5 Reasons Your Portfolio Should Be A Blog

Earlier this year, I wrote five reasons why your portfolio should be online.  As I do more work and sharing with portfolios, I think it is important to actually going one step further and talk about the benefits of why a “blog” specifically is beneficial as a portfolio.  If you are interested in doing this, I created a video years ago that simply breaks down the process.  If you know how to blog, it is just a matter of reimagining the space, not tearing down something you might have already done.

Blogging for me has been hugely beneficial for my learning, because of the power to not only think of an audience (making me think deeper about what I write), but also about connecting with the audience.  For the past few years, we have been working on this project in Parkland School Division (Our Digital Portfolio Project), and it takes time because it is meant to showcase learning over a long period of time.  If learning is non-linear and takes time to develop, so should the work that aligns with it.  Patience is necessary.

As more areas look to do portfolios at either the school, district, or state/provincial level, it would be easy to look to services that make the portfolio for you, where you just drag and drop your information.  This creates a presence, but not necessarily engagement from either the learner or an audience.  If I am spending time creating a portfolio, it is nice to think that people would actually look at it, and that is not simply becoming a “digital dump” where I put a collection of my work.

With that being said, here are five reasons either your portfolio or a student portfolio should be a blog:

1. A focus on both a “growth portfolio” and a “showcase portfolio.”

When we first started looking at the use of portfolios in our work, the question would be to either do portfolios that focused on “growth”, or ones that showcased our “best work” (more like a resume).  Since there are benefits in both options, it was tough to decide on one, so we ultimately went with the decision to go with both.  The “blog” portion of my digital space allows me to share things that I am learning (like this article I am writing) while also aggregating my best stuff into solitary “pages” (check out my page on “Fostering Effective Relationships” which shares a criteria and how I met it).  Most of the portfolios that I have seen schools use focus more on the “showcase” option which is great in some respects, but doesn’t use this powerful tool as a vehicle for continuous learning.  Blog are a versatile enough that you have so many options in the ways that you can share your ideas.

2. An opportunity to focus on “traditional” literacy.

Many people prefer portfolios to have links to examples of work which is great for the “showcase” aspect.  What I like about a blog is the opportunity to write, which is obviously a huge part in the work that we do in schools.  There is a difference between having great ideas and the ability to communicate great ideas.  In our world, we need the ability to do both.  The other aspect of this is that when many outsiders see that students are doing more work in a “digital format”, they may have questions around the idea that we do not do “the basics”.  With a blog, we are not only focusing on the “basics”, but we are actually doing them better.  The more we write, the better we become at writing.  That being said, I love a quote I heard from Dr. Yong Zhao saying that “reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling.”  It is crucial, but there is so much more we can do with a blogging format.

3. The ability to use a wide array of “literacies”.

Although reading and writing is important, it is essential that we give students and ourselves different opportunities to share our voice.  The reason why blogs will always be beneficial is that no matter what “medium” comes around or that we want to use, we will have the opportunity to embed that into our blog.  If I want to write, that is fine, but if I want to make a video, create a prezi, share photos, add a slideshare, do a podcast, etc., I will be able to share it through my blog.  We often evaluate students not on their understanding of a subject, but on their ability to write on a subject.  Although this is important in many cases, we should allow our students and ourselves to tap into our strengths in how we feel best communicating.  Blogs allow so many different options.

4. The ability to develop an audience.

Developing an audience is where blogging becomes very important.  When we create the “digital dumps” we put a bunch of links onto a site, we often use the technology in a 1.0 way, and don’t create a need to look at the site more than once. Every time we share a post in our blog though, it attracts people to come and look at it.  It might not be tens of thousands of people, but if it is ten, that is still meaningful.  Every time we share new content, blogging allows people to receive it through emails subscriptions or RSS feeds. If you are going to take the time to create a portfolio, I think it is important to create content to get people to come look at it.  That audience is not only important for the potential connections it can make (the photographer for our wedding uses a blog which made it easy for her to share all of her work and constantly create an audience; this goes way beyond “education), but is also beneficial (again) for the learning aspect through collaboration.  Through the comments and the ability for others to share ideas, this “audience” is important for true communication and the opportunity to tap into others that are interested in similar topics.

