Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Week Off from School (but Not from Learning)

Our students were off the entire week of Thanksgiving last week. As a 12-month employee, we were scheduled to work the first two days of the week. I ALWAYS end up with more vacation days than required at the end of the year, so I decided to take 2 of my vacation days last week. In this blog post, I’m reflecting on the week and my "vacation" from school.

Over the holiday, I tried to stay off of social media as much as possible. I did get on a little to check for notifications and to read a few blog posts, but mostly I stayed off of social media. I did jump on Pinterest and other blogs a few times, but I spent my time reading and watching the Hallmark Christmas movies when I wasn't with family and friends.

What all did I do? Here’s what…

Little did I expect to start my week with a failure! I had signed up with a friend to run the magic City Half-marathon on Sunday morning, but when she hurt her neck and was unable to run and the weather was cold and rainy, I skipped the race. Instead, I painted furniture for my basement! I have a creative side that has been ignored for a while, so getting to paint was an outlet that I needed.

I had never painted with chalk paint, even though I had seen lots of furniture painted with it. I read Diane’s blog for her homemade chalk paint recipe (I used the Plaster of Paris recipe), then headed to Lowe’s to pick up supplies. I spent a few days painting and sanding, and I love the way it turned out.

Painting furniture led to rearranging the basement, which led to listening to old cassette tapes in the tape deck. I found one where my daughters were about 7 or 8 and were reading into a tape recorder. It was so precious to hear their sweet voices from that age. They couldn’t believe it, and we had a lot of fun listening to the tapes together. 

I hosted #ALedchat Monday evening. The topic was gratitude. For a chat during a holiday week, it was a small but mighty chat!

Even though I skipped the race on Sunday morning, I did several runs over the week. I ran 4 of the days, and also got back to working out. I did a lot of reading blogs looking for workout ideas. I have a space in the basement with a treadmill, kettlebells, dumbbells, and exercise ball. I’ll be back to working out 3 mornings a week (before work) starting tomorrow. 

Beautiful view from today's run

Traditionally, we put up our tree on the Friday after Thanksgiving. This year, we decided to go with a real tree, so we put it up on Friday and let it acclimate to the room. Saturday we put the lights on it and enjoyed the Alabama-Auburn game with friends.  Putting ornaments on the tree is one of my favorite traditions with my girls. We’ll be doing that tonight! 

Our first real tree in many years

I also learned how to make J. Alexander’s Chicken Pasta Soup (click HERE for the copycat recipe). Today is my food prep day for the week, which included turkey burgers, sesame green beans, butternut squash, and healthy tuna salad (made with Greek yogurt instead of mayo.) I’ve been reading tons of posts on Pinterest about once-a-month cooking, foods that freeze well, and healthy recipe ideas. (More learning!)

My older sister came to town for Thanksgiving, and it was wonderful to spend time with her and my parents and younger sister. My mom always cooks all of the Thanksgiving feast, so all we had to do was show up and enjoy. We shared lots of laughs during the two days we all spent together.

While I had a week off from school and social media, it’s been a FULL week. I’m looking forward to getting back to the groove of work for the next few weeks as we end the first semester of the school year. Tomorrow night we’re hosting #ALedchat with a special guest moderator, Dr. Frank Buck, who is an expert organizer. This is a great time to get new ideas about getting and staying organized as we close out the year and start a new one. Hope you’ll join us!

What have you learned recently that doesn't have to do with school?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gratitude - Motivation Monday #47 {November 24, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

If the video above will not play on your device, click here:

Tonight's topic on our weekly twitter chat is Gratitude. We hope you can join us as we kick off this special Thanksgiving week.

Everyone is welcome to join us Monday nights 9-10pmCST for #ALedchat. We value the insights, perspectives, and experiences of those in our PLN.

Click this picture for the time converter

TIP: If you have never done a twitter chat before, you may find it helpful to go to and enter the hashtag #ALedchat, then click on Go. The website will "filter out" all of the other tweets except for the ones with the hashtag #ALedchat. The website will automatically add #ALedchat to your tweets, and you will see a scrolling list of tweets from the chat on the page. (P.S. The hashtags are NOT case-sensitive.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Feature: Craig Vroom, Principal of Weaver Middle School

Thank you for stopping by for the Feature Friday post. This is a new series dedicated to highlighting leaders, educators, and innovators. Today's feature is on Craig Vroom, Principal of Weaver Middle School in Hilliard, Ohio.

