Interactive Bulletin Boards to Connect Home, School and Community

Tonight was my school’s open house, which we call Meet and Greet. It is very informal. The primary purposes are for the students and families to meet their assigned teachers, to unload all of the necessary classroom supplies, and to get registrations out of the way.

Meet and Greet night is also an excellent opportunity to make connections between home, school, and community. One way we did this was by hosting a reading graffiti board. Staff, parents, and students could post their favorite books they read this summer on red butcher paper. We placed recognizable texts with the display, as a visible way to reinforce the purpose of the board, as well as to highlight the importance of the mission in our elementary school.



In addition to our reading graffiti board, we also created a social media contest. Thanks to a suggestion by Missy Emler, a bulletin board was created asking for visitors to suggest an official hashtag for our school.



People passing by were encouraged to add their suggestions to the board. Our current social media outlets, including Twitter, Facebook, and Blogger, were highlighted on the board with the hope that more families will digitally connect with us.

Once we collect enough ideas, we plan on creating a Google Form to share with the school community and vote on the hashtag of choice. Right now, #howe2learn seems like the frontrunner!

A Growing Edge


photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

I just finished reading Data Wise: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning (Harvard Education Press, 2013). It is an excellent resource for school leaders and leadership teams looking for specific strategies for better collaboration.

One quote that really stuck with me is on one of the last pages:

You can expect that no matter how experienced you become with this work, you will always have a growing edge. At this edge, you will be faced with what we call “burning questions” – having reached the limits of your own knowledge and skill, you will need to engage in inquiry in order to move forward. Why not let the same process that is guiding your efforts to improve student learning guide your own introspection about the work of improvement? (218)

The emphasis is mine (hence the title of this post). I like the concept of a “growing edge”. It reminds me of other terms related to being a lifelong learner, such as having a “growth mindset”, “preparing for possibilities”, and taking an “inquiry stance”. We should constantly be creeping forward in our capacities as educators. 

But there is also a distinction. If you read the passage, having a growing edge means that our currently used resources, such as personal learning networks and professional texts, may allow us to grow only so much. What it means to me is we have to tap into maybe our greatest source of knowledge as practitioners: Our students.

So instead of just moving forward, a growing edge might also suggest a more recursive learning pathway – one where we come back to where we started and consider both our achievements and our growth. The authors advocate for engaging in classroom/action research. It will not only help us determine the impact of our instruction on student learning, but also lead us to reflect on our own practice and help us improve as a result. Like the lit lamppost at night that also offers a shadow during the day, we have to work smarter and explore the multiple ways our daily work can benefit everyone in the learning community, student and teacher.

Puzzle of Practice

As a school leader, I know complex concepts such as “teaching” and “best practice” can be nebulous and hard to convey. That is why I sometimes use metaphors and analogies when attempting to start a discussion with my staff about what we do as educators.


photo credit: eszter via photopin cc

One I recently considered is how teaching is like a puzzle. There are so many pieces that go into great instruction. Classroom management, student relationships, lesson planning, assessment, standards and curriculum…how do these all fit together? The genius of a great teacher is they can see all of these pieces, but they can also see the big picture, which allows them to place all of the puzzle pieces together to create a learning environment where every student succeeds.

But maybe that is where the analogy ends.

Because unlike a jigsaw puzzle, too often we do not have access to what the end product should look like, through powerful professional development such as peer observations.

Sometimes pieces, especially the new ones, simply don’t fit. We then have to ask ourselves: Why isn’t this practice fitting? Is it because the other pieces won’t allow for it? Should we jettison those pieces (practices) that don’t align with our new addition? Or do we question the new piece itself?

One more difference is that our potential as educators is not limited to borders. Our skills can always expand. Surprisingly, this can be a challenge, when we are never sure about the limits to our learning. If we learn and expand our thinking so much that we call into question the very foundation of our practice, what do we do then? Start from scratch?

I think we are best served by taking our professional learning lives one piece at a time. Take that new piece in your hand, turn it to the right and to the left, and check out both sides. Ask others who have been there, or are right there with you, what they think. Call on the collective wisdom of your personal learning network for their expertise (and remember to be there for them when they need you). Most of all, never stop puzzling over your practice.

Wrapping Up a Week of Learning about Digital Student Portfolios

Last week, five excellent blogs profiled my book on their respective digital spaces.

It culminated in a great Twitter chat on Sunday, 8/17.

As a bonus, two educators – Jimmy Sapia and Kimberley Moran – posted their innovative thinking about digital student portfolios on their blogs.

What I feel best about these connected learning experiences is, through the collaboration of many, others are taking the next steps toward becoming better. As Kimberley’s blog post title states, we need to “take one digital step at a time”. We are not trying to be perfect, but to continue our journey toward what’s possible. Check out Kimberley’s and Jimmy’s posts for great examples of how we might prepare for your own learning journey.

Capturing and advancing student learning through more visible methods of assessment is about helping students better understand their own abilities, reflect on their progressions toward personal goals, and take time to celebrate their successes during the school year. Just as important, to better understand our students as individuals with so much potential can only come from regular use of a wide variety of assessment practices. A digital portfolio is only one of those practices, but it is becoming more essential every day in our ever connected world.

