Category Archives: use of time

A few of my favorite web tools

In the past few years, I have found that my learning has been enriched and simplified – (no not really simplified, but expanded!) through the tools I am going to describe in this post. As a global thinker, I enjoy looking widely across the landscape, but also want tools to improve my basic efficiency and productivity as well as expand my capacity. These tools may be old hat for some of you, but if you have been wanting to venture out a bit, give some of these a try over Christmas break!

Tools I use everyday include Twitter and Evernote. I have explained in an earlier post why I find Twitter so valuable so I won’t repeat that here. Evernote is a note keeping and web collection tool that operates equally well on my smartphone, iPad, or laptop and syncs between them. I can send the tweets I want to save to Evernote, or make a voice or written note on it via my smartphone. I can put them into notebooks and assign tags (descriptive terms) to them. This makes it easy for me to categorize and search them.

What works better for me than bookmarks is the LiveBinders web application. When I find a webpage that I want to save, I simply click on my toolbar icon called “Live Binder It!” and a photo is taken of the webpage. I can save the screen shot in a particular notebook. Given my work, I have notebooks for presentations, writing, and particular subjects such as engagement, essential questions, etc. I can quickly look around my notebook and see visually what I have saved.

I use Google Reader – a collector tool that sends me updates whenever blogs that I want to keep up with are updated. This allows me to scan the subject matter quickly and the short descriptions help me choose what I want to read.

I find I am using wikis and Google Docs with increasing frequency. I started using wikis to share information related to my presentations or to set up spaces for staff groups to collaborate and do their work. They are simple to use and manage. I personally like Wikispaces. If I want to share a document quickly, build a mutual agenda, share information over time, and have it all be private or shared by invitation only, then I use a Google Doc (www.google.>>>). You can get to it quickly if you are already using Gmail for your mail program.  In Gmail, I am using Google Calendar, which also syncs with a free touch screen calendar in my smartphone called Touch Calendar. I finally have given up my paper calendars!

Sometimes I want to share a larger document or save a presentation and so I would use Dropbox. I can access the information from anywhere because it is cloud based storage of larger files. I can also share these files or give others access to my folder in Dropbox.

If I am going to write a longer article or make a presentation or diagram, I still find Inspiration to be very helpful. I have used other mind mapping programs, but like the basic functionality and ease of use of Inspiration.

Reflect via this article from Donald Clark how these tools might change your learning and life – and how we have experienced more changes in the past 10 years than the last 100.

If you just got a new iPad for Christmas you may benefit from essential-ipad-guide written especially for school administrators – a helpful starting spot.

Blessings on the new year ahead – may it be a productive one for you! Please feel free to share other apps that you may have found helpful via the comments below.

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Filed under change, leadership, resources, staff development, use of time

How do we best develop empathy in our kids?

Empathy in a carton by Geoff Jones - used via Creative Commons license, http://www.flickr.com/photos/geoffjones/526861820

Following NPR’s Andy Carvin on Twitter the past month has meant an almost continuous stream of “retweets” of those in the action in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and other hotspots. The tweets have been raw, unedited, emotionally wrenching, and urgent. They impacted my thinking and my prayer life. Yet was that an appropriate response? Should I somehow do more?

I recently read an article that commented on the fact that donations for the crisis in Japan were running behind those of the earlier crisis in Haiti and with Katrina. The experts suggested that we perceived a greater need in Haiti based on a lesser self-sufficiency. They also mentioned that the needs were more clearly articulated in the Haiti and Katrina crises. Is it then perceived neediness, need articulation, or does the location of the crisis make a difference?

In our digitally connected world, on what basis do we decide which crisis to pay attention to and use for teaching purposes? Has our technology outstripped our ability to respond empathetically? How do we avoid a generalized dulling of our ability to feel our neighbor’s pain? Who is our neighbor and how can I possibly respond to all of my neighbors? Which neighbors do I pay attention to? These are questions that I believe are important to discuss with our colleagues and fellow staff members.

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Filed under change, community, kids/culture, stewardship, use of time

Down with busyness, up with purposeful engagement!

I have been contemplating the difference between the word “busy” and what an appropriate substitute for that word might be. I am getting increasingly annoyed when I hear myself and others complain about how busy we are and wonder if this sentiment isn’t sinful at its core. Busyness is a major modern plague of our time, but I am guessing that it has always been around. The idea of busyness relates to our sense of worth and may be a pride issue for many of us. The busier we are, the more important we must be. Not being busy could cause some of us to lose our job or demonstrate a lack of success. Or if we are not busy as a retiree we think that others may believe that we are irrelevant – we are not contributing anything to life, or that life is passing us by – we have nothing to offer and no one is interested in us.

