Reflection on Portfolio Design

I started a journey towards earning my administrative licensure this past July. I work with @Krauseunc — @CoachMcGinnis are also on this same journey with me. I write this out on my laptop as we make the three hour drive back to our homes. This is a constructivist/connectivist admin program offered through Silver Lake College. We are the first group to go through it. We created our program from the ground up. I am currently working on two projects. I’m designing a portfolio. Not an ePortfolio, mPortfolio, or nPortfolio, just a Portfilio. My design process is documented below. My second project is designing and implementing a teacher evaluation scale. This metric is for teachers in teacher led schools to evaluate each other. Please contribute to the piece here (please edit, this is a ‘sandbox’ version, play freely).

My journey into blogging and publishing work on the Internet is taking me into a new arena. Nearly three years ago, I blogged for the first time (November 6, 2008), I wanted a place for students to share their thoughts with the world. I wanted a place to post assignments and create a reflection space. Two years ago (September 9, 2009), I started posting on Ning when Ning was a free thing with tons of upside. I still pay the $2.95 per month to keep live. For some reason, I can’t let go of this site. The blog on the Ning was where I experimented with espousing my thoughts. I quickly realized I needed a new space to put down my thoughts, a space separate from my teaching position and my district. It’s a funny tension. I wanted to be a representative of my district probably 98.5% of the time, but the occasional 1.5% of the time I wanted to speak my mind without being associated with my district, I didn’t have a place to do so. In November 2010, I launched this site, Teach4aLiving.

I went from Blogger to Ning to back to blogger to Each choice was made intentionally, but I think the blogging space reflects where I was at as a learner. As a first year teacher, I was all-Google-all-day. As an aspiring school designer, Ning provided the most open platform to bring in all stakeholders, while still preserving the control I desired. For $19 per year, provided me with the professionalism and control I craved.

In July of 2011, something different happened…I was sitting with Thomas Steele-Maley at EdVisions Summer Institute in Henderson, MN, He stated, “Avalon’s site is a Vanilla install.” My silence must have indicated my confuzzlement. Avalon School is a PBL charter in Minneapolis. In fact, the picture on main page of this blog comes from my trip to Avalon in September 2010. And I use Avalon’s website as a best practice example of a beautiful charter school website. It took me a few moments to make the transition that WordPress is more than a blog (a statement I’d heard from Mr. Steelemaley frequently over the past few months). So I tried to put a Vanilla install into my blog. I couldn’t. Suddenly, I needed additional creative control with my blog to achieve my goal. I wanted to turn my wordpress blog into a best-practice Portfolio. I know that sounds arrogant, but that’s what teachers do, sometimes. Try this: Google student portfolio’s and provide me with ten best-practice examples, all featuring students who have gotten into Tier I universities or started their businesses right out of high school. In 2013, you’ll be able to. As of right now, same as in July of 2011, I could not find examples of such Portfolios. Moodle, Project Foundry, High Tech High, Mandala– – all do cool things, all have incredible upside, but they’re not what I was looking for. I want a space where the student can capture the design process in the Portfolio. Returning to my discovery with Thomas this past July…Thomas quickly pointed out I couldn’t do what I wanted to do on and that I needed to launch a site. That’s what I did just a few hours ago ( – sidebar: it felt awkward reserving a domain name with my name in it, but it was necessary). Thomas (@steelemaley) is working with students at my school to design Portfolio’s ala Helen Barrett style. He’ll be launching this with Kornerstone School students this November.

