2017, in review. now with YOY change.

Time to review my 2017. Here’s last year’s post about 2016.

Life Highlights: The three biggest things that happened to me in 2017 were starting a new job, losing my last biological grandparent, and an exciting personal development. Everything else was pretty stable, which is nice.

Progress toward Goals: I did not accomplish the goals I set out for myself last year. Boo. More on that later.

Just like previous years, I chronicled and color coded who I spent time with every day on evenings and weekends:

my 2017 on a page

my 2017 on a page

Total time spent socializing with friends + family + coworkers =282 days/365= 77%

(^ up from 269 days/ 74% last year) (nerd alert: 5% YOY increase)

Green “spending time with friends”: 162 days/365 = 45%
(^ up from 149 days/ 41% last year) (nerd alert: 9% YOY increase)
The change is due in part to people from the Yellow “coworkers” category moving to Green “friends” category either when they left my old job or when I left my old job, since I still spend a lot of time with several of them (hi Ben and Zach) but no longer as “coworkers.”

Last year I wrote that I was happy with who and how often I spent time with, as I focused more on close friendships rather than maintaining a broad network. As I look at the greens this year, seeing the names of close friends makes me really happy again. I think I was extra picky about who I spent time with, and again prioritized time with close friends over maintaining a broad network or meeting new people. Most of the greens are with the same people on repeat- my close friends in SF (Jess, Surbh, Deb, Ben, and Zach) a couple friends in the east bay (Rex and Brendan), and others who we don’t see as often but still love spending time with when they’re available.
Even though I’m happy I got to spend so much time with these lovely people, 45% does seem high. That means almost every other day I was seeing a friend. Which doesn’t surprise me, but particularly in the context of not moving forward on some of my personal projects, it’s definitely a clear indicator of how I prioritize my time.

Red “spending time with family”: 95 days/365 = 26%
(^ up from 73 days/ 20% last year) (nerd alert: 30% YOY increase)
It’s fun to look at all the red highlights and know that I spent so much time with family. The reds this year were primarily with my parents and sister, including a two week vacation we all took together. My in-laws also visited us for a week and we visited them for a week. We also visited Boston three times this year which gave us more opportunities to spend time with family.

Yellow “spending time with coworkers”: 25 days/365= 7%
(˅ down from 47 days/ 13% last year) (nerd alert: 47% YOY decrease)
I am not surprised I’m spending less time with coworkers since 1) I’m at a less social workplace now, and 2) as stated in the Green category- I still spend a lot of time with some of my old coworkers but that time is now Green instead of Yellow.

I am lucky that I made some great friends at my old job that I’m still close with. It was a special place to work. I’m also happy that I’m spending less time with “coworkers” and more time with “ex-coworkers turned friends.” Even though I miss having a more social workplace, I think there are benefits to feeling less pressure to go out after work, and I have plenty of other things to do in the evenings. Pretty amazingly, in last year’s post I wrote “In 2017 I’ll strive for coworker social time to be closer to once every other week, or 7%”- and that’s exactly what it ended up being! Given the new personal development in my life, I imagine the yellow category will be even smaller in my future.

Orange “extracurricular activities”: 26 days/365 = 7%
(didn’t track this last year)
This year most of my “extracurricular activities” were either EBIA school board meetings or facilitating a Women in Management group at Stanford. I really enjoyed participating in both and learned a lot. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to devote as much time to these activities moving forward, and it’s been nice to pick up a new extracurricular activity recently, volunteering with Crisis Text Line. This activity has a flexible schedule that I can do anytime I’m on my laptop on my couch, so that might take more of the orange category in 2018.

Purple “out of town vacations”: 81 days/365 = 22%
(up from 61 days/ 17% last year) (nerd alert: 32% YOY increase)
“out of town weekends”: 20 out of 52 = 38%
(16 out of 52/ 31% last year) (nerd alert: 25% YOY increase)
I didn’t realize that we were out of town so much more in 2017 than we were in 2016- the trips all seemed manageable and not as exhausting as some of the 2016 stretches did. I’m not sure why that is.

Last year I wrote that in 2016 I mostly went on weekend trips, and I only took two weeks of vacation. I was hoping that in 2017 I would take more week-long trips, as well as more than one trip to LA, more than one ski weekend, and longer trips to the east coast. I’m happy to report that in 2017 I took two weeks off between jobs and I also took a full two week vacation with family. We also did two trips to LA and two ski weekends, as well as two week-long trips to the east coast (even though I worked remotely on those), so mission accomplished. 🙂

I treasure my 52 weekends a year, and looking back, I’m happy with the 20 weekends I was out of town and the 32 weekends we stayed in SF. Of the 20 weekends we were out of town: 5 were in the east coast (Boston/NYC/Baltimore), 4 were in Napa, 2 in Tahoe, 2 in LA, 2 on an international family vacation, 1 in Carmel/Monterey (when my in-laws visited), 1 in Palm Springs for our anniversary, 1 in Colorado for my annual grad school reunion, 1 for a wedding in Nashville, and 1 in South Carolina for my bucket list trip. All 20 of those weekends were wonderful. Of the 32 weekends we stayed in SF, we spent most of those weekends seeing our close friends, as well as our favorite leisurely weekend activity- going to brunch and then taking Astra on long walks to Fort Funston or Stern Grove.

