Tag Archives for " iPad "

2 How to Type On Your Phone, or Why I Can’t Recommend SwiftKey for iOS

Mobile devices are erasing the limits on where we can do our work. Work we once might have done on the desktop can now be done from an iPhone or Android tablet.

We have more ways of interacting with our devices than ever, from dictation to swipes to typing. But typing is still very important, and on a small screen, little tweaks can make a big difference.

But we can also make changes that move us in the wrong direction, changes that look like improvements but are actually wrongheaded.

I’m a fan of tools that improve our productivity as leaders, but not of those that undermine our thinking, decision-making, and purposefulness. Instead, we need to invest time and effort in making our work more purposeful and more efficient, not simply “easier.”

And that’s why I can’t recommend SwiftKey for iOS. Even if you’ve never heard of it or aren’t interested, think through this with me. Ultimately, it’s about how we execute our decisions as leaders.

SwiftKey for iPhone and iPad

SwiftKey has been around for years on Android, where the less-restrictive operating system allows it to integrate deeply other apps, including third-party keyboards (which aren’t even possible on iOS).


On Android, it seems like SwiftKey could be very helpful, especially if you prefer swipe-to-type.

On the iPhone and iPad, I have some concerns. SwiftKey basically works like Drafts—it’s a place for you to type (presumably faster and easier than you could type elsewhere), then send what you type to another app.

The main gimmick is that SwiftKey guesses the three words you’re most likely to type next, and updates those suggestions in real time as you type. If you see the word you’re planning to type, you can just tap it, and it’ll be inserted for you, so you don’t have to type it.

It sounds great, but even in the promo video, check out how slowly the model has to type in order for SwiftKey’s predictions to be useful.

SwiftKey for iPhone

I don’t mean to rag on what looks like a great company with a great Android product, but SwiftKey for iOS is not a professional-grade productivity tool. As the video indicates, it might be good for journaling and writing poetry with one thumb, but that’s not how most of us need to work.

How To Type on iOS

The fastest way to type, as any experienced iPhone user will tell you, is to just bang away as fast as you can, and let AutoCorrect do the rest.

Think, type with two thumbs, proofread, and you’re golden.

Typing should not slow down your thinking, should not take the place of your thinking, and should not misrepresent your thinking.

Why SwiftKey’s Approach is Misguided

SwiftKey’s word prediction is impressive, but here are at least five problems with its approach:

  1. Typing is faster than looking for and selecting the correct word. If we train ourselves to stop after each word so we can look for the next, the time we save will be more than offset by the time we waste. (If you’re typing an exceptionally long word and want some help, AutoCorrect can already finish it for you.)
  2. Muscle memory holds more than one word, so we type in phrases, not single words. Interrupting muscle memory in an attempt to save a few taps is only going to prevent us from getting better at typing, and it’s going to slow us down.
  3. We can proofread a whole sentence much faster than we can verify each word individually.
  4. Choosing from among several words is far more mentally taxing than simply thinking about what to say, then typing it. You should not have to answer a multiple-choice question with two distractor choices for every word you type. You might think “recognition is easier than recall,” which is true, but that’s for remembering facts, not communicating your own thoughts.
  5. We tend to use the same phrases and sentences over and over when typing on our phones. Once we’ve decided what to say, typing it should be at most four keystrokes, even if it’s an entire paragraph.

If you’re new to the iPhone, SwiftKey may be tempting, because it will allow you to type faster. But it will also prevent you from learning to type faster, and from taking an even more powerful approach.

Program the Robot

In my workshops, I teach school leaders to “program the robot.” Briefly, this means we need to make decisions, then encode those decisions into systems we can rely on.

For typing on your iPhone or iPad, this means programming shortcuts into TextExpander, and doing your typing in Drafts.

(If you’re a member of the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network, I’ll have tutorials for you on both of these apps later this month.)

You probably tend to say the same things over and over again. You have “stock phrases,” bundles of words that contain more complex meanings that serve as shortcuts, so you don’t spend all day wordsmithing what you’re going to say. You can decide what you mean to communicate it, and just say it.

You can type “omw” and have Drafts or AutoCorrect (iOS Settings » General » Keyboard » Shortcuts) replace it with “I’m on my way.”

