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Why do you help people in or near schools get organized? What’s your motivation?

That’s a good question. First off, it is important to say that The Together Teacher was nowhere in my life’s plan (which is odd, given that, I’m a planner!). I was working as the Chief Talent Officer for Achievement First, with a team of people that I adore. At the same time, I was starting my own little family in Brooklyn (insert image of a toddler chasing three cats around my apartment) and had no free time to consider a side project for myself. Starting a company was the last thing on my mind.

TTG-9I started conducting Together Teacher workshops within Achievement First when I observed our staff and teachers could greatly benefit from the organizational strategies I had learned while in the classroom as well as in other jobs. I believe teaching is fundamentally different than most other professional jobs out there, and organization tools or systems that worked in other jobs just don’t translate to the teaching world—where we can’t go to the restroom whenever we feel like it or take a quick coffee break whenever we feel tired! Many teachers (and others) consider “organization” a character trait rather than a skill—they believe you either have it or you don’t. I wanted to change that mentality and empower folks who felt an organized life was simply beyond their reach.

Word spread from Achievement First to Relay Graduate School of Education and the kind folks over there used their amazing knowledge of adult learning to help me develop my workshops. After that, word-of-mouth led to more and more inquiries and more and more positive feedback about how my workshops had enabled teachers to take control of their work. After five years of building The Together Teacher “on the side” through teacher trainings at public, charter, and parochial schools nationwide, I was inspired to jump in full force. The Together Teacher slowly became The Together Group, and it is now my full-time mission.

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What makes Together Teacher workshops different? Aren’t there already millions of productivity “gurus?”

People who work in schools face a unique set of challenges that none of the productivity literature addresses. How do you keep it together when you are on your feet all day, rarely in front of a computer, receive information via intercom, paper, text, and email, and at any moment could have your limited “free time” taken by an emergency parent meeting? After almost 15 years of working in, around, or supporting schools, I have a deep understanding of how schools function (both good and bad!) and how to advise people in a way that is meaningful, applicable and respectful.

TTG-6The Together Group approach isn’t strict or singular. It is a workshop that helps overworked and stressed educators and leader create organization systems that work for them. I don’t give orders “You have to use an iPad,” or “I’m going to wrestle your beloved Franklin Covey paper planner out of your hands.” We help people evaluate which parts of their organization systems are already strong, where they need help, and what tools and routines they need to add so they hold up under the incredible strain of working in or near schools.

Each participant leaves my workshop with his or her “own” organization system. Some leave biased toward technology, others work entirely with paper. Most, however, use a hybrid system—partially electronic/web-based and partially paper-based. At the end of the day, what I care about is that each person has a system that can catch all the balls thrown their way. As Doug Lemov, an incredible teacher developer from Uncommon Schools, says, “What is good is what works.”

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Who inspires your work?

I actually try not to read too much about being organized because I believe it leads to the dangerous condition called. . . over-organization. If you have it, you know who you are! However, when I was a classroom teacher and I was drowning, I spent a lot of time on the floor of a Barnes and Noble reading (ahem. . . and later buying) great stuff by:

  • Steven Covey, who I love for his big picture thinking and prioritization stories;
  • David Allen, who I appreciate for his suggestions that we “write everything down in one place, then review it all once a week”;
  • Tony Schwartz, who provides helpful tips on managing energy;
  • Julie Morgenstern, who provides wonderful client stories and her thoughts on managing physical space;
  • Michael Linenberger, who has a great book for those who love MS Outlook

But, my biggest sources of inspiration are the thousands of educators and leaders who have been through my workshops. They send me before/after pictures of their desks, screen shots of their cleaned- up inboxes, and carefully plotted lists of how they intend to spend their precious bits of work time. I find it incredibly inspiring to hear stories of dedicated professionals improving their practice—and their lives!

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Do I endorse products or brands?

I am certainly not paid to endorse any products, and I only recommend products that I find truly useful for educators and leaders after I test them personally and my testing team tries them out. The book contains an appendix with some of our specific recommendations. If you have a product you would like us to review, email me and we can talk.

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