Student Audio Has a Special Power

I have much to share on the blog these days, but little time to do it with school just ’round the corner, but I had to share our latest podcast where we tested out adding some student audio clips.  There’s just something powerful about hearing our students express themselves, no matter how short and sweet the actual conversation is.  This is a great and simple tool that admin and educators can use throughout their day.  Audioboo, Garageband, etc. are all great apps readily available in a moments notice to capture student conversations and share…or just keep for yourself.  Good stuff!

 

 

Episode 001…Now What? #cpchat

In a past post I talked about a social media plan and all the ideas that were swirling in my head at the time.  One of the outcomes of that thinking was to use podcasting as a new additional to our social media arsenal.  I’m genuinely excited about this.  As someone who listens to a lot of podcasts I think there’s just something great about the focus that you have when you are just listening to someone…no video, no text, just listening.  Something great in there!  In any case, after much planning, overt-thinking and messing about with GarageBand and Soundcloud I just started it up today!  Excited for what’s to come.

RESVT Episode 001

 

Easy Email Experiment #cpchat

During a few days off I was thinking about my love/hate relationship with email and wondered how I could get a bit more of a handle on efficiency, etc.  Yes, I do realize that these are thoughts that shouldn’t be a factor during a day off, but what can I say, it’s how I’m wired. In any case, here’s what I tried when I returned to work.

1. I took the first twenty emails in my inbox (you could use any number really) and made a note of each subj, sender, etc.  You could easily print your inbox page and do the same thing.

2.  I set the list to the side, but throughout the day made notes next to specific emails like:

  • resolved with one response
  • ended up needing a face to face conversation
  • STOP REPLYING ALL
  • required a phone call
  • answer was already shared or available somewhere else
  • forwarded to the person that should have received it
  • WHY DID YOU RESPOND?

You get the idea.  Just started keeping track.  I didn’t go into to great deal with my notes, just general.

3. At the end of the day I reviewed my notes and tried to put everything into a percentage just to see any general observations.  Here’s what I found with this round:

  • 100% of the emails that I counted for this experiment resulted in face to face conversation or phone calls
  • 40% were sent to me but should have gone directly to other folks
  • 80% referenced information that was available in other ways (memo’s, website,etc.)

4.  After reviewing these and thinking about them I set up a few action goals for the week:

  • If I had a question that could easily be done face to face or via phone I did that instead of hammering out the email.  It’s made things a little smoother for some of those multiple layer conversations.
  • When I received an email that could have gone directly to another person, I responded and CC’d the person that could receive the email.  I also included a reference that the person should feel free to contact __________ directly.
  • I restructured information on memo’s and sites to provide clearer access for staff and community.  I also responded to the emails asking for information that was already shared by sending the link to the information source versus answering the question in isolation.  It’s the leading a horse to water concept.

In any case, it was a quick little experiment that I’ll replicate again in a couple of weeks.  It was worth it for me to get a bird’s eye view on what I was experiencing.  Give it a try.

Why Don’t You Have a Desk In Your Office? #cpchat

Twice a day, every day I must get asked “Why don’t you have a desk in your office?”  In fact, I was asked twice this morning already, so I thought I would honor this curiosity with a blog post about my office.  My office and my office arrangement has changed annually for many years…probably looking “dorm roomish” at times to spartan at others.

Let me first answer the question…it is correct. I do not have a desk.  I haven’t had a desk for about two years now. It became very obvious to me that having a desk in my office wasn’t a good use of space!  I really took a serious look at my days and what it is I needed out of a space.  I figured out a couple of things right away:

  • I need a lot of visual work space…I have three chalk boards, two white boards and a chart in my office, bordering the walls.  As teams work through projects or planning, everything is noted on one of the boards.  The staff know that they can add to or check things as well.  It’s a very transparent way to share my thinking and priorities at the time.
  • I have way more meetings with groups of people than I do time to sit by myself at a desk.  So the need was obvious, get rid of the desk and get a large table!

So here’s what we did:

With limited funds for furniture, our custodian came up with a great idea.  Using two sheets of finished plywood he created a table top that went right over my existing table.  It looks great, works great and cost about $20.  Now I have a great space for large teams to work and meet without stumbling around my desk. I also find that having the table works great for collaborative conversations.  As I’m working on something people can sit down and chat with me easier than if I’m sitting at a desk.  I also keep a stodge of post its and note pads right in the middle so people can write and share easily.

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Now I still needed a spot to plant my stuff, so we created a standing workstation. I wish I could say I did this for philosophical reasons, but it was more to accommodate the space than anything. I usually stick to the standing workstation when I can, but when I have a ton of stuff to spread out I’ve got an awesome table to use! I’m still working on making the standing workstation jive with my daily work, but it’s getting there.  Our custodian just loves when I say I’ve got a new idea to try out!

 

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The last thing we did was line the walls with chalkboards and white boards.  I have a thing about chalkboards, so I apologize to those anti-dust folks (you’ll be happy to know I use dust-free chalk).

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In the end, I’m extremely happy without a desk.  It has changed my office from being my office to being more of a collaborative work space.

