Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How to Read a Principal Blog

The following is an actual blog post. At that particular point, the blog I created to inform my staff had been in existence for about a month. In this post, my aim is to "think out loud" and help staff members make decisions about how to translate what they read into the actions they need to take.

Beginning of post for staff:
Different announcement will mean different thinks to different people. Some won't be applicable to you at all. Each one is annotated with the kind of decision that would need to be made on each one.

I came across this site the other day and was impressed by the wealth of information and teaching resources: Enchanted Learning (Basically, I would click on the link and decide within 30 seconds whether or not this is a site I would want to visit in detail later. I wouldn't go into that detail now or the end of the day would be here with some potentially critical things being left undone. If it looks good, either jot the URL on your to-do list or add the site to Favorites (but you will still need some type of reminder on your to-do list to trigger your looking for that site in Favorites).

Voyager--Debbie Lett will be here on Monday, Sept.19 for our first of three on site visits. She will be visiting your rooms during your intervention time to help and to answer some of your questions. (For K-5 teachers, this is a note for your calendar. For others, you could ignore it unless you were simply interested in the name of the visitor, in which case, I would jot it on the calendar for that day.)

An interesting page on and by Mem Fox. It includes a section on reading aloud where you can hear her in her own voice as she gives tips on reading aloud and examples. (Same type of decisions as the one about Enchanted Learning.)

Special education teachers--Did you know that you can access SETS from home? If not, e-mail me and I will give you the web address to use. (It's a different one that what you use at school.) (If your are not a special ed. teacher, you wold ignore this one. If you are a special ed. teacher and need this info, take the 15 seconds right now while you are reading this to open an new e-mail message. A time-saving tip--In the subject line, just put "I need address for getting SETS from home" and hit send. Putting the entire message in the subject line is a big time saver for you and the person on the other knows exactly what your message will be about before ever opening it. I will wait a day or so to give everyone a chance to respond and then compose one reply and send it to everyone who needs it.)

Daily Schedules--I am waiting on copies of Daily Schedules from 6 instructional assistants. (In other words, certified folks have taken care of this, so don't worry. If you are an instructional assistant, you know whether you did or not, so it's either you did and can move on to the next item or you didn't and need to jot a reminder on your to-do list.)

If you send information home to all parents, give me a copy. (Many of you do a good job of this already.) If the information concerns such things as a field trip, I will put it in the notebook we keep in the office. We get questions in the office regarding deadlines, costs, etc. related to a project a teacher is handling. If we have the information in the office, we can answer their questions. (This is a little different, because it's really about forming a habit. If you are already pretty good and doing this-and most are-simply move on. Forming a habit basically entails seeing having reminders pop up until the habit is entrenched.)

Exiting Programs—Please be sure that you exit out of programs you are in at the end of the day. In order for us to back-up Accelerated Reader or run the Data Doctor, everyone must be out of the program. (That's why I do those things in the late afternoon or at 6:30 in the morning.) This would also be true of any program that is being used on the network (STAR, Athena, or STI Classroom when we get it.) (This has gotten much better, but I just throw it out as a reminder.)

I will be in Montgomery Sept. 8 and 9 working on the State Course of Study for Fine Arts and in Montevallo during part of Sept. 14 for professional development planning. (You might jot a note on your calendar so that you don't need my signature or need me to make a decision on something urgent only to find out I am out of town.)

Sally Foster Giftwrap Sale--Students are to bring orders and money on Wednesday, September 7. (Be sure they have written this in their planners.) (I would make a note in my plan book, write a reminder on the board, or write it wherever you write other announcement for students to put in their planners.)

Students should also have Monday (Labor Day) in their planners as a holiday. (Same as Sally Foster.)

Continue reading other posts. You will know when you are done when you start running into stuff you read last week. Also, click on the calendar link so just to quickly familiarize yourself with what's coming up over the next several weeks.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Extended Daylight Saving Time One More Time

If you are noticing any of your digital devices suddenly being an hour behind, read this. Today used to be the day that we would leave Daylight Saving Time and "fall back" an hour. These days, that event happens the first Sunday in November, not the last Sunday in October.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ideas for Teacher Blogs

Blogs have become popular tools in our school system. Not only does just about every school maintain is fairly active blog, but quite a few of our teachers are finding blogs to be fun and easy way to communicate.

