Extreme understatement: Meetings can be improved

In a recent staff meeting, we were asked to sort ourselves into 4 basic orientations: action, emotion, details, or big picture. Our staff is a healthy mix of all 4, but my people are the let’s-get-going types. Make a plan, and immediately start taking steps to implement it. Sometimes my attitude makes me feel impatient, so, I volunteered to be the recorder for our District Leadership Team, or DLT. Another reason I wanted that position is because I already had some ideas on how to make our meetings efficient and collaborative. Char Shryock, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Bay Village, had written an article on eAgendas in NEOTIE‘s first magazine that I read before our first meeting, and it has a lot of great advice.

If you feel that meetings can be run in a more efficient and collaborative way, here are some steps you can take to get on track. (If you do not feel that way, there is a 99.9% chance that you’re wrong. Fun fact: Another personality trait is not being 100% sure about anything).

  1. Set up (or have your IT people set up) an email group that includes all members. This enables easier communication. For example, for the DLT, there are around 20 people. I would never be able to remember all of them, and it would take too much time to type all of their email addresses in every time, even with the auto-finish feature on our Gmail. And continuing to reply all to the first email sent out to a group is messy. So, dlt@cardinalschools.org was born and has proven useful to many already.
  2. Set up a shared folder in Google Drive. You can share the folder through your new group email! Then, everyone can access and add documents as needed. Save the trees and stop making copies. Post it all in there.
  3. Put the Google Document agenda in that folder.
  4. Create a process for using the eAgenda. Ours is thiscollaborative agenda process Google Docs
  5. Share and follow the process

Some additional notes:

  • Having one document that includes all agendas (in reverse chronological order, so that the newest is at the top, and the oldest is available by scrolling) makes continuity easier to achieve. You won’t have to open 5 documents to see what you talked about the past few times.
  • Making the last column Next Steps, or Actionable Items, or Homework is a good way to make certain that the group (or part of it) has something to actually accomplish before the next meeting. Being action-oriented, coming out of meetings where there is no clear goal to achieve feels like a waste of time. Hardly anything frustrates me more than an all talk-no action situation. We all have a lot to do, so whiling away the hours in poorly run meetings is not what’s best for kids. On the other hand, a meeting in which important progress is made is well-worth the time. I highlight the Next Steps in our agenda. (See below).
  • Using the Email Collaborators option in Google Docs is an easy way to re-send the agenda as needed. A couple of days before and immediately after the meeting keeps everyone in the loop. It gives all members a chance to think about and comment on the agenda. This is where I remind people of the Next Steps.
  • Using the chat feature is something we haven’t tried yet. But, I want to bring it up soon as an option for back-channel chatter. Instead of side conversation between a few, a temporary chat log appears on the agenda so that people don’t forget what they want to bring up next, or counterpoints.
  • Adding hyperlinks is something I do as a recorder to make the agenda more useful. Again, instead of needing to find many documents, just opening the agenda gives access to all the relevant information. Here’s what our linked agenda looked like today. Cardinal DLT Agendas Google Docs

Please take any or all of the ideas presented here to make meetings more effective and collaborative. If this post has sparked more ideas, share them in the comments! There’s always room for improvement.

Clone Yourself with Screencastify

If you are a teacher, then you are a person who has to repeat yourself many times. If you have to repeat yourself many times, then you will get frustrated. If you don’t like being frustrated, get Screencastify! It is a Chrome extension that  allows you to record your entire desktop or just one tab. You can also use your webcam to record a video of yourself. In honor of my 50th recording this week, Screencastify’s recent cosmetic update, and my NEOTIE speech last Saturday, I wanted to provide a walkthrough on how to use it with your students or colleagues.

I estimate that using Screencastify has saved me at least an hour a week. This frees up time to help students who are struggling with the content rather than spending many minutes reminding those who can’t quite remember what to do next. Creating multi-step assignments with multiple video instructions allows every kid to work at their own pace. Critically, it allows my daily supply of patience to dwindle at a much reduced rate. It’s a win-win!

First, you will need to open Google Chrome and get the extension. Sign in with your Google Account and allow it to access whatever it’s asking for. You should get a little filmstrip icon next to your address bar. It’ll look like this: screencastify icon

When you click on the icon, you have 3 choices.

