10 September 2010

International Rockflipping Day 2010

I'm a little late getting the message out, but Sunday, September 12, is the date set aside for this year's International Rockflipping Day.

Visit Wanderin' Weeta to find out more details, but here is her summary:
  • On or about September 12th, find your rock and flip it over.
  • Record what you find. "Any and all forms of documentation are welcome: still photos, video, sketches, prose, or poetry."
  • Replace the rock as you found it; it's someone's home. (More on this, later.)
  • Post on your blog, or load your photos to the Flickr group.
  • Send me a link. My e-mail address is in my profile, or you can add a comment to any IRFD post.
  • I will collect the links, e-mail participants the list, and post it for any and all to copy to your own blogs. 
  • Tweet it, too. Use the hashtag #rockflip.)
I participated last year and will see what I can find this coming Sunday. If you're a classroom teacher, considering heading out with students on Monday and adding your information.

Taming the Monster

When I started my teaching career, there was no email. The physical mailboxes in the main office were the main point of communication---paper notes exchanged to carry on the business of the school. After I moved to Washington (15 years ago...), email became part of my job function. This mode of information exchange has evolved a bit since then. In those early days, students often had their own email addresses---and there were no blocks in place to keep them from accessing it at school. Many teens in my classroom had pagers, but not cell phones. And certainly there was no texting. Email was the main point of contact for us outside of school hours. I sent study questions, provided tutoring, was the occasional agony aunt, and of course, stayed in touch with their parents.

Over the years, student use of email has decreased significantly. Some teachers think it is because the Internet filters of most schools block access. Others think that students have just moved on to other tools (Facebook posts, text messages, etc.). I think it's some of both, but email itself is not going away. I am seeing a fair number of young adults (and, to be fair, recalcitrant old-timers) in the workforce who don't manage their email well. You can find any number of posts on the Internet about dealing with email, but I will distill some wisdom here, too.
  • Set aside some time at least once a day to manage your messages. Some people like alerts that tell them every time a message appears...others schedule a time at the beginning and the end of the day. I'm not going to advocate for any particular schedule, other than commit to dealing with email at one point during the day. 
  • Set up folders to store messages---do not let them sit in your inbox. Also, save any and all communications that are not just "FYI" items, including the messages you send. Not only will this help keep your inbox from overflowing, it will make it simpler to find the information you need later.
  • When you read an email, make an immediate decision about its purpose and what to do with it. Is it just a note from the office about the volleyball team leaving early? Perhaps the principal is giving a reminder that there's a change in the schedule? Read and delete anything that has immediate information. Read and move to a designated folder anything that has long term information (e.g. a new form from the district or things about the payroll system). Don't read and leave these in your inbox. If it is a message that requires a response from you, respond immediately if the answer can be provided in three sentences or less. Then, either delete the message or move it to a folder. Again, don't leave it in your inbox. If your response will require a significant response, email might not be the best mode. Tell the sender you'll give them a call or set aside time to compose a reply. You can achieve inbox zero every day.
  • If you have sensitive information or a difficult situation---don't use email. Email creates a record. Contents of a phone call or in person conversation do not. Choose wisely.
  • Finally, a word about difficult email. You're going to get these once in awhile. It might be a parent who is ripping you a new one. Maybe it's a message from the district office about cuts to your favourite program. Perhaps it's a colleague who is (in your opinion) acting like an ass. Whatever the case, there will be things that land in your inbox which send your blood pressure through the roof. Here is what I recommend. (1) Hit the "reply" button. (2) Immediately erase any information in the header---the email address in the "To" box, subject line, any CC/BCC addresses. Take away any possibility that this message can be sent. (3) Write the email you really want to send. No, really---do it. Use whatever language you want. Let it all hang out. (4) Read it a few times. Smile. Breathe. Do not show it to anyone, no matter how tempting. (5) Delete this response...then delete it from your deleted items folder. (6) Now, hit the "reply" button again. (7) Write the email that is okay to send. Since you've already allowed yourself an opportunity to tell them off, there is much less of a chance that you will either be outright ugly or passive aggressive in this message. (8) Save the draft and let it sit overnight. Read it again the next day after you've had more time to cool off and reflect on things. If you're still not sure, get the opinion of a colleague or admin. Then, send the message.
You can have a healthy relationship with your inbox. Email does not have to eat up a lot of time and energy or rule your day. I expect that its use will continue to evolve as other forms of communication gain favour within the school walls. For now, just remember to let it know you're the boss.