5. Developing a voice.

Having a voice in our world isn’t something that all people want to share through a digital space, but we do all have the opportunity to create our own space.  Whether you are interested in photography, mechanics, cooking, dancing, minecraft, fitness, skydiving, or a million different aspects of education, people are more likely to share their voice on something that they actually care about.  I have written more as an adult in the last five years than I ever did in school (K through post-secondary) because I actually have the freedom to write about what I want.  This voice helped me to not only share my thoughts, but pushed to dive deeper into the thing that I wanted to learn about.  If you are going to start using blogs as portfolios with students, it is important to give them opportunities to share things that they care about.  You will learn so much more about them while helping them developing their voice.  Yes, you can do the “school stuff” in your blog, but it is important to also give kids the freedom to share what they are interested in. If the freedom and opportunity to explore our passions  works for us, why wouldn’t it work for them?

The more schools are looking at portfolios, it is important we consider several options and make it more than just a space to share “stuff” but to develop voice.  Currently we are using Edublogs, and one of the best opportunities for using this space is that after students leave our school, they can simply “export” their blog and “import” it into their own space.  We are hoping that we are helping our students create something meaningful enough that they want to use after their time in our school.  If we don’t create portfolios that kids would care about after their time in school, why would they want to do them in school?

Patience for Learning

Many new to social media, marvel how easy it is for people to share with an audience, get answers back, and make connections.  The problem is they see the power in that, and want to be able to create that right away.  I often get questions like, “how do you know all of those hashtags?”, or “how do you know that person is interested in problem based learning?”  Honestly, the more you are willing to learn, the more you often know.

The “behind the scenes” of those connections and understanding took a lot of time and nurturing.  In the world of education, where we want our students to do deep learning we often want quick fixes ourselves.  If we go to a conference and get something for “Monday”, are we going to just use this for now, or long term.  Doing something well takes time.

Just like reading and writing, which too many educators comes natural, at some point in our lives, we were not able to do these things.  But someone showed us why these things are essential, and we wanted to know more.  Teaching grade 1, teachers are not expecting kids to read “The Great Gatsby” by the end of the year; they know it takes incremental steps to not only become more literate, but also more fluent.  In our world today, many adults are going back to the point where they are struggling with literacy again, which I think is a good thing.  It puts us back into the mindset of what a learner goes through, which we should understand deeply if we are to be successful teachers.  Otherwise the smartest people would always be the best teachers.  Simply holding knowledge does not make you a great teacher, and I have always looked at struggling while learning to be a benefit to teachers, not a disadvantage.

So for the educator new to Twitter or any other social media, don’t worry that you don’t “get everything” right now.  No one knows everything, and we are all on different paths in our learning.  Don’t compare yourself to someone else, just make sure you are moving forward.

But to the educators that are pretty savvy with this stuff and think everyone should be “connected”, just remember that at some point, you (including myself) were not able to do many of those things that you are currently advocating for so strongly.  We can get on people and dismiss them for sharing those blog posts about how “Twitter changed everything” for them in the last month and say how tired we are of the same conversation, or we can celebrate that others are trying to get better.  I choose the latter.

Patience is a virtue in any type of learning, and if you are someone moving forward along that continuum, you are doing something good.  If you are struggling, that is good.  Your kids go through it every day.  We just need to remember to both be patient with ourselves and have patience for others while people are learning, because in all cases, we are trying to do something better.  We do it for kids so we need to do it for each other.

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Learning in the 21st century: What does it mean to you? #peel21st

I was informed by my good friend and education colleague Jason Richea, that Peel School Board in Ontario was doing a “blog hop” on the question, “Learning in the 21st century: What does it mean to you?”, so I decided to jump in and share my thoughts.  If you want to see more of these posts, please check out Jim Cash’s blog with thoughts from others.  To not bias my thoughts, I wanted to write before I read them, although Jason said it has to be limited to 100 words(ish).  Here goes…

Education, even when I first started, seemed to be a lot more about the teacher, and a lot less about the learner.  With developments in technology, especially the Internet, this practice has to change more now than ever.  In our time, we have to realize that there is so much access to information, that we need to really empower the learner to not only take in information, but become flexible and adaptable to they create something new from it.  From the sharing of ideas, comes new and better learning and creations. We have moved from a time where it is not simply about engagement, but about empowerment.

