Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mindmeister--Free Mind Mapping Software

I just set up a free account with Mindmeister, a free online mind mapping site. The tool is easy to use. I was initially presented with a mind map that consisted of the directions for using the site!

I was able to save a mind map as a pdf and print. There is also the capability to share the map online with others, allow them to collaborate, and even let the entire world view your creation.

Below is a demonstration of the ability of this site to embed a mind map into a blog.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


If you need a little inspiration, maybe you will find it in the words, beautiful pictures, and beautiful sounds you find here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

In a Million Words or Less

A new school is about to begin. If you are a parent, what is it that you want the teacher(s) to know about your child? If you are a teacher, what is the best way to learn about the students who come through the door?

Pattie Thomas, principal of Raymond L. Young Elementary (Talladega, AL) shares with teachers throughout her school system a vehicle which she used as a teacher. I invite you to read about her yearly ritual in this post. The idea is so simple that it actually works! It offers parents an opportunity to compose something that may well be meaningful for a lifetime. It provides the teacher valuable information to help him/her connect to the child and the home.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sign Up for "Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders"

Every good thing we do for our students, our families, our communities, or ourselves is accomplished through the dimension of time. Learn to manage your time and organize your surroundings, and you open the potential for accomplishment in many areas.

This session provides a total system for organizing your surroundings and effectively managing your time. Time management is an essential, yet often missing, skill in the development of classroom teachers and school administrators.

In this session, you will learn:

* The essential four habits that eliminate forgetting and reduce stress.
* How to keep your desktop clear and have papers reappear at just the right time.
* How to use a paper or digital “signature tool” to organize your life.
* How to effortlessly handle tasks which repeat.
* How to document quickly, completely, and easily.
* How to organize your computer.
* How do get your e-mail Inbox empty every day.

This session is very “nuts-and-bolts.” The tools and techniques can be implemented immediately and will save you an estimate of one to two hours a day. You will accomplish more and experience less stress.

The workshop will be held August 12 from 8:30-11:30. Registration is free! Registration is being opened to anyone in the state regardless of inservice center region. To register, go to STIPD and search for "umin09" in the PD Title Number field.

Everyone who attends the workshop receives a copy of the book Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders for free!

Direction to the inservice center, located in Pelham, are found here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sign Up for "Your Own Blog in 10 Minutes or Less" - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more Web 2.0 gives each of us the potential to go beyond the role of “consumers” of digital data and become producers and communicators with a community which extends far beyond the schoolhouse door. This session shows you how to create your own blog fast and for free. We will examine some existing blogs and compare/contrast their audiences and approaches. The session will lead you step-by-step through the creation of a blog. Finally, we will leave you with a host of tips for maintaining a blog of your very own. After the workshop, you will have the tools at your command to create your own blog and do it in 10 minutes or less!

My experience my blogging have spanned almost five years and included not only this blog, but two at the school level and two at the school system level. As a direct result of these blogs, every single school in my former school system established blogs of their own, and many teachers and organizations within those schools established their own blogs as well.

The workshop will be held August 11 from 1:30-4:00. Registration is free! Registration is being opened to anyone in the state regardless of inservice center region. To register, go to STIPD and search for "umin09" in the PD Title Number field.

Direction to the inservice center, located in Pelham, are found here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sign Up for "Get Organized With Your BlackBerry"

A growing number of people are opting for a cell phone which can do far more than make a phone call. The BlackBerry has the capability to be a total life organizer that fits neatly in your pocket. However, a lack of training exists on how to use its capabilities. The University of Montevallo Regional Inservice is sponsoring a half-day workshop designed to help you make you use the BlackBerry to its full potential. Contents of the workshop include:

* Enter it once and forget it—The magic of repeating appointments and repeating tasks.
When do I want to see this again?—Make that decision as you create a task.
Watch it disappear and then re-appear on just the right day.
How convenient! —Program the two convenience keys to open your calendar and task list.
The one and only address book you will ever need—E-mail, address, phone number, birthday, and
a wealth of personal information. “Contacts” will handle it all.
The “Fab Five”—Making sure what’s really important gets done.
Stress be gone—The crystal clear, organized task list.
A wealth of information at your fingertips—What to keep in “Notes.”
“In” to “empty” every day—Becoming the master of e-mail.
Taking your data anywhere—How to synchronize Outlook with a smartphone.
reQall here—From your voice to your e-mail on the fly.
The Devil is in the details—How to store and access all of the details related to an appointment,
task or contact.
Find it fast—Take advantage of the tremendous search capabilities of the handheld.
Tricks and tips—Use these timesavers to make handheld experience more productive.

The workshop will be held August 11 from 8:30-11:30. Registration is free! Registration is being opened to anyone in the state regardless of inservice center region. To register, go to STIPD and search for "umin09" in the PD Title Number field.

Direction to the inservice center, located in Pelham, are found here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Google Reader

This post is written for those who subscribe to my monthly e-mail newsletter. Would you like to be added to the list? Just click here and let me know you want to be added.

To add Google Reader to your iGoogle page, click here.

Google Reader is an example of an "RSS feed" standing for really simple syndication. Here is short video which explains the concept.

Thanks to Lee and Sachi LeFever for producing this video and making it available through the Common Craft Show.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Success Story

I received this from a participant in a recent Get Organized! workshop:

Dear Frank,
I recently purchased a Day-Timer as my signature tool. Now I don't go anywhere without it; I use it all the time. My family is currently going through a major bathroom remodel. Keeping up with the carpenter, electrician, tile people, and plumber has been made easy with the handy Day-Timer. I keep daily notes and jot down all of my appointments. It's also convenient to have a small phone directory at hand. The Day-Timer also has calendars through 2014! So many times, my co-workers and I would be looking for a calendar. From now on, I am taking my "signature tool" to all meetings.
I plan to make my tickler file before school begins. Right now I'm focusing on completing the bathroom remodel.
Thanks for all of the wonderful, useful ideas!

The signature tool is something that works, as this teacher illustrates. Having one tool that keeps it all in front of us makes life easier!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Interactive Board Resources

I stumbled upon this particular link in a listserv message. Craig Nansen is not someone I know. Evidently, he has a great interest in and knowledge of interactive whiteboards. He has saved all of this links related to interactive boards in a page. (Notice that this "page" goes on for quite a few pages, as the numbers at the bottom of the screen indicate.)

In looking at a few random links, I found anything from interactive activities that can be used in the classroom to blogs about using interactive whiteboards.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What is Twitter All About?

An Iowa State University technology show, "Talk About It" recently interviewed Scott McLeod on the subject of Twitter. His explanation includes uses for Twitter.

ISU Talk About IT - Twitter from UCEA CASTLE on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leadership Day 2009 - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more
"Many of our school leaders (principals, superintendents, central office administrators) need help when it comes to digital technologies. A lot of help, to be honest. " Those are the words of Scott McLeod.

In an attempt to improve the situation, McLeod has invited bloggers around the country to step up to the plate with their suggestions, and for all of us to do so today. The initiative is being called Leadership Day 2009, and you can read about it here.

As my contribution, I want to revisit a post from this past April. In the post, I speak in favor of administrators embracing the blog as a means of communication. At this point, blogs may no longer be "cutting edge." Lots of people have blogs and write about blogs. So what makes different? What makes my voice one that I thinks needs to be heard?

The answers to those questions lie in longevity and variety of experiences. Like the exercise program which begins as a New Year's resolution and fizzles by mid-January, blogs which begin with enthusiasm and are abandoned when life gets busy are common.

Next month, this blog will celebrate its 5th birthday. Rather than fizzling, it is gaining steam. During that time, I changed jobs (principalship to central office), written a book, served on numerous committees where I took on far more projects that many think practical, retired, began my own consulting business, and just recently sent the manuscript for a second book to the publisher. All the while, there was time for this blog. Perhaps that fact lends credence to the statements that blogs are not time consuming. Instead, the blog is the most efficient way I know to communicate a fairly detailed message to a group who cares to read it.

