Spreadsheets are amazing time-savers if you know when and how to use them. Here’s a great example.
A reader writes:
I need a way to allow students to vote electronically for prom king/queen, but I don’t want anyone to be able to vote more than once. What do you recommend?
We want our solution to be as simple as possible for staff and students, while being reasonably secure and respectful, so we don’t want:
- An elaborate username/password system that’s going to be a nightmare to manage
- To prevent more than one student from using the same computer to vote (so allowing only one vote per IP address isn’t going to work)
- Ballots that take away anonymity by asking for the voter’s name
- Any method that allows voters to cheat in any way
Here’s a nearly-bulletproof, yet extremely simple, method for secure online voting.
Overview of Voting Process
2. Add an extra field in your form for “voting code.”
Tell students that votes with no code won’t be counted.
3. Create a list of codes and have teachers distribute them.
You could do this in homeroom or math class or whatever works for your school. Each student gets only one code, and you’ll be able to tell if the code is valid, but not who used it.
Note: The spreadsheet for creating and checking the codes is included below.
4. Have students visit the online form to vote.
You might want to use a URL shortener like bit.ly since Google Spreadsheets URLs are very long.
5. Check the voting codes using the spreadsheet.
When voting is over, look at the Google Spreadsheet and copy the vote codes into the sample spreadsheet (the Checker tab, down at the bottom) to see if any of the codes are invalid or were used more than once. If you see red, something is wrong. More on this below.
6. Tally the valid votes.
Use Excel or Google Spreadsheets to tally the votes after deleting any invalid votes.
Here you go:
Using the Spreadsheet to Generate and Check Voting Codes
1. Enter your number of ballots and two random numbers, respectively, in the three highlighted cells at the top of the “Generator” sheet:
2. Copy and paste as many of the resulting codes as you need from Column A to a new document. Make them bigger, print several columns per page, etc. as needed. (If you know how to do a mail merge, even better!)
3. To check the codes after voting, paste them from your results spreadsheet into the 2nd sheet of this document, the Checker tab:
Any codes that have red in either column should be tossed out – the first column turns red if a code has been used more than once, and the second column turns red if the code is invalid.
Useful Excel Functions
This technique uses several killer Excel functions, including:
- Advanced Filter – Unique Records only – this ensures that you aren’t giving out the same code to more than one person
- Conditional formatting – this is what turns the cells red if a code is invalid
- Random number generation – this is what generates the codes, based on the two numbers you enter in the yellow highlighted cells
- Fill down – this lets you copy a formula to hundreds or even thousands of rows or columns instantly
I don’t expect the whole world to be as excited about spreadsheets as I am, but I do see it as a tiny slice of my personal mission to help people understand how powerful spreadsheets can be.
How do you use spreadsheets in your work?
What’s the evaluation process all about? It depends on who’s asking.
With teachers, we focus on growth, and that’s generally as it should be.
With the public, we mention the growth goal, but we also make it clear that the evaluation process lets us deal with underperformance.
But in speaking to each of these audiences, we can confuse ourselves and start to believe two pervasive lies about teacher evaluation and growth.
The first lie: “If we focus enough on improvement, we’ll never need to fire anyone.”
The second lie: “Rigorously evaluating our teachers will help them grow.”
Both are false. Neither is a reason to abandon the two goals of the evaluation process:
- Growth: To help teachers improve their practice
- Quality Control: To ensure high-quality teaching and learning in every classroom
If these are both good goals, what’s the problem? Simple: the two goals are totally unrelated, except in their ultimate purpose. In fact, they’re even a bit incompatible.
All professionals need to grow, and having a framework like Charlotte Danielson’s to aid your reflection and help you map out your growth process is enormously helpful. But what’s not helpful is to have someone else give you a rating and tell you where you need to grow.
Let me be really clear on this point: Giving someone a rating can identify where they need to grow—and this is a crucial starting point for growth—but it does nothing to actually help them grow.
If I’m sick, I want my doctor to tell me what’s wrong, but the diagnosis itself isn’t going to make me well.
