Friday, March 30, 2012

The 5 Suggestions of a Surgeon/Author

I first became acquainted with Atul Gawande through his book entitled The Checklist Manifesto. You can read my post about it here. Gawande, an author and surgeon, writes about his profession in a way that speaks to each of us in our own professions. My latest read, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance is no exception.

Dr. Gawande writes candidly about the challenges doctors face and the conflicting priorities with which they wrestle. My favorite part of the book is the "Afterwards." Here, the author presents his five-point call to action for the reader. While he writes from the perspective of a surgeon, his words reach far beyond the operating room.

Ask the Unscripted Question 
Dr. Gawande challenges doctors to go beyond the normal questions of ailments, where it hurts, and how long it has hurt. He asks them to reach for questions which allow them to know the people who sit before them. He extends this concept to asking the questions which allow doctors to get the know staff members beyond the role in which they see them each day.

If we replace "doctor/patient" with "teacher/student" or "principal/teachers," his suggestion is right on target. The same advice could extend to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Anybody can follow the script. When we go beyond the expected questions, we just may get the unexpected answer that winds up making all the difference. The author writes, "If you ask a question, the machine begins to feel less like a machine."

Don't Complain
Dr. Gawande writes, "Whenever doctors gather— in meeting rooms, in conference halls, in hospital cafeterias—the natural pull of conversational gravity is toward the litany of woes all around us." Amazing how this scenario sounds like the stereotype of the "teacher's lounge"! In fact, the universal advice given new teachers is, "Stay out of the teacher's lounge." The master teacher learns that while avoiding the negativity of the teacher's lounge is good, being the force which changes the conversation is better.

Every profession has its problems, and when competing priorities exist, there is often no single right answer. The negativity can fester, and before you know it, the ox is in the ditch. When the negative conversation begins, we can feed the beast—and if this is our choice, we become the beast. We also have the capacity to make a better choice, to turn the conversation from "how bad things are" to how good things can be, and the next steps we can undertake right now to make the situation better.

Count Something
"It doesn't really matter what you count...The only requirement is that what you count should be interesting to you." Gawande talks about counting how often instruments or sponges were left inside patients during surgery. Counting the incidents led to determining the situations in which they seems to occur, and hence the problem causing the mistakes. Finding the real problem was the first step towards finding a solution.

When we count something, we are focused on it. When we focus, we find the relationships which have always existed, yet nobody seemed to notice. "If you count something you find interesting, you will learn something interesting." Great advice for researchers in any fields—and we are all researchers.

Write Something
"An audience is a community. The published word is a declaration of membership in that community and also a willingness to contribute something meaningful to it."

I will always be indebted to Dr. Terry Gates, one of my professors during my Masters degree in the early 1980s. I had taken my comprehensive exam and was awaiting to hear the results. What arrived was an envelope larger than I had expected. Inside was a letter stated I had passed the exam. Furthermore, a letter from Dr. Gates stated he had his secretary type my answer to one of the questions. He said he wanted me to submit that answer as a journal article to a state magazine.

That day marked the first clue that I just might have something to say that would be of interest to a larger body. What had started as the answer to a question on a test did indeed become the first time I was see a publication containing something I had written.

We all have strengths. We all have something from which others can benefit. Never before in history has it been easier to publish our writing. The blog you read now is an example. In many ways, writing is a responsibility, a way of giving back to the body of knowledge from which we have benefited. It's like holding up our end of the conversation.

Best of all, when we clarify our thoughts to the point others can comprehend them, we also clarify those thoughts for ourselves. The clarify leads to better performance, which leads to writing about that improved performance, which leads to even better performance. The cycle continues as long as we are willing to participate.

"Look for opportunities to willing to recognize the inadequacies in what you do and seek out the solutions." Countless lives are owed to advances in medicine. Practices considered to be correct give weigh to better practices. As a result, people are living longer and enjoying a significantly better quality of life than previous generations.

The ideas that have made your life and my life significantly better were once ideas on a drawing board. Modern-day pioneers were not afraid to share those ideas. Early adopters were not afraid to give those ideas a chance. They spread until reaching the proverbial "tipping point," where they became a common part of our days.

What's the next great idea out there just waiting to push us a higher level in some aspect of our lives? Will we be part of the early adopters, seeing its value when others have yet to discover it is even there? Will we lead in its implementation? Will we become the voice to which others listen as they begin to see the value in what we do? It's a choice we make.

Which one of Atul Gawande's suggestions speaks loudest to you?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How Would You Like Free Stationery?

Do you love attractive stationery but hate loading it in the printer each time you want to use it? Do you also hate having to measure how much margin must be left and then changing the margin settings in Word? If so, this site will serve as a good time-saver.

Let's start with some attractive children's stationery. Below each pattern, you will see a link with a "dot" extension. Download and type directly on the page. Your text will wrap around any graphics. The margins are already set correctly for you.

If your children need to compose some "thank you" letters for Christmas gifts and want to do so on the computer, this stationery could be your answer.

Scroll to the bottom of the page. You will see links to many other themes. For each one, you will see a "dot" option. You will never be at a loss for stationery again!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Super Demonstration of Uses of Google in the Classroom

This is an outstanding 13-minute video spotlighting practical uses of free Google tools. The intended audience for this video is the classroom teacher.

