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Thursday
Aug172017

When do we want creativity?

 

Our district office building is full of teachers this week who are learning how to teach ina prescribed fashion that suits our new reading series - something that is happening in thousands of district around the world.

Yet at the same time, these same teachers are hearing the message from educational reformers that both they and their students need to exercise creativity - that it will be the creative people who, in an economy beset by automation and outsourcing, will thrive.

Teach exactly like this - and be creative.

The question is not whether to go by the book or to try new things, but when to go by the book and when to try new things. In my experience, even the best teaching method, best resources, and best intentions never work with every student. It is for the kid you've told a thousand times and still doesn't get it, as the quote above describes, you need to get creative, ignoring the best practices and school-supplied texts.

When I am in the dentist's chair, I am reassured knowing the professional who has the power to cause great pain or great pain relief is following recommended procedures. But I also would like to think that the dentist, when it is called for, can find a creative solution to a unique toothy problem. It's not if creativity should be used - but when.

Don't value creativity for creativity' sake. Value it because it can solve problems and create opportunities that standard practices cannot.

 

Tuesday
Aug152017

My frustrating war on printers

 

I admit it. I have an irrational dislike of printers and printing. I guess it's not that I dislike the printing itself, but I dislike its cost on both the environment and the school budget in a era where digital methods of information sharing and storage can be used.

It seems like at least a couple times a month, I get a request from someone in the district for a new printer. The request is usually based on the number of feet the requester needs to travel to pick up her/his printing. Confidentiality is also cited at times by nurses, counselors, etc., but we do have a secure means of printing to our copiers.

After three years in this position, I have successfully:
  • Not purchased a new printer or copier
  • Established a building ratio of 1:60 printer ratio (based on nearby district's recommendation)
  • Eliminated non-networked and personal printers
  • Created a monthly cost-per-student by building report shared with principals
  • Created a chart that shows the cost per sheet of printing on different devices
  • Refused to enable printing from Chromebooks
And despite easy sharing with GoogleDocs, 1:1 devices for all kids 9-12, the adoption and widespread use of a learning management system, and a commitment by many teachers to go paperless, our printing costs have gone up slightly - from $1.49 per student in May of 2015 to $1.56 per student in May of 2017. 

OK, readers, is this simply an unsolvable problem, beyond my weak mind to solve - or have you worked in a district or building that has successfully slowed the paper avalanche?
Tuesday
Aug082017

The librarian's most critical skill: time management

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
                                         Annie Dillard

Like most educational administrators/leaders, I have a good deal of discretion in my schedule. There are days, of course, when I have meetings floor to ceiling, but nearly every day I can make choices about how I spent my time. This was also the case when I was a school librarian.

So my work has always been divided between adminitrivia (OKing, time sheets, signing off on purchase orders, etc) and the implementation of larger projects intended to make our schools more effective for more kids.

I've long seen Covey's time management quadrant above as a simple but effective means of evaluating one's tasks. He makes, as I remember, some interesting observations about the relationship of the tasks in the different quadrants. The only way to reduce the amount of time spend in Quadrant I is by doing more Quandrant II work. The only way to free up more time to spend on Quadrant II work is to spend less time in Quandrants III and IV. Easier said than done.

Time management (through the lens of Covey's Quandrants) is the critical skill that separates the effective and non-effective school librarian. In an old column (How we spend our days, November 1996), I added some time management advice:


1) Should someone else be doing this task?
As a taxpayer, I hate seeing a professional educator get paid a professional salary to install software, fix a printer, checkout books or babysit with videotapes. When no one else is available to do an essential clerical, technical or paraprofessional task, the professional often winds up doing it. If the professional spends too high a percent of her day on these tasks, guess what? The position gets “right-sized.”

I would rather manage two media centers or technology programs each with a good support staff than try to manage a single program alone. Consider it.

2) Am I operating out of tradition rather than necessity?
Yearly inventories. Weekly overdue notices. Shelf lists. Seasonal bulletin boards. Daily equipment check out. State reports. Skip doing a task for an entire year and see if anyone really notices. When you’re asked for numbers, estimate. A job not worth doing is not worth doing well.

3) Is this a task which calls for unique professional abilities?
John Lubbock once wrote: “There are three great questions which in life we have to ask over and over again to answer: Is it right or wrong? Is it true or false? Is it beautiful or ugly? Our education ought to help us to answer these questions.”

Computers are wonderful devices, but even the most powerful can’t even start to help us answer these questions. A computer can’t evaluate good materials, comfort a child, inspire a learner, write an imaginative lesson, or try a new way of doing things. If you can be replaced by a computer, you should be. I hope every task you do each day - from helping a child find a good book to planning a district wide technology inservice - taps your creativity and wisdom.

Teachers and principals are wonderful people, but you should spend your time doing what they don’t have the training, temperament or skills to do. What is it that you understand about information use that makes you a valuable resource? What productivity software do you know better than anyone else in the school? What communication, leadership or organizational skills do you bring to a project that really get things moving? Ask yourself what it is that only you can do or that you can do better that anyone else in your organization and spend as much of your day doing it as possible.

4) Is this a job that will have a long-term effect?
In a management class I teach, an interesting discussion revolves around whether a professional should help an unscheduled group of students find research materials, even if it means skipping an important social studies curriculum meeting. It is in our nature to help those who seek our help, and that’s exactly as it should be. But too often, the minutia of the job pin us down, like Gulliver trapped by the Lilliputians, and we make small progress toward major accomplishments. Remind yourself that that the big projects you work on often have more impact on your students and staff than the little attentions paid to them. Spend at least one part of everyday on the big stuff.

I'd like to think that this advice still works today. And I like to think even more that I follow it myself.

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