Sunday, December 30, 2007

Charging Lunch (and the Teachable Moment)

This morning I was reviewing a blog I maintained for my teachers during my final year as a principal. Just as I had suspected, I found a few gems that I want to share with teachers throughout our school system via a blog we have for that purpose. Here is one that I think speaks to students everywhere:

We are likely to have a Board policy which will limit the number of days a student may "charge" lunch for only one day. This really should not pose any student or family a problem, although we know that "should" and "do" are often two different things. Just as you and I put gas in the car when the needle approached empty rather when the tank is bone dry, the prudent thing for a family to do is regularly add money to the lunch account when it begins to get low. That way, if something happens and the plan doesn't go exactly as expected, they have a buffer of a few days before their child reaches a zero balance.

I realize this concept would not occur to some folks. After all, I am one who believes that the time to add "toothpaste" to the grocery list is when you pull the last unused one from under the counter, not when I realize I can't squeeze any more out of the very last tube in the house. That way, getting toothpaste never becomes a crisis. Buying toothpaste sometime within the next month will do instead of having to go to the store before I can brush my teeth again.

We can help students avoid the situation of having to charge lunches by doing two easy things:

1) Use analogies such as what I have listed above.

2) Stress to students that when they realize they are out of money, get that thought on paper ASAP. The student planner is the tool for that. Writing it down works. Trying to remember everything does not.

We need to teach students to handle routines rather than hop from crisis to crisis. Very few of us had anybody teach us these kinds of things as children, and as we grown up in the world that has become increasingly complex, far too many adults are eaten alive by the little details that tugs at their lives day after day. What do we think the world will be like for the children in our classrooms now? Less complex? Not a chance! We have the opportunity to do teach them the basic organizational skills that will spell major differences in what they are able to accomplish and their ability to avoid the plague of stress years down the road.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Photo Story

Nothing spreads a good idea like word of mouth. Two years ago, when Janet Taylor conducted a summer workshop on Photo Story for teachers in our school system, probably none of us had heard of it. After teachers were able to see the projects their colleagues who attended had created, last summer's workshop was nearly full.

This Christmas, several of us at the central office surprised close family members with projects we had created using Photo Story. I have no doubt that the interest in the program is going to exceed the capacity of the people available aroudn here to teach it. I have been able to find a pretty good tutorial on the internet, and that link is here.

A novice could use this tutorial and teach himself/herself the program, although half the fun is having someone guide you through the process and help you share in the joy of creating something meaningful and lasting. Whether the project is for your students or a project you create at home for loved ones, this free program is a winner.

Warning—Using this program may cause excessive use of Kleenex.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Organizing Your Gift Cards

Christmas day has passed, and if you are like me, you have your share of gift cards to your favorite restaurants and book stores. Figures I am seeing keep talking about $8 billion in gift cards going unspent because people lose or simply forget about their gift cards.

Wouldn't it be great if you had a place where you could put these little gems, a place where every so often they would hop up and say, "Remember me? Spend me."

For those who have adopted the "tickler file," that place already exists. Take all of those gift cards and put them in an envelope. Pick a date you would like to see them again. Drop the envelope in the tickler file for that date. The envelope with all of the gift cards magically appears on the desired date and serves as its own reminder to look at the cards. During that quick scan, you and your spouse can make decisions on what restaurants you might like to visit over the next week or two. (I like to see them once a week. The ones we plan to use over the next week go in the credit card case I carry at all times.) I throw the the envelope back in the tickler file to resurface a week later.

Examining the gift cards takes only a minute, and the process insures that the gifts given to me will be used and not become part of that $8 billion that is wasted.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Welcome to "Your Own Blog in 10 Minutes or Less"

This post is scheduled for Talladega City School teachers on January 2nd. During the workshop, we make reference to several blogs. Listed below are those blogs. Clicking on the links will allow you to view each of the blogs:

In addition to the blogs we discuss in the workshop, here are several created by teachers to use as communication tools with their classes:
  • Brandi Caldwell, a teacher at Mountain Brook High School, composed Mrs. C's Senior English Blogs. From her last post there, it seems the school system began blocking Blogger, so you will see a link there to another venue she now uses. Here, you see Mrs. Caldwell composing the posts and her students responding with their comments.
  • On Mrs. Myrmel's Classroom Blog, we see a blog used as a tool for a 3rd grade teacher to communicate with parents.
  • At the Room 303 Blog, Mrs. Huff's students compose the posts. The most recent posts at present relate to student insights into The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Other students post comments where they respond to what their classmates have composed. This one is definitely worth a look.
Here is the link for ImageChef, the site which allows you to add your own text to a host of images and post them to your blog.
Do you know of other examples that would benefit teachers who are interested in using a blog in their classes? If you do, please leave a comment.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Doing the Best You Can With What You Have

Some people spend their time complaining about their lot in life and looking for someone else to solve their problems for them. Others look within themselves. One of the lessons life seems to have taught me is that when we do the best we can with what we have, the result is usually remarkably good. Of course, all too many people are all too quick to put a label of their "best" on an effort that is far from it.

While I had planned to write about this subject anyway, I read something earlier in the week which explains my point far more clearly that I ever could. Click here to read an account of how the students, parents, and faculty at Oklahoma City's Westwood Elementary School came together during a snow storm that Oklahoma rarely sees to display a spirit that I wish we could spread to every school in America. Once known for low student achievement, this school turned around in a very short time despite the incredibly high percentage of students coming from Spanish-speaking homes.

The story talks about their fund-raising project--coming together to make tamales to raise funds for a marquee. Despite a language barrier, they found joy through the universal language of music and demonstrate an understanding of each other which transcends the spoken word.

Perhaps the story of how this school coped with Mother Nature may be a clue as to how they approach the other challenges they face--looking at what they can control, working together, and enjoying the ride. Jan, thanks for using the story of a snowstorm in Oklahoma to spread sunshine all the way to Alabama.

When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or the life of another.
-Helen Keller

Sunday, December 16, 2007

House of 1000 Mirrors

I feel especially privileged to work with some very positive people who make coming to work every day a joy. This is just one example of the something a co-worker shared with me. A simple story, yet it illustrates just how much the attitude we bring to the table impacts others, and ultimately impacts us in return. Pattie, thanks for sending this gem my way!

Long ago in a small, far away village, there was place known as the House of 1000 Mirrors. A small, happy little dog learned of this place and decided to visit. When he arrived, he bounced happily up the stairs to the doorway of the house. He looked through the doorway with his ears lifted high and his tail wagging as fast as it could. To his great surprise, he found himself staring at 1000 other happy little dogs with their tails wagging just as fast as his. He smiled a great smile, and was answered with 1000 great smiles just as warm and friendly. As he left the House, he thought to himself, "This is a wonderful place. I will come back and visit it often."

In this same village, another little dog, who was not quite as happy as the first one, decided to visit the house. He slowly climbed the stairs and hung his head low as he looked into the door. When he saw the 1000 unfriendly looking dogs staring back at him, he growled at them and was horrified to see 1000 little dogs growling back at him. As he left, he thought to himself, "That is a horrible place, and I will never go back there again."

All the faces in the world are mirrors. What kind of reflections do you see in the faces of the people you meet?
by: Author Unknown, Japanese folktale

Friday, December 14, 2007

Who Do You Want to Jott?

"Jott" is my new toy, and it is so easy, I can't believe I haven't used it before. The idea is that you speak into a telephone and your message is transcribed into an e-mail which winds up in someone's Inbox.

