Sunday, July 31, 2011

Adopting Cloud Solutions: Making a Smooth Transition to Google Apps

My school district just passed it's one year anniversary using Google Apps. We have saved a considerable sum of money while enjoying the robustness of Google's Gmail, Google Docs, and other Google apps such as Google Sites and Google Reader. During the transition there were the usual bumps and frustrations that occur with any transition to something new, but by emphasizing the positive new features, and by showing our district users how to accomplish many of the same things they could with the old platform, Gmail and Google apps have become a part of our everyday life.

If your district is thinking of converting to Google apps, or some other cloud-based applications to replace current services, it is extremely vital to select the services that best fits your needs and train your users in how to make the most of the new apps.  A good introduction to the idea behind this concept of using the cloud as a application platform is the "Cloud Computing Explained" video.

I feel confident that choosing the right cloud provider and training our staff have made our transition to Google Apps successful. In order to really understand the capabilities of Google apps and especially Google Docs, I might suggest showing the "Google Docs in Plain English" video as a starting point.

What makes this video effective is that it explains in simple terms how Google Docs can transform the way we carry out our tasks as administrators and educators.

Transitioning to the cloud is clearly accelerating for school districts around the country. With technology budgets tight, educational institutions have no choice but find the savings where possible. Google Apps specifically, and cloud-based apps generally are a definite way to stretch the technology budget.

Two Must-Have Apps for Those Using Google Apps

Gmail Backup: This freeware (with requested donations) application allows you to backup your Gmail account locally. It is an excellent way to ensure that you have access to your past email activity. For more information, check out the developers site: .

Syndocs: This freeware app allows you to backup your Google Docs locally. It automatically pulls your Google Docs files to your desktop upon computer start up. It is an excellent way to make sure you always have an accessible copy of your documents with or without Internet access. For more information, check out the developer's site:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Change or We Die: Lessons from the Borders Experience for Education Leaders

This evening I received a email from Borders that basically thanked me for my patronage and for being a "Borders Reward Member." The truth of the matter is, I haven't been in a Borders store since our local store closed about a year and a half ago. As far as purchasing books online, Barnes and Noble and Amazon have done such a fantastic job of making it easy to purchase physical books and ebooks that I had absolutely no incentive to order from Borders.

Still, there is sadness in receiving that email from Borders entitled "A Fond Farewell...Thank You for Shopping at Borders." My imagination doesn't have to work too hard to imagine the individual, sitting at his computer composing a message that basically says good bye. That email is a symbol of an organization that failed to evolve in time to take advantage of the opportunities wrought through a rapidly changing technological world. I can't help but think that maybe Borders discovered it's ship was sinking much too late to do anything about it. My only hope is that our Great American Education System has not arrived at that point yet.

In the email, CEO Mike Edwards states:
"The fact is Borders has been facing headwinds for quite some time, including a rapidly changing book industry, the eReader revolution, and a turbulent economy. We put up a great fight, but regrettably, in the end, we weren't able to overcome these external factors."
My only hope is that we're not writing the same kind of epitaph for public education in America in the future. How can we overcome these same "external factors" that basically sunk Borders as an organization?

