My own reflections on #teacher5aday #fitfeb

I (along with many others) have been a long fan of the #teacher5aday hashtag on Twitter. It has firmly established itself as a supportive, reflective network of educators and, if not always contributing my thoughts, I always read the tweets and pass on suggested initiatives to my local school community.

While I didn’t directly contribute to the discussion about February’s fitness focus (#fitfeb) it aligned with my own attempts to keep the bugs at bay through more regular exercise. Even though you can regularly feel that you have no time for yourself you have to find a suitable balance or overwork and stress will cause you to be forced to take time off. I revisited the NHS Couch to 5K podcasts and got up an hour earlier to jog (slowly) around Milan before it got too busy but my partner also suggested the NHS Strength and Flex podcasts too. They compliment each other and aren’t too strenuous or time consuming at around 30mins each. I think they really helped in the run up to the mid-term break (much needed!) and hope my suggestion is useful to you too.

Brave or Stupid? Abandoning email #workflow #teacher5aday #wellbeing #productivity

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There are plenty of articles out there about email productivity, labelling, filtering. Colour stars abound. Branching labels grow unchecked. I won’t link to them here.

My workflow – for years – has almost always been manually controlled: Interesting / useful email message? Forward to Evernote for archiving and tagging. An action from an email message? Add it to my To-Do list. An email bulletin from a website or solution provider with an interesting article to read? Forward to my Pocket address so I can read it on my Kobo later.

But the email pile grows ever bigger, even with archiving, and searching for an email is just as frustrating as it was before. Add to that the 24-7 nature of email and the “respond now” culture that has evolved over the past few years and you have very little chance of switching off. France are making headway with this issue (but not banning after work email) as they realise this seriously impacts staff wellbeing.

It has got to the point where I want to abandon email altogether and work with a system that helps organise and track tasks for me and others in my department. I have a feeling this is a simultaneously brave and incredibly stupid action but want to explain my reasons behind the decision:

Last weekend (yes, weekend – I’m such a hypocrite) I introduced Trello to my team. You may already know about it but for those who don’t it is a collaborative system where you can have discussions within a card. These cards can be organised on a board. Those boards can be private or public. After a week or use we have reduced our department email to a whimper of what it was previously. Within a week. The boards are evolving and we are communicating almost entirely within Trello cards. It has been so successful at channelling and tracking our asynchronous communication that I’ve put on hold the plan to introduce Slack (which I thought would be an essential component) for the time being.

However my non-department school email continued to pile in. I realised that most of these were being actioned then archived to Evernote. I use Evernote for its tagging and have been archiving web pages, resources and documents of interest since 2010. I have a nice labelling system set up and had previously attempted a productivity system within Evernote without much success. The main issue then was that I had to manually forward actions from email to Evernote, then manually tag them in Evernote appropriately, then remember to manually check the saved searches, etc. It was adding to my workload, not improving it. By removing my department email threads I realised that I had an opportunity to automate some of my workflow for the benefit of me, my team and perhaps the rest of the school.

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I looked again at email filters. I created two new ones: The first to file department mail into a “Computer Science Department” label, the other to file all other emails from within my school into a “Whole School” label. I’m working on the simple premise that, if I know who sent it, I know (roughly) what area of my school it relates to.

Then I used the IFTTT service to detect when unread emails with either label appear in my inbox and forward the email text (not attachment) to Evernote. The IFTTT applet files them in my Action Pending notebook and tags them as department or whole school.

At this point I have some manual intervention. I read the messages within Evernote and decide if they need actioning. If urgent I tag them as “1 – Now”. Other levels of urgency are available but none are automated as yet. I realise this is just moving an email to another system however Evernote does not notify me of new notes so removes the “respond now” demand and allows me to schedule a time to check messages every day.

I created another IFTTT applet that looks for a note in Evernote being tagged as “1 – Now”. When this happens it automatically creates a Trello card with the message text and puts it on a private board called “From Evernote”.

From Trello I can now move this from my board to public department boards if it requires action or input from my department.

Other emails from suppliers or subscriptions remain in my email for the moment but this now allows me to take time to purge what is spam (I’ll bet most of it) and what I can automate into Pocket articles in the future.

Potential issues:

I realise that the emails that have attachments will still have to be manually viewed in my email. If I need to forward emails to Evernote instead of using IFTTT in the future it is a minor change as I already have an automated workflow which archives scanned student work for marking within Notability. At present I can upload attachments up to 25MB into Trello cards if required.

There is a daily cover email which is important to read and action if necessary. This one cannot be delayed until a quiet moment of Evernote contemplation. At present I’m not sure how best to filter this – perhaps a separate private Trello board for cover is required (at least until I can convince the school that this is the way forward)….

