Monday, October 31, 2011

The Catch-22 That Allows the Digital Divide

I was a college student when the move from LP records to CDs began. I must admit that I was one of the late adopters. That statement seems strange coming from one who both embraces the ways in which technology makes our lives easier and also one who is a musician. Why was my collection still on LPs and cassette tapes when the rest of the world had moved to CDs?

The reason is really quite simple. I did not buy CDs because I had no CD player. What good are CDs if there is nothing to play them on?

I did not have a CD player because I had no CDs. What good would a CD player be if there were no CDs to play on it?

That "Catch-22" rocked on for years until one day someone innocently gave me a CD. Now I have a CD, but can't play it. What wold it take to resolve the dilemma? "I know," I thought. "I will buy a CD player!"

And so I did. Problem solved!

Once the CD player was set up, there was a need for CDs. CDs started showing up. A CD player with but a single CD created a void. CDs filled that void.

Many communities face this same Catch-22 when it comes to Internet access in the home. Since not all students have Internet access, we make allowances so that students can get by perfectly well without it. Because they can get by without it, parents fail to see it as a priority. We continue to dance this Catch-22 dance while the digital divide widens.

How can we move past a situation which has been in place far too long? For five years, I have argued we must re-frame the question from, "Do you have the Internet?" to "How do you have the Internet?" Once Internet access at home becomes a priority, this great resource we have come to depend on becomes available to a population which didn't know what it was missing.

Create the need. Allow the void to exist. See how quickly others will fill that void.

Friday, October 28, 2011

How Good to You Want to Be?

A week from tomorrow, an undefeated LSU team and an undefeated Alabama team will play in what may be, for all practical purposes, the national championship game. The teams have much in common. They are both from the SEC. They have both won national championships in recent years. Finally, they both won national championships under Nick Saban (with LSU winning another under Les Miles).

A year and a half ago, I posted about Saban's book, How Good Do You Want to Be?  The book was interesting for two reasons. First, Alabama just won a national championship, and therefore the team and its coach were news.

Secondly, even though the cover pictured Saban dressed in Alabama crimson, the book was clearly written just after his LSU team won the 2003 BCS National Championship. How does what Coach Saban wrote seven years and two coaching stints ago relate to the present Alabama team? How does the book relate to a blog about organization and time management?

Chapter 2, entitled "The Competitive Spirit," opens with the subheading "Don't look at the scoreboard." Saban argues that the focus should be on the process not the product. If the process is solid, the product takes care of itself. That thinking is very much in line with what the coach has been saying each season since arriving at Alabama. In the book, Saban goes on to say, "It is natural to be affected by where you are in life, but looking at the score and results can only take you away from your competitive spirit. Not only should you not concern yourself with the score, you should also avoid setting the bar or establishing benchmarks for success" (p. 58).

A year ago, much talk centered around a possible repeat national title for Alabama. As we know, Alabama wound up losing three games, and in retrospect, graduation left a large hole that would have made a repeat national championship a long shot. In the book, Saban says, "One of the hardest things to do in sports is to repeat as a champion. It is exceedingly rare in college or pro sports these days. Part of the reason is parity, but part of it is champions lose focus because of the distractions that success brings. The championship becomes the focus--not what it takes to be a champion" (pp. 68-69). Furthermore, he says, "We don't talk about repeating as national champions and we don't spend time thinking about the targets that are on our backs" (pp.71-72).

Writing a blog whose focus is time management and organization, I am particularly interested in the three-page subheading in the "Being a Great Leader" chapter entitled "Organization." Saban says, "And to be the most effective leader, you have to be organized." Saban offers these examples of what he does to stay organized (pp.129-130):
  • Every practice plan and set of game notes, going back as far as I can remember, I organize into huge binders that I can refer to when I need to.
  • I keep a pen and paper with me at all times during practice to quickly write down items we need to correct.
  • Our pregame routine is organized down to the minute, and areas of the field are assigned for position groups. For example, no matter where we are playing, the running backs are always warming up at the 20-yard line opposite our bench.
  • I prepare an agenda and a list of items to cover the day before all daily staff meetings so nothing is left out.
Saban goes on to say, "Organization is critical to efficiency. If I have a pet peeve (and I have a few), it's wasted time..." (p. 130)