Craig Vroom is a mover and a shaker. He's been an educator for 20 years, and more than half of that experience has been as a school leader. He's currently the principal of Weaver Middle School, and a member of Connected Principals. This summer, Craig and I collaborated to create the Compelled Bloggers Community, a blogging community of educators. Craig is very active on twitter and is the co-founder of #HCSDchat. You can follow this passionate leader at @vroom6, and his blog is found at

1. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My early childhood was filled with some of the greatest memories of my life. The neighborhood I lived in was filled with kids from one end of the street to the other. It was constant commotion, the kind we all yearn for. Therefore I knew early on, along with my mother as my mentor, it was an educator I would become.

2. What brings you the greatest joy?

I'm blessed to have the four greatest kids in the world (I'm biased of course), and seeing them learn things for the first time is breathtaking. Seeing all kids reach these new heights is equally as joyful.

3. How do you maintain a work/life balance?

That is a challenge, literally. However through the conversations with my wife who knows education we find the time to keep our priorities.

4. What is the best advice you've been given?

Listen. I was once told "you can't listen if you are talking". I have learned that the greatest lessons in life can come from hearing what others have to share.

5. What is a new skill you would like to learn?

Coding - I see my students doing this in their pre-engineering class and it is pretty amazing what they can come up with.

6. What’s on your bookshelf?

Lots. Read Teach Like a Pirate this summer. Also tackled Steve Farber's work. Now I am on to the book - Blended: Using Disruptive Innovations to Improve Schools.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?

It was actually the reinforcement that relationships are the key to our success in education. If you can't connect, you will not survive this job. They struggled with this and therefore was there Achilles. I continue to focus on relationships and grow them, foster them and respect them.

8. What’s on your bucket list?

Travel far and wide. I want to see the world. All of it.

9. You just won the lottery. What one thing would you buy for yourself?

Tough one. Aren't we programmed to giving everything to others? If I did buy something though, I would have to go with some new shoes. Yep, I said it, shoes!

10. What’s your favorite book?

The Places You'll Go - Dr. Suess.

11. What is your number one productivity tip?

File by pile. Know what needs to get done and organize accordingly.

12. If you could have one super power, what would it be? 

I would have to go with super-strength. Could move, lift and shift everything tossed my way. Figuratively and literally.

13. Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?

My grandparents and great-grandparents. They were brilliant people that lived during an amazing time. Need to learn more of my ancestry.

14. What would people be surprised to know about you?

Born in Ohio, raised in Rochester, NY, returned to Ohio for college and beyond. Was a legacy at Heidelberg University.

15. What was your favorite class in college?

English with Dr. Reed. She knew us through and through. Respected us, taught us, challenged us.

16. What quote do you live by?

Do unto others... Have to. It's key.

17. What is one thing you never, ever worry about?

Have to face all that comes my way. I can't worry about what I can't control. If I do my job, everything else should fall in to place.

18. If you could swap places with someone from the past for one day, who would it be?

Abraham Lincoln did so much for our country. Not on April 15, 1865 though. Just saying.

19. Who are your heroes?

Looking back through history, my heroes are those that have provided me the opportunities I have today. Without sacrifice from others my experiences would not be what they are.

20. What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

My parents were right, always.

Edited 2022: During the summer of 2021, we said goodbye to the Compelled Bloggers Community, as we all moved into different directions in our personal and professional lives.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Town Hall Meetings: Student Voice in Action

When I discovered Nathan Barber on twitter, it was like meeting a kindred soul. He is the author of "What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches," a topic near and dear to my heart. He tweeted something about Town Hall meetings that they do at his school, and it sounded like an awesome example of respecting student voice. I asked him if he would write a blog post for me... so enjoy today's post from this gifted writer. 