Looking at the purple highlights, I’m glad I was able to balance some of our favorite local destinations (Tahoe, Napa) with exploring places in California I hadn’t been before (Palm Springs, Mendocino). I’m also super happy we were able to squeeze in 4 trips to the east coast (two of which were longer than a weekend) and 2 trips to LA, since those are places where we have some beloved friends and family.

We went to 5 weddings this year– one local, three of which gave us great excuses to fly to the east coast, and one of which brought us to a new city we were curious about (Nashville). I also squeezed in a trip that had been on my bucket list for a long time- visiting my friend Trevor in South Carolina.

Looking to 2018, I don’t expect we will be out of town as much, though there are already 3 weddings we plan to attend. I also hope that the friends we put effort into visiting over the last few years will visit us this year instead; it’s their turn. 🙂

Accomplishing Goals

In last year’s post I reflected on 2016 and how setting weekly goals every Sunday across 6 categories didn’t work out for me. I wanted to try something new for 2017- scheduling activities into my calendar every Sunday. I thought slotting things into my calendar would be more effective than just creating a weekly to-do list- it works pretty well for me when I do it on an ad hoc basis. Unfortunately I was even worse at this 2017 resolution than I was about the 2016 one. The 2016 one I kept up for half a year, but I think the number of Sundays this year where I actually sat down to schedule things into my calendar I can count on one hand. 😦 So that stinks.

I think one reason for my failure to accomplish this goal is that our weekends ended up being pretty busy; now I know that 38% of those Sundays I was out of town, and of the 62% where I was in town, I was likely at dinner with friends or getting ready for the work week. So even though I’ve had a recurring calendar event on Sunday evenings to do my “weekly planning” (which was supposed to be the time where I added goal-related activities to my calendar for the week), it didn’t happen.

I’m not sure if I want to try a third method of goal setting for 2018, since the ones for 2016 and 2017 didn’t pan out. I still like the idea of weekly planning, but I’ve struggled to get into a good cadence with it. I’m also not feeling as motivated this year to accomplish a lot beyond survival. I’ve been really busy and working hard at work, and balancing my career with this year’s personal development will be enough of a challenge in and of itself. I need to reflect some more on how much additional pressure I want to put on myself- or maybe a better way of putting it is how much structure I want to add to my life. Structure can be helpful and liberating, but it can also create pressure and expectations. So I’m going to spend some time thinking about this before setting a resolution to manage my goal-setting differently in 2018.

Even though I didn’t accomplish my goal of weekly calendaring of goal categories (the 6 categories I used in 2016 were behavior, health, side project, managing my finances, foreign language, and happy marriage; in 2017 I was going to select every week from a buffet of categories: cleaning, cooking, running, finances, photo albums, writing, learning, side projects to save the world, etc), I made good progress in some of them anyway. For example my side project ideas usually involve video, and I got to keep up with my video editing by working on a few fun video projects in 2017 (I taught a stop-motion animation class to a group of middle schoolers, I edited a video interview with my grandpa that I recorded 4 years ago before he passed away, and I did some video editing for a project at work). I was pretty good about running- I ran two 5Ks last year (I know that’s not very impressive but it keeps me motivated) and ran with the dog which was fun. I was good about archiving my photos. I didn’t do very well with the writing and learning- I started taking an online journalism class but I dropped it, I didn’t do much reading, I didn’t clean or cook much, and well, basically since I failed to do the weekly calendaring, I failed on most of the things I was going to calendar in– since by their nature they fall by the wayside. (Though I did do some fun baking projects- I recently leveled up my cookie decorating skills by making cookies for some special occasions).

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some cookies I made in December 2017 for a wedding, a baby shower, and New Year’s Eve

Looking back at the goal categories, one thing that was cool about 2016 was an intentional focus on behaviors every week, and I particularly focused on active listening. It was fun to be intentional about it and I saw so much improvement that way. Being more intentional with my behavior and attitude is something I’d like to do in 2018, so even if I shy away from committing to a weekly goal, I’d like to think about my behaviors more regularly and be more intentional and reflective about habits I’d like to improve.

So, all in all, not a lot of pride in what I accomplished in 2017, but I’m also not in the mood to set goals for 2018 beyond survival. If I were to set one goal it would be figuring out how to juggle my job and my personal life, and a second goal would be to be more intentional and reflective about my behaviors (especially reactions). So, let’s leave it at that.

