Cool Tools for School, Thing 12: Final Reflections

For my final reflections, I thought I’d try using Adobe Spark Video. I’ve used it once before to create a summary video about my trip to the AASL National Conference but this time, I made use of the voice recording option in addition to the pictures and text! Although the audio gets a bit wonky in spots, I think it turned out pretty well and it wasn’t too difficult to put together (once I got my thoughts in order that is).

Here’s a link to my Spark Video in case the embed doesn’t work (I seem to be able to see the video embed in edit mode but once I hit publish it’s just a link? Not sure what’s up with that…)



Cool Tools, Thing 39: Productivity

For this one I thought I’d tackle my own version of “How We Work” and share some of my favorite productivity tools and strategies. I actually found it pretty helpful to think some of these answers through-I’m definitely more in tune with what has been working for me (and what hasn’t!) this year after writing this one. I hope it helps some of you as much as it helped me.

Location: Savannah, NY

Current gig: Elementary School Librarian for Oswego CSD (Fitzhugh Park building)

Current mobile device: iPhone 6

Current computer: MacBook Pro (circa 2010)

One word that best describes how you work: Strategically

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?: Stitcher! Podcasts have turned my hour long commute to work into something I enjoy and look forward to-I love learning something new or hearing an entertaining story and have been known to sit in my car in my garage when I finally get home just so I can finish an episode. Being able to customize my podcast playlists with Stitcher has made my podcast listening that much more enjoyable.

Screenshots of some of the podcasts on my Favorites list on Stitcher

What’s your workspace like? Colorful, whimsical, organized (obviously ;-)

What my office looks like on any given day.

What’s your best time-saving trick? Planning and prepping ahead of time whenever and wherever possible. Some of my favorite ways to do that include:

    • Planning all my outfits for the week on the weekend after I finish all the laundry. Before I start pulling them together, I pull out my planner to see what I have to tackle that week (meetings I have to attend, after school commitments etc) and check the week’s weather forecast. Armed with that information, I plan out every outfit from the undergarments to the accessories. I hang everything for each outfit on their own hangers and hang them up in my bedroom in order, from Monday to Friday, with the shoes I’ll wear with each lined up under them.
    • Packing my lunch the night before (as soon as I get home from work-before I even change out of my work clothes!). Since I don’t have to worry about picking out my clothes for the next day when I get home from work I focus that energy on packing my lunch for the next day.
    • Prepping my breakfast smoothie the night before.  Since I’m already in the kitchen preparing my lunch and most mornings I have a smoothie for breakfast on the way to work, I take care of breakfast as soon as I get home from work the night before as well. I pre-blend all the non-frozen ingredients for my smoothie and put the blender jar in the fridge. That way, the next morning, when I’m grabbing my lunch from the fridge, I pull the blender jar out, throw a few handfuls of frozen fruit in it, blend up my breakfast and go.
    • Prepping for the next day’s lessons/needs before I leave work each night. I try to never leave work without making sure the craziness of the day has been cleaned up/reorganized and the as many of the things I’ll need for the next day are gathered together ready to go (books for read alouds, handouts, craft supplies etc).

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? I have a 3 part system I like to use for managing my life and my to-do lists (surprise, surprise).

