Friday, October 13, 2017

Where Have I Been and Why I've Not Been Blogging

I realize my blogposts have dropped off precipitously lately, but there is a simple explanation: I've been working on my doctoral dissertation. The simple truth is that all the writing energy I could muster has been directed toward the creation of that document. Now, I am drawing closer to finishing it. My hope is to defend in November, and then graduate in December. It has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

I won't bore you with the details of my dissertation, after all, I am not entirely sure anyone would wish to read it anyway. But, I will say that it has been one of the most challenging things I've ever undertaken. With the end drawing near, I certainly hope to once again take up this blog again after this process is done. If anything, I might just have more to contribute to the conversation about public education more now than I ever have.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Having Trouble Organizing Your Google Drive? Take Charge with These Tips

Managing documents in your Google Drive account can be problematic, especially if your district and your staff use Google Docs, Google Slides, or Google Sheets a great deal. What do so that you can access those documents you need to use the most? How can you organize those documents that are shared with you continuously? I think I have found a system that works, at least for me.

Since the premise of Google Drive is more collaborative that individual, that means you have to work with a product with this in mind, and carefully organize it to meet your individual needs. Speaking with others, the most common approach is create a series of folders to organize your documents, but if you use too many folders, then the problem of remembering which folder your put that inventory document or that course syllabus becomes enormous. Keeping folders to a minimum is a must. So, I designed my system with five folders that capture every single document I need ready access to. Here's those five folders and what I place in them.

Working Docs: I place any ongoing Google Doc that relates to a current project I am undertaking. It might be a presentation I am developing and will be using in staff development in the near future. It might be a letter to parent that I am writing, or a new schedule I am developing for my school in the coming weeks. The general rule here? These are documents under construction that I will be getting back to short-term.

To-Do Items: This folder is for those documents that require action in the future. It might be a request for information or a form that needs to be completed in the future. If someone shares a Google Doc with me requiring future action, I make a copy of it and place it here. These are all documents that correspond to a "To-Do" Item on my Google Keep To-Do List. (I'll do a blog post shortly that shows how I use this Google App.) If I start working on a doc in this folder and not finish, I move it to my Working Docs folder.

Templates: This is one of my favorite folders. I have begun to make Templates for those docs that I find myself recreating often, such as my Staff Memo or my Parent Newsletter. I simply make a copy of the template in my Working Docs folder when I am working on these items. Over time, I will develop a complete library of personalize templates for use on any occasion.

Current School Documents: In this folder I place those documents that are mostly complete but that I find myself referring to quite often. For example, I have my school master schedule, daily class schedule, bell schedule, and many other documents that I will most likely refer to at least once a day or week. The central office often asks for a copy of these documents. I don't have to search for them.

Archive: This is the folder of everything else. All documents end up here when I am no longer working on them or they are no longer needed. Because this is fully searchable, as is all of Google Drive, I can locate items here through the search function. The key here is: make sure your documents have unique names.

In addition to these folders, I have also set up a Team Drive for my school. In this folder, I and my staff can place most used documents and those documents under construction that are totally collaborative.

So far, I've found few problems with this system. If someone shares a Google Doc with me, I immediately make a copy of it, and file it in one of these folders.

Google Drive Folders and Team Drives

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Should Children Play Football? Is It Safe? No, It Is Not

"Wherever I go," writes Dr. Bennet Olmalu in his new book, Truth Doesn't Have a Side, "people ask me one question more than any other: 'Dr. Omalu, is it safe for my child to play football?' The answer is simple. 'No it is not."

With those words, the physician who discovered that NFL players suffer and have died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, makes it clear that no matter what coaches may say. No matter what helmet manufacturers or football safety equipment designers say, playing football is not safe. Olmalu makes it clear that the human head is not designed to absorb the blows that often occur during the game of football. He write that animals like woodpeckers have built-in shock absorbers to protect their brains from impact forces, but humans do not.

