Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

Locations of visitors to this page

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Fan Page on Facebook

EdTech Update





Having job security may not depend on what you think

I've been gone on vacation most of the last couple weeks. I hiked The Great Glen Way in the Scottish Highlands - all 79 miles over 7 days and somehow managed to put on 5 pounds. My kind of trip!

Despite my being gone this close to the beginning of the start of a very busy school year, my department seems to have survived just fine without me. Many issues were resolved and many tasks were completed only a very few e-mails crisscrossing the Atlantic.

Does that mean I am not really needed and that my job is at risk?

Possibly, but smart leaders and managers will do their best to keep people who can be absent and still have the operations for which they are responsible run smoothly.

I personally take great pride in that my staff is 1) highly competent, 2) self-motivated and 3) empowered. (Remember that my secret to successful supervision is to hire people who do not need to be supervised.) As with most educational organization we are woefully understaffed which causes problems during busy times, but in general we provide friendly, competent, and timely service.

Too many of us, especially in the tech field, have used having "secret knowledge" as the strategy for establishing job security. If I am the only person on staff who knows how to _____________  my position can't be eliminated. The problem with that strategy is that I know of no skill that is unique to a single individual. And no competent manager would have a department without redundancy or backup support in all mission-critical tasks.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, I would argue that more one empowers others the more valuable to an organization one becomes. And the less likely to be pink-slipped.

See also "Good Leaders Take Vacations"



BFTP: Pig tales: two fables

Two fables. Enjoy.

The pig with the wooden leg

A manure spreader salesmen was driving past a farmyard here in southern Minnesota when he spotted a pig with a wooden leg. His curiosity aroused, he pulled in the driveway and over to where Ole was repairing the corn crib.

"Say, Ole," says the salesman, "that's an interesting pig you got there. How'd he get the wooden leg?"pig.jpg

"Oh, yah," says Ole, "that's some pig. Once when the old barn caught fire, that pig rushed into the flames and let all the animals out of their pens so they could run to safety.

"Anudder time when the river flooded, our whole family was on the roof of the house and about to be swept away when that pig swam to the neighbor's house and swam back towing a fishing boat to rescue us.

" And just last summer when a tornado was coming right at the farm, that pig rounded up all the kids and got them into the storm cellar. The house was a goner, but the kids were OK."

The salesman was amazed. "Wow, that is quite the pig, Ole," says he. "So then, during which adventure was it he lost the leg?"

"Oh, he didn't lose the leg," replied Ole. "It's just that you don't eat a pig that good all at one time."

I've been soliciting volunteers to help with different tasks in our state's school library and technology organization. Little things like serving on committees for the upcoming state conference, writing short articles for the newsletter, and taking part in legislative activities.

What percentage of our 600 member "volunteer" organization steps forward? I'd say we have fewer than 50 people who ever take more than a completely passive role. 8%. And of that 50, maybe 20 who are dedicated. 3%.

Why is this? Why can some people with the same 24 hours in a day, same commitments to family and work, same need for leisure still work on volunteer basis while others simply refuse to participate. I am not condemning anyone since I am absolutely certain everyone has a great reason for doing what they do. And god bless every volunteer effort no matter how seemingly small.

Is it something we current active members are doing? Are we too set in our ways? Too clubby? Too poor at communicating the organization's needs?

Here's my fear. I am afraid like the pig with the wooden leg that we may be eating our best people alive. That at some point they will simply say "I've done my bit, served my debt to society the organization, and I am retiring as a volunteer." And the organization loses a wealth of information and experience and talent.

What is your perspective on this? Does the same active vs. inactive ratio apply in the volunteer organizations to which you belong? And what can we do about it?

Original post February 10, 2009

The Pig And The Horse

There was a farmer who collected horses; he only needed one more breed to complete his collection.

One day, he found out that his neighbor had the particular horse breed he needed so he constantly bothered his neighbor until he sold it to him. 

A month later, the horse became ill and he called the veterinarian, who said, "Well, your horse has a virus. He must take this medicine for three days. I'll come back on the 3rd day and if he's not better, we'll have to put him down."

Nearby, the pig listened closely to their conversation. The next day, they gave him the medicine and left. 

The pig approached the horse and said, "Be strong, my friend. Get up or else they're going to put you to sleep!"

