Ideas for Managing Teacher Workflow

Our lives are… BUSY! Whether you are a teacher, student, office worker, lab technician, artist, or general savant, we live in a digital world; if you are like me, your digital world is messy. Me? I have multiple cloud accounts spread across multiple services. I am active on social media. I have several email accounts. And, I would rather still take notes on paper. Some days, life feels very messy! In a recent Twitter chat (#edtechchat– Monday evenings at 8-9PM Eastern), we discussed how to manage this workflow. I began investigating some options in the past week, and I am proud to report on some success.

1. Managing e-mail. At last check, I have four very active email accounts, and a fifth as a throw-away when I sign up for free stuff. One person cannot manage all the data! One account is a work email from my school. Two others are Gmail accounts set up for Google Drive access. Both of those are active, but I never check them. Technically, those are both school-based accounts that I use primarily with students. I have a third Gmail account for personal use. My last account, as I said, is an older Hotmail account with no contacts or personal data, because a few years ago it was hacked. I still keep it around to collect my unsolicited email. To manage these accounts, I prefer to use the built-in email forwarding features common in most accounts. I mirror both of my work-related Gmail accounts to my work-provided email. If a student emails any of these addresses, all the mail funnels to one account. I have this work account and my personal Gmail account all funnel into my iPad, and I routinely sift through and manage my email on this device. My older Hotmail account is attached to nothing, but it allows me a level of security against unwanted email.

2. Cloud-based storage. I love Google Drive. I use the account to create and share digital files with my students. I have two accounts so I can separate my course content into separate parcels. It also affords a bit more storage! I recently used my old Hotmail account to access Microsoft’s SkyDrive. I have been tinkering with some SkyDrive-based syncing options on my iPad to improve my workflow. But, sometimes I forget where everything goes. For that, I have recently been introduced to the iOS app Cloud Browser. With this app, you can sync your cloud-based files to your iOS device and share to different users. The Google Drive iOS app is frustrating because those of us with multiple accounts cannot access multiple drives at once. Cloud Browser makes this possible.

3. Note-taking. Teachers take notes. I find many of my notes are still on paper. I write more quickly than I type on a device, and I believe electronic devices alter the conversations you have with others. I always carry a Field Notes brand notebook in my pocket. Aside from the plethora of useful features, I like that Field Notes brand products are still made in the United States. But, workflow from a paper notebook is difficult if you don’t carry it with you. Or, so you thought. I was recently introduced to Evernote’s fantastic ability to search for text within an image. Rather than keep my notes in a stand-alone notebook, I now take a picture of my notes and load them to Evernote. I’ve just started this process, but it has already been a lifesaver. In addition, Evernote allows me to schedule notes to address later; if I need to remind myself to attend to an item at home, I can do that very easily.

4. If this, then that. I’m not completely sold on If This, Then That, a website which allows you to create simple “recipes” to bring together your data. I use two “pre-made” recipes now: one sends me an email of the top ten news items I should know about each day, the second records all of my favorited Tweets to my Evernote notebook. Neither of these features are game-changers for me, but IFTTT is worth investigating when bring together your workflow chaos!

Honorable Mention- iCloud. I have not used iCloud much for more than syncing my personal “home” life; mostly pictures and music. However, Apple’s iCloud allows online creation and sharing of documents among peers like Google Drive does. Apple’s recent improvements have made iCloud better, but for efficiency, Apple cannot beat Google. What I do love about Apple’s iCloud is the appearance. The Keynote presentations and the Pages document templates are design-oriented while the Google Drive suite are more efficiency and collaboration-driven. So, I have begun working more in iCloud, but it is still not the greatest program for a connected lifestyle.

As I said when I began, I have data everywhere, in both digital and print format. Hopefully some of these tips give you more ideas to try in your classroom. Good luck!

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Sit and (For)Get: Advice for Better Professional Development

As the new school year approaches, educational leaders get anxious, just like teachers and students. The start of a new year brings new challenges, among which includes teaching teachers– professional development. I hope to share some advice to make this year’s professional development more engaging. Teachers have a phrase for professional development-“Sit and Get”. I content it should be “Sit and Forget.”

