Monday, December 31, 2012

Change is the Challenge

Change is difficult for most of us. How convenient it had been to simply pick up the receiver and tell the operator who we wanted to "ring up." We remember fondly watching the reruns of Andy picking up the receiver and saying, "Sara, would you ring over at Floyd's Barber Shop?" I can only imagine the resistance when the new rotary phone replaced what had been so comfortable and so familiar.

Looking back allows us to look forward. What practices do we cling to because they are familiar, yet years from now, people can hardly believe how we resisted the change?

In a wonderful book entitled Drumming to the Beat of Different Marchers, author Debbie Silver included the following quote that so eloquently goes to the heart of why change is so difficult:

It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear . . . . It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to.

—Marilyn Ferguson in The Aquarian Conspiracy
It's a reminder of one of my favorite quotes:

When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and you are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.
-Patrick Overton

As a new year approaches for us all, change is a given. There will be those times when you feel you are between trapezes. There will be those times when you feel you about to step off into the darkness. In no time, you have learned to fly!

What worries you about the year ahead? What excites you?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gift Cards: How Will You Make Sure You Use Them and Not Lose Them?

Christmas has passed, and if you are like me, you have received gift cards to your favorite restaurants. In addition, you may be a subscriber to Groupon, Living Social, or a similar program allowing you to buy meal vouchers at great discounts.

As great as these cards and vouchers are, they are no good if they are not used. Each year, billions of dollars worth of gift cards go unused because people lose them or simply forget they have them. The Wall Street Journal estimates $41 billion in gift cards have gone unspent between 2005 and 2011.

How can you keep from joining this crowd? Wouldn't it be great if you had a place where you could put these little gems, a place where they would periodically hop up and say, "Remember me? Spend me." The solution is actually very simple.

All you need is a set of tickler files plus one more blank file folder. Label the additional file something like "Gift Cards," or whatever appeals to you. Put all of your gift cards in that folder. As for the Groupons and other vouchers, put them in that same folder and organize them by expiration date. The voucher with the most immediate expiration goes in the front of the folder.

Put the entire folder in the tickler file for the next time you would like to be reminded that you have gift cards and vouchers to spend. Saturday has always proved to be a good day for me. On that day, the file folder of gift cards and vouchers becomes a trigger to sit down with your spouse and decide which ones you may wish to use during the next week. Pull those candidates from the folder. Place them in the tickler files for the days you decided you wanted to use them. Pick a day you would like to see this folder again and put it back in the tickler file. That's it.

Nothing slips through the cracks. Periodically, you are reminding yourself what gift cards and vouchers you have remaining and any expiration dates. The process can take as little as one minute. Having that file folder appear in the tickler files means you never have to think about it.

Every year, people waste billions of dollars through lost or forgotten gift cards and vouchers. This year, the situation need not describe you!

Monday, December 24, 2012

King's College "O Come, All Ye Faithful"

King's College (Cambridge, England) was founded in 1441. The building of the chapel began in 1446 and was completed in 1544, almost 100 years later, during the reign of King Henry VIII. The choir is composed of male students from the college along with boys from King's College School.

Each year, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is enjoyed not only by audience in the packed chapel, but by listeners throughout the world.

Enjoy this rendition of "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

Friday, December 21, 2012

King's College and "O Magnum Mysterium"

O Magnum Mysterium is one of the season's more beautiful works. This performance is by a truly spectacular group. Enjoy the King's College 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.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Take Time Now To Save Time Then

If you want to "get organized," plan on spending a little extra time now. The time you save comes later. Maybe that's why so many people avoid getting organized. It's easier to leave things in disarray...right now anyway. But, we pay the price later. So many people are so hard pressed to simply get through the day, working a little harder now to make things easier later is not a concept they want to hear.

At this time of year, one small example comes to mind. Our Christmas decorations include the "Sheltie Tree," a metal tree on which we hang a collection of decorative Shetland Sheepdog ornaments. Each ornament fits into its own particular cutout in a Styrofoam container. Putting the ornaments on that was always a breeze. Taking them down and putting each ornament in the correct place in the Styrofoam holders, now that was a different story! I would spend for what seemed like an eternity turning and trying to fit an ornament into this hole or that until finally I got it right. I always dreaded that part of the process.

One year, I got smart. As I was taking the ornament out of their containers, I took the time to write the description of the ornament beside the spot where it would be returned. When Christmas was over and it was time to pack it all away, the job I had dreaded was a snap. The Sheltie holding Santa's list went here. The Sheltie tangled in the Christmas lights went there. The annual ornament for 2007 goes here and 2009 goes here.

When all was said and done, the Sheltie ornaments were back in their protective boxes in a fraction of the time I normally spent. The time I had spend on labeling had been more than recouped.

Every year when I take those Sheltie ornaments and look at the hand-written description of the ornaments, I smile, knowing that the time I spent on the front end several years ago now saves me time each and every year.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hook

One of my earliest memories was the funeral of John F. Kennedy. As a junior high school student, I stepped off the bus to news that our governor had been shot and was fighting for his life. As a college student, I was on my way to band practice when I heard that President Reagan was in surgery following an assassination attempt. I was a principal reviewing with our PTO the steps we had taken during that year to make our school safer, and then heard a few minutes later what had happened earlier that day at Columbine.

Throughout my life and yours, tragedies have caused our entire nation to pause. However, I can recall nothing to match the horror of young children being murdered in the place where their futures were being molded.

From all reports, Sandy Hook Elementary School had done everything it could reasonably do to keep its students safe from intruders. Yet, on this day, the best plans did not stop evil which has its own careful plans.