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2018, mostly a blank slate 🙂

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Prop 39 and charter schools

I’ve been learning about charter schools and how they get their facilities. An important part of how a charter school gets space is Prop 39. Prop 39 was passed by California voters in 2000. It basically says that the school district is required to make sure charter schools have “reasonably equivalent” facilities to district schools. As I read about how this plays out in different districts in California, this is what strikes me:

  • the complete local control (charter schools are at the mercy of the local school district- no state or federal involvement here)
  • how much it varies across school districts (some charter schools seem to have no problems getting their facilities, while others struggle- for example, a district will spread out a charter school across multiple campuses, etc.)
  • the number of lawsuits (a number of lawsuits have been filed by charter schools seeking better facilities from the districts)
  • the support of the California Charter School Association (the CCSA helps advocate for charter schools and supports them in their lawsuits against districts)

It’s fascinating how something as basic as physical space ends up caught in the crosshairs of politics, funding, and what’s best for students.

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Taking stock of 2016; Looking forward to 2017

Disclaimer: this was written for me and not an outside audience. So I won’t apologize for it being long and boring.

Here is an image of what I did every day in 2016. I started chronicling my daily activities this way  in img_57072015 and continued doing so this past year as well. I enjoy having the year-at-a-glance on one 8.5×11 sheet of paper. I used to journal but ended up writing in my journal very rarely. Writing down 2 or 3 key words per day is easier, and it gives me a daily chronicle to remind me what I did that day (like “wine with Jess”). I have a bad memory and writing everything down helps me remember. Seeing it all at once makes the year seem manageable and accessible to me. It boils it down to 52 concrete weeks. Seeing everything on one page is a habit I picked up in college at UC Berkeley. At the beginning of every semester I would trek to the Student Learning Center to pick up my favorite planning tool: the semester-at-a-glance. It was a form among many forms lying around that building, and I enjoyed the pilgrimage every semester to find it. I would hang it on the wall in front of my desk. (I just checked the SLC’s website- which I haven’t gone to in 10 years- and their homepage coincidentally has a shoutout saying the semester-at-a-glance is their most popular handout 🙂 I’ll just say I used it before it was cool.)  Having the entire semester on one page made it easy to see all my midterms, assignments, and extracurricular activities in one place. It’s like taking a deep breath and saying “okay, I can do this.” I’m a visual person so having a planning document on one page helps orient me and creates my mental model of time.

At the beginning of 2016 I typed up this calendar in a 7×52 cell table in Microsoft word (advanced technical skills required) and printed it out and kept it on my nightstand. I keep a pen and highlighters next to it. I love color coding and the colors I used to highlight the cells in 2016 were: green for friends I saw on evenings or weekends, yellow for coworkers I saw on evenings or weekends, red for family I saw on evenings or weekends, and the whole cell is highlighted purple for days I was out of town. I know, I’m a bit anal retentive 🙂

When I look at my 2016-at-a-glance, now that all 7×52 cells are filled in, here are my observations:

  • I am a social creature/ extrovert. There is a green highlight on 149 out of 365 days (41%), a yellow highlight on 47 out of 365 days (13%), and a red highlight on 73 out of 365 days (20%). Ignoring a few days with multiple color highlights, that means I spent 74% of the days of the year socializing with friends, coworkers, or family. Glancing at the page, that seems right to me since it looks like I socialized on average 3 out of 5 weekdays and both Saturdays and Sundays. So, yes, I’m a social person. Of course, the fact that the majority of what I even bother to chronicle is the name of the person I spent time with that day should also be a clue here. (For example, I’m not a foodie so none of these include the names of restaurants we ate at, though if you ask me about seeing someone that day I might remember if I hosted them at our place or if we went out somewhere.) Of course more importantly than how many days I socialized is am I happy/proud of my socializing this year?
  • The greens (41%): Looking at who I spent time with, most of the green highlights are my 4 closest friends in the Bay Area, 2 of whom moved back here this year (yay!). That makes me happy. Though I also need to be more secure in the fact that it’s okay if we live near each other and don’t know every detail that’s going on in each other’s lives- that’s a tough one for me, I always want to get together with them and catch up and be involved). In the green, there’s also a good smattering of old friends who visited from out of town or who I visited when I was out town. Some precious memories there. As I get older I get pickier with how I spend my free time and who I spend it with (at least I strive to be pickier- sometimes it’s hard to say no or to avoid my extroverted nature). Looking at the names of friends who I only saw a few times this year makes me realize they fall into 2 categories: my close friends who are out of town and I don’t get to see often (lots of nostalgia there), and acquaintances or casual friends I don’t make as much of an effort to see (for example, there are some alumni from my grad programs who I like and I see a few times a year at networking events or when we get together for coffee/drinks. Some I wish I could spend more time with and will reach out more proactively to in 2017, others I am okay having be occasional greens.) Most of my greens fall into the inner circle rather than the outer circle category, which makes me happy. Spending time with close friends is something I will continue to prioritize in 2017, and hopefully I’ll get more time with close friends who live out of town too. (Come visit, please!)
  • The yellows (13%): I’ve never been at such a social workplace as my current office. It’s a young culture and lots of folks are single or don’t have family obligations and like to go out together after work. We also stay at work pretty late so the happy hours sometimes start in the office 🙂 Happy hours and dinners are common and I enjoy how inclusive they are. I love this about my work and it looks like I’ve gone out with coworkers on average once a week. As I look back at the coworkers I’ve spent my free time with, I’m glad to see most of the yellow concentrated on weekdays (I only get 52 weekends a year and they are precious to me) and I also notice that my favorite coworker is the one I’ve spent the most time with, which is a good sign ’cause he’s more of a green (hi Ben). I do think that going out with coworkers once a week is a lot though, and that’s something I’ll try to cut down in 2017. I’ll strive for coworker social time to be closer to once every other week, or 7%.
  • The reds (20%): I moved back to the Bay Area primarily to be closer to my family so it’s awesome to see that I saw family 20% of the year (it was a lot less when I lived on the east coast and overseas). The reds also include seeing extended family and family out of town, which we always wish we could do more of. One thing that stands out this year when I look at all the red highlights is how often I saw my sister. Moving to San Francisco has been awesome for seeing her more often. Seeing all the red highlights with her name on it make me smile thinking about all the times she’s taken an uber to my place to have dinner with us (thanks chucks) or we had dinner with her in her neighborhood 🙂
  • The purples (17%): I was out of town for 61 days or 17% of 2016, and 16 out of 52 weekends (30%). The majority of these were long weekends away, especially over the summer when Max has half-day Fridays. This year our weekend trips included Tahoe, Mexico City, Boston twice, Carmel, LA, Napa, Santa Barbara, Philly, Monterey, and our soul-enriching annual reunion with grad school friends in the Colorado mountains. I also went to Ocean City, Maryland for a girls beach weekend and one business trip to Denver for an ed tech conference. Looking back, I think we did a nice job this year of balancing spending more time in San Francisco on weekends and going on weekend trips. September was a little hectic when we went out of town 3 weekends in a row (we had a wedding and a baby shower on consecutive east coast weekends), but other than that it was all manageable. I’m looking forward to more weekend trips in 2017, hopefully at least a couple to LA (we only went once this year and some of our close friends and family in LA were out of town that weekend). We also only did one ski weekend and I’m hoping to squeeze in at least a couple this year.
  • I need to take more week-long trips. 😦 I totally fell into the startup “unlimited vacation” trap. While I work at a company that says it has unlimited vacation, I only ended up taking 2 week-long trips this year! (one was for a vacation to Scandinavia with some girl friends and one was this past week in Vietnam with my husband). Both were awesome trips and I’m lucky I had the opportunity to travel internationally. One thing we did in 2015 that we didn’t do this year was spend a full week on the east coast- we only did 2 short weekend trips to Boston. That’s something I hope to change in 2017 as we miss our friends on the east coast, one of my best friends in Boston had a baby, and we have more friends who’ve moved to the east coast recently. So fair warning 🙂 I’m hoping for some NYC/Boston/Baltimore combos, maybe Philly and New Haven too. 🙂 I should at least work remotely more, if not take more time off (I only did maybe one or two days of working remotely this year).
  • The not purple weekends: we stayed in town for 36 weekends or 70% of our weekends this year. I love looking at what we did those weekends because one of our goals this year was to spend more time exploring SF. We ended up falling in love with Fort Funston and taking our dog to the beach there almost every Saturday and Sunday. One thing we really love doing is hosting friends for brunch at our place (or eating at one of our go-to brunch spots) and then going for a walk on the beach at Fort Funson. I hope we continue to do that a lot in 2017 so please let me know if you’d like to join us. We also participated in fun San Francisco activities like the Treasure Island Flea, Stern Grove Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and watching the Blue Angels. Other frequent weekend activities included getting mani pedis with friends, hosting people at our place, and going out. We also attended life events including birthdays, weddings, baby showers, and funerals.

Overall, as I reflect on the year, I know it was a positive one. I was re-reading one of the few journal entries I wrote this year and it was all about how grateful I am for so many things I have going for me. I felt very lucky every morning when I woke up and every evening when I went to bed in 2016. At my birthday this year I gave a speech about it being my happiest year on record. I have lots of people as well as luck to thank for that. But did I meet my 2016 resolutions? Yes and no. My two big ones were to build healthy habits and to spend part of every Sunday setting weekly goals. I made progress on the healthy habits but as you’ll see the Sunday goal-setting fell through.

I bought into some health trends like 21 Day Fix (which I did in April- I loved the daily 30 minute workouts from home) and Whole 30 (which I did in May and again in December- I love how I have more energy when I do it). I also went running with my dog and on my own. I didn’t track my runs as regularly but I’m doing a 5k with my husband and sister next weekend so that’ll be a good way to kick off more running in 2017 🙂 One thing that I do miss is swimming. I swam a lot in summer 2015 because I was between jobs for a couple months and lived a mile away from a community pool. In 2016 I didn’t swim much at all– I wish the gym next to my office had a pool, that’s the only way I can imagine squeezing it in. In 2014 I trained for and finished a triathlon, and in 2015 I swam a lot over the summer, so I do feel the swimming gap in 2016 but I don’t see it closing in 2017 unfortunately.