You can type “Billy Jones,” hit one button, and have Drafts email your secretary with:
Hi Martha,
Could you please call Billy Jones down to the office? We need to talk briefly. I’ll be there in 5 minutes.

One of the key tenets of High-Performance Instructional Leadership is that we should take these stock phrases and use them purposefully—not as clichés that people can use to make fun of us, but as ways of being more purposeful and consistent in our communication.

Once we’ve decided how to deal with a certain type of situation, our decisions and communication can be encoded into our tools, and we can execute them effortlessly each time.

One More Note: Evernope

One cool feature that caught my eye is Evernote integration, which lets SwiftKey scan your notes and base its predictions on what’s already in your Evernote account.

But think about this for a minute: Did you type everything in your Evernote account? Does what you’ve saved to Evernote reflect your writing style?

I would say that only about 10% of what’s in my Evernote notebooks is stuff I’ve actually written. Most is saved emails, observation notes, encrypted data, PDFs, and other stuff that I want to save for future reference.

The Evernote integration may clue SwiftKey into education-specific words I’m likely to use, but it won’t help with understanding how I write or what I might want to say next.

Write With Purpose

This has been a very long post on how we type very small things on very small screens. Over time, the decisions we make about handle the little things add to big things.

I’m convinced that letting your phone tell you what to type, one word at a time, is a bad idea.

Deciding what you want to say—and at another level, how you want to lead—then programming the robot, is a great idea.

What do you need to say, in writing, from your phone? How can you say it more quickly, more purposefully, and more consistently?

Using Your Smartphone & Tablet Together

Photographers have a way of ending arguments about which camera is best: “The best camera…is the one you have with you.” It doesn’t matter how good your gear is if you leave it at home.


It’s the same way with our productivity tools: The best tool is the one you have with you.

No one is a bigger “iPad for administrators” guy than me, but I often find that my iPhone is even more indispensable. Why? Because it’s always with me, even when I can’t carry my iPad.

Even better than always having a single device with you, though, is always having your data with you, regardless of which device you’re using. Fortunately, your tablet and smartphone can work well together if you’re using the right apps.

I tend to use my iPhone and iPad for many of the same things, but the iPad really shines for:

  • Taking notes in classrooms or meetings (it’s faster and it looks more professional than fiddling with your phone)
  • Reading – the screen size makes a big difference
  • Planning – I much prefer mind-mapping and writing out detailed notes on the bigger screen
  • Email – especially if I have my Bluetooth external keyboard

On the other hand, the iPhone is great for more frequent message-checking and for quickly jotting down tasks.

Since I use both, it’s important that they talk together and share data seamlessly, so here are some recommendations for making that happen.

1. Use “Universal” Apps

A lot of apps work on both the iPhone and the iPad. If you’re not sure if your apps will run on both, fire up the App Store and go to the “Purchased” tab, then select “Not on This iPhone/iPad” to find apps you’ve bought but haven’t installed. Many of these will be apps you bought for iPhone that also happen to work on iPad, or vice-versa.

2. Use iCloud

iCloud allows your Apple products’ apps to sync data and settings. Make sure you’re signed into the same Apple ID on both devices so your data stays in sync.

In the Settings app, go to iCloud to enter your Apple ID email address and password:
Icloudsettings 1

3. Use Dropbox

For apps that allow you to create files, documents, or data, iCloud doesn’t always do the trick.

Try Dropbox sync whenever it’s an option in an app – Dropbox will hold and sync the data for the app, so it’s accessible and always up-to-date on all your devices.

4. Use Built-In Sync Services

Some apps have their own synchronization service, so dig into the “settings” section (look for a gear icon) and see if you can share data across different devices. Evernote, Remember the Milk (a to-do list), and Buy Me a Pie (a shopping list) are among the apps that have their own sync service.

Most of the above will apply to Android phones and tablets too.

How do you get the most from your smartphone and tablet?

1 Dealing with Documents on the iPad

Documents Image

A participant in my iPad workshop writes:

Do you have recommendations for apps to work with documents in Dropbox?


Great question, Michelle. There are a couple of ways to address this issue.

