So Now What? : Education During a Pandemic

Parents, Educators and School Administrators are beginning to realize that this isn’t a break or a blizzard. Many of them are hitting the ground running, some are laying as low as possible this week and hoping things will settle, a few are immobilized. And every teacher I know or talk to is trying to figure out a strategies. Teachers, you know it is true: You LOVE strategies. And I love you for it. But these are strange times, and if your strategies or lack of them are making you feel stuck, maybe some of this will help. I have my two cents and then a list of resources for you.

First, my two cents, based on working in special education, public education, higher education and clinically over the past 25 years. The most important thing right now for kids right now is to stay calm, connected and establish new flexible routines at home. No homework packets, no busy work to keep them “occupied.” As tempting as this may be to administrators, educators and parents, that does not really lend to good learning, in fact it is this adherence to the status quo that partly got us into this problem to begin with.

  1. Play is OK. There is a wealth of research out there on the benefits of physical and digital play on cognition, visuospatiomotor skills, social emotional learning, and more. Allowing kids to engage in stress-relieving fun will make them better learners, keep them in contact with their peers, & feel mastery at a time when all of us are feeling little.
  2. Look for the embedded learning in the activity. This is different than trying to structure learning too much. When you are able to focus on your child between other things you are doing as a parent or online educator, try to identify what learning is happening with the play activity and maybe share it when the child is done. I say maybe because first and foremost this is for you to reassure you and calm your anxiety that your child or student is falling behind and will end up living in a cardboard box on the highway because they are playing Portal 2 rather than doing math sheets. Instead, watch the game a bit, and ask yourselves, are there things about physics embedded in the game? Does Plants Vs. Zombies have an opportunity to discuss task planning, sequencing, or math skills (hint, it does: all of the above.) Try to see the things that kids are always learning in play. Now don’t interrupt and ruin it.

Ok, I know that’s not enough for many of you. So here’s a list of some things educational innovators are offering for parents, kids and schools as resources for online learning:

From Continuity with Care to Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens–My Internet Responds to COVID-19

Parenting (in RL) during a pandemic

Resources For Teaching and Learning During This Period of Social Distancing

THE COLLECTION :Explore thousands of artworks in the museum’s wide-ranging collection—from our world-renowned icons to lesser-known gems from every corner of the globe—as well as our books, writings, reference materials, and other resources.

Educators can also join one of my free Zoom groups (download free software at (http://zoom.us )

Thursdays 3-4 EST

COVID19 Educator Support: Not tech support. This meeting is to provide psychoeducation and collegial support for educators adjusting their teaching to COVID19

Meeting ID: 906-040-691

Password: 02554

Coping With COVID19: Advice for Parents & Educators

As anticipated, I’ve begun to receive a few communications from therapists, parents and educators about the social distancing impact on them and their children. The first question I get usually is something like “I’m worried about my kid playing too much video games, should I be setting limits on this with them?” I’m going to give you an answer that you may not want to here, but may actually improve mental health.

First, as I mentioned earlier this week, we are all going through an adjustment reaction to a rapidly emerging situation that is impacting everyone you know at the same time. This alone is rare in that usually some of us are not dealing with psychological upheaval when some others are. But this time, whether you are denying, minimizing, remaining guardedly calm, scared, or overreacting, you too are on the same continuum that we all are. So welcome. 😊

Local governments and schools, comprised of similarly recalibrating individuals are doing what they can to get ready for the wave of shut-downs, and this includes for many teachers and kids a break for 2 or more weeks and then perhaps online learning. Many workplaces are closing and reducing hours, which means that families are about to spend more time together in closer quarters with less emotional and financial resources than usual.

So, what can you do?

