Aristotle’s Art of Persuasion

In August of 2018, I sat in a professional development hosted by our newly adopted English Language Arts (ELA) series representative. My focus was lacking due to the fact that it was a day before Back to School Night and kids were arriving the following Monday. My colleagues and I sat there while the representative talked at us. There was no appeal, no storyline to draw us in, no connection made. Therefore, we decided to go on our own business, making assignment sheets, name tags, and checking emails. One of my colleagues even went shopping for new shoes.

As I reflect on my own PD presentations, I would be horrified to know my participants would prefer getting their teeth cleaned rather than sit and listen to me. I’ve always been enamored by the presenters of Teachers College Reading and Writing Project because they seem to speak right into my literacy soul. I got curious as to what makes their presentations remarkable and others like the ELA adoption presentation”meh!” Alas, I came upon an article from Harvard Business Review titled, “The Art of Persuasion Hasn’t Changed in 2,000 Years” by Carmine Gallo.

Gallo outlines a formula Aristotle outlined 2,000 years ago on how to be masterful at persuasion. Renowned presenters across history have used this formula and I am not surprised that Lucy Calkins and colleagues have beautifully mastered it as well.


The public speaker’s actions should support their words. Or else, the speaker will lose credibility and ultimately weaken persuasion. There is no need flaunt your degrees or drop names. Simply establish character because it helps build trust between yourself and your listeners.

As a new instructional coach at a new school site, this is my number 1 goal with teachers. To me, walking the talk is everything. If I tell teachers I will be in their room at 10:30 am, I am there by 10:28 am. If I tell teachers I will be there to have lunch with them to discuss a coaching cycle, I’m there. Be present and show up.

I also find that the staff developers at TCRWP are in the trenches with their teachers, supporting and guiding them every step of the way.

2. Logos-Reason

Once the trust is established, there is a logical appeal to reason. Gallo asks us to reflect, “How will your idea help?”

To me, I always circle it back to our district-wide vision, the logical reason is that kids come first, every day. When it comes to reading and writing, they deserve world class education and my appeal to teachers is that it is to really see our kids.

3. Pathos- Emotion

People are moved to action when the speaker makes them feel an emotion. Simply put, persuasion cannot happen in the absence of emotion. Gallo explains that the best way to transfer emotion is through storytelling. Narratives releases neurochemicals in the brain, such as oxytocin, known as the moral molecule that connects people on a deeper emotional level. The best stories are personal about you or people close to you.

Just today, I had a fabulous teacher share how she feels like she has short-changed her previous year’s kids when she was starting out in the new work of writing workshop. I think this took an incredible amount of vulnerability to share. I think Pathos and Ethos may go hand in hand here. I have spent a lot of time in this teacher’s room using ELD strategies for our ELD kids. While I am in no rush, I do want to establish my character that I will always put kids first. I believe she is seeing me.

4. Metaphor

Lucy Calkins is a mastermind at turning words into images. She helps us clearly see and understand their ideas.

My favorite one that Lucy shares is the guy dancing in the meadow alone. Soon, a few join in, and later more come, and before you know it, the entire field is dancing.

She shares that TCRWP was once the lone man dancing in the meadows and now it seems the whole field is joining in. While we can rejoice in more kids having a voice. I also clearly hear her request in not having us forget what brought us to this work in the first place. That is hearing and seeing our kids.

5. Brevity

There are limits to how much the brain can input information. Thus, it is important to remember that less is often more.

What if this is the only 5 things we needed to persuade anyone of ideas? What if this rhetoric got in the hands of the wrong people? Something to think about for a fine Monday night.

That Hill!?

There is a gargantuan hill behind my school. It’s a hill that my coworkers used to climb when they were training to hike Mt. Whitney. I used to be able to traverse through the streets of it just a few years ago. My coworkers and I would talk about our day while making strides up the hill.

Since transferring to this school site, I have yet to make it known that I used to hike it. One day, one of our kindergarten teachers who lifts dead weights asked me, “Have you hiked that hill? It looks good!”

Of course, I had to share that it was my weekly ritual, sometimes twice a week and that maybe we should try it one day. That one day was today! At 3:30, 7 of us gathered in our workout attire at the front of the school and made our way up hill.

“Let’s get to the water towers,” suggested one of them.

We took a straight shot uphill toward the water towers. I don’t remember it feeling like a 90 degree angle, but today it might as well have been. Three of them talked and talked up the hill. One of them even began to walk backwards. I stood back, huffed, caught my breath a few times, and drank water. “Keep going, I’m just taking in the view!” I hollered as they made way to the towers.