Use Text—Not Documents—Whenever Possible
Documents are a pain. When you create a document, you have to decide on:

  • A format (such as .doc or .rtf)
  • An app that can open them
  • A filename
  • A location in your folder system

Since the iPad doesn’t have a file folder system, isn’t friendly toward filenames, and doesn’t have any truly outstanding apps for managing traditional documents, I tend to avoid documents as much as possible and just use plain-text notes in Evernote (which does support some formatting, but not complex document layout).

But as principals, we often need to edit documents that are in a particular format for a particular reason—for instance, teacher observation forms with tables, checklists, comment boxes, and so forth. We’d all like to be able to use these documents on our iPads, but the truth is that it seldom works. Complex document layouts tend not to work correctly on the iPad.

So as I advised recently, if you’re filling out a district- or state-required form, you may need to use a laptop rather than your iPad.

Just Managing Files
If all you need to do is find, view, and send files and documents of various types, Dropbox is great. I’ve been recommending it in my workshops for a long time. If you’re interested in using Dropbox to sync your files across all of your devices, check out Dr. Frank Buck’s free ebook Get Organized! with Dropbox (PDF).

Dropbox allows you to share any file by emailing a link to whomever you’d like. It’s great for syncing data and managing files and folders on your iPad, but Dropbox does not allow you to edit Word documents.

While you can send documents from Dropbox to Apple’s app Pages (which is like Word), this creates a copy every time you move between apps, so you end up with a bunch of versions in both places. Not ideal.

(If you have found an app that syncs with Dropbox and is great for editing Word documents on the iPad, please leave a comment and let me know.)

Managing & Editing Word Documents with Dropbox + Pages
If you do occasionally need to edit a Word document that you have in Dropbox on your iPad, here are the steps to do so, using Apple’s iPad word processor app Pages.

From Dropbox to Pages: Click the icon in the top-right corner in Dropbox (which looks like an arrow going down into a box) when viewing a document -> Open In… -> Pages (Note: this menu will only show compatible apps that you have installed – so if you don’t have Pages, it won’t appear here).

Pages to Dropbox: Wrench icon in upper right when editing the document -> Share and Print -> Open in Another App -> Word format -> Choose App -> Dropbox

Here are visual directions:
Dropbox pages

Again, not a great solution. But there is an emerging solution that appears to be better than Pages and Dropbox.

Google Drive
Google Docs, the online word processor that’s been around for nearly a decade, is now part of Google Drive, the online storage service that is similar to Dropbox in many respects. Essentially, you are given online storage folder that is synchronized with your computer.

Drive iconGoogle recently released a Drive app for the iPad. I haven’t recommended it in my workshops because it is so new and the features have been very limited, but it’s improving rapidly, so it will probably become one of the main apps I recommend.

I would recommend installing the Drive app on your computer and your iPad (so they sync), and creating documents in Google Docs whenever possible, to keep them simple and compatible.

How Word documents work in Google Drive
You can either upload a Word document to Google Drive and just use Drive as a storage space (in which case no changes to the Word document can be made in Google Docs), or you can convert the document to Google Docs format so it’s editable. This is a choice that you make when you upload the document from your computer.

You can only convert documents on your computer, not in the iPad app, so on your iPad, you’re limited to editing documents that are in Google Docs format. You also can’t convert back to Word format from the iPad app, but you can “share” (not send) the document with other Google Drive users. This is a crucial difference between Dropbox and Google Drive: Dropbox allows you to share a file with anyone, but Google Drive requires that the other person have a Google account, which is better for collaborating on documents, but a pain for just sending them.

So, if you do occasionally need to edit and send Word documents from your iPad, Google Drive won’t work – see the rather convoluted steps above using Dropbox and Pages for a way to get the job done.

If you do want to make the transition from Word to Google Docs, you can import all of your existing documents from your computer into Google Drive with just a few clicks. You’ll need to decide whether to keep the documents in Word format (in which case they won’t be editable), or to convert them to Google Docs format (in which case you can’t convert them back into Word documents on the iPad and send them to people).