Here are my suggestions which are based on my work, research and thinking about psychology and technology over the past 25 years:

 

  1. Focus on social distancing (skip ahead if you already have embraced this idea.) This is the most important way we have to #FlattentheCurve and mitigate against higher more rapid infectivity. As has been written at https://staythefuckhome.com/sfw/ the concept of self-quarantine works to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases. We have known this since the 1400s. This is hard on social creatures, and can start to evoke guilt in caregivers. Compassionate ideas like visiting elderly shut-ins in person; babysitting groups and play-dates; local support gatherings are all bad ideas when it comes to a pandemic.
  2. Anticipate but don’t panic. It is very likely that more disturbing information and misinformation will happen in the next several days. If you note the way COVID19 is trending things are going to worse and scarier pretty quickly. Remember this is happening at a pace that is quicker than you may be used to and be prepared to change your mind and recalibrate family rules and limits much more rapidly and often. Be prepared to say, “I know I said X but now that I have more information it is Y, and I’m sorry that we keep changing the rules on you. Building that understanding with your child that things are moving quickly is part of the overarching message “I love you, I’m listening and I’m going to keep you safe.”
  3. Let kids play their games. I have mentioned elsewhere and will include below several posts debunking the common misconceptions that demonize video games. But here let me put it a different way: 2 or more weeks is a long time to be in your home nonstop with your children in a state of embattlement. Video games are a great way to practice social distancing: Kids can talk with their friends online, escape the heightened stress at home or in our communities, and feel a sense of being in control of something. It also provides you with the respite you know you are going to need after a couple of days. Lift restrictions if your authoritative parenting style can handle it. One exception here is helping kids build in 5 minute movement breaks every 45 minutes or so.
  4. Try to see it from their point of view. No matter how much your child or teen loves you, they are used to having several hours a day away from you too. Like you, they find being distracted from family life by work and friends reinvigorating, so please don’t frame this as an opportunity for more quality time. It’s disingenuous and sets everyone up to feel like a failure when the reality of quarantine sets in. Of course if they are open to spend time with you, accept the invitation as they deliver it: Now may be the perfect time for you to finally learn how to play Fortnite with them.
  5. No, YOU go outside and play. Often parents find themselves exhorting kids to go outside when they are secretly yearning for escape themselves. If your child can be left alone safely for a bit, go outside and take a walk, get some fresh air and calm down. You already believe that exercise will do you good, so focus on the one you can control, you! Of course, if your family walks/hikes/runs together and you are not looking for alone time, definitely invite them along with you.
  6. Get in the habit of zooming, calling, texting with others regularly. Your kids may be experts at this, but older family members may need help with the habit or technology. Or you might. Learn how to use Zoom, which is being offered for free for most kids. Call and help other folks learn how to set it up and test drive it. This week is the week to get practice before things get more hectic.
  7. Practice mindfulness games and meditation when possible. My colleague Chris Willard has some excellent suggestions on this here. Don’t force kids to do this though, as it will turn them off. If anything, trust that if they are intently playing a video game they may be engaging in a form of concentration meditation which isn’t bad either.
  8. Confront and redirect the inadvertent demonization of touch. This one is huge. This past week many have become acutely aware of how often they touch their face, or others without asking permission. To control the spread of infection this is crucial, and yet we need to also resist the urge to begin to perceive touch as unnecessary or lethal. Touch and reaching is a part of healthy infant development (Beebee, 2016.) It plays a significant role in focusing attention and attachment security in adolescence (Ito-Jager, 2017.) Children need to touch themselves as part of learning motor imagery (Conson, 2011) body ownership (Hara, 2015) and the assembly of “self” (Salomon, 2017.) Research has shown that adolescents in America already touch each other less and are more aggressive to peers than in another country sampled (Field, 1999); and for all of us touch quite probably helps us with emotional self-regulation (Grunwald, 2014.) Self-touch is a cornerstone of mindfulness and compassion meditation practices. Practice everyday precautions while at the same time but remember that touch is necessary for basic neurological and psychological well-being. Find adaptive ways to continue giving yourselves touch so we do not become a planetwide Harlow monkey experiment.
  9. Special note to educators: Relax your curriculum and pedagogy. Please push back on your administrators on this one. You are all home because there is a global pandemic with all its increased stress and uncertainty; this is not a snow day or break. Kids should be focused on social connection, play and reduced stress. You aren’t going to hit your benchmarks this semester. There, someone finally said it. You can encourage your parents to read to kids, spend more time together, offer fun reading lists or math sites, but please let go of your own overarching expectations and resist any arbitrary ones placed on you as much as possible. If someone starts talking about lesson plans, say “this is a pandemic.” If someone starts talking about kids’ grades, say, “this is a pandemic.” Part of your job as an educator is to educate kids and their families about adjusting in reaction to events, I’m sorry you got stuck with this event, but there you have it.
  10. Pick one or two trusted sources to keep yourself and your kids informed. Two much information overloads kids and adults alike. Most of us don’t need to know what JCPenney or Walmart have to say about COVID19. On the other hand, I have found the info from Harvard very helpful. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center has some great thinking and writing for education and child development. Your Teen Magazine is very accessible to parents. Dr. Kristin Moffitt from Boston Children’s has a short but useful interview on how to talk to your kids about COVID19