To get started, go to and create an account. You will have the opportunity to add people to your Jott address book. You will also be asked the telephone number from which you want to "Jott." In my case, I chose my BlackBerry since it is with me all the time. That's all the setup that is required.

Now, when I am in traffic and want to sent someone an e-mail message, I pull out the BlackBerry and hit a speed dial key that I have programmed to call Jott. The next thing I hear is a voice saying, "Who do you want to Jott?" I reply by speaking the person's name. The voice repeats the name and asks if it is correct. Once I say, "Yes," I start recording my message. Jott will let me talk up to 30 seconds.

Once I have sent the first message, Jott will allow me to compose a second message to a different person. There is no limit to the number of messages I can send during that one phone call to Jott.

Best of all, Jott is absolutely free! Who do you want to Jott?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where are My Holidays?

If you use Outlook 2003, you may notice you are missing your holidays for 2008. To download an update which will supply those dates through 2012, click here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Time Out the Wazoo

Greg Farr has just posted a very thought-provoking post on LeaderTalk entitled Time Out the Wazoo. His post illustrates how many different inititatives have been put into our school day. Each initiative is good and has the best of intentions. After all, this one will only require 10 minutes a day. That one only requires 20 minutes twice-weekly. Every snowflake in the avalanche pleads "not guilty"!

I wish I had a quick and easy answer. I did wind up copying and saving the post and do intend to re-read it from time to time.

What's the answer to reclaiming time? Is it through the little decisions--saying "no" to the little requests for 30 minutes here and there? Is the answer to lay everything on the table and make decisions about what goes and what stays? Since so many of the decisions about what goes into our days are made at the state and national levels, how do we best approach the decision makers? Greg, thanks for starting the discussion.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Christmas Letters from the Future

Setting long-term goals has always been an important theme in time-management literature. Personally, I guess I have always had some individual goals. What has been missing seems to be having that total picture of what my life would look like a year, two years, or five years down the road. That missing link came into focus this year. It happened by added a new twist to a well-established practice.

In a recent post, you read about the Christmas Letter composed each year recapping the events of the past month and how the notes I have jotted to that point in the year resurface once each month.

This year, I sat down in January and wrote the Christmas Letters for 2007, 2008, and 2009. I wrote them as if those years had already passed and were now being recounted to friends. This act forced me to write with the same level of specificity I have always used to recount the past year.

I saved the letters in the note section of a single task on the BlackBerry and set the task to repeat each month. The outcome is that once a month, those thoughts are presented to me. Once a month, I am reminded of the direction in which I hope to be headed.

As I sit here and read what I write this past January, the similarity between what I wrote and what has happened is remarkably similar. Consciously, I have done nothing differently. Subconsciously, quite a bit has been different.

Every day presents little choices that move us either closer to our desired future or farther from it. That once-a-month reminder seems to be making a difference for me. I offer this one simple idea, "Christmas Letters from the Future" for your consideration.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Book is Out!

For the past decade, I have had the privilege of sharing with teachers and administrators the organizational and time-management practices which have worked for me and for others I have coached. This book, Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders presents these ideas in a easy-to-read nuts & bolts format.

The book is available for purchase through Eye on Education. A description of the book and samples is here. I hope that the ideas I have shared with others in state will now make a difference on a larger scale.

This book is for school leaders. A “school leader” can be found holding a number of positions. Superintendents, principals, assistant principals, and central office administrators are likely candidates. However, a school leader is also a department head who is balancing the roles of teaching with those of shaping the direction of a curricular area. A school leader is also a classroom teacher who assumes responsibility for sponsoring a club or activity that benefits the student body. Likewise, the person who is developing ideas and sharing them with colleagues wears the mantle of leadership.

In short, a “school leader” is someone who steps forward to help shape the direction of what happens in schools, regardless of the title on the job description. Once that first step is taken, the opportunities multiply. As the opportunities multiply, the tasks increase in number and complexity. Without intervention, the complexity can become overwhelming. The school leader needs the tools to make the complex simple, and this book is designed to help.

Thanks to Bob Sickles, President of Eye of Education, and to his staff. They have been wonderful in guiding me through some uncharted waters.

Happy reading!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas Letters--Present - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more Like many of you, Davonia and I have friends scattered all over the country and our communication with them all too often happens through the Christmas cards we sent to each other. For this reason, part of our annual ritual is to compose the "Christmas Letter" to give friends a snapshot of our year.

For me to sit down just after Thanksgiving and mentally relive the events of the past year is a bit much for me. Therefore, "Add items for Christmas Newsletter" is a repeating task that appears on my BlackBerry the first day of the month. I mentally review the events of the past month, and in the note section of that task, I jot a phrase descriptive of whatever memorable had happened. By Thanksgiving, I have notes from the entire year all in one place. The job of composing the Christmas Letter become one of simply deciding what to include, what to omit, and put the ideas together into sentences.

For those who organize with pencil and paper, you could accomplish the same thing with one piece of paper. Label the top line "Christmas Letter" and throw it in the tickler file for the first day of the month. When that piece of paper resurfaces, jot down your ideas and refile the paper for the first day of the next month. That piece of paper will present itself to you as regular as clockwork 12 times during the year. When it appears on December 1, compose your letter!

Coming soon--Christmas Letters from the Future

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Want a Little Privacy? - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more
Do you find yourself spending too much time answering calls from telemarketers and wading through piles of junk mail? If you would like a little reprieve, World Privacy Forum's Top Ten Opt Outs is worth your time to read. The site gives an explanation on how to handle of the following:
1. National Do Not Call Registry
2. Prescreened offers of credit and insurance
3. DMA opt outs
4. Financial institution opt outs
6. Credit freeze
8. Data broker opt outs
9. Internet portal opt outs
10. NAI opt out

The site is pretty thorough in its explanations. Bear in mind that even if you had called the National Do Not Call Registry at one point in time, that opt out is only good for 5 years, so if your suddenly are finding the calls coming in, it's time to opt out again.

I have a personal favorite trick that helps my mood when dealing with junk mail. You know all of those no-postage-needed business reply envelopes that come with the junk mail? I found out some years ago, that when returned, the postage on those is actually a good bit higher than if you simply put a stamp on the envelope. Since so few of the envelopes are ever returned, it's cheaper for the mass mailers to use them.

I will open the junk mail from a couple of mass mailing institutions, tear off anything that personally identifies me, and then stuff each reply envelope with all of the junk that came from the other company. (My wife really hates it when I do that, so please don't tell her I passed along this trick to you.) I don't know that it helps anything, but it does feed my sense of humor. And come to think of it, a little laugh every now and then is not a bad thing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Hoax that Almost Hooked Me

Recently, I received the following simple suggestion in an e-mail message:

When you are making out your Christmas card list this year,
please include the following:

A Recovering American soldier
C/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue,NW
Washington,D.C. 20307-5001

The e-mail had come to me from an official representative of a respected institution, and my first reaction was not only to follow the suggestion, but to forward this message to everyone in my e-mail contacts. I do not forward mass mails, a personal decision I made years ago, and usually delete them unread. This one was different, or so I thought.

I hit the forward button and was about to add my own sentence or two. At that moment, a still, small voice somewhere inside said, "Check your facts." The voice was that of teachers from days gone by, teachers who had so carefully taught me and my classmates to think for ourselves.

Instead of proceeding with the e-mail message, I used the same procedure that I have used and suggested to others for quite a few years:

  1. I highlighted a portion of the text in that e-mail message and copied it (Control-C). In this case, the first three lines of the message looked like something which would return on-point hits.
  2. I pulled up Google, clicked in the search window, used the "paste" command (Control-V), and hit "Enter."