The real power now though in learning is not simply in websites, books, videos, or whatever else you can consume, but it is more about the access to each other.  As educators, if schools are to be truly a place of learning, than the focus can’t simply be the stuff, but more importantly, the opportunities to learn anytime, anywhere, anyplace, and most importantly (and we often leave this out), from almost anyone.  That’s the true power in learning today.

3 Assumptions We Shouldn’t Make About Educators

 

I haven’t had my own classroom of students for a few years, but I always try to remember what it was like to be a teacher, and always try to start from that viewpoint.  It bothers me when I see posts or videos talking about how so many teachers are not willing to do something better for their kids, when every single person that has “embraced change” was at some point doing things previously that they would question now.

I talk a lot about the importance of using technology to enhance learning and relationships, but I didn’t always believe it was important.  It took a lot of suggestions and support from others before I started doing things differently in my practice; it did not happen overnight.  That being said, just like so many other educators, I still have a lot of room to grow in so many areas.  There are so many aspects of education that are important to the development of our kids, and teachers are juggling so many things that they have to do, many of which have little to do with teaching in a classroom, but are admin tasks.  Instead of wondering “why aren’t people moving faster?”, we have to take a step back and get rid of some of the assumptions that people make about educators.  Below are a few that stick out in my mind.

1. Educators are not willing to embrace change.

I think for many educational leaders, this is an easy way out.  It puts the blame others instead of looking at something internal.  Simply telling someone that they should change their practice, and it reminds me of how sometimes people are just bad at selling change in the first place.  I have seen a lot of people talk about the importance of change, but by the end of listening to them, you feel terrible about what you haven’t done as opposed to inspired to do something better.

\Making people feel like crap is not the key to getting them to do something different and will not lead to sustainable change.  What is important is that people experience something different themselves, but also that they are valued for what they do.  If an educator knows that the change is something that will be better for kids, they are more likely to start doing something different.

There are so many things that an educator has to do, so I think it is actually good that many of them are critical about what they put their efforts into.  Have you ever had an initiative in your school that has come and gone and shown no impact on students?  Not all change is good, but I believe if an educator can see the value in it for their students, they are more likely to embrace it.

2. Educators don’t want what is best for kids.

Educators know that they are going into a very giving profession, where the pay is traditionally not that great.  The majority of them want to make a difference.  It is cool when some students get opportunities like Innovation Week, but sometimes kids show up with no food in their stomachs, and making it through their day is a huge accomplishment.  Doing the “innovative ideas” might not be possible for that kid.  There are so many variables to our day as educators, and teachers are rarely ever just teachers.  They take care of kids in so many different ways because of they didn’t, there is no way some kids would be successful in any aspect of their lives.  If every classroom and group of students looked exactly the same, teaching would be easy, although in my opinion, not very rewarding.  The diversity is what makes education so great.  That being said, most educators are doing what they believe is best for their kids.  No one wakes up in the morning wanting to be terrible at their job.  We need to always remember that.

3. That all educators do is teach.

It disheartened me to see an educator friend, who is brilliant and I would want teaching my own children, talk about how they had to get another job to make ends meet.  I have heard this from several people.  To think that a person who would have to work two jobs (one of them serving children all day) would not only have the time or the energy to learn new things, is pretty presumptuous.  Just being a teacher, takes a lot out of you.  We can’t assume that all of our efforts go simply into teaching.  There are so many other aspects of our lives.

It is not only the cases where teachers are juggling another job, but also other aspects of their life.  Many people have so many things going on in their lives, yet we assume that so many should put all of their time and energy into becoming the greatest teacher of all time.  Some people are lucky if they can make it through the day because of whatever is going on in their lives.  This is not only in education, but in all professions.  We want to be great friends, partners, parents, siblings, or whatever, and sometimes teaching needs to take a little bit of a backseat to the other things in life.  Does this mean a teacher doesn’t care about what they do? Not at all.  But I am firm believer that I would rather have a teacher that is focused on being a whole person, than simply focusing on being a teacher.  Personally, some days it is/was hard for me to get up and do my job because of other things going on in my life.  We always have to remember that there is more to a teacher than being a teacher.