My second New Years resolution was to dedicate part of every Sunday to planning my week. I used a very structured approach (surprise, surprise) where I had a 6×52 table where for every week I had goals in 6 categories (behavior, health, side project, managing my finances, foreign language, and happy marriage). I printed it out on a double sided 8.5×11 sheet of paper and kept it on my nightstand (yes, next to my 2016-at-a-glance). On Sundays I would fill in goals for some or all of the 6 categories to do that week (for example, behavior- practice active listening, health- 3 runs, side project- reach out to 3 people, finances- call bank, foreign language- 1 Chinese podcast, and happy marriage- plan a date night.)  Then the following Sunday I had a color coded system (surprise, surprise) where I would check progress on each one as green (done), yellow (partially done), or red (not done). I actually did this every Sunday until June and then I stopped. It was too disheartening seeing all the reds and yellows and very few greens, even as I set fewer and fewer of the 6 goals each week. I learned an important lesson here about setting goals. The important thing isn’t to set the goal, the important thing is to schedule it into your calendar. This was my biggest mistake. In 2017 I plan to spend part of every Sunday not just setting goals for the week but actually scheduling them into my calendar. I know, it may sound obvious, but I missed that part last year. So we’ll see if that makes me more productive 🙂 And yes I think that scheduling these into my calendar will impact the 74% of my days that I spend socializing, which will be difficult for me (I just love getting together with friends… can’t help it). If a friend is free for a drink, I’ve never been one to say “I can’t, I actually need to call my bank”- I’m always one to postpone that kind of thing. So it’ll be interesting to see where the chips fall in 2017.

Within those 6 categories, I should mention that even though I stopped setting goals for each one mid year, I made more progress on some than others. I already mentioned the health category. The behavior category I also made progress in, primarily in being a better listener (this is something that will continue to be a focus for me in 2017). I have read several books about active listening this year (I highly recommend Never Split The Difference which seems like a negotiation tactic book but is actually all about how to handle difficult conversations- one of my new favorite topics to read and think about). I have been a longtime fan of the concept of active listening but this year I was more intentional about it than ever before (see this blog post I wrote earlier this year after I tried doing it for a week at work- Active Listening at a Tech Startup).

The side project category is the one I’m most disappointed in my progress this year. When I look at my 2016-at-a-glance, I notice that the first four months of the year I went to Code for San Francisco and worked on my side project most Wednesdays. This petered out over the summer after the National Day of Civic Hacking in early June (an annual hackathon hosted by Code for America at chapters across the US). There were a few reasons (excuses) for this, including end of summer and early fall being the busy season at work, and joining the board of a charter school in Oakland where monthly board meetings are on Wednesdays. But the real reason is the core problem of setting goals instead of action plans (calendaring them in). My socializing got in the way of achieving my stated objectives. I did work on a side project at work that I demoed at our hackathon in October (a video of students around the world answering the same question). Related to any side project I take on is an interest in video, and I’m really proud of the fact that I got back into stop motion animation this year and made a few videos (here’s a 30 second happy spring video using my work mascot and the first in a series I’m working on of animating my favorite quotes). I’m looking forward to being more focused and productive in 2017, with a side project that combines my longtime interests in education and video, and more recent interest in journalism. That’ll be Julia’s contribution to making the world a better place.

In terms of the last 3 categories-  managing my finances, foreign language, and happy marriage- I am at the same place where I was last year- need to spend more time on finances, haven’t really prioritized practicing a foreign language, and still happily married. I’m looking forward to my new Sunday calendaring to help my finances and my marriage, but I have removed foreign language from my weekly planning (I still love speaking and learning foreign languages but I’m deprioritizing it for 2017).

I just printeimg_5708d out my year-at-a-glance calendar for 2017. What will this year hold? It’s empowering to think that how these white spaces are filled is entirely in my control (barring unforeseen circumstances). I love seeing 52 blank rows. Here is how I’m thinking of color coding this year:

  • Keeping the colors for friends, coworkers, family, and days I’m out of town.
  • A color for days I have my 2 extracurricular responsibilities (monthly board meeting for the charter school in Oakland, and I’m starting a new gig as a facilitator for a Women in Management group at the Stanford Graduate School of Business).
  • A color for days or evenings I dedicate to my side project.

I have several New Year’s Resolutions for 2017, some of which are behavioral and some of which I plan to include in the Sunday calendaring. (Making time to calendar my action items every Sunday is the first thing I should put in the calendar.) Some of the action items will be reflected in the 2017-at-a-glance (like time spent on side projects) but some of them won’t be (like healthy habits). Rather than having a set number of categories that I calendar every week, every Sunday I will add to my calendar for the week, selecting what I think is important that week from a list of categories (cleaning, cooking, running, finances, photo albums, writing, learning, side projects to save the world, the usual).