Two of us took stock of where we were and where we still need to go. She suggested, we wait there for the rest. As much as my heart was beating out of my chest, I said to her, “No, we have each other. Let’s do this!”

Before we knew it, the water towers met us gloriously at the top and like most things in life, it didn’t matter who was first, who was last, who was in the middle. We all reached the towers and the views made it all worth it. By the way, that’s me waving!

How are you feeling?

If there is one committee intended for me, it is the Social-Emotional Learning council committee in my school district. The first meeting was so incredibly timely last Thursday. The last few days leading up to it, I had forgotten to drink water, take breaks, and eat my lunch. Each night, I endured migraines, and my family lost as a result. I hadn’t modeled what I preach to my students, friends, and family that if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others. Nonetheless, the council meeting filled my bucket.

Our superintendent, Dr. Bob Taylor, added a fifth vision for our district last year and they are what I believe to be the most important. The vision calls for all members in our district, especially our students, to be socially aware, emotionally secure, and learn joyfully. I think it compliments the other vision he has for us, and that is to build relationships across all levels of the organization.

As a result, 10 people advisory board for Social-Emotional Learning was created. They comprise of school counselors, teachers, and learning specialists. Each year, new cohorts of council members are formed from each school site and we share back with our teams what we learned from the advisory members. Here are my biggest takeaways from that meeting.

Emotions 101

Feelings are defined as natural, private internal experiences and or reactions about one’s emotions. It’s really a part of what it means to be human.

Moods are a temporary generalized state of mind. 

Emotional labor is the work it requires to manage one’s feelings to manage other challenging emotions. 

Emotional Contagion means that our emotions can trigger other peoples emotions. It can get really dark or happy. 

Importance of Emotional Vocabulary and the Mood Meter

Our students who require most of our emotional labor is asking for us to help them. They’re acting out because of a language deficit and have a great difficult time regulating their emotions. 

Dr. Marc Brackett of Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence has created an ingenious method for our students to check-in and help name our emotions. The mood meter helps our students identify and name their moods. 

In an interview with Good Morning America, Dr. Brackett shared that the biggest mistakes we make with our feeling is “ignoring them and suppressing them. “It’s important to name our feelings. They are information, and when we acknowledge them, great things happen.” He uses the RULER approach as a way to name and tame our emotions. 

R: recognizing emotions in ourselves and others.

U: Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions

L: Labeling our emotions (The mood meter is especially powerful in helping our language deficit students identify how they are feeling.)

E: Expressing our feelings

R: Regulating our emotions. 

Image result for mood meter

Mindfulness, Self-Talk, and Music

The great things that begin to happen when we name our emotions is that we can regulate them. One way to regulate an emotion is through mindfulness activities. The SEL advisory members shared that “practicing mindfulness can change our neural pathways.” It’s not that we want to deject our negative emotions. Rather, we should acknowledge that we are getting into a dark place and using our coping mechanisms to redirect our thoughts. 

A Japanese study shows that staring at a loved one’s picture for a while boosts our moods and increases productivity. As an example, they showed us three slides of puppies and babies, and you could feel the entire room begin to fill with joy. 

Additionally, music can help us regulate our emotions. My favorite part of the day was when they shared had the entire council create a playlist of mood music. For instance, for angry songs that were listed was Hamilton’s “My Shot” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Songs for a peaceful and calming mood included, “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” by the Eagles and Toto’s “Africa. 

In a nutshell, this day was what I just needed. Moving forward in my week, I already carved out time to sit and eat my lunch. Who knows, maybe I’ll even listen to some mood music.


Sorry Folks, Park is Closed!

One of my all-time favorite scenes from Chevy Chase’s National Lampoons Vacation is at the end. Clark Griswold and his family had finally arrived at Wally World after traveling an arduous journey from Illinois to California. You may recall, Clark said to his family, “Looks like we’re the first ones here!” Unbeknownst to the Griswolds, the park is closed. As they approach the entrance, a bumbling security guard, played by John Candy, comes out and says to them, “Sorry, folks, the park’s closed.”

Last Friday, I decided to take Sophia and her best friend Paloma to the Boomers. While our adventure did not entail a cross-country trip, we did sit in traffic for nearly an hour. The girls were thrilled to play in the arcade, drive go-karts, rock-climb, and above all, splash around at Buccaneers Cove. When I finally parked my car, I looked around the amusement park and decided to impersonate John Candy by saying, “Sorry, girls park’s closed.”

