Archive for the ‘Organization’ Category

Reclaiming My Time(line)

(…with apologies to Rep. Maxine Waters)

Back in August I ruminated a bit on how my experience with Twitter as a professional networking tool has changed over the past ten years.  Among other topics, I spoke briefly on how Twitter has become less conversational for me and more about broadcasting, for better or for worse.  I think a big part of that stemmed from the fact that as my network grew, the number of tweets in my timeline grew from a trickle to a stream to a full-on firehose in the face.  Throw in the functional additions of native retweets at some point in the last few years (tweets from people I don’t necessarily follow being shared with the click of an icon by people I do follow, thereby adding even more detritus to my timeline) and not even filtering apps like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck could adequately tame the mess that my Twitter timeline had become.

I recently came across two tools that appeared to hold some promise in helping trim some of the distractions of 2018 Twitter.  First is a browser extension called Refined Twitter.  Check out Lifehacker’s writeup on it here, but the tl;dr of it is that the extension (for Chrome, Opera, and Firefox) strips away the sidebar trending hashtags, suggestions of who to follow, and personal stats that I can always get on my profile page if I really need to see them (does anyone?).  The other key component is that it removes Promoted Tweets from your timeline.

Like pairing liver with fava beans and/or a nice chianti, I’ve found this extension to go very well with a third-party Twitter app called Blindfold.  Once you enable access to your Twitter account at Blindfold’s site, the service removes retweeted tweets from your timeline (not including those that were retweeted with original commentary, just the straight-up retweets).

After using these services for only a few hours, I was shocked at how much more manageable my timeline was.  Despite following nearly 1,500 people, I was once again able to scroll back a bit in my timeline and actually find where I had left off reading a little while ago.  I didn’t realize how much of my timeline was actually just retweeted content, much of which I found to be of little to no value to me.  I’ve actually found myself better able to track conversations and even participate in a few from time to time, which is what I found so wonderful about Twitter in the first place all those years ago.  Far less noise and far more signal.

As always, caveat emptor and YMMV with any third party apps or extensions, especially those that require you to authorize access to a social media account.  After less than a week of using these two services in tandem, for the first time in a long time, I feel optimistic that I’ll be able to bring that broadcasting/interacting ratio back into a reasonable balance and perhaps start to feel like I’m getting similar value out of the tool as I did back in the day.

ICYMI: My Faves 2014-2016

I tag each post on this blog with some categorical classification, and one I started using a few years ago is Damian’s Favorites – this tag represents what I feel are the best posts on this site (or at least the ones I wish got read more than the others).  Periodically I like to do “Best Of” recap posts; I did one in 2011 and one in 2014, so I figured I’m due.  Below are some of my favorite posts I’ve written since my last rerun post recap in September 2014:

Happy New Year, everyone; let’s make 2016-2017 the best one yet.

Year 2: Highlights & Lessons Learned

This week brings my second year in administration to an end.  I started 2015-2016 off remarking how different the start of Year 2 felt from the start of Year 1, and as the end of Year 2 approaches, I feel like the year is slowly and (more or less) gently coasting to a stop, as opposed to the “careening toward a brick wall” feel of Year 1.

This was a good year.  Much like my second year of teaching and my second year as a school psychologist, I was able to put much of the newness and uncertainty of Year 1 behind me and make what I feel was a substantial contribution to the district via my position.  In addition to the expected job responsibilities, I focused a great deal of energy during my first year establishing relationships, both with the folks under my supervision and with the building and district administrators with whom I work.  I have long believed – and this bore out in my dissertation research – that trust and open communication are bedrock elements of good leadership (and ultimately, good for the health and growth of the organization), and I would like to believe that my efforts in that area – along with the tireless efforts of my staff – helped bring about some positive growth in our district.

Some of these highlights include:

  • The Quartweet Project: I wrote about this extensively here and here; a neat postscript to this event is that months later, the performance of one of our student compositions was aired on German television!
  • Arts Advisory Council: This definitely warrants its own post, but briefly: I envisioned a ’roundtable’ of sorts made up of art & music teachers from across the K-12 grade span, the goal of which is improving and building the arts program in our district.  We met four times throughout the year, and typically had about 8-10 teachers participating at a given time.  We got quite a few interesting results from this collaborative time, and a major goal for next year is to develop a formal mission and vision for the arts program in the district that aligns with our district strategic plan (like I said, more on that over the summer).
  • Northfield Community Middle School site visits: Tons have been written about the work Kevin Jarrett, Glenn Robbins, and the crew at NCMS in southern New Jersey are doing w/r/t school culture (I know Kevin’s Digital Shop is kick-ass, but it’s really about so much more than that).  I coordinated two site visits for a variety of teachers, librarians, and administrators in my district to see what was going on and how – if at all – some of that might be applicable to our district.  I have since seen tangible evidence of the influence of those visits in our district in the development of makerspaces, reconsidering student voice and learning spaces, and the planned renovation of our intermediate school computer lab.  None of these are close to the final products, nor are they the be-all, end-all of education, but the conversations and consideration happening around them are crucial.  I’m happy to have played a small role in instigating them.
  • Curricular Expansion at the High School: I supervise an eclectic group of disciplines: Technology, Art, Music, Business, and Family & Consumer Science, as well as our libraries across the district.  It’s no secret that many districts are making cuts in the arts or outright eliminating difficult-to-staff positions like FCS once teachers retire.  This year, I asked my high school teachers to identify gaps in our curriculum with the intent of developing new courses to bolster our offerings in these disciplines.  We ran a new course this year in our Business department, Introduction to Social Media.  While enrollment was on the low side this year (understandable for a course that didn’t hit the Course of Study til after most of the enrollment was completed for 15-16), it has proven to be such a popular and timely course that enrollment has doubled for 16-17!  That course is being revamped with the benefit of the past year’s experience and will be even better next year.  Additionally, I am proud that our high school will be offering new courses in both Family & Consumer Sciences (Nutrition for Healthy Living) and Music (Theory & Composition courses with a focus on either guitar or piano).