To upload files or folders to Google Drive from your computer:

Drive upload

To convert when uploading to Google Drive:
Upload settings

For now at least, you have to choose between being able to share Word-format documents from Google Drive on your iPad, or being able to edit your documents in the Google Drive app by keeping them in Google Docs format. On your desktop computer or laptop, you don’t have to choose, as all are options.

Once More: Text!
As you can see, dealing with document formats and files is complicated. To the greatest extent possible, just use plain text. In three years of using the iPad as a principal, I have never once wished I had put more of my plain-text notes into Word, Pages, or Google documents. Evernote has been a great way to organize, save, and find all of my notes, so start there if you’re looking for a way to manage information on your iPad.

But hopefully the tips above are helpful, at least until our options on the iPad improve.

Do you have any advice to share on dealing with documents on the iPad? If so, please leave a comment.

iPad Webinar Participants

Thank you for joining me this Tuesday, January 17 for my webinar with Educational Research Newsletter. For more information on increasing your productivity using the iPad and other tools, please feel free to sign up for my Tips & Articles mailing list.

Tips & Articles on Productivity from Justin Baeder

If you participated in the webinar, you will receive an email from ERN containing the download links for the PowerPoint file and handouts. Feel free to email me directly at info@eduleadership.org with any additional questions about using the iPad to increase your productivity.

How to Increase Your Productivity Using the iPad

I’m pleased to be working with Educational Research Newsletter again this month to put on a webinar for educators with iPads. While this isn’t a free event, the advantage is that you can have an entire team of administrators and/or teachers participate under one registration.

How to Increase Your Productivity Using the iPad
WHEN: Tuesday, January 17, 2012, 1-2:30 p.m. Eastern Time

SNAPSHOT: Every day you wonder how you could possibly do your job without email, search engines, your laptop, smartphone and many other technology tools. The next frontier in your quest for greater effectiveness is the iPad, rapidly becoming the new standard for mobile productivity.

Most educators are not sitting at their computers in their offices all day. They are on the move, interacting with administrators, educators students, parents and other professionals. A desktop and even a laptop cannot keep up with the pace you typically set. Many educators have found that the iPad is ideally suited to helping them manage the complexity of their work, expanding the possibilities and opportunities for improving their performance beyond those offered by paper- and desktop-based tools alone.

Webinar, link to recording and CD-ROM $197 – click here to register

You will be able to both hear the webinar and view the PowerPoint on the CD-ROM.

Justin received outstanding reviews for his last webinar, “The High-Performance administrator: How to Better Manage Time, Workflow & Communication to Maximize Your Impact on Student Learning”. Now he helps you go one step further by showing you how to maximize use of your iPad.


  • Selecting the right apps—finding high-quality tools for your essential work
  • Developing a workflow—making your data move smoothly between apps
  • Looking for learning—conducting classroom observations and walkthroughs with the iPad
  • Beyond tapping—selecting a Bluetooth external keyboard for faster text input
  • A thousand words—how to use photos and video to gather evidence of student learning and prompt professional learning conversations
  • Show up and follow through—managing your time and tasks with iCal, OmniFocus, and other essential productivity apps
  • Finding your files—managing and syncing documents using Dropbox and more

You can register on the ERN website.

Two Great Tools from Evernote

The fine folks at Evernote, in addition to creating the best cross-platform application for keeping all of your information at your fingertips, have recently released two great new free apps that I want to highlight.

Clearly from EvernoteFirst, Clearly is a new tool for reading articles, news stories, and blog posts from websites without all the cruft that typically surrounds them. Clearly is a browser extension, meaning it’s something that you install from within your web browser. The only downside is that your browser must be Google Chrome, which isn’t really a downside since Chrome is by far the fastest browser around. You can get Chrome here for Windows or Mac.

The second tool is Skitch for iPad, which is based on the popular Mac app for quickly snapping and editing screenshots and photos. I’ve been using Skitch for years (virtually all of the images on this site went through Skitch at some point), so I’m delighted to see it on the iPad app store.

You can use Skitch to quickly annotate photos of student work or classroom displays. A picture says a thousand words, but often adding a few words or an arrow to a picture can say even more.

Skitch for iPad

Skitch and Clearly are both free, and allow you to save their respective data to your Evernote account, reinforcing its position as your virtual brain in the cloud.

