[In the Interruption]

I had an ambitious agenda planned for myself today, and here’s how things played out:

First hour of the workday

  • Plan: To grade a stack of quizzes and plan a class.
  • Reality: On my way into school, a panicked teacher asked me if I could stop by his class to provide “real world” feedback for a group presentation. His expected guest didn’t work out, so he needed a quick replacement.  I graded and planned for 25% of the time I had set aside for the task and then went to the class to provide feedback.  [In the class, I met some amazing 9th graders; I also had a chance to briefly discuss queuing theory with the teacher — not a conversation I have every day — since it might be useful to the students’ project.]

Second hour of the workday

  • Plan: To meet with a colleague.
  • Reality: We started the meeting a few minutes late (thanks to the fact that I was observing the class above), and we were interrupted by a fire drill. [During the fire drill, I bumped into a colleague who is beginning her leadership path.  We walked back into the building together and had a chance to have a quick, reflective discussion about a recent experience that she had.  I felt like I was able to provide some support to her at a time when she might have needed it.]

Third hour of the workday

  • Plan: To meet with a student to discuss sketch-noting.
  • Reality: We had this meeting, and in the middle of it, I pulled in another administrator who I thought could help this student develop a role as our school’s Sketchnoter-in-Residence.  I literally asked the student to “pitch” her idea to the administrator, and the administrator not only listened to, but also strengthened the proposition.  [This was a completely improvised outcome — not what I expected at the start of the meeting.  After the student left, I continued talking with my colleague for a long time.  We discussed media platforms, writing, and how she might be able to use her interests to connect with educators outside of our school.  We had vaguely planned to have this discussion, and it fit in perfectly after our conversation with the previously mentioned student, so we went with it.]

At 5:15, I looked at my schedule and was about to put my head down to try to finish off a few more planned tasks.  But then I hesitated and thought about my day.  The pattern above continued off and on from 11 – 5.  In the moment, getting knocked off task had been frustrating, but in retrospect, I realized that I did my best work in the interruptions, in the unplanned territory.   I immediately got up, packed up, went home, fired up the barbecue grill, and invited my family to a completely different kind of weekday dinner.  Why?

Because the unplanned part of my day had been so rich, so filled with surprises and good connections, that I decided to let that part win.  Not surprisingly, I did my best work — this time, as a husband and a father — there, in the interruption. [       ]

Automated Humanity

This year, I’ve been using youcanbook.me. One of the things I like best about the service, which I pay for, is the ways in which you can customize and personalize it.  It automates part of your life — the back and forth involved in scheduling meetings — but the automation can increase the humanity of the tail end of the exchange if it is used properly.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 5.10.51 PM

Q6 above is one that I wrote and added myself.  It appears after a person has nearly completed booking a meeting with me.  I like the fact that it forces the person to focus on a clear outcome for the meeting.  I also like the fact that it helps me to prepare, in advance of the meeting, to best serve the person with whom I will meet.  A thoughtful answer to the question helps the person calling the meeting and the person called to the meeting; it provides a little nudge to help us both make the most of our face-to-face time together.

Here’s an answer I received in advance of a meeting I’m having tomorrow.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 5.16.49 PMThe assignment was completely unexpected, but its specificity has inspired me to pull a few books off my shelf and look up a few resources.  When the meeting starts, we’ll be five steps ahead — ready to dive into things that truly matter to this particular person.


There’s IQ, EQ, and now GQ.

GQ is something I made up*, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind when you give presentations or work with students (or anyone you are trying to teach).  It means Google Quotient (like IQ means Intelligence Quotient and EQ means Emotional Quotient).

If you succeed in a presentation, you will not only transfer information or enthusiasm to your audience; you will also implant questions or bits of half-remembered concepts that people will be able to look up (i.e., “Google”) when they are back at work.

So, for example, if you’re presenting to a group and you show them how to assign comments in a Google Doc, they don’t have to remember every single step.  As long as they remember that such a move — assigning comments — is possible, they will be able to follow the Google breadcrumb trail and figure out how to achieve their goal.

When you make presentations, remind people that they don’t have to remember everything you tell them or show them.  All they have to do is remember what to look up, what to Google, and they will have derived some benefit from spending time with you.

*I made up GQ today in that I coined the phrase.  I observed it in the wild the last time I watched Reshan Richards present.  I don’t remember everything he showed me, but I remember something about everything he showed me.  I can use that something to access more detail, via Google, whenever I need to.

To Lead, Step Back and . . . Notice

My colleague and friend Jordan Raper sent me a link about leadership this morning.  I’ve read a ton about leadership, so these days, I generally scan for newness.

Jordan is an accomplished soccer coach, so I wasn’t surprised when he sent me something about Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the best soccer coaches ever.  What surprised and delighted me was the section wherein Ferguson credits his success at least in part to one of my favorite tools — the simple act of noticing.