  1. Record a Tab. This allows you to choose one tab and record all that you do in that tab. It also has extra tools to show or hide your mouse, draw, erase, or clear your drawings. The drawback of this option is that if there are popup windows or other tabs that you need to show, you must manually switch the view so your recording jumps over to the new tab or window.Screencastify tab tools notification

    Screencastify tools
    The tools available with Tab recording
  2. Record your Desktop. This is my go-to choice. If you choose this one, you don’t have to remember to switch the focus from tab to tab. It will record whatever you are looking at. The drawback on this option is that you can’t use the drawing tools. In both Tab and Desktop you can choose to have a small square video of yourself. If you want that, make sure the checkbox is clicked next to Embed webcam. Then click to choose which corner you want to show up in.Screencastify Embed Webcam
  3. Record with your Cam. This just makes a video using your webcam. I never pick this one, because I think it best to have the visual of the written instructions or the webpage showing, plus the audio of my voice. And often, I embed the small corner cam view (with tab or desktop recording) so my students can feel a personal connection. But, maybe you have a good use for just using the Cam! Consider your options and choose what works for each case.

Normally, I prepare before I record by opening any webpages or creating documents I need to show my students. Then I click the Screencastify icon and choose Desktop, decide if I want a to embed my webcam view or not, and hit the orange Start Recording button at the bottom.

Choose Screencastify Desktop

Then I choose if I want to show my ENTIRE desktop (including my taskbar) or just my current window. My students don’t usually need to see my taskbar, so I choose the option on the right, and click Share.

Desktop choice

Here are some clues to look for to make sure it’s working properly.

Screencastify Recording On

Next, record your instructions. It’s important to articulate words and speak a bit slower than normal. Create a quiet environment to ensure good audio. Turn off fans or AC if possible. Circle your mouse around things before you click. Make sure you don’t click through things too quickly or without saying what to click on.  Underline words with your mouse as you say them to emphasize them.

There are 3 ways to stop recording

A new tab will open so that you can review your recording. If it turned out to your liking, make sure you rename it. You can then choose to download or share. The crop video option is a paid option. Trash poor recordings.After recording

You can choose to Share on your Google Drive, or YouTube. Here are what those screens look like, and their privacy options.

Share on drive


Share to YouTube

I always upload to YouTube, but I choose the privacy based on the content. A lot of times, I will just leave it on Public so parents and students can both find my videos easily. Also, some of my videos are helpful to anyone trying to learn about technology.

My penultimate step is to copy the link to my video from the side panel.

SCreencastify Copy Share Link

Clicking that chain link icon copies the URL, and then, finally, I put the hyperlink wherever it belongs. Oftentimes, that is in a Google document that includes the instructions for the assignment.

The process of creating a video and posting the link into my directions takes just minutes and saves hours. It only takes longer when I have to re-shoot my videos because of stumbling over my words or someone walking into my office to talk to me while I’m recording. Even with mistakes and interruptions, I can get video instructions done in 10 minutes or less, every time. With a little practice, you’ll be able to as well.

Please let me know if you have any questions about Screencastify! I will create a personal video to answer you. 🙂

#NEOTIE Ignite Session

A few weeks ago, I got asked to give an ignite speech at NEOTIE, an awesome local ed tech conference. I was surprised and honored to be chosen to speak alongside some of the best women around: Sarah Rivera (@PHS_STEM), Amy Roediger (@AmyRoedigeraleverandaplacetostand.blogspot.com) and Ann Radefeld (@AnnRad21).

Here’s what I said. Thanks to my dad for shooting this video!

And, if you want to see some pictures, here’s a beautiful slideshow by Ken Veon (@BeachwoodTech).

See New Changes

The past 7 days comprise my best week ever.

  1. I got engaged!
  2. I got asked to be an ignite speaker at NEOTIE!
  3. Google Docs added a See New Changes feature on the precise day when it was useful to me!

Although #3 is in dead last considering the excitement factor, it is still pretty sweet and also the most useful to you, so that’s what I’ll write about tonight.

Last week, I opened my students’ partially finished assignments through Google Classroom to give them feedback. The next day, when I opened those same assignments to check on their progress, I noticed this:

See new changes blue

And in a couple seconds it changed to this:

See new changes grey

I was intrigued so I clicked. There I found something similar to the See Revision History option that is in the File menu. The new changes that the student had made since I last viewed the document were clearly marked. All of the new words were denoted by green text, and green lines struck through what had been deleted. There were options to see the full history and a counter of how many edits had been made. This saved me a lot of time, because I could focus in on exactly what was different from the last time I’d evaluated their work. It also made me feel like I had superhuman memory. Some academics are worried about the long term effects of humans using computers like external memory banks, but there’s no way I could have memorized all the assignments like this.

changes history

Knowing that this feature is a part of my toolbox makes me more likely to spend time giving feedback on partially finished work because I know I can pick up where I left off in an instant.  This will benefit my students and enhance the learning process for them. I hope that you will be able to use this feature to be a better teacher for your students too.

And I very sincerely hope this week is as good for you as last week was for me.

