How to make a deadline

“Early is on-time,” they tell me. “On-time is late.”

I have a lot of band students on my yearbook and news staffs, and I think it’s time to take a page from the band director’s doctrine.

The band students know his theory is, “If you’re not early, you’re late.”

True to form, band, as a class, starts 30 minutes before first hour for the rest of the school. As teachers and students pull into the parking lot to begin the day, band is already practicing their marching program, and they’ve been doing so since 7:15 a.m. They didn’t arrive at 7:15. They started marching at 7:15.

I tell you that to tell you this:

We need to be early to be on-time with our yearbook and news deadlines. The simple reason is that there are always unexpected obstacles – always.


This year, we are switching from a fall delivery yearbook to a spring delivery yearbook. Previous staffs have all preferred to have the entire year in the book so we’ve worked two or three (or more) weeks into the summer to create one complete book delivered in the fall. This year, we’re trying a spring book, but the last deadline is just before spring activities. We’ll create a summer supplement to cover those.

Spring books mean earlier deadlines with more pages, and they have to be met or we won’t get the book in time to deliver before graduation.

Yesterday was the first day of our Fall Break, which extends through Tuesday. Our first deadline is Monday. That meant we showed up yesterday to finish pages for the first submission. I was thinking this qualified for “early”.

Granted, this first few weeks has been full of learning how to yearbook. And there have been dozens of decisions to make – big and small – regarding design. Deciding the theme itself was a big one, but few realize the number of tiny decisions that have to be made and then implemented throughout for consistency. Will the number for the caption AND the lead-in be demi-bold? Will we use a period after the photo credit? Are non-staff members “Photo by …” or “Courtesy of …” and how do we credit news staff when it’s their photo? So. Many. Decisions.

So a little more than half the staff was able to make it to workday yesterday, and while many were finishing spreads, many were editing for all that tiny stuff.

One obstacle after another got in our way.

The morning started right off with a corrupted InDesign spread that wouldn’t open.

We spent half an hour or so trying to troubleshoot that one. I used Mac’s Time Machine option, going back to an earlier, saved version, but it still wouldn’t open. I called Herff Jones’s tech support, and the specialist had me email the file to her. She couldn’t open it either. Just when it looked like the staffer was going to have to design from scratch (I actually felt tears welling up behind my eyes), I tried Time Machine again, going back an hour earlier in the previous day’s files, and we got a version that would open – minus a couple of steps that hadn’t saved.

That was the big one, but we had photos that wouldn’t place for mysterious reasons, links that went missing for mysterious reasons, and the regular stuff that comes by learning. Photos needed lightening because they print darker than the screen shows. Stories had been placed without being edited because it was someone’s first time. Captions needed more information. Name spellings hadn’t been double-checked. We had to make a decision to add periods after photo credits that didn’t have them or remove the ones that did have them.

You just have to plan to need more time.

You have to plan for the people you need to interview to be unavailable.

You have to plan for photos to need to be retaken sometimes.

You have to plan for InDesign to crash.

You have to plan for a photo to not be where you thought it was.

You have to plan for links to be broken.

You have to plan for people in photos to defy being identified.

You have to plan for a power outage and the fact that you hadn’t saved since you created that last mod.

You have to plan to finish early or you’ll be late.

We’re meeting again Sunday afternoon to finish, and we’ll meet that Monday deadline. Then we’ll celebrate being awesome.


Adopting good ideas

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and it’s not that I have nothing to post about – it’s that there has been so much, so fast this year, that it’s been tough to focus on one idea and develop it into something worth reading. It’s been overwhelming. I think that’s the way many students have been feeling, especially the new members of our student news staff. I did something this week that, I hope, makes a difference.