Do some teachers not fall in line with what I have shared? Absolutely.  There are bad people in every profession.  I guess my point is that when we make generalized assumptions about others in our profession we are already starting in a deficit.  Trusting someone is doing the best they can before they prove it to you, is an important part of leadership. We have to give trust before we earn trust in many cases.  Assuming the worst of others will not get us to grow as a profession.

Credibility in the Conversation

Educators tend to listen to other educators.  It is not that we are not open to listening to people outside of the education realm, but being a part of a school and understanding the intricacies of what teachers deal with is important for perspective.

I have heard before, during, and after talks educators not to excited about a message from a “non-educator” because of those important details that they tend to miss.  Learning is one aspect of our job, but if you are working with so many students that each are so unique in their own way. a lot of ideas shared are not as simple as they may seem to someone who has never taught a classroom full of children.  Although we should always be open to different perspectives, I think it is fair that we tend to connect more with someone who has done the work.

So when so many people are giving young people suggestions on how they use technology, the “do’s and don’ts” (they are more often don’ts from what I have seen), and ideas on social media without ever using it, I wonder if kids see us with the same lens of “credibility” that we tend to use with others outside the field.

I remember this older post by Will Richardson on “Balance” and how we often tell kids that they are out of balance because they use too much technology when they might see adults as out of balance because they do not use it enough.

I just wonder if the same credibility from experience that so many people value (in all professions, not just education) is something that young people consider as well?

If you have no idea what SnapChat is or how to use it, do you think a kid really cares when we say that they shouldn’t use it?

New Perspective, New Opportunities

 

Lately, I have been working with a lot of parent groups on the use of social media, and encouraging them to “jump in” and learn with their child, as opposed to fight it along the way. From my own experience. if social media is used right, it can not only improve learning, but strengthen relationships.  There are negatives with everything, but if we want to use it in a positive way, the first step is changing our perspective towards it.  If you think “Twitter is stupid”, it is going to be useless to you.  But if you look at the potential, it can create something much different.

I was ecstatic to see the following tweet from Andrea Markusich, a parent I connected with at a recent session who decided to give social media another try:

I love her perspective shift from this is something that kids are doing, to something we can learn together.  Although kids need and should have some space, I think there is power when we, as adults, take interest in the same things that they are interested in exploring.  I asked Andrea to send me an email telling me more about her experience and I loved some of the things that she shared:

I honestly thought the world was done for with twitter, because I was! I went to a session years ago and couldn’t figure out the purpose of it and then just quit.  But George planted a seed and got me thinking.  Maybe they ARENT disconnecting?? Maybe I am??  Hmmm….

Ironically we watched the movie “CHEF” the following weekend.  The movie totally demonstrated the power of youth and knowledge of social media and the huge power it has to send a message to a very broad audience.  It was very well timed as I got to see a resistant parent in action; and I saw myself.

Go back 3 years and I had my first son starting high school and I was very afraid of the impacts of social media.  I was SO scared of BAD people and all the possible dangers that we have heard in the news.  Some of these stories came way to close to home for me.  So I wanted to lock my kids up until the social media fad passed.  That may take a while….. and it’s a little bit unrealistic.

A different perspective totally transformed my view and opened me up to a new way of thinking.  It has also become a great bonding experience for me and my kids—who knew?

So now I’m on twitter….and instagram.  And I’m hooked! …Last night I posted a picture of our dog and as I was typing they were saying “Mom, you need to shorten your words,” and “c’mon that’s so nerdy why are you writing like that” they were laughing and teaching me the way to do it.  And I have lots to learn, but we are having a lot of fun.  And my kids teaching me something, I can tell it lights them up, that they are the experts.  And they are SMART!  Our world’s future is in good hands.  It’s funny, I used to look forward to getting them to bed so I could relax, now I have to keep reminding myself to make sure they go to bed as they need their sleep.  Time is flying we are having so much fun.

A new perspective leads to new opportunities.

The thing that I loved about Andrea’s note was not only was it that we need to be open to learning about what so many kids are doing, but there is so much opportunity in coming closer together when we are willing to learn from them as well.  I have really embraced the idea that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner, so it is important in our world that we swap roles back and forth with our kids.  And really, as Andrea articulated, time flies by too fast to not embrace this.

