Creatively Kicking Zombie Tail: Using Visual Literacy to Foster Mindfulness & Combat Our Mind-Numbing Culture


School is out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean children need to become zombies.

Popular culture has been fascinated with zombies for well over a decade now. Sure, zombies have always been a staple of the horror genre, but more than just a staple, zombies have been at the forefront of American pop culture since the movie 28 Days Later hit theaters in 2002 and reinvigorated our collect thirst for brains. Since then there have been several other box office hits, ubiquitous bumper stickers, gag gifts, books (including Zombie Christmas Carols), and even orchestrated zombie walks (think of a flash mob comprised of zombies). The hit series The Walking Dead is looking to its 8th season and has spawned another series that is becoming even more popular than the original – Fear The Walking Dead. Why has America’s typically short attention span been focused on zombies for so long? They must tap into something deeply rooted in our collective experience.

The popularity of zombies may reflect the often soulless nature of modern society. Too much of the modern grind is mindless and automated – even for our children. Indeed, several studies have shown that the traditional classroom model actually reduces brain activity! Additionally, our brains our so inundated so often with information, noise, images, etc. all competing for our attention, it is only natural to want to shut our brains off and zone out. These mind-numbing bombardments also reduce brain activity.

How do we combat this? How do we keep the zombie virus from infecting our brains or the brains of our children? Tapping into our creativity is one way. Play is the most natural way to learn and to discover. When we allow ourselves and our children time to play and time to create, we activate the brain and build new pathways. This makes it harder for the zombie virus to take hold. Such creative endeavors help instill a mindful attitude and help develop a growth mindset. Mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress, increase positive affect (happiness), and boost brain activity. Likewise, a growth mindset creates a perspective of discovery and adventure with a reduced fear of failure – such a mindset also improves positive affect and success in life.

If you are looking for an affordable and easily accessible way for your child to fight the zombie virus, check out DRAWN TO DISCOVER. This online, visual literacy program is a fun and invigorating way to fight the summer slide!






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Fatherhood and Fostering Creativity: Brief Thoughts From a Father-To-Be

mission-creative_istock_50664418_people-imagesAs an expectant father, I have lots of hopes and dreams for what kind of father I want to be. For example, I see fatherhood as nurturing growth and development. Fatherhood is about providing guidance and direction that helps a child grow and discover on their own. As a father-to-be, I’m proud to be a part of DRAWN TO DISCOVER and helping fathers put another tool in their toolbox to help them succeed in this mission.

Wendy Halperin’s visual literacy program has demonstrated proven success with over 50,000 children. Now our team brings this phenomenal program into your home. Put another feather in your cap and try our free trial now. You can feel secure that you have not only provided entertainment for your child, but that you have helped them tap into their own creative brain and helped them develop the skills to master their world.

Feeling a bit skeptical? Feel like the dad sizing up the teenager who wants to date his daughter? Check out our research page and see for yourself. Then, sign up for our free trial and follow along with your child. Not only will it be great bonding time, I guarantee you will learn and enjoy yourself too!

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Houston, We Have Lift Off!

fullsizeoutput_13aLooking for a cure for the summertime blues? Want to prevent that summer slide? Look no further. I am proud to announce that Drawn To Discover is officially launched! I have the privilege to work with an amazing team whose tireless efforts bring the power of Wendy Halperin’s innovative visual literacy lessons into your home.

Drawn To Discover offers an online enrichment program that is both fun and beneficial. These creative online lessons offer an engaging way for your child to refine their motor skills, develop mastery, build important neural pathways, and learn to express themselves more creatively in both words and pictures.

With so much information constantly bombarding you and your child, we are proud to offer a proven program grounded in solid educational theory and research. A review of research from the past decade has drawn a clear connection between fine motor skill development in early life and future success in math, science and reading. Indeed, when attention, fine motor skills and general knowledge are grouped together, they are much stronger predictors for future math, reading and science achievement than early math and reading scores alone. (See Dr. Bill Jenkins, “The Science of Learning Blog”)

I hope you’ll take advantage of our free trial!

Keep Creating!


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Under Stress, We Regress: Overcoming Paralysis


It’s mid-April, time for a recipe for stress: spring fever, state assessments, transitioning students, wrapping up paperwork for this year, and planning for next year! The students are sick of the teachers and vice versa. Sounds like a great learning environment, no?

We’ve talked about how our current educational system has become a pressure cooker squeezing staff and students alike in the middle. Teachers and educators face a higher intensity of need from the students they serve (upward pressure) while facing increasing performance pressures from above (downward pressure). This pressure cooker system is boiling everyone in it.

Under stress, we regress. High pressure systems, like the current educational environment, lead to the fight, flight, or freeze response. This yields reactions, not learning, not growth. A large body of research indicates that a significant number of teachers teach in the same manner in which they were taught – not in accordance with their teacher training nor in accordance with the latest and best research-based practices. The pressure cooker environment only exacerbates this. Teachers are in survival mode and have little time for new learning – they rely on their instincts, whether they are best practice or not. We call this pedagogical paralysis.

