Tracking Your Productivity using Outlook Categories and Power BI (Desktop)

Tracking Your Productivity using Outlook Categories and Power BI (Desktop)

Basic Category Visualization

  1. Start creating data to gather by creating your Outlook categories and categorizing all of your appointments and meetings over a period of time.
  2. Download Power BI Desktop for free and open it up
  3. Click “Get Data”
  4. Search for “Exchange” and connect to “Microsoft Exchange”
  5. Put in your email address that you want to connect
  6. The first time you do it, you will have a screen to connect via Exchange or Microsoft. I recommend picking Microsoft and clicking “Connect”
  7. You now select the “Calendar” checkbox
  8. Click “Transform Data”
  9. Click “Choose columns -> Choose columns”
  10. Check the “Select all” box to deselect all of the columns
  11. Select the four following columns: Subject, Start, End, Category
  12. On the Category column, click the button with the two outward arrows
  13. Click “Extract values”
  14. Click “Ok” without selecting a delimiter
  15. Go to the Add Column menu
  16. Click “Add Custom Column”
  17. Call the custom column “Duration”
  18. Put the following code in: = [End] – [Start]
  19. Click “Ok”
  20. Right click the header of your new Duration column
  21. Click “Transform” and “Total Minutes”
  22. Click on the down arrow on the Start column
  23. Hover over Date/Time Filters and then go to what you want to select. In my example, Date/Time Filters -> Week -> This Week
  24. Click “Close and Apply”
  25. Add charts as desired
  26. When you’ve created a dashboard you like, save the file
  27. You can click “Add a text box” and put a title on your dashboard
  28. To share with others easily, click “File -> Export -> Export as PDF”
  29. To change your dates, click “Transform Data”
  30. Either clear your Date/Time Filter or click the red X on the right side next to the step where you filtered the rows
  31. To deal with holidays, you can remove specific rows or just right click and exclude data without a category from each visualization

Adding Value Add vs Non Value Add Comparison

  1. Click “New Measure” in Power BI
  2. Type in this formula: Value Add Activities = sum([Column: Duration])
  3. Click “New Measure” again
  4. Type in this formula: Non Value Add Activities = 2400 – ([Value Add Activities])
  5. Create a new visualization and only select the two new measures, Value Add Activities and Non Value Add Activities

NEW: Tracking Longitudinal Growth Over Time

Our client had an additional ask – how do we see in one visual how someone is performing in the categories over a span of time? Here are the steps I walked through to create my end visual:

  1. (Optional) Add a new page at the bottom by clicking the yellow/orange plus sign
  2. Click “Data” on the left
  3. Click “New Table”
  4. Clear the field and paste in this code for DimDate (dates can be changed as needed):
    1. DimDate = ADDCOLUMNS(CALENDAR(“01/01/2022″,”31/12/2022″),”Month – Year”, FORMAT([Date],”mm – yy”),”SortMonth”,FORMAT([Date],”yyyymm”))
  5. Hit the green checkmark to create this new table
  6. Click “Report” on the left
  7. Click “Transform Data”
  8. Click the Start column
  9. Select “Add Column” menu
  10. Click Extract -> Text Before Delimiter
  11. Type in a single space as the delimiter
  12. Click “Ok”
  13. Select the new Text Before Delimiter column
  14. Click Date -> Parse
  15. Remove the date filter on the Start column by clicking the red X next to “Filtered Rows” under “Applied Steps” and then “Delete”
  16. Add a date filter on the Start column of Year -> This Year
  17. To remove holidays, go back to the “Home” menu
  18. Click “Keep Rows -> Keep Range of Rows”
  19. Put in the range of rows with valid meetings
    1. NOTE that during my session, Daryl Rasmussen suggested creating a “Holiday” category and then filtered to exclude that category, so another method to try out!
  20. Click “Close and Apply”
  21. Click “New Measure”
  22. Clear the field and paste in this code for Value Add Activities Last 3 Months:
    1. Value Add last 3 months = CALCULATE(SUM(‘Calendar'[Duration]),FILTER(ALL(‘Calendar'[Parse]),’Calendar'[Parse]<=MAX(DimDate[Date])&&’Calendar'[Parse] >= EDATE(MAX(DimDate[Date]), -3)))
    2. NOTE – this is for the last three months. To make it more or less, change two things in the code – the name of it, and that “-3” at the very end to the count of months you want to calculate for
  23. Create a Slicer visualization and drag to the left of the screen
  24. With that visualization selected, check the boxes under Fields for DimDate (expand it) -> Month-Year
  25. (Optional) Increase the font size by clicking Format under Visualizations (the roller paint brush), Items, and Text Size – adjust accordingly
  26. Created a Stacked Column Chart visualization
  27. With that visualization selected, under the Calendar table, check the boxes for “Parse”, “Value Add Last 3 Months”, and “Categories”
  28. Under the Visualizations section, where it says Axis -> Parse, click the X next to “Year”, “Quarter”, and “Day”
  29. Select your current month in the slicer and start playing from there!

