Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thanks for Mentioning Me!

It's a nice feeling to know that your work makes a difference. I ran across two posts, both from people I never met.

In Living La Vida Normal, the author talks about books that she has read. She and her husband are reading Get Organized! by section.

On the LeaderTalk blog, Jan Borelli asked for suggestions for a list of "must read" books for principals and aspiring principals. Charlie Roy included me in his list of five authors. The most humbling thing was the other people he included in the list:

  • Malcolm Gladwell: Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers
  • Jim Collins: Good to Great
  • Frank Buck: Get Organized- Time Management for School Leaders
  • David Allen: Getting Things Done
  • Dan Pink: Whole New Mind

I certainly would not pretend that my name belongs in the same sentence with the other four, but it certainly is great to know that what I do is seen as needed.

Ironically, Jan Borelli was one of the reviewers of my book. Her comments on the book as it was being written and the supportive things she has said and done afterwards are greatly appreciated. I subscribe to Dr. Jan's Blog. Probably my favorite post is one that she posted almost exactly one year ago. To read the way that post spoke to me, and to read Jan's post, click here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Memories

The days leading up to Christmas vacation are always exciting times in an elementary school. During those last three days I had the opportunity to participate in musical events at two of our elementary schools.

Fancy restaurants often feature live musicians to entertain their important customers during the Christmas season. Figuring that the lunchroom at C. L. Salter Elementary qualifies as a fancy restaurant and that the students are important customers, I teamed up with reading coach Allison Gray to entertain the students during lunch. Starting when the kindergartens came in and continuing through the lunch wave, I played flute and Allison played keyboard on a steady stream of Christmas carols. I wish I had a picture or two to post, and who knows, someone may send me some.

On our last day, I was invited to be a part of the Annual Sing-A-Along at Raymond L. Young Elementary School. The musical quality that is present in that school despite the fact there is no music teacher on staff is really quite impressive and speaks volumes for the faculty and leadership there. I was absolutely blown away by Carolyn, a first grader who sang "Silent Night" while I accompanied her on flute. Her beautiful voice, complete with vibrato, and keen sense of pitch serve as reminders of what children can do when their talents are nurtured. More pictures from that program can be found here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Of Givers and Takers

After reading the post entitled "Keeping the Fire Alive," Dave Sherman added this comment:

...I have come to a crossroads in my own blogging. I am transitioning from a school district owned blog to my own personal blog so that I can write about more than just school related topics. I am struggling a little with this because does anyone really care about my interests away from education, and should that matter to me? Do we blog for ourselves or for others?...
- Dave

Dave's question is a pretty significant we blog for ourselves or for others? I just hope my answer remotely approaches being as good as the question.

We blog for ourselves
For centuries, people have kept diaries in which they have recorded their private thoughts, thoughts for their eyes only. There seems to be something about the act of writing our thoughts on paper that clarifies those thoughts in our own minds. If I am forced to write it in such a way that it would be understandable to someone else, even if that never happens, then I am forced to make it understandable to me.

There is also a permanence about putting those thoughts to paper. They never change. We can revisit them, and in essence, step back in time for a brief moment. Later, if we choose to share those thoughts, the diary's many entries paints a portrait of who we are and who we hoped to become.

Today's blogs afford us that same opportunity with the added benefit of access from anywhere, ability to add media, and no chance of dropping it in a mud puddle leaving it on the counter at the grocery store checkout.

We blog for others
By nature, we are interdependent creatures. Our society has reached its present level of advancement not because we are smarter or more resourceful than our forefathers. Instead, we are able to begin where they left off and lay the next layer on the foundation they have built. We have been the ultimate takers reaping the benefits of their work.

On a personal level, any of us who have experienced success in the various arenas of our lives can surely point to someone else who made the road easier. Someone saw in us potential worth nurturing and went out of their way, doing what they did not have to do, to help spin straw into gold. We took very freely from their wisdom.

If balance is to be maintained, we must move beyond being takers and also be givers. We all have something to share, something to give back, and someone somewhere who has a need which matches perfectly with our gift. Our blogs offer an easy way for us to become givers.

Does anybody really care?
Perhaps the toughest part of blogging is knowing whether or not what we do makes an impact on anyone else. Of course, the same could be said of other venues. I am reminded of a workshop conducted years ago for a group of teachers, none of whom I knew at the time on a personal level. Nine years later when one of them became a close friend I was told, "You changed my life" through that workshop. The feedback makes all the difference, and it is that element that tends to be missing.

