Asking the Right Questions

I think I am a pretty smart guy, but when it comes to things dealing with medicine, I realize that I am way out of my league. I try to be aware of what is going on, often struggle mightily understanding what doctors are talking about. So, there are two parts to this asking the right questions.

1. Ask the right questions as a patient.
For me, I need to ask questions about the things the doctors are saying. So, while I sit here with my daughter in the Emergency room trying to figure out what is wrong with her, I am asking a lot about what they are saying so I can better understand what is going on and so that I can relay that back to my wife who is with the other kids at home. It is the first time I have tried so hard to understand what is going on. Usually, I just trust what the doctors say, but today, I am trying to really understand it.

2. Asking the right questions when you are trying to help someone.

There is a stark contrast between the resident and the head ER doctor. The resident was asking questions about this situation (bloody stool) while the head doctor was asking about other aspects of my daughter's health. It was fascinating to see how connecting a couple more dots. As of right now, we still don't know anything. But, I could tell the doctor was trying to puzzle it out. The resident asked a couple questions that led to a specific diagnosis and settled on that. The head doctor didn't agree with that diagnosis because there was something missing. That led her to ask questions about other areas of my daughter's health. It didn't lead to a diagnosis, but it almost ruled out another.

The real question is, what are the right questions?

That, I don't know the answer to, but here is one idea of how this applies to education. If I ask one of my teachers how I can help her, she will never tell me what she needs. If, however, I recognize a need (by being thorough in my questions to her) and then offer specific help on that area, she will be much more likely to accept it.

Have a Good Life.

Markdown out of Scrivener and into iBooks

In writing my book, I used Markdown as I was writing it to force me to focus on the content, or else I would never get it done. I didn’t start playing around with fonts, and colors, and design until the actual writing was in to be reviewed by a trusted friend.

I had a really hard time getting the Markdown text out of Scrivener into a readable format with the pictures that I had linked in. I needed the format to go to Word so that I could insert chapters into iBooks Author.

When I compiled from Scrivener to Word, I got markdown formatted text, not RTF (and no pictures)

When I compiled from Scrivener to RTF, I got rich text, formatted how I wanted, but without pictures.

When I compiled from Scrivener to PDF, I got rich text, formatted how I wanted, with pictures, but when I copied and pasted it, the pictures all went to the last ten pages, which would have required more work than I wanted.

When I compiled from Scrivener to TXT, it gave me just what I had written in Scrivener.

When I exported to OPML, I got a really cool Mind Map of my whole book!

To get what I needed, I had to go to and download the Drag and Drop apps (all the way at the bottom) from Fletcher Penney’s github site. When I did that, I dragged my Scrivener-exported .txt file onto the HTML app, and it converted it to HTML for me. I opened that up and copied the styled text from the web browser, and pasted it into a Word doc. It got all the formatting how I set it up in Markdown, and made it easy for me to get it out into chapters to be imported into iBooks Author.

I realize now that I could have compiled from Scrivener to HTML and been totally fine with what I needed. Live and learn, right?

As a side note, I really like iBooks Author. It makes even what I am doing look fairly decent!

Have a Good Life.

A Dream Come True

For a long time, I have wanted to write a book. I didn't know if one would ever get published or not, but I have wanted to write a book. I didn't care if it was fiction or nonfiction, but I knew that I wanted to a have a book with my name as the author. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you're probably crazy! But, you may also be my parents.

In 2008, I even started blogging about my experiences as an intern with the intent to turn that into a small book (really a journal). My cooperating principal didn't think that was a good idea, so I scrapped that idea (though I still have 30 blog post drafts waiting to be published).

In 2002, I came up with the opening line for the fictional work that I will someday write. It is....Well, I'll save it for later. I haven't forgotten it, and I don't think I will.

It has finally happened. I am finalizing a book. I have been staying up late at night for the last few weeks trying to get it done in time. Some days it is easier than others to write, but every day it is rewarding.

The book is called "Paperless Principal" and you can preorder it here:

It was inspired by David Sparks' Paperless, which I bought earlier this year. Since I bought that book, I have been staying up late at night organizing a paperless system for our office at work. I spent hours creating those workflows, and realized that I was making it a lot harder than it needed to be. Since we are still so reliant on paper, the goal of a paperless office eludes many of us. It is possible however, to have a mostly paperless office. And I show principals how to do that in my book.