Of course, this is an incomplete list, but this post is already nearing 1,000 words.  So my lessons learned?

  • Decisions can’t always be made by committee (but we should do it as often as possible!).  It’s not a sign of poor leadership to consult your teachers on decisions; it says that you value their input as professionals and the perspective they have which we, by the nature of our non-instructional positions, lack.  This is the underlying philosophy behind my desire to create the Arts Advisory Council, but nowhere is this more crucial than in the hiring process.  I am grateful to the staff members who volunteered to serve on interview committees with me and my admin colleagues; I believe their input is a major reason why we have been as successful with our hires as we have been.
  • Organization can be hard, even for the super-organized.  Without exaggeration or hubris, I am one of the most organized people I know.  I have many weaknesses (just ask my wife), but disorganization is not one of them.  That said, I had a few administrative tasks that slipped through the cracks this year that should not have.  In reflecting on how I can do better with that, I decided to put together a Year-At-A-Glance list, in which I note some of the BIG picture tasks that need to happen each month (e.g., budget submissions, curriculum revisions, etc.).  I also put some recurring items on there (e.g., reminders to staff about spending down budget) that are important but can easily get swept aside in the daily madness.  Putting it down in writing now, after staff and students have left for the year, allows me to give it the time and thought required, and it’s an organizational investment that will pay off during the school year.

I head into my second summer as an administrator happy with the year that passed, excited about the opportunities and challenges coming in the 16-17, and ready for a little downtime before we start it all over again.  August 18th doesn’t seem that far away.

Taking Back My Data with #ProjectReclaim

In my ongoing effort to consider my digital identity and all that it entails (including, but not limited to, privacy and control over my data), I’ve been migrating some of my cloud-hosted services over to my self-hosted domain.  This process started in 2008, when I moved this blog from Edublogs to a self-hosted WordPress installation, then continued in 2009, when I moved my online professional portfolio from Wikidot to another self-hosted WordPress site.  That was about it until fairly recently, when I began exploring free and/or open-source alternatives to some popular cloud services.

Unbeknownst to me then (but beknownst to me now), I wasn’t alone in my thinking.  This was/is part of a larger online movement called Project Reclaim (more on this later).

Anyone who uses cloud services – especially free ones – assumes a certain level of risk that the service will one day disappear.  I’ve lost count of the number of services I’ve used that no longer exist (e.g., Quillpill, MyEmailReminders, PingMe), but they were all replaced easily enough.  The one that really impacted me (and many others) was Google’s decision to pull the plug on its RSS app, Reader.  I used Feedly for a while after that, and while I had no real complaint with the service, it always irked me a bit that I might lose access – yet again – to an app that was a major part of how I consume and share information.

That, coupled with the desire to start tinkering a bit and using all the hosting I was paying for anyway, led me to seek out some alternatives to the free cloud-based services I enjoyed, but feared losing.  I’ll detail some specific examples in my next post, but for readers who are thinking along the same lines, I recommend checking out OSALT and AlternativeTo; these sites are wonderful directories for searching for alternative services and applications of all types.

While I realize that I’m still very much at the mercy of my webhost, my hope is that the more services I can maintain “in house”, as it were, the more control I can exercise over my information consumption and sharing, and the less I am at the whim of external forces.

Further reading: Boon Gorges wrote the original Project Reclaim posts; Doug Belshaw has a series of blog posts on his personal Project Reclaim as well.

RSS Update 2

Against my better judgment, I’ve decided to stay with Feedburner as this blog’s RSS provider.  Stories of Feedburner’s impending demise have been circulating since late 2012, when Google closed up shop on Feedburner’s API and deleted the service’s blog and Twitter account.  Despite apparently having fallen out of favor at Google, it’s still functional, and I just wasn’t able to find a comparable free service I felt comfortable with.

I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that Feedburner could just disappear (or worse, remain ostensibly “up” but non-functional, with Google unresponsive), but I suppose that’s the risk we run with any of these free web services.  Easy come, easy go; it’s not like I can demand a refund.  It’s a bridge I’ll have to cross if/when I come to it.

At any rate, the Feedburner address is now sourced from the feed generated by the new domain name, so if you are a previous subscriber, you shouldn’t need to change anything.  If, however, you subscribed to the native feed from the old domain (, that will stop working once the old domain expires, so now’s as good a time as any to make the switch.  You can click on the RSS or email icons under Subscribe to Updates in the sidebar, or just click here to subscribe to RSS.