Blog Tour Wrap Up: Digital Student Portfolios via @plpnetwork


Thank you to Curt Rees, Jessica Johnson, Cathy Mere, Gail Boushey, Joan Moser, Clare Landrigan, and Tammy Mulligan for offering their digital spaces and expertise this week. They each posted responses to my new eBook. I am very grateful for their time.

Here are the links to the exceptional posts they wrote:

Jessica Johnson:
Curt Rees:
Cathy Mere:
Gail Boushey and Joan Moser:
Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan:

Do you want to continue the conversation?


Click here to join our Google+ Community on Digital Student Portfolios:

Powerful Learning Practice will also be hosting a Twitter chat Sunday, August 17th at 6 P.M. CST – sign up here:

Most Popular Pins for 2013-2014

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For the second year, I have curated all pins that followers have found helpful on Pinterest. These linked resources are collected on monthly Pinterest boards, mostly for my school staff. At least two repins and/or favorites “qualify” a resource for this most prestigious recognition. Click here to see all 62 pins.

You can see the most popular pins from 2012-2013 by clicking here.

A Good Mind


My son and I have taken Tae Kwon Do together now for almost a year. He joined so he could engage in an extracurricular activity that would also benefit him down the road, in areas such as self-discipline and healthy habits. I joined to lose a few pounds as well as to stretch out an ailing back.

We both have graduated to our next levels. This means we are that much closer in our learning progression toward black belt – the ultimate prize. What it also means is that our next short term goal (a red stripe for me and red belt for my son) will require a longer interval between testing dates.

Thinking back to my initial test for yellow stripe, this event occurred after only two weeks of training. The forms and techniques were simple. Success was essentially guaranteed.

Not so now. The techniques and forms asked of each of us is a challenge every time we enter practice. So what keeps us going? How will we, especially my young son, stay motivated to achieve that next goal, which is at least four months away?

Our master instructor often addresses this during practice. While we are sitting down and stretching on the floor of the dojang, he will make comments like “You don’t need to be the greatest athlete to be successful (in tae kwon do). But you do need to have a good mind.”

So if it is mostly mental, what does it take to develop a good mind? Paul Tough, in his book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (Mariner, 2012), explores this question. He is a journalist who looked for answers to why some kids succeed against great odds while others do not.

For instance, Tough visited and observed students in highly volatile areas within the city of Chicago. What he learned is that, in spite of these kids’ tough situations, some overcame the obstacles they faced through positive relationships with others, especially parents. In fact, he found that “parents can overcome histories of trauma and poor attachment; that they can change their approach to their children from one that produces anxious attachment to one that promotes secure attachment and healthy functioning” (38). This is promising. Even if we as parents have made mistakes in the past, it may not be too late.

But what if parents do not make these changes when warranted? How do we as educators handle these situations? The author relates this knowledge to how schools might attempt to help students develop better habits of mind. As an example, Tough highlighted an inner city chess club advisor, Elizabeth Spiegel. Her middle school students regularly win both individual and team awards at the national level. Her secret? Besides an incredible amount of chess knowledge she has attained, she also provides her students with unflinchingly honest feedback about their performance. She isn’t mean with her observations. Spiegel is just very direct and specific about where her students can improve for their next competition. Her goal is to help her students think, as well as to encourage the idea that they can always improve.

Back in the dojang…

In spite of our lengthened time before our next testing date, I am starting to now see how those that came before us were successful.

First, our practices are reliant on our community. There is no shame in being a white belt, because everyone started at this point. If someone is struggling with their form, a higher belt is assigned to that person to perform it together, as a shared demonstration. If there is more than one belt color that needs help, another student is place in between each of them. They then execute the same form together. When practice is not in session, we have several opportunities to celebrate, such as at tournaments and family gatherings. There is no shortage of trophies and food. These positive relationships keep us together during our individual struggles.

As well, our practices are all about growth. We don’t look back at a time when we were not successful. Rather, a focus on that next step toward becoming a green belt, red belt, or whatever goal is the aim. The feedback we receive from the master instructor is always about our actions and never about ourselves as a person. Even if the mistake was “upstairs”, the response from our teacher is still focused on our habits of mind. Are we lacking focus? What is going on right now that is preventing us from being present? Whether physical or mental, we have total control in making adjustments to better our performance.

Why does this matter?

In school, so much of our time is wasted on focusing on goals that are not attainable in the near or distant future. Standardized test scores and other forms of summative assessments are outcomes of excellent instruction. But they mean very little to learners in the here and now. When a school attempts to become proficient in a matter of one year after receiving results that indicate underachievement, it is like going from white belt to black belt. It is not going to happen that fast. That goal is only attainable if a school were to alter the system itself. This would mean cheating the assessments, which has become a reality for a few schools and districts.

Instead, schools that are the most successful create a culture of continuous learning toward attainable goals. They develop a climate where it is perfectly acceptable to admit one’s areas of need and seek help in becoming better. Schools that make large and regular gains see the success in one area as a result of a collaborative effort from many. Feedback given and received is visible, transparent, and focused on what we are doing and can do better in, instead of nebulous goals that are unattainable and irrelevant to students’ learning lives.

As I embark on my fourth year as an elementary principal, I plan on coming in with the same mindset of wonder and enthusiasm as I did when I stepped into my first classroom. Cultivating a climate of trust, collective responsibility, and hope will be my first priorities. I am confident that the other important mandates will fall into place.