If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to me at @lshelton_tech on Twitter and I will do my best to help!

How To: Display Your M365 Group in Outlook (if you can’t find it)

How To: Display Your M365 Group in Outlook (if you can’t find it)

If you’ve spent much time with the Microsoft 365 eco-system, then you know as well as I do that there are countless ways to create new M365 groups. Everyone has their own preferences, certainly, and there isn’t really a need to pick only one method. What gets created and set-up as a result of creating a group, however, DOES change depending on which method you pick, which leads me to the use case that prompted this blog.

The Problem

A coworker’s client was working on cleaning up their groups, but one was an older, larger group that had content already associated with it. So, they didn’t want to delete that group and start from scratch at the risk of losing that content.

The problem we ran into? In the Outlook Web App, even when searching for that group (henceforth known as Example Group), it wasn’t showing up in the left nav. It showed that we had joined the group, and one of the groups that had been remade was showing up, but not Example Group. We also knew our solution needed to make the Example Group show for all users, not just for ourselves.

The Clue

My coworker and I were furiously searching for solutions to the problem when I came across this comment on the wonderful Microsoft Tech Community (replying to BAT MAN, of all people):

So, we wondered to ourselves, how do you even figure out where a group was created from?

Alas, we never figured out the answer to that particular question, but we decided that this Power Shell command was the solution to try to chase down, working under the assumption that this had been created in Teams.

The Solution

Power Shell can be overwhelming, and while I’m far from an expert, I wanted to walk you through all of the steps we took to get this mailbox to show. We have to start by opening Windows PowerShell as an administrator. We can do this by searching for “PowerShell”, right clicking on the icon, and clicking “Run as administrator”:

It will ask if you are sure you want to allow this app to make changes – click yes and have self-confidence!

There are more detailed instructions located here, but I’ll walk you through the basics. One prerequisite to running this code started throwing error messages in our case was that we hadn’t ensured that PowerShell was configured to run scripts, which is isn’t unless you manually tell it to. The following code makes sure that every script you run has a valid certificate:

Set-ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned

Next, you need to install the Exchange Online (EXO) PowerShell module using this code:

Install-Module -Name ExchangeOnlineManagement

Once you’ve accepted the license agreement by typing “y”, it is time to connect to the EXO module:

Import-Module ExchangeOnlineManagement

Now your next steps will depend on whether or not Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is turned in for your organization. More detailed instructions can be found here, but if you have MFA turned on, you will have to use more detailed syntax to connect to EXO. Examples of this syntax for different types of organizations can be found here.

Connect-ExchangeOnline -UserPrincipalName <UPN> [-ExchangeEnvironmentName <Value>] [-DelegatedOrganization <String>] [-PSSessionOption $ProxyOptions]

I would recommend putting this text in an editor like Notepad so that you can edit in your own information into the code before pasting it into PowerShell.

  • UserPrincipalName is the full email address you are using to connect to the EXO environment, so you’d place that where it says <UPN> in the code.
  • ExchangeEnvironmentName is optional, so you can delete that bracketed section entirely. It would be used if you aren’t in a Microsoft 365 environment.
  • DelegatedOrganization is also optional, so you can delete that bracketed section as well. You would use this if you were a Microsoft Partner managing a customer’s separate tenant, so that URL would go here.
  • PSSessionOption is, again, optional, so you know what to do by now. This would be used if you were behind a proxy server (more info here).

So for most of you with MFA, all you will type in will actually look like, with your own email address inserted instead:

Connect-ExchangeOnline -UserPrincipalName user@contoso.com

If you DON’T use MFA, follow the steps starting here. Run:

$UserCredential = Get-Credential

Here you are creating a variable that will store your username and password. It will prompt you to enter them when you run this, so do that before proceeding. Then, for reference, this is the full code, but see the MFA example for which bracketed parts you actually need to include.

