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!

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  • 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.  

 

 

Annie Go Get Your Briefcase

 

 

 

 

Today was just one of those days in our house.

If it could be dropped, it was dropped.

If it could be broken, it was.

If it could escape from the house, it did (our indoor cat took a wrong turn).

The internet went out, the cable and phone stopped working, garage door got stuck, gas stove got sketchy…you name it we had it.  So that’s why early this morning it seemed like a great idea to take my youngest daughter to work with me while my amazing wife dealt with all of the above (actually pretty certain I made out well on that deal).

I don’t get to bring my kids to work with me often, so it’s a big deal when it happens.  Luckily my schedule today was forgiving and I was able to make it work.  My youngest has never made this trek before, so it was good to learn what happens when Annie comes to work!  Such as:

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Immediately the amazing people I work with take pity on this poor child for having to put up with my sarcasm and whit all day so they bombard her with all sorts of craft items, games, glitter, glue, stickers, paper, pipe cleaners, feathers, colored pencils, rocks, gems, etc.  To the point that your once organized work space now looks something like this:

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I also found very quickly that some of the office staff suddenly have access to all sorts of treats and what not that I normally don’t have access to??!?!!?  What’s up with that?!

All that aside the most obvious thing I now know about bringing Annie to work with me is that it’s a pretty great time!

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Communication Sure Looks Different But Should Stay the Same

This is just a quick post to note some observations I’ve stumbled on today that aren’t going to be shocking or new to anyone!

We’re getting a new phone system in our school.  Here’s one of the phones in the office:

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No need to adjust your screens, that’s really what the phone looks like!  I keep waiting for it to transform and ask me if I’m with the Autobots or Decepticons!  I started thinking about how just a short time ago we had this:

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This one now sits outside my office in homage to the technology of the past.

Then look at this:

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How many schools have a sign like this at their entrance?  Tons, right!?  These signs were donated and built for schools long ago (in some cases not so long ago) as the best way to keep the community updated on what’s happening at the school.  You could only update once a week or so and had to make sure you had enough letter e’s or o’s to make it through the message you wanted to share. Now, many of these signs, like ours, are falling away…literally (we’re sadly taking ours down soon due to rotting) Now we have this:

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I’m proud of our progress, but also awed and painfully aware of the importance of not losing the human connections in all this change.

 

7-8-14 Daily Journal

One of the things I love about summer school is that every morning most, if not all, of the staff sit out in front of our school to greet the students.  It’s something that we’ve never said or expressed as an expectation, I just find that the folks who are a part of summer school are very empathetic and supportive of our students.  Such a great feeling for our students, families and for each other!  We even have our breakfast outside in front of the school.  Students, staff and families sit and eat a healthy breakfast before each day starts.  There’s just something cool about it (even though it was out of necessity more than design). It really sets up a nice chance to connect and form relationships with families and students…great thing to think about and how that same work looks during the school year. 

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Our school and many others in Vermont participate in the Four Winds Nature program.  This program puts community resources, parents, teachers and students in touch with what is going on around them in nature through supported educational programming.  Our school, staff and parents have been working together this past year to try to increase the connections between our existing curriculum and the work of the Four Winds folks.  We generated some great ideas today and have some energy moving forward.  Both our school and the Four Winds program seem to be facing a lot of the same challenges in the efficient use of time for students, the changing expectations and standards that are placed on learning opportunities and the value each places into their programming.  Despite the challenges of logistics we are facing, everyone in the conversation is clearly looking out for the best opportunities for student learning.  It’s not going to be a quick fix, but we all felt really positive about the work we did today and recognized the challenges in front of us.  Our next steps include really looking at the planned Four Winds units and lessons and intentionally finding those connections to our existing curriculum, engaging teacher’s in the design of natural education as it relates to their existing instructional components, continuing to examine how we as a school support strong parent participation and genuine partnership opportunities (we say it a lot, but do we really practice it) and tapping into additional resources on a supervisory union level.  Big stuff, but fun!  

We also conducted interviews for our Farm to School Coordinator position today.  Hiring for this position is an exciting opportunity for our already strong programming to continue to grow.  It was great to work with our Food Services folks on this interview.  I never cease to be amazed by the depth of knowledge that they have and the wide world of healthy foods that I only know a little bit about!  The candidates also shared some new learning for me, talking about the programming that they know is going on throughout the state.  Great stuff.  Check out http://www.vtfeed.org/ It’s worth a look.

I’ve been so busy during the days that it’s hard to remember that it’s the summer.  Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!