relationships

Telling the BETTER EduStory: Evaluations vs. Digital Portfolios

(Before I get too far into this blog post, I want to make it very clear right away that this post is not advocating for doing away with evaluations of any type, student or teacher. It is, however, advocating for them, but with a heavy emphasis on a digital portfolio.)

Raise your hand if you received an evaluation this year? Raise your hand if you had multiples? What about multiple evaluations that culminated in an end of year overall evaluation.

What can you tell me about you as an educator based on your evaluation? Sure you can tell me you scored 2s or 4s in an area. You might say “I got a 3 on professional development. It means I’m proficient.” Someone else might look at their evaluation and say “Well my evaluator told me I had got a 2 in the area of instructional goals because I made an inconsistent effort to include the standards in my lesson plans.”

Does the above describe you? I mean, really describe you as an educator. Does it provide explicit details about your activities, your thoughts, and your learning throughout the year? Does it showcase the work with students and how you personalized learning? Would the above even mean the same thing to an evaluator in another district?

Chances are, you said no to the above questions, just as you’d say no to the end of year state exams describing any of your students. Evaluations are merely pinpricks of time, dots on the school year. They give tiny snapshots and glimpses of work, but they never tell a full and detailed story. They don’t showcase the learning and growth that has truly happened, unless you want to play by numbers alone. That would be foolish.

Some of you have been reading for awhile. You’ve seen my work here and on my Twitter feed, @tisinaction. I have been sharing actively for a few years now. This year I was in a district where I was actually given an evaluation for my position. It was the only one I received all year that would go into my file. There actually wasn’t a suitable evaluation form for an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, so the form for Instructional Support Personnel was used instead. Let me show you my evaluation:

Yes, I shared my evaluation with you. Do you know much about what I did this school year? Does it talk about my explorations and learning as I researched professional development? Does it talk about my travels to different trainings, conferences, and workshops? Does it talk about my connected educator status and how I use Twitter and my blog to showcase my learning and work? It does not. There is so much that this evaluation does not show. Based on this alone, you’d have no idea if I was any good or not at my job unless you went by these arbitrary numbers. You would have no idea of the things I could bring to your district, or even if I was the right fit. You’re only getting a tiny, microscopic summary of my educational work!

If anyone really wanted to see my growth and learning, I’d invite them to this blog and my Twitter feed. My blog posts are also shared on my Facebook feed, and always made public to the world. I want you to see them. If you’re an administrator and you stumble on my page, that’s the first thing I want you to see. I want you to see how I came to develop FlucoTECH. I want you to see how I taught Minecraft to rising 1st and 2nd graders. I want you to see the things I saw and learned at VSTE, Copenhaver Institute, and 2 different edcamps this year. You want to see my work leading new initiatives? Check out my work on school branding! Oh what about my commitment to continually learning? Look at the book reflections I’ve written and the Twitter edchats I’ve participated in. The list goes on and on…

The point is, my real story is not going to be found in my evaluation, but in how I have shared online with my colleagues and the educational community at large. If you really want to take a look at my growth and learning, this work is where you’ll find your answers, not in an arbitrary 3 on a piece of paper.

This is why teachers should create a digital portfolio. How they choose to share their work is up to them, but they should be sharing. Share your successes, your fails, your learning. Create a video, write a blog, take a picture and caption it. Just start sharing. You may never be famous or have many people view it, but it is there to document your educator journey, and that cannot be replicated by anyone else.

When teachers realize the importance of the digital portfolio for telling their stories, then they can have students do the same. The portfolio should be ongoing, never ending. Students should be able to contribute to this portfolio often, not only a few times a year. They should share their school items and have a chance to showcase some of their passions and interests. They should have times where they can choose how to share their stories. What would make more sense to parents? A piece of paper with a list of words read aloud during an oral reading session, or three separate videos that showcase the oral readings instead?

When it comes time for conferences, students can choose their best works from their digital portfolios to have showcased. They can use a website such as Storify, or even create a post in their blog that links to their best works. There are many ways.