Student voice may be one of the greatest things school leadership can give a student body. Students need – not just want – to have a voice at school. Therefore, the challenge for school leaders lies in providing safe, meaningful and productive ways for student voice to be heard. For some schools outlets such as clubs and organizations provide students a voice. 

For other schools journalism in various forms offers students a voice. At my school, we decided several years ago to provide students with an actual, audible voice in the form of Town Hall meetings.The vision for Town Hall meetings at my school (an independent school in Houston, Texas) originated with my Head of School before I arrived five years ago. However, the first ever Town Hall meeting happened on my watch. Looking back on that first meeting, I’m often amazed at just how far our student body has progressed with the Town Hall meeting.

We use one of our gyms as the setting for each Town Hall meeting, as we have no auditorium to accommodate the seating arrangement we desire. We seat the seniors together on one side of the basketball court and the juniors opposite them on the other side of the court. We seat the sophomores on one end of the court and the freshmen opposite them on the other end. Faculty sit among the students. This arrangement allows everyone to see everyone else. Additionally, anyone who speaks can address the entire student body face to face. The conversations generated in Town Hall meetings certainly would not be the same if a student had to stand at the back of an auditorium and address the backs of everyone’s heads. 

The conversation for each Town Hall meeting centers on one or two narrow topics, issues or questions. When we began this process several years ago, students did not know the topics or questions before they arrived for the Town Hall meeting. We learned over time, though, thanks in large part to student feedback, that students and faculty alike much prefer learning the topic or questions a few days ahead of time so they can begin to generate thoughts. Therefore, we currently share the topic or questions with everyone a few days prior to the Town Hall meeting. As a result, we have enjoyed much livelier and more meaningful conversations.

At the time of the Town Hall meeting, after everyone has been seated, I open the meeting with a brief reminder of expectations: One student speaks at a time. Remain respectful at all times. Feel free to disagree but articulate disagreements respectfully. Keep comments focused on the issue rather than on a person. After the reminders, I sit down. We usually project the topic or questions on a screen for students to see and to help students stay focused. 

Outside that, we let the students drive the conversation.

Our school’s Prefects (our senior leadership team that we use instead of Student Council) stand at each corner of the basketball court with a wireless mic. When a student wishes to speak, he/she stands, and one of our Prefects hands the student the mic. The speaker has the floor and no one interrupts. The speaker is free to state an opinion, ask a question, make observations, etc., as long as it is relevant to the topic. When the speaker sits, another students somewhere else stands, takes the mic, and speaks. This process goes on for about 30 minutes. I should mention, too, that faculty may participate by responding, asking questions, and the like, but they must participate as a participant and not as an authority figure. In other words, faculty do not correct or redirect students during the process, even if they disagree with or disapprove of what a student says. As a result, students see the Town Hall meeting as a safe place to express themselves. After the time has expired, I stand, thank the students, encourage them to continue the conversation throughout the day, and then I adjourn the Town Hall meeting.

If you are white-knuckled just thinking about handing a mic to a gym full of students, I totally understand. As an administrator, a small part of me prays before each Town Hall that the students will not do something to embarrass themselves or the school. Admittedly, this feeling tends to be amplified when we have visitors on campus to observe. Nothing compares, however, to the unsettling feeling I had years ago before we held our first Town Hall. I still remember some of my teachers saying, “You’re seriously going to hand the mic to the kids and then sit down?” Oh my.

When the Town Hall meetings first began on campus several years, we always had a few knuckleheads who wanted attention and made silly and/or unrelated comments just to get laughter. After all, teenagers do silly things more than just occasionally. Over the years, however, this has disappeared almost entirely because we have created a culture where comments like those are discouraged and not valued, and genuine participation is valued. Even when comments have gotten off-track on occasion, school leaders have never in five years taken the mic from a student nor told anyone to sit down or be quiet. Above all else, the Town Hall remains a safe setting that students know we (the adults) will protect. The students value the safe environment in which they can express themselves and they do a great job of getting the conversation back on track with no adult intervention.