PLN Home Delivery!

seinfeldsays.tumblr.com

seinfeldsays.tumblr.com

“The Bizarro Jerry” was the 137th episode of Seinfeld.  If you don’t know the plot, I wont ruin it for you…watch it.  For those of you not familiar with the “bizarro” concept, let me explain.  In the Superman story line there exists a “bizarro” world where an alternate world exists with things reversed or changed in some way.  I’ve followed Superman’s stories and adventures, laughed during Jerry’s stumble into Bizarro land, but I never thought I would have a first hand experience, but I have. Let me explain.

My wife and I were sitting in our living room the other night and noticed a large group of people walking down our country road.  This group of people seemed particularly interested in our house…they walked very slowly past, pointed at features in the yard, talked to each other and eventually moved on.  Our theories included:

  • it’s time to mow the lawn…even the neighbors are laughing now
  • there’s someone on the roof
  • they were saying “wow, that’s where Principal Berry lives!”  My wife didn’t agree with that theory, but I threw it out there
  • maybe there was a deer on the other side of the house
  • a millionaire was going to walk up to our door and offer us cash for the house

Before we could confirm any of the above the people had moved on down the street and we kind of forgot about it.

Fast forward to the next day (yesterday).  After spending the day at school I headed home, thinking about the evening with the family.  As I pulled up to our driveway I found a vehicle with out of state plates parked in the front of the driveway…blocking my entrance.  The theory machine started up again:

  • Salesman, vendors?  We haven’t had many since the Lucy incident of 2013 (my dog is very friendly…sometimes a little too friendly for guests)
  • My wife invited company that don’t know how to park?
  • Random relatives have arrived and plan to stay for a long time without telling me or my wife and will eat all my favorite food and use up all my designated spaces in the house for the next two weeks making me extremely grumpy and irritable?!?!

Well, turns out none of these were accurate.  As I walked up the drive I saw four people, a man and a woman and what was obviously their two daughters.  It looked as if there had been some emotions shared before I got there.  I don’t know how I knew that but I could tell…the whole time I’m wondering “what are you walking into here.”  

These were the people that built the house we live in.  Now, I know everyone has a strong emotional attachment to their home, and we certainly do…we LOVE our house. These people LOVE our house too, for the memories it gave them.  They told us about the first day their daughters road the bus from where their car was parked.  We finally found out what the rope in the tree was for…a tire swing (which is now a weekend project for me).  They talked about the memories they had as a family in the house and how happy they were that we were there.  As they shared, I started to pick up on how similar we were, in just some of the ways we talk, even our mannerisms.  Thirty minutes had passed as we talked and compared notes before any of us knew it.  The man, Joe, told me that when he lived in our house he was a principal in an area school.  “No way!  Guess what I do!”  We knew a lot of the same people, worked in some of the same places and had more in common than any two strangers should.  I looked over and saw that my wife was having the same experience with Joe’s wife and that my daughters had each paired off with Joe’s daughters.  Joe and talked about his work in a southern state, where he now works as a education leader and WOW…do I have some things to learn from him.

So, at the end of the day I received the newest member of my PLN…via home delivery.  

Hammering Out a Social Media Plan for a School Community #cpchat

Today, without really intending to do so, I started to craft what I’m calling a “social media plan” for our upcoming school year.  Through the past several years we have built a very strong social media system in our building, and it’s continuing to grow as more classrooms are sharing learning online.  I’m very proud of the work we’ve done in establishing:

    • strong blogging practices among the classrooms and staff
    • a very well accessed Facebook page, Twitter account and Google + system
    • use of video and photos to share who we are with the community and families (we’ve gotten very good at posting fun stuff like the video below too!)

Even though we’ve gotten very good at these things I’ve felt strongly that we aren’t using these and other tools to the fullest.  I feel that I can be using them much more as a school leader to reach families and the community, thus the creation of a social media plan.

Now mind you this just kind of happened, so there wasn’t a template or a plan, so if there are suggestions on how to do this better send ‘em my way please!

The first thing I started with was outlining the systems that we already had going and what can we do to enhance those existing systems.  For example:

  • Facebook – We currently use Facebook to share school events, repost classroom blog posts and this is the only place that we post information about camps and offerings for students outside the school.  Facebook probably has our highest subscription rates within our learning community and is also where we share the most information.  Given that high rate of involvement it seemed like a logical next step for us in improving is to present more feedback opportunities for families via Facebook, so that went in the plan
  • Our School Blog – We have a strong school blog that feeds both our Twitter account and our Google + accounts (we also repost our blog posts on Facebook).  We’ve built a great practice with our blog, now going strong with multiple authors in the building contributing.  Again, we have extensive subscriptions and high levels of access to this so the areas of enhancement really centered on:
    • improving the depth of our content.  We share events like nobody’s business…video, photos, etc. and they’re awesome.  I feel strongly that we should be sharing more of the instructional insights, curriculum information and involve more teachers in the communication of that information.  So that will be a big push for this coming year.

