The Blogger Challenge

The Blogger Challenge concludes today.


A challenge was issued and 18 daring educators answered the call. Some had never blogged before. A few had blogs, but had not written and reflected in a while. Others never stopped. Some of the cool things about this blogger challenge was that it was
a) voluntary
b) during the summer
c) badge related
d) cross divisional

Feedback from the Bloggers…

“What fun the blogging challenge was, it was my first time participating in an all school activity. Thank you for the opportunity it’s been fantastic!”

“What a fun ride! I am challenging myself to keep blogging regularly- if I can do it every day for this time, I certainly can do it more than I have been.”

“It’s been a fun two weeks Mount Vernon family!”

“This has been inspirational and exciting. I have enjoyed blogging and reading others. This has started quite the trend…what a great time.”

“Thanks for inspiring, challenging, and including us! I’ve been able to read bits and pieces of other blogs and enjoyed getting to “know” colleagues better.”

“Thanks for the challenge. I was skeptical but have enjoyed and really enjoyed reading what I could of others posts. The process opened my eyes to see things everywhere that could make for a potential post!”

“Thanks for this fun adventure! And making it cross divisional. I really enjoyed virtually getting to know more about my coworkers across the street!”

Thanks for participating! I’m sure we will do it again in the future.

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.

Thanks for the Feedback

Thanks for the Feedback

Thanks for the Feedback

Our team has recently discovered this fabulous book, recommended by Meredith Monk from Folio Collaborative. The authors outline the 3 types of feedback we all need and receive as human beings: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation.

None of these concepts are new, but the clarification of each one, as well as the interconnectedness of them are providing important insights for us. Just the summary from Chapter 1 alone has given us great fodder for discussion and reflection.

“Feedback” is really three different things, with different purposes:

Appreciation – motivates and encourages.
Coaching – helps increase knowledge, skill, ability, capability, growth, or raises feelings in the relationship.
Evaluation – tells you where you stand, aligns expectations, and informs decision making.

We need all three, but often talk at cross-purposes.

Evaluation is the loudest and can drown out the other two. (And all coaching includes a bit of evaluation.)

Be thoughtful about what you need and what you’re being offered, and get aligned.

Implementing Instructional Rounds

Implementing Instructional Rounds

Recently, the idea was posed to us about how to implement instructional rounds. I’m so excited at the prospect of sharing this valuable practice with other educators, that my mind began racing. Hundreds of thoughts all crashing together in my mind at the same instant.

Pulling out a trusty, white legal pad, I began to scribble down questions. Ah, start with questions. It’s embedded in my DNA.

Questions for Schools to Discuss Before IR

  • Can you describe your school’s current model for observation? Current evaluation model? Feedback model?
  • Is there any peer to peer observation happening in your school?
  • If you were to start with a small, pilot group, who are the people who will observe? What training do they need?
  • Who will be observed? What training or information will they need?
  • Are the right conditions of trust in place? Or do they need to be developed before beginning IR?
  • What tool will you use during the observations to capture what you see? What are the key elements or problems of practice you will focus on during your rounds?
  • How will you structure your debriefs? What formal or procedure will you use? How will you prepare people for the debrief to get the most out of it?
  • Logistically, when and how will you schedule the rounds and debriefs?
  • instructional rounds
    The Science Vertical Team debriefs after an observation. Trust is key to a successful conversation. The focus is growth not evaluation.

    instructional rounds
    Bo Adams shares about how MVPS approaches instructional rounds.

How Are Mistakes and Failures Embraced?

Teachers participated in a visible thinking routine called “Think, Pair, Share” today. They asked, “How are mistakes and failures embraced as opportunities to grow and learn?” Specifically, they applied this question to 3 key initiatives: Assessments, ePortfolios, and Student Led Conferences.Professional LearningToday’s Agenda – Middle School Faculty Meeting

Desired Outcomes:
Expand our ability to utilize assessment in new and more effective ways
Advance ePortfolios by incorporating more storytelling
Collaborate with vertical teams to grow in our practice

Essential Questions:
How are mistakes and failures embraced as opportunities to grow and learn?
How are students “storytelling” their learning with ePortfolios?

Learning Activities: Think, Pair, Share within Vertical Teams
“Mistakes and failures are embraced as opportunities to grow and learn.”
What does this look/sound like in your classroom practice regarding assessment?

