Jennifer Abrams -Consultancy that informs, inspires, and empowers VOICE
September 2009

Happy September!

This month's newsletter focuses on culture and community.  As the school year starts, students and teachers are finding their places in classrooms and schools. What welcoming mindsets and rituals do you notice in your school or organization?  How do you stay open to those with views that are different?  How do you show hospitality?

I had an opportunity to teach this past month in Istanbul and Izmir, Turkey.  Two Turkish private schools welcomed me in and we studied elements of effective instruction, positive classroom climate and Habits of Mind.  It was a delightful trip with many wonderful memories. A few of my observations about creating a welcoming culture and climate are the subject of this month's newsletter. 

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!

Not Just Anyone Can Read Your Coffee Grounds – Teaching In Turkey

One's Frame Of Reference Makes All The Difference

In the Elements of Instruction session I facilitate, there is a section on teaching to the objective. One of the key points I try to emphasize is that going too far afield from a key objective has a possible downside to it. If the conversation is too broad, some students might not be able to get back to the essential learning.  Those students would benefit from a more focused, tightly designed bit of instruction.

I facilitated a conversation on this topic four times in Turkey.  Two were translated into Turkish.  Two were done in English.  Each time, I used an example of a lesson in which students look at ecosystems of animals and determine which animals are herbivores and which are carnivores.  The conversation moves forward to discuss why one might not want to move too far away from the focus on animals into the world of human herbivores (i.e. vegetarians).  It might get distracting to the students.  Each time I had the conversation in Istanbul and Izmir, the group went toward favoring a larger discussion with students that included humans in the ecosystem too.  Forget the small objective.  Make a bigger objective.  Were not humans animals as well? Why wouldn't one want to broaden the conversation?  The bigger picture was much more important.  We were all part of the bigger ecosystem. 

When I got to this point in each session, I did not debate the rights and wrongs of direct instruction, nor did I share my perspective on where humans fit in the scheme of things. What I noticed about this dialogue was that I didn't have it as much when I work within the United States.  Most of the time my groups just go along with whatever is indicated as presented to us in the workbook.   The values behind the exercise aren't questioned.  The conversation isn't broadened.

Depending on where one lives and how one learns about systems and frames, one might have a different way of looking at the question – one might change the frame itself.  There is no right or wrong.  In this context, there is only learning.  My way of answering isn't the only answer around.   Let's ask ourselves: How many times do we get curious vs. corrective about our students' frames of reference?

Coffee is Connection

Twice a day, no matter what, there was coffee.  Nescafe, tea, and my favorite, Turkish coffee.  Yum. It was a sacred fifteen minutes of sipping. Well, twenty minutes.  Folks connected.  They laughed.  And they read coffee grounds.  A time-honored moment of bonding.  Spin the cup, put the saucer on top of it, tip it over and wait.  Then have a reading.   Two learnings. 1) I was going to come and go and when I was gone these colleagues would be there for each other.  In the big picture, five more minutes sitting in the lounge–telling a story, updating a friend – was important.  2) You can't just leave your coffee ground reading to just anyone.  It must be someone who will find the good.  Why speak of the bad? Share the good. 

A Shawl, A Bracelet and So Much More

On day two around 10am, I was going from group to group to see what was being discussed, and I complimented a teacher on her shawl.  At 10:15am, during the coffee break, I was presented with the shawl on behalf of all the science teachers at the school.  What does one say?  I was stunned.  I demurred.  It was too much to give me the shawl.  I wanted her to know it looked beautiful with her eyes.  I left Istanbul with the shawl. 

In Izmir, in order to mark an occasion the head of the English department thought was most meaningful, she pulled off her bracelet and put it on my wrist.  "You must remember how important your trip was to us," she said.   This hospitality and generosity were overwhelming to me.  And little things like this happened again and again. A Turkish colleague said to me, "It is part of our culture to give.  It is Sufi in nature.  One's spirit can travel to the next life much easier if one travels light now and gives on the way."

This year, ‘give' on the way.  Have a coffee.

My wish is that we all travel easy.

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Cool Resources

In getting ready for some equity and mindset work we are doing in Palo Alto USD, here are two resources we have been studying:

Even Babies Discriminate: A NurtureShock Excerpt. | Newsweek Life |

"See Baby Discriminate" – Kids as young as 6 months judge others based on skin color.  What’s a parent to do?

Recently on Forum: Fri, Sep 4, 2009
How (Not) to Nurture Children We welcome Po Bronson for an in-studio conversation on his latest book, "NurtureShock," which upends many commonly held beliefs about how best to nurture our children. Bronson is co-author with Ashley Merryman of "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children."

Upcoming Events

Each month I will share with you information about a few of my upcoming trainings.
If I am going to be in your area, contact me so we can say hello, hopefully in person!

September 16
Being Generationally Savvy
Keynote Speaker
Fresno County Office of Education
Regional Occupation Program Fall Conference
Clovis, CA

September 25
Effective Coaching and Facilitation Skills
Professional Learning and Leadership for Equity Program
San Francisco Unified School District
San Francisco, CA

September 30
Being School Savvy
Early Years Teachers
Bay Area Teacher Development Collaborative
The Bay School
San Francisco, CA

For additional upcoming events, please visit my Web site.

Until next time,


Feel free to forward this newsletter to friends and colleague. You may reprint this newsletter in whole or quote with attribution to Jennifer Abrams and a link to

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© 2009 Jennifer Abrams | Email Jennifer | 4290 Wilkie Way #L, Palo Alto, CA 94306 |  (650) 858-0699


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