If one were to go even further, a teacher could easily use the digital porfolios to learn more about students that might be in his or her classroom in the fall. The portfolio gives a better overall picture of the student, instead of just the test scores that get passed on. Teachers would be able to begin figuring out ways to connect with the incoming students before they even arrive!

If you’ve never tried a digital portfolio, now is the time to get started. There’s no reason not to have one in this day and age of being connected. Learn to use it for yourself, model for students, and then have students utilize. It will change the way you look at being evaluated!

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Positive Post Friday: 10/28/16

It’s Friday and that means it’s time for another Positive Post Friday!

Fridays mark the end of the work week. Fridays mark the start of the weekend. Fridays should end the week on a positive note. Therefore, I’m going to share 5 positive things that happened this week:

  1. This is not educational and happened last weekend. I got to go back to my hometown and visit with my family and my 3 favorite kiddos. I made sure it was kept secret from the kids, and it was well worth it!
  2. I have successfully split my game designer club into two groups, which will allow me to give each student more feedback and spend more time 1:1 with them.
  3. I have been working with the economics/marketing teacher again this week, and the students have had some fantastic thoughts about potential solutions to the problem that has been presented to them about student voices in social media. I can’t wait to see what they create.
  4. I made quite a few connections at the last game designers meeting. So many of my kids like Pokemon or Minecraft, so I can easily bring that up from time to time as we build relationships.
  5. I was able to complete another PD Google Classroom course, this time on using Skype in the Classroom.

Your turn: Share your Positive Post Friday.

Until next Friday! Have a great weekend!

#IMMOOC- Relationships: Connected Yet Disconnected

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“It is easy to lock yourself in an office, connect with people on Twitter, and appear from your room with some great idea or new thing.”

– pg 90 of The Innovator’s Mindset

As I worked on completing my reading for this week, this particular sentence jumped out at me. No, I’ve not finished my reading just yet, but I suddenly had a realization that this is me right now. As the realization dawned on me, I became very disappointed with myself. I had been doing something akin to this so far this year, and just hadn’t realized it yet. This is not the me I want to be, nor is it the me I should be. Thinking about it, it seems so obvious now. Why did I not see it before?

We sometimes find ourselves settled into our routines and not realizing the impact on others. In fact, one of my goals this year is to build relationships with the teachers around me. I do this in some ways- I attend the same meetings, I give professional development… but it’s not enough. Those are not good ways to build relationships of trust with staff members at either of my schools. I am failing my staff by not taking the time to get to know them or learn about what goes on in their classrooms. How can I help them as the technology specialist if I don’t know their specific needs?

Sure, I love being on Twitter and researching to find new ideas, but I’m not learning how to connect those ideas to the teachers that I serve. As a technology leader, why should they try my new ideas if they don’t trust me or know me all that well?

I can think back to my days in the classroom as a teacher. I remember our technology specialists well. The school I worked at was a smaller school, and usually not often visited by the technology person. I would often go weeks without seeing them. When they did appear, it was to pop in and see if I had any issues. If I didn’t, off they went. I know part of the problem is that in that particular district, the technology specialist was expected to fix things and integrate technology. Though the job description was only about integrating technology, fixing things was thrown in, and often all teachers ever expected.

Would I have interacted differently with these technology specialists had I had a relationship and a sense of trust developed with them? Probably so, but I can’t really say. What ifs are tricky things to contemplate, after all. When I took on the role of technology specialist myself, I worked to develop relationships with staff. I would talk to them about things not related to my job, and it worked in my favor.

It hasn’t taken me long to forget all of that within my move. I’m in a bigger school district, but that doesn’t mean I should be slacking on this. I need to make a change. I see the problem now, and I want to work on correcting it. I may be that person mentioned in the quote above, but I don’t want to be that person. I have failed myself and my teachers so far, but I am going to change that. It’s time to fix it.