It includes screenshots, screencasts, and a lot of instructions. In the preorder, I include the automation tools that I have talked about in the Paperless Principals posts on this blog. I am also offering a 30 minute Skype/FaceTime/Phone consult to help get people started.

I think it is pretty good. I think you might, too, especially if you are a principal interested in a paperless office. Go support your indie author and buy it.

Have a Good Life.

The Random Folder

Download your random quotes here: #summerblog

As I mentioned in my post yesterday about the Random Quote for Email Signatures , I have a lot of quotes that I have collected from various places over the years. Many of them came from LeadershipFreak on Twitter. And many came from sources that I can't remember now.

If you would like to try it out for yourself, read the post from yesterday, and then feel free to use the TextExpander folder that I created from my list of quotes. Leave your great quotes in the comments. I'll add them to it.

Have a Good Life.

"Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion." - Jack Welsh

Random Quote for Email Signatures

Add a random quote to every email @macdrifter @smilesoftware @keyboardmaestro #summerblog12

I’ve been collecting quotes for a long time. I don’t know how many I have, but there are a lot of them. If I were to print out the text document that they are all saved in, it would be 34 pages.

Here are a couple random quotes:
“Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.” - Bill Moyers 
“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” - Joseph Chilton Pierce 
“Creativity is discontent translated into arts.” - Eric Hoffer
“Things are only impossible until they’re not.” - Jean-Luc Picard
I’ve seen a lot of people put quotes at the bottom of their emails, and if they are lucky, they remember to change them every six months or so. I even get sick of my signature quotes, so I can’t imagine how those who get my emails feel. And I know I get sick of seeing the same ones on others’ emails. So, while trying to learn about something else, I stumbled across the SmileSoftware blog, and I found this particularly useful blog post. Turns out, this is really easy to implement. All you have to do is create a group called “Random” and add your quotes to that group. You don’t even have to create an abbreviation for the quotes.

Then, you create a snippet called “rrand”, or something like that. And change the content to Applescript (This part is pretty important, so don’t forget to do that.)

Then, you insert this code as the content, with “rrand” as the abbreviation:

tell application "TextExpander"

    set groupCount to count (snippets of group "Random")

set randomIndex to random number from 1 to groupCount

    return plain text expansion of ¬

        snippet randomIndex of group "Random"

end tell

That is all on the Smile blog.

The next part is what is really cool. I use Keyboard Maestro, which actually took me a long time to get into it. I found a bunch of helpful hints and helps on Macdrifter. So, I thought I would add to what I have learned from Gabe, and see if it would work.

What this does is adds a random quote to the end of my email, and then sends it when I press CMD+SHIFT+F. I chose that because I send emails in via the shortcut CMD+SHIFT+D, and F is really close to D, so I still retain the option of not adding a quote if I don’t want to. However, it is so easy to do, that I think I will add quotes to the bottom of all my emails.

A couple geeky notes about the Keyboard Maestro Macro.

I had to choose “Type Keystroke” instead of “Insert Text” because TextExpander wouldn’t expand “rrand” unless I did the keystrokes for each letter. Also, using the “CMD+Down Arrow” keystroke forces the cursor to go to the bottom of the email, regardless of what is there. If I already have a signature, there are a few returns built into that so there is always room for a quote.

If I wanted to do this in Outlook, I would just change the last action from “Type the CMD+SHIFT+D Keystroke” to “Type the CMD+Return Keystroke”, and it would work the same way.

This was a pretty fun thing to do. As I use some of these new-to-me tools I realize how much fun it is to tweak with my computer and make it work for me.

Thanks to macdrifter, Smile Software, and Keyboard Maestro for helping me control my computer.

Have a Good Life.

A PBIS Moment

PBIS isn’t just for kids, or for school. It works everywhere, even when going to the dentist.  #summerblog12

Going to the dentist

When I was in Novosibirsk, Russia, serving a mission for my church, I had a tooth problem. My whole inside of my tooth chipped off, and I needed to see a dentist. I’ve never enjoyed going to the dentist, but this was a whole new level of craziness for me. I went to the best dentist I could find. The Russians said “This is a really good one because they use tools from Germany!” So, I went. The female dentist kindly informed me that I would need a root canal. I was not looking forward to that, but we went ahead and did it.