If you are looking for ideas for the types of things to include on your blog, or if you would like to see samples of what others have done, this site may provide you the needed help.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

NMSA Conference

If you are coming to Denver for the National Middle School Association Conference, I invite you to attend the session I am presenting. For the schedule for my presentation, and that of others published by Eye on Education, click here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tell Someone You Appreciate Them

Time Power by Dr. Charles Hobbs is a book which has a prominent place on my bookshelf. That book that did more that any other to shape my ideas on organization and time management and encourage me to develop my own ideas.

One of the ideas that Dr. Hobbs put forth was throwing "golden bricks," and recommended throwing at least three a day. According to him, "golden bricks" are simply those words of appreciation that cost nothing and mean a great deal.

I thought about Dr. Hobbs and his idea of throwing "golden bricks" as I watched this video.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's a Great Day at Oak Mountain Middle School

Thanks to the faculty at Oak Mountain Middle School for a super 1/2 day workshop. With a student body approaching 1,300 and a faculty of approximately 80, this is a school with many activities going on simultaneously. Staying organized, communicating well with each other, and keeping the stress level low is important in a school that large.

As we discussed with the faculty, not everything we covered will resonate equally well with everyone. For some, the tickler file was the magic of the day. For others, the idea of using the one "signature tool" to keep it all together was paramount. For still others, the idea of "drag and drop" to get e-mail from "In" to "Empty" provided the "aha" moment.

It was good see great friends Linda Peveler, Bill Sellers, and Gaye McKinnon.

Since the day the school opened, personnel have always answered the phone was the greeting, "It's a great day at Oak Mountain Middle School!" I certainly enjoyed my day with this talented group. For any faculty who would like to sign up for my monthly e-mail newsletter but missed filling out a slip, just click here and tell me to add you to the list.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Trust, But Verify, and Be Sure to Backup

President Ronald Reagan often used the phrase, "Trust but verify." In a world where so much of our information is held digitally, we must be able to trust the systems which hold that information. What do we do when a system goes down?

A recent article in Information Week addressed this issue. The "cloud" is wonderful, but it can put our ability to operate in the hands of people who are far too removed from us.

For 25 years, I have been a proponent of backing up my data. Even when that data was held on one of those 5.25 floppy disks, there was always a second disk holding that exact same data. When the hard drive became the standard means for saving data, backing up to a set of 3.5 floppy disks began a ritual for me.

Now, an external hard drive houses a copy of every document, spreadsheet, photo, etc. on my office, home, and laptop computers. My precious Outlook data is housed not on a server maintained by someone else, but on my hard drive. Every week, that one pst file which holds all of my data is copied to a flash drive.

What about the information that lives in the cloud? The Information Week article mentioned Google's g-mail experiencing an outage twice in two weeks. This example is a warning of the reality that can touch each of us. How can we be assured that what we store in the cloud will be there when we need it?

Somewhere in the distance, I can hear the voice of that great communicator: "Trust, but verify." For me, that phrase means making a backup of everything of value that I have stored in the cloud. Here are some examples:
  1. Every three months, I backup the blog posts for this blog and the two blogs I administer for my school system. When I say "backup," I am simply using a click-and-drag to highlight all of my text. I copy and paste to a Word document. All of my text along with clickable links and pictures are saved. Who knows when a catastrophe at Blogger could wipe out years of blog posts.
  2. Every picture that is posted to a service such as flickr or Photobucket is also stored on my computer's hard drive.
  3. Every three months, I backup my Del.icio.us bookmarks. I choose to see 100 on the page, click-and-drag to highlight, copy, and paste in a Word document. The result is not pretty, but it does retain the list of bookmarks along with their clickable links.
  4. Every time I post to the SharePoint site at the office, I also save a copy of that same document on my hard drive. As just one example, every Course of Study for every subject we teach is posted to our SharePoint site. If the worst happens and the whole thing comes crashing down with no usable backup, I still have all of it somewhere else.
  5. Everything I post to GoogleDocs is also saved to my hard drive.
  6. Every time I read about a service offered through the cloud, I examine whether or not it is better than what I currently have. I could use an online calendar, yet Outlook synced to the BlackBerry gives me the data I need no matter where I am. Moreover, it does so without me relying on someone else to keep up with my data.
These practices take very little time, and hopefully there will never come a time when I really have to rely on them. I have the peace of mind knowing that if the worst happens, my data is still secure. The few minutes I spend backingup my data is time well invested.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Cloud and the Free Lunch

Of the many one-liners that have shaped my thinking about work ethic, somewhere at the top is the old adage, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." The Internet, however, has seemed to provide exactly that. The term "cloud computing" is becoming part of our national vocabulary. The tools we need are located not on our computers, but in that great mystical place that we call the Internet.

