Every Kid Is Worth a Conversation

Dear Upper School Families,

On Wednesday, October 25, all students in Grades 9-12 are invited to lead a 25-minute conference with their advisor and parent(s). Students will share their goals, present demonstrations of learning, identify curiosities and strengths, and seek feedback to support and challenge their progress. Through this experience, we desire students to:

  • Take ownership of their learning
  • Develop deeper relationships between advisor and parent(s)
  • Demonstrate skills of communication, reflection, and feedback
  • Discover the value of:
    • setting a goal
    • sharing specific demonstrations of learning
    • deep learning beyond alpha-numeric grades
    • student choice and the pursuit of curiosities through iProject
    • measuring progress on MV Mindsets
    • celebrating wins, growth, and achievement

Student-led conferences have been practiced at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School since 2015. Each student is paired with an advisor; a faculty member who interacts regularly with your child. In the weeks prior, students will work diligently with advisors to prepare. Your child should be able to discuss his or her own progress in any area, with the advisor taking a secondary role.

Parents may request a conference directly with a content-specific teacher any time throughout the semester or school year to discuss student progress related to alpha-numeric grades, learning outcomes, or other concerns. Student-led Conference day is designed and reserved for the purposes stated above.

Name: Arden Adams
Advisor: Brad Droke

We value our partnership with Mount Vernon families and look forward to this opportunity to come together to support student learning. Students will not be in school this day, however, our goal for student-led conferences is 100% student and parent participation. Every kid is worth a conversation. If you would like to speak to the advisor without your child present, we will make a portion of the time available. All after school athletic events will proceed as scheduled.

Please sign up through the Power School web portal using your parent login (not student) and reserving an appointment with your child’s specific advisor. Each advisor has 12 appointment slots. Sign ups are open and available upon receipt of this email on a first come, first served basis. Students are asked to compose a personal, handwritten note inviting and encouraging parents to sign up, mentioning advisor by name.

Please read this article for instructions and tech support for how to register. Upon arrival, please check in with Sheldon Staples at the front desk in the Upper School Academic Building on the Glenn Campus. If you are unable to conference on this day, have a schedule conflict, or any other questions please call or email Sheldon Staples. Thank you for partnering with us. We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday, October 25.


Chip Houston
Head of Upper School

Student Led Conferences – Year Two


Faculty Reflection
– 94% of families participated
– SLCs are scaling to Lower and Upper School
– I participated in 21 conferences, seeing all but 2 advisors.
– I observed teachers giving feedback on goals, badges, and student behavior.
– I learned a lot more about specific students.
– Teachers contributed to the experience in new and helpful ways.
– I saw evidence of group work, but grading on individual mastery of outcomes.

Areas for Growth
– Despite exhaustive communication, I still observed several students who had not shared “permission to view” in their google doc demonstrations.
– Similar with goals about As and Bs or Honor Roll (achievement goals) instead of Learning Goals (acquire a new skill or explore a new topic of interest)
– I saw evidence of group work and group grades.
– I saw a parent shut down a kid.
– I saw badges earned without the evidence in place.

Questions that Remain
– How will we expand the audience for eportfolios this year?
– Can Digication allow selected sharing instead of “all of nothing”?
– How will we follow up on student goal setting before the end of the semester, especially since the next SLC is not until February?

Practice Guide
screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-12-32-11-pm screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-12-32-22-pm screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-12-32-33-pm screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-12-32-42-pm screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-12-32-52-pm screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-12-33-02-pm screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-12-33-11-pm

Students Take the Lead – Spring 2016

Students Take the Lead – Spring 2016

On Wednesday, February 17, students took the lead for the second time this year with student led conferences. In the fall, students shared their goals with parents and teachers. This time, students ran the show from start to finish. Introducing parents and teachers to one another, the students showcased 5 demonstrations chosen from their e-portfolios.

IMG_8466 IMG_8469 IMG_8470 IMG_8473 IMG_8474 IMG_8482 IMG_8484 IMG_8486 IMG_8489 IMG_8490 Students take the lead


Piloting Student Badges in Study Skills

Piloting Student Badges in Study Skills

Since launching ‘central station’ and the designs of our XLR8 summer grant in August (thank you Amy and Chrissy), Middle School faculty have earned over 100 badges. To ensure a successful roll out to students in the future, we are intentionally focusing on the faculty experiencing and understanding the power of badging. While a full scale badging launch for students is still beyond the trees, today we piloted a small scale experiment with students in study skills.

