Author Archives: Andy Baker

Five Things To Know About Online Meeting Etiquette


As we are now a few weeks into social distancing and sheltering in place, you’ve probably had a meeting or two online. While most of us have had the occasional online meeting with colleagues, family or friends before this, they have become the norm, and they will be the norm for at least another month or so, possibly even more depending on how things go.

It occurred to me this week that there are probably some guidelines that should be followed as we venture into this brave new world of online meetings. Most of these may seem logical, but they are all in response to things I’ve experienced online in the past couple of weeks.

1. Show Up on Time

None of us has the excuse of traffic or public transportation problems at the moment, but things can still happen that delay us. Also, learning how to use the tools that facilitate online meetings take some time, but your aim should be to show up and be ready to start on time, just as you would with an in-person meeting. A good rule of thumb is what I learned from my high school band director: if you’re not ten minutes early, you’re late. Thank you, Mr. Winslow.

2. Frame Yourself

While you may FaceTime with your sister while laying on the couch with your iPad propped precariously on a pillow, a business meeting, meetings with colleagues or meetings with semi-professional friends (a club you may belong to) calls for something different. Position yourself so that your head and shoulders are framed. Have a bit of space between the top of the screen and the top of your hair. As much as possible, look into the camera while you are speaking. This takes some practice, but it’s worth the effort.

3. Adjust Your Background

Most of us are using our home as our office at the moment. While not everyone has an actual home office, do your best to create as professional an environment as possible. This means a blank or non-descript wall behind you. A bit of art is not a bad thing, but no one wants to see dirty laundry or people walking in the background. Some people have taken to using digital backgrounds that makes it look like they have a skyline or a beach behind them. Those are great. The point is that the other people at the meeting are not distracted by what’s going on behind you.

4. Don’t Multitask

You might ask yourself if you would be doing what you’re doing if you were at an in-person meeting. Would you be shuffling through papers or putting away the dishes? Probably not. If you can manage to do something to keep your hands busy (knit, for example) that can be done out of the range of the camera, that’s fine if it’s not distracting you from the task at hand: your meeting. Certainly don’t eat. No one wants to watch you eat. Drinking is fine, but be aware that people can see what you’re drinking.

5. Dress for Success

We are all at home. This generally means more casual clothing and grooming that may not be up to the standards that we would expect with an in-person meeting (shaving may be less frequent, makeup may be a bit less). However, some effort is appreciated. You are still at a professional or semi-professional meeting. You’re still representing yourself and making impressions on people that will last. Put some effort into your look.

It is very likely that online meetings will become more comfortable for all of us as we continue to practice the new skill that is, for many of us, participating in online meetings. This means that even after we are allowed to return to having normal, in-person meetings, we may opt to have online meetings. Think of it in those terms.

Many people are learning the skills necessary to participate in online meetings only because they have to. Up to this point, they have opted out, preferring to meet in person or not at all. However, it is very likely that online meetings will become a more routine part of our lives as we become more comfortable practicing the new skills that make up online meetings. This means that even after we are allowed to return to having normal, in-person meetings, we may opt to have online meetings. Think of it in those terms and embrace the learning opportunity we have been given.

5 Unexpected Lessons from Quitting My Job

Last Spring, I talked to a Career Coach at school. I was feeling a bit down about my job. It felt very dead end and when I looked around at my colleagues, I thought, “I don’t want to become that.” To me, that’s a problem. I want to look around at people who are a few years further than me in any career path and think, “I want to be like that.” Even at 52.

Long story short, at some point, my Career Coach said to me, “I don’t think you’re going to be here next year. I think you’re going to quit.” She was taking what I was saying and turning it around on me. In truth, I was giving every indication that all I wanted to do was get the heck out of Dodge.

In fact, I knew I wanted to leave. I just didn’t know what I would do in the immediate future. We set a date, and on that date I walked into my manager’s office and quit. It felt very good.

My husband didn’t love the idea, but he wasn’t going to stop me. His only question was “What are you going to do next?” I said I’d figure it out. And a month later, I had an answer. I got a part time job freelancing and using my teaching skills teaching Chinese kids online, and I am also currently teaching two classes in another department at the same school. Quitting was really one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.