After reviewing what great stuff we already had going I just started to brainstorm some of the areas that I know we can do well in but aren’t really accessing at the moment:

  • Instagram – There are several staff that have an Instagram account as I do and we all occasionally post photos and info about things that are happening at school (and many times due to the nature of Instagram they are completely amazing photos!) and we try to retweet those when we stumble on them; but, we never had an account dedicated to the school.  Well we do now!!  I’m a firm believer in the power of images (and video) so my hope is to use this medium to continue to share amazing photos that really share who we are as a school community.  The management of multiple Instagram accounts isn’t a whole lot of fun at the moment, so if anyone has insights, please leave them in the comments below!

Screenshot 2014-07-16 at 1.54.21 PM

  • I put Pinterest on the list, but I’m not sure about using it effectively or efficiently on the school level.  I was just brainstorming and thought that maybe a Pinterest account could be used to share projects, reading tips, resources for parents, etc. versus using it as a posting platform.  One of the reasons I added it to the list was simply that I know it’s very popular and I have a philosophy that you need to try to meet people where they are!  We’ll see.  I’ll need to research if other schools are using it.

The next section took a geeky turn, but it’s where I live so…it is what it is.  I wrote down the words Video/Audio/Visual and just started listing all these great tools that I’ve noted other admins or schools using.  As I mentioned earlier I have a big bend toward audio-visual and the power it has to convey feeling to an audience.  As a school community we’ve got the videoing of events down to a moderate science, but there’s sooooo much more that we can do and ways that we can include the student scholars in the process too.  So here’s my list:

Touchcast – This is a great app that allows you to basically be an entire television studio on your mobile device.  It’s great and many schools are already utilizing it and involving students in the production of video. 

Audioboo – I’m a big podcast addict, so anything that allows for easy audio upload I’m all over it. I’ll get back to that.  Garageband  and Soundcloud are awesome for this too.

Ustream – We currently don’t offer live streaming of school events…could be a great option for families that can’t join us.  We’ve tried with Google + a few times but not totally successful.

Fotopedia – Great app for showcasing images and text

 As you can tell I really got into this today (shame it wasn’t on my list of things to get done!).  By the end of the time I was working on it I was convinced that I should produce a podcast program looking at education across our state!  That’s when I knew it was time to take a break and back away from the computing devices!  Still, I think what felt good was that sometimes we establish great practices and stay static with them, not considering the continuous growth.  Outlining a plan felt good and helped me think about the systems for the coming year.  Great use of time and energy for the day!

 

 

Beat the Summer Principal Funk

image from newsone.com

I’ve found myself in a bit of a funk this week.  If I think back on it I’m pretty sure that it happens just about every summer at this time.  I find summers as a principal very interesting and don’t think that people have a good sense of what it’s like or the work that is done.  It’s honestly quite busy!  I always tell people to imagine that they are going to open a business with about a month and a half of planning and prep.  That business will feature about seventy staff, up to 300 customers on the first day that you open, have about four days to train your staff for opening and have more moving parts than Hubble.  That’s summer.  It’s equally challenging to do the planning and prep with limited access to the staff that grace these hallways for the school year.  Just to be clear, the folks I work with are super dedicated and more often than not spend many hours of their summer here; however, I do my best to give them the time they need and deserve to recoup and energize with their families by not calling on them during the summer if I can help it.

So back to my funk.  Just having those days where I don’t feel super productive, can’t see the progress I’m making toward being ready for the beginning of the school year, etc.  Luckily for me I’ve learned from past experience how to push through the funk.

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

Just keep moving and grooving.  Smile, connect with people and just keep plugging away.  The groove will return with time.  Don’t stop moving.  Dig in on stuff that you’ve been working on for a while.  For example, I’ve been looking at using video more in supervision and evaluation.  Check out https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/improve-teaching-with-video if you’re interested in a peak.  Ten minutes of reviewing this stuff and I’m hooked again.

Reconnect

As I thought about my funk, I realized that I had slacked off from my number one source of inspiration and motivation…my PLN.   As Tony Sinanis pointed out recently in a post called PLN Redefines PD, your PLN can be the best source for that kick in the seat that we all need sometimes just to keep going.  Last night I started to dig back into my online world and immediately found myself saving ideas, taking notes and making a list of things to check out.  It felt good and exactly what I needed.  Here are a few of my finds:

HarvardBiz's avatar

How to Start a Conversation You’re Dreading s.hbr.org/1qE5A8S

Give Yourself a Break

We’ve all heard the advice “listen to your body and mind” but we often don’t listen or we listen and ignore.  If you feel like you’re needing a break, figure out a way to make that happen.  Maybe it’s a series of small breaks, whatever the case, sort it out.

 

Focus on Happiness 

Just read a great post by @BergsEyeView called Feeling Good Feels Good.  Seth Berg’s advice is:

When I think about where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced, where I’m headed, and how I aim to get there, I always ask myself, “will this path contribute to enhanced happiness for me and for those I serve?”  That question helps me focus on what’s important to me.

 

So I’ve got a strategy, got a plan and I’m going to keep on keeping on.