There are many reasons for busyness and we may well be busier than ever before.

  1. Our consumption has increased and our increased consumption increases our busyness. We have more things we want – which requires purchasing at the best possible price (more research and shopping time), finding a place to store it (no wonder that storage, as an industry, is bigger than Hollywood), managing its maintenance (do you have a monthly schedule of all your items to maintain, oil, clean?), and disposing of it eventually (do you take out an item for every item you take into your house?).
  2. We have more choices, more options for everything, forcing us to take more time with research and decision-making. We don’t just grab a box of laundry detergent – we get the organic, scent-free, 3x concentrated kind that has special cleaning powers through the time-released elements in the cleaning cycle! Every choice we make now contains several mini-choices – so that even a run to the store for a few items can be taxing. We simply have more options in almost every area – health care, finance, education, church, leisure, etc. Additionally when we make choices, we may be concerned that we are missing out what we have not chosen – economists call this opportunity cost.
  3. We have more opportunities to communicate with a wider circle of friends than ever before – we are global now! Yet I notice in the Christmas cards we are getting this year that we are getting more pictures than family letters – are people too busy to write, or have too many cards to send out?
  4. We have more programs, ministries, small groups, mission trips, service opportunities and ways to get involved – a great thing, but one that sets us up for busyness … and guilt if we don’t get involved (maybe because we are trying to be less busy!)
  5. We are more aware of research on good parenting, being a good friend, being a good spouse, etc. and so work harder at these things – a good thing, but one that may also make us busier.
  6. Our personal and professional lives are constantly intermixed – with improved communication we are frequently jumping back and forth between our personal and professional worlds. We are more acutely aware every minute of what is going on in the lives of all those around us, whereas we used to know about things on a monthly or yearly basis. Our expectations for instant knowledge have increased in all spheres.
  7. Our culture winks at workaholism even while the faith formation research states that our children feel ever more abandoned during their growing up years. A deadly cousin I call “sportsaholism” afflicts families who add busyness on their weekends through club sports – in the process not only destroying Sabbath, but impacting family finances and time for worship.

I am not going to suggest that we disengage from life because that is not realistic or helpful. I am going to suggest that we consider the differences between the words busy and engaged. I believe that God has wired us to be creatures who are engaged and that we find satisfaction when we engage with His world and the creatures he has created. We are happiest when we are engaged. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow, has suggested that when we balance anxiety and boredom we achieve a state of “flow” – that wonderful feeling when we are so engaged in our work that time ceases to be a factor. We may even ignore emails and phone calls during this time! When we are in “flow” we experience the joy of creativity, discovery, contemplation, and a sense of rightness – I believe this is a foretaste of heaven and a gift in that there is a temporal suspension that lifts us above our busyness. We find joy in being fruitful, not just busy.

Was Jesus busy or engaged? He was always about his Father’s work, but demonstrated the kind of balance we need. When we think we have a hard time with priorities, we need to consider how Jesus, who certainly was aware of the needs of the crowds and the press of the people, was able to engage deeply and be about what was really important. As one anonymous author suggests, perhaps BUSY is really an acronym for Being Under Satan’s Yoke. Jesus continually resisted the urging to do it all – consider the temptation of Satan at the beginning of his ministry, the passages about the multitudes and their needs for healing, the amounts of time he spent in prayer and solitude, his words to Mary and Martha, and then the questions we might raise of “why only three years of ministry?” and “why did he come when he did and not in today’s era of global communications?”

This busyness issue is really a large struggle in many of our lives and one that we must battle. Maybe some of these things will help a bit:

  1. Please for starters make Sunday a day of media rest – turn off your computer and leave it off for the day. Please don’t write me on Sunday re: any work thoughts!
  2. Read this classic poem by Wendell Berry “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” – do things that don’t compute, can’t be measured, and have no immediate value.
  3. Watch this compelling Youtube by Scott Stratton given at the TEDxOakville entitled Keep Going Until We Stop.
  4. Rent the movie “Young at Heart” – the documentary movie of a senior singing group that sings an unusual and unexpected repertoire such as Coldplay and Hendrix, but as bodies fail, demonstrate a focus and joy in using their gifts to uplift others.
  5. Draw distinctions in your life between what is busyness and what is worthy engagement. Use the questions “Will this matter in five years?” and “In a hundred years who will know the difference?” to help you do the sorting.

May the peace of Christ which passes all understanding rule your hearts and minds this wonderful season of celebration – let’s rebel against busyness and embrace being engaged in the right stuff!