You can probably guess where this is going. The root canal did not go over very well. They did not get all the nerves out, and as they were filling the canals, the pain was so intense that I passed out. It was only the second time I have ever passed out in my life. It was the most pain I have ever felt. Ever.

When I awoke, I was sweaty, cold, and the dental assistant was rubbing my temples, asking me if I was OK. I again reiterated that I needed some novocaine, or anything to dull the intense pain. They finally agreed to give me some.

Since then, I have a very hard time going to the dentist, and what is worse, they always tell me that I have cavities, I need to floss after every meal, and I need to stop clenching my teeth as I sleep.

PBIS Goes to the Dentist

PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. It is essentially a way to get kids to do what you want them to do by giving them positive reinforcement for the good things they are doing, rather than harping on them for the bad things they get caught doing. That works, for about 90% of the students, which, if you ask me, is pretty good. The other 10% need some additional help. But this story is about the dentist using PBIS on me.

I went to a new dental office called the Dental Spa. It is a spa where they have massage (vibrating) chairs, manicures, pedicures, hand, neck and face massages. I thought, maybe if I go somewhere that I can relax, I can enjoy the dentist a little more. Sure enough, while I usually cringe and wince during even simple cleanings, I felt like this was a much better experience. It wasn’t perfect, but I wasn’t as stressed as usual, and I went home relaxed, instead of wired up. All of these little positive interactions helped me feel comfortable, happy and relaxed. It worked very well to prepare me for what was to come.

The dentist said, “You have really been taking good care of your teeth, there are no cavities!” Giving me the impression that it was my hard work that led to my mouth being cavity-free made me feel really good. I felt like I was already doing a good job, and when they said the things they usually say, I felt like I could do it, because they had already told me I was doing great work.

Since that appointment, what have I been doing? Flossing more, brushing longer, using mouthwash.

For what seems like the first time in my life, I didn’t have any cavities! They way they said it made me want to do better. Every single other experience at the dentist has just made me want to go back even less. This time, however, I was more than willing to schedule a followup in 6 months (also something I rarely do; I haven’t been to the same dentist twice in a very long time).

PBIS works on adults as well as children. Being positive is a good way to interact with everyone you deal with.

How did my Russian root canal end up? I had to have it redone, twice, back here in the states. Each visit to the endodontist was awful. Now, that tooth only hurts when it rains.

Have a Good Life.

Advice From an Experienced Principal #summerblog12

Go with your gut when hiring. Never place blame on your superiors

Since we are a Title I school in school improvement, we have a consultant who helps us. He is about 75, and was a principal for about 750 years. At the beginning of the year, he spent a lot of time talking with me and my principal about what our school was like, what our philosophies are about education, and our goals for the school. He is an extremely nice man, and very helpful.
He gave us two pieces of advice, in particular, that are really great, and have stood out to me since he said them, so I figure I should probably write them down somewhere.
  1. When you hire someone, go with your gut, because it is always right. If you feel like you shouldn’t hire someone, listen to that, because they will likely cause you nothing but drama.
  2. Never place blame on the “district” or a superior. If you can’t justify why you are doing something on your own, you shouldn’t do it.
These two pieces of information are really quite simple, but there is a lot of power behind them.
There were two people that I have been involved with in hiring in my career that really illustrate this point well (I wasn’t the one making the decision, so my feelings on this are pretty much worthless, except as it relates to this lesson from our consultant). One, I felt like we shouldn’t hire, and the other I felt like we really should, notwithstanding some warning signs. The one I didn’t feel good about, turned out to have a lot of drama in her life, and that was really sad. The one I did feel good about, turned out to be a really great employee. Since these two experiences happened to me, the advice from our consultant immediately clicked and made sense in my mind.

Follow your heart. It is usually pretty good advice.

The other one, placing blame, relates to enforcing policies and procedures with teachers. The way this makes the most sense to me is to relate it to teachers and their students. We tell teachers all the time that when they send a student to someone else to deal with the problem, they lose a lot of credibility in that student’s eyes. They lose power and authority. What is worse, when a student goes to the administrator because the teacher is at her wit’s end, the administrator cannot possibly feel the frustration that the teacher feels, and so the conversation with the principal and student is a lot less powerful than the talk would be with the teacher. The principal can’t feel the frustration, and the student doesn’t actually work out the problem he has with the teacher, so it perpetuates.

