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!

Positive Post Friday: 10/21/16

It’s Friday and that means it’s time for another Positive Post Friday! I didn’t post one last week because things got hectic at work, as it seems to be usual for a 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. I got to watch a student present his Genius Hour project that he had created. I had assisted him with learning the basics of game design, and he used that to design his own game and wrote up a game pitch template.
  2. Tuesday I was excited to attend a training to learn about Promethean boards and Classflow. It was a daylong training and I feel ready to help assist others in incorporating the technology into their classrooms.
  3. This week I was able to hold second sessions for a few of my Connected Educators crew. They are really starting to get the hang of things and enjoying learning about utilizing Twitter and blogs.
  4. Today I worked with the economics and marketing teacher at the high school to begin implementing our social media project. The superintendent has asked that the class find a way to solve the issue of the lack of student voices in our social media accounts. The students got started today and they did really well. They are currently working to research brands/companies and how they use social media to market themselves.
  5. This one isn’t school related, but on Sunday, my fiance and I had our save the date photos taken. We got some wonderful shots, and can’t wait to see how they turn out in the end. She and I had a few prop signs we’d brought with us as well.

Your turn: Share your Positive Post Friday.

Until next Friday! Have a great weekend!


Staying Passionate in Stormy Seas

It’s April, which means one of two things is potentially happening to teachers- one group is looking forward to planning for next year, and preparing for a new round of students, while another group is feeling downtrodden and uncertain about themselves and their teaching. It’s now the time of year where very few breaks exist until the last day of school. For West Virginia, teachers have a break in May for the election, as well as Memorial
Day. No more big holiday breaks, no more chances of a snow day. Okay, I take that last one back, as some West Virginia counties did receive snow at the beginning of April.

I spoke to a colleague a couple of weeks ago. She was very downtrodden and pessimistic about the path teaching had taken. Many times, she has questioned if she should just retire instead of dealing with these feelings of inadequacy. She wondered if the students would be better off with a younger teacher who was more capable. She’s also seeing some of her closest colleagues leaving at the end of this school year, and that doesn’t sit well. Who can blame her? Some have no choice in the matter, and others have chosen to seek
better options.

She asked my opinion on the possibility of her retiring and what she should do to bring back that zest. I told her that for me, my passion comes from connecting with other educators. Every week I’m involved in at least one edchat on Twitter and am engaging with other educators like myself. I also find my passion comes out within my blog posts and documenting my growth. I actively seek ways to better myself and motivate myself. My passion really comes alive when I attend conferences and professional development of my choosing. I seek out the sessions I want and take notes on what I learn. I share out what I learn with others. Finally, every now and then I pick up an educational book on a topic of my choosing. This has been lacking over the past year, but I’m slowly doing better.

Another way to put it is this: As educators, we are told to do many things, no questions asked. Complete these requirements for one’s classroom. Attend these meetings each week. Make sure to attend this district staff development or that required school staff development. Don’t forget to connect with the families and the surrounding community. We have responsibilities that cannot be shirked. Some of these we like less than others, but we do them because it’s all part of being an educator. There is, however, one thing that no one can dictate for us: our passion.

In education, each teacher’s passion is different. It’s not hard to tell though when a teacher is passionate about a topic. Just watch how they communicate. The eyes will light up, the educator will talk and talk on a topic, sound excited, possibly use hand gestures, and maybe speak a bit too fast. This is me, so I’ve been told. I’m known for my passionate rambles about the things I love best, and I’m also known for driving my friends and family crazy at times. I can’t help it, and I’m sure others can’t either.

Many times, the teacher has found a way to bring that passion into the classroom. I recall one of my cooperating teachers from back when I completed my student teaching. She loved art, and loved drawing. Often times, the projects she designed for her 6th grade students involved creating a visual piece to go with the work. She also encouraged her students to showcase their own work. I have a fond love of Minecraft. Currently I’m
working to bring that passion to the classroom. There are many ways to use it educationally. I even have a Minecraft Spotlight section on my bulletin board for students to showcase their work.

Think about your current passions outside of the classroom. What are they? How do they affect you? Next, focus on your classroom, your subject matter, and your students. How can you bring that passion with you to your classroom? Perhaps you can develop a project that incorporates it. Maybe you host a club after school for students focused on that passion. Perhaps there is a history aspect that would lend itself well to your teaching. Every educator’s passions are different, so it’s easy to see that every educator’s idea of implementation will be different as well.

Let’s bring the focus back to your classroom. Think about your subject matter and the topics you are required to teach students during their time with you. You’re not going to love teaching every minute detail of the curriculum. There are some topics you are less thrilled to teach about than others. That’s okay! Perhaps it’s a topic you need new ideas on teaching about. Perhaps you’re not sure how to make it interesting. Besides, if it’s not
interesting to you, then chances are your disinterest in the topic has been picked up on by the students, perhaps subconsciously. If you don’t like it, then why should they?

