On Writing Well

By John Gardner

As I continue my Virtual Assistant content finding project for BookCoverLabs.com, I picked up a book within reach from my computer desk that has both helped and is special. 

I was updating my resume, philosophy of education and other job seeking materials with expert advice from son David (English PhD). He was kindly brutal as he tore apart and reconstructed my materials. I asked if he would recommend one book (he could have recommended dozens) as an easy read for my writing improvement. A few days later it arrived in the mail, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser. ISBN 978-0-06-089154-1

Zinsser states in his introduction that On Writing Well is a craft book. I go to it periodically and learn something new every time, including while writing this article.

My favorite chapters are “Simplicity” and “Clutter”.

There are Internet quote listings, but here are a few highlighted lines from my favorite chapters:

Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds…

Clutter is the language of the Pentagon calling an invasion a “reinforced protective reaction strike”…

Few people realize how badly they write.

Every writing project must be reduced before you begin to write.

Anyone who thinks clearly can write clearly.

The risk in writing this article is that I break a Zinsser point.

Now that I have written, I realize that he did not use one of BookCoverLab’s beautiful covers.



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Need-blind Admissions Could Mean a Better School for Less Money

Need-Blind Admissions

We used THIS ARTICLE in a band class and also posted THIS VIDEO because:

  1. Mr. Gardner’s son is on the faculty at this school, and
  2. We wanted to focus on a term they use, “need-blind admissions” to talk about that concept with our students as they consider college.
  3. Need-blind admissions could mean a better school for less money.

“Need-blind admissions” was a term our students did not recognize and yet it can be a major difference in where you go to school and how much you pay. Read on for a definition, description and a listing of colleges that profess to have need-blind admissions.

But first, some bullet points about, “ Inside America’s best high school — a boarding school that costs $53,900 a year and feeds students into the Ivy League”….because it is an example of a whole different educational world out there.

  • It is a Boarding School (students live on campus) near Boston
  • Established 1787
  • Some people who had ties to the school included George Washington, Paul Revere, and John Hancock.
  • There are 1154 students on a 500-acre campus with over 100 buildings/sites on their campus map
  • It is a high school, grades 9-12
  • Graduates include two Presidents Bush, Jeb Bush and one of the Facebook founders.
  • 48% are students of color
  • 44 states and 45 countries are represented
  • They have faculty from every Ivy League school. ⅓ of faculty have PhD’s
  • The “head of school” has a Harvard Law Degree
  • Every student must be on an athletic team
  • They have NO AP classes
  • Harvard calls them a “feeder school”.
  • They have a student/teacher ratio of 7:1. (Harvard has 7:1, Yale has 6:1, Public Schools avg 28:1)
  • For the past three years, more than 20 Andover students have gotten into each of the following top schools: Brown, Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale.

What does this have to do with getting into a better college for less money?

As you can see from the last bullet point above, going to a prestigious high school can be a ticket (or at least a significant advantage) to getting into a top university. Similarly, graduating from a top-tier university can be huge when it comes to getting into a graduate school, medical school, law school or a high-level job.

But top-tier universities have top-tier, seemingly unaffordable prices.

Schools like Notre Dame, Duke, MIT and most of the Ivy League schools cost $70,000+ per year.  And because we mid-westerners focus so much on the big state schools and lower prices, the downside can be that we get what we pay for. So that I wouldn’t say anything un-positive about any university in Indiana, I used MY university in class to make these examples:

If you and I are competing for a spot at graduate school at Harvard, or to get into Yale Law School, your Notre Dame degree will be considered at a different level than my UK degree.

If I have an engineering degree from UK and you have one from MIT and we both apply for a position at NASA, your chances are better than mine.

But we don’t consider many schools because of the ‘retail price tag’ we see. That is a huge mistake. In some cases, you can go to a top-tier school for less money than you would pay a state-school.  

Increasingly, universities are finding out (as Phillips Academy in Andover already has), that accepting students “need-blind” increases both diversity and the overall quality of a student body.