Search the entire Internet with Google for free, save my pictures online for free, host my bookmarks online for free...the list goes on and on. Ironically, the blog you are reading right is another one of those free tools located in the cloud.

Once the "nice" service becomes a "can't live without it" tool, how will I handle the day when "free" is replaced by dollar signs? These thoughts have been in the back of my mind for some time, but moved front-and-center with Jott's recent move from free to subscription. I am not alone. I invite you to read Tim Tyson's thoughts on this particular subject.

Maybe I have nothing to fear and advertising dollars will keep the "free cloud" afloat. Certainly, I am going to take advantage of convenience that the "cloud" offers. At the same time, I am going to have a plan in place in case the free lunch becomes a la carte.

In the next post, I will share a second concern. More importantly, I will share my thoughts on how to cope with the possibility.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Two Things I Have Never Done Before...

Last week, I did two things that I have never done before:
  1. Wear a pair of overalls
  2. Go barefoot in public in a place other than a swimming pool

OK, I admit that does not sound very daring. Catch a glimpse of my portrayal of Johnny Appleseed for the 2nd grade students at C. L. Salter Elementary School (Talladega, AL)

Friday, October 03, 2008

How Did You Make Today Count? (Reprise)

I have received more reactions from the e-mail I sent just two days ago than from any of the monthly messages. The idea of not just moving through the day, but really making it count for something is something I think is significant, yet poses a constant challenge. I am obviously not alone in that feeling.

Perhaps I need to practice what I preach and share with you my day.

Today was a holiday for our school system. It was a day when, for once, the sun was up before I was. Davonia and I cooked breakfast together, something we had planned to do. I love days when there are no deadlines facing me, because those are the days when I can devote the time to a project that it needs, and trying to accurately predict that quantity becomes a real moving target.

During the morning, I clicked quite a few routine tasks off the BlackBerry. Davonia and I chose to have lunch at a sandwich shop near our home. While the food is quite good, our going there has as much to do with the owners being great people whose hearts are in the right place and who are trying so hard to make a go of their business. In a way, just going there to support them could be justified as making today count.

I am a little over a week from a presentation for a large middle school faculty and a little under a month from a presentation at a national convention. Putting the finishing touches on the handout for both presentations and planning some tweaking of PowerPoint slides was time well spent.

The focus of the day evolved during mid-afternoon. Some time ago, I had identified some very meaningful posts from one of the blogs I had maintained as a principal. The idea was to republish those posts on our district blog. Today was the day I made that happen. At one sitting, I copied, edited, and posted every one of them. Blogger allows me to set a date for each to be published, so I now have quite a few posts which will automatically appear on the district blog over the next month.

Reading some of those old posts reminded me of what a valuable communication tool that blog had been. Reading those posts made me think of one particular first-year middle school principal who is doing a beautiful job of informing, inspiring, and supporting his staff, parents, and students with a set of blogs he maintains. Finally reading those posts called my attention to an item that has been sitting on my task list for far too long--writing an article on why principals should blog.

Today, those three motivators collided. The result was a draft of that article. When the day opened, I had no idea writing that article, which had been a good intention for a long time, would appear on paper before the day ended.

No, the article is not finished. I am a firm believer that great things happen during a good night's sleep. The subconscious somehow figures out just the right words.

That's my day, or at least the highlights of it. It did not go exactly as I had planned; it went better than I had planned. I can hardly wait for tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Wikipedia defines "serendipity" as "the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely." That word accurately describes a Sunday morning three weeks ago for me and Davonia.

I was chairing an AdvancED District Accreditation review for the Fannin County (GA) Schools. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we anticipated beautiful country. For that reason, we drove over a day early to visit the shops, enjoy the quaint restaurants, and savor the view. We were not disappointed.

We anticipated meeting nice people, yet even so, our expectations were greatly exceeded. This is a county which is proud of its schools, and with good reason. Everything from a banquet beautifully showcasing student talent which opening the visit to the packed house awaiting the committee's exit report on the final afternoon, this community truly put its best foot forward.

On Sunday morning, we visited St. Luke's Episcopal Church, a small parish located in Blue Ridge. Little did we know, this would not be the usual Sunday service for this congregation. The Tim Janis Ensemble was two weeks into a nationwide tour, with one of the stops being a shop in Blue Ridge. The shop owner, a member of this small church, arranged for the ensemble to present its music throughout the service. While we anticipated a very uneventful Sunday morning, we experienced an incredible ensemble.

I hope you enjoy this little taste of the pleasant surprise, the serendipity, that awaited me and Davonia in a small church on a gorgeous Sunday morning in the mountains of north Georgia.