Sometimes, our passion flickers and wans. This is normal. We can’t always be passionate about the things we love best, even though we want to be. Sometimes this is due to life events that have affected us deeply. Other times we just aren’t sure of the explanation why. All we know is that we don’t feel the way we used to about something. There are times we just need to step back, reevaluate, and readjust. We often need a helping hand from the outside to refuel, and that’s where this next section comes in handy.

Here are 4 ways to keep yourself passionate about education, or to refuel your passion for education:

1. Attend a conference or professional development about something you love.

Finding the right kind of conference can feel like a mini-vacation. Get away for a few days, learn new things about the topics you love best (or have yet to discover!), and enjoy some good food, too. Of course, if the location doesn’t provide good food, ignore that last one.

There are many conferences available to educators. The problem is often finding one that takes place when the educator is able to go, and one that is cost efficient. There are some amazing conferences with a steep price tag. In my case, ISTE. One of these days I do
plan to attend that one, but for now, I cannot afford it, nor can my district. Some conferences take place at a new location each year, and others stay in the same location.

Attending a conference can bring back the spark because educators choose their own sessions to attend, and focus on sessions relevant to their work. Not every session will live up to expectations, but for the most part, educators will find the knowledge they are seeking. Conference sessions can help educators figure out how to change their teaching, or make adjustments to their current styles.

2.  Research education books, and find a new one that sparks your interest.

Sometimes it’s our mindset that needs a boost. We’re ready to try something new, even though we might not know what that something new is. If you’re looking to bring a change to your teaching, maybe it’s time to pick up a book and see what other viewpoints are out there! Often educators find that there is very little time to read during the school year, and so put this type of reading off until summer vacation. Summer vacation is often an ideal time for a few reasons- educators aren’t dealing with the day to day workload of the classroom, and they are beginning to think about the upcoming school year and how they could make changes.

There are quite an astounding number of educational resource books out there, and not all of them are good eggs. In order to sort through the bad to find the good, here are a few tips. First, talk to colleagues nearby and online about any great resource books that they’ve read and would recommend. Often someone is dying to tell more about a great read. The plus side of getting a book idea from a colleague means that you now have someone to discuss the book with as it’s being read. If a colleague doesn’t have an idea, then sometimes a quick Google or Amazon search might provide some ideas. I love using Amazon to find books because I can read other reviews. Reviews are a good way to see if the book has potential or not. Sometimes a book’s description sounds really good, but the reviews show a different story.

Once a book has been decided upon and procured, it’s time to begin reading. It’s always a good idea to take notes or to write reflection pieces every so often. It’s certainly not required, but it does make the reader think more deeply about what they have read and how they can apply it to their classroom in the future.

3.  Join an #edchat on Twitter.

#edchats are one of my favorite ways to connect on Twitter. Sure I have favorites that I follow and learn from, but there’s nothing like an #edchat to get a discussion going. #edchats provide conversation focused around one particular topic. They usually last for an hour, and can take place at a variety of times. There’s typically a moderator or host, and a list of questions that will be asked throughout the chat. #edchats do move very quickly, especially if there are many participants. For those who have trouble keeping up with the quick pace, transcripts are typically posted after the chat has ended. Educators can go back and reread the conversation whenever they like. #edchats that use the Participate Learn
website will also gather all of the resources together into a section so that readers do not have to search the entire transcript for a resource they remember seeing the first time.

#edchats can renew one’s passion because it’s a professional learning community fully focused on the topic for that week. It’s not a place where everyone vents about “that” student or “this parent”. Educators are focused on admitting faults and coming up with ways to fix them. They are eager to learn, and love to share resources. Leaving an #edchat after an hour discussion often leaves one feeling invigorated and renewed withpurpose.

4. Read blogs on your subject matter, or education in general

Remember what I said above about seeking a fresh viewpoint? Weblogs, or blogs for short, offer this. Educators take on the challenge of using a blog to share their thoughts, reflections, ideas, and suggestions for the field of education. Just like a book, a blog is a way to seek out a different mindset. Unlike a book, a blog doesn’t take as long to
read. Just like books, not every blog stumbled upon is going to be great. Some won’t have been updated for ages, or the content just isn’t what the educator is looking for.

In order to find great blogs to get started with, again, one should ask colleagues nearby and online. There are usually some well-known bloggers that post quality content to get new readers started. This lets the reader get their feet wet before seeking out blogs that are more geared toward their interest or subject matter. Once the newness wears off, it’s time to find some more content to read! Quite a few of the blogs I follow are done by educators I have met through #edchats or conferences. I often like to see what life is like in their school and community, and will follow them, even if their content doesn’t match my own. It never hurts to go outside of one’s content area. Google searches on subject blogs can be helpful, as well.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you do just one or all of the above. The point is, you’re working to maintain your passion within your classroom. You’re motivated to work toward being your very best self, and actively seek out ways to do so. Got other ways for teachers to maintain passion in the classroom? Send your ideas my way!