3 Finally, an iPad Keyboard I Love: The Adonit Writer

The rate at which the iPad has been adopted by school leaders has been nothing short of astounding. I get questions all the time from principals around the world about the best ways to use the iPad in school leadership, and one of the top questions I receive is “What’s the best keyboard to use with the iPad?”

It’s an understandable question. The light, compact form factor and long battery life make the iPad great for toting around all day. But writing evaluations and answering emails without a real keyboard is nearly impossible – the onscreen keyboard just doesn’t cut it.

I used Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard for several months, but found it awkward to hold the keyboard on my lap and find somewhere else to set the iPad.

Then I bought a cheap keyboard case, the leather-folio style, and used it for a few months. But I found the key quality, placement, and functionality less than tolerable (mushy, illogical, and erratic, respectively).

Enter the Adonit Writer, a slim, hard-key keyboard case for the iPad and iPad 2 that I’ve been drooling over since I saw it on Kickstarter a few months ago. Adonit (a Seattle company) was kind enough to provide me with a review model, which I used to draft this review.

Adonit Writer

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no perfect keyboard case for the iPad, but the Adonit Writer is as close as anyone is going to get.

There are two shift keys and two command, option, and control keys, which was a curious choice since Apple laptops don’t have a control key on the right. Leaving it out could have enabled them to make the spacebar longer; currently, it doesn’t extend beneath the M key, making it a full key shorter than on an Apple laptop. My other spacebar pet-peeve is that the bumper that keeps the keys from touching the screen is somewhat in the way, especially given how short the spacebar is anyway. However, I’ve adapted pretty quickly to these two small issues.

The keys are small, but as big as they could possibly be and still fit in this form factor. The repeat rate, which as far as I know isn’t a software setting on the iPad, is reasonable, and I didn’t have any trouble with multiple characters resulting from a single key press, which is a huge problem on the mushy-key case I’ve been using. The Writer’s keys are hard and responsive. The top-row buttons match the buttons on the iPad dock keyboard, in function if not in placement.

For principals, a lot of the appeal of an iPad keyboard is being able to do classroom observations, which generally requires balancing the whole setup on your lap. So far, the Writer seems very stable, since it’s held up by magnets under the keyboard – even with my knees on a slope, as they often are in tiny elementary-school chairs, the Writer had no trouble staying upright.

This is probably the most unique feature of the Writer – the keyboard sticks magnetically to the cover flap, so you can adjust it to a variety of angles, and it absolutely will not flop over. If your hands are on the keyboard, it’s impossible for the iPad to fall over.

I haven’t found any case that isn’t somewhat in the way when you’re using the iPad in portrait mode as a PDA. The Writer does a fairly good job of opening unobtrusively, but it’s always a bit awkward to close due to the magnets that hold the keyboard against the case flap. The flap itself is held closed by an elastic loop. This loop would be easier to close if it was triangular rather than rounded, but it’s a pretty good design.

When the case is closed, it’s extremely thin and easy to slip in and out of a bag; the Writer is about half as thick as my previous keyboard case.

Writer side view

The hard plastic rim that holds the iPad in place seems sturdy, and doesn’t interfere with using the iPad all the way to the edge of the screen; many leather-style cases cover the black border around the screen, making it hard to touch near the edges. The Writer is absolutely great in terms of touch-usability, and it’s easy to pull out if you don’t want to use the keyboard. I found that I could even get the iPad out of the case while it’s still in my briefcase, thanks to the quick-release tab on top.

The exterior material is a matte nylon-like fabric, like the Apple case for the original iPad (though it seems to attract far less dirt). The keyboard body seems to be Apple-style machined aluminum, and the rim that holds in the iPad appears to be sturdy plastic. I’ve been using it for several weeks, and it’s held up to the rigors of travel very well.

The Writer is available for the iPad 1 and the iPad 2 from Amazon.com.



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Great Case Concept for iPad: Built-In Keyboard

I haven’t tried this case or spoken with anyone who has, but the concept is incredible: a $60 iPad case with a built-in Bluetooth keyboard.

iPad case with built in bluetooth keyboard

As I mentioned in my Essential iPad Guide for Principals, the iPad is far more useful with a Bluetooth keyboard, but Apple’s model costs $69 and isn’t easily carried with the iPad (though I found a case that does the job).