Designed by the Academic Resource team including Samantha Flowers, Ann Plumer, and Kelli Bynum, it is exciting to introduce the Scribe and Taskmaster badges for students!
Piloting Student Badges in Study Skills Piloting Student Badges in Study Skills


The students showed great enthusiasm as we discussed how learning is measured, comparing grades and badges, as well as covering the 6 elements of badge design. They had fantastic ideas for what physical form the badges might take, particularly recommending locker magnets that could be displayed for visitors, tours, and all passersby.

What do you think of these two new badges? Can you imagine these criteria displayed and discussed in a student led conference through the students’ eportfolios?

Learning Transcends School

Learning Transcends School

Learning Transcends School

Do you believe learning happens only at school? Probably not.

Yet somehow, we act like it’s true. It’s like the matrix – a kind of false sense of reality. It’s similar to “God is experienced only at church.” Hogwash. God is everywhere. And learning happens everywhere, too.

For years, we have conditioned them that learning occurs in specific subjects, in specific rooms, at specific times, in specific desks. If there isn’t a grade attached to it, they may not be interested. Such conditioning limits the possibilities of learning and metacognition.

This week, we challenged students to discuss and upload examples of “learning outside the school.” It was more difficult than you might imagine.

Students met with their Conference Mentors and were asked to answer the following questions and upload at least one image, drawing, video etc, in their eportfolios/blogs…

– Describe something significant you have learned in your life “outside” of school.

– What do you like to do when you are not school? What activities, interests, and topics are most motivated to learn more about?

– Outside of school, what is something you are proud of?

– If school was abolished completely, what would you do all day? How would you spend your time?

What have you learned “outside of school?” How do adults continue to learn without the structure of “school” after “school” is completed?

10 Ways e-Portfolios Increase Learning

9 Ways e-Portfolios Increase Learning10 Ways e-Portfolios Increase Learning

In schools, the use of e-portfolios is increasing as a way to enable learning, as well as a means to measure it. See Admissions Revolution (80 colleges and universities move towards use of online portfolios). There are a variety of types and purposes of e-portfolios including workspace, showcase, academic, employment, etc. This post focuses primarily on the blog as student workspace – designed as a tool to accelerate learning at any age, as well as to build capacity for being globally competitive beyond schooling. How might e-portfolios increase learning?

1) Writing – Does the importance of writing need to be explained or defended? It’s connection and value to learning is self-evident. Blogs and online journals (via e-portfolios) are a fantastic platform for encouraging and facilitating writing for learners. Whether one is expressing ideas, posing questions, or making arguments, here are more than a dozen reasons why writing is vitally important to learning.

2) Storytelling – More than just a mode of writing, storytelling precedes writing in the history of humanity. Storytelling is a powerful connector of people. Oral stories and parables are incredibly effective modes of communicating very complex ideas in a form that is accessible to the common learner. Today, exciting possibilities exist with digital storytelling, while the classic archetypes of storytelling remain as relevant as ever. Let’s teach both to our students!

9 Ways e-Portfolios Increase Learning 3) Meta-cognition – It goes by many names. Thinking about thinking. Reflecting on learning. Self-regulation. The monitoring and control of thought. The gift that keeps giving. Despite its importance in the learning process, it is not well practiced in today’s classrooms. How can e-portfolios be used to build these muscles? Teachers can supply prompts for reflection. Students can capture their reflections in writing, in voice memo, on video, on podcast, through art, etc. All of these are ripe candidates for e-portfolio demonstrations. See these K-8 meta-cognitive strategies.

The ability to learn is not a fixed quantity (read Dweck’s ‘Mindset’). Members of our team have modeled meta-cognition through the reconfiguring of physical space, as well as the emotional environment as key elements of teaching and learning.

If we are to teach students that a growth mindset is not only possible, but desirable, then we must first embody and exemplify a growth mindset as educators. If we expect students to reflect and curate their learning, should we not also be practitioners ourselves? This is why the blog you are now reading exists.

4) Multi-media Technology – We often read about the mistakes educators make when using (or not using) technology. With e-portfolios, there is an opportunity for students (and teachers) to learn a variety of valuable skills including embedding presentations, video creation, graphic creation, font and style choice, podcasts, stop-motion video, voice memos, google hangouts – with screen capture, 3D printing, etc. What specific technologies should students be learning in schools? Why do these technologies need to be learned? How frequently does this list change as technology advances? Is it a futile effort and is time wasted learning technologies that will be obsolete in a few years? Is it more about the mindsets that are required and developed by the pursuit of learning new technologies?

5) Feedback – Here is a skill that was not formally taught when I was in school. And what a mistake it is that we don’t teach how to give and receive feedback intentionally! I highly recommend ‘Thanks for the Feedback’ for anyone interested in learning about the 3 types of feedback and how every human needs them, yet they are often as cross-purposes. With e-portfolios, students can receive feedback on their demonstrations of learning from teachers, peers, parents, and external experts. Students can learn how to deliver feedback by providing it to one another in the form of comments, uploaded directly to the e-portfolio.

