Turning the Page

It was just under three years ago that I announced here that I was leaving my district at the time to accept a school psychologist position in a new district.  Tonight, I am thrilled to announce that I have once again a) accepted a new position for next school year, but b) I will remain in the same school district I have come to love over the last three years.

Effective September 1, I will no longer be a school psychologist, but rather the Instructional Supervisor for Educational Technology and Related Arts for Lawrence Twp. (NJ) Public Schools.  It’s a brand-new position for the district and a brand-new professional opportunity for me.  After having done so much with ed tech peripherally over the last 14 years, I am excited that I will be able to make that one of my primary professional focuses starting next year.  I’m also looking forward to working with and supporting the work of the fantastic faculty I’ll be supervising, not to mention joining our district’s top-notch leadership team.

I am immensely fortunate to work with and for people I like and respect, and I really can’t ask for much more than to be able to advance in my career in an environment like this one.  It’s very exciting to start a new professional chapter, and as you might imagine, I’ll continue to reflect on my journey in this space, as I have done for nearly half my career now.

Shine On

In the brave new Web 2.0 world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a million other social networks, blogs can feel downright old-fashioned at times; so much so that I wonder how many people actually read them (or this one).  My fellow blogging school psychologist Mo evidently does, as she tagged me in her latest post, in which she nominated me for a “Lighthouse Award”.

the-lighthouse-award

I haven’t done a good old-fashioned (there’s that phrase again) blog meme in a long time, so here goes.  The rules:

  1. Display the Award certificate on your blog.
  2. Write a post and link back to the blogger that nominated you.
  3. Inform your nominees of their award nominations
  4. Share three ways that you like to help other people.
  5. There is no limit to the number of people that you can nominate.
  6. HAVE FUN

Anyone with a career in education helps people constantly, but to narrow it down a bit, these are my top three ways in which I try to help:

  1. I provide assistance, guidance, advice, and options in a rational and non-judgmental way.
  2. I empower teachers to grow as practitioners in my role as a professional development consultant.
  3. I listen more than I speak (at least I try to).

I read blogs daily from people in a wide variety of educational roles, but in the interest of professional visibility, I’m nominating a handful of school psychologists.  I believe we are seriously underrepresented in the educational blogosphere, so I want to round up a few that I know of and hopefully create some new connections for any school psychs in the audience. Thank you all for your contributions to my learning:

I know it’s a short list, but a) I didn’t want to double-dip on Mo’s list (check them all out as well!) and b) didn’t I tell you there’s just not that many of us?

Shine on.

Habits of Mind: Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

Quick programming note: I am on the cusp of finishing the coursework in my doctoral program, which means that from here on out, my dissertation is the last thing between me and a funny hat and three more letters after my name.  That project will be taking up the majority of my free time for the foreseeable future, so I will likely only be blogging once per month (as opposed to my regular twice) for a while.  

***

This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).

Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision: Be clear!  Striving for accurate communication in both written and oral form; avoiding overgeneralizations, distortions, and deletions.

I think anyone who works in the special education field long enough develops fluency in a second language comprised entirely of acronyms.  Between IEP, FAPE, PLAAFP, LRE, ICS, SLD, ADHD, ODD, BIP, FBA, CBA, WISC, BASC, and countless others, I’m convinced I could hold a conversation in public with another special educator that would absolutely confound eavesdroppers.

I’m a longtime reader (and big fan) of Jim Gerl’s Special Education Law Blog, and last year he posted a footnote from a court decision that read, in part:

One suspects that regulators and bureaucrats love such jargon because it makes even simple matters cognizable only to the cognoscenti and thus enhances their power at the expense of people who only know English. Nevertheless, acronyms have so invaded IDEA practice that this judge, like others before him, is pretty much stuck with having to use them.

Jim then posed the question of whether the use (or overuse) of acronyms is an ethical issue in special education.  I absolutely believe it is, and I am absolutely guilty of being on the wrong side of it at times.

Every profession has jargon; it’s a shorthand that people who know the ecosystem use with others “in the know”.  I don’t ask my behavior specialist to conduct a functional behavior analysis; I ask her for an FBA, and it’s fine because we both know exactly what we mean when we use that term.  But that use of jargon can also be exclusionary, and while I believe it’s OK to use in that professional shorthand capacity, we must be doubly aware of our language choices when working with folks who do not live in “our bubble” in order to create an inclusive, welcoming environment.

Like I said, I’m hardly innocent.  I’ve become so accustomed to using that shorthand that I may use it when speaking with parents in IEP meetings, for example, when referring to ICS (In-Class Support) vs. OCR (Out-of-Class Replacement) classes.  I’ve been stopped and asked to clarify or explain myself, and while I’m happy to, I am disappointed in myself that I had to put someone in a position where I was so unclear they needed to stop me and ask for an explanation.  I’m sure it makes them feel excluded to some degree, which is never my intention, but is nevertheless the result.

