Sunday, May 28, 2017

Education on the cheap

What I like about Betsy DeVos' recent comments about a former East Hartford High student is that they point out the importance of high expectations. What I don't like is that they offer the same tired old fallacy we've been buying for decades: that we can have quality education on the cheap.

You can't characterize East Hartford High on the basis of one student's story, but the sort of thing Besty is talking about does happen in many schools, and she's right, high expectations are one of the keys to student success. But you can't raise the bar without increasing the support, and that costs money.

Several years ago, during my libertarian phase, I would have been a big fan of Trump's proposal to cut public school budgets and increase school choice. But my experience experimenting with different school models changed my mind. It's not the model that's the problem. It's a lack of support.

Most teachers and administrators in struggling schools are doing the best they can and working their butts off for these kids, but they are fighting a battle the rest of us can't even imagine. They are fighting the combined effects of generational poverty, systemic racism, and years of insufficient support in which kids fell further and further behind. Those kids needed longer school days and extended years. They needed one-on-one instruction. They needed reading support, psychological services and social services, but didn't get them, because they were too expensive.

School reformers and new charter and magnet schools are a dime a dozen, and every one of them offers their own flavor of instructional models, but most have one thing in common: they are cheap.

They are all out there hawking their their magic elixirs and cure-alls, and they're all "on sale."

It's hard for reality to compete with the illusion of education on the cheap.

But why does everyone think they can get something for nothing? Why should we be surprised that raising and educating something as marvellous and complex as a human being requires a tremendous investment?

It's worth the investment, even from a utilitarian standpoint. As Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children Zone once pointed out, for some of these kids, it's a choice between five thousand dollars extra per year while they are in school or sixty thousand per year while they are in prison.

Of course, money isn't magic. It has to be mixed with research-based practices. But the best practices in the world still need people to implement them. They still need time. And more people and more time mean more money.

I know the politicians aren't listening.

I know people vote with their pocketbooks.

But maybe one day that will change and we'll start taking the education of all kids seriously. If we do, I believe the return on our investment will be amazing.

"The only way out of poverty," said an inner city activist I met the other day, "is education."

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bringing order to your chaotic life with Trello

Ever feel like your life is a hurricane of responsibilities? Of course you do. So do I. That's why I write so much about managing stress and priorities. That's why I've been using the Bullet Journal method for a few years now. But I've recently retired that stack of black journals on my shelf and discovered an even cooler tool for time and task management.

Last fall, Elizabeth Brott Beese, a Ph.D. student from Purdue who spent some time studying our program, saw my notebooks and knew what they were. I thought that was really cool, because I'd never met anyone who knew the system. I told her how much I loved it. Then she told me why she didn't use it. She'd discovered something better. It was called Trello.

It looked really cool. I tried it. I said goodbye to my black journals.

Why is Trello So Darn Cool?

What I like about Bullet Journal is the physical feeling of writing stuff down and drawing little boxes and arrows and checking things off my list with a G2 pen. It's an ingenious system designed by Ryder Carroll that enables you to move tasks from week to week and manage tasks by category or calendar.

But it has weaknesses. Though you create your own index, it's still hard to find stuff when you try to go back in previous journals for important info, and everything becomes disjointed. Pages of unrelated stuff separate related tasks and topics from each other.

Trello is better. It helps you visualize your tasks by category, and it's super easy to move stuff around, reschedule, and find stuff you need, when you need it.

My Trello System

There are lots of ways to use Trello, which is of one of the cool things about it. I made this video about Trello for my students that explains the basics--the four essential pieces of the Trello system: boards, lists, cards, checklists and calendars. Start there for the basics, but here's how I use it for my stuff:

I like to make the boards very broad. For example, I have one board for my whole, entire job at the Depot Campus. On my Depot Master board, I divided all of my responsibilities into categories. This was a cool exercise, because it forced me to really think about what were the most important aspects of my job. It helped me bring order to a job that involves a sometimes bewildering array of very different responsibilities.

In each of those categories, I create cards for particular projects and tasks, and then within each card, I create checklists. I set due dates for each card based on the next checklist item that is due in each card. When I complete a checklist item, I change the due date.

Once in a while, I'll go through each list just to remind myself of what I need to do, what's coming up, and do a priority check. It's a great way to reorient myself when I'm overwhelmed or refocus when I feel like I'm running around like a chicken with it's head cut off.

When I have new ideas, I jot them down as cards and tag them with follow up dates.

I periodically go through the whole board and archive old stuff, finished stuff, and stuff I no longer care about.

Trello is also really cool for delegating. I can easily move cards to my program assistant's board, for example.

I have a dual-screen set up on my computer, and I always keep Trello open on the right hand screen. This gives me a continuous birds-eye view of my job.

It's not perfect, but neither am I. You see all those little red rectangles on the screen shot above? Those are missed deadlines, or just cards I haven't updated.

But it still helps... a lot.

It's like a map of my working life.