We must write as if what we say does matter, because that's the only way that it will matter to us or anyone else. At the very worst, our blogs provide for us an outlet for our own creative juices. At the very best, they just might be changing lives, even in subtle ways, for people we may never meet. And in that delicate balance between being givers and takers, we may see ourselves begin to hold up our end.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Keeping the Fire Alive

This blog began on August 30, 2004. The primary reason for starting the it was to serve as a follow-up for people who attend my workshops. More than 4 years and over 300 posts later, that primary focus remains unchanged. At the same time, I realize there are many who visit who has never met me, yet are enjoying what they are finding.

Starting a blog is easy. Keeping it up, for many people, is the tough part. The newness wears off. We get busy. We run out of things to say. Pretty soon, the blog has gone the way of most of our New Years resolutions.

What has kept this blog going at a fairly regular pace for over four years? What has kept it fresh and fun to write? In this post, I am going to share what has made a difference for me in hopes that it will help other bloggers.

Compose posts now. Post them in the future.
The post you are ready today was not composed today. I wrote it on December 14, the day the thought occurred to me. Blogger allows me to schedule a date for the post to appear. I can write the post when the thought is hot, schedule a date, and let Blogger handle the rest.

Lately, a new post has been appearing roughly every other day. It's not that I have been writing at that interval. Sometimes I will write three or four posts in a single day. Sometimes I will go a week without writing anything. We all get busy and at other times, we all have "down time." I use some of that down time to compose material that will automatically appear during the busier times.

Starting soon, you will see a series of posts on using Excel. The posts on that topic will appear one per week extending into February. I composed the whole set at one sitting and simply scheduled them so that they will be spread out over almost two months. Another evening, I stumbled upon quite a few motivational videos on YouTube. I composed posts on the whole set that evening and have been sharing those periodically.

Remind yourself to post.
Anyone who knows me well knows how important my "Repeating Task List" is to me. I wish I had a nickel for every time I hear someone say, "I do it when I think about it." The same holds true for me. The only difference is that I set up a system that causes me to think about it when I need to be thinking about it.

I have a repeating task in Outlook and my BlackBerry to compose a post to this blog as well as the two blogs for my school system ( and Once a week, a task stares me in the face reminding me to post. Usually, I can simply check it off the task because I have already posted something in just the last few days. If not, that little reminder ensures that posting to those blogs never drops off the map.

Material does not have to come exclusively out of our heads. Responding to the thoughts of others and putting a different twist on those thoughts makes for interesting material. We can also take current topics and combine the viewpoints from different sources into something that is fresh and interesting.

Take notes on the fly.
Good ideas occur at unlikely times. They come to us in the middle of meetings, sitting at a traffic light, during conversations, and reading the works of others, just to name a few. My BlackBerry is never more than an arm's length from me. A memo pad (that also holds my drivers license and credit cards) is always in my shirt pocket. I realized back in high school that good ideas, like opportunity, sometimes knock only once. Getting it from the brain to paper (or in recent years, digitized) is one of the best habits I ever acquired.

Make it matter to you.
I enjoy going back and reading my own blog. I hope that does not come across as egotistical. If I don't enjoy it, I shouldn't think that you will enjoy it. What I write has to matter to me, and if it matters to me, maybe it will somehow touch you as well.

Comments matter.
For those who comment from time to time, thanks! From my end, I can never be sure what resonates with others or where I need to go into more detail. Your comments help steer the ship. They also remind me that my time putting this blog together does make a difference.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lessons from the Grinch

One of my Christmas favorites is "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Is it just me, or have some others have picked up on a particular message.

The turning point, of course, is the point where "the Grinch's heart grew three sizes." Thinking back to the story line, what was it that caused the Grinch's change of heart?

The "Whos" were gathered in a circle singing. The Grinch had taken all of the material symbols of Christmas, but he could not take from them the gift of music, and it was music that sustained them. It was when the Grinch heard the joyful sounds of the voices that he began to change.

Examples of the importance of music are all around us. As a people, we always incorporate music into those events associated with our greatest times of joy as well as our times of sadness. It is a language which speaks to all.

Why talk about this subject in a blog devoted to time management? Two reasons. First of all, as we use organization and time management to held us accomplish more and accomplish it faster, what are we going to do with the time we have saved? For me, devoting more time to that particular area of my life is a goal.

Secondly, as Aristotle once said, "Since music has so much to do with the molding of character, it is necessary that we teach it to our children." As schools are grappling with the time crunch of how to "fit it all in," all too often music goes by the wayside despite mountains of research saying we should be doing just the opposite. There are places that find the time to include these kinds of experiences for their children, even without a music specialist on board. I had the pleasure to witness a program just the other day where this kind of culture is present, but that's another story for another day.

Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts: the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the other two; but of the three, the only trustworthy one of them is the last.