“Really, Mommy?” Sophia said as Paloma cocked her head to the side.

“No, I’m kidding girls. Come on, get your bags, looks like we’re the first ones here though,” I replied.

We walked toward the double red doors and pulled one handle toward me; it did not open. I decided to try both handles at the same time. It was still closed. “Oh, I know girls, we need to walk through the bowling alley,” I said as I began walking to our right.

“No, Mommy, that’s not the way Daddy and I came through last time,” Sophia announced.

“Oh, ye of little faith,” I said back, “Just trust me.”

We walked up the stairs to the bowling alley, and a lovely young lady greeted us. I asked her, “Can we get into Boomers from here? The doors were closed,” I asked.

She alerted me that we have to walk around the perimeter of Boomers and that we will see a sign that reads, “Entrance.”

As we walked back out, Sophia couldn’t resist, so she said, “Told you.”

We all enjoyed a burst of good laughter until we had arrived around the building. I gleefully attempted to open the door, and it too was closed! I looked at the sign to my right that read Boomers operating hours on Fridays are 12 P.M.-11 P.M. and Attractions are 2 P.M.-11 P.M. I glanced down at my watch and that read 11:50 A.M. “No problem, girls, we have to wait 10 minutes. Let’s play in the arcade and then go to Buccaneers Cove,” I suggested.

Ten minutes with two kids anxious to play in the water feels like 10 hours. Alas, the door opened, and a young man greeted us at the door. I couldn’t help but say, “First ones here?” He just smiled and continued to walk to our right. “Buccaneers Cove will open at 2?” I asked.

“Actually, the waterpark is closed on weekdays until June 10,” the young man replied.

To my chagrin, my joke had turned into a harsh reality for Sophia and her best friend. Their smiles quickly faded, and a dark cloud loomed. “Girls, I am so sorry I made that joke! I’ll never do it again! How about $25.00 each for the arcade?”

“Yeah!!” they shouted.

I wonder what Clark would have done?

First ones here!

Saying Goodbye

The desks have been pushed to the side, the chairs neatly stacked, and the work of students have been removed off the wall and given back to them. This could only mean one thing, it’s the last day of school. This day is usually a time for me to rejoice and look forward to time off. However, this last day of school was my last day of having my own classroom. To be strong for my kids, I forced a smile on my face, but the smile caused my head to spin, knowing that I was denying my true feelings of sadness from deep within. Nonetheless, I soldiered on.

I walked toward the staff lounge to empty out my mailbox, but as I turned the corner to turn, a student’s mom had just walked out of the office. We smiled and walked toward each other to say goodbye. “I had to see you and say good-bye,” she said.  My forced smile quickly changed into a frown and tears began to well up in my eyes. She continued to tell me, “You have made such an impact on my daughter. She loves how you always checked in with her. I’m so sad my younger daughter won’t have a chance to get you as her teacher.”

I whimpered that I will be around still because my daughter will still be here. We hugged and parted ways.

I walked back toward the staff lounge, this time making a quick stop into the bathroom. I looked at my swollen eyes, and said to myself, “It’s okay for them to see you cry.” I walked out and headed for the workroom to run my last set of copies. The door swung open and another parent walked in and said, “Hey there! Did you get my text?”

“I did. I’m sorry I didn’t reply,” I said as I looked up from the copier.

“Oh my gosh! She kindly said.

“No, this is so stupid. I need to stop, I can’t have the kids see me this way,” I said.

All of a sudden, she said, “No, it’s not stupid. Brene Brown would be proud. You’re being vulnerable.”

I had an epiphany at that moment. This is what it means to rumble with vulnerability. Leaving my school after 18 years and entering into a new position next year where I will be supporting teachers. I’m entering a territory in which I don’t know how I will be received. I’m leaving a place of comfort in which I know what to do, I have a reputation of giving it my all to my students, most importantly, a place where I have built positive relationships. This is what it means to rumble. It’s not fun, it’s not comfortable, but I am the one that chose to apply. Thus, I am the one that needs to deal with these emotions.

My students and I enjoyed our last day together eating donuts, playing pass the circle-map, blowing bubbles, and playing the piano. I know that I hold fond memories of them and I hope that in the future, when they hear my name warm and fuzzy feelings come to them.

Bananas and Chardonnay

Sophia and I slept over my mom’s house last Wednesday. My mom lives 4 minutes from the school I teach, and considering Sophia had art class until 5:30, it was the perfect night to order Chinese food in and have a slumber party with my mom.

After dinner, my mom asked me if I could run to the market to buy her some ripe bananas. “Only get 3 or 4,” she said.