Almost always, the conversation in the Town Hall meetings gets cut off due to time restraints. We like this, though. When the conversation ends abruptly in the Town Hall, it continues organically in the halls and classrooms, particularly if the topic/questions/prompts are good. A few of the topics/questions we have used in the past include:
-What does it mean to be an Eagle (our mascot)?
-What is the value of social media?
-Why do students cheat? Can we stop cheating?
-What would our school look like without grades?

Choosing the right topics and questions can be tricky. Some topics generate more conversation than others. For us,  allowing our students to help select topics has been pivotal for the success of the Town Hall meetings. In truth, not every minute of every Town Hall buzzes with conversation. There often occur periods of time ranging from 30 seconds to two minutes in which no one speaks. The first time this happened, the 60 seconds seemed like an eternity. We have learned to let the silence hang momentarily and to wait patiently. The conversation always resumes. 

These short periods of silence no longer bother us because the same phenomenon occurs in our Harkness classrooms, too. As in the classroom, the students always revive the conversation. On some level, the Town Hall experience mirrors a Harkness classroom: everyone faces everyone else; students drive the conversation; all opinions have value; respect reigns supreme; and authentic, meaningful and rich conversation flows from students being given a voice. The Town Hall experience should not be attempted by the faint of heart. However, once the right culture has been established and once the kids and the adults get the hang of it, the conversations can be powerful.

Could you hold Town Hall meetings at your school?
What fears do you have when you read this post?
How does your school respect and allow student voice?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Overcoming Obstacles with Courage - Motivation Monday #46 {November 17, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

Overcoming Obstacles

It's so hard to believe that this is the 46th weekly Motivation Monday post for 2014! Today's video is all about overcoming obstacles and facing courage. I hope you enjoy!

Be brave!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Feature Friday: Daisy Dyer Duerr, K-12 Principal

Thank you for stopping by for the Feature Friday post. This is a new series dedicated to highlighting leaders, educators, and innovators. Today's feature is on Daisy Dyer Duerr, K-12 principal of St. Pauls Schools in Arkansas.

Daisy is about being a champion for her students in rural Arkansas. She is a person who makes things happen, a skill she honed during her days as an athlete and coach. She was named a 2014 NASSP Digital Principal Award Winner, and  was a finalist for a 2014 Bammy! Award. She loves all things tech, and her passion and ability to make things happen has resulted in her schools being technology-infused, which has given her students access to opportunities that they didn't have previously. Daisy is the founder of #ArkEdChat, a weekly twitter chat, and you can follow her at @DaisyDyerDuerr

1. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

An Airplane Pilot

2. What brings you the greatest joy?

Time with my family, sports (Football, Basketball), & all things education!

3. How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I DON'T! ;0)

4. What is the best advice you've been given?

Follow 1 Rule= "DO RIGHT"....from my basketball coach 6-12th grade.

5. What is a new skill you would like to learn?


6. What’s on your bookshelf?

Everything Todd Whitaker, Digital Leadership; Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, Drive, Seven Habits for Happy Kids, Five Point Play, Whatever It Takes, Gone With the many more great education books....!

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?

I wanted to increase my sphere of influence on students....this is when I really began to believe "making a difference with students" was going to be my life's work.

8. What’s on your bucket list?

Trips to Ireland & Australia

9. You just won the lottery. What one thing would you buy for yourself?

For myself....more techie gadgets! (& some new High Heels!)

10. What’s your favorite book?

7 Habits for Happy Kids

11. What is your number one productivity tip?

Begin with the end in mind!

12. If you could have one super power, what would it be? 

Flying....who doesn't want to fly!

13. Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?

Educators: ones I know & don't we could "geek out" and share experiences/tools/stories/ideas to make our schools better....ultimately to make things better for students! (REALLY!)

14. What would people be surprised to know about you?

I have 5 Tattoos!

15. What was your favorite class in college?

British History

16. What quote do you live by?

No Excuses...No Limits!

17. What is one thing you never, ever worry about?

Getting enough sleep! (I'm not a sleeper!)

18. If you could swap places with someone from the past for one day, who would it be?

Amelia Earhart

19. Who are your heroes?

Charles Berry (High School Basketball Coach), My Father (Joe Logan Dyer III), & too many educators to name!