    • Part One: For managing the big picture to-dos (what monthly to-dos and obligations, curriculum mapping/planning) I like to use my Erin Condren teacher planner. These things aren’t cheap but I absolutely adore mine! I usually order the next school year’s planner in March because they’ll have a 30% off coupon code sometime around St. Patrick’s day you can use on the planner. I have been ordering these planners for years now so trust me when I say, 30% off is a great discount code. More importantly, while the site often offers up discount codes, they usually exclude the teacher planner for some reason. I know without fail that the St. Patrick day sale will be 30% off and will include the teacher planners so I just go for it and get next year’s planner before the current year has even started the 4th quarter.
    • Part Two: Last year for Thing 37, I mentioned that I was reading Maia Heyck-Merlin’s book, The Together Teacher. To manage my weekly expectations and to-dos, I’ve been using her Together Teacher Weekly Worksheets. At the beginning of the school year, I printed off one for each week of the school year (and some of her other handy organizational handouts), holed punched them and, put them in a binder with labeled dividers. Now, on Fridays, as part of my end of week wrap-up, I pull a blank weekly worksheet and fill it in for the next week with everything and anything I know is on the next week’s schedule. I keep it clipped to the front cover of my planner and as the week progresses, things are added and removed from the worksheet as needed.
    • Part Three: Finally, to keep track of the small, last minute things that get thrown my way when teachers are picking up and dropping off their classes (or just popping in during the day for other things), I’ve been using Google Keep. It’s like an electronic version of a desktop covered in post-it notes. I learned about Google Keep at a 2 day Google Bootcamp I attended this summer through OCM Boces. While I use it most often when I’m at the circulation desk (I always make sure it’s one of the open tabs when I set up the circ desk for the day), I love that I can also access it from my office computer or phone/iPad when I’m away from school. And because it’s a Google App, everything syncs and updates automatically. I cross reference the notes and to-dos on Google Keep periodically with my weekly worksheet and planner to make sure everything is accounted for and nothing slips through the cracks.

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Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without? I’d call it a tie between my blender and my coffee maker because if I’m not drinking a smoothie for breakfast, I’m drinking coffee. And starting my day without one of those isn’t a pretty situation for anyone!

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? This is so silly but, I’d have to say answering the phone. Before I ever went back to school to be a school librarian, I spent almost all of my 20’s working as an administrative assistant in the business office at a high end athletic club. This club prided itself on it’s customer service (our training program was developed by the same people who developed the Ritz Carlton’s customer service training program) and as such, there absolutely was a correct way to answer the phone (and transfer a call, and leave a voicemail message, and take a message, and even a correct way to hang up the phone). I can’t help it, even after all these years, when I answer the phone at work, I do it like I was trained back then. People often comment on how I nicely and professionally I answer the phone. And it drives me nuts when other people lack some of that same professionalism. For example, please don’t just answer a phone at a workplace with “Hello”. Ummm, who am I talking to, what room have I reached? If I’ve accidentally dialed the wrong extension it would behoove us both to figure that out before I’ve launched into whatever thing I needed to call you about. And even worse is when people leave me voicemails without identifying who they are or where they are calling from-and when you leave your number, for the love of everything, slow down and make sure you repeat it! People don’t want to have to listen to a message multiple times to try to get all the digits in that phone number you just rapid fired out. Whew! Like I said, I have some intense customer service training in my background and well, I can get kind of passionate about the topic. 

What are you currently reading? The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students by Daniel Rechtschaffen. I’m reading it for a book study I’m doing through Oswego Boces. As far as pleasure reading goes, I’m in between books right now but am on the waitlist for several ebooks at my local library including: What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan, The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking and, So, You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Also, ebooks are another one of my time saving secrets. I’m constantly forgetting to return books to the library on time, accruing overdue fees and then, I inevitably end up making some special trip to finally get the books back and pay my fines. When I checkout an ebook though, it just disappears when the loan time has expired. No special trips to the library, no more overdue fees.

What do you listen to while you work? When I’m out in the library, children talking and (hopefully!) learning; when I’m in my office, the sounds of my co-workers in the copy room attached to my office; and when I’m at home, whatever mischief my husband and dogs are up to. I also have a noise app I’m fond of called Noisli. I like that not only does it offer different sound options for background noise, it lets you create your own soundscape mix. My favorite soundscape I’ve made for myself is the noisy coffee shop, laid over the sound of a crackling fire, with the subtle sound of rain falling in the remote background. Sometimes, when I want (or need!) the library atmosphere to be more relaxed than normal, I’ll put Pandora on through the smartboard speakers and we’ll listen to the Calm Meditation channel. 

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? I’m an introvert. People are often surprised when I say that because I’m not shy or quiet. I can actually be quite loud, outgoing and, talkative (I’ve been described as obnoxiously peppy and even my nearest and dearest have told me I’m “exhausting” and can be “a lot to handle”). However, I can only handle so much time with other people around. I need my alone time, I crave my alone time and I’m only able to be that peppy, perky, overwhelming person for so long before I need to recharge my battery with some solitude. I cram a lot into my work weeks so when it’s time for the weekends, I’m more than happy to only leave the house for my weekly grocery shopping trip and spend the rest of the time relaxing at home with my husband and dogs.  

