Supporting Student Learning with Digital Tools for Communication

In Eric Sheninger’s article titled “Transforming Your School with Digital Communication” he states that the most important transformation occurs when leaders use digital formats for communicating information to stakeholders.  He states, “Just as teachers differentiate instruction for a variety of learning styles in the classroom, school leaders should differentiate our communication efforts if we want true partnerships between home and school. As leaders, we have the power to shape the culture of our schools. Using social media and digital tools as a lever, we can open the door to new ways of learning, thinking, and communicating for all members of our community.” 

At Mill Plain Elementary, Claire Baylor took an opportunity to branch her communication efforts through digital formats.  As she was preparing for the school year, Claire was configuring the best ways to keep staff members informed of student needs.  Handing paraeducators stacks of IEPs has not been a good use of time in the past.  Claire still wanted to ensure that paraeducators had information to work with students.  Born from this need, Claire jumped at the opportunity to use digital binders.   

Digital binders is a folder system, mainly used through Google Drive, that Evergreen High School has used for the past four school years in order to connect information from classes throughout the building to students who attend those classes and staff members who support students in those classes.  It also provides information on students so staff members can work with students; applying accommodations, supporting independence and advocacy, and building on strengths and confidence in order to increase overall achievement.  In seeing the success that Evergreen High School had in using digital binders, Claire saw an alignment between use of digital binders and her vision for supporting student learning.

Claire began with creating schedules of students and support staff with Google Docs.  Using an online system allowed for staff members to see where Claire would be supporting students throughout the day, where students with IEPs would be located throughout the day, and where support staff would be utilized to support student learning.   

Having a starting place that displayed overall schedules for the school day, Claire was able to make minor adjustments to the schedule throughout the school year.  She scheduled a daily time to check in with students and paras; often times overlapping her lunch with the paras in order to receive information from paras.  This supported the work and provided Claire feedback on the access students and staff members were receiving as a result of moving to digital binders.   

At first, the buy in was not easy.  People get used to taking notes and data by writing the information down.  Once paras saw the benefits of using digital binders, the transition became easy.  Digital binders provided more than just schedules: 

  • Reminders of work being done in previous days for specific students through notes 
  • Access to teacher unit plans to track upcoming events and activities 
  • Access to assignments and/or tools for classroom activities (i.e. graphic organizers, etc.) 
  • Sub notes so in the absence of a staff members, others could pick up where they left off 
  • A map of the school to find locations with ease 
  • Personalized Learning Profiles of students 

With the Personalized Learning Profiles (PLPs), staff members were able to access current IEP goals for students, student interests and motivators, a list of accommodations to support access, and other pertinent information for each student.  Those who needed access had the access through sharing of files and folders in the digital binders.  In working with subs, Claire found a need to include pictures of students in their profiles so the support staff could find the students they needed to support with ease.  These PLPs met Claire’s initial need for providing access to student information to others by organizing important information in a short, concise manner.  

Once the support staff was able to accept online note taking as part of their responsibilities, both Claire and other teachers were able to access up to date information on students in the digital binders.  Paras put a link to in their lesson planning that provided what they did that day and what the plan was for the next day.  Taking ownership in what they were doing and making the system work for them was key in allowing Claire to be informed of the work, and make minor adjustments.  Having a clear goal with ease of access to pertinent information made the daily work seamless in providing support to students in hopes of closing the achievement gap.  

Claire, teachers, and support staff also used Google Forms to collect behavior data.  Google Forms provided immediate access to information and displayed multiple snapshots throughout the day of a student’s behavior.  The information was shared with necessary parties.  This allowed Claire the ability to connect with parents regarding the data that was current.  By tracking the data through Google Forms, Claire was able to work with IEP teams to create meaningful social/emotional goals for students.  With the access to more information that was in the moment and objective, Claire was able to target frequency, duration, intensity, location, and time of day for student behaviors.  Analyzing data and teaching focused social and behavioral skills aligned with the idea of supporting the whole student. 

In one case, having immediate behavior data was powerful for one of the 3rd graders in order to keep the student accountable because the staff was all on the same page.  Allowing for follow through of the student’s plan across settings and people made the student’s plan successful.  Claire left one question on the data collection form open-ended.  The form focused on whether the student used a problem-solving strategy, and what problem-solving strategy was used. The student needed to hear the same message.  A sub could use the strategies that worked to provide student with a clear and consistent message; removing the power struggle. Having success with the plan for this student showed the power of digital communication. 

