Flexibility – Getting to #POSSCON

My day started off like any other Tuesday in March. My alarm went off around 5:15ish to move me to track practice by 5:45am. The only thing that really stood about about this morning was that I was going to fly out of Appleton at 1:15pm to go to an open source conference in Columbia, SC (#POSSCON, @POSSCON). I had a good travel plan scheduled. I’d been planning the trip for months, watching flights meticulously and getting daily updates from TripAdvisor to my phone.

I also felt very confident about my school plan. My students have been creating their own businesses. Today we were going to review the Executive Summaries we had created yesterday. The Executive Summary of a business plan is a one page catch-all of the big ideas in a new business. I provided students with a rough outline to assist them with compiling the plan. Three simple paragraphs. 1. The What – what is your business? What sets it a part? 2. Who – who does your business serve? 3. Why – why should a bank, a venture capitalist, or an angel investor give you start-up cash? We had reviewed these concepts over the past few days. Finally, students would read their own Executive Summaries out loud and send them off to a classmate. The classmate would open the document in Microsoft Word (no OpenOffice, we’re still on Novell), make changes via Track Changes tool, and send the revised document back to the owner. The owner of the Executive Summary would then accept or reject the track changes, get a final proof from an instructor and print off the finalized Executive Summary.

The second part of the learning today was to teach students about the Advanced Search in Google. Michael Gorman’s  (recent blog post caused me to incorporate this into my practice today. I saw Professor Wiley (@OpenContent) last summer at GLS, and he coached us up on the copyright features within Google Advanced. The post on Michael Gorman’s blog http://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com combined with David Wiley’s tutorial and the fact I was heading to POSSCON today, made this teaching opportunity seem sublime.

I also had a solid track practice scheduled today. I am an assistant boys’ track coach at Kimberly High School. Knowing that I was going to be gone for the rest of the week, Coach Jones (@CoachJoneKHS) made sure I had all of the long jumpers and triple jumpers today. What made it even better- I got the triple jumpers as a group for 25 minutes and the long jumpers as a group for 25 minutes. Having homogeneous groups allowed me to create different practice plans.

Not everything today went as planned.

Flexibility was the key to success. I have to go. I’m touching down in ATL.

Part II
I’m just waking up in the Atlanta airport. Yesterday was an amazing day. Track practice didn’t go quite as planned. Everything with the triple jumpers was smooth, but I wasn’t quite executing my plan with the long jumpers. This was evident by the actions of one inexperienced jumper. I was using my coaching voice and telling the athletes, “Go after it. Get a solid jump in.” He did. He jumped over the high jump mat that was positioned in behind the takeoff box. The head coach saw this and motioned his hand across his Adam’s apple, giving me the non-verbal finish-it cue, the drill was abruptly complete. Our track team has over 120 athletes. There’s a culture of work that pervades Kimberly Boys’ Track that  I find rewarding. Walk into our practice and you’ll see 14-18 year old males chanting “Do work son!” Or, “Lets get better today”. I love morning practice before school. It sets such a positive tone for the day of teaching ahead.

I thought my classroom activities would take 30-45 minutes. An hour and ten minutes into the instruction, students had to move on from me to Science. I had to show students how to attach a Word .doc to an email (for about the sixth time for some of them). A couple of students didn’t know where they had saved their classmates document, which required extensive 1:1 assistance to retrieve. The Advanced Google Search actually went quite well. I started with Google Images. I typed in Tupac Shakur, 100’s of images popped up.

Then I went into the advanced search feature and toggled the Usage Rights to Label for Reuse

Not a single picture of Tupac popped up. Just some images of Tupac tattoos. I explained, “Teachers are the biggest thieves and cheaters, we steal images for presentations constantly. I’m not sure I could get by prepping everything I do legally.” This sparked a side conversation with a few of the students and an interesting dialog broke out.

Now it was time to say goodbye. I stopped by my wife’s classroom on the way out of school and told her my travel plans. “I fly out of Appleton at 1:15 and have a 2-hour layover in O’Hare. I should be getting to Columbia around 6:15ish your time.” No hugs. No kisses. Not in front of the students. I used my lunch hour to get a fresh low-fade (haircut) and I headed to Outagamie Reagional Airport. When I arrived at the airport, my flight had been delayed a half hour or so. The snow was coming down at a good pace for late March, but I still proceeded through security. By 12:30pm, my 1:15 was canceled- booked on the 3:40 to OHare. This now put me in Columbia at 11:30pm. I have to get to Columbia tonight. I have to be there for the opening keynote presentation in the morning.

By 2pm, I had a really bad feeling. Deep. Gut feeling. I exited security and went back to the United desk. I was greeted by Travis. Travis was awesome. This guy was in dowork mode for me. He said my flight to O’Hare was canceled and the flights to ORD for the day were done. He worked with me for about 15 minutes. He got me a flight to Detroit on Delta. From Detroit I was supposed to switch up to US Airways and go to Charlotte, and then Charlotte to Columbia. Getting in at 11:30pm. Travis also booked me a worst case scenario flight out of Detroit to Columbia, SC for Wednesday morning at 6:10am. I didn’t like that option because I would get to Columbia at 9:10am- meaning I probably wouldn’t make the Keynote at POSSCON.