So my questions are: Brave or stupid? Do you think this will work? Do you have any workflow suggestions to share?

And now I’m going to spend the rest of my day with my family…

A slightly late #teacher5aday 2016 pledge

Although spending most of the Christmas holidays under the weather (double dose of the Milan flu I’ve been told!) I really enjoyed following the #teacher5adayslowchat hashtag on Twitter (started and perpetuated by Martyn Reah). I peeked over the parapet to post my thoughts and had resolved to post a #teacher5aday pledge before the end of the week. However – I forgot!

To keep my own wellbeing in sharp focus, as well as the development of my students, I pledge to:

#connect – although I already connect a lot digitally I want to try and voice chat (already getting into @voxer)/ video chat with friends and colleagues more in 2016. I also want to take advantage of the short visits home to catch up with as many technophobe friends as possible!

#exercise – take advantage of Milan’s BikeMi service, where you can borrow bikes from areas across the city by swiping your metro card; swim in the lakes as soon as it gets warm enough!

#notice – Explore Milan, find secret places, drink in the artwork and try to slow down in my spare time.

#learn – I was lucky enough to get an electric guitar and iRig for Christmas so I’m currently using Yousician to brush up on some rusty techniques; My Italian could (and will) be better; I also want to continue to learn from my colleagues – both real and virtual!

#volunteer – As well as planning for TeachMeet Milan at the end of the school year I’d like to volunteer outside of the educational sphere. I’ve heard that Italians are some of the most generous and helpful people in the world. There must be a way to lend a hand…

On wellbeing

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It’s fairly commonplace to be self-reflective at this time of year and, for teachers anyway, the holidays are usually when we consider how to improve our own wellbeing. Recovering from a draining term, it has definitely been on my mind…

teacher5adaySlowChat

I was intrigued by the Twitter discussion #teacher5adaySlowChat over the past few days however decided to lurk instead of post. Long-time Twitter friend Robert Macmillan wrote a fantastic discussion piece yesterday on teacher wellbeing. I found this section particularly jarring:

If you are naive enough to believe the pundits and the politicians, then we’re treated quite well. Indeed, the ‘Get Into Teaching’ website preaches that as a “valued professional” you can look forward to:

Job satisfaction, “competitive salary, generous pension”.

It goes on to tell about long holidays in which you can: “pursue your interests, travel and spend time with family and friends.”

Not for them the lower life expectancy that has seen several of my former colleagues die just after retirement.

I wouldn’t paint all schools with this broad brush but have experienced the highs and lows of working in locations where teacher wellbeing is either a high priority or completely ignored. Teaching is a career that can completely overwhelm all other aspects of your life and needs careful attention to ensure that you don’t spend your long holidays recovering from illness, fatigue or stress. My family spent most of the last term swapping bugs which left us all exhausted by Christmas and I’m sure a lot of other teachers would have been in the same boat around the world. Even one week in we’re nowhere near 100%. Hence my preference to lurk and consider at the moment – at least I’m managing to spend time with my family…

Milan traffic ban

Milan is a beautiful, vibrant city with so much variety to observe and explore. However what I found most striking recently was the (non-peak) ban on vehicles in the city. Yesterday the city was eerily quiet between 10am and 4pm for the first time since 1999. I had imagined it would be reminiscent of traffic levels when we arrived in early August, when most of the Milanese head for less stifling heat, however it was completely different. I walked with the kids to a local supermarket and saw a handful of low-emission cars quietly whirr past on the way but was delighted to see how many people were out on the street chatting to neighbours, walking slowly, enjoying the winter sun. For someone who is used to everyone moving quickly and with purpose, it was a unique and enjoyable experience. I don’t know if the vehicle ban is going to help current smog levels to be honest, but it appears to be improving the quality of life for its residents in other ways.

How to be happy

The Guardian article “New year, new you – how to be happy” by Rachel Kelly didn’t contain anything that hasn’t been said before however it groups advice from yoga techniques through to recent screen time recommendations in one easy-to-reference list. I don’t agree with the “60% rule” heading but do feel that sometimes our perfectionism forces us to overwork.

The pros and cons of digital connections

While some of us decide to take regular digital detoxes to improve our wellbeing. While I agree that you need balance between online and offline activities I disagree with the idea that you need to force yourself to take a month off to realise:

The other thing that struck her was just how much pointless “digital noise” there was in her life. “When I got back home, I realised I didn’t have any messages that were actually important, that needed me to do anything. No one had died.”

Without our regular Skype or Appear.in chats with family back in the UK, my Facetime and iMessage discussions with friends and teaching colleagues I would certainly feel very isolated as suggested by the Ages 2.0 project.