Within seconds, the verdict was obvious. It was a hoax. The most compelling evidence was this link where Walter Reed addressed this topic, saying:

Walter Reed Army Medical Center officials want to remind those individuals who want to show their appreciation through mail to include packages, letters, and holiday cards addressed to 'Any Wounded Soldier' or 'A Recovering American Soldier' that Walter Reed cannot accept these packages in support of the decision by then Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Transportation Policy in 2001. This decision was made to ensure the safety and well being of patients and staff at medical centers throughout the Department of Defense.

In addition, the U.S. Postal Service is no longer accepting "Any Service Member" or "A Recovering American Soldier" letters or packages. Mail to "Any Service Member" that is deposited into a collection box will not be delivered.

The Walter Reed site goes to say:

Instead of sending an “Any Wounded Soldier” letter or package to Walter Reed, please consider making a donation to one of the more than 300 nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping our troops and their families listed on the "America Supports You" website,

Other organizations that offer means of showing your support for our troops or assist wounded service members and their families include:

At a time of year when we are giving thanks for our many blessings and approaching a season of giving, perhaps the message from Walter Reed is the one worthy of spreading.

Had I simply forwarded the e-mail and sent a few cards, my cards would have never reached the eyes of any solider. Instead, my good intentions would have added an additional load to the personnel charged with disposing of the glut of mail which they currently receive. Rather than being part of something good, I would have only added to an already existing problem.

Why do I go to the trouble to determine the truth in an e-mail before I pass it on? The reason is simple: I am a teacher. Truth matters.

Our world has become one in which good information is only a few key strokes away. Unfortunately, the same holds true for bad information. If teaching young people how to distinguish fact from fiction was important for generations gone by, it becomes an absolute necessity today.

How can we teach our students to question what they read? (To give credit where credit is due, many of them do a much better job of this than we as adults.) I wish I had the complete answer. At least, as a start, I do feel this: Truth will only be important to them if first it is important to me.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sample School Blogs, Current School System Blog

During my last final year as a principal, I discovered blogging to be an effective and terrifically easy way to keep both staff and parents informed. As the opening of school approached, I created two blogs. The audience for one consisted of my staff. The intended audience consisted of parents.

Neither of the blogs has been maintained since my departure. I do think they are valuable in that they can serve as models for other principals who may want to use this means of communication. These two models can be found at: Blog for employees Blog for parents and community

When I move from the principalship to the central office, I began to miss my blogs immediately, How would I communicate with teachers in the various schools? How could we publicize the good works of schools? Immediately, blogs seemed to be the answer. Following the model established at Graham, we established two blogs at the central office. One of the blogs has as its audience out employees. The other has as its audience parents and community members. Both are alive and well a year and a half later:

Our intent at the outset was that these two blogs would be a place where designated people from each school could post information pertaining to their school. The result would be one single place where news from all schools would appear. From the very beginning, I had the total support of our School Improvement Specialist, Pattie Thomas. Pattie is the best co-worker a person could hope for. Our vision of people from all school contributing has not worked out near to the extent we would like, so she and I shoulder the majority of the load.

The frontier we blazed at Graham did cause two other principals to create blogs of their own. Several teachers have also created their own.

Feel free to peruse the blogs mentioned here as you gain your own ideas. Happy blogging!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Personal "Thank You"...

For me, American Education Week has always served as a time to devote some time to think about those teachers whose contributions have made a significant difference in my life. Over the years, I have actually picked up the phone to call someone whom I have not seen not talked to in decades, yet have thought about often, to tell him or her how thankful I am that our paths crossed.

During this American Education Week, I would like to use this space to thank three extremely special people:

Judy Stinnett was my English teacher during my junior year at Tuscaloosa County High School. She taught me to write. Her standards were a mile high, yet she had this incredible way of making them seem reachable. I have not seen her since graduation 30 years ago. Still, I think about her each and every time I sent down to write…whether the task at hand is a term paper, an article for publication, my dissertation, a book, or even the words you see right now.

As a high school student, I was known best for having an analytical mind. At the same time, I was an accomplished musician and wound up majoring in music. I credit Judy Stinnett with having connected the two seemingly opposite traits and allowing the result to come out through the written word.

I have no idea where Mrs. Stinnett is today and would love to be able to tell her what I am telling you. Perhaps by grace, the power of technology, and a little luck, she will wind up reading these words herself.

Harry Anderson was my first principal. I was all of 22 years old when I became band director at Montgomery’s Goodwyn Jr. High. Mr. Anderson had a knack for saying good things behind your back, and saying them to people he knew would pass along his words to you. I had been at the school for only a week or so when word got back to me about how pleased he was with his new band director. “He beats me to work and he always wears a tie,” was a memorable line that was reported back to me. Well, it’s barely 6:30 A.M. as I am writing this post from my office. I am wearing a tie. That’s just part of the influence Mr. Anderson had on me.

The band at Goodwyn flourished, and I credit Harry Anderson with a large part of that. I knew, as did every teacher in that school, that we could count on Harry Anderson for support. I could go about my job with confidence knowing that if things got rough, I wasn’t going to go through it alone. Right or wrong, I knew Harry Anderson would be there.

When I became an assistant principal and then later a principal, support for teachers was one of the things which seemed to stand out and to be appreciated. Little did my faculties know, I was doing it the only way I knew how…the way Harry Anderson did it. I still hear that voice from two decades ago, and have often found myself using the same phrases he used. Perhaps the support for teachers is in part my way of saying “thanks” to the one who made a tough job easy for me. I wish every first-year teacher could begin a career with someone like Harry Anderson.

Dr. Henry Clark can clearly be called my mentor as a school administrator. I had often said there was no way in the world I would ever want to be a principal…and then along came Henry Clark during my 5th year as band director at Pizitz Middle School. He opened my eyes as to the difference one person with a vision could make on the culture of a school. When I approached him about my own interest in venturing into school administration, he could not have been more encouraging.

Dr. Clark was only at Pizitz for two years before being to the central office. In those two years, I learned more about school administration that many learn in an entire career. He gave me projects to carry out, but mostly he imparted the advice that one simply does not find in textbooks. He was calm and composed, except for those calculated times when something else was needed to get a point across. He was a problem solver, and encouraged that in those around him.

From the outside, it seemed he had his finger on everything. The truth was, I never had more freedom to operate that I did with Dr. Clark. When I approached him with an idea, there was no talking him into letting me take the reins. The message was always clear: I was the expert, and if I had thought it through and it seems like a good idea to me, I should go forward. He was there to help, but had no intention of doing my job for me, so my having planned and thought the situation through was crucial then, and has been crucial during my days in school administration. We all knew we could approach Henry Clark with a problem, but at the same time, we were expected to also come with at least a partial solution. I don’t know if Dr. Clark is the smartest man I have ever known. I am quite sure he is the wisest. My career would have been very different had it not been for his influence.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day Salute

The message today comes from Elizabeth Messer whose husband, Lee, was my superintendent for four years. Each morning, she sends a quote to me and other friends. What she sent yesterday was a bit different...a marvelous reminder of exactly why it is that we celebrate Veteran's Day. I hope what she had to say means as much to you as it did to me:

Today (Sat.) I was in town and began to talk with an old gentleman. He was pleased that a local city was having a program to pay respect to the veterans. I asked if he was in the military to which he answered, "Yes ma'am. I was one of the fortunate ones that returned from the invasion of France."
This gentleman also said that as bad as the invasion was, the worst part was when they were pulled out, seeing the others go in. So many didn't get home from that invasion.... and others.