I think we’re muddled on this issue because we fail to realize that performance has two components: Skill and behavior. If you’re talented but not really putting in much effort, you’re not going to achieve great things. On the other hand, working your tail off at something you’re bad at isn’t going to yield fabulous results either.
As administrators, our most direct influence over teaching quality in the evaluation process is on behavior: If someone is not doing what they need to be doing, we can tell them to make a change, and hold them accountable for doing so. If you’re not planning and preparing for your lessons adequately, your administrator can demand that you start turning in lesson plans. Because the focus is behavior, the change can happen immediately.
Assuming we’re picking the right behaviors, this absolutely can lead to improvement. Supervision can change behavior. But to improve skill, you need coaching. And coaching is not the same as supervision.
One of the best movements to improve coaching in the principalship is the #educoach work being done by Shira Leibowitz, Jessica Johnson, and Kathy Perret, who tell me Jim Knight’s work is worth its weight in gold. Their premise is straightforward: instructional leaders need to get good at coaching in order to help staff improve their skills.
But now it gets sticky: If we want to evaluate people rigorously so they know what they’re good at and what they aren’t, and we want to coach them to help them get better, we have to decide which hat we’re wearing at any given time.
I have to realize that when I’m wearing my evaluator hat, I’m giving up the right to serve as a coach in that moment. And when I coach, I have to set aside my evaluator mindset and work to help my “client” meet his or her own goals through the coaching process.
Hopefully there’s some alignment between what people are working to grow in, and what we see as their needs and opportunities based on the evaluation process, but beyond that, we shouldn’t muddle evaluation and coaching. They are different, and need to be handled in distinct ways.
We mustn’t believe the lies that tell us that any vague efforts at “improvement” will help people grow and ensure high-quality teaching in every classroom.
We can’t coach our way out of our responsibility to conduct rigorous evaluations, and we can’t evaluate our way to better teaching. As instructional leaders, we have to wear both hats, whether we like it or not. Just not at the same time.
Oh, and one more thing: most of us believe these lies, or act like we do. Principals who both use the evaluation process to deal with serious underperformance, and effectively coach teachers to help them grow, are few and far between indeed. More on this soon.
Yes. Schools should be a bit like factories. I’m pretty confident in saying so, but I’m not sure Sir Ken Robinson or Seth Godin would agree with me.
Ken Robinson has made a great career of critiquing the status quo in education. He’s eminently quotable and a great keynote speaker. He says things like this:
I think Robinson is absolutely right in his critique of narrowing the curriculum to math and reading, squeezing out creativity and the arts and anything that can’t be assessed with a multiple-choice test.
Seth Godin has (recently) made a career of encouraging people to pursue their work as “art,” not as compliance in exchange for pay. His book Linchpin is outstanding—if everyone read it, our economy would be transformed.
Robinson says schools kill creativity. Godin says schools turn art into compliance. Both suggest that schools operate too much like factories, to our students’ detriment.
I say they’re both wrong. I think we need our schools to be more like factories, not less. (more…)
I’ve worked my butt off to build a class that is outrageously engaging, fun, educationally sound, and dearly loved by students. It wasn’t easy when I started, it wasn’t easy last week, and it won’t be easy next week either. It’s not supposed to be easy—it’s supposed to be worth it. You can build something incredible if you put the effort in on the front end, and then keep putting the effort in until you turn the lights off and close your door for the last time. But it won’t be “easy.”
I saw Dave’s amazing Teach Like a PIRATE presentation at ASCD. It must not have been easy for him to deliver such an amazing presentation…but it was worth it! I just finished Dave’s book last week, and it’s truly impressive.
If you are looking for a book to read together as a staff, or for a gift to show appreciation for how hard teachers work, I highly recommend Teach Like a PIRATE.
I’ve used just about every calendar tool out there over the years, and the time has come for just about everyone to switch to Google Calendar.
Forgive me for being blunt, but I think the benefits are undeniable.
1. It’s Free
That’s right – Google Calendar costs you nothing. If your district is using Exchange/Outlook, they’re paying a license fee for every account, but Google Calendar is free, and you don’t need anyone else’s permission to start using it. Just create an account and get started. If you already have a Gmail account, just go to google.com/calendar and start using the calendar you already have.