If I’m going to fix things, I need a plan. It’s very easy to spend time during my day wandering around to teachers’ classrooms during their planning. The middle school is easier because each grade level has a separate planning period. The high school will be harder, but I will make it work. I know each teachers’ planning period, just not their rooms. Once I get ahold of that information, I’ll be golden. Starting next week, I plan to visit teachers on planning throughout the day. I will drop in and see how their year is going, and begin to get to know them better. I won’t spend too much time, just about 5 minutes and head on my way. I’ll begin to build those levels of trust with my staff and hope that I can bring about some changes in how I do things.

I may have failed, but that’s okay. I can’t always be successful. I can take my failure and turn it around. I’m going to turn this around, and I’m going to be a different person.

#IMMOOC: Stagnate Education

Education is all about the students we serve, which means serving the students in ways that are best suited to their needs and passions. Every school year should not be run exactly the same way. Each class is unique and different. What works for one class doesn’t necessarily work for another class, nor should it.

When I was a classroom teacher, I worked at a very small school. There was only 1 class per grade level. Because of this, I knew my kids well before they hit the 4th grade. The 3rd grade room was next to mine, with a vent in the wall between them. I always tended to hear what was going on in the other room. I got to know my future students all year and their dynamics as a class. I would observe what worked and didn’t work with them, and try to come up with some ideas that would suit them in my room. This wasn’t my only bit of information on my upcoming classes, but it was a part of it.

There are some educators today that are focused on the days of education gone by. They may have taught for many years or they may be in the beginning of their career and remember how they were taught. This school of thought reflects in their classroom teaching style. They teach using a style that was comfortable and good for students of the past. They have newer equipment and technology tools, but they use these tools in the same manner as their predecessors might have. It is not innovative, or better. It is stagnated education, and it fails our students.

In Chapter 2 of The Innovator’s Mindset, there are some critical questions for educators. These are important to reflect on if stagnated education is to come to an end. The questions were as follows:

  1. Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
  2. What is best for this student?
  3. What is this student’s passion?
  4. What are some ways we can create a true learning community?
  5. How did this work for our students?

Each of these questions are important, but perhaps one of the most important questions is Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom? Chances are if you wouldn’t want to be there, then neither do your students. Instead of fostering a love of the subject and learning material, your class may end up being the one that turns them off, or that they just do the work in order to get through, hoping the next teacher will do better.

Sometimes we focus on what is easiest to do instead of what is best for the students. Worksheets, textbook readings, and definitions are all easy to prepare for, but are they best for today’s student? Is locking down the use of devices in the classroom the best method? The high school where I am has a BYOD policy, yet so many teachers balk at this and refuse to allow any BYOD in their classrooms. A sign is posted on the door. We fear the change, fear the management, and fear how students might use these devices. So we stagnate instead.

One thing missing from many classrooms is feedback- consistent, regular feedback. We grew up in an era where the teacher was the authority figure, and what they say went, even if it wasn’t something we liked or that worked for us. We just had to do it, and that was that. We never had a chance to say how something worked for us, or how the teacher could help us improve. By talking with our students throughout the year, we can develop ways to impact our classroom for those students, instead of waiting until the end of the year or semester when we don’t teach them anymore and they move on to the next class.

An innovative educator should work toward creating education for today’s students that isn’t stagnate and works in the best ways possible for the student, not the teacher. If we are working to help students, then we must take the focus off of ourselves and place it on the students. They are the reason we are educators after all.

ITRT Goals

Since I’m in a new state and district this year, I wanted to set some goals for myself and see if I can achieve them this year. I’m an ITRT this year, aka an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher. It’s really the same job as when I was a TIS (Technology Integration Specialist), just a different title. We were asked to create goals in new teacher orientation in July, and I later sat down and made my list a little longer. In the end, I ended up with 6 different goals.