The first faculty meeting of the year is your first “lesson” of your yearly professional development. This meeting should be as important to administrators as the first day of school is for teachers. As such, I have compiled some advice for new and veteran administrators alike. I am a classroom teacher, but I do lead monthly professional development as my building’s educational technology leader. My advice below stems from my experience as both a teacher and building leader.

1. Don’t forget your roots– You are a teacher at heart. As an administrator, you are a master teacher. Do not abandon tried-and-true teaching practices because you are teaching adults. After a full day of teaching, or with the stress of the upcoming year, teachers have so much on their minds. Use your good teaching strategies to make professional development enjoyable, meaningful, and useful. Everything that comes next really is a subset of this first point.

2. Start with the end in mind– With no disrespect to Grant Wiggins or Jay McTighe and their Understanding by Design movement, planning your teaching with the end in mind is really a simple concept. Think about how you plan a vacation. You know where you are going, and you make decisions about how to get there. Now, think about how faculty meetings are planned. Piecemeal? Start with the whole year in mind. What do you want the teachers to really learn? Set a yearly goal, share it, then plan backwards to get there. Design formative and summative activities to measure your progress. Make this plan apparent to your staff at the first faculty meeting.

3. Be prepared to fail– Planning a year’s worth of professional development means something will go wrong. Your plan will get amended for an urgent matter in your school. This is okay. Be willing to demonstrate to your staff how to handle failure. If you don’t model risk-taking and failure, how can you expect your teachers to know how to take these risks? While we are on failure…

4. Try new teaching styles (and technologies)– Many administrators want their teachers to flip their classroom content. Flip parts of the first day’s faculty meeting. Please follow some sound advice for flipping content, but experiment with it. Conduct some of your meeting in a blended learning style. Allow your teachers to BYOD and then USE THEM! Set up a Twitter conversation to run while you present. IF you want a less public “backchannel” try TodaysMeet. Again, be prepared for failure, but if you don’t model successful and failed attempts at these new(er) teaching tools, do not expect your staff to use them.

5. Abandon PowerPoint– Even if you manage to make a good PowerPoint, it’s not as good as you think. PowerPoint requires passive responses from your audience, at best. At worst, PowerPoint has negative connotations as boring and ineffective, especially when the presenter is on slide 5 of 54! Peter Bregman called it the number one killer meetings. Fortunately he also gives advice for making your meetings more interactive.

6. Chunk your time– Think 10 to 15 minute chunks. Carmine Gallo, for Forbes Magazine, advised readers on why a ten minute presentation is important. However you design your first faculty meeting, use different teaching approaches, technology, and staff input sessions to diversify your teaching. Over a three-hour meeting, this will mean plenty of changing. You can re-use strategies (i.e., have more than one flipped session), but try not to put them back to back.

7. Include your audience– Rather than handing down directives from above, perhaps you offer problems the school is facing, and through dialogue sessions discuss how or why certain solutions will work. Since you are a master teacher, you know you can still direct the audience to “your” answer, but if you help the idea organically grow from their input you will have greater buy-in. Interestingly, if you work this way, teachers will also understand the importance of a new change. Another way to include input could be to have staff create short recorded videos (1-2 minutes) on a rule or procedure important to the school. These videos, then, could be used to inform the students when they return. How powerful would it be to have the teachers convey the new rules rather than the principal running a long meeting with the students? There are dozens more ways to get your staff involved. Rely on your strengths and find what works best for you.

8. Make learning personal– As much as #1 was the key to the entire list, tip #8 offers a full-circle closure. Your staff will only retain the training if it is personal to them. Your veteran teachers and first-year teachers probably should not be in the same meeting the entire time. Perhaps diversify your message by grade-level or subject. You should really consider a needs-assessment for your staff before you begin. Does everyone need to hear everything you deliver? If not, you are wasting their time and squandering opportunities you can push them further.

If you approach your professional development this year as a year-long learning process and not piecemeal, you will find your teachers get more from your meetings!

You Matter and United Way’s The21 Campaign

At 6AM EDT Friday morning, I got the chance to prove to the world Angela Maiers’s belief, “You are a genius, and the world needs your contribution.”