Connect-ExchangeOnline [-Credential $UserCredential] [-ShowBanner:$false] [-ExchangeEnvironmentName ] [-DelegatedOrganization ] [-PSSessionOption $ProxyOptions]

So as long as you are in a regular Microsoft 365 organization, not connecting for a Microsoft partner client, and not running a proxy, all you have to run is:

Connect-ExchangeOnline -Credential $UserCredential

As long as you didn’t get any errors, you are now successfully connected!

Now that we are connected to the correct EXO environment, we are going to use a cmdlet (a piece of code in PowerShell) to make it so our group is no longer hidden from the Exchange Global Address List. Complete details of the cmdlet we are using are here, but I’ll provide the main part you need to know.

Set-UnifedGroup has a parameter called -HiddenFromAddressListsEnabled, and you can either set it to $true or $false. By default, this is set to false (meaning the group is visible), but as mentioned, that isn’t the case when the group is created from Teams. For the record, if this was set to true, the group can get messages, but you can’t search for the group in Outlook or find it using the Discover option. Per Microsoft, “For users that are members of the Microsoft 365 Group, the group will still appear in the navigation pane in Outlook and Outlook on the web if HiddenFromExchangeClientsEnabled property is NOT enabled.” (source)

So what we need to do is change this parameter to $false. To do that, we need to identify which group we are talking about, call the parameter in question, and change that value to $false. This is the code you will need, though I again recommend pasting it in Notepad first so you can add in your own group name inside of the quotation marks:

Set-UnifiedGroup -Identity "Company Group" -HiddenFromExchangeClientsEnabled: $false

If it works and switches the value of that parameter successfully, the command line prompt will just come back up ready for you to enter another piece of code. If this wasn’t your problem and HiddenFromExchangeClientsEnabled was already set to false, you will get a yellow warning that reads something like: “WARNING: The command completed successfully but no settings of ‘MyListTest_e868c169-f00a-49fb-91bb-f067923eaea5’ have been modified.”

Luckily for our client, no errors or warnings appeared. Instead, the missing group appeared in Outlook for the client to use normally, and all it took was a few cmdlets!

On Change, Growth, 2020, and Other Ramblings

On Change, Growth, 2020, and Other Ramblings

It’s commonplace to ask someone, “How’s it going?” or some variation when greeting them, even in our “new normal” (isn’t it just “regular normal” by now?) way of doing it virtually in 2020. More often than not, these days, I sigh heavily and say, “It’s complicated” or “Who knows?”.

I’m not trying to be flippant when I respond that way. That is how I genuinely feel when I think about how it’s going. Life is changing for me every hour, every day. In the past few months, I’ve experienced high highs and low lows. Nothing completely earth-shattering has happened on either end of the spectrum, but it feels almost like someone is taking the slider toggle on that spectrum and is just moving it back and forth frantically.

That’s part of why I haven’t blogged much lately, even though I was trying to get in the habit of it. I’m envious of the people who have been able to get their thoughts out in this time in a cohesive and eloquent way, because nothing has felt quite right for a topic.

I’ve had personal victories in 2020. I made a total career switch, which is something I never thought I’d do and hadn’t even started contemplating until maybe two years ago. I’ve completed projects for clients almost entirely independently, with input, feedback, and help from my fellow consultants. I’ve received great feedback on those projects and made people happy with the hard work I’ve put in. I’ve collaborated with other consultants and other teams on work and have worked on building some great relationships that I really cherish. I started even learning some code with the SharePoint Framework and doing code review with a senior dev, which still makes me feel a little like one of those hackers in a movie if I’m being honest. I earned another Microsoft certification and that led me to getting my Microsoft Certified Trainer application approved and officially becoming an MCT.

There have also been struggles. My family has been affected by COVID repeatedly in scary ways. My extended family, whose huge gatherings have been a foundational part of my life, has struggled with competing outlooks on health and safety, and I have to wonder when and if we can recapture something that has always meant so much to me. I haven’t gotten together with my little immediate family since the pandemic started, as half of us are immunocompromised and at high-risk. As someone who has always loved living alone, not getting those outlets to socialize at will with friends and family has taken a toll. Sure, I don’t have the worry of having to be cooped up with someone and driving each other up the wall, but I also don’t get to just give the people I love a big hug either.