The case is faux-leather, and has a built-in battery for the keyboard. I like the fact that it’s also a stand, since I can’t always find a place to set my iPad when I’m doing observations with the keyboard on my lap. I’m not sure if it would stand up properly and work comfortably on the lap, but it looks like it could.

If you’ve tried this case, please let me know what you think.

5 Using the iPad for Paperless Walkthroughs

I’ve been trying a few different methods for doing walkthroughs and giving feedback to teachers using my iPad. I used a paper log and paper notes for feedback in previous years, but now that I have an iPad, it’s time to go paperless. I’ve tried a few different solutions for organizing walkthroughs and giving feedback via iPad, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

Trial and Error
Chris Lehmann developed a great form using Google Spreadsheets, which I tried and found very easy to use (for entering feedback, at least). You create a form and enter information into the form, and the results are added to a Google Spreadsheet. The drawbacks are that you need constant internet access (wifi or 3G), and the spreadsheet format doesn’t lend itself to communicating feedback to teachers (though Chris has a partial solution to this in asking teachers to sign up to receive notifications when their spreadsheet is updated). I like using the form, but not the spreadsheet.

I’ve also tried using OmniFocus to keep track of both whom I need to visit and what feedback I provided. OmniFocus is a great task management app, and I rely on it to keep track of my to-dos, but I’ve found it’s not great for holding large amounts of text. You can type a note into a task, and even email it, but the resulting email is oddly formatted (so that the recipient, if also an OmniFocus user, can add the task to their to-do list), and adding lots of text can slow down your database loading and synching.

Hitting My Stride
However, OmniFocus shines when it comes to keeping track of whom you’ve visited. You can set recurring tasks, re-order them, and set reminders. Today I made a list of all the teachers in my school, and when I visit a teacher’s room and give feedback, I drag that teacher’s name to the bottom of the list so I know I’ll get to everyone. When it’s time to pick a room to visit, I look at my list and see who’s at the top.


So far, I’ve found Evernote to be the best app for taking notes and emailing feedback. I already use Evernote as my virtual file cabinet, so it’s easy to use it for this additional purpose. I take notes in Evernote (starting a new note for each classroom visit), then email them to the teacher directly from Evernote. Evernote works even if you’re offline, so you can take notes even if you’re out of wifi range, and they’ll send/sync when you’re back online. To make it easy to find all the notes for a particular teacher, I add two tags to each note: the word “feedback,” and the teacher’s name. A bonus is that Evernote syncs via Evernote’s servers, so your notes are always backed up and accessible from your computer.

Apple Bluetooth Keyboard

One more essential tool: the Bluetooth keyboard. This $69 accessory almost turns the iPad into a laptop, but with 12 hours of battery life and half the bulk of even the smallest netbook. The keyboard multiplies my typing speed tenfold, and makes it viable to give substantive feedback directly from the classroom.

Workflow that Works
Using these tools, here’s the workflow I’ve developed: Whenever I can get into classrooms, I visit the room at the top of my list (in OmniFocus), take notes in Evernote, email them to the teacher, and move the teacher’s name to the bottom of my list in OmniFocus (I can also add the date to the note field in OmniFocus so I can quickly see all the dates I’ve visited the room).

So far this year, my schedule has been unpredictable enough that I haven’t scheduled informal walkthroughs, but if you can consistently make time, it’s OK to put them on your calendar. I would caution you to avoid using your calendar to motivate yourself, and have a way to ensure that, even if you miss a planned visit, you’ll still get to every classroom without too much reworking of your schedule. In other words, I wouldn’t recommend adding specific classes to visit to your calendar at specific times, because if you get interrupted and can’t make it to the class, you won’t want to completely redo your schedule. That’s why I keep an ordered list of classes to visit in OmniFocus, and just move each class to the bottom of the list when I visit.

I prefer to send feedback via email in most cases (since teachers can respond at their leisure if necessary), but some feedback is best given in person. If your walkthrough leads you to the conclusion that a personal conversation is in order, you can email the teacher from your iPad to set up the meeting, and put the meeting on your iPad’s calendar.

