Sunday, November 30, 2008

What's On TV this Christmas Season? - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more If you are looking for your favorite Christmas-time television shows, there is no need to search. Here is a list in chronological order.

I borrowed this link from a post on the Raymond L. Young Elementary School blog. Of all of the principal blogs I have read, this one is particularly warm and keeps the focus on the kids.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Anything Worth Doing ... worth doing well. worth doing poorly.

Which way did you expect the sentence to end?
Which one is correct?
Could both be correct?

A quick internet search revealed that others have put a twist on the old adage, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." Most notably, Zig Ziglar tells us, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you learn how to do it well."

This subject seems particularly on point when we talk about the use of technology in the classroom. I remember vividly how much technology was transforming the administrative aspects of my job twenty years ago. A spreadsheet served as my gradebook. A database kept track of all of the music in the band's library. Word processing software held all of the documents I was producing.

Since that time, technology has become cheaper, better, and more accessible. That being the case, many in the teaching profession speak of "not being able to turn on a computer." Others who may be able to handle some of the administrivia of the job on a computer hesitate to use technology in their teaching. I believe the root of the problem goes back to one simple thing: We must be willing to something poorly in order that later we will be able to do it well.

We get good at what we practice. When our tools consist of a piece of chalk and a chalkboard, we become good at conducting a lesson that way. Given a digital whiteboard or document camera, we would find ourselves fumbling. Why go through that? Why not stick with that which is comfortable?

In the short run, sticking with the familiar pays off. After all, learning something new takes time, and time is in short supply. "Someday," we will learn to use technology. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. We wake up one day and wonder where the last ten years have gone.

Technology is a time-saver when used well. Technology makes things easy. There is one caveat: We have to be willing to make mistakes as we learn. We have to be willing to deal with some frustration at first. We have to be willing to ask questions and get outside of our comfort zone. We have to be willing to do it poorly, at least at first.

Some people are not willing to go through the process of being bad on the way to being good. I fully realize that we could substitute any term from "ice skating," to "flyfishing" in place of "technology" and we would have a valid argument. Just about anything in life that is worth doing takes some degree of skill in order to do well, and skill comes with practice, and practice takes

What is it in your life that is worth doing yet you have not devoted the time? Why have you continued to say "no" to devoting the time necessary to developing it? What else could you say "no" to in order to say "yes" to this area of your life? Maybe that area is using technology in the classroom. Maybe it is something else. Whatever it is, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing least at first.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
--Leonard Cohen

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Just Say "No" - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more I recently presented a breakout session for the Alabama Staff Development Council Convention. As we talked about how to organize the task list to get the most done in the shortest amount of time, one participant asked, "Is it OK just to not do something?"

What a great question, and what an important question! The answer is not only "yes," it is OK to leave certain things undone, it is essential. Today's world presents unlimited choices and finite time. We could easily spend all day watching YouTube. One diversion blends into the next and all of them are "nice."

There is nothing wrong with a little diversion, but I think there are two important points to be made:
  • We must recognize when we are engaged in diversion
  • We must recognize that if important tasks are not being handled, minimizing what does not need to be done in the first place is a prime place to start recouping some time.

Take a good look at your to-do list. Is it longer than you would like? If the answer is "yes," start looking at what could simply be eliminated with no harm being done.

This sentiment was echoed by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, in his keynote at this year's National Middle School Association national Conference. Collins advocated having a "stop doing" list.

Examining your to-do list will help in another way. When you realize the volume of what you have on your plate, you are less likely to take on trivia.

When we say "yes" to one thing we are by definition saying "no" to something else. In these busy times, let's make sure we are saying "yes" to the right things. Learning to say "no" to the others is a good place to start.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ambiguity and Gratitude

As we approach another Thanksgiving, I invite you to listen to a story of the events that led up to that first celebration. The story is told by the Rev. Dr. John R. Claypool, IV. He makes the point that when confronted with life's ambiguities, we have two choices. One is to focus on the forces which oppose us. The other is to focus on the positive, to see the future as a friend, and embrace the concept of gratitude as a means for coping with those times when life works us over.

Dr. Claypool recounts the harshness of that first winter in the Plymouth, the several significant decisions that were made beginning shortly after the initial voyage and continuing through the first year of the colony's existence, and the impact on the rest of American history of the decisions to accept gratitude in the face of ambiguity .

You may listen to his message by clicking here. The complete text is found here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Love You. Now What?

The October issue of Fast Company included an article by Dan & Chip Heath entitled "I Love You. Now What?" They argue that while businesses have an efficient means of handling customer complaints, they are generally lousy when it comes to making it easy for customer compliments to get to the right people.

Examples the Heath brother cite include the compliment you have about the meal that will never make it back to the cook. The note you write about how much you appreciate the extra-deep automobile cup holder will never be read by the engineer who actually designed it. The article goes on to highlight the effects that expressing gratitude have on the giver, and that one point alone makes the article well worth reading. It can be found here.

The sentence that struck me most was, "What is your company doing to let gratitude blossom?" Perhaps an even more pointed question for each of us is, "What am I doing to let gratitude blossom?"

The article spotlighted an idea from American Airlines, pre-printed "Applause" cards given to frequent flyers who had reached "elite" status. The customer, provided he happened to be carrying the card with him, could write a quite note and hand it to any employee who had demonstrated a praise-worthy act.