My struggles aren’t unique and I know people have had so much more loss and hardship than I have. My relatives who have gotten COVID are healing, though not as quickly as we’d all like. My family has all kept their livelihoods intact, even though no jobs are without stressors. My cats are healthy and interesting co-workers to say the least.

One of said cat co-workers, doing his best to support my productivity.

I guess I’m writing this to say that my goal to finish out this year is to keep growing while focusing on my blessings. I spent too long thinking I was trapped in my career, and as a result, remained stagnant for too long. I hoped that other people within my organization would continue to help me grow, rather than taking the reigns and doing it myself. I let my fear of change and uncertainty stop me from recognizing that I had more to offer the world. I’m the only one who can really shape my life into what I want it to become. I am the sole income in my household because my cats haven’t become Instagram-famous yet, so I have to be responsible still, but I’ve learned in this crazy, terrible, life-changing year of 2020 that I can be so much more than I let myself believe I was capable of.

2020 will be up there in the list of harder years that I’ve experienced in my life, but I also have made so much change to my life for the better this year. Maybe instead of just throwing 2020 in the trash like we’ve all thought about with varying frequency, we can all find a way to thank it for what it has given us and then hope that healing from the rest of it comes with 2021.

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Actual photo of me contemplating how cool waves are

Burnout is a disease we are all capable of catching. It’s one I battled for years as a teacher, and while I hadn’t yet caught it in my new career, I could feel it lurking much sooner than anticipated. It isn’t that I’m unhappy or unfulfilled because I’m neither of those things – I have new challenges (that I’m capable of meeting) every day and I learn new things constantly.

It’s just that there’s this other thing. You know what the thing is. It’s the world around us. It’s not even just about the whole pandemic. It’s the hatred and the politics and even things as seemingly innocuous as gender (which is a social construct) reveal parties causing untold destruction. Every day 2020 seeks to outdo itself.

So, I went on vacation. Other than my yearly float trip treks, I don’t remember ever being so excited for a vacation. Sure, I was flying during a pandemic into a state that has even less control over their COVID cases than my own, which wasn’t exactly the most relaxing part of the trip. However, that all fell away when I got to my destination and got down to relaxing.

On vacation, my only obligation was deciding what I wanted to drink. On demand, I could be handed my nephew, a beautiful five-month-old who loves to stare, jump in his jumper, and drool more than I thought was possible. I had endless chats with my best friend of over thirty years. I got to dance in the waves (only a few takeout daiquiris were involved).

Sure, we donned masks and only ate at places with outdoor patios and got rained on a few times in the process. Yes, I’ve had to quarantine before and after my trip, putting a damper on own my birthday celebrations that were already pretty dampered by the whole pandemic thing. Yes, I had to learn the hard way to not eat Fritos at the airport when you are going to be in a mask for the next six hours.

I know travel isn’t safe for everyone, as I have immunocompromised relatives and my family has also been affected by COVID. My vacation doesn’t have to look like your vacation. However, I realized that it is SO important to take some sort of break now. We are all undergoing a collective trauma that is both somehow incredibly condensed and yet feels neverending. We need to take care of ourselves and find a way to take a break of some kind. Find a few days to get yourself in that mindset of only worrying about where your next drink is coming from. Find a way to have an adventure, even if that adventure is socially distanced and very responsible.

Now before you go scampering off to plan that break, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you of the most real danger I encountered as a part of my vacation. It’s the vacation comedown. It is real and hard and turned me into a Grumpy Gus for a few days. Also, there’s a pandemic, so of course you must make careful safety considerations for yourself and your family. However, I can now take a mini-vacation every time I look at those pictures of me dancing in the waves, and the reward of time spent with friends was well worth the risk of traveling and having to come back to the real world.

How To Share Your Screen AND See Your Audience in Microsoft Teams

How To Share Your Screen AND See Your Audience in Microsoft Teams

If you are able to have more than one monitor, your life as virtual educator or work from home employee is a lot easier. One of those ways that life is easier is that you can both share your screen to present whatever information is relevant while also seeing your audience. It isn’t immediately clear, however, exactly how to see your audience at the same time, which is what this post will clear up for you.

So, I’m in a Microsoft Teams meeting and I share my screen. As an aside, this works differently whether you are using the web browser version or the desktop application version, so I’ll show you how it works in both.

Web Browser Version

First, you will select “Open share tray” on your command bar. This is the same as in the desktop version, but what shows in your share tray is then different.

