I have never been a fan of largely text-based PowerPoint presentations and literally cringe when I see student presentations with essays pasted into the text.  We really MUST be teaching students the skills of Presentation Zen.

I am a huge fan of the note section in PowerPoint because it allows me to write everything I want to say, thereby processing each slide and what it should look like visually, without filling each slide with too much text.

I anticipated the presentation aspect of this course to be pushing something like Prezi, so I am surprised, delighted and disappointed to see that it is really much simpler than this.

Surprised because…
I spent three hours one afternoon in August trying to create the first faculty meeting presentation of year on Prezi before giving up from sheer frustration and doing it in PowerPoint.  In the same evening though, I made a video for the first time and it only took two hours, so it wasn’t a complete technological disaster.  I really thought I had failed at being innovative by failing to present using Prezi.

Delighted because…
I don’t have to learn something completely new.

Disappointed because…
I thought this would be the time whereby I could actually learn Prezi.

Despite my ability to keep my current presentation tool, the ideas of Visual Literacy have completely transformed my work.  Below is an evolution of the last three meetings I ran, in which I used a presentation for each.

October 2012 Faculty Meeting using Visual Literacy Principles


September 2012 Faculty Meeting attempting to move towards simplicity


August 2012 Welcome Back Faculty Meeting PowerPoint after 3 hours of failed Prezi attempts


Here are my notes pages for the October presentation, which highlights the information and thinking process that goes into each slide.


I have uploaded the three presentations to show that I am evolving as I am learning.  Some things to take away:

  • Use a visual instead of text, no matter how simple the text
  • Use a handout instead of text, even if you don’t plan to read the text
  • Plan offline and then create

Feel free to use and modify any of the above information.


** The original slideshows are done in PowerPoint and did not convert exactly to the Google format – apologies for this


Inspired Storytelling

These are the kinds of digital stories I would like to tell!

Interestingly enough, we started differentiating our professional learning model five years ago and as faculty set goals, they choose the stream that will help them reach their goal from

  • Action Research
  • Issue Study
  • Book Study
  • Peer Coaching

Part of the process is working collaboratively with others and something I always encourage is to set goals that are job embedded.

In addition, one of our strategic objectives reads

By 2019, faculty members will increase their particiption in collaborative professional learning activities.

As part of our plan, we have started building in additional opportunities for collaboration with a weekly in-house learning program that honors internal talent and fosters the idea of collaborative, ongoing growth.  So far, we’ve had three weeks of great dialogue with people from different buildings meeting in settings previously unimagined.  I am glad to see we are heading in the right direction with our Collaborative Professional Learning Committee.

Digital Storytelling in Schools

Several years ago, I wanted to create testimonial videos about our teachers using UbD, to show the positive effects of using long-term and backward design planning tools.

As I delve into the idea of Digital Storytelling, that idea no longer grips.  Yet, I do want to create digital stories relevant to school, rather than just creating family stories.  I want to highlight and showcase what we do and how we do it.

Technically, the Learning and Good Ideas videos I created in August tell a story relevant to school, but what more can be done from a whole school perspective?

What do teachers and students want to see from their administration?

  • Events & Activities?
  • Planning Processes?
  • Students and Teachers in Action?
  • Interview based “What Works”?
  • Game Footage?
  • School Overview – Who We Are?

And how do we produce them and share them without violating privacy rights?  There are digital stories to tell.  I’m looking for ideas on what people want to see.

Visualizing the Mission

I used Wordle to create a poster with the words from our Mission, Beliefs and Profile of Graduates.  Again, it’s interesting to note that the words that are repeated the most show up as the largest in the visual.

I am proud to say we are a creative, learning-focused community.

Creating Visuals with Words

In our last faculty meeting, we asked everyone to write down something students had learned.  Then we asked how they knew the students had learned it.  Finally, in small groups, we brainstormed the following:

What does learning look like?

What does learning look like?

I used Wordle at www.wordle.net to create the above Word Cloud.

The best thing about Wordle is that it makes the words repeated most the biggest, so in addition to creating a great visual, you can also see what answers people had in common.