The idea American Airlines idea is interesting, but do we really have to reach any particular status or be given a set number of special cards in order to do basically the same thing? Anywhere I go, I always have a few business cards with me. It takes only a few seconds to jot a note on the back of one of them and leave it on the table for an especially good member of the wait staff or ask someone to pass the card note along to the chef or whoever needs to realize that their talents have been appreciated. Charles Hobbs would call that "throwing golden bricks." I think I have gotten better about that sort of thing and have worked with a very good role model for the last couple of years.

As we approach another Thanksgiving, there is perhaps no better time to examine the importance of gratitude in our culture. The post for the 24th, "Ambiguity and Gratitude," argues that choice to embrace gratitude was a deciding force in shaping American history.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dear Me,

While at the National Middle School Association Convention, my favorite session was one conducted by Lonnie Moore, author of The Inspirational Teacher. One of the ideas he talked about was writing a letter to yourself and reviewing it regularly. That letter could outline your goals, your thoughts about yourself, or whatever was needed to help bring you in line with the "you" that you would like to be.

Lonnie's idea is similar to one that I proposed last December in a post entitled Christmas Letters from the Future. As we approach this Christmas season, I invite you to click on the link and read that post, a post about having a vision for the future, and through regularly reviewing it, bringing reality and that vision closer together.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hoaxes Revisited

If we are looking for a way to save some time, one favor we might do our friends is checking out those "warnings" before passing them on. Here is an example of one that came to me from someone in our school system. Parts of the e-mail read as follows:

You may receive an apparently harmless e-mail with a Power Point presentation ' Life is Beautiful.' If you receive it DO NOT OPEN THE FILE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, and delete it immediately. If you open this file, a message will appear on your screen saying: 'It is too late now, your life is no longer beautiful. '

Subsequently you will LOSE EVERYTHING IN YOUR PC, And the person who sent it to you will gain access to your name, e-mail and password.


The interesting thing is not only is this a hoax, but if the reader even clicked on the Snopes link, they would see that the link is about a totally different hoax anyway.

How long did it take me to determine this e-mail was a hoax? About 10 seconds. How did I know? I wrote about it in this post.

In a similar post, I talked about a hoax that almost hooked me, and why educators should be the least likely to forward hoaxes. You can read about it by clicking here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Battle Hymn of the Republic

After my last post on an inspiring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, a reader pointed my to an equally impressive Battle Hymn of the Republic. This group of young ladies is known as the "Cactus Cuties."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Well Done, Ladies

I have heard many renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner. This one is memorable.

The group is known as the Cactus Cuties.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

E-Mail on Repeating Tasks

I have received some nice comments on my repeating tasks e-mail. If you are not on the mailing list and would like to be, click the link to e-mail me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Unveiling the BlackBerry Storm

Looks like the iPhone is going to have some competition. From what I am reading, the BlackBerry Storm will be sold exclusively by Verizon.

Happy Birthday, Davonia!

Happy Birthday to my wife, Davonia. Every day I ask myself what I did that was so good to deserve her.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Scenes from Denver

A few pictures from our trip to the National Middle School Association Convention in Denver. More pictures to come.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Don't Quit Poem

This poem used to hang on the band room wall when I was in junior high.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

National Middle School Association (Denver)

Thanks to the audience of well over 100 who came to the session and to those who came up to me at some point during the conference to let me know how they intend to implement what they heard. During the one hour and fifteen minutes, we were able to give at least an introduction to the following ideas:
  • Mastering paperwork with tickler files
  • Organizing it all with your "signature tool"
  • Handling repeating tasks
  • Documenting made easy enough you will actually do it
  • Getting e-mail from "in" to "empty"

I am beginning to hear the same comments with regularity:
  • This makes so much sense.
  • I had no idea it was so easy.
  • Why hasn't anybody told me this before?
  • I needed this!

Special thanks to Kerry Palmer for being my facilitator for the session. Kerry is principal at Trinity Middle School in Montgomery, Alabama and doing an outstanding job as a first-year principal. His blogs serve as just one example of the professional, positive approach he takes. You can view his faculty blog by clicking here or his parent blog by clicking here.

If you are visiting this blog for the first time as a result of coming to the session in Denver, thanks for stopping by. You are the reason I created this blog in the first place! We can cover just so much in 75 minutes. Web 2.0 allows us to continue the discussion.

This next weekend, I will be sending out the next e-mail newsletter, so by November 10, you should receive it. Be sure to check your spam folder and in case it gets caught there.

More pictures from Denver will be forthcoming!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Good to Great...It Takes Time

Jim Collins was amazing in his address at yesterday's general session for the National Middle School Association Convention. Author of the best seller Good to Great, Collins tailored his remarks to hit home with the gathering of middle-level educators. Several of the significant points are as follows:

The adage "schools should be run like a business" is poor advice for schools. While there are businesses which are "great," most businesses are, well...average. Why in the world would we want to take practices which are merely average and import them into our schools.

We need to look for those things which work and stick with them. Our tendency in education is to start new things, abandon them quickly, and start something else. As Collins put it, "The signature of mediocrity is in inconsistency." Furthermore, he implored leaders to empower others to have freedom to "polish a lead bullet into silver and have time to do it."

Of particular interest to me was when Jim Collins touched on time management and implored us to develop not only a "to do" list but a "stop doing" list. More on this subject later.