When I was doing my internship, a teacher brought a whole classroom full of students to the vice principal’s office and told them that they were not leaving until the student who had taken a pencil from another student confessed. The poor teacher was frustrated, ragged, and annoyed with her students. Truthfully, she didn’t know what else to do. She was lost and furious that there was drama over a silly little pencil, and yet, she felt this was the best way to get the kids back on task so she could teach them again. She was doing the only thing she could think of doing. The problem is that while she was so upset, the vice principal didn’t care about a pencil when he was in the middle of dealing with a drug deal that was happening at the school. He did his best to support the teacher, but he also needed to get the kids back to class and back to learning. The kids in that moment thought that their teacher didn’t know how to deal with someone stealing something, and they weren’t afraid to see the vice principal because they knew there was really nothing he could do to them. He ended up telling them to go back to class and if the pencil wasn’t where it should be by lunch time, he would sit with them during lunch in their classroom, instead of being able to go to cafeteria and then outside. Not an ideal situation to be sure, but he was very limited in his possible actions. (And, in reality, had the pencil not miraculously shown up, I would have been the one sitting with them.)

If we, as administrators do the same thing, by pointing to our superiors and saying, “Well, this comes from the district, and I can’t go against it,” we lose power. Whether or not the district really has that rule, we are showing that we don’t make the decisions, we just do what we are told. In our American culture, “Yes Men (and Women)” are looked down upon.

To be clear, our consultant wasn’t talking about times when the district actually does require us to do certain things. He was talking about things that we choose to enforce as administrators that are not actually from the district. For example, if a kid brings a weapon to school and threatens another person, it is an immediate suspension. As good as that kid may be, or as much as I may think he is swell, my hands are tied in that instance.

On the other hand, let’s say it is not a requirement in the district for someone to prepare lesson plans and submit them once a week to the principal. If I say, “The district wants me to collect your lesson plans and I need you to turn them in to me every Friday,” I lose credibility. I need to have the courage to tell my teachers that I am the one requiring it of them. If they are going to revolt and get upset, I need to either be ready for that, or I need to do a ton of front loading to get them to understand why we need what I am asking of them.

And surely, if I am going to do something that the district is not going to support, it is not really worth it for me to say the district is requiring it, because they may not like the idea at all. If the teachers do get upset and go over my head, they are certainly going to learn that the district isn’t really making me do it, and that is going to just take me away from where I want to be.
Bill Carozza posted on his blog about why educators aren't on Twitter. He gives three good reasons, but the best one is that "Technology is not intuitive for many educators." He says:
It’s not that the current generation of teachers and administrators aren’t smart enough, savvy enough, or not wanting to learn or connect. It’s simply that they haven’t seen that the juice is worth the squeeze. (emphasis in original)
He is talking about Twitter, but his ideas apply to any piece of technology that would help educators be better at their jobs.

Using a hand juicer, but imagine that is a lemon.
When I was a kid, I had a lemon tree in my front yard, and lived close to orange groves.  When we wanted juice from a lemon, we went out and picked one, and then would somehow squeeze it to get the juice. We usually only needed a little bit of juice, and so just using a small hand squeezer worked well enough for us.

Oranges were a different story. We would have a couple 50-pound bags of oranges at a time, and we wanted enough orange juice for our family of 7 kids to eat with breakfast. When that kind of task was demanded, we needed to go big! We got out the electric juicer which juiced an orange in about 1 second. We made an assembly line of where one person cut, one person juiced, one person threw away peels, one person kept pitchers close by, and one person cleaned up the spilled juice. We got through those 50-pound bags pretty quickly.

What we need to do when it comes to technology and educators is help them understand how to make the squeeze part of it much more simple. For Bill's daughter (who is 22) the squeeze is nearly natural. For some other educators (even new ones who are also 22), the squeeze is a daunting, unachievable task. It is like using a hand juicer for orange juice for 9 people. Nobody wants to do that. We need to help them use the efficient method of juicing. That will help them want to use it, and enjoy using it. They see the results faster, and there is less stress.

I don't know how to do that, but hopefully my paperless principals posts are helping in some small way.

Have a Good Life.

Paperless Principal Part 2: Memos

Automatically file memos away for safekeeping using TextExpander and Hazel.

The Memos

In our district, we are quite lucky in that the district administration has decided that all our memos go out in digital format. So, we get weekly emails, on Fridays, from someone at the district office. These emails give us everything we need to know to do our jobs. There is a lot of info to keep track of, and it is easy to fall behind and not remember everything. Luckily, memos are pretty standard. Ours look like this:


However, the naming scheme is not standardized yet, and it is difficult to find them once you have looked at them. Here is what they look like in my email.

Unreadable Memos
Unreadable Memos

The problem I run into is that I have to really search hard to find the memo after I have received it and read it. I want to be able to enter a search term in Spotlight and have that file pop up somewhere close to the top. If I search for anything that was in a memo in my mail program, I won’t find it. I have to find all the memos, and then go through all those that I am afraid to delete to find the specific memo.

We get these memos in Word, Excel, PDF, or whatever other format happens to be needed for that memo’s purpose. The main memo that explains what other memos might be follows the formatting above. For our purposes, however, it doesn’t matter much. Each department also has all the information for that department in the same place in the same format. The top-right corner has:

  • Department Name
  • Person sending Memo (a director)
  • Contact information for that person

In addition to that, each memo has “MEMO” typed at the top and center of each memo that goes out. If we didn’t get these all digitally, I would use the same process I outline below, but the renaming would take place by highlighting the department name, and using ScanSnap’s software to rename it according to what I had scanned, and then it would file it immediately.

What I Need From My System

I have two requirements for memos:

  1. Know what the memo says (I actually have to read it at some point)
  2. Know where to find it if/when I need it later.

How to Make it Happen

Here is the workflow for the folders:

Email -> Downloads folder -> Action Folder … -> Memos -> department subfolder

I save the attachments from my email and Hazel recognizes that it came from an email with the subject “Friday Memos”, and so it dutifully sends it to my Action Folder where the memos will wait for me.

The action folder is where I take action. That is where I read the memos and then rename them. It is important that I don’t get behind on this step for my workflow and for my continued employment. The ellipses in the workflow above show that I need to interact with them before they can move on.

Once I have read the memo, I rename it using TextExpander. The updated version of TextExpander allows for some great fill-in forms, which means that you can type a string (mine is /memo), and you then it will pop up with a list of options that you have predefined. For this case, it looks like this:

Aggressive Expansion
Aggressive Expansion

As you can see, there are many options to choose from. That looks like it would more difficult, but since I am already renaming by typing, I just type the first couple letters of the department and it selects that automatically. In the screenshot above, I was renaming a memo from the Department of Civil Rights and Accommodations, and so I typed “/memo ci [enter]” and it renamed it “2012–07–01 - memo - civilrights”. Pretty slick, if I do say so, myself.

Once it is renamed, in the action folder, a Hazel rule recognizes its new naming pattern and sends it off to the Memos folder. Then, in the Memos folder, a Hazel rule sorts each memo automatically into the subfolders as seen below.

The Filed Memos
The Filed Memos

In this picture, you can see that I got three memos on the same day from the Department of Partnerships and Community Service. The Hazel rule is set up to add a number to the end of the filename if the filename already exists, which means that it is easy to see what got processed first.

Why go to all this trouble? Because it took a few minutes to set up initially, and now I know where to go whenever I have a question about something I saw in a memo. I can typically remember that I saw something in a memo, and I can usually remember where that memo would have originated from. Is this perfect? Probably not. What would you change?

Have a Good Life.

The Summer Blogging Challenge

Accepted a summer blogging challenge. 

I decided to accept a challenge from Melinda Miller to blog twice a week this summer.

First, I thought I would give an update as to where I am and what I am doing.

In September of last year, I accepted a position as an assistant principal in an elementary school in my district. This is where I want to be, and it is truly amazing. I am so glad to be here. I didn't think that I would like elementary school as much as I do, but I really enjoy it. Being a middle school teacher, I didn't think that I would enjoy all these little kids, but they are a lot of fun. I do miss the conversations about ideas that you have with older students (which was still very infrequent in the middle school).