Earlier in the semester, my news magazine editor (both online news and news magazine are produced by one staff, but separate editors) suggested that some of our returning members mentor, or “buddy”, our four new members. Two of these four had intro to journalism last year, but the other two had only good qualifications and impressive drive. The “buddy system” was working somewhat. The editor, herself, took her buddy with her to interview the principal. They both got interviews for two different stories. However, I still saw the newbs (term of endearment) working but still seeming like they weren’t quite sure how to approach a task or maybe even what to ask or whom to ask it of. In short, I didn’t see enough connection between all the staff members.

In a brief staff meeting on Monday, I went down a list of stuff they needed to know for the week and included specific “Jane will adopt Jill as a buddy”, pairing up all the new members with established staffers. THEN, I jokingly said I’d even considered designing adoption certificates and bringing cake, but I’d run out of time. At the mention of food, they all got excited. We decided to make Friday our adoption celebration.

So there I sat, at my dining room table Friday morning, just out of the shower with my cup of coffee, realizing, “Oh, dear Lord. I didn’t make the certificates.” This was largely brought on by the GroupMe texts I noticed from the night before as the kids checked in with each other about what they were bringing. So I pulled InDesign up on my laptop screen and quickly designed adoption certificates. At the last minute, I scootched everything up a tad and added nine signature lines at the bottom. I made a certificate for the adopter and one for the adoptee. I got them printed off as they were coming into class.

Someone made the suggestion that I use the large, wooden T-square left behind by last year’s editor. I think they wanted me to knight them (as he did when he promoted them to editors), but I chose to use it as a gavel. I’m telling you, this was all quite impromptu. I have no guide but my hyperactive mind and a certain flexibility that allows me to leave the script.

I called them to order by rapping the T-square on a desk. With my certificates stacked in front of me on a group of desk tables that also held sugar cookies, home-baked chocolate chip cookies, some pumpkin sandwich cookies, a pumpkin-cream cheese roll and two bags of potato chips, I asked the adopters to stand. All on my left, they did so. I asked my adoptees to stand and as they did, I noted that they were all on my right. (I’m hoping the mingling will begin soon.)

In wedding vow fashion and off the top of my head, I asked the adopters if they promised to guide and direct and check regularly on their adopted members. They agreed. I asked the adoptees if they promised to ask questions, look to their adopters for guidance and help when they needed it. They agreed.

Then a teacher walked in to give me some softball information I’d asked for an hour earlier. I told her we were in the middle of an adoption ceremony, I’d be right with her. She laughed a little.

Then I told them I was also borrowing from my Methodist background and the baptism ritual – assured them no water was involved – and asked the entire staff to accept these new members into the family and promise to also help guide and direct and be good friends. They agreed. I may have rapped my gavel again.

I ran around giving each person their certificates and directed their attention to the signature lines on which the rest of the staff should sign. They began signing all the lines on all the certificates and eating stuff and going off to interview people and writing their stories, and I hope it makes a difference.

That’s really all there was to it.

I’ve been known to do similar goofy things, some with planning and forethought, like the adoption ceremony for the yearbook in 2013, from which I took most of what we did this week. I went much more in depth for it, though, so check it out if you want more.

Then sometimes, like this week, it’s pretty much on a whim, like the time we had a funeral for a corrupted memory card. His name was Peter.


This was way back in 2009 or 2010, but as I recall, they couldn’t get the pics from the card and we determined it was corrupted. They asked me, “so we just throw it away?” I probably responded with something snarky, like, “unless you want to have a funeral or something.” And the fun began.

Someone pulled a Little Jug juice container from the trash can and proceeded to cut it length-wise on all but one long side, creating a casket for Peter (we name all our equipment and cards for checkout purposes). She filled the casket with tissue, lacking satin. Someone googled images of candles and flowers for us to print and hold at the service. Peter’s casket was placed on some stacked books with another tissue creating a sort of carpet beneath.

Someone mentioned Peter’s wife, and before I knew it, a smaller SD card (we’d just gotten our first camera that used SD instead of CF cards) was propped below the steps, holding her own tissue. We gathered round, someone said a few words, while someone else was smart enough to capture the moment. That was the dominant photo on the yearbook spread that year.