On Friday, June 21, the United Way (@unitedway) ran a 21 hour event called The 21. Together with Google, “The 21 is a twenty-one hour broadcast of live programming in support of worldwide education… This first of its kind event will feature celebrities from the sports world, entertainment, leaders in the education field, and also everyday heroes who are making a difference in their communities through education… Think of it as a telethon reinvented for the digital age, except our goal isn’t to get money, it’s to recruit 21,000 people to pledge to become volunteer readers, tutors or mentors.”

Angela Maiers, co-founder of the Choose2Matter campaign, invited myself, three of my students, and five other professionals, to speak to the United Way and the global community about the Choose2Matter campaign. Angela came to the Downingtown STEM Academy in June and challenged my students to use their genius to change the world. Since that visit, she has been working tirelessly to spread the message of how successful Downingtown STEM Academy students were, and why this is important for public education.

The embedded video is segment grabbed from United Way’s YouTube Video, and slightly edited by me. Make sure you check out my students’ contribution (after a small technology glitch) around 50 minutes.

United Way #the21 from Justin Staub on Vimeo.

Angela Maiers’s town hall forum on the importance of her #YouMatter campaign in the global fight to improve education worldwide.

Below are a few of the key inspirational points I pulled from the video:

“[You Matter] is an “end run” around the school system.” -Mark Moran

“You are a genius, and the world NEEDS your contribution.” -Angela Maiers

“[You Matter] is not about you, it’s about us.” -Shawn Murphy

“Putting people of all ages under pressure to stretch is awesome.” -Ted Coiné

“[Some people] don’t respect children because they are young, and they don’t know anything. We have to fill their brains with knowledge. You know what? Memorizing stuff is not what school should be for. It should be for sparking their creativity.” -Ted Coiné

“If you’re telling me you want to change, get uncomfortable. It will feel different. Trust me, you will enjoy it.” -Tim McDonald

“WE is smarter than ME.” -Angela Maiers

“Those who don’t adapt will have someone else adapt them.” -Mark Moran

Special thanks to the following participants in the video:

An Age of Mass Connectivity

One year ago today, I ventured into the unknown social media world to develop my professional presence and expand my career potential. To date in one year, I’ve tweeted 6,889 times to 1,194 followers. In one year, I’ve posted 65 blog posts, visited 5,652 times by individuals in 76 different countries. We truly are in an Age of Mass Connectivity.

In the 20th year anniversary of Wired, contributors were asked to catalogue the previous twenty years in computer and technology. For his contribution, Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly) asked those working in startups in the Bay Area about their dreams. What follows are some of their thoughts:

“The next big thing will be a new way of deciding what we innovate.” –Michael Glass, Scribd

“We are in a creative revolution of how people work.” –David Albrecht, Crittercism

“This is the age of mass connectivity.” –Santosh Jayaram, Daemonic Labs

“We are widening our collective eye.”

What does this mean for educators, though?

As a friend of mine said,

Education needs to join the Age of Mass Connectivity. In the past year, spurred by Will Richardson’s (@willrich45visit to my school where he urged me to start blogging, I did just that. I also started chatting on Twitter more. I engage in weekly Twitter education chats. Social Studies chat on Monday nights from 7-8PM EDT (#sschat), Educational Technology Chat (#edtechchat) on Monday nights from 8-9PM EDT, Education Chat (#edchat) on Tuesdays from 7-8PM, Parent-Teacher Chat (#ptchat) from 8-9PM EDT, and Saturday Chat for educators (#satchat) on Saturdays from 7:30-8:30AM EDT. I obviously cannot do them all, every week, but I engage as much as I can. This connectedness bore fruits in the past school year.

Because of my social media presence, I connected with New York Times bestselling author, Kenneth C. Davis (@kennethcdavis). He Skyped with my students twice in October, he was so impressed that he came to my school in March.

During the same time, I connected with Dr. Jeff Goldstein, Center Director for the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

After a series of connections, Dr. Goldstein, who leads the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, came to my school to announce the winning team sending their experiment to the International Space Station in November.

Today, my students were in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, receiving official citations for their accomplishment.

Then, because of my willingness connect, I attended EdCamp Philadelphia and met Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers). Then Angela came to my school and encouraged my students to change the world. I don’t doubt they will.