Then he told me about seeing two ex-military men in a restaurant and how he went over to thank them for their service to our country. Later, when they started to leave, they came to his table and said, "Sir, we would like to thank you. This is the first time in 50 years that anyone has bothered to say thank you to us."

I told the gentleman of one of the big regrets of my life. We had been to the Vietnam Memorial. As we were walking away up the sidewalk, a man in a military uniform and in a wheel chair, came up behind us. I moved all the children to one side so he could pass. "Thank you Ma'am" he said as he passed by.

I missed an opportunity that I have always regretted. If I could go back, I'd say "No Sir, I thank you!" so I ended by saying, "So let me thank you. "

The old gentleman cried and, though it may not be politically correct, I asked if I could give him a hug.

Remember, freedom isn't (and never has been) free. If you haven't done it lately, find a vet and thank them... or if you have, it want hurt to do it again.

And to you of my friends who served our country... I thank you for your service.

So this is your quote for this Veterans Day.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Birthday Wish

Today's post is a very personal one, a Happy Birthday wish to my wife of 18 years, Davonia. She is truly the light of my life!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Proud to Be a Principal

The National Association of Elementary Principals is sponsoring a "Proud to Be a Principal" campaign which runs through November 15 of this year. NAESP had invited comment on its blog, and seeing none from anyone, could not resist the opportunity to comment on a job which brought so much joy to my life. Here is what I had to say:

Having been away from the principalship and at the central office for almost a year and a half, I am at a stage where I think I am close enough to remember what he job was like, and far enough from it to have gained some perspective. My mentor, Dr. Henry Clark, often remarked, “I enjoy being a principal.” During my nine years as an elementary principal, that same statement was often on my lips. 

Aside from being enjoyable, I honestly believe the principalship to be the most influential position in education. I began to realize in those early days that students, teachers, and other adults were hanging on my every word and looking to me for answers to the most perplexing problem.

I’ll never forget the day shortly following 9/11 when a mother recounted the day her daughter came home from school, a day on which I had to figure out how to explain a real-world tragedy to children who should never have to experience such. “Don’t worry, Mom,” she said. “Dr. Buck said we are going to be OK.”

I am proud of those nine years for the opportunity to make life a little better for the teacher in the classroom, for all of the times I tried to deflect the limelight away from me so that learning could be the star, and for the opportunity to be part of the magic of turning young boys and girls into young adults.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Managing school the easy way—Part V Get everything ready the night before - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more Forgotten items, missed school busses, and frazzled nerves can so often be traced back to one simple problem—assuming Rome can be built between the time the alarm clock goes off and the school bus pulls up. Morning is a terrible time to do that last bit of homework, finish that poster, or get those papers signed. Without fail, that book we just knew was on the coffee table is nowhere to be found and it’s already time to pull out of the driveway. Get it all ready the night before and mornings become more peaceful.

Students can make the decision on what they will wear the next day and have it already laid out. They can pack the book bag before going to bed. They can gather anything else going to school and place it beside the book bag. In the morning, leaving the house is a simple matter of grabbing the book bag and whatever is around it, and heading out the door.
Therefore, the fifth step towards managing school the easy way is to get everything ready the night before.

I hope you have enjoyed this “Managing School the Easy Way” series. A little organization can go a long way towards making school (and life) more stress-free and enjoyable!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Managing school the easy way—Part IV Learn to deal with papers - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more So much of the information exchanged between the home and the school happen through written communication. Report cards, weekly folders, notes from teachers, field trip permission forms, and newsletters are examples of information which comes via paper. Some students seem to have no problem getting papers home and back on time. Other students never seem to be able to get anything home. Papers get wadded up in pockets, stuck inside textbooks or notebooks, or placed inside desks. By the time the student gets home, where to find that paper is anybody’s guess (assuming she remembers she had a paper to delivery at all)! Having a simple plan puts an end to a great deal of unnecessary stress.

Students need a place at school to put the papers for Mom or Dad and put them there every time. Some classes may have a special folder which goes home each night. If not, sliding the papers in the planner right at this week’s page will work. When the student opens the planner at home, he is looking right at the papers, an instant reminder that they need to be handed off to Mom or Dad.

Students need a spot at home where papers for Mom or Dad will go. The last thing a parent needs when getting home from a busy day at work is to have a fistful of papers shoved at him. Nor does she need to go on a safari through the home looking for papers which may have been scattered in the most unlikely of places. Conducting an excavation inside a book bag is no fun either. Children don’t have it any easier. They don’t always know when parents are ready to focus on papers from school. Having one spot to put everything for Mom or Dad’s review at their convenience makes life easier for all concerned.

Therefore, the fourth step towards managing school the easy way is to learn to deal with papers

Friday, November 02, 2007

Managing school the easy way—Part III Empty the book bag totally every night - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more For some students, the book bag is a big black hole into which papers go and are never seen again. When the student finally cleans out the book bag in May, one can only imagine what lurks at the bottom. That permission slip he never could find, the homework paper she was sure she did, and that half-eaten banana are among the treasures awaiting you at the bottom of the bag.

When you get home, empty your book bag totally. After all, everything in there is something you thought you would need when you got home. Put it in a pile and start working through it. If you brought home the math book in order to do your math assignment, go ahead and get the assignment knocked out. The math book can then go back in the bag. If you have papers for your parents, go ahead and move those papers to a spot you and your parents agree is a good place for papers which need their attention. We will talk more about this point next time.

The problem so many students face is that they put things in the bookbag which do not necessarily need to be taken home. They load the book bag down with every book in their desks whether they need them at home or not. Emptying the book bag and then handling every item in the pile quickly identifies anything which has gotten a free ride home.

Therefore, the third step towards managing school the easy way is to empty the book bag totally every night.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Preventing Staph Infections

So what does a staph infection of the notorious "Super Bug" have to do with a blog related to time management and organization? Glad you asked!

I can hardly turn on my television without hearing about an outbreak of staph or horror stories about its effects. If I listen to enough of it, I am almost afraid to leave the house for fear of how I might be infected at every turn.

Thank goodness for those who do not stop there. They go a step further to tell me how to prevent infection. More importantly, they make it easy enough that I will actually do it: Wash your hands and put a Band-Aid over open wounds. That sounds simple. I can do that!

This simple advice reminds me of the "Pareto Principle." Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist around the turn of the 20th century. Pareto observed that 80% of the wealth of Italy was held by 20% of the population, and that the remaining 80% of the population accounted for only 20% of the wealth. That observation has become known as “Pareto’s Principle,” or the “80/20 Rule.” It has been applied in many circles. A salesman may find that 80% of his sales are made to 20% of his customers. In your school, you may find 80% of the discipline problems coming from 20% of the students.

How can I ensure I will not contract the “Super Bug”? News accounts are full of detailed cleaning measures I could take. In fact, taking measures to avoid the infection could turn into a full-time job. Instead, I could pay attention to the Pareto Principle. Washing my hands and covering wounds won’t give me a 100% guarantee, but it does give me something simple that will greatly reduce my changes of infection..

What is going on in your life that seems to be taking 80% of your time yet yielding 20% (or less) of your results? Get rid of it! OK, maybe easier said than done. Let me rephrase. Examine it—closely. Some may have to stay. Some has been hanging around because that’s the way you have always done things.

Less time spent on what does not matter leaves more time to spend on that 20% which yields the 80% of your results. When is the last time you washed you hands? I think I will go do that now!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Clock's not right? Leave it alone!