This is great online visual literacy tool for saving brainstorms and posting ideas.

Leading Thoughts with Images

I recently discovered the strategy “I See, I Think, I Wonder” through Janette’s Blog, and I absolutely LOVE it, so much so that I intend to use the same strategy when we read our article about homework in our next faculty meeting (see Visual Communication).

However, to use this strategy requires a far more significant photo than the one I chose to use in the original task.  Thus, my continued search for a homework photo…

Homework A

Some rights reserved by leah the librarian

Part of Visual Literacy is understanding how images can lead thought.  In teaching students about these concepts, I usually talk about looking at all perspectives, thinking critically and not being led by media or bias.

Today is the first time I have been the one choosing the photo.

The photo I choose, will influence the message I am sending.

Homework A

  • portrays homework in a positive light
  • shows meaningful work being done
  • incorporates nature
  • balances the homework tasks – writing/creating, reading, revising

 Homework B

Some rights reserved by Terry Johnston

Homework B sends another message entirely, showing a more stereotypical view.

  • Homework seems tiresome and tedious
  • Homework is frustrating and challenging
  • Perhaps it even questions purpose
Homework C

Some rights reserved by United Nations Photo

Homework C may conjure different images entirely.

  • Here we may feel sympathetic.
  • Perhaps we wonder what right we have to question homework at all seeing as we are lucky enough be given homework.

Hence, as we lead into reading an article about  homework, I wonder what light I want to cast in introduction.

This leads to purpose.  Why are we reading the article at all?

  •  We are continuing a conversation about meaningful learning
  • We are continuing to explore and dialogue about formative assessment
  • We want to affirm the good work we do
  • We want to question our practice to ensure we are always acting with a clear purpose
  • We want to engage in cognitive conflict, in order to grow as educators
  • We want to model dialogue and learning in meeting structures
  • We want to model going into the research to seek answers

Professional growth is difficult.  Leading a faculty through a dialogue whereby we all might disagree on certain points may create discomfort.

Hence, the photo I choose can make a huge difference on what the conversation looks like.

The visual imagery we choose matters.

I think I like the wonder and abstraction of the following:

Some rights reserved by Simon Shek

Visual Communication

“Organizations are made of conversations.”
– Ernesto Gore

Dialogue and inquiry are my two greatest teachers, and so this is what we try to incorporate in our school meeting structures:

Ongoing inquiry and dialogue with colleagues
to strengthen our current practice,
engage our curiosity
and perhaps change our perspectives.


By copycatmemory

At our next faculty meeting, we will meet in our interdisciplinary base teams, each led by a Department Head, to discuss, among other things, this article about homework.

I will use the above picture to facilitate dialogue about the article we are about to read, asking them to share their own thoughts about homework prior to reading the article.

Below is an outline of the meeting, including the Department Chairs meeting the week before that will hopefully help them facilitate the faculty meeting.


“Learning has no boundaries.  It can happen anytime, anywhere.”

As a school, it is our Mission to

  • Practice Compassion
  • Make a Difference
  • Learn for Life

In each of these, we are the models.

The meeting outlined above, focused on collegial inquiry, will hopefully inspire “learning to happen anytime [and] anywhere,” even in a faculty meeting.


Note that the opening and closing quotes were inspired by the
International School of Brussels school brochure seen here.

Tech Fervor

COETAIL has definitely motivated my technological fervor.  I have always tried to honor the work of my faculty, usually with words or slideshows of pics.

Last month, after my first successful attempt at video, I thought, why not video their good work and show it off?  Here is a slightly less successful video, at least in design, but it does serve to upgrade the annual Success Slideshow and I will continue in this vein.

I looped the video and showed it while staff were entering the faculty meeting, getting food, and working on their initial self-reflective activity to begin the dialogue of the meeting.

What else are we doing to support the use of technology in our school?

Shared notebooks through Evernote’s Premium account.  This has revolutionized our internal communication about individual students, in addition to my own note-taking and organizational skills.


Tweeting from the office and adding the Twitter feed to our blog has been great for last minute reminders.


