Tyranny of the Inbox

I enjoy the fact that I can work from anywhere, but that comes with a price…I end up working from everywhere. Sometimes that means working while on a vacation with my family, and sometimes that is fine. But sometimes, the work must stop, and to do that, email must also stop.

Originally, I had planned to post the following as my automatic vacation responder, but after feeling out the concept on FaceBook, I got some valuable feedback from some friends and have decided to explain myself here. And post an abbreviated message as my auto response.

First, here was my original message:

“Thank you for your email. I am taking a much-needed vacation and will be disconnecting completely from my email from [DATES]. Additionally, I will not be going back to read any email received between those dates upon my return.


Yes, you read that right.

Doesn’t the standard out-of-office email usually say that the recipient will respond when he returns to the office?

Yes, it does. And, no, I’m not.

I mean no disrespect by giving you this notification, but I expect that some will find this rude and unprofessional. If that is you, please hear me out.

Email is a funny thing. We can put these out-of-office responses on while we attempt to take a break from our work, and yet we have to come home from our vacations to thousands of unread emails in our inboxes and spend the following week frantically catching up with correspondence. As a result, many of us determine that it is easier to sneak a peek at email from time to time while on vacation and respond to the important ones to help alleviate the tyranny of the inbox upon return home.

I have determined that this is not a good way to relax, which is the point of taking a vacation, after all. As such, I will neither read, nor respond to any email received between [DATES].

Since you are receiving this message, you have one of three options:

1. If this is an urgent business matter requiring immediate attention, please contact my colleague, [NAME], at [email] and he can direct your request to the appropriate person on my team who can assist you.

2. If this is not an urgent business matter, please set yourself a quick calendar reminder to contact me again after [DATE] so I can provide you with an adequate response. I’ll do the same for you if I get a similar message from you in the future.

3. You are free to ignore this message, and we may or may not connect on the matter requiring my attention in the future.

Feel free to join me in my fight against the tyranny of email by doing the same next time you take a vacation. I promise to afford you the same courtesy your are giving me.

Aaron Sams”

The feedback I received from FaceBook was overwhelmingly supportive, but one friend though the message was a bit unprofessional, and another said “great concept, but tl;dr” (“too long; didn’t read” in case you were wondering). In light of the constructive criticism, I have chosen to post a more simple vacation responder directing the sender here if they choose to learn more.

Here’s what I ultimately decided as my auto-response:

Thank you for your email. I am taking a much-needed vacation and will be disconnecting completely from my email from [DATES].

If this is an urgent business matter requiring immediate attention, please contact my colleague, [NAME], at [EMAIL] and he can direct your request to the appropriate person on my team who can assist you.

If this is not an urgent business matter, please contact me again after [DATE], so I can provide you with an adequate response.

For my complete thoughts on email and vacations, click here.

Aaron Sams

If you followed that link here from the vacation responder, thanks for taking the time to do so.

What are your thoughts on this? Necessary? Unprofessional? Offensive? Empowering? Rude? Should I have left this as my vacation responder?

5 Brief Goals For ISTE 2015

I’m on my way to #ISTE2015, making this the 8th year I have attended this conference. All my presentations are on Tuesday, so I look forward to connecting with teachers and other colleagues Saturday – Monday. With around 15,000 people in attendance, this conference can be busy and overwhelming, so I’ve decided to set a few goals.

This year I want to:

1. Spend at least as much time with teachers as I do with vendors. New products are cool, but awesome teachers are cooler.

2. Learn more about #flipclass than I share about #flipclass. As a loud and leading voice in all things flipped, I can get a little nearsighted. I want to see what others are doing with the concept and how it continues to evolve across the education landscape.

3. Meet and tweet 20 interesting people. Selfies coming. Be forewarned.

4. Find fellow Pittsburghers. Since the conference is in PA, this won’t be too hard, but it’s good to know who your local colleagues are.

5. Reject all swag. I don’t need more free stuff. You probably don’t either. Who’s with me?

I’ll let you know how I do. What are your goals for #ISTE2015 ?

More Thoughts on Amtrak

It’s hard to believe that just a few short days after my first trip on Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia a train crashed shortly after leaving the Philadelphia station on its way to New York killing at least seven people, and injuring many more.

I won’t pretend to know anything about rail safety, so I’ll keep my comments brief with the hope that this tragic incident will encourage those with authority to ensure rail travel is safe and reliable in the U.S.