This morning was a little perplexing. The alarm clock beside the bed said one time. The VCR in the same room, however, read one hour earlier. Likewise, the time on the security system also displayed a time one hour earlier than the alarm clock. Extended Daylight Saving Time strikes again! The makers of our VCRs, computers, security systems, and the like did us a favor by programming them to automatically adjust for Daylight Saving Time. But then, Congress came along and changed the starting and ending dates for DTS!

I have written about this new wrinkle which entered our lives in the spring with posts here and here which talk about preparing ourselves. What if we didn’t prepare? What if we wake up and find clocks displaying the wrong time? I have an easy answer for you---do nothing! Let me clarify that one: Do nothing--at least for now.

Yes, you could go and manually roll the time forward on these various time pieces and have every clock in your world in perfect sync. Guess what will happen in exactly one week? When DST does kick in, you are going to have to turn right around and set each of these timepieces back one hour. So, “Part 1” of my three-part advice is to simply leave well enough alone. In one week, those time pieces are going to be reading the correct time. You will probably also find that your newer electronic devices will self-adjust.

My second piece of advice applies to those of us who live by digital calendars such as the one on Outlook, BlackBerry, or Palm. Be aware that the appointments for the next one week may be an hour off. In addition, since the time displayed may be an hour off, any alarms you have set are also going to chime an hour too soon. My point is that for exactly one week you need to double-check appointments so that you know which entries are the "real deal" and which are the imposters.

Finally, you can steps to prepare so that when arrives March, the Extended Daylight Saving Time bug does either does not strike, or its effects are minimized. (Remember, in March, DST kicks in 3 weeks earlier than before.) The earlier links in this article describe a patch for the BlackBerry which fixes the problem. Microsoft has addressed the issue concerning computers in articles such as this.

The good news is you don’t have to do any of this now. You have until March (but be sure to jot something in your signature tool now, while you are thinking about it). Who knows, by March, you may have replaced that VCR, computer, coffeemaker, security system, or fancy wristwatch anyway!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Managing school the easy way—Part II Break big projects down into little parts.

As adults, we remember fondly the English teacher who assigned the term paper (due 2 months hence), and then said, “I want you to turn in your topic this Friday, and outline the next Friday, a dozen note cards the next Friday...” That teacher knew that left to our own devices, we would put off the seemingly overwhelming task until the last minute and then throw something together. She made us break the big job into manageable parts. What are the big projects for our students? Perhaps making the Accelerated Reader “100 Club,” earning the badge in scouting, or making a sports team are a student’s goals. For each one, there is a very next step. When the little steps are defined and handled, the big projects fall into place.

A student planner is the perfect tool for project planning. Begin by turning to the date the big project is due. Put that due date in the planner. Now start working backwards from that date. Assign a date for each step along the way and write in the appropriate square in the planner. Before you know it, you will have working your way to the beginning of the project and have deadline for taking that first step. As the old saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Therefore, the second step towards managing school the easy way is to break big projects down into little parts.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Managing School the Easy Way (Part 1)

A number of years ago, I composed an article for a parent newsletter entitle "Managing School the Easy Way" when I was serving as principal at Graham Elementary School. I am breaking that article down into 5 relative short posts, the first of which appears here.

Managing School the Easy Way (Part I)

Experienced teachers will tell us that school success and intelligence do not always go hand-in-hand. Often, very bright young people don’t remember to do assignments, lose their work, and spend inordinate amounts of time frantically looking for things on a messy desk.

At the same time, other students breeze through school. They seem to make school look easy, but not because they are necessarily smarter than their peers. They have acquired some very easy, very teachable habits. Over the next several weeks, I will share some suggestions which make navigating school much easier.

The first of these tips is to write down the things you have to do as soon as they occur to you. Try to simply remember everything you have to do and you are headed for trouble. Even young people today have many activities on which you must focus your attention—homework, athletic practices, family activities, and chores are just some of the obligations you have. The easy thing to do is let pencil and paper do the remembering. Get it on paper and you can get it off your mind! A student planner is the perfect tool for this purpose. The big advantage of using such a book is that all commitments are in one place.

The planner should not just be for school assignments. It can and should be the one place which traps every responsibility you have. As you list athletic games and practices, after-school activities, school projects as well as day-to-day assignments, you begin to see the big picture and can begin to budget your time.

Therefore, the first step towards managing school the easy way is to write down things you have to do as soon as they occur to you.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Dribs and drabs" and chunks of time

The Effective Executive by Dr. Peter Drucker ranks as one of my all-time favorite books. Copyrighted in 1966, its advice in the area of time management rings even truer today than it did 40 years ago. “Effective executives…do not start with their tasks. They start with their time,” say Drucker.

One of my favorite lines from the book is when Drucker says, “To have dribs and drabs of time of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours.” The point is that we cannot get anything of real value done without “time in fairly large chunks.”

Finding those fairly large chunks of time is difficult for those in the school business. For teachers, most have only a 30-minute block of discretionary time per day. Administrators often find their days so fragmented that nothing is accomplished by the end of a day.

Difficult, yes. Impossible, no. Thank goodness that answer is no! Once we give in to the notion that our days consist of fragmented “dribs and drabs,” we must give in to the notion that we will simply not be effective in our jobs.

Who and what are the obstacles which stand between you and those large chunks of time? Keeping that thought first and foremost in your mind for a few days will quickly reveal answers as your day unfolds. Postponing checking e-mail, letting voicemail catch the phone calls, and closing the door to dissuade drop-in visitors are time-honored techniques. Above all, if you had the large chunks of time, what would you do with them? If the answer to that question is hazy, there will be little motivation to make tomorrow any different than today.

On the other hand, if you have a passion for a project, the project has been planned, and you know exactly where to jump in, somehow the ability to block out of the rest of the world becomes easier.

What’s your passion right now? What’s standing in the way of your pursuing it? What are you waiting for? Turn Drucker’s “dribs and drabs” into large chunks of gold!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Extended Daylight Saving Time Revisited

The Daylight Saving Time Problem is still for real! I had written about this problem back in the spring. That post is here. The idea is this: Beginning in 2007, Daylight Saving Time starts 3 weeks earlier and ends 1 week later than in previous years. This year, Daylight Saving Time ends on November 4th.

What that means for many handheld users is that they will need a "patch" in order for the time to show correctly on their handhelds. Without the patch, the time on the handheld will "fall back" a week to early.

Are you a victim of the Extended Daylight Saving Time demon? To find out, look at appointments you have on your handheld between October 28 and November 3. Look at the same appointments on Outlook. Are the times the same? If so, your device is OK. If the two are an hour off, you will need a patch.

  1. For BlackBerry users, to get the patch, do this:
  2. Close BlackBerry Desktop software
  3. Disconnect Blackberry from computer.
  4. Go to
  5. Scroll down until you come to a link labeled "DST Patch Loader" and click the link.
    You will get a message asking you to install an Active X Control. Click on the yellow strip at the top of the page to allow this to happen.
  6. Connect your BlackBerry to your computer.
  7. A button will appear that says "Install DST Patch." Click on it.
  8. The patch will download. Be patient. The process will take several minutes and the little "progress bar" may appear to be frozen, but do not worry. Just give it some time.
  9. When the process finishes, you are returned to the the screen that has the button asking you to install the DST Patch. It sure would be nice if you got some sort of message telling you that you were finished, but you don't. I am sure there are going to be many people who hit the button again, but at least YOU won't be doing that.
  10. You can now disconnect your BlackBerry from the computer. You will find that a little hour glass is spinning on the screen. It may spin for 15 minutes. Don't worry. When it finally stops spinning, you are done!