What’s your sleep routine like? Most nights, I’m in bed by 10 pm or 10:30 pm then, I’ll watch a little tv or read until I fall asleep. I like to get to work good and early that way I can leisurely prepare anything for the day I couldn’t get to the previous afternoon. But, that means with my hour commute I have to leave by 6:30 am. Rushing around trying to get ready for work is a sure fire way to put me in a bad mood before the day even starts so, to maintain that 6:30 am leave time, I have to get up by 5:30 am so I can start my day relaxed. I’m trying to get back into working out again and I know from past experience that I’m more likely to stick to working out if I get it over with first thing in the morning. Which means, unfortunately, I’ll have to get up even earlier than 5:30 am. I’ve been slowly trying to bump up my wake up time to leave myself room to work out, still get ready at a relaxed pace and, leave by 6:30. It’s definitely a work in progress situation!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? After finishing my bachelors degree (it would be another 6 years before I figured out what I wanted to go back to grad school for), I got my first “adult”, full time, year round job. The athletic club I had been working at part time was looking for a new administrative assistant for the business office manager so I transitioned from working part time in the child care center to full time in the business office. I shared an office with the personnel department’s administrative assistant, a woman named Nancy. Nancy had worked in a variety offices and industries over the years. She gave me two pieces of advice I’ve always remembered and frequently applied at work over the year: 

  • 1st piece of sage advice from Nancy: One day, early in my time there, the general manager asked me to work on something for him. Thinking I was being helpful, I outlined several things I had going on and why it might not be possible for me to get it done by the day he wanted it done. After he left, Nancy pulled me aside and said, “(General Manager) is a busy guy. He doesn’t want to hear why it might be difficult for you to get to the projects he gives you. He just wants to delegate and know it will be taken care of. The next time he asks you to do a project for him; smile and say ‘Of course I can do that. When do you need it by?’, ask any follow up questions you need to do it well and then adjust your schedules and priorities to get his job done when he needs it done. And whenever possible, get it to him earlier than you promised.” It seems obvious now, but at the time, it was an eye opening piece of advice. The people in charge want results, not excuses. And they want to know if you are the person who can get them those results. I started following Nancy’s advice with the general manager (and other department managers when they needed my help) and it completely changed how they perceived me and my abilities. I become a dependable, reliable, go-to person for getting things done.
  • 2nd piece of sage advice from Nancy: “Sometimes, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” This is an old saying but, at the time, Nancy was the first person who I ever heard say it. And I loved it. Truly, to get things done, you sometimes to just have to forge ahead and go for it. Bosses are busy people (see above) and don’t have time to be bogged down with every little detail. And some people by nature, only see the reasons why you shouldn’t do something or why something might not work and many people aren’t willing to take the risk and give the go ahead on something they don’t think will pan out. They need someone who goes ahead and just does it-just makes it work (they just don’t always know they need that). It’s advice that needs to be used strategically but, so far, it hasn’t steered me wrong yet.


Cool Tools for Schools, Thing 21: Productivity Part I

This is a topic I’m excited about! While I think I’m a fairly productive and organized person, I also think I could be more efficient and get more done in less time. I’d love to figure out where I can save some time or work smarter so I can spend my time on other things (like coming up with awesome lesson ideas or spending time with my husband or hiking with my dogs or reading a book…)

Here are some things I currently use that I think make me more productive, efficient, organized and, a just plain awesome person:

  • Good old pen & paper

My teacher planner from Erin CondrenI know this isn’t the most ground breaking or exciting think to cite on a list of your productivity tools but for me, as much as I love my tech, nothing beats paper and pen for keeping me organized. Two things I’ve learned about myself over the years: I am a visual person and writing things down helps make things “real” to me. I need to see my schedule on paper and my plans on a calendar for them to make sense for me. I also need to write things down whether its on a calendar or a to do list, for them to really sink in with my brain and become fact for me. Typing an event on my iPhone calendar or into a to do list just doesn’t make it stick in my brain quite the same as writing it down does.