 

If after all that you are STILL focused on screen time, please check out these items for your consideration:

 

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Streaming, Path of Exile & The Repetition Compulsion

As many of you know I have begun streaming. My goal in doing this is to both have some fun, and reach a wider audience when talking about psychodynamic concepts. This is my latest attempt, in which I talk about the Repetition Compulsion in terms of farming for a unique sword in the game Path of Exile. Keep in mind that the conversation about the repetition compulsion during the stream if for a general audience, and should not be substituted for seeking out medical advice or a mental health professional. My hope is that you’ll share it with the gamers in your life, therapy practice, class, etc. And of course if you sign up to follow my Twitch channel I’d be delighted!

Find this post interesting? I can speak in person too:  Click here for Public Speaking info & Press Kit. And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book. 🙂

 

Yeah? Tell That to Squirtle: The Fallacy of “Screen Time”

Recently, the American Heart Association release an “statement” decrying the dangers of screen time. The report, according to USA Today, said screen time can lead to sedentary behavior increasing the odds that kids can grow up obese. The statement says among other things,
Although the mechanisms linking screen time to obesity are not entirely clear, there are real concerns that screens influence eating behaviors, possibly because children ‘tune out’ and don’t notice when they are full when eating in front of a screen.. (USA News & World Today, August 8, 2018)
Most people won’t dive deeper than the article and it’s quote, which is problematic in itself. “Although the mechanisms linking screen time to obesity are not entirely clear,” is really a way of saying what “this is a correlative statement, which is very different than causality.” If you are unfamiliar with the vast difference between the two, this is a great video to explain it. Come back when you’re done.

The problem with these studies, once they get amplified, is that they fuel the ongoing panic we have with emerging technologies. Once again, here’s my reminder list:

1. Doing any activity for more than several hours in a row is unhealthy, with the exceptions of sleep and meditation.

2. Not all “screens” are equal, have identical lighting and spectrums, and therefore identical impact on sleep.

3. Research shows that using your eyes at night stimulates the areas of your brain that arouse you. So reading, looking at your aquarium, crosswords, and even knitting will also hinder the onset of sleep if you use your vision.

4. Whether in a scientific journal or Trump’s “400 lb guy in a basement,” can we please stop fat-shaming people? Not every heavy body type is the same, nor is obesity a moral issue. Why not focus on teaching your children to be kind, critically thinking and funny humans than focusing on their bodies so much?

In fact, I can make a very different correlation, based on my experience with PokemonGo. This summer I increased my gameplay of this screen-based smartphone app quite a bit. To date I have walked over 150 miles catching Pokemon. I also have lost 5 lbs. My experience would predispose me to conclude that increasing this screen time has actually decreased the sedentary nature of my lifestyle, and lowered my weight. Of course, the fact that I spend half of my time in a rural community with friends who like to hike in the summer doesn’t hurt either, but that’s correlation for you.

While I’m at it, since folks are so concerned with the public health of our children here are some pro-active suggestions based on other possible correlations:

  • Stop fat-shaming kids so they seek escaping reality so much.
  • Fund schools better and test them less so things like recess are longer than 15 minutes.
  • Institute better gun control so children and their families aren’t afraid to go outside and get shot.
  • Decrease stigma of trans youth so they can safely explore gender in ways other than just an avatar of a different gender.
  • Make playgrounds and athletic teams universally accessible so that kids can play and engage regardless of physical differences.

You want to connect some dots, there, I got you started. Now stop going for the low hanging fruit and blame something other than Nintendo.

Find this post interesting? I can speak in person too:  Click here for Public Speaking info & Press Kit. And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book. 🙂

Can’t We All Just Game Along?

