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EdTech Update





10 time savers for library and tech professionals

I have the undeserved reputation of being a hard worker. Our school’s technology department runs as smoothly as one can expect these things to run. I manage to get a few things written and published each year and take an active part in several professional and community organizations. I take all my vacation time, watch too many movies, socialize, and get in a bit of exercise. But I am truly at heart, a very lazy individual.

As media and technology professionals we are being asked to do an increasing number of tasks that are often increasingly complex. As schools reduce “support” personnel, those of us remaining are picking up the slack. It behooves us all to thing about our time management skills. May I share a few of mine?

  1. Never do something you can foist on to someone else. (Oops, I mean delegate.) If you have support staff, use them to the maximum. It’s surprising how talented and creative people can be when you ask it of them. On the flip side, insist that anyone you supervise does not put in unpaid overtime. Period.

  2. Examine whether work that takes up your time is worthwhile. Some tasks are simply not worth doing or not worth doing very well. For many reports and inventories, if you can be 90% accurate that’s good enough. A job not worth doing is not worth doing well.

  3. Examine whether the work is really yours. I have never liked the whine “It’s not my job.” but sometimes we really aren’t the right person for some jobs we are asked to do. I no longer review and recommend curricular software. That is no more my job than reviewing textbooks – it should be done by content area curriculum writers. Be careful about this one through. If a job is mission critical, it can add to your job security.

  4. Some projects just need to be dumped, losses cut. I don't to do this often, but every once in awhile it's about all you can do.

  5. Never save anything that you know somebody else keeps. You can always get it from the other person. I only have one small file drawer and I probably only look at half a dozen folders in it. A good filing system for saved files on your computer is a real time saver.

  6. Toss ALL junk mail and just skim journals and magazines. I read one article out of fifty, but still feel fairly in the know.

  7. Use the e-mail delete key early and often. Set your e-mail filter to eliminate as much spam as possible and to direct messages from listservs into their own folders. Read listserv subject headings and mass delete those of little relevance. Only check your e-mail a couple times a day.

  8. Spend the last hour of each week just get the top of your desk cleared off. The illusion of control is important and a neat desk is a good way to start any week. Spend a morning twice a year to clean and organize your office. A few minutes organizing saves lots of time in the long run. (Great task if the network is down.)

  9. Learn to take breaks when needed. Nothing slows me down like a brain-clog – a task that is seemingly impossible to complete. Get away from it, take a short walk, get a fresh cup of coffee, and then come back to it.

  10. Like what you do. If you are miserable in your job, find a different line of work. If you have a passion for your work, it’s not really work at all.

All these suggestions are easy to make, but difficult to practice. But it is important to our patrons, our organizations, and to ourselves that on a daily basis we consciously evaluate how we direct our energies. As Annie Dillard reminds us, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."


Empathy and ITEM


I have given a breakout talk at our state school library/technology conference every year except one since 1990. You'd think the conference organizers would have gotten wise by now. This year my talk is called "Developing Empathy in Every Learner." I created the presentation a few years ago as an online presentation but I don't think I ever given it F2F.

In my dotage, my FOMO seems to be lessening and am not making the least bit of effort to present on topics at the bleeding/leading edge of either technology or school libraries. I will leave those topics to younger, more rabid practitioners. Instead, I want to go deeper into more the foundational areas of education which to me are more important and interesting anyway.

So here's a snippet from my Friday talk:

What surprised me in my research ... was not learning what empathy is - but what it is not. In trying to synthesize some things, here are a few "myths of empathy": 

  1. Empathy is a value. Jonathan Aberman states that is a tool, like reading, writing or computer literacy, not a value. Sounds harsh, but empathy is not always used in positive ways. One can use empathy to manipulate!
  2. Empathy is a weakness - it's is the same as being a pushover. Far from it. Those who have learned to understand the feelings, motivations and others actually have a tremendous advantage in any relationship. (Think about how knowing what buttons to push could make your brother or sister really angry!)
  3. Empathy comes in only one flavor. Yes there is the emotional, touchy-feely side of empathy, but there is also cognitive empathy. (Some would add compassionate empathy as well.)
  4. Empathy means sharing others values - not disagreeing with them. Not at all. One can understand another's values, point-of view, and respect their conclusions, but not agree with them. You can be empathetic and try to persuade others to change their minds.
  5. Empathy is a natural attribute - you have it or you don't. Many writers, including Art Costa in his Habits of Mind, combine empathy and listening as interdependent skills. If we can help people become better listeners, it follows that we can help people be more empathetic. There are many activities (another area I am still reseaching) designed to build empathic skills.
  6. Empathy should be an attribute of followers, rather than leaders. In "Habit 5 - Seek first to understand"- of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,  Stephen Covey writes, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Highly effective people, especially leaders, actually listen - in order to lead more effectively. 
  7. Empathy is only necessary when trying to understand what others are saying. If one wants to "sell" others on an idea, a project, or a value, one must understand that the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) criteria that has to be met to make the sale. And one has to understand other's needs in order to offer a meaningful WIIFM argument. Pink in his book To Sell Is Human, calls this "perspective-taking" and is "an essential quality in moving others today."