About 20 minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off for Detroit. Things got a bit crazy. I was studying the .PDF outline of the Detroit airport. All Delta flights come into the new McNamara terminal. My US Airways flight took off from the North terminal. I would have to take a shuttle from one terminal to another. I would have to go back through security at the North terminal. And I would have to do all this in 45 minutes.

I waited in line at the Delta desk to be served. Delta earned my respect yesterday. They were very good to me. As I pleaded my case to the Delta desk at the terminal, the guy helping me out worked his magic. I proposed taking Delta to Charlotte and onto Columbia that way I wouldn’t have to terminal hop. Unfortunately, the Charlotte flight didn’t have a seat. I told him no problem, I’ll jump back on US Airways in Charlotte to get to Columbia, “Sir, I’m afraid that’s not possible. You have a through-flight and since your flight didn’t originate with Delta the only way I can take you to Charlotte is if I have a seat to take you all the way to Columbia. Since your flight started with United, I’m not able to do that.”
Fair enough.
“Oh what was that…hold on one second. Oh no.”
By this time, I’m the last guy on the Detroit plane. I know I need to get going, and I’m wondering what the hell is going to happen. As the clock is running out in Appleton, I’m ready to go to Detroit and role the dice with trying to terminal hop and get to my destination. I go to board the plane. The Delta guy covered the phone with one hand and told me as I was walking away, “You’ve been waitlisted on the US Airways flight to Charlotte. That’s not going to work either. I just got a call from the United desk…”
As his voice trailed away, I was walking into my plane for Detroit, mentally preparing to sleep in Detroit. Why did I get on that flight? I waited in an airport that’s 7miles from my house for 4-hours. Why didn’t I just turn around and go home and figure out a Plan-B?
I had to get to Columbia.

The flight to Detroit took off late, and got in late. Uncontrollables. Ice. Snow. No fault of man. While circling around Detroit, the guy sitting next to me was of huge assistance. I wish I would have gotten his name. He was on his way to Orlando with his family for vacation. We had a good talk. He’s a financial planner and a 10-year school board member. He was more fluent with the Delta app than I was. While mine was downloading, he was working out plans for me. He knew I didn’t want to sleep in Detroit. Without telling him a single word of my desire to be in Columbia, he knew. “There’s a 7:30 out of Detroit to Atlanta. Then a 10:53 onto Columbia.” Thank You. Without hesitation I ran. I was that guy full-out sprint from one end of McNamara terminal to the other end. I arrived at the Delta gate to board flight DL1023 at 7:23. I was met by someone about a half dozen years younger than me. She could sense the bizarreness of my situation and handed it off to the veteran. These woman also worked their magic. “The flight to Columbia in Atlanta doesn’t look good. I’ve got you on standby.”
“Great. Thanks. Am I good to go?”
“Take him.”
In my excitement, I ether failed to grab the newly printed flight plan & boarding pass or it fell out as I ran through the hanger  towards my plane. This plane was 2/3 empty. This plane was huge. My flight to Atlanta was very productive. I hammered out a solid section on the Implementation Grant (due April 15!).

Once I got to Atlanta, my bubble of excitement and going-with-the-flow burst. I didn’t know where I was going & it seemed to be one big Delta universe. I went to a main counter area to get assistance. As a teacher, when I see three authority figures and one person, I know there’s trouble. Something was up. I was signaled over to the counter. Right next to me was a guy so drunk, he would have been thrown out of a Madison bar at Halloween. The guy was a jerk. His rant went something like this, “No No No No, you can’t take me off this flight. There’s plenty of people who are much much more to drink than I am.”
“Well I guess they can hold their liquor a little bit better than you Hun.”
“This is why you guys are in last. I saw it on the news, you’ll probably lose my bag to.”

I told the lady that was helping me that I didn’t know how she’d dealt with it. I told her I thought I had it tough teaching high school kids. As my ‘request for a seat’ ticket was printing, the guy next to me threw his itinerary at the Delta lady helping him. She chuckled. The third authority figure to the drunkards left was not chuckling. “Hey,” he threw back, “that’s really not necessary.”
“What. All I did was give her my itinerary.”
“Yeah but you didn’t need to throw it like that.”
Magic. The guy could easily be an At-Risk teacher. The way he deescalated the situation was beautiful. He let that drunk talk all the junk and sat back. When the drunk crossed the line, boom, he came correct.

I got what I needed and I was off to Gate D41. I can’t wait to get to the Hilton tonight and get ready for that conference in the morning.
Once I got to Gate D41, I heard the dreaded, “Give up your seat for airline cash ‘cause we’re over booked and it’s still an hour and a half til our plane leaves”–even with that announcement, I never once thought I’d be sleeping in Atlanta. My newly formed plan consisted of taking a rental car to Columbia if I didn’t get on the flight. First stop was the Delta help desk to get a new worse-case scenario plan covered.  I was at the desk for a half hour getting served. More stuff went down with other customers that would not be appropriate to place here. Ask me sometime. It’s a great story!

