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Email Extremism

Pulled in many directions…

Fascinating report from WBUR that links to two separate articles about emails in the workplace. Inspired by Principal Gerry Brooks, I wrote my own take on the content of emails not too long ago, and this ties in with the productivity, or lack thereof, with emails.

From the outset, I’ll say that though I don’t feel any grand accomplishment in compiling emails by name and then hitting the delete key en masse, I do sometimes need this mindless activity. Every minute of our waking hours shouldn’t be constructed as ‘productive.’ To me that is such a Puritan-Western-worker-bee mindset. However, these studies offer important ideas around the time thievery of email, and caution us all in terms of what is productive and counter-productive. Communication and its value is subjective, however: what we send in those emails is just as important as how much time they take. Would banning emails in a school for a time period help with both teacher and student productivity, and more importantly: would it help with creativity and communication? Is it even feasible to consider this?

From the article, ‘Some Companies Are Banning Email and Getting More Done’ by David Burkus

They continued the “no-email” condition for five days, continued to observe the participants, track their computer usage, and measure their heart rates. Participants began to communicate face-to-face and over the telephone more frequently. Most participants also spent significantly more time in each computer program that they used, suggesting that they were much less distracted. Judging by heart rates, participants also experienced significantly less stress when blocked from email. The participants even noticed this effect themselves. They consistently reported feeling more relaxed and focused, as well as more productive, with their email shut off than under normal working conditions.

I’ve been using Moodle, and now Canvas, for years. Canvas is superior to Moodle, and it is my wish we continue to use this platform. One of its advantages (and there is another side to this sword) is students can upload just about any assignment during a time frame, allowing teachers to monitor progress in real time. When it’s done, it’s done. It provides a message to them and there are no papers to lose or blame to be thrown. However, the disadvantage is if I close an assignment and give it a hard deadline, inevitably there will be students who can’t or didn’t turn it in, see the grade in the grading system, panic, and then email it to me. So now I have another digital record. I try to be patient about this. If I need to ‘open’ the assignment again, I will, but then I have stragglers who turn things in and have to explain I’ll do another grade sweep when it’s convenient for me. I try my best to keep within a two-week turn around. So, I am managed by the online management systems.

Next year I am considering a ban from students in emails, and banning or limiting myself in how often I check emails. But this cultural professional shift can’t reside from me, it must come from administration. We need our emails to be accessible at all times in a school environment for safety reasons. But there are some personal rules I can create to help my own definition of success or productivity.

Perhaps the right course of action is to consider the article’s advice, ‘Stop Doing Low-Value Work’ by Priscella Claman. 

Some of my personal rules may be:

*The emails I generate are short. If it’s longer than a paragraph, then I will just email the stakeholders when they’re available to talk in person.

*Make sure subject lines are informative and direct

*Check before school, after school, during planning. Period.

The tasks where I want to be more productive include student feedback. If emails and other ‘low-value tasks’ are taking away energy then I’m doing it wrong. Student feedback is key, and that’s the first order of business.

Any thoughts on this process or information? I’d love to hear them!



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ISTE bitsy conference…


Kristin, Lisa, and Karen aka Kelly

ISTE is far from an itsy-bitsy anything. It’s huge, overwhelming, and one gigantic impression is, sweet baby keyboard, there is so much money in ed-tech.

But discussing money is crass. And yes, money happens. It’s no big deal, just a fact. Some of my favorite memories neccisitated money being spent.

Excuse me, though, because I am going to plead lack of oxygen in the Mile-High City for my loopiness and momentary indiscretion and vulgarity of speaking about money.

There are the luminaries of education/technology here, and I’m going to try to figure out how to see them. Unfortunately, my dear friend John Spencer @spencerideas is not. But he lives right down the west side of the states from me now, so perhaps someday we’ll get to meet.

I’m reading through my Twitter feed, and some folks who are here:

  • Pernille Rip
  • Vicky Davis
  • George Couros
  • Shelly Sanchez @shellterrell
  • Leslie Fisher (saw her, and even got a hug!)
  • and so many more…

It’s only my second day at the conference. I went to hear Michio Kaku speak for the first keynote address, and it was good, but a bit odd. That’s all I can say for now: just, “odd.”

Some helpful links:

But mostly I am here because of my never-ending longing to see my friends since middle school from the Denver area. And though a lady need not give away her age, we’re in the decades of achievement-level friendship. I love these women, and they’ve opened up their time, homes, and hearts to me during this trip. I make a point of saying this, because I think each of us is at somewhat of a crossroads. I imagine the success of some of the bloggers, authors, etc. and wonder how I’m going to define success for myself here on out.

And maybe that’s what all the gizmos, gadgets, whodiggits, maker bits, all cumulate to: another means to stay in touch, to connect, and to share. Money well spent.


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Read the book, dummy.