Like many of you I'm sure, I believe empathy has intrinsic value. It makes us better human beings, adds richness to our lives, and simply makes the world a better place in which to live. But education has become wholly oriented toward vocational/academic training. So real educators must again revert to subversiveness, assuring parents and politicials that empathy is a "business skill" - a "21st century skill - a "leadership" skill.

If that's what it takes, so be it.

Looking forward to seeing my Minnesota library world colleagues at the conference!


Find your teachers and tell them: guest post by Kelly Silwani

Kelly Silwani, a past president of the Ohio Educational Library Media Association, shared a lovely response to my blog post "Kind act of the year award" about finding and recognizing teachers who have made a difference in our lives.  I asked her if she would be willing to expand her comment into a guest blog post and she was kind enough to do so. Find the touching reminisce below...


My grandmother, Mabel Motts, is in the middle row, far right with the polka dotted dress.  Miss Thomas is right below her with the white blouse with the bow.

I’ll let you in on a little secret . . . I have a ritual that I perform every year on the first day of school. Before I turn on the lights in the library, I stop inside the entrance and say, “I made it grandma.” My grandmother is no longer with us, and passed away before I got my first job as a teacher-librarian, but she was very influential in my life, helping me to become the person, the teacher, the librarian, I am now.

Maybe it was melancholy or nostalgia, I’m not sure, but whatever it was, I spent a lot of time this last summer reflecting on the people in my life, who were great examples of what it meant to be a great teacher. One in particular, Miss Thomas, was my second grade teacher. The more I thought about her, remembered what she did for me, the more I wanted to tell her how important she was, but I had no clue where to find her and Google was no help. As the summer went by, she was in my thoughts almost every single day. I had to find her and tell her. She needed to know her support for my love of reading, her kindness, and her faith in us as students, put me on the path to becoming a school librarian. As fate would have it, I happen to be a member of a Facebook group that supports alumni from the school district I attended. I decided to take a chance and reached out to the group. In July, I posted a question and asked if anyone remembered her or knew how to contact her. Within a few hours, and through the magic of the internet, someone sent me a private message with her contact information.

When Miss Thomas and I spoke by phone a few days later, I made sure right away to let her know how much she influenced the woman and teacher I am now. She commented how wonderful it was to hear what I had to say, because she always wondered if she ever really made a difference in the lives of any of her students. I assured her she influenced so many of us and offered to add her to the alumni Facebook group so she could see for herself all the wonderful comments her former students made about her, and read for herself how she influenced them. Our talked turned to my grandmother because I knew Miss Thomas and my grandmother had taught at the same school. She said she believed her first year of teaching was the last year my grandmother taught.

Shortly after that phone conversation, I visited Miss Thomas at her home. She shared sweet stories about my brother, cousin, and me. She talked about her path to becoming a teacher and her life now. I shared with her my journey, stories about my husband and kids, my love of reading and teaching and what it meant to me to be able to share all of that with her. She pulled out a photo album to show me. Back in the day, the school would take a picture of each class with their teacher and a separate photo of all the staff members in the school. As I turned the page of the album, there in the first staff photo was my grandmother. All at once so many emotions poured into me . . . love, loss, missing her, wishing she was still here to share my life and who I’ve become . . .so many things I just can’t put into words. I had seen so many pictures of my grandmother but never, ever one of her as a teacher. In that moment I was connected to my grandmother across time . . .teacher to teacher. By reaching out to my 2nd grade teacher to share her impact on me, I was given a gift. A gift I would have never known had I not dared to find her.

This year, as I walked into the library on the first day of school I said something a little bit different. I said, “I made it grandma. I made it Miss Thomas. Thank you both for being in my life.”

Please find your teachers. Please tell them how they helped you or saved you or inspired you. They need to hear it. In my case, not only did my teacher help me and inspire me when I was a kid . . .but again, as a kid all grown up.

Kelly Silwani @silwani4scifi

My second grade class. I’m in the bottom row, second from the right.