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!