Who's Telling Your Story

Wanted to share a piece of Chapter 14 of the new book: Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow's Schools Today. I know that I've talked a lot about it, but never shared the tone and flow of a chapter. Half of the book tells the fictional story of Brad, a principal that is choosing to lead his school after years of just managing it into mediocrity. The second part of the book (actually it is every other chapter) provides rationale, resources, and ideas on ten areas that help connect kids to their learning. 

From Chapter 14- Who's Telling Your Story. 

Incredible things were hatching at Brad’s school. He was experiencing a new sense of energy in students, teachers, and parents. He was also truly enjoying the hard work that goes with leadership. He was working harding, but feeling better. The grind that is an essential part of school leadership was now filled with moments of innovation, great conversations, and students involved with the projects in which they are passionate. Brad knew that he had to seize this energy, and begin to make sure that the incredible work that was being done throughout the school was being archived, celebrated, and shared throughout the community. Brad had always believed in the power of story, and he knew that it was important in so many ways to begin to the craft the narrative of the learning at the school. Schools throughout his community were continuing to get bashed for poor test scores, poor handling of finances, and a number of other nagging issues. Each of these stories were building a boat anchor around the possibilities of greater innovation, and Brad knew that if the community at large could see or hear the work happening at his schools that some space would be created for first his teachers, but for the teachers throughout the area in general. In addition, Brad knew that helping his students learn the art of storytelling would be a lifelong skill that would transfer from career to career and from passion to passion.

Brad was looking for a way for both student voice and excellent student work to come to the forefront. He examined a number of tools and options before stepping forward with a two-fold concept for capturing the stories of his school. The first would be an electronic portfolio for each of his students that captured video, text, and artifacts of student learning. Many of these items would be harvested by the school for use in its communication with parents, the community, and beyond, but it would have at its core a student-designed portfolio that would maximize creativity within a structure that could be scaffolded to meet the needs of all students. The electronic portfolio captured the best of the examples of learning as well as provide a place for reflection for students. The second phase would be having each students build a capstone video that showcased a piece of how they had grow in their thinking, interest/passion, and strengths over their time at the school. This digital story would serve to showcase their technology integration skills, ability to craft a compelling narrative, and build a strong visual representation of their story.

Rolling out the electronic portfolio required an intense about of communication by Brad. He worked with a variety of teacher groups including a visioning committee, each of his academic teams, his teachers that taught students outside of the core subjects, and a final polishing and design group. In typical Brad style, he accelerated the timeline to complete the e-portfolio because he couldn’t imagine another student leaving his school without this experience, but even with this accelerated timeline, it took about nine months to bring a workable e-portfolio to the students that encapsulated the vision of the teachers. It was designed from the outset to be a public document with private spaces. The teachers and students involved with the conversation wanted the electronic portfolio to be both a showcase and a sandbox. They saw a need for final portfolio quality work to be front and center along with space for reflection and writing about these pieces of excellent student work, but they also believed that learning is a process that never ends, so the need to have a space of continuous growth and progress was valued also. Brad worked with the teachers to develop the right spaces of showcase in the electronic portfolio. There was talk about each subject area having a space, but the collective wisdom of the teacher team spoke about the importance of the places of interconnection that exists in their school now that many of the elements of excellent engagement were taking shape, and they wanted to honor is school-wide work, so they decided to build some display spaces that fed this philosophy. Students were asked to add work product to a section about personal growth over time, on excellent student work, on media (books, video, audio, etc.) that they have interacted with and growth through, and a final space to demonstrate creativity and innovation.

Once the the vision of the project intersected with the design, it was time for students to interact with the e-portfolio. The pilot team of students entered information, and discuss the bumps and friction of the new system. It was mostly surrounding the limitations that they had to make the space their own and how some items didn’t drop easily into the system. It had been decided to limit the show space of the e-portfolio that was public to remain heavily branded with the colors of the school as many of these would be shared with a public audience and served a larger purpose than student playground. It became a teaching moment for Brad and his staff as they talked about digital footprint with the students,  first impressions and design.  The feedback that they received went to the design and polishing group that was able to finalize the e-portfolio. Brad has continued to see growth in the students posting final products as well as using their private space to store personal ideas, projects, and learning beyond the school day. These portfolios are now being discussed through the K-12 space in Brad’s district, and he is excited to be receiving students in the future that will have the technology expertise to hit the ground running and grow the quality of their e-portfolio over time.