Ya gotta have a little fun or the work becomes drudgery. Amiright?

Wellness day for my spirit


I’ve taken a day off. I can do that, apparently. I was a good girl and didn’t take a sick day last semester, which has earned me a “wellness day.” I’ve decided to use it for wellness. I just decided this.

My day began with coffee and the laptop. I still can’t sleep late, so I was up by 6 a.m. and no one else was posting to Facebook yet, so I trekked on over to WordPress and took a look at my neglected Reader. Among other bloggers, I read John Pavlovitz’s blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said. In this post, he recognizes a descending darkness, a division and anger so many of us are experiencing, bitterness and hatred that are becoming commonplace. He encourages us to not sit back and be silent, but to be bold with truth, be bold with love, to love loud.

I can extrapolate and apply his thinking to my own little world. It’s this time of year, I often get frustrated. Springtime is popping up; the weather has been wonderful here in southwest Oklahoma compared to Februarys of the past. The crocus are blooming. I’ve been to a couple baseball games, and we’re winding the school year down to the final quarter. These things should make me happy, but they never fail to make me feel inadequate.

As I sat at the ballpark in a hoodie earlier in the week, I watched the pitcher strikeout another opponent, but my mind was wondering if we’ll have enough staffers to cover all the spring sports adequately, if my sports section even fully realize spring sports are moments from being in full swing because they are still trying to complete writing and design work for winter sports. This leads me to the fact that we are still short several spreads for the last deadline with another deadline around the corner, and no way I can see of getting another 50 pages finished in that timeframe. After I beat myself up about not being able to manage those tasks well enough, I shift over to newspaper and realize late night and the March issue deadline is just days away with not enough work completed as well. *beats self up some more.

When I woke at 5:30 a.m. on this day I took off so I could spend it any way I wanted, my mind immediately shifted into gear and started pointing fingers at all my other shortcomings as a teacher and adviser. Putting it in text makes me feel worse, so I won’t do that. I’m betting we all do this, so I feel nods of agreement even if I don’t go into detail.

However, Pavlovitz’s post has me wanting to squash the darkness, the negativity, even what I’ve self-generated, and love loud. I will fake positivity until the positivity is real.

What do you do when you need to lift yourself and others out of the negativity?

Evaluation as a means of measure

Because I’ve asked my students to evaluate the websites they are using for their passion projects, I am doing the same, even though, like them, I’m running a bit behind. Good thing I don’t deduct points for being late.

My project, as you know if you are reading my posts, is to try to write a novel first draft during November with participation and guidance of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. And they have a kick-butt website.

In fact the site is the machination of the whole endeavor. It is there that we register; it is there that we post a synopsis of our WIP (work in progress) and it is there that we post and update our word count. It’s also there that we can join forums, find people like ourselves, writing pieces similar to or vastly different from our own. Big projects are usually easier if you feel you have others in it with you. That’s what makes NaNo work so well, I think.

The site is run as a non-profit with a staff and a board of directors. The staff is 15-people big, including an Executive Director, Operations Officer and someone in charge of every aspect of NaNoWriMo. Reading their bios was fascinating – after all, they are writers, and they made it interesting.

The yearly project includes guest “coaches” – real writers who post affirming and motivating words. They also include a serious helping of how-to.

With all these professionals, I find the site quite professional, itself.

Turning the evaluation criteria on my own site, I feel mine is mostly professional, but there are things I could do if I wanted to up the ante.

I post about teaching and advising publications. But I also throw in a post about personal events occasionally. If I were to streamline my content to a more specific topic, it would be more professional.

As far as being an expert on the topic, I am a teacher and adviser, so I believe I am credible and taken as credible, since I’m posting about real experiences and I often link to anything I reference. In fact, I was asked recently by a friend in yearbook circles to make suggestions for an issue being encountered by someone else advising yearbook. I directed that person to my blog. Today I received thanks and compliments for what I’ve done with it. I’m glad it can be helpful to someone.

