When I first enrolled in this module of the Principal’s Development Course, I had no idea what a digital portfolio was. Although I had already been reading the odd blog here and there, I did not see the relevance or benefit to teaching, leading and learning. I simply thought I was reading someone’s opinion and left it at that. Although I was familiar with the concept of Collaborative Inquiry, I have come to now see how the use of technology can enhance a collaborative inquiry at the school level and how Collaborative Inquiry itself can bring a school staff closer together for the benefit of students. Although still treading water, I am getting a better grasp on the professional benefits of all these tools.
There are many suggestions floating around out there detailing how to blog, why to blog, how to be successful at blogging. Some tips that resonated with me include:
- Write for yourself first. When the content of your blog is meaningful to you, it will likely be meaningful to others.
- Understand your intended audience. It can be one group of people or several all at the same time. You want to write in such a way that members of those various groups, in my case teacher colleagues, principal colleagues, superintendents of education, parents, interested community members can all feel that a portion of the blog resonates with them.
- Be consistent. Blogging on a regular basis will keep readers coming back. As educators, no two days are the same. There is much to write about. I just need to believe that I have something to share and that people want to engage in discussion about.
- Give away your knowledge. If I can share a resource, an epiphany or insight that may support others to become better at reaching students, why keep that all to myself?!
- Be true to your voice, or as my husband has reminded me on numerous occasions, be yourself. I know that I enjoy reading or listening to people who share from the heart. I can connect with that. So why not practice this method myself.
- To be a successful blogger takes effort, time, practice and patience. There is a lot of competition out there for people’s time. In time, I am sure I will find my niche audience. There’s no rush needed as this is an exercise as much for my own learning and Professional Growth as it is for anyone reading my posts.
- Keep my blog page appealing to the eye with pictures, quotes and colour. Make headlines catchy using SPUB: Simple, Powerful, Useful, Bold.
- Keep language easy to understand. Cut down on the “eduspeak” again remembering my intended audience.
- Keep it short. What more needs to be said here.
- Make it worth referencing. Ask yourself “Would anyone share this with someone else?” Then it’s worth posting.
In reflecting about the elements of an effective Collaborative Inquiry, the following points come to mind:
- The inquiry must ALWAYS begin with the student in mind. Whether it be regarding student achievement, student well-being or improving equity of outcomes, it all must surround a student need identified by the group involved in the CI.
- The process, by virtue of its name, is a collaborative one requiring “buy-in” from the participants. As the school leader, I can’t merely leave the group to it but it is important that I show how much I value the CI process by being involved in the discourse, research, unpacking of data and deciding on our action plan.
- Regular reflection is an integral part to the process and probably where most of the learning for staff happens. Asking yourself questions such as “Was our plan of action appropriate?” “Do we stay on this path or make adjustments?” “What data do we have to support our direction?” “Is what we are doing working in every classroom situation?” “In what way(s) do we differentiate for our students?”
- As we reflect, we constantly analyze the “what and how students are doing and learning”. Are we moving in the right direction? What are we learning as educators about our students? About our practice?
- As we learn from the inquiry, we should be making changes to our practice. And as we adjust our practice, we may need to make changes to our inquiry. The questions agreed upon at the beginning of the process, may not look the same mid-way or at the end of the process. This must be an organic process and everyone should understand this from the beginning. Students need us to grow and change along with them, to be flexible and innovative thinkers.
- Finally, the CI must be grounded in relevant research. Research helps to centre, confirm or challenge the group’s thinking and may provide a starting point for developing or readjusting a “plan of action”.
And finally, what I have learned to keep in mind as I build a Digital Portfolio:
- A Digital or ePortfolio is a great way to share one’s learning and personal/professional growth. It’s an opportunity, as a school leader, to connect with the broader school community and share good news about school happenings, goals, vision and accomplishments. It’s a great way to hold yourself and the school accountable for setting and meeting goals and demonstrating transparency.
- Determine what type of portfolio it will be when using it with students or for your own purposes. Will it be a “learning” portfolio, a “showcase” portfolio or a “hybrid” of both?
- Personalize it and make it reflect the person behind the ideas. Use of colour, pictures and quotes can help your audience connect with you and want to return to your site.
- Keep content current adding to it on a regular basis. Even if you don’t get a lot of “hits” on your site, for your own professional development and commitment to learning, it holds you accountable for keeping up-to-date.
- Decide the audience that the portfolio will be directed towards and design the content accordingly. Typically, this will likely be the school community inclusive of staff, parents and community although distribution parameters are up to you.
- Enjoy the process! It’s not a competition. It’s all about bettering yourself.