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Saturday
Nov172018

BFTP: Making kindness my goal

My friend Gary Hartzell once passed along this wonderful link: George Saunders’s "Advice to Graduates" (NYTimes Magazine, July 31, 2013). I hope everyone else in the world reads this very funny, but very touching and very profound granduation speech. In it, Saunders writes:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. 

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.

...kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything.

Read the whole thing. It will take you less than five minutes and you will thank me for asking you to do so.

I often spend time in school buildings, walking about, checking to see if teachers and other staff members are having any problems or have any questions about technology. I am actually able once in a while to fix a tech problem - hooking up a phone, showing some tricks in GoogleApps, setting up e-mail in a teacher's new smartphone, connecting a Chromebook to a Chromecast. Pretty good for me. And most people are happy, friendly, and excited about the work they do.

But then there are the few. Those who are still angry we moved from Office to GoogleDocs (four years ago!) Those whose files did not yet get moved from an old computer to new. Those who find a specific application slow. Those simply frustrated or overwhelmed by technology and/or the new pressures and expectations of today's teaching environment.

I takes genuine effort to be kind sometimes. I don't always succeed. But I think about my teachers dealing with kids who are angry, who are frustrated, who feel overwhelmed - and who face challenges and fears greater than most of us can ever imagine.

I don't know if kindness is contagious - that if by experiencing it, one is more likely to pass it along. I hope so. I make kindness my goal each year.  After all, as Aesop reminds us, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

See also: A Secret Weapon: Niceness

Original post August 27, 2013

Thursday
Nov152018

How to avoid being pecked to death by chickens

like being pecked to death by chickens A steady stream of small, seemingly inconsequential or minor nuisances, which build up over a prolonged period of time and which, eventually, take their toll and exact a heavy price The Urban Dictionary

Those emergencies from a year ago (and a month ago), they’re gone.

Either they were solved, or they became things to live with. But emergencies don’t last. They fade.

Knowing that, knowing that you will outlast them, every single one of them, does it make it easier to see the problem, not the panic? Seth Godin

Godin's post resonated with me. I often have to stop and ask myself when beset by "issues" that come from all directions and need immediate attention  - "Are you going to be worrying about this problem at this time next year?" This is especially true of the first six weeks or so of every school year. Changing personnel, changing schedules, changing processes, new applications, new contractors, new initiatives - all seem to require the technology department's attention. Make that "immediate" attention.

I've learned over the years to let the first quarter of the school year simply be devoted to putting out fires, keeping the plates all spinning, and keeping the clichés echoing. But by late October or early November, the big tasks better be underway - those multi-player, multi-step projects that require planning and meetings and budgets and purchasing and management. 

My biggest concern is that it is too easy to let the small stuff so occupy one's thoughts and time that the big pieces get pushed aside and never get tackled. (See How We Spend Our Days) In my role both as a technology director and as a school librarian, I have had throughout my career the blessing/curse of discretionary time coupled with hands-off supervisors. It was up to me to decide how my days were to be spent - on putting out fires or fire-proofing the building. 

Like most people responsible with major tasks, I break them into discrete pieces. I am not a great project manager, to be sure, but I have learned that the serial accomplishment of discrete tasks that when added together, comprise a major accomplishment is the psychological trick that keeps me moving forward. You gotta love checking off those little boxes.

I'm in my fifth year in my current position as technology director of a 9000 student public school district. And I am retiring at the end of this year after a career in education that has lasted 43 year.s In my last year here I have some major self-imposed tasks - putting together a data security plan, helping create a new long-term technology plan, devising a strategy to keep our network infrastructure reliable, figuring out how to maintain and improve our 1:1 initiative. I have fantastic co-workers who will keep me on task and the work up to their high standards, but the professional responsibility for getting this stuff done, falls on me and me alone.

Our department has a good track record. I looked back and formed this list of major changes our department has spear headed over the past four years:

 

  • Implemented Gmail and GSuite as staff and student primary email and productivity suite
  • Implemented Schoology Learning Management System
  • Implemented Synergy Student Information System
  • Implemented Skyward HR/Payroll/Finance System
  • Implemented Rapid Identify Single Sign On for all major applications
  • Implemented Securly content filter
  • Increased Internet bandwidth to district from 500M to 10G
  • Facilitated two external security/network health audits and used the findings to improve our network
  • Created a comprehensive technology budget organized by state finance codes
  • Helped pass a 10 year technology referendum for $25,000.000
  • Implemented 1:1 Chromebook project for grades 4-12 and added classroom devices to grades K-3 at a 2:1 ratio
  • Updated 1100 wireless access points in 17 buildings
  • Participated in planning and building new high school wing and re-alignment of grade levels in district
  • Moved administrative offices (including tech) to a new building
  • Reconfigured department staffing organization
  • Created new building positions of Digital Learning Specialist to teach digital literacy skills to elementary staff and students
  • Installed a new firewall
  • Replaced all copiers and reduced printers in district by 50%
  • Upgraded VOIP telephone system
  • Constructed multi-year comprehensive technology plans

 

I expect there are a few things I've forgotten (merciful amnesia), but we haven't any of us let ourselves be pecked to death by chickens - yet. OK, back to work.

Tuesday
Nov132018

The Joy of the Short Story

A recent conversation about favorite books we owned as a kid led me to purchase copies of Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful and Ghostly Gallery short story collections. (Anyone else remember "Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons"?) I also started reading The Best American Series: 14 Short Stories & Essays that's been sitting in my to-read Kindle queue for a couple years. 

And I have been enjoying these books immensely.

I'm not quite sure when or why I stopped being a regular reader of short works of fiction. If memory serves, I enjoyed the assigned stories in my English classes as a student and I loved teaching the short story as an English teacher. I still have a copy of the anthology I used in my early teaching days, found in a used book store. Back in the 80s I was a member of a short story discussion club - sort of like a book club but we talked about two or three short stories each month.

Now and then I pick up collections of shorter works. David Sedaris's books are a favorite. I recently read Asimov's I Robot collection. No Middle Name - a collection of Jack Reacher short stories was fun as was Faceoff, a collection of stories in which two popular detectives share a single case. But short works, overall comprise about 1% of what books I read.

A primary advantage of the short form lies, of course, in that you aren't stuck with work you don't like much for very long. You get a faster climax, a quicker resolution to the protagonist's problems. You can take a long time getting through the collection without needing to remember what you've read.

Authors tend to be more careful when writing in the shorter form. Each word needs to count. Characters are concisely developed, scenery is selective, plots tend to stay on course. The work feels more crafted.

If you haven't picked up a collection of short stories lately, give it a shot. You might be surprised to find out that your old high school English teacher knew a thing or two about not just good writing, but enjoyable writing as well.