From here, you get options like sharing your desktop screen, displaying a PowerPoint that you have recently opened in Teams, browsing your desktop or OneDrive for another document, or using the Microsoft Whiteboard or Freehand tools.

Now, if you select anything from this view other than “Desktop/Window”, it’s going to automatically take up your main screen, making it so that you can’t really see your participants.

If you select “Desktop/Window”, it does stop your camera and you get something similar to the following options, depending on how many monitors you have. I have three, so I have three screen options presented.

Notice up top that you can share “Your Entire Screen”, which is useful if you are switching between applications, but you can also choose to just show the “Application Window” or just a “Chrome Tab” if you want to limit what your audience sees.

Click on the option you want to share, in my case, Screen 2 because it has a PowerPoint on it, and click “Share” at the bottom. Your camera cannot be turned back on while you are sharing, but you can see other participants on your main screen while presenting your material on a secondary screen.

Desktop Application Version

This is the preferred Teams experience because it has more features and functionality currently compared to the web version. It can also be a bit more confusing when trying to view your audience while sharing your screen, so you will see how to adjust that below.

Now, if you have the updated Teams experience selected, your Share Tray button will actually now be in the top right corner of your screen.

When you select it, you will likely see a lot more options, including an option to share every window you have open (I know, I have too many), all of your screens themselves on the left (I’d have to scroll down to see my third screen), along with recently opened PowerPoints and Microsoft Whiteboard again. Notice that in the top left is the important “Include computer sound” button that allows you to play things like YouTube when presenting and have the audience hear what you hear.

Now, if I try to share my PowerPoint right from this screen, I run into the same problem I had before – it takes up my main screen and then I can’t see my audience. So, I’d recommend opening your PowerPoint (or whatever other content you are trying to share) on your second screen and sharing that.

Now when I click into my PowerPoint and say that I want to present from the beginning, my second screen doesn’t change but my main screen does change into this:

Never fear! See that little black box in the bottom right corner of your screen? It might show your audience, or it might look like mine where it says, “Call is in progress. Click here to go back to the call screen.” Well, do what it says and click on it.

If I had an actual audience, you’d see them, but for now, it’s clear that I’m hanging in an empty Teams room.

Ta-da! You can now maximize this window, see your audience, and tell that you are still sharing your screen by the fact that there’s still a red box around your shared screen and the fact that the “Hide share options” is showing, meaning your screen is currently being shared.

This doesn’t just work with PowerPoints – any content that you need to show your audience can be shown on one screen, and all you need to do is maximize the call screen to see your audience, the chat box for questions, the participants list, and to stop sharing your screen.

In Summary

I hope this clears up any questions you have about utilizing multiple screens and monitors. It really has made my life a lot easier, as long as you don’t start clicking on your email on your shared screen, forgetting that it is shared (something I have definitely never ever done…). For more information, questions, or feedback, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @LShelton_Tech or at info@smarter-consulting.com.

A Free Way to Improve Employee Productivity

A Free Way to Improve Employee Productivity

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Businesses (and people in general) love getting things for free. Cut costs? Awesome. Save money? Super. So what if I were to tell you that there is a FREE way to make employees happier, more productive, and more likely to stay at your company?

Spoiler alert – it’s really not rocket science. Also, as a disclaimer, it may not work for everyone.

However, I discovered recently that there is something essential for my workplace happiness. It’s not money or benefits (though those things don’t hurt). It’s positive reinforcement. It’s a quick “atta’ girl!”. It’s someone recognizing that I’m doing a good job, at least on this particular thing, and saying that they recognize that good work out loud.

This may seem like too simple of an answer for some people. And sure, some employers may even think they are already doing this. For example, a previous employer had a committee where the staff’s job was to provide positive recognition for something that employees were doing. It didn’t give me that reinforcement that I needed however.

Here’s what was wrong with it: it was only coworkers doing it, not hearing from my actual boss that they saw what I was doing and appreciated it. It was done on a schedule, with everyone eventually receiving some sort of recognition, so it felt disingenuous if I could be doing barely anything and still get the same reward. It was in batches, and of course the same people who always get public praise got recognized in the first few batches and the rest of us got looped in eventually.

I commend the effort, but it certainly wasn’t motivating me to do more. It didn’t make me feel special or seen.