Kaizena Voice Comments

There have been many times I have been evaluating my students’ work during my planning period and thought, “Ugh, I wish they were just sitting next to me right now so I could talk to them rather than typing out this comment.” An add-on for Google Docs called Kaizena allows for recording and receiving audio comments! I definitely plan on trying it this year.

In my newest video series, you can learn how to get Kaizena, how to leave a voice comment, and how to listen to a voice comment. The whole series is 299 seconds, or just shy of 5 minutes. Watch this instead of cat videos today!


The beautiful bullet

Organizing things (like similar puzzle pieces, office supplies, jewelry, etc.) is one of my favorite activities. Organizing thoughts definitely takes more effort, but is so worth the resulting clarity and conciseness. I find a thoroughly considered list to be a beautiful thing. Google Docs provides bullet and numbered lists for this purpose.

As a teacher, I’m responsible for helping my students learn to communicate their thoughts. Giving them the technical skills to create (and edit) such a structure through technology is appropriate for almost all ages. In the videos below, you’ll see how to create a lovely list, and be given a beginning-of-year assignment idea for teaching your students the tech skill. BONUS: Your model and their assignment helps you get to know each other and create rapport!

Once students are proficient with creating these hierarchical lists, you could use them for note-taking, pre-writing or assessment in any content area.

Taming a Monster Doc with Bookmarks and Footnote Hyperlinks

In a previous post on instantly creating a Table of Contents, I promised to tell you about an additional feature on Google Docs that would increase the ease of navigating a VLD (Very Long Document). By using a bookmark, along with a hyperlink in the footer of your document, you create the option for readers to jump back to the top with one click (instead of excessive scrolling!). Once you learn the 2 basic skills, you’ll be able to use those to make any document more connected. Those connections can stay within the doc itself, or you could hyperlink to any URL (website address) of your choosing.

Skill 1: Bookmark

Making a bookmark in your document is like placing a bookmark in a book. It allows you to get back to that spot more quickly and easily. So, if you have a Table of Contents, you probably want to be able to hop to it, right?

  1. Click and drag over the text Table of Contents to select it.
  2. Then, click the Insert menu, and Bookmark.Insert>Bookmark
  3. You’ll know you’ve done it right when this cute blue bookmark shows up. blue bookmark

Skill 2: Hyperlink in the Footer

Anything you type in the Footer of a document will show up on the bottom of every page. This is a perfect place for inserting a hyperlink to the bookmark you’ve just created.

  1. Click the Insert menu, then Footer.                             Insert>Footer
  2. In the Footer, type something like Return to Top.

    Footer that says Return to Top
    You also have the option to have a different first page, in case you don’t want the Footer included on page 1.
  3. Click and drag to select the words Return to Top, and then make it a hyperlink. There are 3 ways to do this.
    1. Use the keyboard shortcut: CTRL + K
    2. Use the Link Icon Link Icon
    3. Use the Insert Menu>Link
  4. Then you’ll get this box. Click on Bookmarks>Table of Contents, and Apply.Hyperlink options
  5. Your words hyperlink   turn blue and underlined to show that the hyperlink is there. Now you can click there to jump up to the bookmarked Table of Contents. And, since you put that link in the Footer, it will automatically be added at the bottom of ALL of your pages.

Using a Table of Contents, along with bookmarks, and a hyperlink in the footer, makes your VLD more user friendly and interactive.

Teacher Ideas:

Teach your students these skills, and have them create a clickable textbook together. They can make hyperlinks within the document, and hyperlinks out to additional resources, as well as practice writing headings that will make their Table of Contents helpful to outsiders. Then, they can publish their work and share it with a worldwide audience.


Instagrow a Table of Contents

A hyperlinked table of contents is a piece of practical magic for a long Google Document. The 25-page guide pictured here is much more approachable with this Table of Contents than it would be if users had to scroll or use Ctrl + F to find what they were looking for. One click and the document jumps right down to that particular spot.Table of Contents Example

Literally in seconds, you can create this beautifully simple feature for a document of your own. Here’s how.

  1. Go through your document and change the words you want to be included in your table of contents from Normal text to Heading 1. You do this by clicking and dragging over the text to select it, just like you would if you were trying to change the font or size. The option to do this is to the left of where you’d change the font, under the Format and Tools menus.Text styles normal to heading 1
  2. Click where you want your table of contents to go. Then go to the Insert menu, and you’ll find Table of Contents there at the bottom. Click. BOOM! Done.

Insert,Table of Contents

Seriously, that’s it.


If you add more Headings after your insert the Table of Contents, you’ll need to update, or refresh it, before the new Heading shows up in the ToC. Click the circle’d arrow to accomplish this feat. update table of contents


Next Post Preview: Adding a link in the footer to make navigating a long document even easier.

Footer hyperlink back to top of document