I have known for a long time that I wanted to be a school administrator. Here are the things that I love most about my job, in no particular order:

  1. Being around kids again. They are fun, and I love seeing them learn. 
  2. Helping adults and kids solve problems. We all have problems, and it doesn't take a genius to solve it, but it does take a listening ear. 
  3. Building a culture. This will happen more when I am a principal on my own, but my principal is great and shares my philosophy, so it is a ton of fun.
  4. Every day is new and exciting. One day could be filled with a lot of discipline issues, another day with a lot of teacher observations, another day with a lot of counseling with teachers or kids, another day immersed in data and interpreting and analyzing it, and another day can be a mixture of all that. I love that things change all the time. 
  5. A new perspective. Elementary school is the foundation. It is where immense learning and changes happen. Kindergartners go from having baby-fat chubby faces to losing that baby-fat while they are learning to read. It is exciting.
  6. Family atmosphere. With a smaller faculty, and fewer kids, we feel much for familial than in a middle school. That is neat to experience. I really care about these teachers and students. I feel like I still have a chance to make a difference in their lives. 
There is a lot more that I love about being here, but those are the big things for now. Some of the challenges I have faced, again, in no particular order:
  1. I still don't get elementary school. There are things that happen that I just don't pay much attention to, and I need to start getting with the program. There are other things that I notice that some elementary people don't notice, so it is a good perspective, but challenging nonetheless.
  2. Curriculum. I am learning, but it takes time to figure out literacy and how kids should learn. I don't know where I would be if I weren't in EBL last year. I learned so much there, and I am so grateful I had that opportunity to learn. 
There are more challenges, as well, but those are the big ones. 

Have a Good Life.

The Paperless Principal, Part 1: Witness Statements

Twitter version: Use ScanSnap, OCR, Hazel, and Boxcar to digitize, notify, and sort all witness statements from students.

Why Go Paperless?

One thing I have learned about myself is that I get overwhelmed and bothered by big stacks of paper on my desk. I don't like having people come into my office when there is all that mess, and I don't feel like I can do anything. I also like having access to the things that I need somewhere on my iOS devices, if I am not by my computer.

I recently picked up the great iBook by David Sparks called Paperless. It is a great read, and Sparks goes into great detail about how to be paperless. He gives a lot of great tips and walks through many different types of software in screencast format. The screencasts are especially beneficial because I like to try things out, and the screencasts are targeted on specific tasks and show how it looks doing that task in the different programs. It helps seeing what you are reading.

He gives some good tips for naming conventions, and recommends three tips: 1. Assume Senility 2. Always put the date first 3. Always use lower-case. Here are our naming conventions as they stand right now. That is subject to change.

Old Workflow

  1. Secretaries collect witness statements.
  2. They put them in my box.
  3. I take them from my box and go through them.
  4. I put them in a pile on my desk, or in my to do box on the desk. 
  5. I don't get around to all of them, and I just keep shuffling them from one pile to another. 
  6. When I do finish them, I write the incident number on the witness statements and send them to the principal's office to be filed. 
  7. Occasionally, we need to look at old witness statements. We've needed to find old statements about 10 times this year. So, more than once per month, which means we need a good system to help us find old statements. 
Here are the problems I have with my current workflow (and how I would hope this new workflow solves them):
  • I have to be in my office to deal with any problems (or carry around a big stack of papers). I am often not in my office. Friday, for example, I set my stuff down in my office, and returned once during the day for a couple minutes, and then packed my stuff up at the end of the day. Solution: Digitizing them allows them to be accessible on my phone without having to be in my office. 
  • I end up with piles of witness statements, some of which could have been handled in two minutes by their teacher. Solution: Piles are gone, and I can email the teachers right after reading the statement and forward it on to the them. 
  • My principal certainly doesn't have time to file all the witness statements (neither do any of the secretaries). Solution: Automatic filing, so even if I don't personally deal with the situation, we have it on record that it was reported and we can at least state what was done. 
  • When a parent or student says they have turned in statements about a recurring problem, it would be really beneficial to review them and ensure that we made a correct response the first time. Also, when we need to send a student on to a district-level hearing, we have an easier time collecting documentation relating to that student's history. Solution: Having all the statements in one folder lets me know that they have (or haven't) complained about something before, and even if I didn't deal with it, I can see their history.

New Workflow

Simple idea version

  1. Scan witness statements.
  2. I get notified and deal with the problem.
  3. I rename the file once it is dealt with or solved.