If you’ve been thinking of getting an iPad but have questions, please ask in the comments. See also my Essential iPad Guide for Principals.

How do you give feedback when you do walkthroughs?

Cross-posted from LeaderTalk at Education Week

Focusing on The Right Work

Cross-posted from EdWeek’s LeaderTalk

Yesterday I spent the day at another elementary school in my district as part of our district’s Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) for principals. The five of us spent the morning identifying a problem of practice and visiting classrooms, and spent the afternoon debriefing and identifying implications for our work.

It’s always stimulating to talk with other principals and learn how they lead their schools. I got great ideas for what I could do in my school.

At the end of the day, though, I was exhausted by possibility. There is so much I could be doing, and so much I’m not doing, yet I don’t seem to have much room to add more to my plate.

This leads to a painful question: Am I doing the right work?

I always stay busy, but is it with the right things? Should I be ignoring some of what I’m currently paying attention to, in order to focus on something else? How can I decide?

One obvious way to decide what to focus on is to listen to others. What issues are urgent to teachers, parents, students?

The problem with allowing the squeaky wheel to get the grease, though, is that it’s not always the right wheel. Perhaps the issues that are coming up are not really the most important.

Learning from my peers (other elementary principals) forces me to ask the question “What am I not addressing in my school?” If an issue will require uncomfortable discussion or serious change, perhaps no one will bring it up. Perhaps it’s up to me.

Part of a leader’s job is to create and uphold a vision for the organization. This means speaking boldly, bringing up the important issues that we might not otherwise face, and making sure they get the attention they deserve.

How do you decide what deserves your time and attention? How you identify the “right” work?

4 Essential iPad Apps for Principals

iPad Guide imageI recently described my iPad workflow, and thought I should describe my favorite apps and how they support my work as a school leader. I would appreciate any comments or feedback you have on iPad apps.

I’ve made an effort to describe each major app that I use, with special attention to its usefulness in my work as a school leader. I hope you find my comments helpful in considering how the iPad can support your work.

iPad MailEmail is increasingly how work is done – especially the work of leadership. I use my iPad to stay abreast of email as it comes in throughout the day, and to respond to email when I’m away from my computer but have my Bluetooth keyboard (see this post).

The iPad’s built-in email app is excellent, and it will probably work with your school or district email system. Check your desktop computer to see the server addresses and account settings, or check with your district tech staff to find out if there are any special settings to use. iPad does not have any special requirements – if you can access your email from your home computer, you can access it on the iPad.

A note about webmail – if you can access your email through a web browser, it might be tempting not to bother setting up the Mail app. However, webmail often lacks important features such as your district address book and the “mark as unread” button. It’s worth the effort to set up Mail to have access to its great features. In addition, other iPad apps need an email account to send files from (as described above), so you’ll want to have the Mail app configured.

iCal for iPadPlanning my time and keeping appointments are essential parts of my work as a school leader, so I need a reliable calendar. Paper or a desktop-based calendar will work, but I’ve found it enormously helpful to have a powerful electronic calendar with me at all times.

The iPad’s built-in calendar app is a dream to use. Add new appointments, accept or reject meeting invitations, set reminders (which will turn on your iPad when they pop up), and modify your schedule all from the slick interface. You’ll never go back to a paper calendar again after using iCal.

My secretary can add appointments directly to my calendar through Microsoft Outlook’s designee feature, and they’ll show up automatically in iCal. You can also subscribe to web-based .ical feeds, such as those generated by Google Calendar.

OmniFocus for iPadI need to keep track of countless projects, tasks, ideas, and plans in my work as a principal. I found that if I keep only simple paper-based lists, they get out of control quickly. OmniFocus is my hub for to-do items.

This $40 app is pricey but amazing. If you’ve found that your paper or simple electronic to-do lists get unwieldy after a while, OmniFocus is the solution. Check out this video introduction to this complex but powerful app.

OmniFocus screenshot

OmniFocus is one of the best-designed iPad apps on the market, and is a joy to use. However, if you’re looking for a simpler (and cheaper) solution, try Things. I haven’t used Things, but I’ve heard good things (ahem) about it.