I’m looking forward to seeing the 2017-at-a-glance fill with spending time with people I care about and making progress toward my goals. In the meantime, here’s a photo from Fort Funston this morning. Happy New Year!

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Education in the election- Julia’s 2016 voter guide for San Francisco and California

These opinions are my own. They do not represent the opinions of my employer or any organization I am affiliated with.

Voting in this year’s election is overwhelming. The federal presidential election is a depressing circus, and if you’re in San Francisco the local voter guides are over 500 pages long.

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Here is the Julia voter guide for the education issues on the ballot:

TL;DR: Yes.

California statewide propositions

  • Yes on Prop 51: school bond = more money for education. California ranks near the bottom of states in the nation in school funding. We need this. more info
  • Yes on Prop 58:  allow non-English languages in public schools (this repeals  a racist proposition from the 90s, and research shows bilingual education improves learning outcomes) more info

San Francisco local measures

  • Yes on Measure A: school bonds for SFUSD (more money for facilities) more info
  • Yes on Measure B: funding for City College of San Francisco more info
  • Yes on Measure F: allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local elections (I’m for it, though most people I know are against it… I guess it comes down to: I have faith in our teens) more info
  • Yes on Measure N: allow non-citizens who are residents and parents of SFUSD students to vote for School Board more info

San Francisco School Board candidates:

  • School Board- vote for up to 4 people. I like Matt Haney (he’s the incumbent and has been doing a good job) more info and Ian Kalin (I’ve met him- he’s smart, passionate, and data-driven) more info.
  • Community College Board- vote for up to 4 people. I haven’t been following this as closely. The SF Chronicle recommends Alex Randolph who seems legit. more info

Agree? Disagree? I’m curious what you think. Most importantly, GO FREAKING VOTE!

 

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Charter schools, John Oliver, and Accountability

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 11.44.40 PMLast week I was happy to see ed reform in mainstream media on John Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight. It’s always good to see ed reform being discussed on popular shows. Unfortunately the context for this episode was gross mismanagement of charter schools by their founders and leaders. This is a sensitive topic for me, since charter schools are where I first started my career as a teacher, and I currently serve on the board of a charter school. Here are my 3 takeaways from the episode:

  1. Mismanagement of public funds is pervasive

If what you learned from the John Oliver segment is “wow, charter schools misuse a lot of public money,” I urge you to take a critical look at public spending more broadly. While it is true that the charter sector could use more oversight, it is a small fraction of state spending, and an even smaller fraction of your tax dollars. If you’re really interested in making sure your tax money isn’t misspent, consider the fact that the majority of the federal discretionary budget goes to the military. Here’s one of my all time favorite articles that touches just the tip of the iceberg of the complex ways our tax dollars are used by the military (this one’s about the US government’s attempts to build a road in Afghanistan in 2011). I don’t want to defend charter schools as “less bad” than other industries, but if the focus of this piece is on efficient use of public funding, it is shining the spotlight into the wings rather than center stage.

So, yes. There’s mismanagement of public funds in education. But let’s not lose sight of the forest through the trees. I would love to see Last Week Tonight uncover more stories that shed light on where our tax dollars go.

2. Mismanaged money in education hurts

While corruption occurs in many industries, I think it’s particularly painful for people to see examples of corruption in public schools. We view education as a basic right and a stepping stone to success for children of all backgrounds. When adults mismanage funding that should be used to help kids, it hurts. The examples John Oliver gave were painful to see: multiple schools that had to shut their doors within a few weeks of starting the schoolyear, forcing families to find alternate placements, schools without facilities that coped by taking kids on daily field trips, and clear conflicts of interest between charter school authorizers and charter school leaders. While on the scale of mismanaged funds this isn’t as large a pot as mismanaged Social Security or Defense spending, the perception is sometimes even more negative.

When corruption touches something we’ve all experienced- like the neighborhood school- it’s hard to not rise up in arms.

3. Charter school oversight is important

While I support charter schools, I agree with John Oliver that oversight is important. I’m the first to raise my hand for more accountability of any publicly funded sector (I also understand that this often places additional reporting burdens on under-resourced organizations). One place that oversight starts for charter schools is in the community. This resonates with me personally because I recently joined the board of a local charter school in Oakland. As a Board Member, I am responsible for the governance of the school and holding the school leadership accountable. The John Oliver segment was a reminder to me of the importance of this role.

One thing I’ve noticed in my experience on school boards is that understanding the budget is usually relegated to one or two people. The rest of the board isn’t necessarily expected to dig too deep into the details. I’ve been to many board meetings where peoples’ eyes glaze over during budget presentations. Part of this is understandable- many people who are drawn to the education sector are there for social reasons and because they are passionate and experienced in pedagogy and child development- not necessarily the Wall Street type. Nonetheless, it is our collective civic duty- particularly those of us who are shepherds of public funds- to go outside our comfort zones and make sure we know how to read a financial statement. I’m not a finance expert, but I can be brave enough to take on that responsibility and seek help when I need it. Thank you John Oliver for giving me the confidence to keep asking questions.


