Friday, April 27, 2012

Thoughts on Termination of Employees

The termination of an employee is never a fun topic and never a situation to take lightly as an employer. Although this particular post will focus on my father's trucking company, correlations to educational leadership will be clear, so bare with me.

While growing up, I watched my father struggle with difficult staffing issues a few times. He was a small business owner of a trucking company that hauled wood products from local saw mills to the pulp processing plant in Missoula, Montana. With 12 trucks running around the clock, he employed 24 full-time drivers, an administrative assistant, and a mechanic. 26 people relied on my father's decisions to make a living, and my father relied on them to make this living as well. It was not a relationship or responsibility that my father approached lightly.

Once I saw him sitting at the kitchen table late in the evening, something he rarely did unless he was working on the taxes, a job he loathed with a passion, or was considering a serious problem. I asked him what was wrong and he told me that one of his employees was causing some problems. Every truck had a machine which read the travel speed of the vehicle over the course of its journey. With this information, my father was able to determine if a driver was breaking the speed limit or stopping for routine breaks as scheduled. The driver in question was abusing the routine breaks system. The machine proved that the driver was stopping more often than other drivers and driving well below the speed limit. Driving below the speed limit didn't bother my father, in fact he encouraged his drivers to take it easy on the road. My father understood word of mouth and wanted people to recognize his company as promoting safe, responsible driving. But, with the added breaks and the slow driving, this driver was taking more than eight extra hours to finish the route; a normal time during the summer was about 10 hours, and this driver was often taking 18+ hours.

My father sat at the kitchen table that night, not because he was wondering how to fire this driver, but instead, he was considering why all of his efforts to correct this driver's behavior had come to no avail. When the problem had become apparent weeks earlier, my father met with the driver and discussed the situation. The driver assured my father that his behavior would change, and it did for a short time. The time dropped from 18+ hours to 12; fairly close to normal and acceptable in my father's mind. My father encourage the driver and made positive comments about the change in behavior; but the next week, the time began to lengthen again. After another week passed with the driver clocking around 16+ hours a day, my father moved into the second phase: a verbal warning became a written warning. My father wrote up an improvement plan for the driver with clear goals: the driver would stop for less breaks. The driver was stopping more than twice the number of times other drivers stopped, so my father focused on that point. The plan called for the driver to make three less stops per day, which would bring the driver closer to the normal amount of breaks. Correcting the problem and continuing the employment of the driver was the goal for my father. He didn't want to terminate this employee, if he could avoid it.

Over the next two weeks, the driver followed his improvement plan. He made less stops; again, his route time lowered to around 12 hours; again, my father was satisfied with the improvement. As the saying goes, old habits die hard -- in the third week of the improvement plan, the driver's time began to lengthen and he began taking extra breaks. At this point, many of you are probably thinking that the driver broke the improvement plan, so he was terminated. Nope! My father continued trying to help the driver. Another meeting to review the improvement plan was arranged and another letter went in the personel file. As you can see, my father was documenting the process. He was offering opportunities for improvement, but planning for the possibility that improvement would not occur. The behavior was corrected; the driver made less stops and his time improved, but it was short lived. This time the acceptable behavior lasted three weeks before the problem reared its ugly head. 

However, the problem was rapidly changing shape, because now other employees were talking about the situation. My father was running out of time to make the situation work out, because other drivers were beginning to question the performance of their colleague. All the drivers used the same route, and drivers had seen this driver stopping for long periods of time; he had been passed by drivers who should be hours behind him. His poor performance was public knowledge within the company. Things were beginning to spiral out of control against the driver, even with my father's support.

When the extra stops began again, my father took the action he had been trying to avoid -- he terminated the driver. It was not his first option, nor his second; it was not something he wanted to do, or desired to do. This man had a family; they needed the job to support them. By firing this employee, my father was negatively impacting this family's quality of life. He had done all he could to avoid it. Once it happened, my father knew he needed to explain the situation to the other drivers. He called a company meeting. When the other employees arrived at the meeting, he said, "Unfortunately, Mr. X, will not be driving for our company anymore. Please understand that I worked with him to correct the problems that existed, but in the end, it was in the best interest of the company to let him go." That was it! Short and to the point, but still respecting the former employee's right to confidentiality. The specifics of what was wrong were never discussed and the bottom line was communicated, "This was in the best interest of the company." And as employees of the company, it is in your best interest was the implied message. 

My father could have said anything, or nothing, to the other employees, but questions would have remained. He could have claimed that the driver left for personal or health reasons, but the truth was that my father fired him. My father is an honest man and he knew that in our small town of 30,000 people -- his employees would see this other driver again; at the store, at the cafe, at the bar. When his employees asked this former driver about the situation, he didn't want to be caught in a lie, because as a leader you want to display integrity.