20. What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

One person CAN make a difference!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leaders Don't Compartmentalize

Isn't that a great picture? I've just spent the last few days at Orange Beach, Alabama, for a leadership conference for members of Alabama Association of Secondary & Middle School Principals (AASSP and AAMSP). It's always fun to see other school leaders away from our schools where we can learn from each other. The environment is wonderful, too. The picture above is from my hotel balcony. (The average temperature was 71 during the day.)

While there, we heard from our state superintendent, Tommy Bice, who is always inspiring and motivational. He always encourages us to think outside the box and always do what's best for kids. 

Another leader we heard from was Troy University's chancellor, Dr. Jack Watkins. 

He shared many stories and advice, and one that resonated with me was a story about Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-a restaurants. He shared the story about Mr. Cathy going to Congress in 2002 to meet before the sub-committee of Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. He was supposed to share about business ethics. 

He said there's no such thing. Why did it resonate with me? This is (sort of) what I tell students. When I have students in my office, we usually talk about grades in addition to why they are with me. When I have athletes in my office, or students in the band, or a club, or choir... I talk to them about their roles in those activities. They tell me they can't imagine showing up for practice late, or not having their instrument, or not fulfilling their responsibility to their club. Then I tell them not to compartmentalize! The same discipline, preparedness, and follow-through that they use and demonstrate in those activities is the same discipline, preparedness, and follow-through that must be demonstrated in the classroom. 

Then today, I read a tweet from the amazing Lolly Daskal. It was a link to her latest post, Codes of Conduct to Lead By

She gives a list of codes of conduct to implement into leadership, such as

  • Be your authentic self, because you have to live with yourself every day.
  • Always take the high road. No matter what others say.
  • Always keep your word.
  • Be consistent in all you say and do.
  • Give more; expect less.
(The rest of the list can be found HERE.)
She ends the post with this:

"Lead From Within:  The codes of our lives are what help us to conduct ourselves rightly and have the right outlook on life. They provide guidance for our leadership."

Do you compartmentalize as a leader?

What else would you add to Lolly's list of codes of conduct?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

When Adolescents Can't Read (My highlights from the book)

I just finished a short book titled, “When Adolescents Can’t Read: Methods and Materials That Work.” In my search for PRACTICAL advice on the most effective strategies for working with high school students who struggle with reading, this book has really made me reflect on the practices I used while in the classroom as well as the practices I observe from our classroom teachers, especially our reading teachers.

This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click and buy, I may make a commission at no cost to you. 
When Adolescents Can't Read

The copyright date is 1999, so I’m not sure if the research would still be considered current. I would love to hear from you if you have evidence that what I’m sharing with you is out-of-date or if there is a proven, better method.

The book is based on the Boys Town Reading Center that was established in 1990. It serves a laboratory for adolescents with reading problems. From the website, students in the reading program gain an average of two years of reading skills for each year of instruction. And these are students who are at-risk and whose reading achievement is usually two to three years behind a student’s placement in school.

The framework that guides the instruction design of Boys Town reading program is Jeanne Chall’s six stages of reading development.

According to Chall, the students must master one stage before they can move on to the next. At Boys Town, they have been able to accelerate their readers’ growth by focusing on the skills that are most critical for moving them from one stage to the next.

I highlighted and underlined a lot of things in the book, and I’m happy to share them with you. If you are a reading teacher or specialist, I would love for you to contact me directly with any feedback.

“For the majority, poor vocabularies are most likely the consequence of not having done much reading. By late adolescence, however, the situation has turned into a “Catch-22”; because their vocabularies are weak, their comprehension suffers. But because their comprehension suffers, little new information can be gained when they read. Consequently, for many older teens with reading difficulties, direct vocabulary instruction may be the optimal program.” (Page 14) 

“Incoming youth at Boys Town have a great difficulty with spelling, and since they must fill out forms as part of their admission process, spelling is often the first indication that they have a reading problem.” (Page 15) 