Some top-tier universities (and we had assumed all) consider both your credentials AND your financial ability to pay as part of the admissions process. But a “need-blind” policy means that they consider ONLY your academic and personal credentials when making a decision to accept you. Then, AFTER they accept you, they consider your finances. And at that point, if you cannot pay the full price, they will use other resources (their endowment, government financial aid, etc) to “get you there”.

THIS PAGE from Notre Dame’s site shows that they meet “100% of every student’s demonstrated financial need”. That means you have to prove it. If you have available funds, they will require that first. And part of your “package” may include loans — but from the amount of loan on the Notre Dame page is manageable.

THIS PAGE is a 2-yr old listing of colleges with need-blind admissions policies. I do not know if it is exhaustive, so check with schools you’re considering. And, as Mr. Petek suggested,

If your first choice does NOT offer need-blind admissions, but your second choice does, that could be a determining factor in where you go to school. – Michael Petek

I am not a college admissions or financial expert, but I’ve learned a lot through experience and would be happy to talk with any student or parent who has questions. Feel free to contact me on social media, email through the school or text/call. -John Gardner

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4 VoIP systems I use: Net 10, Google Voice, Nextiva and Skype

By John Gardner

Increasingly, individuals are dumping their home land-line phones and going to all cell phone use. Makes sense, especially for those who already have multiple cell phones in the family and are looking to cut cost.


Years ago, my small business required that I and my employees report to a physical office daily. I installed a 5-line phone system that included separate lines for two different businesses and a dedicated fax line plugged into a physical machine with paper. Due to our rural service, we had periodic phone troubles, particularly after significant storm activity. The response from the phone company was always that,

“if the problem is on the inside,
we will bill you for the call and the repair”.

We still use a radio internet connection, beaming to a receiver atop a grain elevator a mile away. Yes, rural Indiana.

Over the past decade, wife Joan and I have been fortunate (sons through college debt free) to be able to return part time to education; not because we had to, but because we could. When we did that, some of our bi-vocational staff transitioned to telecommuting and, eventually, to other employment. And that’s okay. But now, in addition to those two business names, I answer my cell on behalf of a high school, university and another business (this Virtual Music Office) — and one cell with one number and one greeting wasn’t working for me. And, because we can get faster Internet from our home in town, working from home has several advantages — except that I couldn’t remotely answer the business lines or send/receive a fax….until now.

I now use four cellular and VoIP (Voice over Internet) systems for my personal and small businesses; Net 10,Google Voice,Nextiva Voice & vFax, and Skype.

Read more ›

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If pro orchestra conductors were evaluated like HS music teachers

By John Gardner

I am pouring over spreadsheet data for my “Evaluator”. How many administrator evaluators have music ensemble experience? My boss will use this data to determine [exact terminology altered] “Amazing”, “Satisfactory”, “Help-me” or “Almost Outta Here” teacher status, which, in turn, affects employment status and pay. What would happen if professional orchestra conductors were evaluated like high school music teachers?

A professional orchestra conductor must select repertoire, rehearse and perform entertaining music at an excellence level to attract large audiences purchasing expensive tickets regularly.

Chicago Symphony Tickets

I like that the current emphasis in education is in making sure every student is learning, as it should be. But how do you prove it? A concert demonstrates the overall effectiveness of the teacher/conductor, but it does not prove individual ensemble participant improvement.

OrchestraIf pro orchestra conductors were evaluated like HS music teachers…

Read the following as
instructions to the conductor.
NOTE: Official terms
and designations
intentionally altered in this article.

As you write your objectives, keep in mind that your Professional Orchestra objectives and your effectiveness as a conductor will be determined by your evaluator who, in your case, is the Police Chief. The data you present will affect your employment status and pay increase/decrease.


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Never too late to say Thank You

It is never too late to say Thank You.

I was in a grocery store and a former band mom stops me in the isle and says,

I need to tell you something.

She then goes on to tell me her story. Her son is currently student teaching as one of the final steps to graduation with a music education degree.

Several years ago you gave a piece of advice to [George]. You told him to base a big portion of his college decision on his instrument teacher as he would “spend a considerable amount of time with that teacher over a four year period”.

