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.