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Filed under Biblical worldview, change, devotional, resources, stewardship, use of time

New year’s resolutions

The best time of the year for resolutions is January 1. True? Not really in education! Many of you are wrapping up the school year and some of you are already “childless” and roaming around in a mostly empty building. While you wrap up the year, many of you are already in planning mode for next year. Given our agricultural/cultural schedule of summer months without students, let me encourage you to take some time to reflect and resolve.

What went well and not so well this year that I hope to change in the fall?

What did I want to work on but could not take the time for or get to in the crush of the year?

What could I do proactively so that I will feel calmer when I get into the busyness of the fall schedule?

How will I strengthen the weakest aspects of my work? For teachers it may be finding better learning activities for a less than stellar unit, for principals it may be putting together a classroom visitation schedule that is more realistic and committing to it.

How will I pursue professional passions that allow me to bring unique benefits to my school or system?

How will I recharge my spiritual tank? Will I take more time to refresh my interior life?

Maybe summer is a good time for you to take a minute and reassess what you are doing in terms of your chosen work. Do you still feel called? Are you still passionate about what you are doing? Are you still eager to learn more about your discipline and life?

Is it a perfect time to catch up on reading the Nurturing Faith blogs you have missed this year?  (Actually principals tell me they read the blog more in the summer than the school year!)

Have a great summer! I will see some of you at the CSI convention and others at your school for staff development. Nurturing Faith will take a summer hiatus now and begin again in the fall.

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Filed under change, encouraging the heart, leadership, use of time

What’s a summer break for?

Yes – we know the typical answers. But reading Parker Palmer’s book The Promise of Paradox made me think about how purposeful we need to be in our profession as teachers and leaders of learning. This quote of Thomas Merton (as quoted by Palmer) struck me:

“He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.”

I guess what struck me is that as educators we have the opportunity before us again in the action/reflection cycle to cease the intense action and “work on ourselves” for a while.  What can we do that will restore our energy and at the same time deepen our capacity to love more deeply, to resist cynicism, to care for others more than we have this year, to increase our patience, to humble ourselves before the Lord?  I encourage you to feed your soul this summer!

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Does mist matter? A devotional for the end/beginning of a year

“Lord willing” was a commonly heard phrase in my childhood years. Perhaps having parents who had seen war and depression made them more aware of who was really sovereign.  Or perhaps it was a phrase reserved for older people, who live more with the realization of shortening years or have experienced the unpredictability of life. James reminds us:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15.

What power or influence does mist have? Can mist control very much or is it subject to other forces such as heat and light? If we are mist, it certainly puts the phrase “Lord willing” in a different light. This year ahead brings uncertainty at an earthly level – we have no guarantees for ourselves or the schools/churches/organizations we serve. We are here at God’s desire and for his purposes – what a delight to rest in that fact. We operate at his will and for his pleasure– let’s acknowledge our temporality and his sovereignty – even in our daily speech. We must trust he has “prepared in advance” the work that he wants us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Blessings on the new year ahead!

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An end of the year check-up – looking back, looking forward

Image by Vitualis from Flickr

Image by Vitualis from Flickr

For most of us it’s time to put things back in the cupboards and close the book on this school year. As a school leader, it is good to reflect back on the school year, and worthwhile to ask yourself some reflective questions:

  1. Did I move my school closer to meeting our mission this year? What evidence do I have? How do I know?

  2. How did I as a leader improve the school this year? Did my words and actions encourage faith and motivation to learn in my staff and students?

  3. Did I settle for only visible improvements of bricks and bucks or did I also improve the less visible aspects such as the quality of instruction, the distinctiveness of the curriculum, the quality of instruction, and the bondedness of the staff and parent community?

  4. Was my focus on how successful my school was or how much students and staff understood how to be bringers of shalom?

  5. What must I commit to in the next school year?

Recently McKinsey & Company put out an interesting report “How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top.” In the report they make this summative statement: “The available evidence suggests that the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is the quality of the teachers.” They go on to say that high-performing schools consistently do three things well:

  • Hire the right teachers – “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”

  • Develop teachers into effective instructors.

  • Put in place systems and targeted support to make sure that each child benefits from excellent instruction.

According to their synthesis of research, each principal’s time in effective schools is focused on instructional leadership. In our schools spiritual leadership is even more important. What implications does this have as you make plans to foster spiritual and instructional leadership growth in your school next year?

TTFN – As Tigger of Winnie the Pooh fame always said – Ta, Ta For Now! This set of four postings will be the last postings until next fall when I will resume posting on this site. This gives both of us, dear reader, a chance to catch up on our reading . . . . and reflection. Hope to see some of you at convention this summer. Have a terrific end of the year and summer!

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Filed under distinctively Christian, leadership, mission development, mission measurement, staff development, student outcomes, use of time