He could have gone to [University X] or [University Y], because he was known at both. But he really felt good about [Dr. Amazing Teacher] at [University C]. Because of what you said, he chose that school and it has been an amazing ride and, as his mother, I just want to say……THANK YOU!

Trust: Today I failed.

I try hard to build, earn and enjoy healthy, appropriate, trusting relationships with students. I want them to be comfortable coming to me — and I think most are. About anything. Yes. I want to believe what they tell me — and try to. I’m not so naive to think that I’ve never been lied to, but I’m willing to take that chance by trusting first — and until I can’t. Through the years that I’ve taught, I think I’ve done pretty well most of the time. Today I failed.

I’ve written about this before =====> “I WANT to trust you. I WANT to believe you. I WANT to say ‘Yes’. I WANT you to be truthful with me and I’M willing to take the first reasonable risk. The danger, for me then, is that some people are so accustomed to saying what is convenient at the moment (situational ethics?) that they do that with ME (automatically or intentionally – doesn’t matter) …..and I get burned, disappointed, even hurt. Why do I take it so personally? I wish I didn’t, but I do.”

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High Teen Standards

By John Gardner

I post variations of the picture advice below every year about this time — because this is Marching Band season.

Marching band students are together soooo much, 6-8-10 hours a day during camp and multiple hours daily during school. They rehearse together, eat meals together, have breaks together, travel together, perform together.

Lots of couplings happen during band….and that is not a bad thing. I met my wife  of 38 yrs during college band. There are some terrific couples I know, parents of teens, who were high school sweethearts.

Over the years, however, and too many times – I’ve seen good people have to drop out of band due to decisions made in some of these couplings. A few years ago, I got a response from a former student…..

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What crushes their dreams?

Below is one of the more depressingly negative parts of a page I have ever written. It comes from a 3-page section of an eBook I wrote, College Prep: A Strategic and Systematic Strategy that was the basis of a college presentation I made recently. I am convinced that many teens treat college prep the same way they treat any homework assignment. On the three page excerpt below, I answer the question, “what crushes their dreams”?

They take what comes and go with the flow. Given their life history, why are we surprised? Teens coming into high school have had almost no control in their life story. They didn’t choose their parents, or where they live, or what economic condition they would endure. They have moved away from their friends as the parents get jobs or flee bill collectors. They are the unintended wounded in divorces and then have to “learn” to get along with parental “friends” or to have to go back and forth between parents. They have to learn to become brothers and sisters to someone else’s children. They have two and three bedrooms in different homes. Some jump from home to home weekly while others make a long summer move every year. The reality of single-parent households often includes a poverty component, or an absent parent working multiple jobs to try to make it. And what choice does the teen have?

By the time they get to high school, they are numb to relationship building. When they apply some of the standards and practices they’ve witnessed in their homes to their first boy/girlfriends, they experience similar traumatic results. Hearts are broken, and many erect shields of protection as a defense to both students and adults – including teachers.

So when the realities of their short-sighted focus, crushed dreams and dashed hopes come to bear as they approach time for college decisions, they default into the same mode they already know so well. They just take it. They go with the flow.

Download these 3 pages: =====> Harsh Reality of Getting To and Paying for College.

Hopefully, I am NOT describing anything close to YOUR reality. If I am, I’m open to a conversation.

The good news is that with a systematic strategy, many students can get into higher priced schools paying less than they might have to go to a lower priced option. Depending on response/reaction, I may periodically post more as we move closer to the October PSAT test, for which I hope to convince you to “practice and prepare”.


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The PSAT is more than just a practice test

In many high schools, the PSAT is administered to Sophomores in October. Teen Life Blog writes that the PSAT is more than just a practice test. 

Here is how the typical Sophomore takes the test.

The day before the PSAT, Sophomores are instructed to get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast in the morning.

On test day, they report to their assigned room, spend several hours taking the PSAT and then exiting the room saying variations of…..

“That was terrible.”
“I blew it.”

And then a few weeks later, the scores come out and they find out they were right.

Don’t do it that way!

