Words & Banter

RED & BLACK ... FREE And Animated

Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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You're probably tired of hearing me say this, but I'm so excited that we're offering educators and community organizations our book and other materials as FREE online resources!


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I bet our accountants and attorneys might not feel the same way.


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At this point, I doubt they'd be surprised. They should be used to us putting philanthropy ahead of profits, although pre-coronavirus we were going to start focusing on a new website and new sources of revenue.


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Well, COVID-19 changed everything – for everyone.


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No kidding. But I'll admit that I was surprised when educators reached out to us looking for online resources, including our bestselling book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired! It's not as if it's a bestselling textbook.


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But, it is a State Board of Education approved textbook. Although, I am more excited it is student-approved. What caught me off-guard was when they explained they needed it in a format that could be accessed on a smartphone because many of their students do not have access to computers since schools and libraries are closed.


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I know. I also know they were relieved when you said you would immediately get to work on creating the resources they needed, and would also create a new webpage so they could find everything in one place. But what left them speechless was when they asked the cost, and you said it would be FREE.


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It just seemed the right thing to do. We are all in this together. We cannot make ventilators or face masks, but we can try to help educators who are looking for new and creative ways to work with their students.


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The funny thing is when we started accumulating everything in one place, I realized we already had an assortment of user-friendly resources that had been used with middle school students, high school students, and adult education learners. And they could be used for online learning or even independent study. Resources that are engaging, relevant, and interactive.


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Stop! You are starting to sound like a textbook salesman.


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Except everything is FREE! And, as a parent, I know first-hand that teachers are struggling to find effective online resources. Over the last month, I've seen this with both Sawyer and Natasha, so it applies to high schools and colleges. Especially as online resources need to both get – and keep – their attention!


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That is a challenge even when you are in their faces.


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True. That's where I think our newly released animated videos may help engage students of all ages. And the timing couldn't be better!


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When we partnered with Greater Houston Partnership's UpSkill Houston initiative to create a new series of short animations on soft skills, there was no way to know that we would end up launching them in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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Ok, now that they're done, I'll share a secret with you. When you first told me about the idea to have short (less than a minute) videos on "soft skills" – topics like critical thinking, communications, teamwork, etc. – I thought you were crazy. I know that when we met with Hasbro, they suggested our "sitcom characters" should be animated, and that's what we were doing. But we were supposed to be doing "fun" stories that would be of interest to "mere mortals". Not videos on "less than exciting" topics for educational, corporate, and community organization use.


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One does not preclude the other. Anyway, I had never considered a series on soft skills until I was talking with Peter Beard at UpSkill Houston about my corporate days and how we would hire for technical skills, but fire for lack of soft skills. He was aware we were working on animation and suggested the series.


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I'm not questioning the relevance of the topics. I just felt the subject matter was going to be hard to make engaging and fun.


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Oh ye of little imagination.


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I'll ignore that because once I started seeing the videos "come to life", I realized how great they were going to be. Especially as a "mere mortal mom" who has seen first-hand how important these skills are in everyday life. And before you say it, yes, that's because you pointed it out to me!


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I was going to say that your character in the video is one of the reasons why I think they are so effective. The videos clearly and quickly provide the "textbook" definition of a specific soft skill and why it is valuable to employers, as well as my insight as a former corporate executive. However, you show how the skill has a "real life" application in our personal lives.


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Well, as you pointed out to me years ago, all these skills are transferable not only between industries, but with our personal lives. As a parent, these videos make such great teaching tools.


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I do not have children, but I would not refer to them as "teaching tools" … maybe conversation starters.


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Whatever you call them, when combined with our other FREE resources, I'd like to think we could help a lot of people. I just wish there was a way we could let people know about all of our new and, to me anyway, exciting material.


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Which is why we are creating a new website and a strategy to use social media to build our audience. We have to ask, and hope, that people will then share the information with others.


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But we have all these FREE resources now! Things that might be useful as we go into summer. How do we let people know that there are truly no strings attached? No "trial period." No hidden fees. Free means free. And that we'll do whatever we can do to help educators and students.


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You just did.

For more information on FREE resources to educators, including getting access to our bestselling book, contact Red at education@RedandBlackBooks.com.

To learn more about Red& Black's partnership with UpSkill Houston, click here.

And, to access the Red & Black Soft Skills Series, go to UpSkillMyLife.org/softskills.


Want to read other columns? Here's a list.

Photo by OnTheRunPhoto for iStock


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I keep getting emails about where to go for mocktails. I know alcohol-free cocktails, like Virgin Margaritas, have been around for a while, but I’d never heard that term before. Do you think it has to do with New Year’s resolutions?


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It can if any of your resolutions are to lose weight, save money, sleep better. Or, drink less. Psychologically, January is the month when we “reset”, so a UK-based organization, Alcohol Change UK, started Dry January, where you abstain from drinking alcohol.


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Perfect timing since many people shop, eat, and drink more than usual over the holidays.


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I know you used to drink a glass of Cold Duck on New Year’s Eve, a tradition going back to our childhood, but that hardly counts as drinking. But, I have always wondered why you rarely drink, but never asked.
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Popcorn! Quite simply, it’s one of my absolute favorite things. Starting when I was a child, whenever I went to the movies, I’d get (and finish!) the largest bucket of popcorn available. And I always thought movie popcorn was far superior to what you could make at home … until a recent trip to visit a close friend in Tennessee, and she introduced me to Great Northern Popcorn (I promise this isn’t a paid ad). Now I’m addicted to it as I can make it on my cooktop. I know Black would be more interested in the science of what makes popcorn pop, but I prefer to just be obsessive about my popcorn …

Popcorn. Just the thought of popcorn makes me smile, makes me want to indulge, makes me happy. And I’m guessing my popcorn obsession makes Black roll her eyes (although she might admit it can be a healthy snack). However, plenty of people must love popcorn as much as I do. Why else would there be a National Popcorn Day?!

Over the past few years, the pandemic posed challenges that none of us could’ve foreseen (and I’ll never forget the dedication of the front-line workers or make light of the sacrifices so many had to make). But part of me has to laugh at the irony because it ended my seemingly easy “escape” from the stresses of life – going to the movies and enjoying the largest bucket of popcorn – when I needed it the most.

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Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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You’re going to roll your eyes, but lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about myself.


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That is totally out of character, unless you are thinking of New Year’s resolutions.


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Actually, no. For decades, my priorities, and therefore my life, have always been focused on the girls and Mom. But that’s all changing. And I’m not sure how to “change” with it.
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