I want to tell you about one of my students. His name is Chris. He writes code. He understands mathematics at a level much higher than I currently do. He is a leader and sharer of thoughts. For Chris’s first project, he designed an app that will allow students to calculate the value of their school issued device. Essentially, Chris is making an app that will work as a student buy-back option. Chris has not gone through a hard and clean backwards design like many of his peers have with their first projects. Chris knew what he wanted to do. He documented how he was going to get to his end point. And he worked diligently to achieve his goal. You can see Chris’s tutorials here. When Chris entered his proposal meeting to pitch his project, I didn’t think there’d be any way he would get to the point he’s currently at. I didn’t share that with him of course, but I was expecting a design with a possible implementation in the spring. Then I saw it happen, I saw a student do what I do. I saw a young man get involved with something, shut out distractions around and create-produce-reflect-create-distribute. Xcode downloads were followed by intense conversations with his peer Parker. Something happened at our school, if-Chris-then-I started taking shape. “If Chris can create an app, then I can create a widget.” That’s a direct quote from another one of my students. I was labbing my portfolio on Blogger, a tweet came up in my Tweetdeck. I checked out the video tutorial for building apps, I was 4 minutes in before I realized the presenter was one of my students. I was put on a two day high. I was inspired. The tagline of Kornerstone School is Learn.Create.Inspire… Tom Krause had a vision when he put that down on paper. Tom’s vision shook me. I stopped my creating in Blogger, and took the steps I told Thomas Steele-Maley I needed to take last July. Chris was the example I needed. How does a classroom teacher go from experimenting with Blogger in 2008 to writing code in 2011?  His students show him the way. This is beyond constructivism. This is beyond networked connectivism. This is something radically different that I was not expecting.  Students pushing their teachers. Teachers in turn creating something out of need for the students. That’s right, Chris needs my Portfolio. He needs a teacher to take a risk and do something new. I talk all the time about students like Chris getting into MIT. I talk about Kornerstone School students getting into Harvard. I think this is part of the journey needing documentation in order to get our students into those prestigious learning environments. In fact, I am quite confident Chris and Parker will be modding my Portfolio in a very short time and making it better. This is my first project. It’s a project that I’m hoping will be an example of possible Portfolios for my students.

My second project I’m working on right now for my cohort is designing a teacher evaluation system for our teacher led school. We have three Lead Teachers, and hope to scale up to five. The teachers evaluate the other teachers. Today, I met with Jim Adams (@Jimnchetek). He was an engineer on NASA’s inaugural mission to the moon project.  He is brilliant. Tom Krause got Jim on Twitter last Friday. The egg came off and the bio was updated instantly. Jim’s brilliance is clear in his ability to listen to me rant for 13 minutes and then ask the following question:
——In order to become a better teacher, how would you evaluate yourself?

I was blown away. I have two parameters on the project so far. The evaluation cannot be tied to compensation and will not be used for punitive punishments. I talked about ideas for an extensive time, then Jim simplified all of my energy and thoughts into a defining question. In order to become a better teacher, how would you evaluate yourself? This is a project I’m designing with my colleagues @JenMelville (Jen Melville) & @JoshZimmers (Josh Zimmers). Jen is also in a grad program and three of us will be evaluating each other. I feel grateful to have spent the day with Jim and plan. I think Josh, Jen, and I will be better off for it.  Right now, I see three big buckets for evaluation- operations, teaching, innovation. I was in the groove, explaining these big buckets to Jim. “One quick question,” Jim stated, “What part do students play in the evaluation?” My goodness. I was hit in the jaw again. I’m starting to think I’m making this too difficult. Maybe self reflection, mixed with a staff accountability statement, and student input is all we need. This project is early and in progress. Please comment with thoughts.

Finally, I want to take a moment and reflect on the importance of a thought partner. Today was an incredible day. My brain is on fire. Each month when I connect Tom Krause, I am in awe. He is attacking the traditional education system with ferocity. He’s the only person I know who’s as overloaded and stretched as thin as I am. We’re all busy. I know a lot of people who work, but it’s strange how our lives seam to be on a parallel narrative. He still coaches. He’s got a young family. He is who I’ve modeled my teaching practice after. I am proud of Tom because he’s always striving to get better. Tom started blogging. This post was retweeted by Tom Whittby and his post was picked up by Fresno State’s online paper. I’ve seen an exuberance to him that I haven’t seen before. He has the same fascination as my student referenced earlier. Tom told me something like this, “What’s crazy is that after I post something, I get challenged and that causes me to question what I posted.” Is there a more direct example of learning? Tom and I have built trust over the past four years. He is one of the few people other than my wife who will hold me 100% accountable. He will allow me to speak my mind. He encourages me to seek failure. This is odd, but I would not be in my cohort, I would not be blogging if it weren’t for Tom. He encouraged me to write posts on the Ning about Kornerstone. He would tell me, “I read that and that’s awesome.” As much as I’ve transformed into a DIY (Do It Yourself) learner, I needed an exemplary teacher to tell me to take a risk. As a young teacher. I saw myself othered because I taught special education. I taught at-risk. I taught in a charter school. Tom broke through all that and allowed me to dream of new educational system. The only advice that I have for anyone who is still reading this post is to find your Tom. Find a colleague outside of your department in your school that challenges your craziest ideas and supports your failures. Find someone who you can push and will push you right back. Find someone who believes in this profession the same way you do and wants to see students grow, a system change, and serves the public. The last thing that I want to share in this space is the 1 takeaway From Tom that I carry with me and spread- enjoy the journey. 


About Michael

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