Wednesday, February 22, 2006

E-Mail—Time Management Tool or Time Sink?

Is E-mail a great time management tool or a great time sink? In little more than a decade, it has gone from being a rare novelty to being commonplace. We all love it, because it’s so easy to send a message to one person or to hundreds of people. All with a single mouse click. We hate it because our e-mail explodes with advertisements, jokes, and a host of other low priority items. We stress about it because we also get good information and don’t know exactly what to do with it.

E-mail is the most efficient means of communication we have in the world of education.
Even if had phones in our classrooms, statistics from the business world show that only something like 20% of calls are completed the first time.

When we use e-mail, we send messages when it is convenient for us. They are read when it is convenient for the other person. It eliminates calls that end with “I’ll get that information and get back with you” and perpetual telephone tag.

Getting Newspaper Coverage
How many feel like your local paper is always there to cover the good things that happen in your school? When I ask this question on workshops, rarely does a hand raise. The truth is that papers are usually glad to print what you give them provided you get it to the right person and you make it easy for them. E-mail is the answer.

Go home, call the paper, and ask for the name and e-mail address of the person to whom you should send school-related material. When you have something, e-mail it. You aren’t going to be spending your planning period driving to the paper and searching for the right person to hand your stuff to. They aren’t going to have to turn around and retype your copy. You will find your story, along with the digital photo you include as an attachment, winds up in the paper.

Committee Work
If you are doing committee work where everyone has their part to prepare and then it’s merged into one document, send it by e-mail to one person who simply pastes it together. Pasting it and then going through to add nice formatting is a lot more fun than taking a stack of papers other people have typed on their computers and printed out that you are now going to sit and type back into your computer.

Old Habits are Hard to Break—Some scenarios to examine:

  1. A teacher wants to reschedule a committee meeting, so she writes a note, and has a student take it from room to room. That might have been the most efficient way to do it—before e-mail. Now, we can e-mail that same message to as many people as needed in much less time and without having to interrupt other classes.
  2. Central office sends a memo and wants you to share the information with everyone. Do you put it on a bulletin board and hope everyone stops and notices there is something new there? Do you Xerox a copy for everyone and stuff the boxes? Or, do you encourage the central office to send it via e-mail to a contact person, who then simply clicks “Forward,” clicks a “group” into which the faculty and staff has been placed, and then clicks “Send.”
  3. A new student enrolls (or a student withdraws). Who needs to know that? In a typical elementary school, the answer would include the music teacher, PE teacher, librarian, counselor, or lunchroom manager. In your school, how do you let them all know? In all too many schools, these people are not notified at all. The solution is simple. First, identify who needs to know about entries and withdrawals. Secondly, create an e-mail group which includes each of those people. Part of the standard procedure for enrolling or withdrawing a student will now include sending an e-mail message to that group.
  4. Students misbehave from time to time and, from time to time, a teacher made need to send a discipline referral to the school office. Before computers, all of the teachers had discipline referral cards. The teacher wrote all of the details about what the student did. The administrator simply made on note on the form as to the consequence being assigned and was finished. Now, the discipline records are on computer. Someone must take the teacher’s written narrative and key it into the computer. If the number of referrals to the office is very large at all, this process can become a time sink. A possible alternative is to have teachers submit discipline referrals via e-mail. The administrator can then electronically copy and paste the teacher’s comments into the student administrative software.

    Over the next several weeks, I will share some other e-mail practices which work for me and help keep e-mail a timesaver and not a time sink.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Dissertation Advice

This post is basically a response that I posted on the David Allen discussion board. A reader asked for advice on preparing a dissertation. Following is what I found to be extremely beneficial and something I would recommend to anyone:

I made no notes on 3X5 cards nor did I ever have various sources scattered all over the floor. On my computer, I had a single file that I had named something like "Lit Review." It really amounted to electronic 3X5 cards.

I would read a particular source (article or book) from beginning to end and take notes on screen. I would putt a couple of line breaks between each entry I used. At the end of each entry, I referenced the page number. If I had quoted anything, I used quotations right then and there so that later on there would be no doubt about what had been taken word-for-word and what I had paraphrased. When I finished with that source, I put the bibliographical entry for that article or book. Then, I would begin reading and taking notes from the next source.

When I felt like I had read everything of value and was "done" researching, I started at the end of my notes and "copied" the last bibliographical entry. I then pasted that bibliographical entry at the end of every single citation from that particular source. I then continued that process throughout the entire set of notes. When I finished, every bit of information was tagged with a page number and complete bibliographical entry.

As I put together the review of literature, categories began to emerge. My next step was to begin cutting and pasting all of these bits of information so that like info was together. (This would be just like taking a set of 3X5 note cards and sorting them in the order you want to use them in your paper.)

When I finished with this process, I basically had my review of literature organized. From there, it was a matter and creating the wording that would link these ideas and help the whole thing flow. The process also entailed cutting the bibliographical entries and pasting them in the bibliography. That insured that I had not left anything out of the bibliography. It also ensured that I had not included anything in the bibliography that had not actually been used in the paper.

When people ask me how long it took me to write the dissertation, I always say 6 months, 2 years, or 4 year, depending on how you look at it. I had the original idea when I was working on a paper for an earlier degree (which is what I mean by the 4 year part).

When I started the doctoral program, I knew I was going to be writing a paper for every class, so I found some way to work my eventual dissertation topic into the requirements for every one of those papers, so that I was constantly feeding the dissertation. From the time I entered the program to the time I defending the dissertation was 2 years and 2 months. I would recommend to ANYBODY starting a doctorate to spend considerable time getting at least a general idea of what they want to write the dissertation on BEFORE you start classes. Otherwise, you find yourself up to your ears getting through one class after another and no time to step back, look at the whole program, all make all the parts work together.

I sat down with my chair on morning to hammer out a title, a hypothesis, how I would conduct the study, etc. One hour later, our meeting was done. Six months later, I defended the dissertation. The subject? Time management practices of Alabama principals.