I love to read blogs, I love to write blog posts, I love to get others interested in blogging. And I may take a few blogs at face value, that is, until I run up against something that doesn’t seem quite right. To have an established format for evaluating sites is helpful in determining what you should and should not use if you, yourself, want to be taken seriously.

Ding, ding, da-ding, ding!

Pinball machines.

Remember those? I have memories of being sent into the 7-11 (in the nicer part of the town where I grew up) or “Little Jim’s” (in the less nicer area) to purchase cigarettes for my mom who didn’t want to get out of the car. In either store, there was that “ding, ding, da-da-ding, ding, ding!” coming from a corner of the store. The pinball machine.

Pete Townshend even wrote a song about the wizarding aspects of pinballing.

I, however, am not a wizard, though I hear the “ding, ding, da-da-ding, ding” in my head a lot lately. Only it really sounds more like:

“Snider, can you edit my story?”

“Snider, only four people met their deadline today. See if you can talk to the others.”

“Hey, I sold an ad, but I have to go to class. Can you take this?”

RRrrrrriiiiiinnnggg ….

“Snider, you want me to get the phone?”

“What are we doing today?” (this as newspaper goes out and intro to journalism comes in)

I forgot to go to the bathroom last hour. Wonder if I have time before the bell? That’s me in the Italics.

“Mrs. Snider, I’m not going to be here next week. Can I have my work?”

“Snider, can you write me a pass? I was downloading my pics of volleyball.”

“Who left their stuff? Can I even sit here?”

“Snider, lady on the phone wants to know if she bought a yearbook, and if not, do you have any left?”


Attendance. I need to do attendance. What am I doing with these guys today?

“Mrs. Snider, you want us to finish what we were working on yesterday?”

“Yeah, do that.”

“I can’t do mine. Jimmy has our notes and he’s not here today. What do you want me to do?”

Knock on the door. Because we have to keep them locked now. Thanks, Adam Lanza.

“Snider, can you write a note for me? My 8th hour counted me absent yesterday, but you asked me to cover volleyball practice. I downloaded the pics last hour, remember? Oh, and I shared my story in your folder. Have you looked at it yet?”

Knock on the door.

“Mrs. Snider, I never got my senior pictures in the mail. The office said to check with you?”

“Ding, ding, ding, da-da-da-ding, ding….”

The power of the fork

"A fork in the road. Which way should I go?" by Nicholas Mutton via CC ShareAlike 2.0

“A fork in the road. Which way should I go?” by Nicholas Mutton via CC ShareAlike 2.0

The fork is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt. However, the proverbial fork in the road probably originated with Eve.

How many times in a day are we met with such forks, decisions that need to be made, usually on the spot, especially if you’re a teacher?

“May I go to the bathroom,” says the student suddenly standing in front of me as I’m moving around the room helping the class with the writing assignment.

*Quick calculation: How far are we into class? Is this a student who takes advantage of me for bathroom privileges? Has she already left class more than once this week? Am I about to address the class with instructions? Make a decision. Yes or no.

I am approaching a student who is not on task for writing assignment.

*Quick calculation: What was his topic? Had he started already? Had he run into interviewing obstacles? What was the last interaction I had with him? Is he prone to accepting feedback or prone to frustration and potential meltdown with too much pressure? Make a decision. Gently ask about status or demand he get back on task.

That last one, I feel I’ve dealt with dozens of times daily the past couple weeks with a newspaper staff mid-production cycle and a yearbook staff sitting on one publisher deadline while another peers over the horizon. And with two intro to journalism classes learning feature writing and the art of interviewing, I’m checking in with all temperaments of students all day long.

Those are little forks. We also have bigger forks, forks that have the potential to make or break us.