How Good Do You Want to Be? is a good read whether you are pulling for the team Saban coaches now or for the team he coached when he wrote the book. You have time to pick up or copy and read it before the game. It might not only give you a better insight into the game, but also how you can come closer to achieving your own goals.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Improving Reading Fluency With an iPad and Fry Phrases

Fry Phrases are short combinations of words which come from Dr. Edward Fry’s "Instant Word List" (High Frequency Words). According to Fry, the words in the list represent the majority of all the words students encounter in their reading. Practicing these Fry Phrases with some emphasis on speed increases reading fluency.

A long-standing practice has been to put these phrases on flash cards and let students practice, with the goal being not only to call words correctly, but call them quickly. With today's technology, we can easily make a PowerPoint presentation with each Fry Phrase appearing on its own slide. With a set of tablets, each child can practice fluency independently.

Click to download a free set of Fry Phrases. The file can be saved on each tablet so that the set can be used regardless of the availability of an Internet connection.

As an additional resource, I ran across this excellent resource compiled by New Park Elementary School in Harlan, IA. Here, you will find an assortment of PowerPoint decks with slides that automatically advance, ensuring that students acquire some degree of speed.These resources will require an Internet connection.

"I have tablets for my classroom, now what?" These resources help provide some answers.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Look at the BlackBerry Bold Touch

BlackBerry Bold Touch (9900 and 9930) are two of the latest BlackBerry releases. I like having a full keyboard, but the idea of being able to open applications by touching them on the screen, swiping, enlarging by pinching, etc. is also appealing.

The Bold Touch combines both. Unlike the Torch, your keyboard is always available without having to slide part of the device to get to it.

This video is about 12 minutes long, and discusses the new features in OS7 and the "touch" feature.

For those who are using OS7, what are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

BlackBerry OS6 Tips (Non-Touch Models)

For BlackBerry users running OS6, here are a few tips I have picked up along the way. These apply to non-touch models:
  • Zoom In--Hold the "Alt" key and scroll upward on the trackpad
  • Save a webpage to your home screen--While you are on the desired page, click on the Globe icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Choose "Add To Home Screen" from the menu that appears.
  • Press and hold the trackpad from anywhere on the screen. You will see a menu of popular actions. (Reminds me of right-clicking the mouse.)
  • View recent messages from peple in your Contacts--Go to that person in your Contacts. Open their record and scroll down to "Recent Activity."
  • If you have several programs open at one time, you an move quickly between them by pressing and holding the Menu key. 
BlackBerry users, anybody want to jump in with your favorite shortcuts?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Happiness Project

For as long as I can remember, Davonia and I have devoted several Saturday mornings a year to administering the ACT to eager college-bound students. Reading scripted instructions and watching kids bubble multiple choice tests provides a large supply of time for mental planning, day dreaming, and reading interesting things posted on the classroom wall.

My favorite wall posting of all time is one from John Lennon. It goes as follows:

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. 
When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. 
I wrote down “happy.” 
They told me I didn't understand the assignment. 
I told them they didn't understand life. 

When you get to the bottom of it all, the five-year-old got it right, he just realized it a lot sooner than most of us.

I recently read The Happiness Project at the suggestion of a dear friend who had just done the same. While I enjoyed the book, my biggest takeaway was that I was already there, and have been for a very long time. My favorite quote is:

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.”
- L P. Jacks

What do you think? Is happiness the key? How do we get there? How do we know when we have arrived?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Patience is Doing Something Else in the Process

We live in a world of “hurry up and wait.” It happens when we show up for the medical appointment on time, only to realize the doctor is running an hour behind. It happens when we arrive at the airport with plenty of time to navigate security, and find out the flight has been delayed.

Wait time” is a real force in our lives. Add it all together, and it amounts to a huge time sink which can turn a good day sour. On the other hand, wait time provides pockets on unexpected discretionary time. How we use it is determined by how we prepare for it.

