Monday, October 2, 2017

Taking on Something New

Working Together to Make the Digital Portfolio a Success

Photo from City University of Seattle, Creative Commons
Background: As the co-chair of our school improvement committee I was tasked with leading our freshmen class (about 300 students) and high school teaching & administrative staff (about 60 adults) in the development of a school-wide initiative for the individual creation of a digital portfolio. Each incoming class will take part in the digital portfolio experience so that within four years, it will be a school-wide program. We hope to advance our program at the middle school as well. The connections to our high school curriculum and the post-high school planning for our students is being defined and developed by our high school building leadership team with staff input. The school district I serve includes one high school (approximately 1,200 students) and one 6-8 middle school (around 800 students). There are three K-5 elementary schools and a Pre-K program as well.

Before I dive in, I want to thank my colleagues for adding ideas to our framework and challenging my thinking about the digital portfolio experience. Your questions led to the creation of this blog post. In this post, I am intentionally going straight from my heart to explain the intended “learning targets” associated with the digital portfolio experience. I decided that reviewing research and our school improvement goals for this blog post would take away from the authenticity these topics require.
I hope my explanations below will help you find meaning in the digital portfolio experience.  

Why are we doing this?

Great question and perhaps the most important place to start. My work with our staff last week opened my eyes to how important it is to have the “why” in place before taking something like this on as an entire staff.

Part of my story going back to Ionia, Mich. and my family. By sharing our stories,  
we are more likely to connect. I am on the far right sitting in my mom's lap  (first row)
TELL A STORY: A digital portfolio is intended to tell a story. The portfolio itself is the medium to tell that story. The creation of the portfolio is the learning experience. A digital portfolio is a learner-led experience that can be shared easily. We are all unique and those traits that make us the “characters” we have turned into over time add to the personality of our school culture. The question, “Who am I?” is the beginning of our story for the digital portfolio experience. All of our stories will evolve over the life of the portfolio. Sharing who we are enhances the learning environment, making our school a more welcoming place where building positive relationships is embraced by students and staff together.  

REFLECTION: Any experience that helps us reflect on our learning and our role as educators is positive.The portfolio emboldens each of us to dig in on that reflective practice on our own terms and at our own pace. We spend hours planning and teaching. We dedicate time to professional development and we can all agree that the PD we get the most out of usually involves the experiences we choose and the experiences that are closest to our hearts. A digital portfolio can be the launching point for each of us to dig in and share with an audience those learning experiences we are most passionate about and eager to explore deeper.

Photo By Nick Gregory
TECHNOLOGY ADVANCES DIFFERENTIATED LEARNING GOALS: The creation of a digital portfolio helps the creator develop useful technology and storytelling skills on the learner's own terms. Perhaps more importantly, the digital portfolio experience allows the creator to highlight and explore several disciplines, learning styles and methods of communication simultaneously (writing, video, audio, graphic arts, etc.). A digital portfolio is fluid in nature so investing in this medium encourages risk-taking, trying new things and manipulating technology. Twenty-first century skills benefiting everyone naturally translate into a digital portfolio learning experience. The digital portfolio is a dynamic work in progress. 

CLAIM YOUR EXPERTISE: We should celebrate the fact that our students have talents and passions that span a wide spectrum. As we claim and share our interests we are empowering our students to place some trust in us to do the same. Everyone reading this is an expert in something. Beyond that, TEACHERS ARE EXPERTS in the craft of teaching. We should claim our expertise and share it with an audience. We invest ourselves in a multitude of professional endeavors related to helping youth and leading others.

We all know of colleagues who are doing awesome things professionally that are worthy of shining light upon. In order to build a culture that is based upon collaboration and risk-taking, claiming expertise will help our school continue to improve. If a portfolio can be one vehicle where we re-frame expertise as an asset to our learning community and dismiss the idea that it is bragging, we will exponentially add value to our school culture. Taking advantage of this opportunity to remind our students and others that our passion and drive extends beyond merely showing up is a win for education.

For our diverse student body, the digital portfolio encourages them to explore and claim their own expertise. There is tremendous educational value in explicitly identifying interests and claiming expertise.

SHARED LEARNING EXPERIENCE: Our mission to build positive relationships with students and among our staff is enhanced when we share a learning experience. Navigating the challenges together and even calling into question the value of this experience makes our learning valuable. My favorite part of leading this endeavor has been leaning on my colleagues for advice and having my ideas challenged. For many people on our staff, the digital portfolio will offer an in for us to help one another. Many of our students will thrive as they see opportunities to help classmates and adults with portfolios. Start where you are on this experience. The best conditions are set for learning when we get out of our comfort zones and share in some collective vulnerability.  

My Professional Portfolio:

My next blog post will include the following digital portfolio topics:
  • What is my role as a teacher? 
  • How do I start? 
  • Who is my audience?

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