Deep Breaths

Picture of a beach with the words "Time to relax" written in sand as the surf comes in.

It’s the weekend before the first day of school. It’s time to face facts: You’ve done all you can to prepare for the months ahead.

As you look back on the summer, savor a sense of pride: Your team achieved a level of production, of accomplishment, that was extraordinary. Through this hard work, you made your school better, through major projects or in ways that few will ever notice: the refreshed photos in the hallways, the cleaned-up directory, the newly completed school style guide.

A few things are still on your summer to-do list? Isn’t that always the case? Just set that list aside until next June. You won’t need it until then. Better, why not crumple up that list and throw it away, accepting the reality that the time wasn’t ripe, the need not pressing enough, to complete those projects. Maybe they’ll pop up again this year. Maybe they won’t.

You’ve done enough. Own that. Believe that. And feel good about it.

Soon you’ll harvest the results of groundwork you laid for the fall. Not only will you end up with smarter, better work, but you’ll also benefit in your off hours from greater peace of mind, knowing that you’re ahead of the game.

It’s the weekend before the first day of school. Breathe deep. Go play. Read a novel. Take lots of naps.

You will have no better time this year to completely unplug. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.

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Managing Projects: The Q

One of our big departmental projects this summer was designing a system that would, ironically enough, help us manage our projects.

The number of requests for communications assistance has grown significantly over the past couple of years, and the scope of those requests is becoming more complicated: We are still asked to produce signage and stationery and to review letters to parents and donors, but we also are working with departments on overhauling their web pages and developing videos — projects with multiple steps, timelines, and stakeholders.

We needed a way to track those more effectively. But developing this from an idea to a working model took months and lots of helpful input from independent school colleagues.



A session by McMaster University’s Erin Laura O’Neil at the 2016 CASE District II Conference introduced me to Trello. This project management application is built around kanban, a card-based system, and it was intriguing. But after trying it out, we found that kanban didn’t really work for our office.



Later in the year, an episode of the podcast “Sparkcast,” by InspirED School Marketers, mentioned Cheshire Academy’s use of Basecamp to manage cross-functional projects.

I’m very familiar with Basecamp’s parent company, but the podcast opened my eyes to how its application could work for us. We signed up for an account, and Basecamp continues to hold a place in our departmental workflow. (I use and rely on it a lot.) Ultimately it taught us that something closer to ticket tracking, where requests are submitted directly by the “client,” would be more helpful, and we couldn’t find that functionality in Basecamp.

Form-based solutions

St. Mark's School

Googling uncovered a ticket-style system (above) that St. Mark’s School in Massachusetts is using through Formsite, and I learned at the 2017 NAIS conference that Rolling Hills Prep in Southern California is using Google Forms to the same end.

We also talked with our colleagues in IT about the ticket system they use, and ultimately, we elected to follow their lead in using Spiceworks as the back end of our request management system (RMS).

The Q: Form meets function

The Q at NCS

An RMS has advantages over the two systems we tried earlier (three if you count email, the original system):

  • The fields we’ve added to the interface ask the client to explain how the project ties into the school’s strategic goals, who the audience will be, and how the project’s success will be measured.
  • The form and follow-up emails clarify expectations in terms of response time and time to completion.
  • The system can contain any conversation about the project, as well as any assets (documents, images, links) that may be useful.
  • Its “Status” field allows everyone involved to get a two-second update on where the project stands and who’s handling it.

Over the summer, we’ve been fine-tuning the interface, and we will roll out the system — which we call the Q — to faculty and staff this school year.

Developing the tool, though, is only part of the job. The real hard part is yet to come: Developing the habit of using it regularly. Part of why we gave up on Trello and Basecamp was because they never became central to managing daily commitments in the same way as email and the calendar. That will have to change if the Q is to achieve the goals we set out.

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First Things First

In 1995, David Von Drehle gave advice about writing on deadline. It was so cogent, so relevant to every kind of writing, that I’ve held onto it ever since I first heard it. It also serves today as the centerpiece of writing classes I teach.

First, Von Drehle advised, “you have to fall back on the basics” and answer three questions. Then you can write.

  1. Why does this story matter?
  2. What’s the point?
  3. What does it say about life, about the world, about the times we live in?

My goal with this space is to find the words that live up to this challenge. Hold me to it, won’t you?

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