At the end of the day, the big reminder for me from reading what Andrea had shared was the importance of our attitudes towards learning.  If we see learning about something new as an opportunity as opposed to a burden, we are more likely to create something positive from the experience.  I have always said that change is an opportunity to do something great, and I am happy to see a parent embrace the same belief.

Relationships plus technology equals…?

Here comes a ramble with no direction…just writing as a way to figure things out.  I would love your thoughts.

I saw a conversation online that I have either heard or been a part of several times.  The question that started the conversation was (and it is a relevant one), “Can you be a great teacher in our world today and not use technology?”

The reality of this question is that there is no simple “yes” or “no”.  There are teachers that are not great with technology that are amazing teachers, and there are teachers that are great with technology who are not the best teachers.  One of the important elements in this question that is missing is, “what is the purpose of school?”  If it is to prepare kids for the future, do we miss a lot when we are not even using the tools of the present?

Or on the other hand, if you are spending inordinate amounts of time with your students using Twitter, when we know eventually this will go to the “MySpace graveyard”, are we helping kids with their future by focusing so much time on tools that may not be used in the future?  Is this “just in case learning” (in case we need this in the future” or is it “just in time learning” (important to what we do today)?

After relationships, technology would not be my first trait, but more likely that a person is always willing to learn, and do something with that learning.  That is what I would call the “sponge factor”; willing to absorb new learning and then share it out with others.

What if a teacher that is not strong with technology sparks a child to constantly want to learn more that the child goes on and explores on their own?  To me, a teacher that teaches a student to learn is more important than one that focuses on content only.  A teacher should also be measured on what their student does after their time with them, not only on their time in a classroom.

There are so many nuances and important questions in this conversation but I think it is one that we need to ask our staff. This goes deeper than just using technology, but more to what we want to achieve now and in the future.

That being said, I had a great conversation with a teacher the other day and we talked about hiring new teachers and I told her that I am looking for ones that use technology and incorporate into meaningful ways into learning.  Hiring practices should change along with our focus in our schools and we can not ask the same interview questions we did ten years ago. (Take a look at some of the questions people would ask now compared to ten years ago that they shared on this tweet).  Her argument (which is a valid one) was that years ago, she did not have the same skills that she does today and what would I have lost out on if I had not hired her and worked on developing her as a teacher.  (From everything I have seen of her work, she is an amazing teacher.)  What I told her was that if I had to choose between someone who is great with relationships and terrible with technology, over someone who is terrible with relationships but great with technology, I would take the former over the latter every time.  But we are seeing now is we don’t have to pick one or the other, because so many educators have both.

There is much more to teaching than being good with technology and being good with relationships.  So much more.  But in a world where you can learn so much just by having the ability to not only comprehend how to use technology, but understand how to actually leverage it, do we lose out on teaching kids about the opportunities for learning beyond the walls of our schools which is so important in both the  present and future?  Teaching kids to learn, be flexible while also resilient, is so important in our world where technology surrounds us.   In a world that is increasingly more complicated, we need to help our students be able to navigate what is coming their way and embrace change and see it as an opportunity.  Teachers need to model this.

Help me unmuddy this in my head.  Thoughts?

 

What’s the distraction from learning?

One of the things many people hear about devices in the classroom, is how easily they can become a distraction.

Does this exist?  Absolutely.

But this is not just for students, but also teachers.  If teachers are bored in their professional learning opportunities, do they refrain from doing other things on their phone?  Some do, but many do not.  If I am not engaged or empowered, there are so many other things I can be doing.

What if we thought about this differently though? 

What if I was talking about something in the classroom, a student was excited about it, and then googled more information to learn about the topic, and I ask them to put their phone away and listen to me, what is the distraction from learning?  It’s not the device, it’s me.  Is this what kills a kid’s love of learning?

Should “school” ever distract kids from learning?  I hope not but this is something we really need to think about moving forward.