Here are five unexpected lessons I got from quitting my job:

  1. People are often surprised when I quit a job. I had a permanent contract. I was a part of the furniture. I had colleagues I liked working with. Students liked me. I was pretty miserable, and to certain people I would say, “I can’t do another year of this,” but most people were oblivious to my misery because I was in the enviable position of having that golden ticket, the permanent contract.
  2. Something always shows up. As I told my husband, I’m not the type of guy to just sit around and read novels on the balcony all day. I am fairly industrious. I kept looking for something I could do that was either local or online and would require only my current skillset, i.e. I was not about to learn technical proofreading.
  3. It felt really good to get out of a work environment that didn’t ‘feed’ me. This is not to disparage my former colleagues. It’s just to say that the whole situation had run its course. I’ve done this with other jobs. It’s like breaking up with someone when the relationship has run its course. It feels good to not be there any more. I wish them well. I’m just happy to be on a new path. And because of me someone else got a job. Everybody wins!
  4. There is support. Since leaving my job, I have reached out to a number of people. Not everyone has responded with help, but a good number of people have mentioned helpful resources, offered to help, offered contacts, etc. There was a part of my monkey brain that thought I’d be out there on my own. I’m not. People are generally good and are happy to help me with my endeavor to make the next step.
  5. People envy the ability to walk away. Any number of people have told me that they wish they could just quit. Yes, I’m in the enviable position in that my husband is the main breadwinner, but even if that were not the case, being willing to walk away from something certain is difficult. The regular income is gone. The resources that the job provided are gone. But the social network is also gone, and that’s something difficult to give up.

Quitting a job is difficult, but I really think it’s like any relationship, friendship or situation. If it’s not satisfying and if I really believe there’s something else (better) out there for me, I should take the chance. Every day I think about how happy I am that I did it.

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End of Year Survey

The end of a school year always feels to me a bit like the end of a long journey. Everyone’s a bit weary, but there’s still quite a bit of work to be done. There are certain fellow travelers who I’m  looking forward to being away from.

I find that this is the perfect time to get a bit of feedback about the year. There are two great reasons for this:

  1. It breaks up the relative monotony of a regular class period.
  2. Students have experienced enough school to have reasonably well-formed opinions about the year that has just happened as well as ideas about what could have been.

The basic questions I use are the following:

  1. What did you like about what we did in the lessons this year?
  2. What did you not like about what we did in the lessons this year?
  3. What would you like more of or what do you think could be added to this class (or program) to help prepare you for your future?

Keeping the questions open and simple gives them room to expand on the parts they feel inspired to expand on. Limiting the number of questions makes the task feel less daunting. (I am, after all, still asking them to think and write.)

There are basically two ways to do the survey:

  1. Online – using one of several tools, many of which are free
  2. Small groups


Survey Monkey is a well-designed, easy to use website. The free version is somewhat limited, but if you can live with not downloading your results and limiting the number of respondents (currently 100), it’s great.

Typeform is a beautiful website that has a free version, the CORE plan, that offers unlimited questions, unlimited answers, and you can export your data when you’re done.

Google Forms is pretty amazing. It’s got tons of options, unlimited questions and answers, and you can add collaborators and work on it with other people. If the other two are standard, well-designed automobiles, this is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

Small groups

My preferred method of getting feedback is small groups. The downside is that the information isn’t neatly gathered in one spot. However, the upside is that students are encouraged to interact and come up with a list. I believe that while discussing the questions, new ideas are sparked. I also ask them to present their findings at the end, which gives them an opportunity to present in front of the group.

  1. Present the questions to the students. Tell them why you want to know what they’re thinking: Their opinions matter. Also, you are always trying to improve the lessons and the program.
  2. Ask them to discuss the questions and come up with a list of five to seven answers in each category.
  3. Have one or two students present their findings.

Having the write their lists down neatly is probably a good idea. It will prevent you from having to take notes, and you can interact and ask follow up questions.

Letting your students know in concrete ways that you want their feedback and that you value their opinions. Give them a clear message that you care what they think and that you are doing your best to give them what they need. It my experience, this helps end the year on a hopeful note.

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