To that end, two of my favorite pen & paper products are those pads of paper that double as mouse pads (I use mine to keep my to do list literally right at my fingers without having another thing cluttering up my desk). The other think I can’t live without is my Erin Condren teacher planner. They aren’t cheap by any means but, they work better for me than any other lesson book I’ve ever seen. They’re also gorgeous and you can personalize them to further meet your needs. When you depend on good old paper & pen as much as I do, sometimes you just have to splurge on that paper.

Okay, here’s the thing: as a first year teacher librarian last year I was completely overwhelmed with the task of coming up with a curriculum map and lesson plans for the 24 classes I taught each.and.every.week. I know as a first year teacher that is kind of par for the course and all but, it still sucked and stressed me out. See, I was the third librarian in three years at my school. I inherited an empty desk and an almost empty file cabinet. There wasn’t a single lesson plan or curriculum map to guide me. I was overwhelmed trying to come up with a curriculum map for all seven grade levels from scratch. Like, to the point where I found myself occasionally being jealous of my classroom teachers because the modules told them exactly what to do and when to do it. When you find yourself coveting the thing most of your fellow educators hate with the burning fire of a thousand suns just because it gives them a direction, you know you need to find a better way to do what you’re doing. While hunting the inter webs for some sample curriculum maps I came across this website. I tried some of her sample lessons and really liked them. So, when her full curriculum went on sale over the summer, I bit the bullet and bought it. I don’t regret it at all. Her lesson plans are complete, creative and can be used as stand alone lessons or library centers (I had dabbled with library centers last year and wanted to try them more this year). She even organized all the extras for the lesson plans (power points, Prezis, activity sheets, recommended websites etc) online by grade level. Now, instead of spending hours a night and my whole weekends creating lesson plans, I spend one weekend a month organizing my lessons into centers for the upcoming month. I think it  ended up being two cents a day for all this. My time and sanity are definitely worth the two cents a day.

Oh, and she did several free webinars over the summer that I found very interesting and helpful. I especially enjoyed the one on library helpers and how to promote your school library during open house.

If one of your resolutions was to follow a budget or just be more fiscally responsible Mint is your new best friend.  Mint lets you create your own budget, gathers all your financial information into one place so you don’t have to login to all your accounts separately to see what’s going on with your bills/money, sets up bill reminders, gives you a free credit check, alerts you to unusual activity and more. Mint can seriously save your hours of time – I have a brother-in-law who spends hours each week inputting each and every receipt and transaction he and his wife have made that week into a Quicken spreadsheet. Mint does that all for you automatically (and then some) and it’s FREE! (I have told said brother-in-law about the awesomeness of Mint but for some reason, he’s still kicking it old school when it comes to his budget…) Mint lets me feel uber responsible about my money and very adult like (I can tell you exactly how much I spent on clothes and entertainment last month and whether or not it was in budget in seconds) without requiring a ridiculous amount of time and effort on my part.

  • Stitcher app

I don’t know if this one makes me more productive or efficient, but it does make my 50 minute commute more enjoyable and I feel like a smarter more interesting person after a week of listening to my Stitcher app, something I couldn’t ever say about listening to morning radio DJs.

The Stitcher app allows you to “stitch” together your own list of podcasts, news and, public radio into your own personal radio station playlist. There are literally thousands to choose from on the Stitcher app. Here is what I enjoy listening to on my way to and from work:

Stuff Mom Never Told You                                    The Math Dude Quick and Dirty Tips

The Dog Trainers Quick and Dirty Tips              The Splendid Table

TED Radio Hour                                                      Stuff You Missed in History Class

60-Second Civics                                                     How to do Everything

Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips                   Stuff You Should Know

A Way with Words                                                  Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me

Stuff to Blow Your Mind                                       Freakonomics Radio

So those are some of the tools and tricks I use already to try to be a more productive and amazing teacher/librarian/person. Next time I shall what I decided to try in the name of being more productive and amazing than EVER BEFORE!