as copy for the web, brochures, and social media.

Don’t worry so much about picking the right major for the right job. Focus on the major right for you. Your reason to study what you love is also for personal enrichment. I love that I majored in literature, as reading and writing for pleasure is such a huge part of my life. I write and publish poems – not for pay, but for personal satisfaction.

If you feel happier and more alive, you will have confidence, and that confidence will carry you throughout the many decisions you will make in your career. The only “major” mistake you make is listening to people who question your major. If you get swayed from what you love, you will regret it.

Always “follow your bliss,” as Joseph Campbell said.  If you don’t know who Joseph Campbell is, then take a course in mythology or go to the library or Google him. Keep learning.

 Debra Scala Giokas has been in the field of Legal Marketing for 25 years. For the last 15, she has been working as Marketing Director of Long Island’s second largest law firm Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman, LLP. Debra shares her love of English as a board advisor for Literacy Nassau which promotes adult literacy in the community. Debra was also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Dowling College, where she taught an undergraduate course in services marketing for six years. She has been published in a variety of business and legal trades, which includes a quarterly column in the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island's (PRPLI) newsletter “For Immediate Release.” Debra’s poems regularly appear in the Great South Bay Magazine, and have appeared in magazines and literary journals. Debra was recognized by PRPLI with its Mentor Award in 2012.

You can follow Debra on twitter @debrascalag.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Identifying Your Defining Skill

"Identifying Your Defining Skill" By Richard Murdocco,  '10
By design, a degree defines your set of skills in the job marketplace. Or does it?
“Bachelor of Arts in Political Science” would denote that one should be studying the geopolitical relationships in South America rather than, for example, engaging in project management for a marketing campaign.
What goes unspoken is the variety of skills hidden behind that categorization emblazoned on the degree—the writing, research, or body of work that earned it. As a job-seeking graduate, it is your job to convey that the skills learned earning a particular degree can be almost universally applied to most jobs in the market. It’s up to you to find your unique asset and capitalize on it.
In my example, I graduated from Fordham University with a BA in Political Science and Urban Studies, and then I went to Stony Brook for my Masters in Public Policy in 2010. With that academic background, it would be a natural progression to work in government, or a tangentially-related field. Currently, I am employed with Teachers Federal Credit Union, where I am an Analyst in their Marketing Department after holding positions in two different non-profits on Long Island. The jump from urban design (which was the focus of my MAPP degree) to marketing was unexpected, but makes sense thanks to a common skill needed in both fields— writing. Thanks to a focus in my unique skill, writing, (and the amount of writing required for the MAPP program), my Stony Brook degree has helped me bridge the gap between the policy and marketing professions. Land use is a specialized niche, but writing is nearly universal.
The importance of identifying your unique asset came to me when I met with New York State Assemblyman Carl Marcellino to discuss the job hunting process. He asked me early in the meeting “What do you have to offer?” I answered quickly, “I graduated from Stony Brook with my Masters in—” he stopped me immediately. “You and everyone else these days has a degree. What can you do? Why are you useful? What can you bring to the table?” He proceeded to tell me a story about how he got his first job out of college. “Typing. That was my skill. What’s yours?”
Between graduation and employment, I started a website called The Foggiest Idea, which helped put my Stony Brook degree to work by taking complex land use/development issues on Long Island and making them approachable to the public. The site helped hone my writing, and it allowed me to use the skill professionally. Despite working outside of the policy field, I still write on local issues regularly to keep my policy skills (and writing) sharp. In my day-to-day job, I use my writing to draft anything from copy to press materials. My unique asset has helped me in each job I've held and will continue to do so in the future.
The lesson for any graduate is so simple it’s easy to miss. Instead of selling yourself based on academic achievement, it is more helpful to convey to the prospective employers what skill you can offer and which of their needs you can fill. Identify your skill and nurture it; market yourself with it and embrace it.
Everyone may have a degree, but everyone doesn't know how to use the skills they have learned earning that degree to their fullest potential. Use it to your advantage.
Richard Murdocco is a digital marketing analyst for Teachers Federal Credit Union. He graduated from Fordham University with his BA in Political Science and Urban Studies, and his MA in Public Policy from SUNY Stony Brook in 2010.
Professionally, Richard worked for the New York City Mayor's Office of Capital Project Development under the Bloomberg Administration, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Community Development Corporation of Long Island as a grant writer. His website, The Foggiest Idea, is a dedicated resource for land use and development information geared towards Long Islanders. 

Follow Richard Murdocco on Twitter @TheFoggiestIdea, visit or email him at You can check out his work weekly for Long Island Business News.