How the simple idea version actually works

  1. Secretaries usually collect witness statements.
  2. Secretary puts witness statements that I need to review in the scanner (or sends them right to the teacher if she knows they can deal with it).
  3. Statements are OCR'd as they go through.
  4. Hazel reads contents and when it sees "WITNESS STATEMENT" in the document, it renames it to "witness statement.pdf" and sends it through dropbox to my computer. 
  5. My action folder has a Hazel rule that renames files called "witness statement.pdf" to "to do 2012-05-18 witness statement.pdf".
  6. I get a Growl notification on my iPhone (through boxcar) that says "Work - to do 2012-05-18 witness statement".
  7. Then I open my dropbox folder on my phone and see that I have a witness statement in that folder. I can pull the kids out right away, or wait for a bit, depending on the severity. 
  8. When I deal with the problem, I rename the file using Snippets by Conceited Software. The snippet I use is "/wit" which expands to "2012-05-18 witness statement - ##firstname lastname##" where there is a fill-in form for the student's first and last name. (before renaming, I split the multi-page PDF with all the witness statements into a bunch of single-page PDFs and rename them all using the above snippet.)
  9. Once the file is renamed, that means it is completed and logged in our student information system. 
  10. Also, once the file is renamed, Hazel sees the new name that starts with the year, and moves it to the Student Folders folder where...
  11. There is another Hazel rule which sorts it into a subfolder which is alphabetized by student last name(!)!
  12. Then, I have a year's worth (or more) file of all statements by all students that have filled one out!
That is a lot of work to get to this point. Why do it? 

I'll highlight some of the steps of my workflow, as they are pretty amazing. 


We use a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M (though all their scanners are pretty amazing from what I have heard). The software can do OCR as it scans, which is what we have it set up to do, and it will also add keywords to a PDF based on highlighted words in the document, which is something I will work on for some other workflows. The scanner is fast, and slick. It rocks. I haven't had any problems with OCR, even with our nonstandard font on our Think Time sheets. My favorite things about this scanner:

  • Scans both sides of the document
  • Automatically deletes a blank back page
  • OCR on all files
  • Automatically adjusts page to correct orientation

ScanSnap Preferences. Convert to Searchable PDF means OCR.

Hazel Rules

Search contents for the words WITNESS STATEMENT and MUST USE PEN TO COMPLETE (which are easily OCRized phrases that are on our witness statements and not much else), then rename it as "witness statement" in the scanned folder. 

Here are the "sort into subfolders" rules (I use Hazel 3) that are run when another Hazel rule sends files to my "Student Folders" folder.  These are all the rules I have set up for that folder, but I'll focus on the witness statement rule, and the rest build off of that. Somehow I found this cool Hazel rule for renaming and automatically sorting files into subfolders, even if you don't have the folder they will end up in already created, which was a new concept for me. I didn't download his examples, because what I needed was different enough that I didn't want to just edit. The key is custom tokens. Use custom tokens and it will be able to use what work you have done to simplify your life later. 
Custom Tokens is the key


One of my favorite parts of this workflow is that I can use my iPhone or iPad to check out the witness statements. When a new witness statement is added to my action folder, a Hazel rule sends a growl notification (I am not using the app store version of growl) on my computer which stays up until I dismiss it (to ensure that I don't miss any witness statements). I also use Boxcar to send that same notification to my phone. So, on my phone and on my computer are notifications that I have something to deal with. 

Using Files Later

Once I have all the witness statements in the computer, they are in my "Student Folders" folder, organized neatly by student. That is pretty rad, but sometimes I need them. So, I made a smart folder in the finder, which you can see below. This smart folder is called "2012 witness statements" and at the end of the year, I will be able to archive all those and save it is as one large ZIP file that will have every witness statement we collected this year in a neat space. 

Continued Obstacles

  • Witness statements from one event are not grouped together, so each student's folder only has his side of the story. I am not sure if the date is the best way to go about organizing them, but right now, it seems like the best (easiest) way. 
  • Not all events worth recording and documenting come with a witness statement, and students aren't always able to fill them out. 