2. It Works on Every Device
I’m an iPhone/iPad guy, so I wish I could recommend iCloud’s calendar, which is built into your iPhone. Sadly, I can’t, because the iCloud calendar is terrible at talking to anything that isn’t an Apple device – and this includes other humans who need access to your calendar.
The good news? Your Apple device will work with Google Calendar – in fact, the built-in Calendar app on iOS works perfectly with Google Calendar. Just go to Settings » Mail, Contact, Calendars and enter your Google account details. Turn Calendars to “on” and you’re good to go. Now you can access your calendar in your:
- Computer’s web browser
- Mac Calendar app
- Outlook calendar view (yes, really!)
As well as on your:
- Android phone
- Android tablet
So you always have access to your calendar.
3. It’s Powerful
You might assume Outlook has the most powerful calendar features because it’s a desktop application and is used in many professional settings. But Google Calendar is just as powerful, and has a number of tricks up its sleeve. Did you know Google Calendar can do all of this?
- Send calendar invitations just like Outlook
- Send you a text message (SMS) appointment reminder whenever you want
- Create recurring events with complicated patterns, like “every 4th Wednesday of the month”
- Respond to keyboard shortcuts – my favorites are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 j, and k
- Show your appointments in daily, weekly, monthly, or list view
4. It’s Shareable
I’ve saved the clincher for last: Your Google Calendar can talk to other calendars in whatever way you want:
- Share your whole calendar with your secretary or family
- Share your free/busy info—your availability—but not your specific appointments with anyone you want
- Designate others who can edit your calendar, e.g. secretary
- Link your calendar to scheduling tools like ScheduleOnce so it’s easy to set meetings with other people
I wish I got $5 for everyone I convert to Google Calendar, but I don’t. I’ll be satisfied if you get a boost to your productivity by making this effortless and extremely beneficial switch.
Have you switched? How did it go for you? What’s your favorite tip in Google Calendar? Do you miss anything about Outlook or whatever you were using before? Leave a comment and let me know!
When I lead workshops on teacher evaluation, people always say “I want the process to help my teachers grow.”
It’s understandable: As growth-oriented educators, we want to help our teachers improve their skills.
But as I learn more and more about what leads to growth, I keep coming back to one thing that surely doesn’t: supervision.
Now, supervision is essential—make no mistake. The principalship exists in part to make sure that all of our teachers are up to a certain standard of quality (hopefully a high one, though the national statistics make me wonder how high our standards are when 97% or more of our ratings are “good enough” or higher).
But does supervision help teachers improve?
Let’s step back from the question of principals supervising teachers for a minute. Does supervising, inspecting, evaluating, or otherwise observing and judging lead to improvement anywhere?
You might say yes, but if we narrow down where the improvement happens, it’s usually after the supervision has taken place, perhaps due to follow-up action like coaching or accessing a helpful resource.
I’d argue that supervision itself never causes growth. Why? Because supervision alone cannot improve people’s skills. To improve skill, you need deliberate practice with feedback. You need coaching.
What supervision can do is influence behavior. And it’s very good at this. When your staff knows what you want to see, they will do more of it, and they’ll do less of what you don’t want—if they believe you’ll notice and care.
When someone knows he’ll get fired if he doesn’t start showing up on time, he’ll start showing up on time.
When someone has decided not to follow the district pacing guide, supervision can change that behavior fast.
When someone is making snide remarks in staff meetings and bringing down the professional tone, you can set the expectation, monitor, and ultimately change the behavior.
So even though I don’t think supervision can lead to growth, I do think it can lead to improvement, because performance is a result not just of your skill, but of what you actually do.
In other words, even if you can’t use the supervision process to help every teacher grow, you can use it to lead to improved teaching and learning by promoting the right behaviors. Behaviors like being prepared every day, treating students respectfully, following through, sharing assessment results, and other actions that lead to better learning.