As he matured as a coach, Ferguson delegated to his assistant coaches more of the actual training of his players.  This freed him up to make an important shift in his practice.  Switching “from coaching to observing . . . allowed him to better evaluate the players and their performances.”  Moving out of the scrum of hands-on training, where one’s focus is necessarily tight, helped him to “spot changes in training patterns, energy levels, and work rates.”

Ferguson’s own words are pure gold for people attempting to help individuals or teams excel (or even to improve their own performance):

[What] you can pick up by watching is incredibly valuable. Once I stepped out of the bubble, I became more aware of a range of details, and my performance level jumped. Seeing a change in a player’s habits or a sudden dip in his enthusiasm allowed me to go further with him: Is it family problems? Is he struggling financially? Is he tired? What kind of mood is he in? Sometimes I could even tell that a player was injured when he thought he was fine.

I don’t think many people fully understand the value of observing. I came to see observation as a critical part of my management skills. The ability to see things is key—or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.

That last twist — on the unexpected — is worth savoring.  Here’s the article in full.

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Busted Buffers

This year, I added buffers to most of the events on my calendar.  So, if a meeting is supposed to start at 10 and it will take me 15 minutes to get there, I list its start time on my calendar at 9:45.  Likewise, if I’m running a meeting that’s supposed to end at 11, but I want to be sure to write down some notes after it, I list the meeting’s end time on my calendar as 11:15.  These 15 minute segments are called buffers, and they are supposed to ensure realistic transitions between events in a calendar.

Sounds great, right?  The only problem is that my buffers haven’t survived their collision with reality.  They are the first things I trim when I have to fit in another meeting, another commitment, another task.  They are the first things to go when I’m trying to jam something into my calendar.

Which is kind of goofy when you really think about it.  Removing buffers is like removing oil from your car.  Eventually, the machine parts that keep the car running will grind against one another, creating friction, and ultimately, damage.  Then the car breaks down when you’re in the middle of Iowa, and all you can do is stare at the corn fields and hope for a miracle.

In my experience, that usually happens to teachers and school administrators around February, long past the point when all buffers have been ground down to nothing.

The Professional Mistake Maker

Today I returned graded work for the first time to my new ninth grade English class.  I always find this moment — a reminder of the somewhat (disappointingly) transactional nature of school — a little rough.

Before distributing the work, I decided to share a few minutes (roughly 8:29 – 13:00) of a podcast that Tim Ferriss recently recorded with hedge fund mastermind Ray Dalio.  I asked students to listen to the segment and to try to figure out how it was related to the feedback process at school.  My question: What does Ray Dalio, hedge fund billionaire, have to do with the feedback I have just put on your papers?

The podcast felt like a risk.  I wasn’t sure how my students would respond to two men talking about investing*.  But as soon as I heard Dalio’s Long Island accent and watched the students lean toward the computer speaker, I knew I had made a good choice.  After I stopped the recording, the students instantly started talking about the importance of humility (which Dalio mentions) in improvement, how we should strive to convert mistakes into wisdom, and the fact that Dalio’s formula (pain + reflection = progress) seems valuable for the endeavor of being a student, both in school and out.

When one student looked up Dalio’s astronomical net worth and mentioned it to the class, another student said, “and he says he got there because he’s a professional mistake maker.”  I think there’s a good lesson in there somewhere.

Lessons from the Lemonade Stand

On Sunday, my daughter set up a lemonade stand for the very first time.  She handled everything — buying lemons, standing in line at the bank to get change, making a sign — and ultimately made a small profit that included a two dollar bill. But heading into late morning on Saturday, I was more than a little bit worried about the endeavor because my daughter, being 8, seemed to think that a lemonade stand and homemade lemonade would appear at the simple snap of her fingers.

As I tried to explain all the steps involved, she lost interest and I became frustrated.  I was facing a very typical teaching / parenting challenge: how on earth can I move what’s in my brain into the brain of my student / daughter?  How can I help her to see what I know to be true?

That’s when I reached for my iPAd and handed it to her.  I knew the tool would attract her attention.  And, beyond that, I knew it would slow both of us down enough to help us do some real planning.

She opened Explain Everything, and we worked in one slide at a time to trace the process from ingredients to first sale.  Because she had to draw almost everything, she had to literally visualize each step.  By the time we were finished, she was fully in command of the 25+ steps it would take for her to turn her vision into reality.  She took me by the hand and led me through the rest of the day, telling us where we needed to go and what we needed to do.  By Sunday afternoon, she was ready to go.

I sometimes hesitate to pick up my iPad because I’m not fluent enough in the tools it offers to use it to capture my thinking.  I admit that.  But I have to continually remind myself that, as a teacher / parent, my thinking isn’t what’s most important.  Whatever helps my student / child think best — understanding the problem she is trying to solve and her own agency in seeking solutions — is the tool I should try to provide.  If I don’t do that, then I’m simply in the way, maybe even part of the problem.