Monday, April 23, 2012

#Beyondlaptops 3 Take-Aways

I'm sitting back in the home office at Korea International School and remembering a great two days at #beyondlaptops. Before I launch into my Take-Aways from the conference, I want to sincerely thank Yokohama International School and Kim Cofino for this amazing two days of sharing with other Ed Tech people from all over the world. 

The conference really focused on three big ideas for me:
  1. Breaking the Bell Schedule: The current use of time in traditional school will not be practical in the future. The sad fact is that the schedule really hasn't work for a while anyway, but we have been living with it. The time for living with it is now officially over! The time to begin changing the schedule is NOW. Some ideas that came up in discussion were using the existing schedules we currently have with more time for passionate inquiry. For example, KIS has a seven block rotating schedule. Why do all seven blocks have to be assigned a class? Instead, one block can be simply called Projects. Students would form groups based on interest, not grade levels, and assigned a teacher. In an ideal world, the teacher would also be passionate about the subject and work as a facilitator. Thrown into this idea was some information supplied to the conference via Scott McLeod. Professor McLeod showed us several examples of computer technology available right now that can do the "heavy lifting" of teaching -- the low-level, rote information based part of teaching. This will free up teachers to work on discussions, synthesis, analysis, and creation of new knowledge; however, this will require more self-directed time in the schedule for students to work individually. Some people were put off by the idea that computers can teach, but my opinion is that if you can be replaced by a computer -- you probably weren't teaching very well anyway. The one issue I have about the move toward more individual student work is about the textbook companies and it is an issue I've had before computers -- who gets to decide what gets in the textbook or program. Other than that, the opportunity for truly individualized instruction is powerful and will move education forward in many ways. But, it doesn't fit in our current educational schedule. We have to break the bell schedule! It is that simple. Educational Leaders would be wise to begin the process now.
  2. Social Media and Digital Citizenship: Students at YIS were finishing up Digital Citizenship week; the students who came to the conference were a wonderful addition and provided an excellent opportunity to enrich us with their opinions. (They liked the idea of more freedom to decide what they would study built into the school day, by the way.) My discussions with them reminded me once again of the power of simply asking students about their learning. It is something we don't do nearly enough of a KIS. Students should be part of the curriculum writing process; we should be talking about their learning with them; we should be engaging them about education. One thing we discussed was Social Media, they agreed that it is a distraction, but also a great tool. And get this -- blocking doesn't work! EVER! Most of the people we will read this post know that, but it was great to hear the students say it again. Finally, through one of our other discussions, I realized that content on Digital Citizenship needs to have real life examples in order to be truly effective. The students basically said that theory discussions really don't accomplish much, but real cases involving real people do help them understand the importance. Oh, and for the record, they basically thought it was the teachers that overshare on social media -- not them.
  3. Curriculum should drive the Tech: It was like a mantra throughout the conference -- curriculum should drive the tech. It should be an add on or in addition, but it should come at the beginning when units are being written. When curriculum coordinators are meeting with grade level teams or departments, Ed Tech should be there with them offering support and ideas. True integration will only happen when technology is embedded into units from the start, not as an after thought. Also, I felt that teams of three from each school should be attending conferences like #beyondlaptops -- one admin, one curriculum coordinator, one Ed Tech person. The Ed Tech people need to have support from Admin and Curriculum Coordinators, because without their support, we are too easily ignored.
I'm sure in the coming weeks I will be revisiting these ideas again and again as I process everything that was discussed and shared at #beyondlaptops. Thank you Stephen Cathers (@stephencathers), our director, for allowing Ben Summerton (@bensummerton) and I to go to YIS and contribute. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Two EdTech Analogies

Over the course of the year in discussions I've had with students, teachers, and administrators I have found two Ed Tech analogies that have served me well in explaining important concepts about the nature of tech integration and using Twitter as a resource. Heading into this week's #beyondlaptops conference at Yokohama International School, I finally feel like the time has come to unveil these two analogies for the greater good of the educational world.

Analogy #1: The Hammer Analogy

A hammer is a great tool; especially when used for jobs that lend themselves naturally to a hammer. Pounding in nails, for example, is the exact job that a hammer has been developed to do. There are other jobs that a hammer can be employed to do that work as well; removing nails from a board is another job most hammers can be used quite easily to accomplish. But, you don't use a hammer when you what to tighten a bolt into a nut. The hammer isn't designed to do this job. Tech integration is similar. Some courses and classroom environments lend themselves to using technology better and more efficiently than others; some situations simply don't. The job of a Technology Integration Specialists is to assist teachers in finding those natural integration fits and to explore new tools that could be used. The job isn't to become the ed tech hammer and slam everything in sight without first thinking if the hammer (integration) is what we really need for the job at hand.
Analogy #2: Twitter -- It's a Fire Hose
Credit to PandaWhale