In addition to not having brains capable of absorbing the impact of hits, he also points out that the football helmet is not designed to help. It protects the skins from cuts and perhaps the fracturing of the skull, but it does nothing to help with the jarring of the brain inside the skull. Add the fact that the brain doesn't have the ability to repair itself like other bodily organs, there is a problem with any activity that ,damages the brain.

No one asked me if I would again play football as I did in high school many years ago. Nor did anyone ask me if I could once again coach high school or middle school football as I once did. I'll answer anyway: "No, to both questions."

If I could replay my life again, I would not play football when I was high school, because I would have avoided that knee injury that ended my play then and has prevented me from being as active as an adult as I've wanted to. It has resulted in two surgeries and years of pain as well.

As for the coaching? I'm fairly sure I could not in good conscience, with all the increasing scientific evidence, enthusiastically encourage our youth to strap up and use their bodies as missiles either. As Dr. Omalu points out so clearly, humans aren't made for that. Of course, one could argue that "Humans weren't made for flying either." True...that's why I don't do that often ether.

The truth is, and I think Dr. Omalu makes this point very well: Adults choosing to play football with all its risks is one thing. They are mature enough to weigh the risks and decide for themselves. Children? Well, there's a reason why they're prevented to making decisions about risky behavior. As a parent, as a teacher, as a coach, and as a principal, we have children in our families and in our schools playing football. Let's just make sure these little ones teenagers aren't playing and taking the risks for us so that we can enjoy the "glory" of football. Personally, that's one sacrifice I can't make.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Advice to New Teachers 2017: Teaching as Stepping Stone and Not Career

As a 28 year experienced educator my advice for those entering the profession this year is simple. There was a time when teachers could expect that teaching would be a career. You could expect to enter a profession that valued your work and that would do everything it could to keep you satisfied and committed to teaching in the long term. Times have changed drastically.

The current system values educators who are short-timers. It treasures those who will use teaching as a stepping stone to other endeavors. It does not want educators who are dedicated and committed to a life of educating the young. It simply wants educators who want to make short-term gains and move on.

To the new teachers who begin their careers this year, my advice is simple. Take advantage of a system that simply wants to get as much productivity out of you in the short-term as possible. You, in turn, should get as much short-term gain out of your experience as possible. Business has taught the educational establishment this very well. When legislators at the state level gut benefits and tinker with pay as has been done in North Carolina, education becomes a stepping stone not a career.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, July 22, 2017

NC Legislative Still Manages Devalue Public Ed with New Principal Pay Scale

After this year’s North Carolina General Assembly sessions, what can one say about principal pay? Somehow we have a legislature that thinks administrators in North Carolina should be somehow grateful that they’ve alotted an additional $35.4 million dollars to principal and assistant principal pay increases, and that increases to $40.6 million in the 2018-19 school year, but took away longevity pay and established a pay system tied directly to test score performance. As has always been with our North Carolina Legislature since republicans have assumed control, let’s say the truth is really in the details.

First of all, the North Carolina Legislature ditched any connection between pay and experience in their new pay scale. Maybe this was because some economist out there has determined there’s no connection between experience and the raising of test scores, so experience is seen as meaningless. (Never mind that test score performance is not the entire end of education.) I think it is perhaps more truthful that we have a legislature really does not want principals to stick around anyway. Experienced principals are more expensive. They want newer, cheaper administrators anyway. We now have a principal pay system in North Carolina perfectly designed to encourage new and young principals to move in but quickly leave because the system does not value experience at all.

In fact, the new principal pay system completely dissolves a long-time practice of giving experienced longevity pay to experienced principals too. Now, the budget language says this longevity pay was absorbed into the pay schedule, but that makes no sense. The fact is, our legislature took away longevity pay to create their new merit pay system. Ultimately, with the actions of our North Carolina Legislature in recent years, our state is becoming the kind of state where educators are much better off looking for jobs elsewhere, and now principals are no exception.