I had a powerful reminder about the prosocial nature of video games this week, and it was nowhere near a console screen. I was on my way home and ran into a Dunkin’ Donuts, in a town I’d never been to before and was unfamiliar with. I ended up waiting in a rather lengthy line and was a bit grumpy. I happened to be wearing a T-Shirt which said this:

I hadn’t worn it for ages, and had forgotten in fact I was wearing it until the cashier called out to me, “I love your shirt.” Cue the endorphins.

“Thank you,” I said, and smiled (which thanks to state bound learning probably cued my body to produce even more endorphins.)  Waiting in the line seemed much more pleasant by this point. I ordered my coffee and sandwich and while waiting for them received another compliment from a customer walking by.

The third person to compliment me was a man in his 40s, scruffy and in jeans and t-shirt. “I love that game,” he said. “I haven’t played it in a while though.”

By now I was in a mood that allowed me to initiate conversations, so I asked “What are you playing nowadays.”

He proceeded to tell me that his 14 year-old daughter had gotten him into Fortnite. She had enjoyed it initially for the crafting, he said, because she really enjoyed Minecraft; but now that they were playing together she was enjoying the combat as well. His face lit up as he recounted how much fun they were having together. I told him about a study that had been done by Brigham Young that indicated increased levels of protective factors against depression. He smiled at that, and we both went on our way.

We spend so much time debating the neurological impact of playing video games that we often lose sight of another dimension; that of talking about playing video games. Talking about arts and culture is a powerful social adhesive. It identifies commonalities, allows for compliments and increased levels of engagement with others, allows us to recall exciting moments and share them. All of these activities in turn facilitate attachment, and increase a sense of well-being on the neurological level. That was the best line I’ve waited in a ages!

We need to find a way to get that message to Salty Sally the Social Worker and Morose Martin the Mental Health Counselor, whose eyes grow dull at the mention of gaming when their patients bring it up. “How much time are you playing Candy Crush?” they say, in uninviting tones, and eye such T-shirts as a clear sign of video game addiction. The next patient, who comes in with a T-Shirt of Monet’s “Water Lilies,” will get a compliment on it and no such screening for an Impressionist Art Addiction. In fact, the WHO didn’t include Art Disorder this go round at all, unless you include the art form of the video game.

In this current political climate, where we are so polarized, I wonder how many bridges (Minecraft or other) might be built if we paused to ask strangers in line if they play any games? I imagine Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike play something.

If Teams Valor, Instinct, and Mystic can all get along together raiding in Pokemon Go, perhaps we can too..

 

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The Crisis Behind Crises

So far in 2018 alone, I have worked nationwide with the aftermath of one homicide/suicide in a video game server community; one threat issued over another; and 3 new requests for consultations from clinicians on how to improve their work with families and individuals related to online technology. Schools are now fielding multiple incidents of threatening language in chat rooms that get brought to their attention, and not necessarily handling them well. Multiple arraignments in district courts are pending because someone expressed violent language on gaming servers that was deemed threatening. Youth are ending up on probation for this.

I know, you’re probably thinking that I’m about to blame the technology, the erosion of family values, the rise of violence or some other social ill. I’m not. As I reflect over several of these cases, the common symptom I see is not mental illness or family dysfunction, but a crisis in digital literacy.

What all of these cases have in common is that before they got to the emergent stage, there were several opportunities for kids to solve their own problems; for educators to teach; for parents to engage or for therapists to help; if they’d seen the opportunities and had some education in digital literacy. Too often we see the end result of our dismissing or demonizing tech use. “Just leave the server, or Facebook,” we say, unintentionally further isolating kids. “You need to stop playing so many video games,” we opine, citing sketchy research to take away the one thing a person may experience some competency doing.

As a therapist and educator who has worked for the past twenty-five years with emerging technologies in mental health, I have been helping schools, clinics and workplaces identify vulnerabilities before, during and after crises. I assure you that before is the most useful and least utilized. I’m hoping you and your administrators will consider doing this differently. I have started offering custom educational offerings on Healthy Boundaries in the Digital Age, and you can find out more about it here.  I’m still doing my other presentations as well.