Perhaps some of the answers lie in a recent book by Ian Jukes, Ted McCain and Lee Crockett. In their book entitled, Living on the Future Edge: Windows on Tomorrow, these authors offer some pretty good advice to education leaders. If we want to avoid having to write an epitaph that says, "We put up a great fight..." we just might want to take heed to this advice.
  • "We need a new mental approach to life that empowers us to anticipate change and prepare for it." What's wrong with public education today is that too many of us remaking the system in the image which we experienced. We need a mental makeover that gives us the ability to anticipate where this "exponential technological change" is going and prepare for it. Borders didn't make it because they saw it coming to late. That is an old story, but it doesn't soften the truth of it. If we're not careful, public education is going continue reforming the edges until it's too late.
  • "We must start looking at where the world is going to be, not just where it is." In this technologically driven world, vision is everything to an organization, and I'm not talking about that statement posted on the office wall. Vision, seeing into the future, has become prerequisite for us educational leaders. If we are going to lead our schools further into the 21st century, we have to take on what Jukes, McCain and Crockett call "the mind of a quarterback." Like a quarterback who is able to see where the receiver is going to be so he can pass him the ball, we need to see where education is going to be so that we can guide our organization to that point in time. Not having this vision is malpractice for school leaders today.
  • We need to accept the truth that "the myth is that change takes time. It's making the decision to change that really takes time." If you look closely at what's happened to Borders, I bet there have been points of time when opportunities were missed, and warning signs were ignored, all under the rationale that we want to change what we're doing, but it takes time. School leaders are doing the same thing. "We have time to change," they say, or "We're doing fine for ourselves." It'll be too bad when they find, that like Borders, "They have put up the good fight," but in the end they didn't overcome. It's time to quit messing around! The time for change is now. Change we must, or we suffer the same fate as organizations like Borders.
In the end, Borders can blame their demise on any number of factors. They can say it was competition, they can say it was a world that was changing more rapidly than they could adapt. The reality is they failed to have a vision that allowed them to see where they needed to be. Education leaders would do well to learn from the Borders experience.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

2 Ways For Administrators (And Other Educators) to Use Evernote

Evernote is one of the most versatile note taking tools available on the web today. With it's syncing desktop app, iPad apps, and smartphone apps, it is the most useful application in a school administrator's arsenal.

Two ways I have found Evernote most useful in my everyday job as an administrator are:
  1. Using It to Create Weekly To-Do Lists
  2. Using It to Create a Daily Administrator's Log
Using Evernote to Create Weekly To-Do Lists

I have tried a number of applications to track my daily tasks over the years, but came to use Evernote for several reasons. First of all, in Evernote it is so easy to create a check list. All I need do is create a new note, give it the appropriate title, and to enter a checkbox by holding down the Ctrl, Shift, and C keys which inserts a check box into the page. All I need do then is type the task item. This process makes it so easy to enter tasks. Secondly, Evernote's simplicity makes it most useful to me in another way. Other programs allow you to send email reminders regarding the task, or bombard you with pop-ups to remind you to get the task done. I just don't need that for my To-Do List. I just need a list I can look at throughout the day to remind me of what needs to be done and be able to check those items off as I complete them. I don't need more emails in my Inbox, nor do I want anymore pop-ups plastering my screen. I need a simple electronic To-Do List and Evernote gives me that. Thirdly, Evernote allows me to create a Notebook entitled "To-Do Lists." This notebook contains all of my past To-Do lists. I can easily check back to see if there was a task I missed, or to see when I perhaps accomplished a task. I have easy access to a complete history of my to-do list items.  Finally, Evernote's desktop app, iPad app, and Android app let me check that To-Do List no matter where I happen to be. I can take my list with me, and get the satisfaction of checking those items off wherever I am. The only issue with the iPad app that I do not like is the lack of ability to enter new items on the To-Do List. With Evernote, my To-Do List is with me at all times.

Evernote To-Do List Creation

Using Evernote to Create a Daily Administrators Log

When began as a teacher, I had a professor in college who impressed upon me the importance of documentation as an educator. He stated that many educators do not document things that happen while they are on the job. The end result is that sometimes, questions are raised about an action taken, or a grade given, and the teacher has no documentation to support those actions. 

As a school administrator, documentation becomes even more important since so many of my decisions made during the course of the day require investigations and multiple sources of information. Because of this, it necessary to document these things regularly.  Enter Evernote.