07 September 2010

Twitter Me This

The Excel Theatre blog posts a collection of Excel-related tweets. Most of these tend to run along the extremes of love and hate for using the software, but whatever the emotion, they are entertaining to read.

I wondered about grading. I started noticing last year that there are a preponderance of tweets on grading---usually on Sunday evenings. Although the school year is just gearing up, it would appear that observations related to grading are already in full swing. Here is a sample from the last week:
  • If I tailor my classes to students who don't give a shit, does that mean no more grading?! http://onion.com/9xnQEU 
  • I believe I have successfully been deterred from teaching...I don't like grading! 
  • I need help grading papers! Who wanna help! I got food and beer
  • #handcramp from grading papers....................... 
  • Grading is a bitch
  • I really should be doing something productive.....like grading these papers but y would I want to do that?? That's no fun. 
  • Grading papers.... So wack!!! I need a new job asap
  • Grading essays is not my thing. this child does not know how to write an essay. I will throw up if i read another error.
  • It's Labor Day, so I'm laboring: grading papers, projects and videos.  
  • Grading. Yup, it still sucks.
  • Now to do some mental labor. Grading papers.
  • Grading labs for my other job. Grading is the only part of teaching I despise, really.
  • Why am I so proud of myself for grading instead of watching football? Am I that irresponsible? #rhetoricaltweets
  • hell must be grading the essays of students who lack a basic comprehension of the simplest grammar rules  (Note from me: Such as not using a capital at the beginning of a sentence and punctuation at the end?)
  • I had grading nightmares for years after I quit teaching. 
  • Avoiding grading papers on a holiday, though I need to hand them back soon. The house, not coincidentally, is remarkably clean. (Note from me: This was my MO for most of my career.)
  • I'm grading papers on Labor Day. Somehow this just seems wrong. 
  • I wanted a cookout with big fat hamburgers and potato salad. :) Instead I get...grading! 
  • Just realized I hate grading!!! But someone has to do it, I need an assistant and I am the assistant. #fml!! 
  • Grading essays is the worst part of the job. 
  • I am grading. *flat monotone* I love grading. Grading is so much fun. (I can do this! I know I can!)  
One of the things I always ask a group when I present on grading is "Who likes to grade?" I usually get laughed at. Who could possibly enjoy grading? It's a good entry point to talking about what you're doing as a teacher and the things you can do differently to make it simpler and more meaningful. So many focus on the nitpicky pieces and have no clue about the big picture of learning in the classroom. Shouldn't grading be one of the best parts of teaching---the opportunity to finally see how your instruction and guidance have made a difference in student learning? And if that stack of papers sitting there staring at you doesn't excite you, then maybe it's time to rethink what you're collecting and why. 

My plan this year is to regularly collect tweets related to grading and disperse some tips on managing the day-to-day aspects of grading. What would you say about grading (in 140 characters or less)?

06 September 2010

The Holiday

Working for the state is different in a lot of ways. Some of them are pleasant---like the ability to get a broader view of the educational landscape. Some of them are not---such as not having as much time off. No more two weeks at Christmas, Spring Break, and time away in the summer (if only to engage in PD).

This week will be my first full week of vacation in more than two years. I have had days off here and there---mostly long weekends. I was away when my mother died last year, but I have to tell you that it wasn't much of a holiday. I'm not really sure that I know what to do with a whole stretch of time to myself.

So, this is it. I have until next Monday to rest and recharge...to think about life, the universe, and everything. Most of all, I want to spend some time thinking about not being Possibility Girl anymore (sorry---I've lost the source for the image below).

Perhaps this is the week I take the half-finished posts in the queue and get them completed and published. It could be the week that lay the foundation to transition my career (my current job is slated to end in June). Or I might just take up residence at the local bar and collect bits of wisdom from fellow patrons.

If you're back at school this week, I wish you well. I remember all the years I longed for the ability to be off when others were not---to be able to go to Europe off-season or even just be home to let the plumber/electrician/carpet installer in without having to go to major lengths planning for a sub or begging a colleague to cover the last part of my class. I have to admit, it's nice to have a choice. Here's hoping I can make the most of the ones I have in front of me.