Whichever to-do app you use, the key is to write ALL of your tasks in it, instead of leaving them scattered across multiple apps.

EvernoteAs a principal, I receive a large amount of information that I may need to reference in the future. I have a good paper filing system, but I don’t want to print and manually file anything if I can avoid it.

Evernote is my file cabinet. It will accept text (emailed, pasted, or typed in), photos, and file attachments, and make all of them searchable. For example, if I’m at another school and see a playground rules poster I like, I can take a picture with my phone and email it to Evernote. Searching for “playground” will bring up the photo, because Evernote can actually read text (including handwriting) inside photographs.

Best of all, your data lives on Evernote’s servers, and is instantly synched between your iPad, iPhone, desktop or laptop computer (Windows or Mac), and the web interface. In other words, your reference information is always on hand. If you’re feeling ambitious and have a sheet-fed duplexing scanner, you can even scan your paper files into Evernote and get rid of your file cabinet. There’s also a bookmarklet to clip items you find on the web.

iPad Reading Apps
A note about reading apps: if you need to read something by a specific date (e.g. for a meeting), put it on your calendar or to-do list. Otherwise, you can use the following apps to read material of interest whenever you get a chance.

InstapaperI believe that leadership is creative work, and creative work requires inspiration and new ideas. Reading is therefore an essential part of the work of leadership, yet we don’t read as much as we should. If you have a pile of unread leadership magazines in your office or home, you know what I mean. When you want to read something (eventually) but don’t have time right now, save it to Instapaper.

InstapaperInstapaper works best for those moments when you find yourself wanting to read an article, but you realize you aren’t going to have time to finish it without interruption. Instead of printing the article and using the resulting clutter as a reminder to read the article, save the article to Instapaper and read it at your convenience. The typography is the best I’ve ever seen – I’d rather read an article in Instapaper than any other way.

It helps to install the Safari bookmarklet to easily save articles you find online. This will take a minute but it’s worth it.

Most education publications such as EdWeek, Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan, etc. offer their content free online to print subscribers. Since I don’t want a pile of EdWeek papers filling my office or home, I flip through the paper, search for the articles I want to read online, and save them to Instapaper.*

*Instapaper saves public web articles and anything you email to it. For reading material that isn’t already on the public web (e.g. EdWeek articles, which require that you be a logged-in subscriber), you can copy and paste into Evernote, then email the Evernote document to a special Instapaper email address. While this is a bit of a pain, it has the added benefit of giving you a searchable backup copy in Evernote.

iAnnotate PDF Reader
iAnnotateSometimes you need to read an article more carefully and take notes for later reference. If you’re taking graduate or advanced certification classes, you probably receive plenty of PDFs. While Safari, Mail, and Evernote can all open PDF files, a specialized reader app such as iAnnotate will save your place and let you mark up the article.

iAnnotate’s interface is very easy to learn, and it’s easy to save PDF files to the app. It’s easily worth the $10 price tag.

Again, if you need to read a document by a certain date, I don’t recommend simply saving it to iAnnotate – put it on your calendar or to-do list as well.

Kindle & iBooks
Kindle app iBooks appAn increasing number of popular and education-related titles are available for Amazon’s Kindle app or the iBooks reading app. Last Spring, I bought a paperback copy of Kim Marshall’s Rethinking Teacher Supervision & Evaluation, but I also clicked the “I want to read this book on Kindle” link on Amazon’s website. A few months later, a Kindle edition was released. It works, and reading on the iPad is much more convenient than reading a paper book.

A little-known feature of the Kindle app is that you can highlight important passages and view a list of all the passages you’ve highlighted, either on the iPad or on Amazon’s website. This is a great way to review what you’ve learned from a book. iBooks has a similar feature.

The above apps are those I find indispensable and use daily, but I have dozens of other apps that I downloaded just to try or for fun. Don’t be afraid to spend a few dollars trying new apps.

The key, as I said in my iPad workflow article, is to limit the number of apps holding actionable information; otherwise, each new app is simply another place to lose something important.

What apps do you use on the iPad? Are you considering getting an iPad? Let me know what you think.

Image credit: Brandi Sims