At one time I used a simple MS Word file as my daily Administrator's Log. I simply typed a title at the top of the page, and as things happened or decisions were made, I made notes in this file and saved it at the end of the day. Now, Evernote has given my Administrator Log writing process even greater functionality and flexibility.
  • Create a Notebook Entitled Administrator Logs:  By doing this, I place all of my administrative notes in a single location. Should I need to quickly glance at the previous day's notes or the previous weeks, I have one location to turn to in order to do this.
  • Create a New Note Each Day and Entitle It "Administrator's Log with That Day's Date:  This gives me a single location to document investigation findings, conversations, and contacts made during the course of the day.
  • Use the Tag Feature to Index Administrative Notes: At the end of the day, I quickly skim through that day's notes and create tags that identify the significant items in those notes. This allows me to access my entire Administrative Notes library by key word.
  • Use the Email Feature to Share Notes with Other Parties: For example, suppose I conducted an investigation into a parent complaint, and my superintendent wanted to know what I found out. I could email notes to him, obviously with needed explanation to provide her with that information.

Add the fact that Evernote syncs all of its apps, and I have instant access to these two Evernote notebooks anywhere. 

I am continually amazed at the number of ways I can use Evernote's functionality on the job as a school administrator. It is one of my front line administrative applications. Every administrator needs to know how to use it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Preliminary Google+ Resource List for Educators

I have been exploring the capabilities of Google+ for just a few days, and I can already say there are features that might make it so much more functional for administrators and educators.

  • Select Sharing: The Google Circles idea is genius. Users can set up groups called circles and place whomever they wish in each of the circles. The potential for this feature is obvious: for example, an administrator could place teachers within an individual circle, guidance department within a circle, and so on. With Google+, selective sharing is fantastically easy. Unlike Facebook, with Google+, you don't have to make everything you share public.
  • Simple User Interface: This is actually a plus as well. There isn't a lot of clutter within Google+'s screens. Its buttons are simple to use, and navigating through each of the screens is quite simple.
  • Lot's of Unexplored Possibilities: Haven't yet begun to use all of Google+'s features, but I can already see where it has great potential as the social media environment for educators.I can hardly wait to explore all of its possibilites.

Some Google+ Links and Resources

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Is Education Your Job, Your Career, or Your Calling?

In his success psychology book entitled The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, Jonathan Haidt states that there are three ways people approach their work. People approach their work as a job, a career or as a calling, and their approach often determines their attitude and level of commitment to that work.

Those who approach their word as a job, "do it for the money." They are the "clock-watchers" who eagerly look for "quitting time" and daydream about what their weekend is going to be like. Most of these individuals seek greater fulfillment and engagement outside of their work.

Those who approach their work largely as a career, have the larger goals of advancement, promotion, and prestige in mind. These individuals according to Haidt, are energized by the pursuit of these goals. Sometimes, these individuals would be likely to take work home and do it themselves to make sure it's done properly all in the name of advancement.

Finally, those who approach their work as a calling, find their work in intrinsically rewarding. These individuals are not engaging in the work to achieve something else. They do the work because they are engaging in something that contributes to the greater good (This sounds a great deal like Daniel Pink in Drive.) Pink talks about the importance of feeling a part of something larger than yourself when engaging in work. Perhaps those who see work as a calling definitely see their work as much more important than those who see it as a "way to make money" or as a "way to get promotions or prestige."

The truth is probably not that clear. Most individuals probably engage in their work with just a bit of all three of these approaches, but we certainly would like to think that our work as educators rises to the level of a "calling." Yet, we still have current policymakers and education reformers who believe that the promise of money,  of a promotion, and of prestige is all that is needed to improve our schools. In their efforts to "reform" the system, they need to beware of destroying the nobleness of teaching by forgetting that teaching is also a calling. Sure, teachers want to be compensated well for what they do, but it is true ignorance to think that pay is all that matters. For me, education was and remains a calling, and that is non-negotiable. I became a teacher because being a teacher is engaging in the most important work there is. Teaching is by definition a work that engages in something that contributes to the great good of all. Perhaps there is truth our policymakers can learn from Jonathan Haidt's book The Happiness Hypothesis