How do you mend a broken school?

On Linda Cliatt-Wayman‘s first day as principal at a failing high school in North Philadelphia, she was determined to lay down the law. But she soon realized the job was more complex than she thought. With palpable passion, she shares the three principles that helped her turn around three schools labeled “low-performing and persistently dangerous.” Her fearless determination to lead — and to love the students, no matter what — is a model for leaders in all fields.

Why you should listen

Linda Cliatt-Wayman grew up in poverty in North Philadelphia, where she experienced firsthand the injustice being perpetrated against poor students in their education. She has dedicated her career and her life to ending that injustice, working within Philadelphia’s fractured public-school system. She spent 20 years as a special-ed teacher before becoming a principal, leading two low-performing urban high schools to success with improved test scores and increased college admissions among students.

Now at Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion High School, Wayman and her team are once again proving what is possible for low-income children. Test scores have improved every year since Wayman took over, and the school was removed from the federal Persistently Dangerous Schools List for the first time in five years. Diane Sawyer and her team spent the 2012-2013 school year documenting Wayman’s efforts for ABC World News Tonight and Nightline.


Visual Thinkery on Education

Bryan Mathers started working as a Software Engineer. He founded, grew and then sold companies and then he started an accidental journey of visual articulation of interesting thoughts called Visual Thinkery. His job is “not really drawing itself, it’s the thinking – Mathers says – visually articulating a thought. So I’ve made it my job to help others catch thoughts and articulate them visually. As such, I’ve created thinkery for a whole bunch of Organisations”.

“As a kid in a classroom, I didn’t question it. I took what was laid before me, in the environment in which it was given. I was taught. I found it difficult to ask questions, as it revealed a lack of knowledge or understanding. The game was one of “how much do you know?“, maintaining our pecking order of perceived smartness. However, there were some teachers who came down to my level and transparently learned alongside me. It was different. They were different. The game was different.”

where can we go today?

100 Must-Read Epistolary Novels


There is something pleasantly, innocently voyeuristic about reading an epistolary novel. They give you the feeling of stumbling on a box of letters left in an attic, but there are no consequences or hurt feelings if you read them. Actually, the author prefers that you read them. Epistolary novels, books told through diaries or letters, have a way of making you feel even closer to story’s characters than the average first-person point-of-view story. You’re not in the character’s head, but you’re reading words that they are writing for the eyes of only one or two other people. You’re seeing a version of the story that has been edited by the fictional people living it.

Epistolary novels have been around almost as long as the novel itself, with the first recorded, Love-Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister, appearing only 80 years after Don Quixote. The popularity of the form dropped off after the turn of the 19th century or so, but in the last few years, the number of epistolary novels has seemed to explode, with stories told through email, texts, and IMs. Epistolary novels have been used to expose real injustices (Letters from a Peruvian Woman, The Houseboy), to solve pretend mysteries (The Documents in the Case, The Woman in White), and to explore developing romances (Possession, Attachments, Everything Everything). They are ideal vehicles for telling coming-of-age stories, because the protagonists are allowed to work out their growing up years without outside input, and that gives us marvelous diaries like I Capture the Castle and Harriet the Spy. For much the same reason, epistolary novels are great for watching the slow, hilarious crazy-making of uppermiddle class folks (Where’d You Go Bernadette, Dear Committee Members).

Some of the most fun epistolary novels to read are the ones that really play with the form, like Ella Minnow Pea (the residents of a small island are only allowed to write letters using characters from a slowly shrinking alphabet), or Griffin and Sabine, a gorgeously (and creepily) illustrated story told in letters and postcards between the two main characters.

In this list of 100 epistolary novels, we’ve included a few books that don’t tell the whole story through diaries or letters, but which use diaries or letters as major plot points. Two, Bats of the Republic and The Jolly Postman, are two very different but beautifully built books that hinge on you pulling physical letters out of actual envelopes that are built into the books themselves. Continue reading “100 Must-Read Epistolary Novels”

The Periodic Table of the Figures of Speech


Figurative speech is the language we use to spice up our writing. Besides their aesthetic value , figurative expressions and axioms cast a flavour of ‘writerly professionalism’ on the written piece. It does take so much practice for students to be adept at the use of figurative language and there are no shortcuts to learn that quickly. There are however some useful tips to help them in their learning process. Periodic table of the figures of speech is an example of a very good document students can draw on to consolidate and learn different ways to use figures of speech.

Periodic table of the figures of speech is a work realized by designer Curtis Newbold. The visual features two main genres of figures of speech namely: tropes and schemes. Tropes cover expressions like personification, metaphor, irony, hyperbole..etc and schemes cover things like ellipsis, alliteration, parenthesis..etc. Curtis provides ample explanation of each of these genres and also offers some useful tips on how to use each of them.

At the root of all good writing lies an understanding of how sentences are built. In kindergarten, we learn the fundamentals of grammar and the basic concepts of how sentences are constructed. For most of our elementary and secondary training in writing, we are taught simply to improve those grammatical and mechanical skills.

A good writer, however, understands the complexities and rhetorical effects of how modifying sentence structure (known as sentence “schemes”) improves the flow, interest, and even persuasive qualities of their writing. They also have a firm understanding of the many “tropes” (things like metaphors and similes and ironies) and how the inclusion of them can improve reader engagement, understanding, and overall appeal and effectiveness of their writing.

If you can master these forty basic figures of speech in the periodic table below (broken down by category within the schemes and tropes), you’ll be on your way to becoming a fantastic writer.

This full-size graphic of Periodic table of the figures of speech is available from this link.