“Mistakes and failures are embraced as opportunities to grow and learn.”
What does this look/sound like in a student led conference?

professional learning
The math vertical team discusses ideas with members of the advancement team.
professional learning
Modeling our group work norms, several team members volunteer for specific roles. Emma made a unique “alarm” sound every time.
professional learning
Each vertical team shared their “pieces of gold” for how to embrace mistakes and failures as opportunities to learn and grow.
professional learning
Social Studies vertical team pairs and shares what a student led conference looks like when “mistakes and failures are embraced as opportunities to learn.”
professional learning
Think, Pair, Share with science team.
professional learning
How are students “storytelling” their learning with ePortfolios?

“Mistakes and failures are embraced as opportunities to grow and learn.”
What does this look like in students’ eportfolios?
What is the story that students are telling/showing? How are they telling/showing it?

This is a MUST READ…
A Guide to Producing Student Digital Storytellers

Traditional Observation v Instructional Rounds

Instructional Rounds

In our third year of practicing instructional rounds, I continue to learn and grow in my ability to deliver quality, meaningful feedback to our teachers. They are the best. The top. The elite professionals. I often tell them they are the “Michael Phelps” of education. And even Michael Phelps needs a coach to be the best in his field. I believe instructional rounds is one of the most effective methods to professional growth in education.

“A commitment to professional learning is important, not because teaching is of poor quality and must be ‘fixed,’ but rather because teaching is so hard that we can always improve it. No matter how good a lesson is, we can always make it better. Every professional teacher has a responsibility to be involved in a career-long quest to improve practice.” C. Danielson

What is the difference between the traditional observation that far too many educators experience across the nation and the practice of instructional rounds? 

Traditional Observation Instructional Rounds
1 admin observes 1 teacher at a time 3-5 admin/teachers observe 1 teacher at a time, 3-4 teachers in a row. All 6-9 debrief together for an hour in the same week.
observer leaves carbon copy of eval in teacher’s mailbox observee receives 3-5 typed evaluations in advance of a whole group, one hour debrief. **
observation happens once maybe twice throughout year observations happen at least 4 consecutive weeks for more frequent, in depth feedback
data is useful only for that teacher data is useful for teacher and helps school build a pedagogical map of teaching and learning practices
Instructional Rounds
Students conduct science experiments with measurement in centers during instructional rounds observation.
Instructional Rounds
The job of the observer is to capture what one sees and hears. Be as objective as possible, reflecting back like a blind spot mirror to the teacher being observed during instructional rounds.
Instructional Rounds
It is difficult to fly under the radar during instructional rounds when 3-5 observers walk in (and when our students are so friendly).
Mrs. Levison’s class is always thought-provoking and interactive. During this lesson, she is challenging students to come up with questions that test whether something (fire, a blade of grass, etc.) is alive. Does it grow? Does it breathe? Does it die? Is it alive? I love instructional rounds – I learn so much.

The official hashtag I use for instructional rounds is #irfedu. Please use it and share your experiences. What other differences can you see between traditional observation and instructional rounds?

4 Characteristics of a Quality ePortfolio


4 Characteristics of a Quality ePortfolio

1) Easy to Use – We launched our first version of a student eportfolio using Google sites two years ago. It was the result of a collaborative summer grant with a team representing Preschool, Lower, Middle, and Upper School. The product was visually appealing and featured two major sections: Collection and Showcase. The Collection was for everything. Finished, unfinished, polished, and imperfect. The Showcase was reserved for only the finest works. All of the learning demonstrations and reflections were curated by the 6 MV Mindsets (Collaborator, Communicator, Solution Seeker, Ethical Decision Maker, Creative Thinker, and Innovator).

While I’m still a fan of this first prototype and many of its features, it struggled to catch on with students (and teachers) across the entire School. Even in Middle School, where we made it a major focus, our team discovered that the Sites platform was difficult to upload, challenging to access and share, and there was a lack of student ownership. After two years, and as the result of a second XLR8 summer grant, we are pivoting to a second iteration ePortfolio platform with Digication.

2) Customizable – The obstacle of student ownership is not one to be ignored. Not only is the new platform more intuitive and easier to use, but it allows a much greater degree of user customization. The students can change the look and layout to suite their style, thus helping to make it feel more like “their” ePortfolio rather than “the School’s.” We will continue to explore other ways to expand student choice as we go.

