Posts in Education
My Interview on Productive Magazine

It's no secret that I love Nozbe as a todo list and project manager.  When Michael Sliwinski invited me to be on the cover of their back-to-school edition of Productive Magazine (sponsored by Nozbe), I was humbled and thrilled.  

In the interview, we discuss school, productivity and how educators can help students be more effective in their daily studies.  Enjoy!


Six Blogs Every School Leader Should Read
Photo courtesy of FDP

Photo courtesy of FDP

Taking a page from Chris Brogan, founder of Owner Magazine, I decided to make 2014 the year of "RVR".  What's that?  Simply put, each letter stands for a different word that I'm trying to practice each day.  They are:

Routine

Vision

Riches

While I'm not going to go into the detail of each word or why I chose these three, suffice it to say that each means a lot to me and represents something I'm trying to work on.  As a school leader, the first word really rings true.

School people are all about routine. Most that I work with get into work at the same time each day, arrange their day the same way each day and do their work moving from one routine to the next.  Homeroom leads to period one leads to a bell which leads to period two and so on.

For me, routine runs throughout my day but it also is important with how I begin my day.  Here's what it looks like for and average day:

  • Wake up at 5:15am
  • Make coffee
  • Go to my home study and have devotions
  • Read & journal
  • Shower
  • Head to work by 6:30am

The reading part is something I've made very concrete and directly linked to my "R" for routine.  I read the same blogs every day and check the same websites in a particular order.  While this may seem strange (I've head that before!), it grounds me and keeps my days pointing towards a similar direction.  

I suggest six blogs that are helpful for school folk:

  1. Michael Hyatt - Michael is the best leader I know at productivity and platform building (something educators can do better).
  2. The Energy Project - Tony Schwartz reminds us to work smarter each day.
  3. Michael Sliwinski - The founder of Nozbe, Michael offers heartfelt advice for getting more out of your work. (you can try Nozbe for free here)
  4. The Atlantic / Education section - Sometimes controversial and always thought provoking, The Atlantic is all about learning and teaching.
  5. MindShift - MindShift is the #1 blog for schools and offers several posts per week that challenge the way schools have been "doing school" for the past fifty years.
  6. Eduleadership - Justin Baeder offers practical advice on hiring good teachers, observing them fairly and increasing your productivity.  

These are what I read every day.  What's on your digital bookshelf?

Debriefing the Annual NCEA Conference (or any for that matter)

Each year I try to take my team to the National Catholic Education Association conference the week after Easter. I've been successful three of the last four years and the one year I wasn't able to make it, my team went without me (good!).  This year was in Pittsburgh and it was awesome.  Great speakers, lots of fun and tons of learning.  

If you'd like to see my slidedeck for my presentation, Productive Leadership, click here.

Back to the conference.  We go because of the following reasons:

  • Conferences mean learning.  With hundreds of workshops to attend, you're bound to learn a few things about PLC's, project-based learning, technology and much more.
  • Conferences let people network.  Breakfast meetings, Twitter meet-ups, lunch meet and greets- all provide you with opportunities to network and connect with other educational professionals.  
  • Conferences allow you to explore different cities.  Since NCEA is in a different city each year, there's new things to see and of course, plenty of food!  (which equals bonding since food brings people together)

I typically spend the week after a conference (like NCEA) doing the following:

  1. Input any business cards into Evernote.
  2. Email individuals that I met at the conference.
  3. Process any paper notes that I took.
  4. Submit my expense receipts to the business office.
  5. Refer business contacts to folks at work.
  6. Deseminate notes I took for my coworkers who were not able to be at NCEA.

This process works well for me.  What do you do to debrief a conference?

Prepare to be Misunderstood

Great leaders are often misunderstood. This is certainly true in a school setting.  Lean in the direction of being too top-down and folks will feel that you're not being collaborative enough.  Lean in the direction of constructivist leadership and you'll be accused of being too soft.

Prepare to be misunderstood.  School leaders have to learn this essential truth.

Andy Stanley's book, Choosing to Cheat articulates the skill it takes to put first things first and manage your schedule with laser-like precision.  You'll have to ask:

  • what 2-3 things can I do best for the sake of my organization? 

This isn't an ego trip as you answer the question. Rather, it's about being very clear on what you bring best to your school.  

For me, the best things I can bring are: planning, writing, speaking, Board work and meeting with people.  

This means that the following have to take a back seat: unnecessary meetings, day to day management and external commitments that don't leverage my skills.

It also implies that you're going to have to get good at saying "no".  Take today for example, I was scheduled to attend a college planning event for 100 people.  I'm obviously not there since I'm writing this blog post!  I made a decision to commit to things where my voice would be heard more clearly rather than in a sea of 100 people.  They don't really need me if they have 100 others to participate and I can focus on school-related projects instead.

So... what 2-3 things are you best at?  How ready are you to be misunderstood as you execute those 2-3 skills?

What You Must Forget as a School Leader

When I worked in Baltimore, we wanted to be like the fancier school down the street.  When I was in New Hampshire, we wondered what the other school was doing related to marketing and advertising.  In Jersey, our small Catholic school tried to emulate a larger one the next town over.

School leaders go for this kind of thing- it makes us feel like we are Sam Walton who legendarily would spend time in rival department stores.  Today school administrators routinely browse the websites of their competitors.  After all, you might pick up a few things that you can steal, ahem, borrow.  

And now... we are trying to just be ourselves.  My school spent years trying to be someone else.  The bigger school.  The trendier school.  The more monied school.  Then, we began working on being "ok" with ourselves.  After all, if we were honest with ourselves, our school was pretty darn good.   Make that great.  And it still is.  

This is one of the biggest insights that school leaders need to have.  Forget what the next guy is doing and work harder than the next guy at being yourself.  It's not about being complacent or forgetting your competitive edge.  It's about being honest with what makes your school truly special.

Competition has a shelf life.  To always be longing for "what the next guy has" is exhausting.  Better to stick with what you know best, do it consistently and toot your own horn.  

Forget about the next guy- be yourself and be it with humility and confidence.  

Five Ways to Make Exams Less Painful for Kids

It's that time of year- mid term exams.  My kids are stressed about them.  My students at school are stressed too.  Many teachers think that exams help students learn.  We think that they motivate kids or that exams serve as some kind of academic vegetable dish- not very tasty but good for you.  

Exams are part of our education system and there actually are a few things we can do to make them tolerable for students.

So what can you do starting this year?  Here are some examples:

  1. Do away with exams all together.  While this is a stretch for most schools, it actually is possible to do away with mid-term and final exams.  Portfolios, oral presentations and capstone projects are all ways to circumvent the "exam" frenzy this time of year.
  2. Minimize announcements before and after exams.  As in the a.m. blurbs over the P.A. system- cut them down dramatically during exam week.
  3. Make it fun.  Why not host a pizza party to mark the end of exams and celebrate?
  4. Teach your teachers to chill out.  Many teachers, instead of easing kids into the routine of exams, heap more stress on them.  Help them be calm and nourish calm before, during and after the testing period.
  5. Challenge your leadership team to rethink exams.  Is there a smarter way to do them?  Is your schedule conducive to student success?  Ask the tough questions so that your school's approach to exams always stays fresh.

So here's the deal- you could do all of these things.  The real question is, will you?