Secondly, the new principal pay scale employs a merit pay system with substantial bonuses tied to test score performance. In spite of many studies and research pointing out the fallacies and failures of such pay schemes, our legislature still assumes that principals are motivated by greed, and that test score performance is the end of all things in public education. By dangling a few thousand dollars in front of principals this legislature believes that somehow principals will figure out how to increase student growth with less textbook money than ever and less resources than ever. Our state government has been cutting public education for years, and now, our legislature with its merit pay scale wants to use money as a hammer to beat principals into getting more out of teachers in this state with less resources than ever. We don't even have enough money to purchase textbooks and supplies any more, never mind professional development funding.

Finally, let’s stop kidding ourselves: our republican-controlled legislature just does not value education. Phil Berger and the republican elites in our legislature want to appear from year to year that they are increasing education funding, and by the numbers they are, but they are increasing it to strategically to harm public education and not support it. The principal pay scale is a perfect example. It is not designed to encourage educators to take principal positions and remain in them as careers. It only wants principals to stay around until their pay is too high. Like almost everything else this legislature supports, it is short-term and short-sighted, with the ultimate goal of harming public education in the end.

In North Carolina, despite the boasting of many republican legislators, we have a state government controlled by those who still want to end public education.  Why do we in education deceive ourselves from year to year. They might be actively trying to appear to support it, but their tactics have gotten more devious than ever. They strategically fund programs and initiatives that actually undermine public education. That’s why the political activism of educators is all the more important in the coming elections.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: One aspect of this new principal pay scheme adopted by out North Carolina legislature that I forgot in my original post is this: It also ends pay for advanced  and doctoral degrees for principals. As usual, this legislature continues to ignore the value of further education for educators. Now, any principal in North Carolina can no longer expect extra pay for obtaining an EdS degree or EdD degree. In the history of North Carolina I don't think we've ever seen a governmental body so anti-education from the public school level through the university level. Perhaps they still think if we keep the public ignorant, then they will continue to buy their baloney. It's time for a major change in North Carolina.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Be Careful of Your Quotes: Einstein Probably Didn't Say That Insanity Quote

We've all heard this quote, or might have even used it:

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

I've heard ed reformers and educators pushing change and innovation use this quote many times, and attributing to Albert Einstein. I honestly have to admit I might have done so myself. The truth is, there's no solid evidence he ever said it. It's not in any of his writings or interviews. It may be just made up.

In his book, Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up, William Poundstone calls this "Churchillian Drift." That's when a quotation by the marginally famous gets attributed to someone famous, like Winston Churchill. Turns out, Einstein probably didn't say it. Just Google the quote and you'll see the dispute.

The truth, at least for me, is clear: even if we really believe in what we're peddling, we still need to get our quotes right.

"It may sound good at the time, he who gets one or two of his quotes wrong, or facts, can't be trusted to be speaking all the truth."

You can quote on that, at least until someone else says it better!

By the way, Poundstone's book, Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up is a fascinating read.  Highly recommend it. Probably even will convince you to stop using those quote sites for quick quotes to add to your presentations.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Did I Really Need That Amazon Echo Dot?

I received an email telling me that Amazon was offering its Prime Members its Echo Dot for less than $35. I had seen the commercials, and certainly was fascinated with the device, so I broke down and purchased it.

After a day of experimenting with it, I actually enjoy the device. Being able to say “Alexa, play some James Taylor” and then his music magically starts playing through my bluetooth speaker is fantastic. I’ll admit I am a bit smitten by the technology, but it does have some interesting features. It’s easy to set up as well. Here’s some of the positives I’ve found:
  • Connects to a bluetooth speaker, so my Bose Soundlink Mini sounds fantastic.
  • Instant, or darn near instant access to any music.
  • Has a “News Flash” feature that allows “Alexa” to read the news update to you.
  • With my Amazon Fire I can get weather updates too.
  • I can listen to Pandora channels with an easy request from “Alexa."
  • Haven’t tried the “Jeopardy” game but is was recommended by a friend.
I’m just learning the device, but I can see what Apple is scrambling to catch up with Amazon and Google with these kinds of devices.

How else can I get the ability to command James Taylor's music to appear?