I am actually writing this post at a national conference waiting for the next session to begin. I fully expect to wait for the shuttle that will take me from the hotel to the airport, and then more wait time before boarding the plane. Without a doubt, I will have an hour and a half on the plane. Add it all together, and I am looking at three to four hours of wasted time...or I am looking at three to four hours where I can accomplish something of value. What determines which of the outcomes will be true?

Reading Material at Hand 

When magazines arrive at my house, they go in a wooden letter tray beside my desk. I maintain a list of books I want to read and check them out from the library. They also go in that letter tray.

Before I leave my house, if there is any chance I will have wait time, I grab a book or several magazines. The spare minutes are plugged with reading I wanted to do anyway. People ask me, “How do you stay on top of all of the reading material?” Now you have my answer.

Build the List 

While reading material is great for filling the gaps, it is by no means the only option. As subjects for future blog posts come to mind, they are trapped on a list. When I have wait time, I can choose a topic from the list and compose a new blog post. What you are reading now is a good example. The BlackBerry task list holds URLs for websites I want to examine in further detail. In fact, everything I have to do, no matter how large of small, regardless of how urgent or how far in the future, is trapped on that list.

In a later post, I will talk about how I organize that list and search it. For now, the point is that when waiting time presents itself, I can quickly find those things I wanted to do anyway and could be doing right then. I turn potentially wasted time into productive time.

Do you do much the same thing? What would you like to add to the discussion?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Choir Creates Quite a "Storm"

With your eyes closed, you would think you hear rain followed by a real thunderstorm.

The group is Perpetuum Jazzile. Just a little something to brighten your day!

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Facebook Page

After a great deal of thought, I have started a Facebook page for the professional side of my life. I am always looking for easier ways to do things and trying to make life easier for others. Since so many people are already familiar with Facebook, starting this page will make it easier to access content.

To visit the page, click the button above. You can also enter the URL (which makes my username here the same as on Twitter).

What can you expect to find on this Facebook page?

Notification of new blog posts. Each time I post on this blog, i will let you know about it on the Facebook page. I know many of you receive notification by being followers of this blog, subscribing through Feedburner, subscribing through RSS, or following me on Twitter. At the same time, some of these terms may be "Greek" to many others. If Facebook is a familiar friend, letting you know about new posts in this manner is a step forward.

Follow-up and discussion. I always like to get comments on blog posts, and I am pretty good about responding to them. In general, people tend not to comment on blog posts. Again, we seem comfortable with commenting on Facebook. I hope to get your reaction to posts...what you like, what you don't like, where you may agree or disagree, and what thoughts you have which will take the discussion to a deeper level.

New discussion. In addition, you can post on the wall to start an entirely new discussion, something the blog does not allow you to do.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, come on over to the Facebook page and say hello. See you there!

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Light Bulb Comes On

When we put a new practice in, we must let it replace something else. "One in—one out." In the world of the tech-savvy leader, it's more like "one in—one dozen out." In the world of those who are barely hanging on, it's "one in—one more in—here's another—and another." When we don't fully understand the new, we hang on to the old. We do double-duty.

As a starter, here are three quick practices which make changing the light bulb a one-person job:

1. Take teachers out of the receipt-writing business

As an elementary principal, our school stopped issuing receipt books to teachers. Any student with money brought it in a sealed envelope with his name, homeroom, amount of money, and purpose written on the outside. Students went to one designated place in the school and turned their envelopes in to two designated people. These two staff members received the money. When the tardy bell rang, they  would count the money, enter the information into a database, print receipts, and print a record of the transactions which was submitted to the office with the money.

The practice worked like a charm. Teachers had more time at the start of the day to teach, rather than practice their accounting skills. With a new procedure planned, I began making the needed changes in the faculty handbook. I was amazed at how much we had been asking of teachers in order to satisfy auditors.Entire pages came out of the handbook as we took this burden and its regulations off the back of our teachers. What went into the handbook instead was a simple paragraph explaining where to send students who have money and what information each student was to have on his/her envelope.

The procedure meant freeing up two people to handle the load of receipting money for the entire school. The larger the school, the more time required. However, the larger the school, the more time is already spent on receipting money. The light bulb is simply being turned by 100 people instead of 20. Since that time, the software to handle the job has gotten better. Let's take teachers out of the receipt-writing business.