After watching the video, what concept did you see that you now want to begin to use?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why I Write My E-Mail Backwards

How many times have you clicked "Send" on an e-mail and then realize you forgot the attachment? The whole reason for the e-mail was the attachment, and you did such a masterful job of explaining all about it. When you finished that explanation, you thought, "I'm done!" So you clicked "Send." Only you weren't done. In fact, now you send a second e-mail explaining you forgot to send the attachment.

How about this one: You write your subject line, but by the time you get through composing the e-mail, its various twists and turns have caused it to stray from what the subject line originally said.

To solve both problems, let's write the e-mail backwards.

Add Attachments
If the e-mail is going to have attachment, start by attaching however many you are going to have. You have just eliminated the possibility of forgetting them. If you are replying to or forwarding an e-mail and need to add attachments, do so before composing any text.

Compose the Text
Go to the body of the-mail and say what you are going to say. Front-load the message so the reader gets the idea immediately of what needs to happen.

Compose the Subject Line
Look at the e-mail you have written and sum it up in a subject line as descriptive as possible. Can the reader look at that subject line and know what it's going to mean to him/her? Many times, you will find you can write the entire e-mail with just the subject line!

Avoid subject lines such as "Important" or "Meeting." If you want to show an e-mail is important, use the "!" priority symbol your e-mail program provides. "Need your approval on this proposal by Friday" gets the point across much better than "Important." "Can you attend the XYZ meeting on the 13th at 9:00?" is much better than "Meeting." If we can look at the subject line and know we can quickly take care of it, it's just human nature to act on that e-mail.

If you are replying to an e-mail or forwarding one, is the present subject line still applicable? If not, change it to one which is (especially if the original was "Important" or "Meeting").

Address the E-Mail
You can send an e-mail even though you forgot an attachment. You can send an e-mail even if you forgot a subject. You can even hit the "Send" button by mistake before even composing a word of your text. But, you cannot send an e-mail without a properly-formatted e-mail address in the address line. Save this step for last.

Proof-read your e-mail. Double-check that the attachments are there. As the final step, address the e-mail. Now, you are ready to send!

Write your e-mail backwards. See if it doesn't help you escape some of those e-mail blunders.

Does anyone already do something along this line? What other suggestions might you want to add?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Scares You? Could It Be Your E-Mail?

Thanks to Gene Ramsay for this testimonial. Gene is an insurance agent and husband of master teacher Julie D. Ramsay. Gene had invited me to speak for a group of his colleagues. This video comes as a result.
 of that event.

E-mail is a challenge for all-too-many of us, but it does not have to be. By making decisions on each e-mail and using Outlook's drag and drop feature, an empty Inbox at the end of the day can be a reality.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Come See Me at NAESP

If you are going to NAESP this week, please join me Saturday morning to learn about the "5 Keys to Organization & Time Management." You will learn about handling the papers, setting up a "signature tool" to hold all of your commitments, developing a system which puts repeating tasks on "autopilot," managing the flood of incoming information (how to document easily, how to get e-mail to zero daily, and how to use reQall to trap information on the fly), and how to handle multiple projects.

 The session begins at 9:15 in Rooms 618-620 of the Washington Convention Center. Hope to see you there.

Friday, March 16, 2012

McGill Distinguished Educators Seminar

We are looking forward to returning to Montreal at the end of the month. Thanks to McGill University for inviting me back to be a part of the "Distinguished Educators Seminar Series."

McGill is sponsoring a full-day workshop for teachers. The following day is a full-day workshop for principals, assistant principals, and their administrative assistants.

We are looking forward to sight-seeing before and after the seminars. Pictures will be forthcoming!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wolfram Alpha Continued

This post presents additional, practical uses for Wolfram Alpha. The videos below provide such applications.

Do you play Scrabble? Want Wolfram Alpha to help you out? This post will show you how.

Finally, want to show someone the difference between Google and Wolfram Alpha? Try a search at Goofram. The name is a combination of "Google" and "Wolfram Alpha" Enter a search term. One one side of the screen, you will see Google results. On the other side, you will see Wolfram Alpha results.

Wolfram Alpha is not a substitute for Google. They do two different things. Both should be part of your arsenal to make life easier.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Do You Know About Wolfram Alpha?

If this post is your introduction to Wolfram Alpha, you will be glad you stopped here today. I tell people that Wolfram Alpha is as significant as a Google search. Wolfram Alpha is not a replacement for Google. They do two do two entirely different things.

To begin, take a look at this short video:

Here is a video with a little more detail (but still under 5 minutes):

The next post will continue our exploration of Wolfram Alpha.

Friday, March 09, 2012

More Than Music

A friend of mine, Wayne Washam, often said, "There are some kids the band needs, and there are some kids who need the band." This video, which illustrates a true story from my teaching career, spotlights a young man who started as one and became the other.

March is "Music in Our School Month." It's an opportunity to focus on the part music plays in our schools if we are truly committed to educating children who grow up whole. I'll never forget the words of a former superintendent who said, "How many music questions are there on the (high-stakes) test?" I had to hold my tongue to keep from saying, "None...and it's a shame."

We are in a period where the pressure is on to teach to the test to the exclusion of all else. There needs to be a voice that says preparation for a rich life, not to mention a well-rounded childhood, includes far more than that which can be neatly included on a bubble test.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Future of Technology as Told by Microsoft

What will the technology we use in our daily lives look like a few years down the road? This Microsoft video provides some ideas.


Monday, March 05, 2012

School Leadership Briefing: Four Tools to Help You Focus, Be Productive, and Reduce Stress

I was invited to contribute to School Leadership Briefing, an audio journal providing professional development to administrators. Click on the image below to listen to the short podcast.