I didn’t feel that way until I moved to my new career and I got the first rush in quite a while that I was seeking. It was a genuine compliment from my boss. It was hearing, “Wow, you are kicking butt at picking up on x” and “You are a quick learner, you’ll be fine”. It was hearing that I was trusted and valued. It cost my boss nothing to say those things, but it meant the world for my confidence and self-esteem in working in a new industry.

I think most of us need help sometimes with knowing if we can trust ourselves and our own perceptions of ourselves. I know I can be, in the wise words of Ru Paul, my own “inner saboteur”, serving as my own worst critic. However, a free and relatively easy way to block that saboteur was just to get told I was doing a good job.

That doesn’t mean you can’t also provide constructive feedback and critique to your employees. We are still human and not everything is positive all of the time. However, those positive comments are going to resonate with a lot of your employees and remain in the front of their minds a lot longer if they are there to help combat any negative.

Learning how to be that person that can empower others takes work, and I will be the first to admit that I need to be better myself at giving out to my coworkers what I know means so much to me. It also matters what kind of compliment you are giving – telling me I have a lovely smile or a great sense of humor is nice, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t help me feel better about the work that I’m doing, which is what you and your employees are here for.

So, think about what helps motivate you to do better. If you are like me and all you seek is positive reinforcement, do your best to put out into the world what you are looking for in return. Putting some free effort in to lift someone else up can make all the difference in the world to them.

How To: Change Team Names in Teams for Education

How To: Change Team Names in Teams for Education

It’s almost fall and your IT department is swamped making hundreds if not thousands of Teams for teachers and their classes. However, sometimes their naming conventions they’ve utilized might not work best for teachers. We all know that IT doesn’t have the time to go in and fix the name of your Team to suit you best, so I’ve put together a tutorial for how you can make those changes yourself.

So for the basics, I have a Team, “Mrs. Bowen’s Hour 1A”, that my System Administrator has provisioned.  I don’t like that because I prefer to go by Ms. Bowen and “Hour 1A” doesn’t include the name of the class I’m teaching that hour, as I have multiple preps.  So, I want to change it to say “Ms. Bowen – Intro to Tech 1A”.  Now, how do I do that?

Renaming the Team

Renaming the display name of the team is pretty simple.  I’m not the creator of this team, but since I’ve been labeled as a teacher, I have permissions to do this.  Either from the main Teams pane or while in your Team itself, click the three horizontal dots near the name of your team and click “Edit Team”

Or…

From here, I can change the name of the class the way I’d like, along with selecting a Grade level, Subject, and Class Avatar if one hasn’t already been selected.  Then just click the blue Update button at the bottom and you are finished there!

Renaming OneNote/ the Class Notebook – Can You?

If you rename your team BEFORE creating your Class Notebook, it should create the notebook in the new Team name no problem.  However, what if you’ve already created the Class Notebook, like in my screenshot below?
 

The notebook still has the old name attached to it.  Unfortunately, you need to leave it as it is, as Microsoft warns against changing this name:

(Taken from https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/rename-a-notebook-in-onenote-for-the-web-d75e88d2-ef77-43eb-a870-0abe89c1a036)

So, the best tip here is unfortunately to avoid creating the Class Notebook until you are sure you have your class named the way you like it, or just don’t worry about the name.

Renaming SharePoint

You might be wondering, what in the heck is SharePoint?  It isn’t something that you have to use, but it might be worth exploring further to make a class website.  To view your pre-established SharePoint site, click the three horizontal dots in the top righthand corner of Teams and click Open in SharePoint.

You will see that the site that opens defaults to the Document library, which you will notice will automatically contain any files that have been uploaded to your Teams.  There’s a lot more to explore here, but for just the purposes of renaming your site, just click on the gear icon in the top righthand corner.

Click “Site information” and from here, you can update the Site name.  For me, the Site name wasn’t updating, so I put the same title in for Site description since I figured it couldn’t hurt.

FYI, mine didn’t update right away, but once I gave it some time, it updated to reflect my new class name. Also a quick note – the URL of your Home SharePoint site won’t change from the original, but you can at least change the display name.

Good luck and give me a shout if you have any questions.  I’m @LShelton_Tech on Twitter and my email is lshelton@smarter-consulting.com

On Being a Woman in Tech

On Being a Woman in Tech

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I am in a special, rare butterfly situation. At this moment, I only work with other women at Smarter Consulting. It’s me and four other smart, talented women who came from a variety of backgrounds, both in terms of our education and our careers. Some of us didn’t graduate college and some of us hold master’s degrees. Some of us have never worked in a strictly tech field (me).