Enough about why I think my thoughts are significant. Here are my thoughts, a reprise from April. As we approach mid-July principals around the country are contemplating ideas which will make this year the best of all. Could a blog be one of them?

Focused or Fragmented?
Fragmentation is a real and growing problem in today's society. We know that to produce anything of quality, we must focus and maintain that focus for a period of time. Today's society, however, is moving in the opposite direction at warp speed. Phones on our desks, phones in our pockets and purses, and e-mails break our focus and do so regardless of where we are. We ignore the important matter at hand and turn our attention to the interruption because there is a slight chance that it might be important, or at least that it might be interesting.

I conducted a hands-on blogging workshop at the NAESP earlier in April. During the session, one of the participants identified a great use for blogging in his school that goes straight to the heart of solving a problem at his school.

This principal had been using e-mail as his way of communicating with faculty and staff at his school. E-mail provides a quick way to get the message from our brains to the Inbox of the recipient whenever a thought crosses our minds. To that extent, e-mail works great. To fully understand the problem, we must look at it from the viewpoint of the recipient, especially if we are responsible for communicating to the same group of people on a regular basis.

To the recipient, our communication comes in fragments spread across time. Whether or not what we send in our e-mails is actually acted upon the way we intended is largely dependent upon the maturity of the organizational system of the recipient.

You may need to read that last sentence another time or two to let it sink in.

The recipient may or may not make a thoughtful decision about what the message of the e-mail means to him/her, what needs to be done about it, and enter the "what needs to be done" part in the "signature tool" right then and there. If the personal organizational system lacks maturity, those e-mail messages will simply sit in a jumbled mess, and massive amounts of details will slip through the cracks.

There is a better way. It is a solution that will help the disorganized person. It is also a solution that will comes as a favor to the organized person.

What if a teacher received a once-per-week concise communication that contained everything they needed to know? What if all we asked our teachers to do was check a blog once a week and to set aside a few minutes one time a week to look at what had been carefully constructed and record in the signature tool what needed to be done about each item? Would that represent a time-saver for teachers? You bet.

The principal in the blogging workshop realized that he could replace his series of e-mails with one post to his faculty. All of his previous communication would also be right there in neat posts one after the other in reverse chronological order, not scattered all over someone's e-mail Inbox.

As a first-year principal, the best thing I did was institute the "Friday Memo," that one-page well-thought-out document that gave teachers everything they needed to know for the next week. Announcements, instructional tips, calendar events, birthdays, inspiration, was all there.

When e-mail became available in our school system, we were the first ones to use it and we used it well. E-mail, however, did not replace the Friday Memo. We used e-mail for things that e-mail was good at doing, and we used the Friday Memo for "batching" communication, giving teachers more time to teach.

The Friday Memo was eventually replaced, and it was replaced with a blog. The idea was post a week containing everything the faculty needed to know. But now, we could include links to other sites teachers needed to visit. Now, we could post pictures. Now, all of the communication from previous weeks was automatically stored for future reference.

If you would like to see an example of a principal who understands the value of the blog as a communication tool with faculty, take a look at what first-year middle school principal Kerry Palmer is doing at Trinity Presbyterian School (Montgomery, AL). He "gets it," and our profession is desperate for leaders who understand how to help teachers cope with the time crunch.

Using one blog post to replace a dozen blanket e-mail messages takes some organization on the part of the principal. That is the subject for the post which followed this one back in April. I invite you to browse the archives for that and other posts. Most all relate relate to organization and time management. Many relate to using technology to make the journey easier. Happy reading!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Could One Device Do Everything?

The July/August issue of Fast Company Magazine includes a look at the history and possible future of our electronic gadgets. Could one device eventually handle it all?