The PSAT does two important (and valuable) things

First, the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) is also the NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). Here’s a good blog article, “How To Become A National Merit Semifinalist“.

“Doing poorly on the exam, taken most often by sophomores and juniors, won’t hurt your college admissions chances”, points out Mandee Heller Adler, founder of International College Counselors in Hollywood, Fla. “But doing well on it could mean more money for college—in some cases, a lot more.”

That’s because the PSAT also serves as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test for juniors hoping to be National Merit finalists.
-Money / Family Finance

I have some personal experience with the PSAT with my two high school sons.

The older acquired National Merit Scholar Status and received a $2500 annual award at his college, specifically because of that status. So in his case, the PSAT was worth $10,000. Is that worth “practicing and preparing”? I vote YES!

I didn’t keep track of the collegiate response to the older son’s PSAT, but I did for the younger. A few examples from the mail he received following his PSAT in 2000 and prior to graduation in 2001.

If you treat the PSAT like it doesn’t really matter, like the average high school student treats most homework and tests, then it will not do much for you. To be in the top 1% (what it takes to earn National Merit status), a strategy of “practice and prepare”, can help you get significant money for college.

Toward that end, here is the best place to practice. I say that because the PSAT is the College Board’s test.

Hope this helps.

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I WANT To Trust You

Screenshot 2015-07-05 13.01.12
“Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honesty, I lose myself.” –William Shakespear

“Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”–Janis Joplin

“Some things are black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. Honesty is one of those things. You have it or you don’t.

I can trust you – or I can’t.” -G

On TV, honesty seems to be relative; use it when you can, abandon it when it helps the moment. That is a sad reality that we must avoid in band. Trust requires honesty. Without trust, everything you do or say must be doubted, questioned or verified. Trust lost is hard to earn back.

In a conversation with band students, I asked for the most common answer from a teacher after a student request. “No.” I asked for the most common response from parents… “No.” Could it be that the tendency to say ‘No’ is at least partially driven by a low trust factor caused by a questionable honesty level? I say yes….in many cases.

So who goes first?

Dear students,

I WANT to trust you. I WANT to believe you. I WANT to say ‘Yes’. I WANT you to be truthful with me and I’M willing to take the first reasonable risk. The danger, for me then, is that some people are so accustomed to saying what is convenient at the moment (situational ethics?) that they do that with ME (automatically or intentionally – doesn’t matter) …..and I get burned, disappointed, even hurt. Why do I take it so personally? I wish I didn’t, but I do.

I almost lost my job once, as a young District Sales Manager for a national fundraising company, when I went to bat for some reps only to discover they had been feeding me lies. My boss’ response to my frustration and question about how to know who to trust was, “Trust is a treasure that some people haven’t earned, don’t value or can’t handle. You have to learn WHO you can give HOW MUCH to.”

Trust, but verify.” -Ronald Reagan

“You won’t get away with it.” -my pastor

My mama used to say…

“Burn me once, shame on YOU!
Burn me twice, shame on ME!”

A former student from my first teaching job posted on my facebook:

“I’m remembering a little white lie that Tina and I told you just to get out of class for a minute or two……..Unfortunately, you found out about it. I’ve never felt so guilty as when I was caught tricking YOU! You were the TEACHER to go to when things weren’t going ok. And a trusted teacher…….I was SO sorry!”

So this is not a new problem for me. It isn’t something that JUST happend. IT happens…. Sometimes you can get me …. yes you can. Some of you are very good at trying, because your moral compass is off….or broken. Sometimes, I DO give you the benefit of my doubt.  Burn me once….

Here’s the bottom line, the brutal truth, the real consequence… and it is important that YOU KNOW IN ADVANCE.

If I give you MY TRUST and you respond with YOUR LIES …. it changes EVERYTHING, including my ability to trust and respect YOU….probably for longer than it should. I can still be your teacher. I can still treat you with professionalism and dignity. But, burn me twice….

So what? Maybe nothing…..because then I become like all the other adults in your life who will almost always say no and who will be compelled to question and verify everything you say….and the games go on.

That makes me sad.

With respect and trust,

Cracking and crumbling of the word Trust

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