Many teachers and administrations seemed overwhelmed by the amount of information available through Twitter. They are correct about the fact the that amount of information is overwhelming -- Twitter is overwhelming. Consider this analogy, one doesn't drink water from a fire hose by pointing it at his/her face -- it will simply knock you on your butt. When drinking from a fire hose, you carefully sip from the side; even better -- you use a ladle. You dip your ladle in and sip a little and then dip again. With your ladle, you can consume water comfortably at your own leisure. Don't look into the fire hose that Twitter is and assume that you must consume all the information blasting out at you -- simply dip your ladle and sip.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Assigning a Desktop in Lion


If you are using Lion and are struggling with applications jumping around, try assigning the program to a desktop. Right click on the icon; go to options and you will see assign to. The screen shot should help.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Book Summary: Adolescents at School


    Adolescents At School: Perspectives on Youth, Identity, and Education, edited by Michael Sadowski, is a collection of essays, research summaries, commentaries, and profiles from American secondary schools. The work introduces many faces of youth identity that exist within modern school systems. Not surprisingly, many of the identities are not the traditional Protestant, Anglo-Caucasian archetypes that have dominated most of US history, literature and thought; instead, these identities and voices are African-American, Chicano, Immigrant, Asian, Homosexual, Underprivileged, and countless others who have found themselves outside of the traditional American identity. Sadowski’s collection asks educators to consider other possible identities as not only acceptable and normal, but more common and real than the traditional US identity.
    Micheal Nakkula, one of the contributing authors of the collection, suggests the idea of creating possibility by opening the door to allowing students to explore other options and futures. All adolescents need opportunities to develop their passions and skills in activities that allow them to invest personal energy in a positive way that will provide alternatives for their future. Educators can help students flourish through helping nurture their passions and skills. Through directing students toward positive role models within the community and by being positive role models themselves, educators can help more students realize their full potential and prevent adolescents from falling victim to stereotypical problems. By building real, genuine relationships with adolescents, educators can provide alternatives to the limited possibilities that adolescents may see before them in their community (Sadowski, 2010).
    After working in education for 15 years in places like rural Montana and Alaska and urban areas like Seoul, Korea, these alternative identities speak to me directly. These are the voices who have cried for attention and nurturing throughout my career -- Native American, Native Alaskan, Underprivileged, Homosexual, Special Needs, and Asian. Sadowski’s collection has reaffirmed my belief as a professional that every child deserves acceptance and love while receiving the best education possible. Students do not need our sympathy; they need our respect. They do not need our judgment; they need our trust. When we make real relationships with students, they flourish; when we simply show up and do our jobs, they flounder. Our job as educators is to look at each child and say, “You are unique and a valuable individual. How can I help you reach your dreams?” To do anything less is unethical, immoral, and criminal.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Diigo Group: Asia Ed Tech

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I'm hoping that this group will come to life at the #beyondlaptops mini-conference in Yokohama on April 19-20. If you are an educational technology person in Asia, I encourage you to join and share.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Experiment in Brewing #1: Czech Pilsner

First, I want to apologize to my friend Wolf Lindell (@barleywolf) for this extremely long overdue blog post about beer. Wolf was good enough to take a blog challenge back in the fall about his journey to work; after documenting his daily adventure, he challenged me to write a post about beer... Months passed and I never got around to it and then just when I was thinking about doing the post, I started brewing my own beer. There is a group of gents from KIS who live in my apartment complex and all brew, so I joined in on the experimenting. In my mind I thought, why write about a beer I purchased at a store, when I could wait a little longer and write about my own beer. Which brings us to today, my first attempt at beer is ready to drink!

The photos are proof that the experiment worked, but what about the taste? The pilsner is a little darker than I expected; it has the reddish tint of an amber rather than the pilsner; but, I admit a fair amount of ignorance about Czech Pilsners, so perhaps this is normal. I bottled my beer in 1.5L bottles and the recipe was for 1L bottles, so I naturally added more sugar than was called for, but it must have been a bit of an overkill, because when I opened the first bottle -- foam came rolling out of it. And, it continued to foam for quite some time; and, the foam failed to stop -- I finally tipped the bottle and poured Aysem (@Aysem_bray) and myself a glass each. The beer isn't clear, but there is no visible sentiments or impurities to be seen either. The aroma is heavy with hops and malt. The taste is between an amber and pilsner, with the clean after taste of the amber and the simple fore taste of a pilsner; plus, the beer is wonderfully bubbly. Delightful! It has been worth the month long wait to taste it. Hopefully Wolf will think this blog post is worth the six month he has been waiting.

The Woomi Squirrel Brewery has produced another successful beer and another brewer has been born. I will put my beer to the test on Cinco de Mayo, when the brewers and their supporters will have a BBQ and taste test in the park behind the Woomi Apartment complex. It should be a fun afternoon with colleagues and friends. Today JP picked up the fermenter and is planning to begin his first batch as well. Thanks to Ben (@bensummerton), Lloyd, Jeff, and Kevin for the encouragement. It is time for you guys to taste the latest brew.