At this point, the appointments on your BlackBerry and those on Outlook will at the least be the same. It does not mean they are correct. You will need to look at each one to determine if it is correct or an hour off. Make corrections as needed. The next time you sync, the corrections will transfer.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sleep on it

Last night as I was watching the Alabama football team go down in defeat, I was going down to defeat at the hands of a spreadsheet I had been so proud of. It was a masterpiece in the art of taking a paperwork nightmare imposed from the State Department of Education and turning it into a simple, paperless procedure.

The fly in the ointment was a formula--one formula. I knew what I wanted to happen but didn't know of an Excel formula which would do it. A Google search revealed other people searching for exactly the same formula, but it seemed what I wanted didn't exist.

As the the 4th quarter was drawing to a close, an idea occurred to me that would work. It wasn't elegant. It wasn't pretty. But, it would work. Two to three hours was a good estimate of the time required to make the needed adjustments--major adjustments. As the ga,e proceeded into overtime, I realized I was looking at a task which would require far more time and energy than was available. As the opposing team scored the winning touchdown, I was making notes about where I would pick up in the morning. Then, I went to bed.

How many times in our lives have we been given the advice to "sleep on it"? While I slept, evidently my brain kept working--and did so at a very creative level. The next morning, I awoke with another idea to solve the "missing formula" problem. This one was elegant, very elegant. Better yet, the modifications took exactly five minutes to make. Best of all, the solution worked!

Tomorrow, I am meeting with one of my favorite people in the education world. Last spring she had described to me how she had papers scattered all over her living room floor in an attempt to tackle this one report. It was not a pretty picture! I can't wait to see her reaction when we go over how this spreadsheet works and I give her a copy of it.

I guess this story has two morals. The first is that when confronted with the paper avalanche, we must train ourselves to look to technology for a solution. So often, it's there. The second message is perhaps there is something to handing over our problems to our creative subconscious. Perhaps it is the force which can take today's insurmountable problems and turn them into tomorrow's solutions.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Student planners

I participate in several time management/personal productivity discussion groups. The exchange of ideas healthy and even when disagreement arises, I think we all come away a little smarter.

One of the things about these groups is that you never know when something you write off the cuff, totally on the spur of the moment, resonates with someone else. Such is the case with a reply on the subject of helping students be more organized. Tonight I found the idea struck a chord and a fellow blogger quoted what I had to say on his blog. The link is here, and the post goes as follows:

Everyone open your planners...
I absolutely love when I find pieces like this where schools at the administrative level down are grasping basic organizational concepts and teaching the kids how to do them. Oh if I had only been taught these skills in school…

— In, “Dr. Frank Buck” wrote:
One of the best things I did as an elementary principal was to purchase student planners for the entire student body. As far securing funding, I was able to get a couple of small grants a couple years. School systems also receive some federal finding earmarked for parental involvement. Our use of the planners qualified for that.

The secret was getting all teachers to use them and use them in much the same way. Teachers had to stop telling students “Now, don’t forget to…” and instead to say, “Everyone open your planner. On tomorrow’s square, write down (whatever).” At the beginning of the week, my morning announcements would include events coming up. My comments would always start with’ “Open your planners.” I would tell them what to write, where to write it, and then tell them that when they saw those few key words what it would remind them to do.

Teachers used the planners to write a quick note to parents, knowing that the planner would be the one thing every parent would look at every night. (We really stressed that to parents, so after a while, the value of the planner as an easy way to keep parents informed just became part of the culture of the school.)

About half of being successful in school is organization. As for the other half, well, most of that is organization as well.

Yes, the planners worked like a charm for us. If I were to accept another principalship (and most certainly if it were a secondary principalship) establishing student planners would be among the first orders of business. Everybody talks about how they need to be more organized and manage their time better. Yet, nobody teaches this. Simple time-management tools can, and should, be part of the culture of schools.

Be quick...but don't hurry

Sometimes, the best thing to do is jump into a task and get it done. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step back, relax, and plan. Yesterday was a prime example for me.

With about an hour and a half left before time to go home, I started a project involving the assimilation of data which had just become available. My goal was to enter the appropriate parts of the data onto our school system's "Balanced Scorecard" and get the updated scorecard to principals as soon as possible.

"No better time than the present to just knock the whole thing out," I thought. For about the next hour, I put shoulder to the wheel watching the clock all along. The clock seemed to be going faster than the progress on the task at hand. In addition, two phone calls which had to be made before leaving weighed heavily on my mind.

With 30 minutes until time to leave the office, it was obvious I had severely underestimated the time required for the task. Furthermore, I was not enjoying what I was doing. At this juncture in my life, I have pretty much come to the conclusion that being happy doing what I am doing in the moment ought to be a primary focus. Furthermore, I felt frazzled. I found myself feverishly looking for a particular flash drive only to find it was in the pocket of the coat I was presently wearing!

I made a decision which may turn out to be the best decision I make all weekend. I put the project in the briefcase. That left me 30 minutes to plan my weekend and my Monday. I left the office with a clear picture of what I wanted to accomplish that evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, first thing in the office Monday, early Monday, late morning Monday, and Monday afternoon. I had also charted pretty clearly what I wanted to tackle Tuesday. Finally, I had blasted into the future quite a few things sitting on the task list that stood no chance of being handled in the next few days.

Saturday morning, I put the flash drive in the computer at home, pulled the printouts from the briefcase, and resumed the data project. Just yesterday, I was watching the clock wondering what I had done to deserve such torture. This morning, I was having fun. I was relaxed and listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, an episode of Mission Organization, and a Jay Leno, all from a VCR tape from earlier in the week playing in the background to keep me company.

During my 23-minute commute to and from work, I have listened to many books on tape and CD. Yesterday's ordeal brings to mind one of them: Be Quick But Don't Hurry. The book was written by a former UCLA basketball player who recounted his days under legendary coach John Wooden. The title refers to a piece of advice Wooden gave his players. At first glance, it seems contradictory. In actuality, it's right on the money.

When we are relaxed and "in our zone," we can be quick. Everything flows. Everything is effortless. The activity is fun. When we hurry, we make mistakes. We stumble and find ourselves having to re-do and re-think.

Yesterday, I was trying to hurry. Today, I was quick. The task was the same. The difference is yesterday was work while today was play.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is jump into a task and get it done. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step back, relax, and plan. I think I just got better at distinguishing the one from the other.

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.

- James Michener

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I have made the statement more times than I can count that "I learned something every day this summer." That statement holds true in a number of arenas, but especially in the area of technology. One of the neatest things from my summer experiences is discovering "iGoogle."

