Here’s to Paving New Ground

Ah… the joys of a slow Sunday morning.  As the early sunshine streamed in the kitchen window, the sparking rays were catching the corner on the cover of the latest edition of Professionally Speaking, which was placed on the kitchen table ~ the usual pit stop between the mailbox at the end of the driveway and my office at the end of the hallway.  Instead of taking the magazine to its final resting place, I decided to leaf through the pages as I enjoyed my breakfast.  I was thrilled to see that Cultivating Readers by friends Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch was featured as one of the recently released books.  If you are looking for a summer read and have yet to purchase this resource, I would HIGHLY recommend it. Mary and Anne capture every necessary component of a comprehensive reading program. It is brilliantly written!

As I came to the final page, I quickly recognized the face featured in the article entitled, Money Man, although the Dragon’s Den reference in the subtitle was news to me.

I had the pleasure of meeting Lane Merrifield about 5 years ago at a Mindshare conference in Toronto.  He was there with Jordan Tinney (Superintendent in Surrey BC) and together they were sharing the positive impact that FreshGrade ~ a student/parent/teacher digital portfolio Application ~ was having in Surrey. In that school district, educators were provided with the opportunity to use FreshGrade as both a formal and informal means of sharing student achievement with families.  It was used as a viable and meaningful replacement for their Provincial report card.  In TVDSB, we were in the beginning stages of piloting FreshGrade and it was so meaningful to have the opportunity to meet and chat with the founder, Lane Merrifield.  He openly and passionately shared the reason behind the creation of the application.  It came about following a meeting with his own son’s teacher, where he left feeling that there needed to be a better way to have a connection/lens into the school day.   With such an admirable reason for creating a product that had the potential to be a game changer for home/school connection, I was all in, in terms of supporting this pilot for our school board.

During our first year, we experienced several technical challenges with trying to merge their operating system with Trillium, but FreshGrade was phenomenal with their support. We had not only online technical support at our fingertips, but their president and CEO; Chris Besse would travel from BC to Ontario to assist with the implementation.  The second year things got better and teachers started to dig into the potential of this product.

Two years ago, when we opened Sir Arthur Currie, we became a pilot school where all teachers had access and every student had their own digital portfolio.  Going from a system role where I was supporting at an arm’s length, to being in the trenches seeing it work first hand was phenomenal.  I saw Lane’s dream of creating a school community where no longer could children reply with “Nothing” when family members asked, “So what did you do at school today?”

As a school administrator, I have access to all 625 of our portfolios and I regularly check them.  It gives me a tremendous lens into what educators capture as evidence of student learning and how our family members are interacting with the Application.  I celebrate how our educators are using the Application and the exceptional learning opportunities that they are offering our learners.

Now, in our second year, students have 2 years’ worth of documentation and it is incredible to see their growth.  I can honestly say that it is rare for us to take part in a team meeting, where family members do not refer to the power of FreshGrade. They love it and it has became a part of the beautiful tapestry that sets our school apart from others.

However, as of a few weeks ago, I learned that as we look to the fall of 2019, I would now have the task of sharing the news with both our educators and our families, that FreshGrade is no longer an option for us in TVDSB.

With a lens on fiscal responsibility, consistency, control and Ministry support, the board has decided that educators can use G-Suite or D2L (Brightspace) as a platform for digital portfolios.  They align more seamlessly with online learning modules and are free.  Next week, our staff will be provided with training on Brightspace.  I am praying that it will be as effective and as user friendly (for educators, students and family members) as FreshGrade.  It will be heartbreaking for us if we lose ground on all of the wonderful school-home connections that we have built in two short years, especially as there has been a significant focus on looking for innovative ways to bring families into the day-to-day learning in schools.  I am staying positive!!

Back to the article…. When Lane was asked, who his favourite historical figures were, he replied, “Anyone who stood up to the establishment and paved new ground”.   I smiled as I read this part and couldn’t help but wonder (for just a second)~ what would happen if I stood up to the Board and continued to use FreshGrade for our school community ~ knowing that it was making a difference and that it is currently the right tool for what we’re hoping to accomplish.

Lane also shared that his most important lesson in school was “Perseverance”.

So here’s to our perseverance with this new tool. At the end of the day, I know that our SAC crew will rise to the occasion and do whatever they need to do to continue to build bridges with our community so that evidence of student learning is shared and celebrated.

What are your thoughts on the power of digital portfolios and celebrating student learning….

Come write with me….

2 thoughts on “Here’s to Paving New Ground

  1. I also have flirted with the idea of using FG anyways. It seems risky. I might end up in the blue pages of the magazine you just read! I have voiced my opinion loudly against the new tool at this point in two blogs on the subject. I don’t feel it is up to speed. I was given some clarification by the team working on BS and a superintendent. Currently, the new tool can do 5 of the 8 things I need it to. I commend you for trying the new tool. I am less open minded and feeling a bit burned that it is being imposed. I wonder if it will mean the difference like with our students – do we want compliance or engagement? If I put my parent hat on for a moment, my daughters teachers use SeeSaw and I don’t care that the data is store in the US. I also wonder about what my students would come up with if I presented the problem to them? I am also conscious of the fact that Brightspace is the tool that secondary students will be using for their 4 mandatory online courses. To me, it gets political too. I can’t support a tool that means less teacher jobs in secondary. Lots to mull over. In the meantime, I have moved on from “fight mode” and I’m getting creative with my grade partners.

  2. Love Cultivating Readers! So many ready to use strategies in there. Heard about Fresh Grade. I wasn’t using it but I know many were. I’ve been using GSuite. I don’t think it does the parent engagement piece all that great, but it works.

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