To be clear, we do not advocate for an entirely stress-free environment. No, brain research demonstrates the need for a healthy amount of disequilibrium and a certain sense of urgency to stimulate learning. The key is modulating this balance to the right amount for the right student – the same applies to teachers and educators and to groups of individuals (i.e., classes, staffs, and teams). For more, on this Education Crucible Model see Chapter 5 in our book:

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Accountability vs. Shame & Doubt


When we blame we do not change. How much of our current school accountability system is about blame? It definitely has the strappings of a punishment model. Yet, punishment does not foster growth, merely fear and compliance. It is time to call for a holistic accountability system, one that encourages and facilitates growth and achievement versus one that demands compliance with an “or else!” mentality. Moreover, our current “or else!” mentality doesn’t even follow through with its demands half the time. For example, states receive waivers from the federal government for not meeting certain criteria. Thus, the bold and brash talk by many politicians and education policy wonks is nothing more than empty rhetoric.However, even though the rhetoric is devoid of integrity, it is still very damaging to educators and students by creating highly stressful, compliant-oriented environment. Moreover, it is not accomplishing the goals is set forth – it isn’t working. So obviously the beatings must continue until morale improves, right?

This punishment model of accountability is really more about atonement than growth. It does not create long-term positive effects. Does the American Education system have past sins for which it must make amends? Absolutely! Our history is rife with discrimination and harmful practices to many. Likewise, public education was free to do as it pleased with little to no consequences for many decades. But, do we wish to punish the future for its past sins?! No, we must continue to improve the system so that it more fully actualizes its stated mission and goals. Thus, we call for a more holistic accountability system.

Accountability in itself is not a bad thing. Neigh, it can be a very beneficial motivator. There needs to be transparency as well. Educators are charged with a very important and precious task: educating our young and preparing them for our future. That task should not be taken lightly. Thus we call for a container model of education that fosters autonomy, not shame and doubt!

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Driver 3: Engage with Stakeholders


I’ve been on the road the past few weeks visiting schools and districts across the state of Texas, on the front lines of the War on Education, if you will. Spending all this time in schools and classrooms conducting observations, meeting with teachers and education leaders, and exploring way to help schools continue to improve and address needs offers me a unique perspective on what is truly happening in our schools day-in and day-out. I can tell you that those opponents want to undercut and undermine public education have no idea of all the good things happening. Nor do they realize the damage that their campaign is causing. Because even though there are countless successes happening daily, neh, hourly in all our classrooms, the stress that teachers, students, principals, counselors, parents, etc are under is also innumerable. The lack of resources and pressures of a punishment model accountability-system combined with the increasing challenges that the students bring with them (indeed, for the 1st time in history, the majority of public education students are in poverty) create pressure cooker for all involved. This pressure cooker makes a job that should come natural (learning is innate) into a highly stressful and seemingly impossible task.

Yet, the powers that be too often continue to pile on to the burden of educators and students instead of creating conditions that will allow them to succeed. For example, most states have cut funding in the past decade and some continue to cut. Teachers are continuously forced to do more with less, but their pleas for help fall on deaf ears as the critics continue to blame the victim. But go figure, as the center on budget and policy priorities illustrates, money does matter in K-12 education. This new research study shows a direct correlation with school funding and performance. You really can’t get blood from a turnip.

Blame the Teachers Cartoon 1

To counter this, educators must engage with stakeholders (i.e. voters) and work to demonstrate the value that taxpayer money spent on education truly offers. This is difficult as time is already such a scarce resource and the opponents are very adept at painting teacher unions and other advocacy organizations in a negative light. The good news is that the recent Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll shows that teachers still rate highly as a respected profession. As educational leaders we will need to get creative in order to translate that positive perception into actionable items that can help us perform our jobs better.

As we enagage with our stakeholders and fight back against the enemies of public education we must also fight the false rhetoric surrounding school vouchers. We must also be aware that we are losing market share to charter schools. While charter schools certainly have a place within the framework of our nation’s educational system (as do private and parochial schools), they are not the panacea as advertised. Moreover, their new growth (see below) is often coming at the expense of traditional public schools.

It is imperative that educators, parents, students, and community members not only demand that we have the best schools for educating our future leaders, but also work to foster its growth and nurture its continuous development. You can read more about that here.

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Fostering a New Mindset for Education

Mindset_Master_SystemAs I continue to explore the 7 drivers for successful schools of the future (and the present),  we move now to Driver 2: Fostering a New Mindset. “A school that reflects a deep understanding and celebration of how America has changed in complexity, demographics, economics, and social structures (Jones & Barrett, 2016, p. 5). It is time for education to move beyond a simple paradigm shift. We need a paradigm blend similar to Peter Senge’s term “metanoia.” A major part of this blend is a shift from our factory model for education to a container model.

In the Podcast “Two Guys on Your Head,” Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Robert Duke have a great discussion about the factory model of education and how it has made school so boring. Indeed, brain research has shown that the traditional classroom actually reduces brain activity rather than increasing it! (Jones, 2013). With the increased pressure of high stakes testing, our schools have become Zombie Factories for staff and students alike. But education is not dead yet, or even undead yet. There is a remedy.


The remedy for our brain-deadening educational environ integrates a concept from talk therapy: the container model, also known as the helping crucible. Granted, education is not therapy. However, the two fields share a common goal: promoting positive growth. I first learned about this model from my counseling professor, Dr. John L Garcia. A crucible is a pot used for melting. In this metaphor, the pot, the container, creates a structure that fosters a transformation. In education, the structure is created by the curriculum, the school building and classrooms, lesson plans, etc. Then inside the pot, the heat is turned up to initiate change/growth. The great teacher will modulate the intensity of this heat based on the needs of the students.

As I wrote in the last blog, we have many great, thoroughbred educators doing amazing things in schools everyday. One great example is John Hunter and his World Peace Game. Educational policy needs to provide these thoroughbreds with tools such as the container model and allow them to work their magic. We need an education system that fosters a growth mindset and provides a structure that will allow it to happen, not a factory that churns out zombies. You can read more in depth about this here.

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