share your story

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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#IMMOOC: Open Sharing

Chapter 11 happened to focus on one of my favorite topics: sharing as an educator. I am always trying to get educators to see the power of online sharing and finding new ideas. I’ve already had the idea to try and get more educators using Twitter to seek ideas, even if they aren’t comfortable sharing their own work yet. I want them to see that the possibility of find new ideas is out there, and easily accessible.

When I first began teaching in 2009, I had no idea of the world out there that awaited me as an educator in terms of connections online. I was tech-savvy, but I didn’t know about the way that connections could have helped me as a first year teacher. It wasn’t something that was prominent back then, and it certainly wasn’t part of my course of study as an undergrad.

I joined Twitter in 2012. I can’t remember exactly why I did. I knew that I used that year to share my class’s stories on Twitter. I didn’t really interact with anyone else. It was a place where I could showcase student learning to parents. It’s been nearly 5 years since that time…and I didn’t start really using Twitter until after I became part of the TIS program. Now I couldn’t see myself doing without it.

Twitter only got better with Tweetdeck. My lists were so easy to read! What was this? I could follow hashtags and have lists of those! I made new connections and met those people at conferences and trainings. I found ideas and articles that changed my way of thinking and gave me new ideas.

If I had had all of this back when I first started teaching, I am sure I would have been an even better teacher. I wouldn’t have felt so isolated in my district. I would have been able to see out others to collaborate and connect with much earlier to reach beyond the sphere of influence in my small town world.

Today’s educators have access to all of this from the start, and yet they choose to ignore the benefits that they could find by connecting in the online world. It is a choice today to choose to stay disconnected. While that is up to each educator, they are making a clear choice to stay in a bubbled world. They are depriving themselves and their students of the ideas, connections, and collaboration that could be found online, if not through Twitter, then through some other means.

In the same sense, educators choose not to share their stories. They feel that they have nothing to share or contribute, or their work is not great. In this age of viral videos and news, it’s hard to feel like a simple lesson would wow the rest of the education world. And it won’t. Not everything that is shared will be the next best thing. However, each little story and idea contributes to a digital portfolio of the educator. Over time, over many years a story of growth and change emerges. We don’t have to say that we have spent time learning and trying many new ideas because our online footprint easily showcases that.

Want to show students the power of a digital portfolio? Show them yours. Model how you have created your portfolio, and let it be the springboard for theirs. Explain how it has provided you opportunities and experiences that weren’t possible before. Technically, I have two- my Twitter feed and this blog. If you go between both, you’ll get a pretty good idea of who I am as an educator, much more than if you had read only my evaluation from this year.

My growth and change is ongoing and always a progress. Yours is too. You share and I’ll share, and together, we only made the online world of educator a better place.

Dear Educator…

Dear Educator,

Today is the first day of a brand new year. As some like to say, Chapter 1 of 12, page 1 of 365. It is a day for goal setting and making changes. How will you grow and change this year? Nothing stays the same forever, and that includes you, dear educator. Education is ever growing, ever changing, ever shedding its skin. As models for the generations to come, we too must change and grow and shed our skins.

Who will tell your story this year, dear educator? Who will document your highs and lows, your reflections on lessons gone good and bad? Are you in charge of your story? Have you already set the wheels in motion in years past? Are you the captain of your own tale? Or have you ignored your own journey, content to let anyone take charge as they please? Sure, good things may be shared, but don’t forget that just might include the bad things too, the things you’d rather not show to others for they show you are weak. And while we can often admit our own weaknesses, it is hard to watch others not only display them for the world, but tear into them like a shark to prey.

It is so easy to find the negatives and write all the sordid, delicious details on an incident. Will you have documentation of your positives and good that will help to outshine that one moment of bad? Will there be moments of good to be found in your story? Or will you, the captain, sink with your forgotten tale?

We all have bad days. We have bad lessons and we have bad moments that we wish never happened. In fact, we wonder how they could have happened in the first place. An educator who has documented their story can provide many good moments to show that things aren’t all so bad. An educator who hasn’t documented their story cannot do the same.

Are you ready to be the captain of your tale? Are you ready to guide your story and share it with the world? There’s no time like today, the very beginning of a brand new year to get started. It’s a task that may seem daunting, even impossible, at first. Once you get started though, it becomes much easier, especially if you have other colleagues who are also sharing their own stories.

Need help getting started? Just ask me, and I’ll get you started on the right foot!

Sincerely,

Rachel, aka tisinaction