What Is the Singular They, and Why Should I Use It?


hjfjfLanguage has changed a lot in the last year, with the singular they being voted the most important word of the year, and numerous dictionaries adding gender-neutral usage notes. Merriam-Webster even introduced the gender-neutral honorific Mx. to their unabridged dictionary this year, forever ending the question of what to call someone whose gender is nonbinary (i.e., not male or female). It’s about time we talked about they in particular and gender-neutral pronouns as a whole, and it’s time we discussed why they’re important to binary and nonbinary folks alike.

First, Some Terminology

We’d like to start by defining a few key terms in this discussion, with some help from our friends at the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Here are four gender-related terms that you should know:

Gender: A set of cultural identities, expressions, and roles—traditionally categorized as feminine or masculine—that are assigned to people based on the interpretation of their bodies, and more specifically, their sexual and reproductive anatomy. Since gender is a social construction, it is possible for people to reject or modify the assignments given to them and develop something that feels truer and more just to themselves.

Gender binary: A socially constructed system of viewing gender as male or female, in which no other possibilities for gender are believed to exist. The gender binary is inaccurate because it does not take into account the diversity of gender identities and gender expressions among all people. The gender binary is oppressive to anyone who does not conform to dominant societal gender norms.

Nonbinary: Adjective describing a person who identifies as neither male nor female.

Of course, these three terms are just the beginning of a discussion about gender, but for the purposes of talking about gender-neutral or third-gender pronouns, they’re a great start. If you have more questions about gender or sexuality, I’d highly recommend GLSEN’s resources on the subject.

English Evolves!

One of the great lies about the English language is that it remains static. Grammar pedants and trolls generally operate under a series of assumptions about language, which may or may not reflect current usage and accepted norms. In the linguistics community, there is actually a term for this view of language—prescriptivism.

Even if we adhere to certain rules to make communication easier for people across regions, dialects, and levels of writing proficiency, the language will eventually evolve. The singular they is simply another way English is changing for the shorter, the more empathetic, the better. The singular they is not even a new phenomenon. Merriam-Webster includes usage examples of the singular they dating back to Shakespeare, with notable additions from the likes of Jane Austen and even the traditionalist W. H. Auden. The singular they is nothing new, but in making our language more inclusive of people of a myriad of genders, this simple word is becoming more and more important.

LGBTQ Harassment and Personal Gender Pronouns

According to a 2013 GLSEN study, more than 64.5 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students hear homophobic remarks at school. Of these students, 33.1 percent have heard harassing remarks specifically targeting transgender students. For transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid, and other nonbinary students, this can have extreme consequences, from lower GPAs to missed classes to suicide.

Clearly, language matters, and it’s especially important to people whose gender does not match cultural assumptions. That’s why we support and respect the use of whichever personal gender pronouns a person or group may choose to describe themselves. What’s a personal gender pronoun, you ask? GLSEN defines personal gender pronouns (PGPs for short) as “The pronoun or set of pronouns that a person would like to be called by when their proper name is not being used.” For people who identify as male or female, this is generally he or she, but trans, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming folks may use a variety of pronouns. They could use the singular gender-neutral “they” .

Since we’re focusing on the singular gender-neutral they here, it’s important to note that many people at different points of the gender spectrum use “they.” When you’re using it in a sentence, you can say something like this:

“They is a talented artist. I really enjoyed their painting of a flower in art class yesterday.”

But Wait, “They” Is Useful for Everyone!

Now that we’ve talked briefly about how to use they for people who have chosen it as their PGP, let’s talk about how it can help people who identify as he or she. Merriam-Webster sums up the situation well in their usage note for they:

They, their, them, themselves: English lacks a common-gender third person singular pronoun that can be used to refer to indefinite pronouns (as everyone, anyone, someone).

Although English has many great qualities, it’s never been great with indefinite pronouns. Traditionally, he was the default pronoun for a person whose gender you didn’t know, as in this quote from Thomas Huxley:

“Suppose the life and fortune of every one of us would depend on his winning or losing a game of chess.”— Thomas Huxley

But, as many have pointed out, gendering all unknown people as male is sexist and inaccurate. That’s why Merriam-Webster, the Oxford English Dictionary, and the American Heritage Dictionary have recently added notes supporting the use of the singular they for a person whose gender you don’t know. “The trend, then, is clear. Writers who choose to use they with a singular antecedent should rest assured that they are in good company—even if a fair number of traditionalists still wince at the usage,” says the American Heritage Dictionary, in their usage note on the subject.

Admittedly, using the singular they in a formal context may still cause some raised eyebrows, so be careful if you’re submitting a paper to a particularly traditional teacher or professor. But the tides are turning, and English will soon be more efficient because of usages like this:

If Sally or George got a cold, I would have sympathy for them.

Note that, if we did not use the singular they, that sentence would read:

If Sally or George got a cold, I would have sympathy for him.

Or, if we tried to make some awkward amalgam of current language norms, we might write:

If Sally or George got a cold, I would have sympathy for him/her.

Furthermore, if Sally or George identified as a gender other than male or female, even the above Frankenstein-ed sentence would be incorrect. After all, your name does not determine your gender or your preferred gender pronouns.

There must be a better way!

Luckily, using the singular they makes English a more efficient language, and it helps us to avoid awkward sentence constructions. More importantly, though, it allows you to avoid making assumptions about the gender of a person you don’t know.

Their Pronoun, Themself

Of course, not everyone will agree that it’s time to formally accept the singular gender-neutral they. GLSEN’s research reminds us that people who would use they as their preferred gender pronoun have long been the subjects of harassment and discrimination, although things are changing. Grammarly supports the individual choice of pronouns and is using the hashtag #theyisok this week to start a dialogue about PGPs, gender neutral pronouns, and the singular they.

What do you think about the gender-neutral use of they? Leave a comment below on your experience with personal gender pronouns.

adapted from Grammarly, Celeste Mora