Language should facilitate communication, not hinder it.  Jargon is OK to use when we are communicating with people who know the language.  When we are not, however, it is imperative that we shift linguistic gears and stop using acronyms unless we are 100% sure that everybody in the conversation knows what they mean.  If we can’t be sure, use plain English.  I try to be a self-aware, reflective professional, and this is an area I can improve upon.  At the very least, “forthright explanation of services” is an explicitly stated part of NASP’s professional ethics code for school psychologists, but you don’t need to see it in a formal document to know that you can’t have inclusive, team-oriented interactions unless everybody is speaking the same language.

Reference

Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B.  (2010).   It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century.  In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226).  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wishing You a Productive New Year

Every so often I like to write about how I work and the tools I use to make my workflow as efficient and effective as possible.  Vicki Davis’ recent post about the productivity apps she likes got me thinking about what has changed in my own workflow since my last writing, as well as what has stayed the same.

The Mainstays: Evernote & Google Apps

I’ve been a loyal (read: paying) Evernote user since January 2009 and have seen the service explode in popularity since then.  I did my first writeup on this blog about Evernote shortly thereafter, and while the layout and bells and whistles have changed since then, the core functionality that keeps me gladly shelling out $45 every year for the service remains the same: my text notes and files are synchronized across and accessible from all my devices – my Android tablet and phone, my personal desktop and laptop, and my work laptop.  Any information I store there is accessible (and easily searchable in both raw text and files, thanks to Optical Character Recognition) to me at a moment’s notice.  I’ve lost count of how many times I have been asked a question at work and my response is, “Hang on; I’ve got it here on my phone.”  I use Evernote for both professional and personal note-taking and file storage, and there’s even a section of my dissertation devoted to how it is not only appropriate but also desirable to use a program like Evernote for storing research data.

Google Apps is another productivity tool I use daily, at work and at home.  Google Calendar helps my family to keep all our various appointments and obligations straight at home, while at work our Child Study Team uses a shared calendar to schedule IEP and other meetings without overlapping each other or double-booking staff members.  I don’t use Google Docs/Drive all that much at home, but at work it is absolutely invaluable for sharing and collaborating on documents with colleagues.  Of course, the fact that these services (including Gmail) are all easily accessible from multiple locations, including my phone and tablet, make them worth their weight in gold, or bad cliches.

The Newcomers: ToodleDo & Copy

Last time I did one of these writeups, Remember the Milk was my online to-do list of choice.  I don’t quite remember why I stopped using the service, but I was paying the $25 annual fee for a very robust service that, quite frankly, I didn’t really need.  ToodleDo provides much of the same basic functionality for free – multiple lists (Work, Home, etc.), due dates, notes for each individual task, etc.  As much as ToodleDo is more basic than RTM, I still don’t even use all that ToodleDo has to offer.  While there’s no official Android app, there are a few in the Google Play store that sync with the service (my favorite is MyToodle).

Until fairly recently, Dropbox was my service of choice for syncing my documents (those not already stored in Evernote, anyway) across my laptop, desktop, and mobile devices.  I had earned a fair bit of extra storage beyond their free 2GB by referring new members and participating in events like Dropquests.  It worked very well for me for what it does, but I only had enough free storage space to sync my documents, not ALL my files, including pics, music, and some home videos.  That’s not Dropbox’s shortcoming; I acknowledge that’s my own issue in wanting more for free.  What bugged me about Dropbox is that a lot of the “free space” I was earning was now all of a sudden for a limited time only.  For example: I bought an HTC phone, and was “rewarded” with 25GB or so of free Dropbox space.  The fine print, however, states that that space expires after a period of time (one year, two years; I don’t remember).  This did not sit well with me at all – if I earn the space, give me the space to keep! – so I began looking for other alternatives.

I found a few free Dropbox alternatives that also offered a) more free space and/or b) paid plans that were cheaper than Dropbox’s plans (e.g., 4Sync, Box), but I hit paydirt when I found Copy.

Copy provides much of the same basic functionality as Dropbox (sync/storage, cloud access, shared files/folders, etc.), but their free storage capacity was significantly higher than any other plan.  Right now Copy and 4Sync both offer 15GB of free sync/storage, but with Copy you can earn 5GB (yes, GIGA) per referral.  Compare that to Dropbox’s 500MB per referral on free accounts.  Sign up for Copy via someone else’s referral link (<–like mine) and you get an additional 5GB of free space for a total of 20GB.  There’s even an option to auto-tweet from the Copy service for an additional 2GB (you can always unlink your account afterward and keep the storage space).