On the second day, they gave him the medicine and left. The pig came back and said, "Come on buddy, get up or else you're going to die! I'll help you get up. Let's go! One, two, three..."

On the third day, they came to give him the medicine and the vet said, "Unfortunately, we're going to have to put him down tomorrow. Otherwise, the virus might spread and infect the other horses."

After they left, the pig approached the horse and said, "Listen pal, it's now or never! Get up, come on! Have courage!  Come on! Get up! Get up! That's it, slowly! Great! Come on, one, two, three... Good, good. Now faster, come on.... Fantastic! Run, run more! Yes! Yay! Yes! You did it, you're a champion!"

The owner came back, saw the horse running in the field and began shouting, "It's a miracle! My horse is cured. This deserves a party. Let's kill the pig! 

I've thought about this fable this fall as I see our department work so diligently to get our classrooms ready. Too often our hard-working "pigs" do most of the work and get too little of the credit. Nobody truly knows which employee actually deserves the merit of success, or who's actually contributing the necessary support to make things happen. (See Technicians - the unsung heroes) Personally, I believe it is the true leader's responsibility to make sure recognition is given where recognition is due.

Original post July 16, 2011




Should we be looking at gift horses in the mouth?

Earlier this school year, a resident called one of our school board members about a request for a piece of technology made by a teacher via a crowd funding site. "Why," asked the community member, "after recently passing a sizable technology funding referendum are teachers still begging for money for technology?"

Interesting question.

Despite our referendum being quite sizable and having a clear, transparent, and public plan for its use, some technology wants still go unmet. I cannot imagine the amount of money that would satisfy the requests for educational resources of every staff member in our district.

Yet is asking for donations a good way to fund classroom technology? Gary Stager, per usual, doesn't hold back in his blog post NO! I Will Not Buy Your Damn School Supplies! August 21, 2016. He writes:

I will not help teachers commit suicide by supporting these feel good attempts to turn basic public school funding into an act of charity. Each time educators normalize deprivation and substitute charity as social justice withheld, they will find themselves with fewer classroom resources. Such actions also spurn greater public school privatization and devaluing of teachers.

Q:      You know who should pay for school supplies?

A:      Tax payers!

While Gary has a strong moral position on school funding by donation, there are some pragmatic downsides as well. I have long argued that any resource that relies on fundraising or donations will always be viewed as an extra, not as a critical need in an educational system. (The warning was primarily given to school librarians who relied on book fairs and PTOs for book budgets.) Society must fund schools in an equitable and adequate manner to create a strong workforce and educated electorate.  Donations can cause inequity within a district (or building), especially in districts where some schools are located in wealthier neighborhoods than others.

Yet I also have to applaud the efforts of dedicated parent organizations who have raised tons of money for technology (when the district could not or would not fund it), playgrounds, school signage, etc. We take great pride in providing backpacks full of school supplies each fall for students in need via community donations and in packing food for children in poverty to eat over the weekend all year long. (The last helping develop empathy and compassion among our high school students who participate in the volunteer activity.) Whether it be schools, parks, museums, or sports facilities, there are few institutions that do not accept - or indeed don't solicit - donations. Even our tax code encourages such giving by making charitable donations tax deductible.

This is a question of course that calls for balance and a bit of wisdom. It is not a matter of accepting donations, but have smart rule about who and how the funds can be requested and especially about how they can be used. And it calls for district-wide guidelines. Jennifer Fink in  Crowdfunding the Classroom.  (District Administration, September 2016) writes:

The ease with which anyone can create a crowdfunding request—for just about anything—is exactly why districts need policies. Otherwise, administrators may need to turn down a crowdfunded kiln because the school doesn’t have an appropriate ventilation system—or send back computers that aren’t compatible with the district’s equipment.

Furthermore, without polices in place, administrators have no control over inappropriate requests, and no established procedures for guaranteeing donor expectations are met.

Policies ensure accountability, transparency and coordination.

Were I setting school policy, I might first work to determine what should be considered foundational, basic resources that should be available to every student and then require that donations only are used to acquire materials that are truly supplemental or even experimental.

Of course making those determinations will be tricky. That iPad or Smartboard in the kindergarten room - basic or supplemental?

Image source

Faithful Blue Skunk readers may have noticed a gap in my postings. Between school start up and a vacation, I've neglected my shared ruminations. I hope to be back on track starting now!