I shared all of this information in an e-mail with a friend, so to kill two birds with one stone, here is basically and copy/paste of that e-mail for others who might like to have iGoogle as a home page. Here is how to set it up:

  1. Go to Google
  2. In the upper right corner, click on "iGoogle". (If, by chance, in the upper right corner it says "Classic Home," then never mind, you are already at iGoogle.)
  3. Click on "Sign in" in the upper right corner.
  4. Sign in if you have a Google account, or create a Google account (it's free).
Here is what I have on mine:
  1. Google Bookmarks-You can add to or take away as you see fit. I gave you pretty much what I have.
  2. The movies at the local theater or you can click where it says "Movies" and see what's on in other locations.
  3. The weather is particular to our city.
  4. Driving directions starting with my place of work as the default starting point. (You can change the default on any of these by clicking the little down arrow and choosing "Edit settings.")
  5. Same with the Map Search. My work location is right in the center.
  6. I have list of GoogleDocs which I can share with other individuals or with the whole world.
  7. There are other things you can add by clicking on "Add stuff" just above the Inspirational Quotes. (What a handy word "stuff" is!)
  8. You can get rid of any of the "stuff" by clicking on the "x."
  9. You can re-arrange where each window is located by clicking and dragging it somewhere else on the screen.
  10. There are different "themes" for how the top of the page will look. Click on "Select theme" right beside "Add stuff." Some themes will change appearance with the time of day and others change according to the weather in your particular area. How cool is that?
I have this set as my homepage, and...
At home, I have this set as my homepage, and...
My laptop is set with this as my homepage, which means...
...for those sites I go to all the time or the GoogleDocs I have, I don't have to bookmark them on three different computers, and...
...If I am away from home and on a computer in a public library, someone else's school, etc., I can go to Google, click iGoogle, log in, and I am looking at my bookmarks, my GoogleDocs, and the whole nine yeards just the same as if I was sitting in my office.
So..there it is. Have fun!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Say "yes" or say "no," you are always saying both

Education is a "helping" profession, and those who embark on a career in this arena have the natural tendency to say "yes." Whether the request is to provide extra help to a student, serve on a committee, complete whatever paperwork appears, or do all of these at the same time, we are a people who tend to say "yes" first and figure out how we will accomplish it later. After all, doesn't saying "no" make us seem uninterested, uncaring, and selfish?

In today's world, the demands on one's time generally exceed the time available. Choices must be made as to what gets done and what is left undone. When we say "yes" to one request, we are ultimately saying "no" to all else available to us at the moment. Therefore, the question becomes not one of whether we say "yes" or say "no," but which request get which answer.

Why is it that when we are saying "yes," so often we wind up feeling bad. Perhaps the answer is that, at some level, we realize more important responsibilities received a "no."

This past week, a principal related to me a situation where a veteran teacher was approached during instructional time by an agency representative with the request to compose a memo and to do so right then. Saying "yes" to this request meant saying "no" to the instruction which should be happening in that classroom. The teacher wrote the memo yet felt bad about having to choose to between two poor alternatives--saying "no" to the agency representatives or saying "no" to the students.

We need not feel bad about saying "no." In fact, it is a necessary tool in our arsenal of time-management tools. Without the word "no," our time will never be our own. Instead, it will be free for asking by those who scream longest and loudest and present themselves at our doorstep the most often.

As school leaders, we help those around us reach their goals by helping them understand than saying "no" is not only OK, it is an absolute necessity if they are ever to accomplish anything of significance.

Today, you will encounter opportunities to make the day significant. You will also encounter the trivial disguised in royal garb. Will you be able to distinguish the one from the other? Will you be able to say "no" to the one and "yes" to the other. Say "yes" or say "no," you are always saying both.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Preparing for accreditation visit and our first wiki

Our school system is preparing for a District SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) Accreditation visit later this school year. One of the projects at hand is to articulate how our school system meets each of the 7 SACS standards and their indicators. We have formed 7 committees of 4-5 people, each being charged with developing ideas to support one of the standards.

Other than sitting down together in the same room, how can a group share their ideas over time? Our answer will be to use a wiki. This afternoon, the group will be introduced to this concept using this video:

We are going to use a "Peanut Butter Wiki" and devote one page to each of the standards. AS our project unfolds and there is really something to see, I will keep you updated here.

Thanks to Pattie Thomas, my colleague for talking me into the idea, and Dr. Jan Borelli who had posted this same video to her blog, giving me a wonderful way to introduce this concept to our committee members. A special thanks to those at Common Craft who produced this and other outstanding instructional videos.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

New name...same purpose

As of today, this blog has a new title! The driving reason for the change is in preparation for the publication of a new book.

Over a decade ago, I found myself reading practically everything on the subject of time management I could find. The research all fed a dissertation entitled A Study of the Time Management Practices of Alabama Principals. The work that led to that dissertation also spawned the original workshop I started in 1997, a workshop that has evolved over the years as the needs of the participaints have grown and changed.

A little less than a year, Bob Sickles, President of Eye on Education, contacted me. After having read my article in "The 24 Hour Principal" issue of Principal magazine and reading parts of this blog, Bob contacted me about the possibility of writing a book. What followed has been a wonderful journey as I have attempted to harness the verbal message presented for the last 10 years in a face-to-face format and transform it into the written word for an larger audience.

What make this book different from other books on organization or time management already on the market? This book makes a contribution to the literature in two ways:

First, it is written with the school leader in mind. Books typically approach the subject from the standpoint of the business world. We must take and adapt them for our purposes. The scenarios in this book are from education and the problems addressed are the real problems which face us every day.

Secondly, the book provides a comprehensive system for getting organized and managing time. Many books provide a smogasboard of suggestions and stop there. This book goes further and ties it all together. We handle the paper, the ideas, the digital data, and the people aspects of the job.

Making a decision about the title was actually one of the last tasks. The idea on which we finally settled--Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders was a suggestion for one of the people who reviewed the manuscript.

As of now, the expected date of publication is this Christmas!

Monday, September 03, 2007

One of the real pleasures of my career in education has been the privilege of serving as an "Editorial Adviser" for the National Association of Elementary School Principals. One of the last acts in this role was responding to a request to share something for this "best practices" issue of Principal magazine. For about the last 20 years, technology has played a significant role in making my job easier, whether the role was that of a band director, an aspiring administrator looking for ways to help other people in the building, a middle school assistant principal, a principal, or now as a central office administrator.

You can view the article here. For more along the same line, I invite you to read my article on Saving Time and Paper with Basic Technology which appeared earlier this year in Principal magazine.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Maintenance requests go "Web 2.0"

Maintenance requests have been a source of frustration in my school for as long as I have been there (going on 11 years now). The paper form is completed and forwarded to the maintenance department. What happens after that is sometimes anyone's guess. Ours was a system beyond "tweaking."

What we needed was something totally different. What would a better system look like? First and foremost, it would let all involved in the process see the "big picture." The superintendent would be able to see the totality of requests--what had been completed, and what was outstanding. Those who schedule the work should be able to see all outstanding work at a glance so they could make the the best choices in making assignments. Principals and teachers would be able to see progress on the items which impacted them.

GoogleDocs has proved to be the answer for us. All maintenance requests are housed on one spreadsheet. Every principal has the ability to add requests to the spreadsheet. The maintenance department activates a request by assigning a date and an maintenance employee to it. Requests are marked complete by filling in a completion date.

The beauty of the system is that everyone can see everything. On our employee blog, TeachTalladega, we have a link to the maintenance requests. I think all of our eyes have been opened as to the sheer number of requests and can perhaps be a bit more patient as a limited staff works its way through the list. By the same token, that same limited staff can make better choices about how the day is planned now that all of the cards are on the table.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Smooth sailing or overwhelming frustration? School has begun! - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more
School has begun! The beginning of this school year, like any school year, includes gathering data. How many students do we have? What classes are overloaded? Who is authorized to check Tommy out of school? What's my locker combination?

Technology is our friend in these areas, just to name a few. For those who have figured this out, the beginning of school tends to go smoothly. For those who don't, the works "overwhelmed," "disorganized," and "frantic" typify those first days and weeks as random pieces of paper fly between the classroom and school office, generally ending in a big pile on the desk of some poor sole in the school office. Life does not have to be hard!