 

I believe deeply in investigative journalism and would love to see the mainstream media spend less time on celebrities and more time on investigating how tax dollars are spent. Overall I was happy to see charter schools in the spotlight, and it was a good reminder for me to be vigilant where I can.

 

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Products for teachers or products for students? Reflecting on my first time at ISTE

IMG_1307Last week I attended the annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in Denver, Colorado. Each year ISTE brings in over 18,000 educators from around the world to discuss how to integrate technology into their classrooms and improve student learning. In addition to attending several panels and workshops, I spent most of my time in the expo hall with over 500 different ed tech vendors. One thing I reflected on as I walked into their booths was the difference between products for teachers and products for students.

Products that Help Teachers Teach

  • The first category of vendors that quickly became apparent was those who create and share lesson plans with teachers. These include for-profit companies like Science Bits, non-profit companies like Global Oneness Project, academic institutions like PhET at the University of Colorado, and for-profit marketplaces like Teachers Pay Teachers. I really appreciate the value that this category of products brings to the table. When I was teaching, coming up with engaging lesson plans was the hardest part of my job. Though it’s still up to the teacher to ultimately find and adapt these lesson plans to their classroom, the ease of finding them online is a huge time saver. I was glad to see many such vendors at ISTE.
  • Another category of vendors I observed was those who make
    IMG_1316

    Kahoot! booth

    it easier for teachers to conduct online assessments. It is clear that there is strong demand for online question banks, and vendors like IXL and Kahoot meet this need. I noticed many teachers who were excited about Kahoot, and it’s no surprise. Teachers can easily create their own digital quizzes on Kahoot, and they can also reuse questions from the thousands of Kahoot questions that others have shared. The Kahoot team delivered engaging presentations on how teachers can use Kahoot beyond just assessing performance. Though I personally don’t think multiple choice quizzes are an engaging form of learning, I understand how time consuming it is for teachers to come up with their own assessments, as well as the reality that assessments often guide the material that is taught. It’s also interesting to see companies like Kahoot use quizzes as the basis for an entire lesson- use a quiz as an icebreaker, as introductory material, as a reinforcer of learning, etc. I have concerns about quizzing replacing teaching but I’m also curious to see where these companies go next.

  • A third category I observed was tools to help teachers manage behavior in their classrooms. My favorite example of this was GoNoodle, which delivers “brain
    IMG_1317

    GoNoodle booth

    breaks” for students through fun exercise dance videos. How can you not love a booth that features a dance party with adorable monsters? Another example is ClassDojo, which reinforces positive student behavior through cute avatars with points and badges. When I look back on my time as a first year teacher, classroom management was definitely one of my biggest challenges, and I wish some of these tools were around to create a positive structure and cadence to my classroom culture.

  • The fourth category I observed is products that help teachers manage their assignment and work flows. There are some creative ones like Drawp, which started as a great drawing app, and now has a fun interface for students to submit assignments with the drag of a finger. Others in this category include big players like Edmodo (disclaimer: that’s where I work!) and Hapara.

Products that Help Students Learn

  • While many ed tech products are geared toward the teacher as the primary user in mind, it was interesting to see many vendors at ISTE who offered products that can be used directly by students. These include products that students can engage with right away without a teacher guiding them, like the fun robots made by BirdBrain Technologies. Younger kids can program the dragon robots with parent supervision, while older kids can program the robots on their own. Teachers can choose to use these robots in the classroom just like they would incorporate any other student-led game like Legos.
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    with Moby from Brainpop

    There’s a fine line between products that are targeted directly to students (often marketed to their parents and teachers as the decision makers) and products that can be used directly by students only after a teacher assigns them. My favorite example of this category is Flocabulary, a website with fun hip hop videos for all subjects. Flocabulary is meant to be consumed directly by students, but their website is not meant for students to find it on their own– it is geared toward teachers and schools paying for annual subscriptions and assigning them to kids. Even though it’s a product kids love and that helps them learn, and I would describe it as “fun videos for students,”  it is targeted to teachers first. Other examples in this category include Brainpop, a website with educational videos and content loved by many students and teachers, and Mathseeds, a website with high quality engaging math lessons.

As I walked through the many aisles of booths at ISTE, it was fun to think of categories for all the different education technology products I was seeing. It crystallized for me the distinction between “Does this help teachers teach?” and “Does this help students learn?

 

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Active listening at a tech startup

Last week I worked on my active listening in the office. I chronicled every important meeting and conversation I had. Below are the highlights and lowlights.