I belong to the Notice & Note Facebook group, and it’s marvelous. Teachers helping other teachers, all grade levels (but predominately K-8), finding books, helping with lessons/units, etc. The big focus is on Kylene Beer’s and Robert Probst’s new book, Reading Nonfiction: Notice and Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, and therefore embarrassed myself a bit by one of my questions in a post. A teacher named Lisa Roth put together this PowerPoint intended to share with staff. (I hope she doesn’t mind if I link it here: if yes, I’ll take it down post haste.)

While reading through her presentation, what caught my eye was the idea that ancient stories or ‘campfire stories’ are nonfiction. Campfire and ancient stories are something I’m very familiar with, having created units on early human story telling for 8th grade, that ties in with the World Studies history. At least I thought I was an expert, but according to Beers and Probst, campfire stories are non-fiction. I asked for clarification, and Roth’s interpretation of N&N Nonfiction makes sense: those stories were meant to inform. Yes, they were. They were origin stories, creation stories, explanations for the beginnings and the endings of things. That makes sense. But–and here is where I ran out and clicked on the book link to buy it–I can imagine teaching the context of genre and how genre shifts with new knowledge is going to be critical.

But before a rush to judgment, I will be reading with a lens that my personal theory is not all campfire stories were meant to inform. Or rather, humans didn’t need to hear and share stories with pure entertainment and escapism value. Nonfiction connotes such dryness for me, and that’s wrong. And I am going to check my bias, because more likely than not, my students believe stories as if they were factual, and it’s time to deconstruct that notion. Think about it: urban legends, social media comments, texts –they are not meant to entertain, but to state opinions as facts.

I remember when introducing Greek/Roman mythology trying to put it in context for students, and dancing around a theological line: these gods and goddess died because no (human) believed in them anymore, but at the time, the cultural belief system was as strong as any current religion today. Some students, occasionally, would suggest we bring back Zeus and Hera.

Perhaps there is another word, a portmanteau, that integrates fiction and nonfiction: truthiction? Stories intended to inform but are based on limited knowledge? Maybe I’ll leave that one up to my students next year to discuss and decide. Yes, I think that’s best.

Here is a better idea: if stories are meant to inform, enlighten, or motivate, then perhaps a unit on civic engagement is in order:

Summer Readings to Inspire Teachers about Project Based Learning with Civic Engagement by Steven Zemelman

So while I’m waiting for my copy of Notice & Note, Nonfiction version, I’ll be brushing up on my legends and mythology, and continue to dig out the truths in those stories.

If you’d like some dedicated nonfiction articles about storytelling and ancient humans, here are some links:

Oh, and I started a Youtube Channel:

love youtube channel


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Sticks, stones, and comment feeds


This blog acts as a digital sketchbook, a virtual cocktail napkin, as a means of my sorting of thoughts. I am truly interested in what you think, too, so please comment.

The question is: do we label ourselves and others too much?

I know a single mother whose son just graduated high school. Our sons went to School of Rock together, and she took some great photographs during my son’s time there. These young people are amazing musicians. She has survived cancer, is stunningly beautiful, smart, edgy, and talented. She has pink hair. She has perfect skin. She thinks for herself. This I’ve gathered from her social media posts, as I’ve never had the pleasure to meet in ‘in real life,’ or as gamers say, IRL. Her posts are engaging and interesting. I wonder, though, if I would still think so if I disagreed with them? And when politicians/voters label Sanders’ supporters with ‘BernieBro’ or “Sandanistas*’, how does she fit in? She’s almost fifty years old, and certainly not a ‘bro.’ But her voice doesn’t seem to ‘count.’ So whose does?

John Spencer had me thinking the other day (as he’s been known to do) when he commented on a post of mine about ‘toxic masculinity.’ At first, I justified my use of this term, because labels are convenient. The shorthand facilitates speed, but perhaps it does not produce contemplation. He stated:

“But there’s another risk, which is what happens when a negative term is applied to a group. Members of that group either view the critique as extreme and they tune it out or they actively fight against it. I’m not arguing for tone policing or man-splaining or anything like that. People can certainly feel free to use it. It’s just for me, “toxic masculinity” seems to have the same ickiness factor that “white trash” or “feminazi” or “radical Muslim” all have.”

I wonder if ‘white privilege’ fits in here, too. Not sure. What I do know is in this digital age we’ve become so accustomed to trying to be clever with the next quippy saying or catchphrase we don’t consider things in depth. Our human brains still respond emotionally. Which leads me to consider how we, and our students, are processing emotions without context. This processing is unrelenting and aggressive.

GeekFeminism Wiki: 


This chart is intended to be funny, but it amasses just as many tropes as any media. Is the way to fight stereotypes, sexism, racism, and hate with more? How do we reject the labels ascribed to us, and concurrently help students understand in their media worlds what ‘not taking something personally’ really means?

Social media emotions are contagious.

The findings suggest that emotional contagion can occur in an online social network, even without face-to-face interaction between two people. “We show that simply failing to ‘overhear’ a friend’s emotional expression via Facebook is enough to buffer one from its effects,” the authors wrote.

The Facebook users weren’t simply mimicking the emotions of their friends by writing fewer positive or negative posts; these users frequently displayed the opposite emotion of the one omitted in their feed.