9 Ways e-Portfolios Increase Learning 6) Assessment of Learning – If your goal is to expand the ways in which you measure student learning beyond numerical, quantitative grades, you should take a good, long look at e-portfolios. They provide a qualitative, longitudinal measure. Students can post a writing sample from September next to one written in November and we should be able to visibly see the progression of learning. If we don’t, then the measure is still helpful because it tells us where the student stands in relation to learning outcomes. E-portfolios can be the perfect platform for displaying digital badges earned for demonstrating specific knowledge, skills, or transfer of skills. Badging is yet another fantastic measure of learning that can accomplish the same, if not much more, than a numerical grade.

7) Choice & Ownership – When designed properly, students can pursue their own topics of interest and curiosity through e-portfolios. They can share their learning with others. E-portfolios allow students a much greater audience for their learning which in turn generates a stronger sense of ownership and urgency. We all want to ‘be seen’ – acknowledged and appreciated by others. Students should have the freedom to add their own demonstrations, in addition to being assigned demonstrations by teachers. It is not an ‘either or’ proposition. Students should ‘have permission’ to customize the look of their e-portfolios and include demos that may not be related to school.

8) Digital Citizenship – As the author of one’s own blog, website, or e-portfolio, students learn the importance of ethical decision making and wise choices. See the 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship as food for thought.

9) Graphic Organizer(s) – There is no shortage of graphic organizers available online. Can teachers use e-portfolio assignments as advance organizers? How might this increase the mastery and measurement of specific learning outcomes in a school? How might graphic organizers be used with e-portfolios to introduce new concepts? Or to formatively assess student learning via entry, transfer, and exit tickets?

9 Ways e-Portfolios Increase Learning10) Communications/Branding – At least one school I know has explicitly written into their mission statement the goal to prepare students to be globally competitive and engaged citizen leaders, though I assume a lot of schools would say they aspire to do the same. In the age of the internet and marketing, being savvy with one’s web presence, branding, and social media strategy seems like an important set of skills to begin ‘baking in’ early in our students formal educational journey. Experience curating one’s own e-portfolio can position students much further along than their global competitors. Conversely, it can leave them at a great disadvantage if these skills and mindsets are missing.

What other ways do you see e-portfolios can increase learning?

For more on e-portfolios, read these posts and resources.

Prepare to Launch

Prepare to LaunchPrepare to Launch

I count myself fortunate to be part of an organization that encourages the launching and shipping of ideas, that embraces a ‘fail up’ culture of learning and achievement. This has empowered my colleagues and I to boldly try new ideas. Reflecting on the last few years, I can recall numerous wins and successes as well as a few that I’d love to ‘redo.’

Why do some initiatives go so well while others struggle or fail? What makes the difference?

Fail Ups
In my first year as a division head, I recall our team was eager to help teachers give feedback to students about the newly created “mindsets.” Since the 6 mindsets were not yet reflected in the report cards, we decided it would be great for teachers to write comments about each of the mindsets for each student. We had heard other schools talk about similar approaches. We had a discussion in a team meeting and next thing you know, the decision was made and the initiative launched. And it was hugely unpopular. Teachers were upset. The amount of comments that actually had to be written were well beyond what they were used to writing. In fact, when we did the math, we realized it was a pretty unrealistic expectation. We regrouped, with feedback, and pivoted to designing rubrics that all teachers could use. Teachers gave input on the rubrics. In retrospect, we could have taken more time to enroll stakeholders and talk to other schools. We could have done the math. We could have piloted smaller versions of the comment writing with a select few volunteers. Or we could have thought of rubrics first.

Victorious Launches
In my second year, we launched a 1:1 Chromebook program. We took months researching, chatting with other schools, meeting with our Director of IT, and comparing different attributes of devices. We made a sound decision. We are still using Chromebooks today and they are appropriate for middle schoolers. The success was in the research and selection of the program. There were some folks who were not in favor of the decision, but we had solid and compelling reasons to share and ultimately, the majority of our community supported the initiative. We could have done a better job in the rollout, specifically, how we shared the info with parents. I recall a rather lengthy rising parent meeting where questions took over the agenda. And while we prepared for the classroom management portion with Hapara, we spent the next year or so reconfiguring the network and internet access to make sure it didn’t slow or crash.

In my fourth year, we finally cracked the code on summer grants. We chose 4 initiatives that were all interconnected. We went with pairs instead of individuals so there was always an element of collaboration. We met as a whole group and launched the initiatives with the faculty before school ended so they were all part of the process. We clarified the expectations by having grant recipients follow the design thinking process. We had dates set in advance for monthly check-ins and we provided resources in between. Each grant was allotted time in pre-planning to workshop with the whole team. These 4 grants allowed our team to go further faster. We are making great strides as each of these grants is part of our team’s wildly important goal to ‘expand learning measures.’