I hope the families of those who have been killed find peace during this difficult time and that the injured recover quickly.

60 in 60 Conference

The 60in60 Conference will quickly prove to be a most useful conference for busy teachers interested in gathering copious amounts of information about the ever changing technological landscape as quickly as possible.

I had the pleasure of meeting Brandon Lutz at an event in New York back in 2012. There, Brandon gave his 60in60 presentation in which he demonstrates 60 educational web tools in 60 minutes. Rapid fire, drink from a fire hose, more information that you could possibly use in an hour. I came away with a number of useful new tools that I still use today. I really loved the presentation, and I also was fortunate to meet a like-minded educator in Brandon.

Since that time, Brandon has taken his 60in60 presentation on the road and regularly presents at various conferences, and this weekend marked his first full 60in60 conference. Brandon and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit (where Brandon now works) hosted the event and invited me to participate by delivering a mini session: 10in10 on Flipped Learning.

If you attend Brandon’s 60in60 session at a conference like ISTE, you will leave with 60 great tools in your toolbox. If you attend the 60in60 conference, you could discover hundreds of tools for your classroom with very little redundancy in the presentations. Actually, I was a little worried that the same few apps and services would keep popping up in all the sessions, and although a small handful made a regular appearance (I’m looking at you Kahoot!), the majority of the tools shared were unique to each presentation.

Lest you think 60in60 sounds like a boring sit-and-get, let me assure you that this is an exciting opportunity to learn a lot very quickly. The 60in60 conference is not designed as a workshop, it is not an place to macerate in a crock-pot for hours on one topic. If you are looking for detailed training on a particular program or service, this conference is not for you. 60in60 focuses on breadth over depth, and there is a place for this sort of conference in our educational landscape. This is not something you would attend multiple times in a year, it is not long-term PD. Go to 60in60 once a year, gather a massive amount of resources quickly, go home, and play.

Brandon describes the 60in60 concept as “a few people doing the hard work of researching a testing these tools so you don’t have to”. I can’t even imagine how long it would take me to individually uncover, explore, test, and begin to use all the products and services I learned about at 60in60.

This conference was refreshing and invigorating, and if you hear that Brandon Lutz or the 60in60 conference is coming to your area, drop what you are doing and go!

Thoughts on Amtrak

I travel a lot, and my family only owns one car, so I typically fly or rent a car. This week I was heading to Eastern PA from my home in Pittsburgh to participate in the 60in60 conference hosted by Brandon Lutz and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit (upcoming post on that event soon) and I decided to take my first voyage using Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.

I’ve used rail service in many countries around the world including some maglev/high-speed rail in Asia, but this was my first long-haul train ride in the U.S.

I was pleasantly surprised.

NPR ran a story a few years ago about massive delays in the North West part of the U.S. due to Amtrak sharing rail lines with oil tankers and shipping trains. The passenger trains seem to take the lowest priority, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

U.S. rail travel is nothing like rail travel in other parts of the world. Today it will take me seven and a half hours to travel what it would take me 5 hours to drive, and if this were a Japanese Shinkansen (bullet train) it would take about 1.5 hours. The rest of the world uses trains to commute, and the train stations have the same bustle as an airport. The U.S. appears to use trains to meander from one location to another.

My co-passengers are the most relaxed travelers I have ever encountered. When I fly, everyone seems stressed, rushed, and nervous. Everyone on the train seems aware that Amtrak is not the most efficient means of transportation, but are completely ok with it. They all seem confident that they will get to their destination eventually, and they are going to spend their time enjoying a book, chatting on the phone, or taking a nap. It’s great to be able to wander around the train rather than being tied to the seat on an airplane.

Even as I sit, waiting for another train to clear a section of single-track which has delayed us by 15 minutes, I’m not too concerned about whether or not I’ll make it back to Pittsburgh tonight. I mean, it’s happy hour on the train, so beer is only $3, and the WiFi connection is strong. What more could I need?

If you need to travel, have some time to kill, and you want to relax on your journey. Give Amtrak a whirl.

It’s Been a While

Hello world.

It’s time for me to start writing again.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ll know that I had a fairly active online voice in the education world up until 2012. With the exception of a few guest blogs and some random tweets from a conference, I’ve been largely silent for the past three years.

Curious about where I’ve been, what I’ve been up to, why I went silent, and what is next? Check back soon for updates.