What’s more, nonverbal behavior, or body language, doesn’t appear to be necessary for emotions to spread, the study showed. Text alone was enough to have an effect.

So students have been steaming in a big bowl of angry alphabet soup: words without physicality or nuance, and if a child sees themselves in a comment, or two, or two thousand, that pushes and prods, during this critical time of discovering identity how damaging must this be? Adolescents are known to push boundaries and experiment: a few weeks before school two of my quietest, seemingly nicest girls wrote some negative poetry. They literally wrote a narrative for another student. This may not have been a social media post, just good old-fashioned, old-school bullying,


My question remains: how do I inform students about what happens to their brains and emotions when they see negative things about themselves, their beliefs, their values, and their identities? I would think the direct approach would be best: anytime someone posts a fight ‘invitation’ on Facebook or other social media, they are willingly giving up their freedoms. They are behaving like indentured servants to some greater idea that neither loves nor cares for them, the idea of control. Or how about the sexual predator who stalks someone who is in a fog of romantic notions, seeking attention and affection? The archetype of the wolf is nothing new, it’s as old as the dawn; only the speed of digital information has changed. Go back to the shorthand/label: because of the speed we don’t process adequately. Cry wolf, and everyone shrugs. Same with “bully”: no one cares. Swipe right, swipe left, just swipe. Label and dismiss.

Trying to keep you safe…

*No politician is without her or his label or derogatory term. And voters get labeled and characterized, too. If voters don’t want Hillary, the default is they’re sexist. If they do, they’re shrill hawks. At least for one, he is characterized by his actions, which are clear and forthright: xenophobic, racist, and dangerous. No question. Ah, see how that labeling thing works? You all know who I’m talking about.

But what gets lost in the labels are the policies, the plans, the ideas: what if news media used integrity and didn’t report on important issues like it was the Kardashians or a sports game? I think the words “winner” and “loser” have been used more in this campaign than I can remember. Or maybe that’s just me thinking about it differently. If students see things only in terms of win or loss, no wonder they have no field, no stable ground to steady their feet.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to present students with this question, and information: how do they detach unnecessary and incorrect labels/identities others attach? How can they use cognitive skills to be aware when a comment has hurt them? Remember they’re not running for office and haven’t developed the thick hides seasoned politicians have. (Well, some anyway.) As for myself, I’m trying to remember that my narrative is my own. I cannot control how or what others see. There aren’t just facts and opinions, but truths. The beliefs you can’t prove with numbers or data. And they’re not meant to be litigated or debated. For using labels such as ‘toxic masculinity’ I’ll use those labels to reflect and try to make sense out of the unreasonable. If it makes me stop and think, then it hasn’t been wasted time.


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Made from scratch.

Owl Announcement

Hear ye, hear ye: I’m going to make stuff this summer.

Make a mess.

Make do.

Make it work.

Make peace, not war.

You get the idea.

I’ve been playing with Pixelmator, and having a grand time. I told my husband last night that it reminds me of what I loved about being a printmaker during my BFA days: repetitional visual mantras, deconstructing, layering, and chemical, and now digital, accidents that create something uncontrollable and unexpected. These are what I love about printmaking. I miss the lithographic stones, the acid baths of metal plates, and the cool, damp sheets of good paper. And I am in good company: I was the original fangirl of Albrecht Dürer.

(If it was wrong to have a crush on a 15th-century artist, I don’t want to be right.)

I’m moving classrooms, again. This is a good thing. The classroom I moved from is very large, and while that would seem like a benefit, it would be if I was team teaching, but challenging when the media station was tethered to the front. It didn’t quite become the studio/workshop atmosphere I wanted, and I’m not sure why. But knowing how important that is to students I’ll be more intentional in the new space. My sons were helping me move yesterday–the younger one and his friends doing the heavy lifting, and my older son helping organize supplies, papers, etc. He couldn’t understand why I kept so much stuff. To the untrained eye, half-used construction paper and old calendars may seem like hoarding. But students love to personalize their things:


So, keeping supplies at the ready is a must. I’ll be cleaning out physical and digital spaces, clearing of social media clutter, curating and pruning pages. I took pictures of anchor charts and signs that need to be recreated, and recycled the old. I’ll share what I can on Instagram and Pinterest.

One thing I don’t want to make is myself anxious or unhappy. I’ve been pretty down about politics lately. We watched “Where to Invade Next” by Michael Moore last night, and…this is odd…but I feel surprisingly hopeful again. Maybe it’s because I can make edits/cuts from scenes and we can have discussions that mean something: why don’t we get an hour for lunch? Why aren’t we taught nutrition? Why do we serve doughnuts for the ‘free’ breakfast? Why do we feed children full of starches and sugars, and then wonder why their health deteriorates? Why do we assign homework? Why do we have a deathpenalty? Is the school-to-prison pipeline another means of slavery/indentured servitude? Is our mission to make informed citizenry? Yes. I believe so. We want to make change: then shut up and do it.

Make it so.