The interesting thing is that, because we are all women, we tend to fall into gender-stereotypical patterns at times. We want to be deferential to each other, let the other person speak, and not be perceived as too bossy. I know I have a habit of predicating things I say with qualifiers: “Well I know I’m new to the tech world, but…” and “Well, I don’t know much about Microsoft but…”. I would never want to come across as boastful or cocky, especially if it turns out I’m wrong.

My boss, Sharon, has been in the IT business for longer than I’ve been in any kind of career, and she noticed this type of attitude from more than one of us. She pointed out something that hadn’t occurred to me – men don’t typically do those things. Speaking in broad generalizations, men aren’t going to qualify their statements ahead of time. They much less likely to admit that they aren’t certified experts on a topic before speaking about it. Instead of admitting that I’m not an expert, I should just share my thoughts and at least pretend like I have self-confidence, even if it’s something I struggle with.

And you know what? Today was just one of those real, “I am a woman in tech and I can do it all!” sort of days. I helped a partner solve a problem with the power of Google and insisting that she click the thing she was sure that she had previously clicked, and yes, it turned out she hadn’t actually clicked the thing (which happens to the best of us). A coworker messaged me trying to figure out a problem that a client had emailed to Support, and I dug in and between the two of us, we figured out the solution. I was giddy as I opened up my Teams chat to show her that what we were wondering about had worked.

I didn’t know how to do any of the things I did today when I woke up this morning. However, because I’m in a supportive environment and doing work that I like, I had trust placed in me that I could and would figure it out. How many days like that do you get?

Transitioning Careers During a Pandemic

Transitioning Careers During a Pandemic

Photo by Jeffrey Czum on Pexels.com

Growing up, I always knew I was going to become a teacher. Sure, my first choice was famous actress, but my solid backup plan was always elementary education. The only time I questioned my plan was when I entered freshman year of college and realized not only did I not want to teach math and science, but that small children were kind of scary to me. So, after one semester, I changed my major to Secondary English Education and I was back on track for my life plan. This plan didn’t even change when I graduated in 2008 and received certification with my 5-year program in 2009, when the Great Recession hit. Suddenly, all of my classmates were either changing careers or going back and finishing their master’s degrees, but I needed an income. I worked for a year as a substitute teacher and went back to the grocery store I had worked at in high school. The year after, I ended up moving three hours away for my first teaching job. After three years, I got a teaching job in my hometown of Kansas City and — BOOM — I felt I was done veering onto the shoulder of the road and finally on my life path.

Something I hadn’t realized during my first several years of teaching, which were very regimented and guided by my cadre of fellow teachers, was how differently I wanted to do things when left to my own devices. Yes, I was trained in various methodologies and practices in my new district, but there was a lot more freedom in how I wanted my classroom to work. As I was solely teaching writing during this time, I saw a huge benefit in the research I completed in the collaborative powers of the Google Apps for Education suite and how it could benefit my students and me in providing feedback and collecting data in a digital fashion. This awoke a part of me that I had embraced wholeheartedly as a child but only occasionally resurfaced as an adult — my aptitude for technology.

There’s a picture of me on my dad’s lap back in 1988 on our first home PC. I still have my floppy disk Sesame Street games where, as a small child, I’d type in a series of commands to get my games to run. I shared my first internet experience as an elementary schooler with my students as an example of what not to do, saved from scarring myself for life only by the speed of the dial-up connection. In middle school, I made an Archie Comic fan site, because my dad had started branching out from the family business and teaching himself web and graphic design. I loved technology, grew up at a pivotal turning point in the rapid expansion of home technology, and I somehow forgot about this passion as I grew older and became more fixated on my teaching path.

My dad has since passed, but I reflected on his aptitude for learning new technologies and knew that he had passed that onto me as well. So, I dove in. My third year in the district, I asked to pilot a Chromebook monitoring application and provided feedback to the district. I made the commitment to go paperless in my classroom as soon as I heard I was getting my own Chromebook cart. I taught myself about the tools and talked about them so much that I was asked to lead trainings at the building and district level for other teachers. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when administrators asked me at year-end to become trained as a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) teacher, a pre-engineering STEM curriculum.

The only problem with spending the next four years as a technology and PLTW teacher is that I stopped growing. I wrote the curriculum for one class and modified the curriculum for another class, and then that’s all I taught over and over all day, year after year. The opportunities to share my learning with others stopped, and the opportunity for vertical growth wasn’t there.