-John Ruskin

Sunday, December 21, 2008

O Magnum Mysterium

This one is for you , Davonia!

On this Sunday before Christmas, here is a rendition of one of the season's more beautiful works performed by a truly spectacular group. Enjoy the Nordic Chamber Choir.

Latin text

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.

English translation

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What's in My Tickler File?

For those who have been to my workshops, the "tickler file" seems to be the tool that catches on universally. Today, I thought I would give you an idea what I kinds of things "pop up" on a Saturday morning in my tickler file. So, here they are:
  • Envelopes which contained the Christmas cards we received this week. After opening the cards which came each day, I threw the envelopes into Saturday's file. This morning, I took the whole set and marked them all off on the electronic Christmas card list as being received. Handling the job once per week takes far less total time that handling the job daily. Throwing them in Saturday's file allows them to collect so that I can handle the whole batch at once.
  • Application to present at next year's National Middle School Association Conference. The deadline for the longer all-day and half-day workshops is December 28. I figured today would be a good day to hash out the verbiage for the proposals.
  • Birthday card to a friend. The cards were bought last December along with the cards for everyone else on my list. Putting them in the tickler file for the date they need to go in the mail means I will never miss a birthday.
  • Gift cards. The gift cards we have received yet not completed used are together in today's file. My wife and I quickly look at them and decide which ones we might like to use during the next week. The rest get re-filed for next Saturday. Today, we were planning a shopping trip which would take us right past a Book-A-Million. I am getting my wife Steve Doocy's Tales from the Dad Side, so I pulled out the Book-A-Million gift card and put in the credit card wallet which I carry everywhere. (It's outfitted with my driver's license, two major credit cards, health insurance card, a few business cards, and a memo pad. Currency is in a money clip and I carry no wallet. I gave up sitting on that thing almost 10 years ago.)
  • A coupon for a free video. It expires at the end of the month. Today is a good time to drop by the video store and enjoy one "on the house."
  • Tutorial on Photo Story. I was planning to create a Photo Story this week now that school is out for the holidays. Throwing the tutorial in the Saturday folder serves as a reminder to refresh my skills before creating the project. If you are not familiar with this program, click here to see a Photo Story that my colleague and friend Pattie Thomas and I created for our system's District Accreditation a year ago.
  • Tutorial on Camtasia Studio. I still consider myself a novice at this very powerful program and wanted to make some improvements.
For me, the tickler file folder at home for any given Saturday tends to have more items than the other days. Since I have more discretionary time at home on Saturday, I like to use that as a place for similar items to "pile up." Bills to pay or the Christmas card envelopes serve as examples. Items I want to simply examine periodically, or for some other reason have no real date attached, are other good candidates for Saturday's folder.

For 30 years, tickler files have kept my desk clear of paper and have ensured that paperwork appears exactly when I need it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

And the Votes Are In...

One never knows what the day may bring. Today's mail contained an evaluation of the session I presented at the National Middle School Association Conference in Denver around six weeks ago. The numbers were good. I was especially pleased with the response to the question, "I would rate this presenter as excellent." On a scale of 1-5 (with fours being "Agree" and 5 being "Strongly Agree"), the score on that question was 4.81.

Here are the comments:

  • Great strategies and tools to move to a higher level of organization.
  • One of my professional goals is to be more organized and to manage time more effectively. This hit the target.
  • Good tools! I will implement it ASAP!
  • If would have been great if Dr. Buck would have been able to present only to teachers and students at another session. He is very resourceful. Great motivation @ the end of the presentation!
  • Really enjoyed session as well as the system. The trick will be to follow it until it becomes habit.
  • Excellent, helpful, useful, and practical information.
  • Thank you. These are tools I can and will use! WHEW!
  • Excellent presentation, shared some strategies that I will try to implement to help me be more organized. Frank was impressive and his help/expertise would benefit our entire staff. I will explore the possibility of securing his services for an inservice presentation at our school.
  • Practical.
  • Excellent session. I am already ready to get organized better as a principal.
  • Fantastic! Great info—can’t wait to try tickler.
  • Really enjoyed the learning experience.
  • Thank you—I needed this!
  • I think the presenter did a marvelous job. I plan to go back and implement the things he shared. Thanks!
  • Excellent presentation. Could be longer.
  • Good tips given.
  • One of the most informative sessions I have been to in 5 years.
  • Excellent!
  • FANTASTIC! One of the best I’ve been to! I could have stayed longer.
  • Excellent practical tools.

The presentation said nothing about reaching the adolescent learner, how to improve test scores, or how to build positive public relations. Some other presenters covered those bases well. Every one of those good ideas, if implemented, would happen through the dimension of time. Good ideas not implemented would likely be blamed on lack of time. When the conference was over and everyone stepped back into the day-to-day activities and confronted the e-mails, phone messages, and left-over tasks, an organized approach to managing our time becomes our only hope of rising above the mundane and touching excellence.