Find this post interesting? I can speak in person too:  Click here for Public Speaking info & Press Kit. And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book.

 

Boundaries and Health in the Digital Age

2017 saw an historic rise in women and men coming forward to speak out against sexual assault and harassment. Whether it was the #MeToo movement, news outlets, or Time’s naming the “Silence Breakers” Person of the Year, our society has felt a seismic shift in how we understand sexual misconduct.

A common misperception is that sexual harassment occurs in person between two people. In fact, boundary transgressions of this kind happen frequently between adolescents and adults who exclusively work with them “virtually.” Technologies such as social media, texting, video games and geosocial apps have allowed for greater connection and amplification in our lives. At the same time, with greater connection come new personal boundaries for both educators and the adolescents in their care.

Educators and counselors now find themselves inundated with daily examples and dilemmas: What do I do when a student brings me a nude text they received? When I overhear a YouTube video that is sexist or homophobic, how do I respond? Meanwhile, youth are trying to sort out unwanted attention on Facebook, demeaning chat while gaming, and humiliation on Snapchat resulting in school avoidance.

The possibility of turning technology off is no longer an option. Now we need to begin to recalibrate our thinking and teaching in light of it. Part of digital literacy and social emotional learning is the ways that we create and maintain respectful boundaries in learning communities. “Boundaries and Health in the Digital Age” is a project I’ve started to do just that.

I have worked with youth and their families for 25 years, and gained an understanding of them and the technologies they use. Through a combination of presentation and discussion tailored to your needs, I can provide education and support around a topic which is both charged and urgently needed. Far from being anti-technology, I’m helping agencies and learning communities appreciate and understand the power of the digital world to amplify harm AND healing. Talking, and more importantly, listening to youth, we CAN help them create and maintain healthy boundaries both online and in person.

As a Teaching Associate in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, I consult and educate on the topics of adolescence, technology and mental health. If you are interested in having me come work with you, email mike@mikelanglois.com for more information. If you want more information before you do that, check out my Public Speaking page for videos and reviews.

Mindfulness, Minecraft & The I Ching

Video Games can be a form of mindfulness meditation, both playing and watching them. The Grokcraft Staff take you on a meditative creative session as we begin to build our I Ching Sculpture Park.  Watch, listen, and enjoy..

 

For more info on joining the Grokcraft project, go to http://grokcraft.com .  We are launching Grokcraft with an introductory subscription of $9.99 a month, & subscribers who join now will be locked in at that rate for as long as they are subscribed.  If any of this appeals to you, please check out our new site at http://grokcraft.com & please spread the word to anyone you think might find this resource useful!

Find this post interesting? I can speak in person too:  Check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info. And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book. You can also Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

A New Startup Focusing on Minecraft & Social Emotional Learning

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Happy New Year, Gentle Reader!

I wanted to let you know about a new startup project that launches this month that you may find of interest called Grokcraft.

Grokcraft is a Minecraft server, learning lab, & community where parents, kids & professionals engage in playful collaborative social-emotional learning (SEL.) All our members are vetted & for youth require parent permission to participate.  Our counselors are available to mentor youth in SEL.  Our youth group, Grok Corps, will be open to those who want to be trained in conflict resolution & online moderation.  Our vision is that kids will not avoid conflicts as much as learn to resolve them when they arise.  We believe that in free play, children & adults can learn mindfulness, empathy & other social skills in a playful environment.  You can read more about this in our Manifesto.  With both adult and youth groups approaching with complementary educational needs & abilities in SEL & tech skills, there are constant opportunities for collaboration embedded in (most importantly!) fun.