These are just a few reflections. I have many more. What reflections do you have? What initiatives have you launched? What made some victories and others fail ups? 


Learning Dashboards

Driving is fun. Flying is scary. Both vehicles (automobiles and airplanes) are complex machines that require training and multiple gauges on their dashboards to assist in effective operation. Would you feel more or less confident traveling on an airplane with one single gauge? (How could the engineers and pilots even contemplate narrowing it down to a single gauge? – That’s crazy!)
Learning Dashboards Learning DashboardsThe human brain and the process of learning are much more complex than these machines, yet in schools we mostly measure learning with a single gauge dashboard. For most, but not all, that measure is a numerical grade. (That’s crazy, too!) (Or lazy?)

Learning Dashboards

Limits of Single Gauge Learning Dashboards

  1. Grades only give quantitative information. What qualitative data is missing?
  2. What exactly is the number measuring? What does it actually reveal about learning? (Mastery of learning outcomes? Participation? Homework Completion? Higher order thinking?
  3. What additional information could be received from other gauges that would increase learner engagement and effective learning?
  4. Are numerical grades a measure ‘of’ learning or ‘for’ learning?
  5. Why do we continue to put so much weight and credibility into a single number to represent all learning, growth, and achievement? We would never settle for a single gauge dashboard in other arenas of life (finances, health, travel, etc.)

Learning Dashboards Learning Dashboards

It seems so obvious that educators could and should be using multi-gauge dashboards to measure student learning. What are some ways you and your team are working to ‘expand the learning measures’?

Expanding the Measures of Learning

Feedback from Student Led Conferences

Feedback from Student Led ConferencesFeedback from Student Led Conferences

On Wednesday, September 23, the Middle School team launched the first student led conferences at Mount Vernon. Following the event, we surveyed students, parents, and teachers for feedback. Below, you can review the results of those 3 surveys. The names of students, teachers, and parents have been scrubbed, but all other comments remain as shared. All comments praising a specific teacher were shared directly with that teacher through Folio prior to replacing teacher names with “the teacher” and student names with “the student.”

The feedback includes a data chart of scale questions, followed by qualitative comments for each stakeholder group. The order is Students, Parents, Teachers.

Highlights of Research on Student Led Conferences

Formative Assessment Tickets

Formative Assessment via Entry, Transfer, and Exit Tickets

Formative Assessment = a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.

This morning’s faculty meeting was a lesson in formative assessment. We started the meeting with an entry ticket – a Poll Everywhere survey (thank you Alex Bragg!) about our team’s wildly important goal of ‘expanding the learning measures.’

The original agenda for the meeting was sent to faculty in advance indicating the bulk of the time would be spent on teachers earning badges. After assessing the faculty, the decision was made during the process – to modify the teaching and learning, based on their feedback. We shifted to spending more time talking about examples of implementing entry tickets as formative assessment.

Entry Ticket as Formative AssessmentEntry Ticket as Formative Assessment

Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment

Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment


Faculty Meeting Agenda

Essential Questions:
How skilled are we at designing and delivering formative assessments?
How are we advancing our wildly important goal: expand the learning measures?

Desired Outcomes:
Teachers are given time to earn badges discuss entry tickets as formative assessment
Formative assessment is modeled through entry ticket
Teachers are challenged to try an entry ticket and share results
Conference Mentors discover the next steps for SLCs

Learning Opportunities: (– min)

  1. Cast the Characters (Group Work Norms) (5 min)
  2. Entry Ticket via Poll Everywhere – Badging (5 min)
  3. Give Badge Time (20 min)Discuss entry tickets as a method of formative assessment (not as a sponge activity)
  4. Intro Formative Assessment Tickets (Entry, Transfer, Exit) (5 min)
  5. Share SLC phase 3 & checklist  (5 min)
  6. Amy & Chrissy – Badges! (5 min)

We started the meeting by ‘Casting the Characters’ using our team’s group work norms…

  • Time keeper
  • Encourager
  • Note taking (focus on questions asked)
  • Meta-congater (reflect on the overall flow and engagement of the meeting)

Group Work Norms



We ended the meeting by issuing a call to action Challenge…

Challenge: Utilize an entry ticket for formative assessment and be prepared to share out at October 22 faculty meeting.

Remember, it’s only formative if you use it to modify teaching and learning during the process. Otherwise, it’s just a sponge activity.



And also by recognizing teachers who have earned badges…

View all of the entry ticket survey results here…Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment
Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment Entry Ticket as Formative Assessment