“When we begin a training session with teachers, their first reaction often is that our methods and materials are too difficult, and that we are expecting too much in too little time. This certainly would be true if our goal was to have students perform every task we give them with 100% accuracy. But that’s not our goal. Learning is! Teachers and students need to keep this in mind. When we define success, we define it by how much someone learns, not by how well a task is performed. When we measure students’ success in terms of how much is learned, they are willing to be continually challenged. And, as challenge results in growth, their motivation to learn more increases.” (Page 22) 

“Our experience tells us that when you work with students who a have a history of academic failure, you set them up to fail again unless you start with the first step: direct instruction.” (Page 23) 

“In using spelling to teach word analysis, we’re encouraging students to go from sounds to letters. Spelling seems to work well with adolescents for several reason. First, we find that kids this age are more likely to admit that they are poor spellers than to admit that they are poor readers.” (Page 26) 

“So often during vocabulary instruction, particularly at the secondary level, teachers introduce words at the beginning of the week and tell students that they are responsible for learning their meanings (usually by using a dictionary or glossary.) As anyone who has used this method will tell you, it doesn’t work. For vocabulary instruction to be effective, students need to have numerous opportunities to use words and to receive feedback about how well they are doing their word usage.” (Page 33, my emphasis on “receive feedback”) 

“Asking students to keep track of how frequently they participate in each class period (e.g., by making a check mark each time they raise their hand to ask or answer a question) also helps to motivate them. As one public high school student told us about our reading program: ‘You can’t hide out, and you learn.’” (Page 51)

Do you have a takeaway from this post? Please leave it in the comments below or share with me on Twitter. (@Jennifer_Hogan

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When Adolescents Can't Read

Monday, November 10, 2014

Inspiration from John Wooden - Motivation Monday #45 {November 10, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

There's so much to learn from John Wooden. I'm sharing 5 quotes from him, one for each day of the work week. Enjoy!

Which one is your favorite?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

6 Tips for Effective Parent-Teacher Conferences

6 Tips for Parent-Teacher Conferences

I’ve attended many parent-teacher conferences over the years, especially in my role as the administrator of the ninth grade. When teachers hold a parent-teacher conference, the counselor and I try to attend as many as possible. Sometimes, the parent will request a conference, and sometimes the counselor will suggest a conference with all of the students' teachers. I’ve attended some really effective parent-teacher conferences as well as some not-so-effective meetings.

Some of the best conferences I’ve been a part of are when the teacher brings evidence of what the student is doing in class. Some teachers show up with a folder of the students’ tests or an exemplar of a project along with the student’s completed project and the rubric. The teachers who seem to want to partner with the parents are the ones who have taken the time to review the student’s mistakes on assessments to determine where the problems are. Perhaps it’s vocabulary, or perhaps it’s with a certain step in solving a problem. Maybe it’s when the questions ask the students to think critically and apply their knowledge. Once parents (and teachers) understand where the weaknesses are, targeted help can be provided to the student.

When a teacher does this, it also shows that the teacher is concerned about the student as an individual.

When the teacher says, “He made a 62% on the test and the class average is a 83%,” it doesn’t indicate that the teacher has reviewed the individual student’s weakness. It DOES send a message that the teacher is mostly interested in comparing students’ performance.

6 tips for effective high school parent-teacher conferences:
1.  Include the student. Students are usually surprised to be a part of the conversation and realize that it’s about how to help the student be more successful, and it’s not about “bashing” the student. 
2.  Be prepared. Have specific ideas on ways to help the student be successful. 
3.  Find something positive to say about the student. 
4.  Share data, not opinions. (“Your child got all of the vocabulary correct on the test, but missed the application questions,” instead of, “I don’t think he’s studying hard enough for tests.”) 
5.  Make it a two-way conversation. Try starting with, “What questions do you have for me? I want to make sure we make our time together valuable.” 
6.  Be empathetic. Try to put yourself in the parent’s shoes. By high school, the parent may have been hearing similar messages throughout their child's years in school. If you were the parent of the child, what would you want to hear?
As a school leader, how can I help?
Remind teachers to bring evidence to the meeting. 
Ask teachers to be prepared for the meeting. 
Follow up with teachers and parents (How? Put a future appointment in my calendar to remind me to do a “check-in.”)

What other tips would you add?