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The joys of throwing things away


dumpster.jpgIt's been a quiet week here in Lake Woebegone. (Oh, I think that line's been used.) But it has been a fairly quiet week here in the district. Lots of folks using up those last vacation days before our new fiscal year starts in July. No equipment from next year's budget can be received until next week by state law. A big WAN upgrade project that was to be done this week had to be postponed. But the "quiet" week has allowed me to do something I love to do. (No, not nap.) Clean my office.

 One big source of motivation was some work our entire department has been doing over the past couple weeks - cleaning the work area of our AV technician. The position was eliminated this year. There is just no economic incentive for repairing $39 DVD players. The old fellow who had the position was retiring. The time was right. In cleaning out the "bench" area where the AV tech had been housed, we discovered a treasure trove of, well, junk. Hundreds of broken machines cannibalized for parts; various testing machines that could have come directly from Dr. Frankenstein's lab; lots of parts for equipment we no longer owned; repair manuals for equipment I'd never heard of. Need sealed sets of the Macintosh operating system 7.1? Piles and piles and piles of detritus some 20 years in the making by two techs who could simply not throw anything away. There was enough to fill two dumpsters of the size pictured above. We now have  a space that is usable.

Combine this  experience with having had a mom who demanded you wear clean underwear just in case you were struck by a car and had to be taken to the hospital. One wouldn't want the word getting out that the Johnsons didn't wear clean BVDs. With the upcoming trip to Ireland, I wouldn't want the word getting out that I didn't keep a clean office either if I was in an accident there and I didn't make it back.  So I cleaned house - drawers, bookcases and files.

It was great fun, actually. Among the things I tossed were:

  • a 1989 promotional videotape for the school district
  • Our district's Y2K plan
  • Large notebooks from various state planning initiatives
  • Lots and lots of technology planning books from the 1980s
  • A whole drawer full of orphaned cables
  • My well-loved manual for FileMaker Pro 3
  • All my blank 5 1/4 floppy disks
Anyway, I am now down to  two filing cabinet drawers from a dozen fifteen years ago. I have space on my shelves and room in my desk drawers. My desktop is orderly. All my books are in one place. My Jesse Ventura bobble-head and Nancy Pearle librarian action figure have regained places of prominence on my shelves.

A couple things struck me very hard while cleaning. We have been trying to figure out what to do with technology in education for what seems like a very, very long time. Glancing at the old guides from the 1980s, the same questions were being asked that are being blogged about today. Here is an excerpt from the (typed) Technology Utilization Plan of District 77, Mankato Public Schools, November 1983:

"... As society is evolving, it is apparent that technology will be a major factor in the lives of all individuals and that, in order to be productive, and individual will need to be able to adjust to the changes that technology will introduce... It is critical, then, for an educational institution to help all citizens accommodate the implications of technology by providing opportunities for people of all ages, including females, minorities and the disabled to be com literate in the developing levels of technology."

The tech survey showed the district using Apple II, Apple II Plus, Apple IIe, TRS-80 computers, and Burroughs Remote Terminals. As plans go, however, it was well done and pretty far sighted. 

If only our pedagogy had improved as rapidly as our hardware over the past 25 years!

The other thing that tickled me, though, was going through old articles I had clipped and saved. (Yes, my children, before the days of we actually had to take scissors and use file folders to save and keep things we might want to read again - provided we could find them.)

One "found" article I was particularly struck by was by Michael G. Fullan called "Change: A Guide for the Perplexed," from his work, Doubts and Certainties, NEA National Center for Innovation (1992).  He lists "8 lessons that emerge from looking at change as non-linear, as paradoxical, as demanding the togetherness of elements that appear at first glance to be mutually exclusive." These are:

  1. You can't mandate what matters.
  2. Change is a journey, not a blueprint.
  3. Problems are our friends.
  4. Vision and strategic planning come later in the process, not at the beginning.
  5. Individualism and collectivism must have equal power.
  6. Neither centralism nor decentralism works.
  7. Connect with the environment.
  8. Every person needs to be his or her own change agent.

Take a few minutes to clean your office/work area this summer. You will be delighted by the things you find. And if you are in an accident, you won't embarrass your mother by leaving a cluttered work space.

 Now, to clean those old files from my computer hard drive, delete those old e-mails, label and arrange my 3649 photos in iPhoto...

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Reader Comments (7)

The amazing thing is that now with the blogosphere, such insightful comments as Michael Fullan's can no longer be lost but saved in a way in which they can be found. (Good by clippings folder, as you say.)

These points are amazing and should be shared!
June 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterVicki A Davis
Doug, Thanks for reminding me that I should "clean house" occasionally..... I have SO much "stuff" on CDs, pen drives (five to be exact), floppies, my filing cabinets, and I could go on and on!!! When I return to my work area from NECC, I fully intend to do some "house-cleaning", even though it will hurt my heart to destroy some of the wonderful memories!

Will you be at NECC? If you are not, and I don't encounter you there, I hope you and the LWW have a wonderful trip to Ireland! (FYI....I think you might just be a LMW) I browsed the Web site and it was awesome!!! Have fun!!!! Jerrie
June 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJerrie
Hi Doug! Thanks for reminding me of the need to clean up. Now, before I clean up my room, which will be an awesome and arduous task, I will start cleaning up my mind. You see, I'm in this reflective mode, and I need to clean up and/or get rid of those "old and destructive" thoughts and attitudes that are cluttering up my mind and hindering me from doing and learning something new and different. I'm back from ALA in N'awlins, and am energized with fresh ideas, renewed commitments, and meeting new and veteran contacts that will help me clean up my mind and refocus on those things which are important to me as a library professional.

"They" say confession is good for the soul and is certainly cathartic and cleansing to some extent. You will hear some of my confessions/cleansing when we meet at NECC. These confessions will only propel me to do better and be more effective as the SIGMS leader.

One final point. My grandmother, who I love and miss dearly, also told me about the clean underwear just in case of an accident line as well. She also told me other wise life-sustaining things as well. But the clean underwear stays on mind, since I'm prone to accidents!

Thanks for sharing!!!
July 1, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Lemmons
Hi Karen,

What a wonderful post. Thanks so much. If only tossing out all that old mental junk were as easy as pitching out an old computer! I know I still have plenty of worn out and obsolete beliefs in my head.

All the very best and have a great summer,

July 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson
Oh, yes, cleaning out is needed and can also be fun, kind of an emotional catharsis even. We cleaned out bunches of old equipment about a year or so ago. We gained lots of space. I also try to clean out my office at least once a year to cut down on the piles of stuff (I am going to write an article one day called "organization by pile").
July 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy
You have a new reader here! I like your observations on how perspective has and has not changed on the "How should we utilize technology?" question. Teaching is process-oriented, not destination-oriented. Why do we keep trying to fit this square peg into that round hole?

But more than that, I truly liked your ruminations on cleaning out the offices, files, desks, etc. I'm a music teacher, and many of us tend to be packrats! Throw NOTHING away! You never know when it can be used as an instrument! Perish the thought! The truth is, as children learn better in an uncluttered environment, I plan, and teach better in an uncluttered environment!

Have a safe trip to Ireland. I have your pages bookmarked!
July 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPatricia Smith
Imagine finding a pair of underwear IN your desk drawer! (Ask any kindergarten teacher or school nurse about this).
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterToni

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