Why do the leaders in some schools "get it," and use technology to simplify the process while others continue to operate as if LBJ still occupied the White House? I will go out on a limb and propose that the answer lies in a mindset. Some people look at a problem, and immediate the wheels in their heads begin to turn as they think of how their school administrative software or an Excel spreadsheet can make a molehill out of their mountain. Others retreat to that which is more time consuming, yet more familiar.

I have little sympathy for principals or office personnel who ignore better ways of doing things and wind up making their own jobs harder. They get what they deserve. For me, the travesty is the unnecessary paperwork that is invariably passed to their teachers. Perhaps the day will come when teachers will no longer double as stenographers or accountants and can concentrate their full attention on the craft of teaching. We are not there yet, but I am delighted to be associated with some wonderful leaders in my school system who are getting pretty close.

Ironically, the school leaders who really seem to "get it" the best are also the ones who are hungry for the next trick, the next morsel that will make lives just a little easier for their teachers. The ones who need it the most, however, rock along 20 years in the past.

Earlier this year, my article on Saving Time and Paper With Basic Technology appeared in Principal magazine. It deals with using the tools schools already have at their disposal to save time, save paper, and save our sanity.

For my friends who are in the school business, I wish you a great year and hope you find a few words of wisdom in these posts that will impact you and the students you teach.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Don't open that greeting card...

This week, I have been receiving daily e-mail messages that someone has sent me an electronic greeting card and prompting me to click on a link to retrieve it. A quick Google search for "Greeting card scam" returns numerous hits for the latest assault on our Inboxes.

This link from the Internet Crime Complaint Center gives a particular good and concise explanation. For a little more lengthy and technical article, see this one from TechNewsWorld.

Even if you are sending someone else a legitimate e-mail greeting card, watch out for the fine print. That little user agreement that you check off without reading could contain permission for the company to download software to your computer which will send stuff to everyone in your address book. This explanation from explains.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

RSS (Real Simple Syndication)

I talked earlier this week about Web 2.0. With so many people producing so much, one can easily become overwhelmed by good stuff. What if all of the good stuff could be organized in one place? What if every time there was an update to a blog you like that update was delivered to you instead of you having to go and check multiple blogs or news sites?

That is what "RSS" (Real Simple Syndication) is all about. I use a program called "intraVnews." It's free and works with Outlook (not Outlook Express). Once I have identified a site that I am interested in keeping up with, I add it to the list. That list includes blogs from principals across town and principals from across the country, educationally-related discussion groups, and alerts from the National Weather Service anytime there is an advisory for this county. I don't have to do anything. It all goes straight to my e-mail. There's enough in life that's complicated. RSS really is simple.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Stirring Up the Dust"

When you conduct a workshop, you can never be sure who will take what you have to give and use it and to what extent it will be used. I was delighted to find "Stirring Up the Dust," a brand-new blog created by library media specialist Kitty Forbus. Her first post, "The Journey Begins," is a treasure that I would encourage anyone to read.

Kitty attended a workshop on blogging at the Alabama Educational Technology Conference a year ago. She is a shining example of one not only implemented everything presented, but she has taken it to an even greater level.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Notes from Mega Conference

Here are some of the major ideas I gained from the Mega Conference held in Mobile this past week. The major thrust of the Mega Conference each year centers around Federal Programs and Special Education, although the sessions do extend into all areas of school life.

Response to Intervention
This term "Response to Intervention" is one which is probably unfamiliar to the majority of teachers, yet it's impact on general education is significant now and will continue to grow. "Federal law now prohibits labeling students as 'LD' unless the districts can prove that research-based instruction has been provided, for a lengthy period of time, in regular education classes, by highly-qualified teachers, using instructional programs 'with fidelity.' The process of gathering the required data is called 'Response to Intervention,' or 'RTI.'" This quote comes straight from Melinda Baird, a nationally-known attorney whose specialty is representing school systems in special education issues.

The good news for us is that the teacher who is using research-based reading and math materials, is implementing them "with fidelity" (That's not a term we dreamed up locally; that's the way the law reads.), and is progress monitoring students as prescribed in the program is going to be in good shape. As you read about RTI, you will see the terms "Tier 1," "Tier 2," and "Tier 3" As you review the reading programs up for adoption this year, you are going to see the same language. Easy translation:
  • Tier 1="Benchmark" or that vast majority of students (hopefully 80% or more) who are experiencing success. "Tier One" materials are those one would use with the entire class.
  • Tier 2="Strategic" or that group of students (probably around 15%) who need a "double dose." "Tier Two" materials or instruction would be used to help accelerate these students.
  • Tier 3="Intensive" or that very small percantage (5% or so) who are having severe difficulty and require intensive intervention. You will hear the terms "Tier Three" and "intervention program" used interchangeably.

To be honest, RTI is an area where there are more questions than answers. My suggestion is to keep "RTI" on your radar. When you see the term mentioned in a professional journal, read it. If you have an opportunity to attend a short workshop on it, go. In this last reauthorization of IDEA, Congress came very close to removing the discrepancy model (the way we currently determine eligibility for LD which measures the discrepancy between IQ and performance) and replacing it with RTI. Congress did not do that. They are allowing either method for now. With the the next reauthorization of IDEA, we may well see RTI become the sole way to determine LD.

Reading Adoption
The reading adoption is a huge topic and one that is sure to be the source of interest and controversy statewide. Earlier this summer, 11 textbook companies submitted their core reading programs to a large panel of reviewers. We will be receiving their report this fall. Each core reading program is rated in a variety of areas, much like one would see in the magazine Consumer Reports. In fact the instrument used to rate the programs is entitled A Consumer’s Guide to Evaluating a Core Reading Program Grades K-3.

We will begin receiving samples from the publishers in November. Dr. Morton's recommendation is going to be that school systems narrow their focus to three or four core programs using the results of the report and then make their own selection from there. The rationale is that school systems will not have time to adequately evaluate all 11 programs submitted for review.

Web 2.0
This buzzword got it's start in 2003 and has been gaining steam ever since, but most people still haven't the foggiest notion of what it means. In a nutshell, Web 1.0 was about you and I being consumers. Information on the web was put there by people in far-away places who knew lots about programs such as Deamwaver or FrontPage and had access to servers where they could host their stuff.

Web 2.0 is about creation and participation. What you are reading right now is an example of Web 2.0. It's about the average person being able to share knowledge with the whole word. It's blogs and wikis. It's MySpace and YouTube. It's the ability for you and me to have space on the internet absolutely free where we can post our pictures, our thoughts, and our very best ideas. It's the idea that we are givers as well as takers in a global exchange of ideas. It's the absurd notion that an encyclopedia could be constructed by simply letting anybody who wanted to write whatever they liked, a notion so absurd it's actually working.

To this point, our challenge has been to find what others have written. Our generation learned about the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. This generation knows about Google. The challenge of Web 2.0 is not just in finding what others have created, but in making it easy for others to find what we have created. That, however, is another post for another time.

Free Technology Resources
Every one of the links on this list is worth your time to explore.

APTPlus and United Streaming
Many of our teachers are finding the value of the United Streaming videos. You can download short clips to play in class. You can store what you have downloaded in a folder on your computer so that you can find it the next time you teach that particular lesson. If you have not used this resource before, this blog post tells you what you need to know.

One of the points brought out was that rather than go directly to United Streaming, we should be encouraging you to go to APT Plus. At that site, you can search for resources available from United Streaming, but you will also be able to search other sources at the same time.

The final topic is the distance learning opportunities provided through ACCESS. This program is part of a dream to access to education a function of your aspirations rather than a function of where you happen to live. Extensive information is available at their website.