Of course, there are barriers in using digital communication tools.  Having a feedback loop, such as ongoing meetings and check ins that Claire has established in her schedule is important for taking the system to the next level and build off what has been accomplished.  Behavior data has been great; now Claire wants to focus on collection of academic data.  That includes having a vision and finding the right assessment and tool for collecting information.  Allowing for trial and error to put something out there try it out and see what works and what falls apart has been crucial to this journey so far.  The system can be endless so information has to be structured/organized, and there has to be a vision for what needs to be accomplished right now.  Claire kept asking questions, “Why do I need this information?  Why am I asking them to do it?”  Catherine, one of the paraeducators, started creating weekly lesson plans because that worked for her.  Creating flexibility and tuning into strengths of the person allowed for growth in using the system.  In collaboration with the para, Claire found a common ground to make the system work for all stakeholders.  The biggest barrier in using digital tools for communication is making the system work for each person. 

Receiving feedback from others allowed Claire to bridge the gap between what was being presented and how it was interpreted by staff members looking at it.  She noticed the more opportunities that everyone uses technology the more it models the use technology as a tool for learning.  For instance, looking up “tan bat” in a story in order to show the student the context as it relates to the story.  By creating a system for access to information, Claire opened the door to collaboration.  In doing so, she used digital tools to foster communication across stakeholders with ease of access. Students were able to take ownership in their learning, and will continue to do so as Claire and staff members at Mill Plain Elementary continue their work in closing the achievement gap for all students. 

To see more of Claire’s current system, go to this link: 

Brand New One by One Sessions Involve Kids!

Watch Kids in Action as they Interact and Learn with Sphero, Seesaw, BeeBot Coding and Scratch!

K-2 Seesaw Classroom Observation & 3-5 Seesaw Classroom Observation
Come and see what Seesaw looks like in action!  See how students are able to use Seesaw when given choice in demonstrating their understanding.  

K-2 BeeBot Coding Classroom Observation
Bee-Bot is an exciting new robot designed for use by young children. This colorful, easy-to-operate, and friendly little robot is a perfect tool for teaching sequencing, estimation, problem-solving, and just having fun!  During this session, participants will be able to observe students learning to code and problem solve.  

3 – 5 Sphero Robotics Classroom Observation
Sphero Edu uses app-enabled robots to foster creativity through discovery and play, all while laying the foundation for computer science. Sphero goes beyond code with collaborative STEAM activities, nurturing students’ imaginations in innovative and engaging ways. During this session, we will be able to see students being introduced to the Sphero, and engage in programming to solve a problem using the Sphero.

K-2 Sphero Robotics Classroom Observation 
Sphero Edu uses app-enabled robots to foster creativity through discovery and play, all while laying the foundation for computer science. Sphero goes beyond code with collaborative STEAM activities, nurturing students’ imaginations in innovative and engaging ways. During this session, we will be able to see students being introduced to the Sphero, and engage in programming to solve a problem using the Sphero.

3-5 Ozobot Coding Classroom Observation
Ozobots are miniature smart robots that can follow lines or roam around freely, detect colors, and can also be programmed. During this session, we will be able to see students engage in programming to solve a problem using the Ozobots.  

K-2 Scratch Jr. Coding Classroom Observation & 3-5 Scratch Coding Classroom Observation
Watch kids create their own interactive stories, games and animations using Scratch.

Listen to Students’ Honest Stories of Their School Experiences
Uncovering Hidden Bias
During this session, a panel of high school students will share their stories and experiences living and learning as an EL in Evergreen Public Schools.