I screwed up big time. “Sir how are you traveling on Delta? Where’s your boarding pass?” Earlier in the day I was preaching responsibility, organization, and planning. Here I stood in ATL without a boarding pass and with very little proof of how I got there. Magic. Once again Delta came through. She got me booked on a worse-case 8:20am flight if I couldn’t get through on standby.

4 Dudes on standby, guess who got Heismaned? Now it’s 11:00pm and I’m not sleeping in Atlanta. The Delta Help Desk schooled me on policy. If flights are missed per weather, they reimburse the cost of a rental car. Beautiful. The only hold-up is that I have to go to United because that’s where my flight originated. United is about as prevalent in ATL as a Catholic in Kentucky (4%).  It took me another half hour to trek to terminal T13-15 to find someone from United. No one was around. Something else was going on, if I was going to drive, I needed to eat. The only thing I ate all day was trail mix at 8am & an overpriced handful of fries with 3 chicken strips at Appleton airport around noon. Everything was closed except in Terminal C. I headed to Atlanta Bread Company, had a feeding, and waited on hold for 20 minutes before talking with a real human being at United. They don’t have the same rental car policy. The offered a $75 e-ticket voucher or 20% my next flight. I was not happy. And I was not impressed with United.

At 12:03am, I was hit with my moment of realization, I was not going to make it to Columbia. Enter the tax payer dilemma. I am fortunate to travel. I was a part of a team that wrote a grant for $175,000 for this year to plan a charter school. $30,000 of the money is for traveling to conferences and seeing other charter schools. I put a ton of time into making travel arrangements and go with the most affordable option. I could not pay Hertz $239.80 to get a one way rental to get to Columbia at 3am. Looking back, I should have, but at the time I couldn’t justify it.  At the time I also couldn’t justify spending $55 to stay in a hotel. So I snuggled up on a pretty comfortable airport seat and fell asleep in the same fashion I do at home- with the NBA on TNT. I fell asleep as the Suns were taking the Lakers into overtime.

Part III
Right now, I’ve got to go. I have to get a quick feed and catch my flight to Columbia. Irony: As I finished pounding this post out, I received an automated call from my employer. No school! Enjoy the snow day today. I’ll be getting coached up on open source software-

I’m not sure I can adequately describe how or why the day was so amazing. But it truly was an amazing day. I got to coach. I got to teach. I got to travel. The only thing missing from my day was time with family. That’s starting to have a toll on me. More and more, I find my self thinking, what do I need to give up in order to spend more time with my family.  As much of cliche as the last sentence is, I’m conscious of the fact that I’ve been an absentee husband & father for most of the last two years. Something needs to give. I was supposed to Skype with my wife and daughter in O’Hare. That was the most life draining thing yesterday, I didn’t get any dialog with the people I love most.

Several gifts were given to me yesterday though. I met several professionals who I will probably never come across again. When I make reference to people working Magic; I’m referring to seeing the same thing take place that I see when a great teacher is teaching. I had several people serve me yesterday. I was helped out. Several times I found myself thinking it takes a whole village because I was an idiot solely focused on getting to Columbia.

Finally, I want to end with something that I think connects with all systems. I talk a lot about my belief that the current K-12 education system has a design flaw. The system is top heavy and no longer sustainable. But the system is filled with great people. People just like Travis, he was working at the United counter in Appleton and doing me a huge favor. He got me to Columbia through Detroit, Charlotte, and on two airlines different than his own. Very creative, and by no fault of his own did he know the terminal in Detroit for Delta is different than the terminal for US Airways. Big overarching systems lack flexibility. Even with a multitude of options. Knowing where to penetrate a rigid system is key to leveraging desired outcomes for individuals. I had so many different options, so many different ways to get to Columbia. My gut told me to get out of Detroit, get away from the snow, so I did. If I had stayed in in Detroit, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be getting to the open source conference this morning. The tax payers dilemma combined several uncontrollables caused me to spend the night in the Atlanta airport. It didn’t have to be that way. Retrospectively some would say I was probably a bit impulsive. I like to refer to that as being focused on a goal. Also in retrospect, United could have done 1000 things differently. They like to refer to their actions as following company policy. As I end this 3000 word spew I’m reminded of the two controllables I preach constantly to students & athletes.1. attitude 2. effort. I had what my friend Larry calls, “God shots” through out the entire day. In Atlanta, when I got on the shuttle to take me from one terminal to the next for the final time yesterday, I felt sorry for myself. Why does this have to happen to me. When I looked up, I saw a gentleman in a wheel chair in another shuttle car holding on to the railing. Be grateful. Stay positive. A handful of other events played out in the same way. There really is very little I can control outside of myself. It’s amazing that I am actually about to take off and land in Columbia. Although I’m going to miss the opening keynote presentation, I wlll be at the first breakout session. Tweeting. Skyping. Grinding on Evernote. Doing work. I’m going to get better today. I’m sure it will be more ordinary than yesterday.

About Michael

Do Work!
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