On my way to the market I hoped not to see anybody I knew. As a teacher, my human capacity is capped by 3:10, when the students leave. I walked through the market, picked up a black basket, and hung it over my right arm as I walked toward the bananas.

I noticed my mom was out of Chardonnay, so I walked to the left of the bananas where the wine and spirits section were. “A pack of 4 small bottles? Done!” I said to myself.

I also decided to buy retirement and thank-you cards, a bag of pita chips, and hummus to snack on with the Chardonnay. At this time, my luck was going well. After all, how could I explain the wine to students? Thus, no students, no colleagues, no parents, no socializing!

I paid for the items and walked out the double sliding doors with one bag and crossed the street toward my car, I noticed an employee at the cart station struggling to retrieve the carts so that she could return them. As I walked past her left, she turned slightly, and we locked eyes. It was Jenna, a student I had seven years ago.

“Mrs. Kaplan!” Jenna said as her eyes widened with mine.

“Oh my gosh, Jenna, you’re a working girl already!” I responded.

“Yeah…it’s my first week. They liked me, so they hired me.” Jenna said.

“I’m so stinking proud of you, look at you!” my eyes beamed with pride!

“I hate this part of the job, look at the carts, they’re everywhere in the parking lot,” Jenna said as she pointed across the parking lot.

As I looked up, two black grocery carts were strewn across the entire parking lot. I couldn’t help but want to help her and say, “hey, I’ll go get them for you.” But, something stopped me. Perhaps it was her perfect smile showing her pearly whites that reminded me that she was no longer the young nine years old with braces that sat in my classroom, needing my support. She was a young lady, earning her wages. Therefore, I gave her an empathetic nod and said, “Yeah, that’s got to be bad. Just wait till summer.” I know, I wasn’t helping. It just came out.

“Well, it was good to see you,” Jenna said.

“My absolute pleasure, Jenna. Tell mom I said, ‘hi'”

I got in my car with a huge smile on my face. I was so proud of the young lady she had turned into, and above all, I was happy to have run into her.

Salty Veggies

My friend, Rhonda Barnes texted me Saturday night to share that she was having dinner with a model toy of our hero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“RB having dinner with RBG tonight,” the text read.

RBG stood on her dinner table and behind her was something I was equally inspired with, a vegetarian pasta salad. RBG stood in front of a green bowl vegetarian pasta salad. “I can make a veggie pasta salad tomorrow!” I thought. After an all-consuming weekend celebrating our mothers, our little family finally settled in for Sunday dinner. Vegetarian Fussili pasta with Balsamic Vinegarette dressing was what our good eats would be for the night.


I placed a pot of water to boil on the stove. For taste, I put in a dash of sea salt. “Hmm, the salt seems to be a little hardened,” I thought. Nonetheless, the salt crystals settled into the water. It began to boil, and I poured the Fussili pasta into it. After 12 minutes, the pasta turned soft,  and I dumped the whole pot into a strain. I let it cool under the sink while I returned to the empty pot.

A tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil went into the pot to heat. I opened a package of fresh Crimini mushrooms, organic carrots, and broccoli and stir-fried them into the pot. I worked to mix the vegetables, and while it was still raw, I decided it was time to put in a dash of sea salt.

“Shh, Shh, shh”  went the container of sea salt. Nothing, not even a crystal. The sad mixture of vegetables stared at me from the circular pot, longing to be seasoned.

“Maybe I should tap it?” I thought.

The vegetables continued to sizzle in the olive oil. I decided to tap the container. Still, nothing! “TAP, TAP…SLUSH!!!” Suddenly, an avalanche of white sea-salt came pouring down onto the broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms. The vegetables were buried underneath its flurry of white sea salt. The broccoli looked like evergreen trees blanketed in snow, while the carrots and mushrooms weren’t even in sight.

“Oh my gosh, Bob!” I screamed toward the living room.

“Scoop it out, and wash the salt off!” Bobby responded while standing over the mess.

I took a metal serving spoon, mindlessly hoping for the salt to disappear. Fail!

“Yeah, I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m sorry!” Bobby said.

Since half the container of sea-salt had barrelled down into the pot, my hope of feeding my family a healthy vegetarian pasta dinner became just that, a hope. Dinner was ruined.

“It’s okay, Mommy. I can eat left-over pizza,” Sophia said.

I asked for a hug, and I think I embraced her longer than she wanted. Left-over pizza for everyone tonight. Maybe I’ll try again next week, maybe I’ll have better luck.