Everyone gets frustrated at some point.  What I have learned from watching Ted Talks with Kelly McGonigal is that embracing stress is more important than reducing stress.  Clifton P. Parker discusses Kelly’s research in an article regarding the same topic.  He states, “Stress is most likely to be harmful when the following conditions are present: it feels against your will, out of your control and utterly devoid of meaning. If you can change any of these conditions – by finding some meaning in it – you can reduce the harmful effects of stress.” (Parker 2015)

When students in specialized programs move from 2nd to 3rd grade that most likely means that they will be switching IEP case managers; creating a transition for both the student and the special education teacher.  Continue reading “EMBRACING STRESS TO DEVELOP A SHARED VISION”


In the book Qualities of Effective Teachers by James H. Stronge, he states, “Research has demonstrated that student achievement is higher in classes where instructional time is maximized (see, for example, Taylor et al., 1999; Walberg, 1984). The effective teacher prioritizes instruction, a process that is accomplished partially through allocation of time. One illustration of how effective teachers best use the scarce commodity of time is in smoothly orchestrated classroom transitions; they remain involved with the students during the entire class period from start to finish, allowing for no idle or down time.”

When looking at student instruction at Crestline Elementary, limiting transitions is a key to their success. For a population with over 66% of students receiving free or reduced lunch, 11.7% receiving special education services, and over 26% receiving ELL services, Crestline’s Principal, Bobbi Hite, sums this up pretty clearly when she shared with me her thoughts about supporting all students. Continue reading “LIMITING TRANSITIONS: A COMMITMENT TO INCLUSION”

Some worthy (but maybe not beach-worthy) summer read suggestions for teachers of social studies

Looking for something to fill all the time you have left over after fixing up the yard and resealing the deck? Here are some summer read suggestions for teachers of social studies:

  • The College, Career & Civic Life (C3) Framework. It’s available online for free.
    The state has adopted this as an “instructional framework”  for social studies that is informing the revision of the state SS standards. It’s definitely not a “beach read” but it is free and informative. It’s focus is on the inquiry arc of learning.


  • For teachers of US History who feel the need to brush up on content knowledge, Don’t Know Much About American History by Kenneth Davis is pretty good (and a light and entertaining read more appropriate for the beach but still probably less so than a Dan Brown novel.


  • Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts by Sam Wineburg or Why Don’t You Just Tell Me the Answer: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12 by Bruce Lesh skew to teachers of older students (which I know is obvious by the subtitle of the second one) but I think they could still be relevant to intermediate teachers who want to explore the important skills beneath the learning of historical content.


  • Lastly, here are three books that are very relevant to teaching social studies but are not written with social studies specifically in mind so if you have teachers who don’t want to commit summer reading time to something that is exclusive to the content of social studies, try these:
    • Dive Into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice by Trevor Mackenzie
    • Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana
    • 17,000 Classrooms Can’t Be Wrong: Strategies That Engage Students, Promote Active Learning, and Boost Achievement


Fort Vancouver Regional Library Summer Reading Program


Check out this opportunity for reading fun through the Fort Vancouver Regional Library!

Read, earn prizes, and visit the library for amazing performances and activities June 15 – August 15, 2017.

How it works:

  • Summer Reading is open to all ages.
  • Register online or at your library, then start logging time on June 15.
  • Make reading a daily habit. Set your own daily reading goal.
    • Log the days you meet your reading goal.
    • Log a day of reading if you attend a library program.
  • Youth aged 0-18 years, earn a prize when you reach 15, 30 and 45 days read — visit your library by August 15 to choose your prizes.
  • Everyone, when you reach 15, 30 and 45 days read you get an entry in the Grand Prize Drawing for one of these great prizes:
    • $200 Amazon gift card for each age group: 0-5 years old, 6-11 years old, and 12-18 years old
    • Two (2) nights at Skamania Lodge for adults

You can also:

  • Write and read reviews online.
  • Tell us a little about what you like to read and receive book recommendations via email.

Google Summit Coming to Union High in August

Want to learn everything Google from the those in the know? The Digital Bug Washington Google Summit will be held at our own Union High School this summer!

ESD112 describes the event like this:  It’s a day of learning, sharing, and fun that will focus on skills, strategies, and products that make a meaningful difference in classroom instruction. From Google Classroom to Chrome, from Google Docs to Google Sheets, you’ll hear skilled presenters and knowledgeable colleagues discuss ways to make the most of Google’s free products. With a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced-level topics, you’re sure to find sessions that fit your interests. Session topics will be posted on the summit website as they become available.

Participants should bring a charged wireless device to the summit.

Early registration of $135 ends July 9th, 2017.  Regular registration, after July 10th, 2017, is $150 and will close on August 2nd, 2017. Register here.