The “Want” and the “Way”

In my work with a school in Ontario, I met a teacher who had a story that really resonated with me.  As we were talking about the changes in school, she had shared with me and publicly with the group, how after three years on a maternity leave, she came back to a totally different place (school) from what she had remembered.  If you think about all of the times that we see “school isn’t changing”, in many places, three years might seem like 30.  It is a long time to be away.

The really powerful part of what she shared with everyone really took me back.

She told me that she was teaching “Mitosis” to her students with an overhead projector using transparencies, and Lisa told me, “It sucked so bad that I was bored”.  It bothered her.  You could see it in the way she told her story.  She wanted to do better, but she wasn’t sure how to get there.  I spent some time showing her and others some of the learning that can be done by connecting with  experts (other teachers) through social media, and I explicitly told her that I was the last person to give her tips on teaching science, but I could help her connect with other science educators.  She was amazed by everything that was out there.  You could see her wheels turning and her eyes becoming wide open.

The best part  of this story, is that this was only about three weeks ago.  Then last week, she sent me the following tweet:

 

How awesome is that? I showed her the “Twitter in 60 Seconds” video and in a very short time, she had her students create “Mitosis in 60 Seconds” videos.

In an extremely short time, she was shifting the focus from her teaching to their learning.  I was so proud of what I had saw that I teared up when I saw it.  Can you imagine when a teacher gets really excited about their learning, the difference that makes on their students?  Lisa, in short, is awesome.

This just was a reminder that with so many educators the “want” is there, but sometimes they just need help to find the “way”.  

Talking with Doug Peterson, he shared a story about how no educator gets up in the morning wanting to do a terrible job.  The vast majority of teachers want to do great stuff for their kids, and we need to help each other to show the opportunities that exist now for ourselves and our students to really embrace better learning opportunities.  I really believe that this single step for Lisa, is the first of many leading to some really great learning.  When we want to get to greater heights, every step leads to building confidence and competence, and for many, that first step is the toughest.  Watching Lisa, and feeling her enthusiasm for what she is doing, reminded me why I do what I do, and that change doesn’t need to take forever.  That excitement from her is contagious.

Sometimes, that first step is all you need to go on to do something great.

Questioning Forward

I had the honour of addressing the Trillium Lakes District School Board in Ontario recently, and I was amazed by the culture of learning they have created.  They were an enthusiastic group and seemed to just want to keep pushing themselves to get better and better.  These days are awesome for me as an educator because I feel I really grow through the process even though I am the one “delivering” the workshop.

I was inspired in listening to Andrea Gillespie, one of their superintendents, the night before, and the board’s vision of constantly moving forward and growing as a learning organization.  You could tell by her stories that this was not just something they said, but something they lived.  The feeling I got was that they were not a board that felt they had “arrived” because they know that great organizations never stagnate.  Education will always have a target just out of reach because of the consistency of of change, and instead of being frustrated by this notion, they build upon it.  It is not that they aren’t a great organization, if anything, quite the opposite.  Growth is continuous as is learning and this is something that they are aware of and embrace.  It was refreshing.

One of the ways they keep this momentum moving forward is by starting their professional learning opportunities by stating the following:

“We are a board questioning our way forward.”

EEK!  I love this!

This sets quite the tone and embraces the notion of the innovator’s mindset of constantly learning and creating better opportunities for students.  This phrase really struck me and is something that we need to embrace in our work.

When I thought about it deeply., there is a difference between saying, “we need to ask questions” and “questioning our way forward.”  Often, when I hear questions, they are more like statements about how this won’t work disguised as questions.  For example, I will hear things like this:

“This is great, but what about standardized tests?”

or…

“You showed me some really great stuff, but when we are going to find time for this?”

Both of the above are questions, but seemingly leading to a dead end.  What if we tweaked these questions to ask the same thing but to find solutions instead of looking for problems?

“How do we move forward with these initiatives while still ensuring that our students are doing well on standardized tests?”

or

“What are some suggestions you have to create time to make this happen?”

Again, both questions but they are not dwelling on problems but instead looking for solutions. Simple tweaks that make a world of difference.

Questions are so crucial to our growth, but I think we need to focus on phrasing them in a way to find ways to move forward, not to stand still.  In education, stagnation is the equivalent of moving backwards and in a world where change is the only constant, asking questions to move forward is something we need to not only teach our kids, but embrace ourselves.