Grokcraft is an educational rather than therapeutic milieu.  Based on the educateur model, professionals are encouraged to refer clients who would benefit from play-based social emotional learning.  Some examples of people who might refer:

  • A psychotherapist who has a patient needing to improve mindfulness, relational skills or empathy training beyond the clinical hour
  • A speech & language therapist who wants to provide a student with more opportunities for social pragmatic skills acquisition
  • A special educator who with students who need more opportunities to learn & practice SEL
  • A parent or professional who wants a child in their care to have a Minecraft community that is safe & supportive & vets each member personally

At the same time, Grokcraft provides a high-touch learning environment for adult educators & clinicians to learn how to use Minecraft in their work.  Monthly seminars for educators, in-game coaching & instruction are available to give professionals a fun way to learn & practice 21st-century game play & add it to their professional repertoire.  Some examples of professionals who may benefit:

  • A psychotherapist who wants clinical training in online play therapy techniques from experts
  • A speech & language therapist who wants a place to provide social pragmatics groups
  • A special educator who wants a secure place to have virtual field trips/project-based learning
  • A parent who wants parent guidance around digital literacy & SEL
  •  All of the above who want a peer community where they can exchange ideas & develop community that is not technophobic

We are launching Grokcraft with an introductory subscription of $9.99 a month, & subscribers who join now will be locked in at that rate for as long as they are subscribed.  If any of this appeals to you, please check out our new site at http://grokcraft.com & please spread the word to anyone you think might find this resource useful!

Find this post interesting? I can speak in person too:  Check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info. And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book. You can also Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

Heroes

 

Extra Life Boo & Wow

This post is more personal than some, but then at some time in many of our lives cancer gets personal.  As many of you know, I have a companion and co-therapist named Boo.  For the past 12 years Miss Boo has worked with me to help in therapy.  We have worked with hundreds of children, adolescents and adults in settings ranging from special needs classrooms, alternative schools and outpatient settings.  And for the past decade we have been working together in my private practice.

This past Spring Boo developed a form of cancer known as osteosarcoma, which is a form of cancer where the tumor grows in the bone.  In her case, Boo began limping and we discovered that she had it in her front right leg.  What followed was a series of scary tests and decisions.  The recommended treatment for this in dogs is amputation of the limb and a course of chemo.  I was worried about this on so many levels:  I didn’t want to lose my friend, I didn’t want her to be in pain, and how was I doing to explain this to my patients?  You can’t just have a dog show up one week with one less leg and be all blank screen about it.  Some people suggested I retire her, but so many people come to me with ruptures in attachment, people who just walked out on them or were taken from them, that that didn’t make sense either.  Nope, we were going to do this honestly and mindfully.  If Boo could show up for such a challenging treatment, I could show up for her and we could show up for our patients.

Over the next few weeks I let people know what was going on if they wanted to know, to the extent they wanted to know.  While she was recovering from surgery I let people know that as well.  And when Boo came back to work, well that was a powerful week.  Cancer changes your body, but the self persists.  Boo had a visible change, there was a scar.  Some people approached petting her, some didn’t.  Boo accepted all of them.  Some people were reluctant to talk at first, imagining their problems were nothing compared to cancer or losing a leg, but we explored and put those concerns in perspective.  We all had work to do, and we did it.

Time passed, and chemo ended.  This is the result:

Each year, I take part in Extra Life, a worldwide celebration of the social impact of gamers of all kinds from video games to board games and tabletop RPG’s! Since 2010, Extra Life has raised more than $14 million to help children’s hospitals provide critical treatments and healthcare services, pediatric medical equipment, research and charitible care.  Your donation is tax-deductible and ALL PROCEEDS go to help kids nationwide and locally at my awesome colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital.

This year, on November 7th, I’ll be playing World of Warcraft with a special avatar in honor of Boo.  (Of course I’ll be taking breaks every 45 minutes to keep my health ans stamina in good shape.)  If you want to join our team, Miss Boo’s Battalion, you can do that too!*  You don’t have to play WoW, you can play Minecraft, Dark Souls, Candy Crush, my colleague Jane McGonigal’s Superbetter, Zombies Run!, anything.  You can play Tabletop games like D&D or Pathfinder.  You don’t have to go 24 hours straight, any amount of time, anything you raise, helps.  Sharing the post helps too–you never know who might decide to donate or get their game on.

Miss Boo is my hero, and if you are living with cancer in your life you are my hero too.  Whether you are battling it yourself, defeating it, thriving after it, supporting someone who is, celebrating a win or grieving a loss, you are a hero.  On Saturday, November 7th, why not be a hero too?

*Past and present patients are asked to refrain to protect their privacy, but can always get involved with Extra Life on their own here.

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Find this post interesting? I can speak in person too:  Check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info. And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book. You can also Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!