Without a doubt, school districts across the country will be re-visiting their own safety plans. Reviewing plans to be sure they are sounds, that people know their responsibilities, and that we practice executing our plans is a good thing. However, I hope that knee-jerk reactions do not result in procedures which turn schools into prisons. And even with the most stringent of procedures, none of us can guarantee  we will be immune from a determined killer.

Can we do a better job of keeping weapons such the one used in this incident out of the hands of people who have absolutely no business with them? According to sources such as MSNNow, the rifle was a semi-automatic weapon first used in the Vietnam War. It has the capability to fire six shots per second. I have a hard time understanding how any civilian would have a need to own this type of weapon.

Can we do a better job of identifying those whose behavior suggests they may be responsible for the next tragedy? It seems on the heels of each mass shooting, people who knew the killer talk of characteristics that probably should have raised red flags.

I wish I had answers to those questions. What I do know is that there were heroes at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The principal, one of those who died that day, had been vigilant about safety. Even her Twitter account shows this evidence.

Teachers took swift and appropriate actions to protect their students, including standing between students and bullets. Had it not been for the actions of the staff, this tragedy could have been so much worse.

President Obama said, "There's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do...Whether it's an elementary school in Newtown or a shopping mall in Oregon or a temple in Wisconsin or a movie theater in Aurora or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children."

Each time our nation is rocked by one of these killings, we ask the question, "Will this one be the last one?" I pray the answer be "yes."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Night Before Christmas for the Band Director

This poem, written by Russ Haag, appeared in The Instrumentalist magazine years ago. I clipped it then, long before the days when we all could easily scan items and share them with the world. I post the poem here for all of my friends in the band world.

Before his retirement, Russ was an outstanding middle school band director in Brewton, Alabama. Russ, if you happen to stumble upon this post, I hope it brings a smile to know that your poem is still circulating.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Free Pages for Your Paper Planner

While I have been organizing my life digitally for over a decade, there are still many people who prefer paper. A paper planner, when used correctly, is a great tool to put everything which requires your attention into one place. Perhaps a paper system is your choice, but you have not found page formats which suit you. Perhaps you don't want to spend money for commercially-prepared pages. If either of these descriptions are applicable, this post is for you. The Free Resources page of my website lists four forms you can download, print, and use. Since it is on the "Free Resources" page, that's a pretty good indication that the price is right. 

Paper Planner Daily Page
Time ManagementThe layout for this page matches the concepts I teach in my workshops and in my books, Get Organized!:Time Management for School Leaders and Organization Made Easy!: Tools for Today's Teachers. Items should be worded clearly. Like items should be grouped together. You will find a space to list your "Fab 5" for the day. Of course, the page provides a space for appointments. Finally, you have a dedicated space to answer the all-important question, "How did you make today count?" The page size is 8 1/2 X 5 1/2, meaning you will get two pages per sheet.

Put the pages on a paper cutter, punch holes, and you are ready to go. The back of the page is intentionally left blank. This page is where you take notes from meetings, phone calls, etc. Documentation is easy when you have this space available.

Montly Calendars
Click the tab for each month and print. Put the pages on a paper cutter, hole punch, and insert them into any notebook designed for pages which measure 8 1/2 X 5 1/2. Use the back of each page for additional information related to that month.

Goal Planner 
 Goals or projects are different, in that they are accomplished through a series of tasks. We need a place to house all of the tasks and related information for the projects we undertake. We then "farm out" the specific tasks to specific days. Having some Goal Planner sheets in the back of your book gives you control of the big picture.

Master List
We all have those tasks we want to accomplish "sometime," but do not want to assign a specific date. The "Master List" is just such a parking place. Put some of these sheets in the back of the planner, and you will never be at a loss for a "parking place" for the random tasks which come to mind.

What tool do you use to stay organized? Is it paper or digital? For those who organize with paper, what commercial pages do you use (if any)? For those who organize digitally, what software do you use?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Have You Voted in the Edublog Awards?

The Edublog Awards began in 2004 as a way to promote blogging and showcase outstanding examples. This post is about introducing you to my favorite school administrator blog and one that is a finalist for the Edublog Awards.

I invite you to explore the Raymond L. Young Elementary School blog located at After you have had a chance to get a feel for the blog, I hope you will vote it in the category “Best School Administrator Blog.” Anyone can vote. Go to and select “Administrator blog” from the list. There, you will see a list of the finalists and make your selection. Voting is open through Sunday, Dec. 9. Also important is that you can vote more than once, but the limit is once per day.

Five years ago, Pattie Thomas became principal of this school in the middle of the year. From the very beginning, she used this blog as a way to share the good news about happenings in the school and to provide a way to keep parents and community members informed.

As one example, upon receiving her appointment as principal, Mrs. Thomas realized tardies, checkouts, and absences due to frivolous reasons were far too frequent. It was on the blog that she introduced the "Top Dog Club." As the prestige of being a "Top Dog" caught steam and attendance improved, the blog was right there to celebrate that success.

Elementary schools are places where memories are made, and this blog captures every one of them, whether it be a celebration of the holiday season, the sights and sounds of the Fall Festival. or the words of a student serving as a guest blogger.

Some administrators use their blogs to give their opinions on topics of global concern. This blog takes a different route. It does not try to influence a national audience. Instead, it's focus is telling the school's story to the community it serves. In doing so, it provides a shining example of what other principals can do in their own communities.

Across America, educators are doing great things, yet are discouraged when nobody seems to care. Pattie Thomas demonstrates that schools are in charge of telling their own stories, and that a blog is the perfect tool to do so. While the blog makes no attempt to influence a national audience, the example it provides may do just that.   

Take a moment to meet Pattie Thomas through her Principal's Message. Enjoy the blog, most of all, cast your vote today and each day through Sunday.

I just cast my vote. Want to join me?