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

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

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EdTech Update





The Doughnut System of Employee Evaluation

Happy people evaluate themselves; unhappy people evaluate others. William Glasser

One of the goals my boss, Ed the Superintendent, has set for me this year is to conduct a formal evaluation of my district office staff. Let’s see, that’s about a dozen people, ranging from our technology coordinator to secretaries to technicians to printers.

My problem is that I genuinely like these people – every last one of them - because they are both competent and, well, likeable. Sure, once in a while somebody gets on my nerves, but I probably do things that annoy them as well. But largely we really are one big happy dysfunctional family.

This is how I described our current evaluation system in my book Machines are the Easy Part: People are the Hard Part :

Our printer Greg helped me formulate the Doughnut Employee Evaluation SystemTM.

Here is how it works:
1. Let if be known that the best way teachers and administrators can express their appreciation for work above and beyond the call of duty by an employee of your department is to bring that employee a box of pastries.
2. The above pastries are shared with others in the department, custodians, and visitors.
3. The boss keeps track of how many such boxes are given in any employee’s name. The more doughnuts, the better the evaluation.
As supervisor, take credit for one doughnut from each box since you had the intelligence to hire such outstanding individuals.

I tried to convince Ed that this system has been used successfully for about 14 years in the department. He still insists on something more formal (and reminded me that I never earned a single box of doughnuts for him.)

So my question is: Have you ever participated in a review process from which you actually benefited? And what exactly made it beneficial?

1 Comment »
Recently I have decided to work openly and transparently with my faculty. Although I have 6 entrances to the library and a huge bank of windows to a courtyard that others can see into from the hallway and the front of the building, we didn’t seem VISIBLE enough. So,I have started using the intercom after school with the bizarre announcements that spice up life. Here is yesterday’s:
“Mrs. Chen and crew are in the library painting and getting ready for next week’s bookfair. If anyone has any masking tape to send us, they will be in Mrs. Chen’s good graces.”
Five rolls of masking tape came rolling in. Four teachers immediately rushed in, 1 called, 2 caught me in the hallway. Everyone watched avidly while I wrote their names down on my “good list.” Several bargained for favors immediately or watched me write down favors such as “first dibs on lesson time after the bookfair,” “one hour story and lesson time without the teacher,” and my favorite “librarian promises to read 2 stories from the bookfair to a class.” Seems by these standards that I must be doing something right.

Comment by Diane Chen — September 13, 2005 @ 10:43 pm

A Differently-Abled Son

The cartoon of the navel-gazing blue skunk created for this blog was drawn by my “differently-abled” son, Brady - one who has taught me a great deal about meeting the needs and interests of different kinds of learners.

My child number one, Carrie, was (and remains) an academically-oriented student: early reader, good writer, terrific researcher, top grade earner, great test-taker, and maybe even a bit of the teacher’s pet. You looked forward to her parent-teacher conferences.

Child number two, Brady, was an (ahem) indifferent student. He disliked reading for school, did the minimum in class to keep him from failing (mostly), hated any kind of test, and did everything he could to keep the teacher’s attention directed away from him. Let’s just say parent-teacher conferences were interesting.

Yet, both my kids are very bright, good natured, talented, sweet as can be, and wickedly funny. It’s just that one like learning from books; the other liked learning by doing. One pursued a college degree in linguistics; the other is in art school.

Here’s the thing. We as educators have to recognize that both kinds of kids (and probably other varieties as well) need to be excited about school and learning. While traditional education served my daughter very well; it failed Brady to a large extent, except for his art and technology classes.

I know the Bradys are often tougher to teach, to connect with, to motivate - especially for those of us who are ourselves more academically oriented.

But here’s my plea to teachers everywhere. Do what you can to reach those who may not love to learn by reading and listening and worksheets.

I love my son Brady no less than I love my daughter Carrie - I don’t think you should either.

At the end of a hot, muggy exhausting Monday afternoon. - Doug


Balancing Work and Life: The Climb to Eagle Mountain

eaglemt.jpgOne of my best buddies, Cary G., and I took a couple days this week to head to Minnesota’s beautiful North Shore to hike what passes for mountains around here. We conquered Eagle Mountain, Minnesota’s highest point. At 2301 feet, this may not seem like much of a challenge to those of you from less vertically-challenged states like Colorado or Alaska, but we felt the five hours spent on rough trails to get to the top and back was pretty good for a couple of old guys.

The trip itself, of course, was an excuse to have long manly talks about kids, careers, politics, books, movies, and writing. And yes, the subject of women came up a time or two. We’ve been friends long enough that most of our stories are not new, but all the more enjoyable for the re-telling and embellishment. It’s wonderful how past adventures get more dangerous and past loves get more beautiful the further they recede into the past. We are both settling into our role as long-winded geezers very nicely, thank you.

One topic that seemed to be new this year, however, was how we were both attempting to (and are both confounded by) trying to establish some balance between our work and our personal lives. While we both have day jobs, we also do a good deal of writing, consulting, volunteering, and other sideline work that seems nearly as consuming as the day job. We marvel at friends and relatives who work only to earn the money they need to pursue hobbies, and wonder if they’ve made a better choice than we have.

This certainly hit home when I opened my e-mail this morning after being gone a few days. Over two hundred messages with very few of them being spam. (The shoemaker’s elves once again failed to appear!) There were questions regarding school business, of course, columns to be edited, the fall school media conference I am chairing, state technology issues, national library discussions, updates on upcoming events at which I will be speaking, and even about Kiwanis and Lake Association events. I’ve been replying to e-mail now for about three hours, and still have the toughest knot of about a dozen replies yet to go. It’s nearly lunchtime, the sun is shining, the boat beckons, the lawn needs mowing, and I feel like I already need a nap.

In a very real sense, I am very fortunate since my “work” gives me genuine satisfaction. Giving up a beautiful Sunday morning, to take care of business isn’t as painful as it sounds. (It’s only work if you’d rather be doing something else.)

And I know I am not alone in finding that work spills out of work hours, especially among educators. It’s the rare teacher, librarian or techie who doesn’t carry home papers to grade, books to read, professional journals to skim, or software to learn. Most professional organizations rely heavily on volunteers who do things for the good of the group on their own time. I get plenty of business e-mail sent by other professionals either late at night or early in the morning.

So what is the secret to balancing one’s work and leisure time? What parameters do you set for yourself? Should you count work that you enjoy as play? Does all work and no play really make Jack a dull boy? Should a person be able to take a few days off to go hiking knowing that the e-mail won’t get answered in a timely manner? Or is it egotistical to think the world can’t get along without you just fine for a couple days?

Let me know. I could use some help.