As of this date, Copy has not limited the amount of free space one can earn via the referral program.  There are reports floating around the web that some users have earned terabytes of free space; I’ve earned nearly 200GB myself (but I could always use more!), which has been enough to let me store all my documents, photos, videos, and music in one central location, always accessible.

A recurring theme, if you haven’t noticed, is my ability to access all these tools on the move.  Despite having an office, I don’t actually spend a ton of time in it, so being able to whip out my phone and look up something in Evernote or consult my team’s calendar wherever I am is a luxury that I’m starting to treat as a necessity, for better or for worse.  I can see what needs to be done today and access files maybe I didn’t expect to need as long as I have an Internet connection.

Beyond the easy accessibility from multiple devices, the ability to input from multiple devices is just as important.  While it’s nothing to add something to my to-do list from my phone, I much prefer a laptop or desktop for longer typing tasks.  My vision is still good enough (for now) that I can read fine on small screens, but it would take me forever to type out on a phone what would take me 5-10 minutes to type on a traditional keyboard.

My point in writing this piece is not to get into a “this service is better than that service” tit-for-tat, and while it’s tech-centric, the moral of the story is not about online services, either (I carry a notepad and pen with me at all times and use them daily, too).  Rather, it’s about access: having access to multiple tools for multiple needs in multiple contexts and situations is what allows me to work as efficiently as I can.

As an adult, I am lucky to have the autonomy to make those decisions for myself.  In this new year, and each year beyond, I ask that you deliberately consider the choices you make for your own productivity, and what opportunities you give your students for similar decision-making.  I would love to see more and more students given (as if it is ours to give) the opportunity to use a variety of tools – whether it is paperbacks or e-books, keyboards or dictation software, notepads or cellphones – in order to help them to manage their own workflow, and, by extension, take more ownership over their learning.

Ceci n’est pas un blog post

It’s been nearly two months since my last post, and even longer since my last post of any substance.  I could lie and say that work’s been crazy, or the holidays have been hectic, but none of that would be true.  In fact, this has been the least hectic lead-up to Christmas I’ve had in years, certainly since starting my doctoral program in Sept. 2011.

Most of my evening hours the last several weeks have been spent working on my dissertation.  I completed my 300-hour internship early in November, I’m nearing the end of my coursework (kind of hard to explain fully here, but for all intents and purposes, one more class in Jan-Feb and I’m done), and I’m preparing to be raised to candidacy for the Ed.D.  After that, all that’s left between me and the degree is the little tiny matter of the dissertation.

Some background: my university program embeds the dissertation writing process into the coursework, to some degree.  Students write the first two chapters during two different courses in Year One, we typically write Chapter 3 (or most of it) during one of our courses in Year Two, then we go to committee at some point early in Year Three, get approval to start our research, conduct our research during the second half of Year Three, finish writing, and defend by November to graduate the following January of Year Four (or Three-and-a-Half, as I like to consider it).  Long story short, I’ve been working on this document since October or November of 2011, revising and polishing along the way, on a topic that is very important to me.  To say I am invested is an understatement.

I spent most of November and early December this year majorly overhauling my Chapter 3 and preparing for my committee meeting.  While I expected to be asked to make some revisions prior to moving forward, I was also expecting to be approved to begin my research upon making those changes.  Instead, I was told to make more changes than I expected would be necessary and told the committee would reconvene in January to determine whether or not I could proceed.

Maybe this is par for the doc student course, but I wasn’t ready for that, especially after the hours I had invested in this project.  The drive home felt like an eternity, my shoulders hunched around my ears out of a growing sense of stress, and I found myself seriously questioning how I was going to move forward.

Typically, when I have a task to accomplish, I like to get on it right away, no matter how daunting.  But I came home from that meeting, put down my laptop bag with my notes in it, and haven’t been able to open it since.  Not “haven’t wanted to” – “haven’t been able to”, as in, I go to take out the notes to get cracking and I just start to feel overwhelmed and anxious.  It’s been a week since that meeting and the bag still sits untouched next to my couch.

I’m not writing this post for “oohs” and “ahhs” and “poor babys” from the Internet.  In fact, I think part of the paralysis I’m dealing with right now is my own shame at how paralyzed I’ve become by this task that, until now, I have been handling with relative competence (or so I thought).  Maybe I’m hoping that reflecting in writing will help me to knock out the cobwebs and be able to get over this funk or malaise or whatever it is and get down to business right after Christmas.  Perhaps seeing the problem in writing will help me to realize I’m blowing it out of proportion in my mind and it’s not as insurmountable as I’m making it out to be.  I’m not really sure, but whatever it is, I hope it works.

If nothing else, hopefully it will be an entry I can look back on this time next year, as I’m preparing to graduate, and laugh at, remembering that time I panicked unnecessarily and frantically spat out a blog post full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.