What I learned

  • I was worst at active listening when I really needed it. (Darn!) I am now a believer that active listening can improve productivity and relationships in your workplace. Unfortunately this week of reflection showed me that it is hardest to do when it is most necessary- when any combination of these is true:
    • you in are a meeting with multiple people,
    • whom you don’t work with closely or daily,
    • who are expressing strong opinions,
    • and when you have strong opinions yourself.
  • It is much easier to practice active listening when any combination of these is true:
    • you are meeting with someone one on one,
    • when it is someone you work with closely,
    • and when they are expressing opinions you agree with.
  • One signal of good active listening: the person you’re talking to says “Yes!”
  • When I used active listening well, it reduced my stress at work, increased the level of trust in my professional relationships, ensured I was working with accurate information, and made meetings more productive.
  • When I did not use active listening well, it increased my stress, made me feel anxious about my professional relationships, left me at risk of missing the full picture, and made meetings less productive.
  • When I embarked on this weeklong journey I hoped that it would give insight into how I could better apply active listening in the workplace. What I did not expect is to look back at the week and realize how grateful I am to be in my job. Being a product manager is a wonderful role that gives me the ability to interact with many different parts of the company. In just one week I was part of conversations ranging from engineering to data to strategy, user research, partnerships, and sales. I am grateful for this level of exposure and involvement. It also made me realize that being good at active listening is key to being good at product management.
listen-cartoon

Calvin and Hobbes

What is active listening?

Active listening is hard to do. The premise is that when someone is speaking to you, you actually listen to them, as opposed to planning what you’re about to say next (or your grocery list, etc). Active listening does not come naturally to most people, including me.

The context in which most people hear about active listening is couples therapy. It might sound silly, but literally repeating back to the person what you just heard them say works. It works well in romantic relationships, it also works well with friends. It is validating and comforting to feel like someone understands you- and all it takes is repeating back to them what you heard! “It annoyed me that I was late to work because I had to walk the dog.” “I hear you saying that it was annoying for you to be late to work because you had to walk the dog.” YES, YES, YES! It’s magical.

I work in a fast paced startup environment, where maintaining clear communication and consideration can be challenging. So I tried doing some active listening at work to see if it was possible in a professional setting. Here are some examples.

3 Successes with Active Listening

Tuesday

  • On this day, my tech lead- let’s call him George- and I conducted many back to back video chats with teachers for user research. During these sessions, we asked teachers questions and took notes on their answers. Because a video chat can feel less personal than a face to face meeting, I routinely restated or summarized what the teacher was saying, back to them. The teachers always seemed to appreciate this- to know that on the other end of the line, they were being understood. When I correctly summarized what was said, they would often say “YES!” Active listening helped me and George conduct accurate user research.

Wednesday

  • We had our big weekly team meeting today. There was a lot to discuss as the CEO provided some critical feedback to the product team. Active listening was critical- in fact, at one point I explicitly said to the CEO, “Let me repeat back to you what I’m hearing you say.” This was a helpful point in the meeting for many of us in the room. Our team was able to process difficult information and the CEO could confirm our interpretation of his words.
  • As I was getting ready to go home, I was asked to speak with a member of our sales team, who had some questions before a call the next day. Our conversation illuminated some misalignment between what the sales team was selling and what the product team was building (a phenomenon not unheard of at many companies). This could have been an uncomfortable conversation but I was very focused on putting myself in his shoes and talking from his point of view. I knew the misalignment would have to be resolved and that it wouldn’t get done in that one conversation, which helped me stay calm and collected. Active listening helped me understand another person’s perspective, giving me necessary information to resolve a problem.

3 Failures with Active Listening

Monday

  • On Mondays we have a cross-product staff meeting with a representative from every product, where we review a document of all the work that will be completed that week. In this week’s meeting, the CEO was in attendance. The meeting was proceeding pretty routinely, but toward the end things got more heated when one of my coworkers opened a can of worms by asking a sensitive question directed at the CEO. This sparked an intense 5 minutes of conversation, with various people offering their opinions, and I couldn’t help but chime in, since the topic was something I felt strongly about. I failed to active listen in this moment, including when the CEO was speaking. The meeting ended with no positive momentum. I left the meeting feeling flustered- like my opinion had not been heard or validated in any way. I assume others in the room, including the CEO, felt the same. The lack of active listening meant the meeting ended without a cohesive understanding of key issues.

Thursday

  • My parents visited my work and we went out for lunch together. I find active listening with parents can actually be trickier than with most other people because I have a bad habit of reverting to an “eye roll” response in our conversations. Forgetting to active listen can lead to avoiding important topics.

Friday

  • During lunch I met with staff from our sales and marketing team. I did not do a great job active listening and – unsurprisingly- the meeting definitely could have gone much better. The sales and marketing folks are under a lot of pressure. Even though I can easily provide push-back to protect the work my product team is doing- especially the engineering time- I have to do it in the right way. Unfortunately  when my colleagues were speaking to me in impassioned tones, I could not help from responding in impassioned tones from my own perspective. This was not helpful, and the fact that it was a Friday lunch meeting doesn’t give me an excuse to not be as intentional about active listening. Again, the meeting ended with no positive momentum, and with skepticism rather than trust.

 

For more on what worked and didn’t work, feel free to read the full week-long chronicles. I approach this coming week in the office by trying to be intentional again with active listening, especially now that I’m more aware of the particular contexts in which it’s most difficult and important. Wish me luck!

So there you have it folks. Active listening. Do try this at home work.

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