In the spring semester of my ninth year of teaching, I tried to get out. I got on LinkedIn for the first time and tried to dive in and learn about the “real world” of job searching. Teaching is a very insulated field with a very standard way of doing things; suddenly, I felt like I was fresh out of school applying for a job for the first time. It didn’t help that I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I applied for whatever internal training positions and technical writing positions I could, figuring those were the best ways to leverage my education background into another field. That led me nowhere. The people in my life also constantly reminded me that I had a guaranteed 12-month paycheck, benefits, and tenure — all important things as a single person. I reluctantly prepared for another year of teaching, as we are locked into year-long contracts, and another 10 months of teaching when I was already burned out, felt bleak.

I met Sharon Weaver that summer, staring down my 10th year of teaching. I’ve already told the story in my #HowIMetMyCEO blog, but it was almost like fate, meeting her at my cousin’s wife’s best friend’s adoption party. Now, for someone who was craving change, I was still very scared of it, and this was a woman who thrived on change. We immediately got along, and after I reluctantly told her about what I did (because I dreaded continuing to do it), she set up a lunch meeting with me. At that meeting, she introduced me to tech consulting. This was a field I’d never heard of, but Sharon’s passion and growing belief in me really compelled me. It would be a field filled with constant new challenges, where my natural aptitude with technology would be necessary, and where my experience with teaching would be an asset rather than a deterrent.

I freelanced for Sharon the rest of the summer and on and off during the school year. She told me early on that if she could afford me, she wanted me as a full-time employee when I was done with the year, but that she’d also help me find a position if not. I had hopes for getting out at the end of the year, but hopes is all they were.

Then, two interesting things happened in March — Sharon confirmed with an offer letter that she was serious about wanting to hire me, and my fears about what it would be like to work from home became a non-issue when a global pandemic struck. I quickly realized that I could be productive from home because I had no choice — the schools closed and we had to pivot to online learning. My fears of change were a non-issue because, suddenly, even the way I had taught for the last 10 years looked very different without me having any choice in the matter. The next school year was and is as uncertain as anything else was, so why not choose now to change my whole life?

Four weeks into my official career change, I have absolutely no regrets. The hoarseness I’d been experiencing on and off for years is gone. I’m sleeping better at night. I have the energy to go on social distance walks with friends. I even re-committed to losing the weight I’d put on in the years I’d been back in Kansas City. I receive positive affirmations at work, and especially working with a group of women, the few times I’ve gotten stressed and worried, they sensed that and helped soothe my nerves. Sure, the future is uncertain, but the future for most people in most fields is at least somewhat uncertain. What isn’t uncertain is that deviating from my path has prompted me to value my own worth and be willing to make more changes in the future. I’m sure that some people have found and followed a linear path in life and that it has worked out well for them, but I’m learning more and more that I might not be one of those people and that’s even better than I had realized.

Greetings, Earthlings

Greetings, Earthlings

While secondary school-me could definitely imagine this, previous adult-me wouldn’t have guessed that I’d be taking up blogging again in my mid-30s. However, I’ve gone through a lot of transitions in my life lately, and since they’ve been good ones instead of traumatic ones, it occurred to me that other people might be interested in my journey as well.

Or maybe no one will be interested, but at least I will have a record of this time for myself because I am going through so much change.

Change is something that I’ve been focused on a lot lately, as it’s something I’ve avoided in the past. I’m historically anti-change, and I’ve had many discussions with everyone in my life (therapy sessions included) about exactly why I don’t need or want to change. I stand behind that today, in fact, simply because I always felt like there was a push to change who I was as a person.

In fact, the first real fundamental change that put me on the path that I’m still on today was changing not WHO I was, but HOW I looked at myself. Did I not want to change because I didn’t think it was possible, or because I really thought I was fine just the way I was? The answer had been the former, and I can now say it’s the latter.

So, if you follow me, expect to see musings on change, especially in my professional life. I recently changed career fields completely after a decade, and really my previous work had been my focus for the last fifteen years. Expect to sometimes see two spaces after a period instead of one, because that’s a change I’m trying to make but my muscle instincts keep fighting. Expect to see posts that are longer than they probably need to be, because I have a lot of thoughts and I struggle with editing myself down. And expect that I will reference my cats somewhat regularly, because I own a tank top that says “Cat Mom” and I’m not ashamed of that.