Educators need to connect. In just one year, I’ve managed to do more for my students than I did in the first nine years. Connections help break down walls, walls that in the 21st century are only good at keeping the bugs out. We live and teach in an Age of Mass Connectivity. Reach out and explore. As Dr. Jeff Goldstein says, it’s only with leaving your comfortable place (your home) that you will gain a new perspective of where you are. If you do not press into the “unknown” of a connected classroom, you will never know what possibilities lie on the horizon. Make it your goal this summer to connect. Share this post with someone who is reluctant. Share your experiences. Find out what happens when you stretch to new horizons.

Mindset Summer Book Study

Two years ago I first read Carol Dweck’s Mindset. Every summer I re-read her work and consider how it will change my professional practice. Because of my growing connectedness and sharing via Twitter, I have been asked to lead a Mindset book study this summer. So, here are the details I have worked out so far. Please add comments to this post or to the Schoology group if you want to adapt how we run our book study.

Who: I will moderate most book study sessions. I have no specific experience except having taught in a growth mindset school for two years and putting Dweck’s ideas into practice. I am privileged to work with colleagues who have all read the book and embody the growth mindset.

What: Twitter chats (#mindset13) and reflective discussion posts via Schoology. Create a free account and join our group discussion page.

When: June 24 – August 12 2013 with weekly Twitter chats on Mondays at 3PM EDT.

Where: On Twitter, using the hashtag #mindset13. Also, collected reflections will be posted on an open Schoology group. Please create a free account and join us there.

If you have questions, please add them to the comments below. See you during our Chapter 1 discussion on Monday, June 24, at 3PM EDT!

My First EdCamp: #edcampPhilly Reflections

Four years ago, a group of Philadelphia educators brought the “unconference” movement to education with a new model for professional development called EdCamp. Mary Beth Hertz (@mbteach) provides a more thorough overview for Edutopia.

Today I attended my first #edcamp meetup in Philadelphia. At first I was overwhelmed. I had only talked to many of these individuals on Twitter; what if they didn’t like the real-life me. Or worse, in real life, you are more accountable for your ideas. Would I be as bold to share my thoughts on education?

Experienced edcamp-er Lisa Butler (@srtalisa) welcomed me to the process, and I was captivated. I attended sessions and shared ideas with many awesome individuals. If you are bold, check out the #edcampPhilly hashtag and see our stream-of-conscious ideas from the day. I walked away with a gigantic take-away though.

Modern education is NOT about a sage dispensing information. Education has not really been about this since the widespread use of the printing press and increasing literacy rates. Rather, education is about the lowering of barriers; barriers to information, barriers to service, barriers to success, etc.

Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers) spoke about students connecting with real opportunities to help others in their communities and around the world with Quest2Matter. Let’s lower the barriers and allow students to follow their human desire to help one another. Teachers can then embed learning within these projects and promote inquiry-based, problem-based learning that is completely authentic and creates a closer global community.

Sean Junkins (@sjunkins) and Christine DiPaulo (@ckdipaulo) inspired educators to allow students to innovate using free materials on iTunesU to learn in subjects of their interest. iTunesU provides free content from top universities worldwide. Such access lowers barriers to learning. Students now have access universities of content online. As educators, we need to allow them this opportunity.

Tom Murray (@thomascmurray) and Kristen Swanson (@kristenswanson) led teachers to think about what a model professional development program might look like for educators. In short, professional development must model good teaching. Good teaching, using digital tools, allows students and teachers to connect to content and learning in unfathomable ways.

My day, the various sessions I attended, and the MANY conversations I shared helped me realize we live in a world with lowered barriers to knowledge. With these new connections followed by group action, change will happen more quickly than ever. I am excited about my profession, though teachers face many challenges. We stand on the precipice of fundamental change to the educational system. Learning and knowledge are no longer locked in institutions. These fundamentals of society are everywhere.

Let us, as teachers, lower the barriers to accessing this information. Let us lower the barriers to student success. Let us leverage our connectedness and technology to move the world.

Everyone Can Innovate

Innovation is the buzzword of the 21st century. Perhaps because of the way technology is quickly changing our lives (think Apple, Google, and social media) or because globalism is helping us realize others can do our job just as well (or better) than we currently do. Dan Pink (@danielpink) wrote in his 2006 book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Abundance, Asia, and Automation will take over current economics, and if countries do not adapt to innovate and create, existing superpowers will see an end to dominance. For educators, if our job does not adapt to right-brained, innovative teaching, then our students will be ill-prepared for the future.