This diagram offers an interesting perspective.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Using Spare Minutes

In the last post, we talked about carving out chunks of time, allowing us to focus on something of worth. Drucker talked about being able to accomplish little with "dribs and drabs" of time. Life happens, however, and often leaves our days broken into fragments. Sometimes "dribs and drabs" are the only vehicles through which we can move forward. The ability to use those spare minutes allows us to reclaim time that would otherwise be wasted, sometimes fairly large amounts of time.

This post is one such example. On the day I composed it, our school system was in the midst of a professional development day. My role was to circulate from school to school and observe the training that was happening at each site. I knew ahead of time that my day would be spent sitting and watching. For that reason, I started the day by scanning my to-do list for items which could be done while I watched the various trainings. Writing a post on using spare minutes was actually one if the items. I changed the due date to move it to the top of the list where it would be easily seen. I grabbed a piece of paper, and off I went.

Everyone probably thought I was taking notes on the training being observed. I was, in fact, giving a goodly portion of my attention to the training. At the same time, I was writing this post which I completed in its entirety to later be keyed into this blog.

Other items I noticed as I scanned my list were phone calls which could be made quickly. I changed those due dates as well to move them to the top of the list. Between visiting schools, I was able to place these several calls from my BlackBerry while in the halls.

Reading material is always a good source for filling spare minutes. I have a section of my brief case reserved for reading materials. When magazines arrive, I throw them in there along with any book I happen to be reading at the time. When there is any chance that I will have down time, I either grab the briefcase or at least pull some of the reading material from it.

Nothing beats chunks of time. When life breaks those chunks into tiny fragments, choosing the right tasks can turn "dribs and drabs of time" into productive minutes.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Drucker on "Focus"

Cell phones ring, visitors drop in, e-mail comes rolling across the screen. Maintaining focus can be a challenge, and the challenge is only become worse in this age of constant and instant availability.
One of my favorite books is The Effective Executive by management guru Peter Drucker. Despite its 1966 copyright date, it remains a hallmark book on time management. One of my favorite passages is this one:

"To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive, therefore needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours." (Page 29)
While opportunities to fragment our day increase, the fact remains that nothing of much worth is going to be accomplished without some degree of focus. How can we create the "chunks" of time in an age that so desperately tries to fragment our lives? Below are five suggestions:

  1. Allow things to "pile up" and handle them in one group. This technique applies to such things as e-mail, voice mail, and the U.S. mail.
  2. Stay ahead of deadlines. When we bump up against deadlines, we are invariably causing problems for other people. Naturally, they call, e-mail, and drop by for a "status report." Staying ahead of the game eliminates the need for others to "check up" on you, and provides more time to focus on the project at hand.
  3. Visit other people on your own time schedule. If drop-in visits from the same few people are a problem, drop in on them first. In this way, you are doing it on your schedule. As a principal, I made it a point to be in the halls before the start of school and circulate through the building. If a teacher had a quick question, my presence coming down the hall provided the perfect opportunity. Those quick interactions in the hall reduced the number of interruptions throughout the day.
  4. Plan your work, and make it easy. We interrupt ourselves. We often do so by turning from the difficult job at hand to some diversion that is easier and more fun. To combat that temptation, make what is at hand easy, and hopefully make it fun as well. Break the overwhelming goal down into manageable tasks that are clearly worded. All to often, the to-do list contains items which have rolled from day to day simply because they are ambiguous. Clear up the ambiguity by making decisions and asking questions.
  5. Group related tasks. Grouping applies to more than e-mail and voice mail. When a few quick face-to-face meetings are needed, handle them all in a group. Go from one person to the next as you make your way through the building. Do the same with errands. Once you get in the car, go from one to the other.
When our work is easy, interesting, and fun, there is less temptation to succumb to the interruptions in our lives. Focused or fragmented? It's a choice. Nobody is going to protect our time for us. That one is up to us.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Google 411

Every time I present a workshop, I wind up learning something new. The day I spent at the Jacksonville State University Regional Inservice Center was no exception. Google 411 is a free alternative to the regular 411 we are used to. In addition, it offers more features.

Check out this demo of how it works:

Add the phone number to you contact list in you cell phone: 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411)
You are ready to start using this free service.