2. Never ask a teacher to produce a report from the computer when one person can run the same report for the entire school.

Progress reports and report cards should be printed by one person in the front office, not by every teacher in the school. Ditto for award certificates. On my website is an all-purpose certificate and companion spreadsheet. When it comes time to print certificates for perfect attendance, honor roll, or membership in any school organization, the entire job can be printed in one huge batch. Let's get away from the antiquated model of dividing work amongst an entire faculty. Instead, let's use our technology efficiently.

3. Data data everywhere, but that doesn't mean we have to hand-copy.

Every year, the "high-stakes test" results arrive. Every year, in all-too-many schools, principals pass out computer-generated reports and ask teachers to copy figures from those printouts to paper grids. They call it "analyzing data." I call it copying numbers. The tech-savvy leader figures a way to deliver those figures in their final form to the teacher. The teacher's time is then spent making meaning of the data, not mechanically copying it.

How many of your co-workers does it take to screw in a light bulb?  What can you do to end the madness?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Three Stories from Steve Jobs

In 2005, Steve Jobs delivered the Commencement Address at Stanford University. It has often been recognized as one of the best such addresses every delivered. It's message seems even more relevant today.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

New Circumstances and Old Procedures

Consider the story of the mother and her young daughter preparing Easter dinner. Before placing the ham in the oven for baking, the mother cut both ends off the ham.

“Why did you cut off the ends of the ham?” asked the daughter.

“That’s the way my mother always did it,” replied the mother.

The daughter quickly got on the telephone to the grandmother and posed the question. The grandmother replied that she does, indeed, always cut the ends off the ham before placing it in the over. When asked why, the grandmother replied, “That’s the way my mother always did it.”

It just so happened the next week brought about a visit from great-grandmother. Overcome with curiosity, as young children often are, nothing would do but to pose this same question.

“Great Grandmother, Mommy always cuts the ends off her ham before she puts it in the oven. Mommy says she does it because that’s the way Grandmother always did it. Grandmother says she did it because that’s the way you always did it. Is it true, Great Grandmother? Did you always cut the ends off of the ham?”

“Yes, indeed, my child,” replied the elderly woman.

“But why?” asked the young girl.

Holding her hands about 12 inches apart, she replied, “Because my pan was only this big.”

The point of the story is that when we as humans are faced with a set of circumstances, we come up with procedures to handle those circumstances. So often, our circumstances change…but our procedures stay the same.

Monday, October 03, 2011

How Many of Your Colleagues Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?

How many (fill in the blank yourself) does to take to change a light bulb? The original answer to the joke is “Three,” with the punch line being “…one to hold the bulb the bulb and two to turn the ladder.” Other variations tell us that the task requires 5 trumpet players, one to change the bulb and four to stand around and tell how they could have done it better. In the case of the movie star, it only takes one…she holds the bulb and the world revolves around her. You can find pages and pages of “light bulb” jokes. It’s a favorite way to poke fun at the students from a rival college or different ideology.

We all know it should take one person to change a light bulb, but we wait for the ridiculous answer and the even more absurd explanation.

The really absurd thing, however, are the real-life “light bulb” jokes. They are those tasks that could and should be handled by one person, yet we wind up involving far more. Our time is wasted, our patience is tried, and we neglect the important work we could be doing in favor of the one-person job someone has seen fit to turn into a twenty-person job.

In my years of experience in education, I saw all too many times when someone at every school was running a report to submit to the central office. The pitiful truth of it all was that one person could have run have the report for the entire school system in less time than it took to give every school instructions on what to do, track who had submitted the report, and then compile the results.

The same scenario happens on a daily basis at the schools every day when principals ask dozens of teachers to each run reports which could just have easily been handled by one person in the office.

Time and time again, I see teachers do this to themselves as they do things by hand that a computer could do far better and 10 faster. Is it any wonder so many feel exhausted at the end of the day and also feel little has been accomplished?

Wednesday, we will examine the root of the problem. Friday, let’s look at solving it.

What are the “light bulb” situations you have come across?