So, how does one innovate? It’s not a professional development session of “innovative idea-sharing.” Jonah Lehrer, in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works (yes, I know the controversy over his book, but it’s not all plagiarized) found only 1% of Psychology papers published from 1950 to 2000 focused on an aspect of creativity. Perhaps no one is clear on how to innovate and create.

I believe innovation is a life-style, which ultimately leads to new ideas. Like anything else, I do not think innovation is a gift special to a chosen few. I believe innovation is for those who cultivate it; some have a special gift toward innovative thought. This does not mean individuals cannot learn or practice innovation.

To quote Lehrer, “Every creative journey begins with a problem.  It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find the answer.  We have worked hard, but we’ve hit the wall.  We have no idea what to do next.”  As Larry Page said, “If you’re not doing something crazy, you’re doing the wrong things.”

I’ve made innovation a goal of mine this year. I see many, major problems in education. I also know I am equipped to tackle them, but I need to dedicate energy to creative solutions. Here are my notes on what I’ve been practicing so far this year.

1. Innovation requires time. 3M, one of the most innovative corporations in the world, gives engineers 15% of their time to an innovative idea. Google copied this idea, giving engineers 20% of their time (essentially one day a week) to cultivate innovative ideas. Innovation takes time. Do not think you will turn on your creative juices over night.

2. Effort and Focus. Though 3M gives time back to its engineers, 3M also requires dedicated work to the job. Though the work environment is relaxed, this does not mean no work is done. Rather, innovation requires a strong devotion to an idea. Diligent, direct action can help focus the mind and fix problems. Yo Yo Ma believes his ability to improvise only comes after hours upon hours of practice. Without the effort input, he is not creative. Focus to a goal or a problem is important, but focus can also be detrimental. Focus drives the mind outward, to analytic problem-solving. Caffeine and stimulants help. However, such focus limits right-brained thinking. So, while focus does help, only this intense focus is also bad.

3. Relax. For as much as focus can help you accomplish your goals, so can relaxation. We have all experienced this. The one time in the day when you are disconnected, where you have time to yourself—the morning shower! How many a-ha moments do you have in the shower? It’s not coincidence. First, you are most relaxed immediately in the morning. Also, your brain is finalizing the random right-brained connections from nighttime dreaming, and your relaxation in the morning fosters these creative ideas. Daydream. Meditate. Think positive thoughts. Relax. Whatever technique is best for you, practice it daily. Give yourself this time in the morning, when you are most likely to continue the right-brain connections from sleep.

4. Collaborate & Share. One person cannot figure everything out for oneself. Share ideas among colleagues in different fields. Share ideas with new peers and established peers. A mix of new and old ideas will foster creative thought. Encourage this in schools and model this with students. Avoid brainstorming; brainstorming limits creative ideas. Rather, criticize ideas in positive ways, building on what could make bad ideas better. This encourages new ideas to arise.

5. Fail. You cannot achieve ideas without testing dozens of failed ideas before. Do not be discouraged with failure. Reflect on the reason for failed attempts and build toward success.

6. Lead. Innovation in organizations needs leadership, one who is crazy enough to support new ideas. Latch on to individuals in your organization or community who foster innovative thinking. Find a leader who challenges you. If you cannot find someone, become the leader to tackle new problems with innovative peers. Unless leaders support innovative solutions, the new ideas will only support the existing status quo, not the creative solution result desired.

So, what does my routine look like? I’ve taken my own advice this year, and I have enjoyed looking at problems from uncommon vantage points. Here’s what I do.

  • I get up earlier, adding about 10 minutes to my morning routine. With there small boys, sometimes this isn’t enough.
  • I’ve delayed or eliminated caffeine as much as I can, unless I need to have strict focus to one task. This is easier some times than others.
  • I am trying to meditate and pray more often. I prefer the repetition of the Catholic rosary, but I submit I’ve used simple meditation techniques to the same success.
  • I’ve branched out to so many new peers for collaboration that I could ever imagine. This has led to many new ideas I hadn’t known existed previously.
  • I’ve encouraged these ideas with my students and colleagues.

I have not attained innovation nirvana, nor have I had any million-dollar ideas to save education. I have felt more self-aware of the problems around me, and I feel better prepared to identify future problems than I ever had before.