Our district just hired a new superintendent. Those of us at the classroom level of the hierarchy wonder, how will this change things in the coming year(s)? Will this person be a top-down mandate maker, establishing rules and sending memos from headquarters like we see at government levels? Or will this person go into the buildings where the children and teachers are, see how things are going, build relationships and really get to know the people and what their needs are? Will this person fight the mandate-makers for what is right and best for the children? I’m hoping for the latter.

The law and mandate makers are so busy from their place on the hill, out of the trenches, trying to find ways to test and make sure teachers are doing their jobs (though no testing of students can accurately do that), make sure students are doing their jobs, that they are not only taking time away from teaching and learning, but they are taking the joy out of teaching and learning.

Students these days barely know anything but drill and test. I have found that students in this atmosphere largely fall into one of three categories:

There are the rebellious, who are tired of being told what to do, how to do it and what they are to think of it. They are given so little choice or voice in the place where they spend the majority of their day growing and developing, they are angry at the world and they are in your face about it.

There are the apathetic, who have given up. They’ve tried to be creative and let their inner artist have a say, only to be shut down and told they’re wrong. So left thinking they are inadequate, they’ve given up and do nothing.

There are the compliant who have followed the rules, studied, memorized, or marked C when they weren’t sure, they’ve colored in the lines and maintained their 4.0 to the best of their ability, but it’s done nothing for them. They await the next instruction because without that, they have no clue what to do next. The world will crush them.

We need that leader who will come in and see what is going on, who will ask those of us in it every day – and I mean everybody, from teachers and staff to students – what needs to happen in order for all of us to be successful. We need someone connected to other successful educators from around the nation and the world.

So I’m at one of the bigger forks in the road. I can worry and look for all the ways things are going badly and could get worse. Or I can keep doing my best, lifting up students while still trying my best to hold them accountable, and looking for all the ways things are going well. I can put my faith in the future and things improving in my district and in my state. It’s tough, sometimes, when all the other forks in the drawer get tangled, but I’ll do my best.

What fork in the road are you currently contemplating?

In a better digital world …

There is so much more to teaching responsible social media behavior than just being a good role model – though that’s my go-to.

And yet –

I even invented a class for the purpose of teaching students to communicate effectively online – in blogs, with Google Drive, on Twitter and other social media platforms.

We talk about privacy.

We talk about bullying.

We talk about copyright.

We talk about who sees your posts and how quickly they can go viral.

And yet –

I have a “Mom” talk with my publications staffs and explain how what they do in their relations with others in real life or on social media reflects on the publication they are a part of. It’s in the contract they sign, that they will be appropriate in their dealings with others online and off.

And yet –

And yet I see students use bad language, talk badly about peers – sometimes naming them and sometimes not – sharing things that shouldn’t be shared publicly, arguing with and threatening others.

The least of the problems is that people who may not even know the offenders form an opinion based on this behavior. This includes teachers the students don’t have – yet. My friends can see anything I comment on, and this is something many youngsters don’t seem to understand. When these young people start looking into going to college and getting scholarships, these behaviors are going to bite them, as more and more college admissions advisers and scholarship grantors are checking online profiles before making acceptance decisions. Even those students who think this doesn’t matter because they aren’t going to college should know that potential employers look too. Folks are passed over on jobs and the job seeker may never know why they didn’t get that job.

I believe that the power of the Internet and the relationships and networking made possible by social media are extremely valuable.

And yet –

And yet I truly wish younger people would seek more powerful and appropriate uses for these amazing tools instead of wasting such usefulness on pettiness, bullying and hurting one another and themselves.

It would be a better digital world if people –

Wouldn’t post hurtful messages.

Wouldn’t share private information.

Wouldn’t air personal disagreements.

Wouldn’t share other people’s hurtful messages, private information and personal disagreements.

It would be a better digital world if people –

Would share useful, informative information.

Would give shout-outs for good works.

Would seek out others with similar interests in order to share information and experiences.

Would share their creative works for others to enjoy.

How can you help make the digital world a safer, friendlier, more educational, more inspiration place today?