Plain Talk about Reading Conference: Anita Archer

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Plain Talk about Reading Conference in New Orleans. It was a good conference and there was a lot of good information. Here are my notes from the first session with Anita Archer called "Getting them all engaged: Inclusive, active participation". I did some recordings of it that are included with the zip file. There is a PDF that has my notes. 

Twitter version of this session: 
When we want students to discuss things, we should have sentence starters for them. We want them to discuss, not just state what the "right" answer is. They can be like this:
1. I disagree with you, I think...
2. I disagree with you, because...
3. I agree with you, but I also think...
4. I agree with you, because…
This gives kids an opportunity to discuss things, and not just give a yes or no response. It also opens the door for you to shove some academic language in there when they are discussing. 

See the PDF for the rest of the notes on this session. And, I was sitting in the front row, so I got to see Anita up close. Very close. She kept standing next to me. 

The audio recordings start at these spots in the PDF: 
1st recording: I. A. Active Participation
2nd recording: I. A. c. Gentle Redo
3rd recording: I. B. d. Give students a sentence starter
4th recording: I. C. Less Desirable Practices
5th recording: I. E. b. Why is it better to write on Slates?
6th recording: I. F. a. Why are response cards great? Limited set of responses (increases chance of success)

Have a Good Life.

P.S. For those keeping track at home, I used the app called Notability to take these notes. It is by far my favorite note taking app so far.  

Salt Lake City Bike Tour, Take 2

I did the bike tour again. I wasn't going to do it, but a good friend at work said he was going to, and he is a better rider than I, so I thought it would be a good challenge.

Turns out, we weren't able to meet up, so I couldn't ride with him, but I finished about 15 minutes after him.

The ride was pretty good. I didn't spend too much time drafting other riders. But I did hitch on a couple trains here and there.

The ride was a little bit different than last year, but not enough for it to be a big deal.

This year, I had a heart rate monitor and a speed and cadence sensor attached to me and my bike. I really like having those; they make the ride much more enjoyable. Since I didn't have to worry about much, I kept the screen on my heart rate graph, which was pretty cool to see.

I didn't focus on my speed at all, which is good for me because it usually makes me go slower.

I did get stopped part way through the ride as my chain fell off as I was shifting. That is always a bummer!

Last year it took me 1 hour and 20 minutes to ride 23.87 miles. This year, however, it took me 1 hour and 16 minutes to ride 23.84 miles. My average last year was 17.9 and I wanted to hit 18 mph average and I got 18.7 mph average. I was pretty stoked about that.

I did not run out of energy, despite not eating any carbs. That was cool, too.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

I had a chat with one of our really great kids at my school today. While we were talking, I asked him what he wants to be when he grows up. He said, "When I grow up, I just want to be a good dad and be there for my family."

This kid gets it. He knows what is important in life. What is really important. It is not about money, careers, fame, or anything else. It is about being a good dad who is there for his family.

This kid is going to Have a Good Life.

I Learned That in Primary

Do you ever hear some popular piece of wisdom and think, "Duh! I learned that in Primary"? I do. All the time. I read a lot of research for work. It seems that most research is common sense and if we just think about it for a couple minutes, we could come to the same conclusion. We can usually come to that conclusion because we were already taught it, by our primary teachers.

My point is, Jesus is the source of all truth, and so new research will almost always lead back to His gospel. That is the point of There, I take the research that I am reading, and I apply it to lessons that I have already learned, long ago.

Go on over and check it out. Let me know what you think. I publish a new post every Monday. If you have any requests, let me know.

Have a Good Life.

Take your daughter to work day

I took my daughter with me to work today for "Take Your Daughter to Work Day". She is 4 and loves preschool and can't wait to go to Kindergarten.

She had a great time at work with me and loved the attention she got from the students and loved being with big kids. She did really well, and we even got to ride the bus in the afternoon.

What really amazed me was how the other students interacted with her. Being the Assistant Principal, I get to deal with a lot of kids who struggle in various ways. Those kids were exceptional when they were around her, without fail. It was fascinating to see how they changed when she was there. I really enjoyed seeing how they were kind to her, compassionate and very friendly. One fifth grader even got her set up on a web site where she could play games. He took great care to make sure that she was on a game that was appropriate for her. I was really proud of my "other" kids for treating my kid so well.

I don't know exactly why they were so good to her, but they were, and it really made me remember that they are great little people that I get to work with every day.