  1. Increase the use of the project library at FCHS- The project library is a wonderful room that many schools do not have. This room is a collaborative space and is set up with three different sections. The front section is a round sort of couch with a table, where connectors are placed to plug in. Users at this table can immediately have their table connect to the Promethean board in the room. Behind this section is a high cafe table with stools where students can sit and view the front or work on their own stuff. In the back of the room are two more sections, each with a table and large screen TV. The setup is the same as the front. 

    It was asked that I train teachers on using this room, and work to provide them with support and ideas for how to best utilize it as well. I know it will easily work for ELA teachers, and I need to find ways to get others to use the room. I am going to work on talking with teachers every now and then to see if I can spark any ideas.

  2. Get more educators “connected”- This goal is one I always have in the back of my mind. I want to show more educators what the power of Twitter and blogging can do for their teaching. I think it will be easier to get them to use Twitter than to blog, but that’s okay. Twitter can be a very powerful tool for connections and ideas, and I have plenty I can share with staff. My district already wants to utilize social media more, and the superintendent is aware of what I can do, and has asked me to speak with the other administrators and technology team.
    I have already begun developing a self-guided course for staff development. I plan to send out an email to see if I can find any interested educators, and then work one on one with them during school hours to help them learn to utilize Twitter. I have a feeling that the self-guided course will be beneficial as a reference guide when I cannot be there to add support. It’s only a beginner course, but I am hoping to be able to develop a more advanced user course in the future.
  3. Increase staff use of technology in classrooms at FMS/FCHS- This is a goal for me in my position no matter where I am. I do know that staff utilize the technology more in this district than my old one overall, and they have so far been more willing to ask for resources/help on different tools and resources.
    I am working to develop staff development that will assist me in this, and if I can get all of my training materials into Google Classrooms, then I will have self-guided classes as well, which will also double as references for staff. I plan to make sure staff know I can co-plan, co-teach, and co-reflect with them so that they have the support necessary. I feel this goal might take me a little bit to get started as I am still working to settle into the routine and getting to know my staff.
  4. Use Google Classroom to create online staff development resources- I have already mentioned parts of this goal above, but I need to go into more detail. I come from a Microsoft state, and am now in a Google district. The switch has been interesting and not as bad as I thought it might be. I’ve been introduced to Google Classroom, and though it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that I’d like for it to have, it’s a decent tool to use with both staff and students.
    When I began learning to use Google Classroom, I started working on setting up my own coursework. Since I don’t have my own class of students, I made my classroom meant for teachers, and focused my design on professional development. I started with Twitter, but soon switched to Kahoot, since teachers wanted PD on interactive tools for the classroom. I successfully finished the Kahoot one, and was so pleased with it that I am working to develop other classrooms for tools as well.
  5. Build relationships with ALL staff- As a new staff member in a brand new district, it is absolutely vital to work on this goal. I need to build good relationships with staff so that they will be able to trust me as their ITRT. I have found that this has worked well for me in the past, but that it can take some time. The first school year is often rougher because I am still developing relationships. I found in my last district that the second year was easier once I had established relationships in place. Once I have a good relationship with a staff member in place, then it becomes easier for me to be able to make technology suggestions to teachers. They are usually more willing to listen and consider what I have to say because there is a level of trust there. I know it is going to be hard to make sure I have a good relationship with all staff, but I’m really going to try my best with this one.
  6. Work on Google certification- This goal is a must for me now that I am in a Google district. I have always wanted to do it before, but have never had enough time, and since I wasn’t in a Google district, it wasn’t too high on my priority list. Now that I am, I want to make sure I know all there is to know. My teachers expect me to know a good bit, and thankfully I am a fast learner when it comes to technology.

    There are two levels of regular certification, and I intend to take both before the year is out. I am planning on having the first level finished by Christmas, and the second before the school year is over. Each level has coursework that can be taken, and then an exam to sit for online. The exams cost, but thankfully they aren’t expensive.

Six goals seems plenty to me for the 2016-2017 school year. I am hoping that I remember I set goals by the time the end of the year rolls around. Then I’ll come back and address which I met, and which I feel I failed to meet. Wish me luck!