Using Moodle as a vehicle for professional dialogue and information, both with students and with faculty.


Evernote is just one example of something I discovered through COETAIL by reading the blogs from my RSS Reader.  My professional reading has leapt tremendously and the idea wheels are racing.  More to come as we continue to use technology to support learning.


Design Marries Content

Some rights reserved by Darwin Bell


Years ago I learned that Visual Literacy is one of the content standards in the South African English classroom.  This was an exciting discovery that I went on to implement in my own classroom, assuming that if English is literacy, why not focus on APPEARANCE as well as WORDS.



Interpretations of Visual Literacy

In some ways, the English classroom goes against the idea of Visual Literacy and design standards when we demand huge chunks of information that look uniform in style as demanded by MLA format.

In my various dialogues with teachers, many relegate design to art and graphic design.  However, Visual Literacy is the perfect interdisciplinary study.

In my own practice, I struggle between writing the “large chunks of information” and following the design standards presented in readings such as Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design.

I am a content person who needs design tools so that people will read my content. 

Let me try a different way to present the content.

Why Visual Literacy Needs to be Taught Across Contents

  • Content matters
  • Content happens in English, History, Science…
  • Design matters
  • Design happens in Art and Graphic Design
  • Poor Visual Design = No Reading
  • No Reading = Death of Content
  • Good Design + Poor Content = Waste of Time                                                —————————————————————————-
  • Design Needs Content to Survive

Does Research Supersede Personal Preference?

As I read about Visual Literacy, I also wonder how much of this comes down to personality and preference.

Yes, there is the research on how the eye moves and what the brain processes.  And yet, some of the examples of good design are so busy that my brain just shuts down.  It is too much.


Blog Self-Reflection

With my own blog, there are several things I am happy with.  However, I may only be happy about them because I have created them, so I welcome feedback from others.


Tell me I’m wrong.

Even better, tell me I’m right.

What Works:

  • Theme is clean with enough negative space
  • Two-column blog allows for widgets without seeming clogged and busy
  • All posts have pictures, videos or links to break up the writing
  • Links create authority and lend credibility to posts

What Needs Work:

  • Less block paragraphs
  • More bullet points
  • Become more concise and precise
  • Add section headers within posts

In addition, the About Me section needs a visual overhaul.  We’re talking Holmes on Homes renovation.  I have never liked it and now MUST figure out how to add elements of design to the extra pages of this blog theme.

Design Versus Content Continued

Finally, let me go back to the idea of Content.

My blog title is stolen from my MFA Thesis in Poetry.

My poems are about looking at things through the lens of another’s perception.

Behind the Closed Door represents unlocking perception and confronting truths.

Since I named my blog, I have questioned the stealing from my one self to my other self.

Perhaps, I am struggling with using the same title with my professional and personal writing but at this point, my life needs balance, so I am hoping this is what balances it.  The mergence of selves.  Perhaps I am overreaching in my intent?

Does Behind the Closed Door lend itself to an educational context?

In revising this blog post each time I read a new article on design, I think I may have lost some content in trying to upgrade the design and increase readership.  Hmnn…

Closing Essential Questions

What are your thoughts on the lessening of information to create readability?

And if this is the way of the world, where does it fit in schools?

Learning about Learning


What Does Learning Look Like by tarawaudby

I am an idea person.  I cannot turn them off, and oftentimes find myself frazzled by two many ideas that I want to implement.  If I had all the time in the world, I still wouldn’t have enough.  So, I am very excited about finally creating my first video.

I bought my Macbook Pro in 2010 with the intent to create movies for my faculty and of my children.  I learned how a while back and then never got around to it, always pushing it to the back of the To Do list.  This summer was the summer to create.  I had a brilliant idea – to film my very young children learning and parallel those joys and frustrations with how high school students learn.  I took video clips all summer, and still found myself, the evening before the first faculty meeting without the video.  Luckily, I knew more than I thought, and it didn’t take me nearly as long as I thought it would to create a passable movie.  Here is a video about learning.  This is what it looks like regardless of the age and this is what we are focusing on with our faculty – defining learning and what it looks like in our high school.