A lot of the behaviors we can supervise into improvement are negative behaviors—stop showing up late, stop yelling at kids, stop under-preparing, and so on—but a lot are positive, too. Before we can help people improve their skill, we need to make sure they’re doing the thing that we want them to get better at.
After all, improving an aspect of your practice can’t happen unless that aspect of practice is in your practice.
When my school began implementing a new writing curriculum, my focus was on coaching. But I quickly realized that people couldn’t be coached on something they weren’t doing. You can’t improve the clarity of your lesson’s teaching point if your lessons never have teaching points.
Before I could coach, I needed to supervise. I needed to set the expectation and follow through. Then—and only then—could I coach.
What behaviors do you want to see more (or less) of to improve student learning in your school?
A principal’s work is nothing if not unpredictable, so why schedule out every moment of every day to work on specific tasks? You’re just going to get interrupted.
On the other hand, isn’t it better to plan your work, then work your plan? Is it wise not to schedule out your work time, except for those times when you would truly refuse to be interrupted for anything short of a fire?
I read David Allen’s bestselling book Getting Things Done years ago, and it sparked an interest in productivity and effectiveness that drives me to this day. His message about “stress-free productivity” anchors my approach to work and leadership.
Like Allen, I’m a rather intuitive worker—I prefer to decide in the moment what to focus on. So this advice resonated with me:
Don’t schedule something on your calendar unless it’s a real appointment or a task driven by a real deadline.
He calls this the “hard landscape,” which I think is a great concept: You want to be clear about what’s a real appointment (or something you must get done by a certain time), and what you’d merely like to spend time on.
If you make this distinction clearly, it’s easier to reprioritize when your plans are disrupted. Some quick triage can help you decide what’s going to still get done, and what will have to be set aside.
In a job as unpredictable as school leadership, Allen’s advice seems to make sense: Don’t schedule time unless it’s a real appointment that you refuse to miss, whether that appointment is with yourself or someone else.
But I took this too far. For years, I never planned how I would use my time at all except for those hard-landscape tasks and appointments.
I think this was a mistake, because today I know the value of having a rough idea of what I want to get done in a day—and even better, of taking advantage of the principle of ergopneumatics, or Parkinson’s Law, to set ambitious goals for what to get done in a narrow timeframe.
When we don’t plan our work beyond the hard landscape, I think we’re missing an opportunity to plan our days with greater intentionality.
With the tools at our disposal today, it’s easier than ever to plan our work and work our plan, while remaining clear about the hard landscape and being responsive to whatever emergencies we have to deal with.
In Google Calendar, for example, you can have as many calendars as you want, and they don’t all have to be “hard landscape” calendars. You can keep one calendar for firm appointments, and one for everything else, and you can move things around with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. If you have to scratch your planned work for the day, you can just drag it to tomorrow’s calendar.
Nor do all of your appointments have to be “busy” appointments. I have several Twitter chats set as recurring events on my main calendar, but I have them set to “Available” so I’m not blocked from scheduling phone calls or meetings during them. I’ll participate in the Twitter chat if I’m free, but I’m not going to turn down all other options for using that time.
Similarly, if I know I generally want to spend tomorrow morning working on a particular project, I can put that on my calendar but not mark it as “busy,” or I can put it on my “to work on” calendar, which is separate from my main calendar that I use to track appointments.
In this way, I think we can get the best of both worlds—the benefit of planning our work, but the clarity of separating our firm appointments from our flexible plans.
How do you schedule your time for non-appointment work that you want to get done? Leave a comment and let me know.
A Tip for Google Calendar Users
If you want to select which of your Google calendars to show on your mobile device, visit this page.
The bad news? As a school leader, I can’t be all things to all people. There isn’t time, I don’t have the skills, and I’m just not the best person to exercise every kind of leadership we need.
I can’t be the coach, and the counselor, and the supervisor, and the mentor, and the consultant, and the trainer, and the encourager, and everything else my staff needs me to be. At least not as well as I’d like, and not all the time. The range of human and professional needs in even a small school is too great.
As leaders, we are inadequate. We are, inevitably, not up to the task. Not by ourselves.
The good news? Every morning, the parking lot is brimming with all kinds of leaders who show up ready to make a difference.