Davonia and I had a great time in Denver. I felt like we gave people something they could use in every area of their lives. After reading the evaluations, these feelings were confirmed. If you are reading this blog as a result of attending the session in Denver, thank you! Thank you for taking the time to attend the session and for taking the time to stop by here and dig a little deeper.

NMSA 2009 will be in Indianapolis and the application is in the tickler file to complete this Saturday. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Improve Your Google Search With a "Time Line"

A typical Google search yields results for articles published yesterday or years ago. Sometimes the timeliness of the information is important. Perhaps you are looking for research on cancer, yet you are only interested in information published in the last year.

Google has a "timeline" feature which allows you to organize and filter your results chronologically. When you perform your Google search, enter your search term followed by view:timeline

For example, if you wanted to view articles related to "chocolate" using the timeline function, I would enter in the Google search window the following:

chocolate view:timeline

The link I have provided will take you to the results of that search. Filter the time period by clicking on the graph at the top of the page, and you see your results.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gene Hackman on Basketball...and Life

From my favorite movie of all time. Listen to what Gene Hackman is saying. While he’s talking about basketball, his message is just as applicable regardless of the task at hand.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Google Reader

One of the great things about blogs is that it allows for two-way communication. Sometimes, the writer learns from the reader. Such is the case today.

A week ago, I composed this post on using Bloglines to keep up with the various blogs that are of interest. Dave Sherman commented that he uses Google Reader. He mentioned that it works well with iGoogle, and I swear by my iGoogle page. For more on how to set up an iGoogle page, click here. Dave really got my attention when he used one of my favorite words: "easier."

So, tonight I gave it a whirl. Installing Google Reader was as easy as going to my iGoogle page and clicking "Add Stuff." Google Reader is simply another gadget. Below is a short YouTube video which explains Google Reader.

I was even able to import my feeds that I had already established in Bloglines. So far, I like what I see. For those who have an iGoogle page, adding Google Reader and subscribing to your favorite blogs may just be the way to go. Thanks, Dave!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Leadership and Management

In the October 2008 issue of Principal Leadership (page 21), Doug Reeves addresses the topics of leadership and management:

Well, I think we have to be very careful about avoiding the false dichotomy between leadership and management. Whether you're talking about the leader of a large, complex school system or the leader in a classroom, all sorts of routines and protocols--plain old garden variety management--have a lot to do with allowing us to be successful and creative. I think that people see that there's a divergence between creativity and visionary leadership at one extreme and dull old management on the other.

My argument is, you don't get to do the creative and visionary work, whether you're a teacher or a superintendent, without having attended to the nuts and bolts of time management, people management, project management--getting the right things done in the right order at the right time.

Leadership and management, then, are not mutually exclusive. The second is a necessary element of the first. I have said many time that every good thing thing that we do for our schools, our familes, or communities, or ourselves is done through the dimension of time. Manage time well and the possibilities are unlimited. Manage time poorly and everything becomes more difficult.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Web Search Strategies in Plain English

The Common Craft Show provides a wealth of short, understandable videos related to technology. This one gives tips on searching the web and would be understandable from upper elementary school students and beyond.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Phishing Scams in Plain English

The Common Craft Show produces short, understandable videos on hot technology topics. This video explains phishing scams and how to avoid them.

Friday, December 05, 2008

44 Blogs in 5 Minutes - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more I just counted...44 blogs. That's right, 44 different blogs that are of enough interest to me that I want to read them regularly.

Our school district has two main blogs. Most of our schools have at least one active blog. Our junior high band has a blog. Today, I found that our junior high gifted program has its own blog. I like to follow the blogs of several principals in other parts of the state or other parts of the Unites States. In addition to education, I enjoy several of the blogs others are writing on personal productivity, organization, and time management.

Want to take a guess at how long it takes me to check all 44 of those blogs and read the new posts? I am afraid the title of this post has given me away.

That's right. Five minutes. How? Glad you asked. Bloglines. Bloglines allows you to "subscribe" to your favorite blogs. From there on, you simply go to one site, Bloglines. All of your "feeds" are listed down the left side. Any feed with new posts shows up in bold print. Click on the link and you are ready only the new posts.

Bloglines is free. For a tutorial on how to set up an account and get started, click here.

Bloglines is on example of an "RSS reader." RSS stands for "really simple syndication." To learn more about this concept, go here for a short video from the Common Craft Show.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Choose Your Friends

Enjoy the music and a timeless message about choosing the company we keep.