3) Storytelling – Perhaps the most important (and currently untapped) power of ePortfolios is “the why.” Why should students (or anyone for that matter) create, curate, and maintain an ePortfolio? Many reasons come to mind including…

  • Measure student learning (qualitative, thinking made visible)
  • Use as a tool for college admissions or job interview
  • Reflection and record keeping

These are all compelling reasons, however, I’m starting to think the most powerful reason to create an ePortfolio is for storytelling. Each entry should tell a story. Each learning demonstration has its own story arc and together, all of the cumulative entries build their own story arc. The story is about your life. It’s about your impact on the world. It’s about your learning journey. What could be more important or significant to share with others?

storytellingstorytelling 3 storytelling arc

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 7.31.55 AM

4) Blend of Showcase and “Work in Progress” (WIP) – One final, key ingredient is what I believe was inherent in the design of our first version, but that I continue to hear discussions and debates about among our team. It is often communicated as an “either or” paradigm. I believe it should be both. A quality ePortfolio contains both pristine, perfect showcase works AND messy, dirty samples of failure and or halfway learning – what I call “work in progress.” I have modeled my own blog after this approach – often posting half thoughts and snapshots of ideas that I may or may not come back to in the future. This allows freedom to capture ideas before they escape without having to make sure they are perfect before shipping.

What other characteristics do you think are important for quality ePortfolios?

Another Round of Instructional Rounds

This Fall will be our Middle School team’s 3rd consecutive year utilizing instructional rounds as a key part of our reflective practice and professional learning cycle. With the exception of developing and leading professional learning, I believe observing teachers and providing feedback through follow up debriefs is my favorite part of being an educational leader.

Utilizing a data collection tool created by Bo Adams in Survey Monkey, we have provided detailed, written feedback to each individual educator observed, as well as mapped out a larger view of our collective pedagogical practices – a fancy phrase for “stuff that happens in classrooms.” We observe and measure data points such as ‘what role is the student asked to perform: consumer, producer, researcher, etc’ and ‘which MV Mindsets are being infused and to what degree.’

Since September 2013, Middle School has documented a total of 525 observations using Instructional Rounds.

To iterate, this year’s IR Networks will be organized by vertical teams. In another new twist, those being observed will switch roles and conduct an observation of their vertical team peers at least once during the 4 observation experience.

Our ‘problems of practice’ (a fancy term for what we will focus on during the observations), will include assessments, use of interactive technology, and elements of design thinking.

Instructional Rounds is a four-step process:
1) Identifying a focus/problem of practice
2) Observation
3) Debrief
4) Focusing on the next level of work

* (City, Elmore, Fiarman, Teitel)

Instructional Rounds observations focus on a problem of practice related to the Instructional Core.


It’s a Work in Progress

Caution: Some ideas, products, and posts in this blog may not yet be perfect or even finished. I use this space for capturing and iterating ideas; a dojo for the art of reflective practice and professional growth. I also like to post stuff that makes me happy. Some of that stuff may be seemingly unrelated to education. I hope it inspires you the way it inspires me.

You can expect partly finished products that are at various stages of the learning process. I often return to posts days, weeks, or months later to continue exploring and developing my thoughts around the topics. I revisit and rewrite them. I change the titles, images, and words as my thinking expands. I leave room for improvement, yet I’m not afraid to “ship it” before it’s ready for the world. Maybe the world has some feedback for me that could help make it better?

As we work to encourage all learners at our organization (our students, teachers, and others) develop their own reflective practice (including blogs and Eportfolios), I hope they will feel the freedom to post and share work that shines, as well as some that shows failure, imperfection, and learning taking place.

Therefore, consider yourself forewarned. You may encounter material that has entered the production process but is not yet a finished product. It’s a work in progress.

work in progress
This blog entry used to be titled something different. I changed it because I thought of a better idea. Bet you didn’t notice. 😉


3 Tips for Educational Research of Best Practices

Educational Research
Tips for Educational Research

3 Tips for Educational Research of Best Practices

Educators must strive to discover and utilize both “tried and true best practices” and experiment with “new, innovative” approaches to teaching and learning. Tapping in to educational research and expanding your PLN (Professional Learning Network) is a great way to accomplish this.

It is vitally important for educational practitioners to base their teaching habits and tools in strategies supported by research. Teachers often use research based practices without even knowing it. Conducting a little research can confirm that your pedagogy is solid. On the other hand, teachers frequently utilize tactics that are not effective, but they continue anyway because they are not familiar with the research. It takes a little time, but not much to conduct a little, specific research on a particular pedagogical area.

Here are 3 quick, simple tips I have learned when conducting research for best practices…

1) When you google it, (ie – best practices for grammar instruction), look for responses that come from universities.

2) Look for reports and studies with recent dates (ie – 2011 is better than 1976 – maybe).

3) When you find a report or article that references another, more in-depth study, search for that study. Dig deep. Beyond the surface. That’s where the best stuff can be found.

Here is an article with tips related to conducting your own educational research project.