We can ignore this leadership and pretend it doesn’t exist, or we can celebrate it as the primary form of human capital in our schools.
It’s the difference between a brick building full of employees who do their jobs, and a thriving learning community where everyone is focused on getting better and helping others do the same. The researchers I’ve been citing a lot lately describe it this way:
Supportive interaction among teachers in school-wide professional communities enable them to assume various roles with one another as mentor, mentee, coach, specialist, advisor, facilitator, and so on. However, professional community amounts to more than just support; it also includes shared values, a common focus on student learning, collaboration in the development of curriculum and instruction, and the purposeful sharing of practices—all of which maybe thought of as distributed leadership.
Thus, the presence of a professional community appears to foster collective learning of new practices—when there is principal leadership.
—Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning, from the Wallace Foundation Knowledge Center, by Karen Seashore Louis, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom, and Stephen E. Anderson, p. 42
So especially when we’re trying to do something new and ambitious and better to improve teaching and learning, the leadership that happens laterally in our schools is some of the most important leadership of all.
We can’t do it alone, and we don’t have to. The leaders are among us if we let their leadership thrive.
What do you do to encourage this leadership among your staff? Do you:
- Step out of the way?
Will you leave a comment and share how you encourage distributed leadership in your school?
Recently, I had a very busy day out of the office and came back to a huge pile of email. I had already filtered out some of the junk from my iPhone, so these were real messages that required some action on my part. I needed to get through it all quickly because I knew people were waiting on my replies, but I didn’t have much time that evening to spend on email.
So here’s what I did: I didn’t look at my inbox at all. And I got through all of my email in short burst of productivity.
What happened? Why did this work?
You might think your inbox is the heart and soul of your email account. We spend a lot of time in our inboxes, but lately I’ve realized just how pointless it can be to stare at the long list of messages, scrolling up and down, looking for one to pick off and resolve.
Instead of going to your inbox and reading your email from the view that shows your entire inbox, try this:
- Open a single message in full-screen mode
- When you’re done with it, hit “next message” without going back to the inbox
How you do this will vary by email program, but it has an inevitable positive effect: You don’t see the list of messages you could potentially deal with. You just see the next message, and you can deal with it.
This is especially powerful if you practice two other email disciplines:
- Keep a to-do list for off-email actions or those that will require more than two minutes to resolve
- Filter your email throughout the day, so you avoid drifting into the “I’m tired, so I guess I’ll just check my email for a minute” trap
Try it just once and report back. How did it work for you?
Smart principals know the job of leading a school is too big for one person, so forms of distributed leadership have made their way into most schools. Leadership teams, site councils, departmental decision-making, and other forms of shared leadership can make a school a better place because they don’t rely solely on the principal’s expertise and influence.
But if you share the leadership workload with others in your school, will this take work off of your plate?
You might think so, since dividing a pie into more slices makes each slice smaller.
But the answer, according to recent research, is no:
Distributing leadership more widely in schools should not be viewed as a means of reducing principals’ workload. Leadership from teacher leaders and external sources is more likely to be goal- or initiative-specific. Principals, on the other hand, are responsible for a boundary-spanning role not typically performed by others, nor picked up by others in the absence of active principal leadership. Principals are typically involved in a great many leadership initiatives in their schools, including initiatives for which others have assumed lead roles. Their role to coordinate or link others’ leadership efforts is essential.
—Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning, from the Wallace Foundation Knowledge Center, by Karen Seashore Louis, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom, and Stephen E. Anderson, p. 65
In other words, sharing leadership doesn’t save principals time because it creates more work. The “slices” don’t get smaller because the pie gets bigger as more teachers take on leadership roles.
And this is a good thing.
I think it’s great that distributed leadership doesn’t reduce your workload, as long as your school is embarking on substantive improvement efforts. We can look for other places to save time.
As the overall leadership workload in your school increases, though, your work will become:
- More interesting
- Higher-level, and
- More impactful
as your time is increasingly devoted to coordinating the amazing work being done by your staff.
How do you see your role changing as others take on more leadership? What does that coordination look like?