May 06

This is Not a Review: Jose Vilson’s “This Is Not a Test”

[As many folks know, Jose Vilson is a dear friend of mine. He is also, in my opinion, one of the biggest thinkers we've got in the world of education today. I've been trying to write a traditional review of Jose's new book, This is Not a Test, for several days now. I can't. If you need to read a review, go read Audrey Watters' review of it. It's better than anything I could possibly write. What this is, simply, is an exhortation.]

There are books I read where I simply love the writer’s voice so much that I cannot put the book down.

There are books I read where I just find the message so compelling that I cannot put the book down.

Then there are those rare books that I read where the author’s voice is so powerful and the message so compelling that not only can I not put it down, but I find myself “cheer-reading,” with vigorous head-nodding and calls out to my wife, so I can read her passages that are particularly moving to me. Those are the kinds of books where I am inevitably sad when I come to the end, because I simply want to keep reading and learning more.

Jose Vilson’s This is Not a Test is one such book.

If you are familiar with Jose’s blog, you might already know that he is one of the most powerful writers on education that’s out there on the internet already. And if you only know Jose from his blog, that’d be enough to go buy the book. (And if you aren’t reading Jose’s blog, why aren’t you?)

But as good as his blog is, the book is better.

The book is a powerful commentary on the world of school today, woven through his narrative as both a student and a teacher. Jose uses the lens of his own experiences to speak to some of the most important issues facing our schools, from issues of race and class in our schools, to the need to understand our students as far more than a test score to answering the fundamental question of “Why Teach?” This is Not a Test is a deliberate creation of both memoir and social commentary that is woven together in such a compelling way as to remind every reader of the power of story to educate us of what we can and should value in our schools and in our society.

If you teach, if you have kids in school, if you live in the world of education policy, or if you simply care about the present and future of education in this country, you must read this book.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, the book is on sale (30%) through Haymarket Press. Simply buy it through the publisher and enter the code NOTATEST at checkout.

Go. Now. Buy the book. Read it. Tell others to read it too. Because, indeed, this is not a test.

Sep 22

The Paperless Principal

Jethro Jones (@JethroJones) has a new iBook out called The Paperless Principal. Jethro asked me to take a look at it, and as he is someone in my PLN, it really was my pleasure to give it a read. And I’m the better for it.

This book is not a pedagogy book at all. It is simply a wonderful way to think about managing the (often crushing) document (e-doc and old-fashioned paper doc) flow of being a principal. The book came at a perfect time for me, because I am not doing a great job of managing my paper flow, and my goal of ending every day with a clean desk is just not happening right now. I was just talking with a teacher at SLA about how I was feeling a little overwhelmed by life right now, and how I was struggling to find more efficiencies in my work and life flow. Sometimes, the right email pops up in your inbox at just the right time.

The general theory of the book is that, with all documents, once we have determined if it doesn’t go straight to the recycling bin, we must capture, process and use everything in such a way that save us time. That may not be a particularly revolutionary idea, but what makes Jones’ book really interesting is that he documents his process for doing so and how he has used various pieces of software to automate as much as that process as possible. For example, he introduced me to two pieces of software called Hazel and Text Expander that both seem like they could play a profound role in saving me a couple of hours a week – and these days, every hour saved is key. For other people, his description of how he uses DropBox may be the thing that is revolutionary. (I can second DropBox – I love it.)

But the book is not just about how he uses the tools themselves. He documents his organizational processes and how the tools both serve and enhance that process. What was cool for me was reading about his workflow and realizing that it isn’t mine at all, but that there still were a bunch of places where I could take his work and adapt and apply it to mine. (And Jethro would argue that’s exactly what I should do with the book, I think. He writes about how a principal first needs to make a system work for him/her.)

Now I consider myself a reasonably organized principal. I’ve written about how I use to-do lists and various tools to simplify my existence, and I already have a pretty robust electronic filing system, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some wonderful takeaways for me – for example, I want to play with Hazel to see if I can take the weekly email of principal updates from the district and automatically parse and file the memos into relevant folders.

One concern that I have for readers other than myself is that I do wonder just how tech-savvy you have to be to use all the tools Jethro describes. I’m pretty techie, as most folks know, and there were a few parts where I was wondering how steep my learning curve was going to be. I think part of my problem is that I read the book on a plane where I couldn’t download and play with the tools. Also, I hope that Jethro’s website paperlessprincipal.com has the HowTo’s and such needed to make this easier. What I would recommend for any principal (or teacher) who wanted to use Hazel, for example, is to play with it a lot with some files and folders that were not essential, as if you are not familiar with logical commands and creating rules, you could cause yourself some headaches if you started immediately with essential files.

Overall, this is the kind of book that a principal who has dipped their toe into the world of using digital tools to manage the administrative side of the work already should definitely read. If you, like me, have already created your own systems for digitally managing much of the work, you will still find a great deal in this book to make you re-examine your workflow. It is a short but vital read for anyone who has looked at either their desk or their Desktop and felt completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information in front of them.

[As an addendum, the inspiration for the book itself came from David Sparks' iBook Paperless and Jethro's book has convinced me that should be my next read.]

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad