Using Google Sites to Create a Digital Learning Portfolio

During a recent PLC, we discussed using Google Sites to archive, publish and share student writing pieces. The video below shares a brief overview of how to empower students to create their own digital portfolios using Google Sites. Some of the benefits of Google Sites for this purpose include:

  • The ease of uploading documents from Google Drive. Students can easily upload a doc, drawing, image or spreadsheet from their Drive.
  • The ability to adapt or personalize the portfolio for the needs of the course, grade level or content area. The example in the video was focused on writing genres, but can easily be adapted for any content area or teaching purpose. A student could easily use the same concept with Google Sites to create a digital data binder that includes charts or graphs monitoring progress towards goals, pictures of student work, or videos they’ve created.
  • The authentic audiences and ease of sharing with parents and family members allows for students to have a purpose for their writing and enthusiasm for their pieces.
  • Students can use Google Sites to showcase their writing progress over time through a school year or the evolution of a writing piece throughout the writing process.

Other ideas for using Google Sites for showcasing student work may include:

  • A digital data binder that students share at Student-Led Conferences that detail their mission, SMART Goals, and reflections
  • A digital observation log or science notebook in which students archive their observations, lab reports, experiments or more!
  • An interactive reading journal that allows students to reflect or share their literature responses
  • A classroom website with specific pages for student work samples

Be the Spark: 30+ Ways to Celebrate Teachers All Year Round

The first week of May has been reserved for “Teacher Appreciation Week.” It is during this time that students, families, community members, educational organizations, and administrators are encouraged to show their appreciation for the dedication and hard-work educators demonstrate throughout the year. I enjoy this week every year as I work to find unique ways to show my gratitude for the team I work with. What I would also encourage, is to find opportunities to show appreciation and gratitude throughout the year in simple, but meaningful ways. Below is a list of ideas that you may find to support you in honoring teachers and staff!

  1. Provide staff with a certificate for a moment of serenity or classroom coverage. Offer to cover their class for a short time while they grab a cup of coffee, enjoy a moment of extra plan time, or take a minute for themselves.
  2. Offer to cover recess duty while a staff member takes a break. Win-Win as you provide them an extra moment of plan time and you build relationships with kids on the playground!
  3. Buy a favorite professional book. Write a personalized note in the front cover. Take it to the next level and reach out to the author of the book for them to send a short video message introducing the book!
  4. Ask the Regional Office of Education Superintendent to call staff and thank them for their work!
  5. Reach out to former colleagues, students, parents or community members to have them write notes of appreciation!
  6. Create personalized posters of the teacher with a teacher appreciation quote to hang on their door.
  7. Take a picture of staff members working with kids. Print it out and provide them a copy with a note of appreciation.
  8. Pick up the phone and call a staff member’s spouse or parent. I loved the idea from Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney from “Kids Deserve It” and think it is a great idea for staff as well!
  9. Take a favorite quote or saying and make an infographic. Print it out, tie it with a bow, and provide a copy to each staff member.
  10. Using a word cloud generator, create a personalized word cloud for each staff member.
  11. Create a certificate to celebrate the conclusion of a book study, participation in a PLC, service on a committee, or participation in a twitter challenge or building level professional learning opportunity.
  12. Using an old trophy, establish a staff traveling trophy. Encourage staff to award to to colleagues and pass it around!
  13. Provide digital badges for participation in a book study or professional learning opportunity.                                    
  14. Don’t underestimate the power of an inexpensive, quirky plastic trophy or kitschy give-a-way!                                              
  15. Ask a local nursery or green thumb community member to donate small plants or hostas that can be replanted at their home
  16. Invite a local food truck or coffee truck to park at the school to provide lunch, lattes, or sweet treats to staff during the school day.
  17. Partner with a local spa or chiropractor to do mini-massages during lunch hours for staff members.
  18. Reach out to a local nail salon and invite them to do mini manicures for staff members.                                               
  19. Don’t underestimate the power of grab-and-go snacks in the teacher’s lounge or make it portable and take a cart around the school to serve staff in their classrooms.
  20. As you prep for staff meetings or workshops, survey staff regarding their favorite snacks and treats. Ensure they are ready for them meeting! I loved this idea from @KimDarche                             
  21. Make a donation to a charity that has roots in the school
  22. Buy them flair pens. Something about flair pens that make teachers happy!
  23. Provide meaningful feedback and show appreciation with handwritten notes. Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf are the QUEENS of this. Read “Lead Like a Pirate” for more detail on how to structure these “ANCHOR” conversations
  24. Write notes of appreciation or inspirational messages and leave them in unexpected places: the restroom, the lunch room, on the plates in the teacher’s lounge, on coffee cups, ect.
  25. Two words: Jeans Day!                      
  26. Allow staff to leave at student dismissal time (no after school duty).
  27. Reach out to the mayors office for a proclamation.
  28. Nominate them for a local, regional or state teaching award.
  29. Celebrate their accomplishments with a post on school social media.
  30. Use chalk to write positive messages on the walkways to the building or in their parking areas.
  31. Ask students to record video messages of appreciation and compile them in an iMovie to share with staff.
  32. Display a banner outside the school. Get a group picture near it and post on social media celebrating staff!
  33. Display pictures of staff at the age of the grade they teach!
  34. Develop a staff appreciation hashtag. Encourage families to use it!
  35. Use a green screen and take pictures of staff. Personalize the background to match a teacher appreciation theme            
  36. Match a handwritten note with a small gift that reminds you of a particular staff member.                                         

75 Student Incentives that Build Relationships and Don’t Break the Bank

Teachers are consistently providing positive reinforcement to students that meet behavioral or academic goals or make a milestone achievement. These incentives and motivators don’t have to break the bank of a classroom teacher that is already likely spending personal funds on other items in their classroom. Here’s a list of ideas to build relationships with incentives or rewards without breaking the bank!

  1. Send them to the principal with a positive office referral. Celebrate that positive office referral by posting a picture on the school Facebook page or sending it home to parents. Share the accomplishment in school or classroom newsletters or at morning announcements.                      
  2. Give them a handwritten note expressing why they are a great kid!                  
  3. Give them a hug or high-five.
  4. Have them ring a bell or sound a classroom alarm when they score well on a test or meet a goal.
  5. Name them student of the month (if your school has one)
  6. Share their accomplishment in your classroom or school newsletter/social media page
  7. Frame their art work in a display in the school or office
  8. Present them with a traveling class trophy that sits on their desk for pre-determined amount of time
  9. Spray water guns or launch water balloons
  10. Allow them to record the school voicemail message
  11. Allow them to read morning announcements
  12. Let them greet other students at drop-off
  13. Make a positive phone call home while the student is standing with you! That’s sure to make both the student’s and the parent’s day!
  14. Have the class give the student a special cheer
  15. Take their picture, print it out, and have their classmates write kind words and phrases about them around the picture.
  16. Take their picture and e-mail it to their parents when they meet a goal! This is my little cutie in first grade and the picture her teacher sent me when she completed a level on her classroom “Super Improver Wall.” You can learn more about the Super Improver Concept through Whole Brain Teaching by clicking HERE
  17. Eat lunch with your individual students or small groups of students in the cafeteria or invite them with a formal invitation to eat in the Principal’s Office.
  18. Invite the whole class to eat lunch in the classroom.
  19. Have a black out day and use flashlights and LED lights to complete work
  20. Go to gym class with your class. They’ll get a kick out of it!
  21. Greet them at the door wearing a funny costume, hat or shirt.
  22. Allow a student to choose the classroom read aloud book
  23. Allow students to choose the activity in PE
  24. Take a Birthday Selfie and send it to their parents
  25. Take a #selfieoftheday and send it to their parents
  26. Allow a student to sit at your desk for the day
  27. Allow the students to sit under their desks for the day or class period
  28. Allow them to have a special chair at their desk for the day. Could you paint an old stool, bedazzle and old rocking chair, paint a used dining chair and then rotate it around to classroom?
  29. Allow a student to teach a lesson
  30. Allow students to be a student teacher. Give them a special seat, name tag, coffee cup, and pens to use as they get to make choices for the classroom for the day.                                                 
  31. Establish a classroom brag board. Place pictures of students on the board when they meet a goal or celebrate an accomplishment
  32. Allow students to earn the privilege of being a member of the classroom hall of fame. Hang their picture in a sacred spot that is never taken down!
  33. Read with them.                                       
  34. Allow them to read with a buddy
  35. Allow them to read with a younger student.
  36. Allow them to read with the principal!
  37. Have a reading camp-out
  38. Hold class outside
  39. Take a class walk to a local park or nearby point of interest
  40. Ask the superintendent to call the student’s family to celebrate their success.
  41. Allow students to write in pen for the day
  42. Allow students to write on classroom windows with dry erase markers
  43. Allow students to write on their desks with dry erase markers
  44. Put a button or name tag on them that says, “Ask Me Why I am a Cool Kid” or other special saying.
  45. Put a button or name tag on them that says, Class VIP
  46. Allow them to wear a staff lanyard
  47. Have a dance party
  48. Have an extra recess
  49. Go to recess with them
  50. Play a game of knock-out
  51. Play a board game with them
  52. Allow “brain game” time and allow them to play critical thinking games
  53. Choose a Go Noodle song
  54. Have a “Balance a spoon on your nose” contest with kids.
  55. Coordinate a ride to school in a firetruck, police car, or other fun source of transportation
  56. Tweet their favorite author
  57. Technology time
  58. Homework pass
  59. Allow them to email a preferred person: social worker, principal, parent, former teacher.
  60. Allow them to tell a favorite joke to the class
  61. Allow them to help the custodian
  62. Allow them to help in the office
  63. Leave a post-it note of encouragement on their desk or in their planner
  64. Draw a picture of them (if you are artistically inclined)
  65. Allow them to create their own virtual lego character
  66. Provide a dress up or down day: Pajamas, No Shoes/Stinky Feet.. ect.
  67. Allow them to bring their favorite stuffed animal to school
  68. Allow them to bring a special beverage from home to have with snack
  69. Stop the class to celebrate a major accomplishment! Make it a big deal!
  70. Let them be the first to line-up
  71. Let them be the first to go to lunch
  72. Let them be first to get on the bus
  73. Let them be the first to go to a specials class (art, music, PE)
  74. Give them the opportunity to choose a seat for the day
  75. Celebrate 1/2 Birthdays for summer birthdays! Take their picture and send it home!     

15+ Ways to Brand Your Building

Develop a school motto or mantra that is easy to remember and say it often. We are the Royals. It reminds students to “Respect Others, Respect Yourself and Respect Learning. Ensure they hear that EVERYDAY. At the conclusion of morning announcements students chant, “Go Be a Royal!” When they leave the office or I see them in the hall they hear, “Go Be a Royal.” It’s a small gesture that embeds that culture and sense of community in their spirit.


Communicate your school mission and goals simply. A plan on a page details vision, values and beliefs and should be displayed in all rooms and areas. Live and breathe the goals and refer to them consistently.

Create a school hashtag and include it on school social media posts (I am assuming you already have social media accounts for your school… if not start now!) It can be simple, but ensure that you communicate it and encourage its use frequently. Leaders are story tellers of their schools and sharing activities and events builds social capacity, a sense of community, and engages parents and the community in the learning process! When making info-graphics to post, create them using school colors!

Create a logo and make sure it is EVERYWHERE: The walls, letterhead, newsletters, social media posts, awards, the front door, bathroom mirrors, stickers, school signage, cafeteria menus, EVERYTHING! We have them on our flower pots outside to our laptops and soap dispensers!

Make sure your school colors are prominent and embedded in all elements of the school environment. When you look down the hallways, consider the banners, paint color, and decor. Does it match your school’s colors and identity? Consider ways that you can incorporate your school colors in collaborative seating that is in the hallway and common areas. The fun metal table and chairs were purchased at Wayfair and provide common work spaces for students. We bought 2 table and chair sets in each of our school colors and mixed the chairs and tables!


Greet families and students when they walk in the door with a gallery display of students dressed in school colors and showcasing the important aspects of your school culture

Don’t forget the details. The clocks, walls, and art can reflect your mascot, school colors, or mission!

Ensure that your school goals are promoted through the common spaces. We have a passion to develop a culture of readers, so yellow and blue bookcases are found throughout the halls and a bathtub of books painted in school colors is displayed in the entry way!

Welcome new families and students with a book showcasing the various areas of the school and introducing them to staff. Have them ready for any new family that walks in the door and share it online! Go further and offer them a logo water bottle or t-shirt as a welcome gift! Smile when you see them wear it on their first day of school!

Know that the details matter and you can find unique ways to showcase your pride in your school. As a Royal, I am always on the look out for crowns and find them in unexpected places! Is your coffee mug as awesome as this?

Consider yourself as a mechanism for relaying your brand. Wear your school colors frequently and not just on spirit days.

Take your mascot and hide him around the school. Have the students find him and enjoy their squeals of excitement when they do.

Print off copies of your mascot and encourage students to take them on trips and adventures with them ala Flat Stanley. Make sure there’s a school hashtag to correspond with their posts.

Ensure that student awards and incentives correspond to your logo and brand and that colors are cohesive and consistent. That includes treats, stickers, certificates, plaques, and trophies!

When creating collaborative art projects, consider completing them using school colors.


Other ideas:


Digital Collaborative Tools for Staff Meetings

Digital Collaborative Tools for Staff Meetings

Mentimeter:  Mentimeter is a collaborative platform that provides interactive options for presentations and group meetings. The key feature of Mentimeter is the variety of options for the collaborative displays and questions. The creator can generate a question and display choice to embed in any variety of presentation programs. Attendees or participants do not need an account to engage in the collaboration. Using a smartphone or device, participants go to and enter a short numerical code to participate.

We recently used the word cloud feature during a staff meeting. Staff were asked to share one word they wanted to associate with their teaching legacy. As staff added words, common choices enlarged.

You can use Mentimeter to:

  • Gain feedback from staff and students
  • Collect formative or summative data from assessments
  • Ask staff or students to reflect about a particular event and then analyze the results for continuous improvement and school goal planning


Padlet: Padlet is a virtual bulletin board that allows collaborative feedback and sharing. A question or problem can be posed and staff and students can add their feedback or reflections. Individual students or staff can also use it as a bulletin board to post or pin resources, ideas, or concepts. You can use this tool in real time during a face to face session or invite staff or students to collaborate via a link to add their ideas, thoughts, or photos.

You can use Padlet with staff to:

  • Encourage staff to share specific elements of their classroom learning environment
  • Have staff share their favorite learning links, apps and resources
  • Gain feedback about an event, professional learning day, or activity
  • Share staff book recommendations for professional reading or classroom read-louds
  • Post pictures of student work samples to compare during PLCs

Poll Everywhere: Poll Everywhere is as simple as it sounds. It is simply a virtual way to get a poll of a question or idea. A presenter can pose a question and respondents answer based on the criteria that is presented. I used Poll Everywhere after a back to school staff meeting to gauge where the excitement and energy was. It gives quick information that can be used to drive meetings, professional learning, and leadership action items.

Other ideas for Poll Everywhere could include:

  • Asking feedback for professional learning topics
  • Determining the number of staff members that can identify and communicate key school goals
  • How staff use media to communicate with parents or colleagues
  • How involved staff feel as a member of an IEP or intervention team
  • To get a pulse on school culture items

Crowd Purr: Crowd Purr is an “audience engagement platform” that allows users to create mobile-driven experiences. Examples of their options include:

  • Multiple-Choice Poll
  • Text-Answer Poll
  • Like/Dislike Poll
  • Yes/No Poll
  • Live Trivia
  • Social Media Wall

There are many tools available to administrators to engage staff during meetings, gain feedback, and assess school needs. These are just a few. Jump in and try a few!

Easy and FUN Easter STEAM activities

One of the other hats I wear other than principal, wife and mother, is as a Girl Scout Co-Leader of my daughter’s 2nd grade Brownie Troop. I enjoy the monthly opportunity to reengage in direct teaching of 21 2nd grade girls as they develop their potential. This month, we focused our evening on STEAM activities with an Easter twist that could easily be incorporated into any classroom.

Easter Egg Engineering Challenge: Using just plastic eggs and play-doh, girls were given loose direction to build the tallest structure. Girls were given various sizes of Easter Eggs. The girls evaluated different aspects of the structure while developing their plan, re-organizing their approach. The girls varied in their initial plans, but ultimately made substantial conclusions regarding successes and areas for improvement in their structures. Added challenges could for this activity could include:

  1. Create an arch
  2. Create a structure that can house a peep or chick.
  3. Use only halves of the eggs
  4. Create a pattern while building the structure

Easter Egg Stacking Challenge: Using just plastic Easter Eggs of various sizes, girls were given the simple challenge of stacking eggs to the highest level possible. The girls quickly made connections between having a strong base, mixing the various components of the eggs for optimal success, and more.

Easter Egg Nest Challenge: Using KEVA Planks, the girls were asked to build the tallest “nest” to house a large plastic Easter Egg. What started out as individual girls building their own towers in an environment of competition turned into a collaborative effort with the whole group communicating, encouraging, and supporting each other to build one massive ‘nest’ to house their egg.

Easter Chick Art: It’s interesting to me how the girls of the group divided themselves to the various stations and the ones they gravitated to naturally. It reminded me of the importance of balancing our educational approach with students to include opportunity for the arts, crafts, and creativity. There were eager girls that went straight to building and problem-solving stations and equally as many girls that chose the stations that allowed for creativity.

Projects and activities shouldn’t all be prescribed. It is meaningful to engage students in tasks to extend their thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration.

Book Review: Table Talk Math

It seems that on any given week, you can find a newly published book by Dave Burgess Consulting. The books from this publishing team continue to shape my leadership and are my go-to recommendations for staff and families. When “Table Talk Math” was released, it immediately found its way to my Amazon Cart (which is constantly filled with books!)

As I worked on filling Easter baskets for my family, I decided that “Table Talk Math” was my Easter Basket filler and I’m glad I now have it in my professional library. Ironically, the author talks about Easter Egg hunts as an opportunity to embed math in your conversations with kids in the book! Just think of all the ways jelly beans, Easter Eggs and Jelly Beans can be applied to mathematical practices and reasoning!
What’s more important about this book, is that it fits the need that many books don’t. It provides teachers valuable tools, but even more, it provides relevant and meaningful ways for parents to support mathematics conversations with their students that aren’t focused on standards, but rather the essential mathematical practices that are vital in the development of mathematical thinkers and problem solvers.


Math can be a difficult content area for parents to support their children in. There are many strategies and intricacies about teaching math concepts in the school setting, but this book transcends past that. This book provides concrete strategies, questions, ideas and supports for teachers and parents to talk to kids about math and support the development of mathematical thinkers in the home and classrooms.


The author of the book focuses on a major claim: Math is for EVERYONE. All parents and teachers have something to offer children in their development of mathematical thinking and problem-solving. Educators and parents alike have the ability to foster confidence and perseverance in our children and students via the avenue of our communication and conversations with kids.

The author focuses on five pillars for starting mathematical conversations with kids:

  1. Make it Casual
  2. Make it Meaningful
  3. Make it Authentic
  4. Make it Applicable
  5. Make it Short

What stood out to me was the author’s claim that “the highest achievers in the world are those who focus on big ideas in mathematics and the connections between ideas.”

Some simple strategies for engaging kids in these conversations to support making connections include:

  1. Using daily events to ask math “Would You Rather Questions”
  2. Allow children to make estimations and predictions about possible outcomes in events, situations and with objects around their homes and classrooms
  3. Point out and/or ask kids to find patterns in daily routines and objects
  4. Ask children to identify and justify their answer to objects that do not belong to a group or set of standards.
  5. Use challenges to engage kids in the process and understand representation to develop curiosity and wonder.
  6. Distinguish between noticing a mathematical idea and wondering about a mathematical concepts. How can observation and questioning work together to develop critical thinking and spark conversations?

Various resources were also provided for teachers and parents to reference:

Which One Doesn’t Belong

Fraction Talks

Math Munch

Bedtime Math

And… as the author points out, remember… “Be patient. There is value in letting your child struggle through a few steps.” Through challenges and bumps in the road, children learn grit, perseverance and how to overcome adversity and challenges. “There will always be opportunities to bring math to the table regardless of the age or skill level of the child.”

15 Ways to Use Avatars in Communication and Instruction

There are many opportunities to use Avatars and personalized emojis in our communication. There are also many ways to use them to showcase and enhance student learning. Below are a variety of ways to use Avatars and three go-to sites to get started!

With Families

  1. Embed a Voki on your website with a welcome message to families
  2. Personalize your social media bio with an Avatar to match your persona.
  3. Have your Avatar spread your school brand by dressing it with school colors or include your school mascot.
  4. Post a special announcement on your school social media page using an Avatar to match the announcement
  5. Enhance posters and flyers with Avatars to match the message or event
  6. Embed a Voki into a SMORE Page to make an announcement or share your school news

With Students

  1. Engage students in historical biographies by having them create characters to match their learning content
  2. When students write autobiographies, have them include an Avatar of themselves as part of project. Can they correlate their writing to the elements they include on their Avatar.
  3. Play a “Guess Who” as a get to know you activity at the start of the school year. Have students create an Avatar and then pose a few questions for other students to make guesses as to who it is.
  4. Embed a BitMoji or Avatar into a google doc to personalize it and build relationships with students
  5. Celebrate an accomplishment of a student, by embeding an Avatar onto their Google assignments.
  6. Bring student narrative writing to life by having them create a set of characters to correspond with their writing piece
  7. Teach adjectives by having students create an Avatar and write adjectives to describe them
  8. Practice reading fluency by having students record their voice on a Voki reading a poem or short passage. Share it with their parents or embed in a digital portfolio
  9. Encourage students to include dialouge in their writing and use personalized Avatars to illustrate their writing

The Lego Movie Figure Creator

Personalize any Lego character and create posters, wallpaper, icons or scenes with backgrounds and props. Options for personalization include hair, eyes, eyebrows, clothes, ect. 


Create a GIF using attributes of any person using Androidify. This app/website even allows users to personalize movements to correspond with the characteristics of the individual. 


Voki allows the user to personalize an Avatar and it’s background. Users can then record a voice message to include with the Voki. I’ve used it on our school webpage as a welcome message to visitors. Students can also create Voki’s for a variety of classroom projects to bring story, writing projects, or speeches to life!

Amusement Park AWE

So often I work at teaching my two children all they need to know, that I forget how much they can teach me. It never ceases to amaze me the awe that my two daughters find in the simple things in life, but on our spring break trip to a small amusement park, I was reminded in a simple picture about the emotions that go into trying new things.

To me, the car ride designed for toddlers was anything but intimidating. It was brightly colored with a predictable track and slow speed perfect for my daredevil two year old daughter. She eyed it from far away and eagerly got in line to try it. As we approached the queue line, she held my hand with a mix of excitement, but also visible trepidation. She was surveying the ride, monitoring the looks on the faces of the kids already riding, and the speed of the cars.

When we got on the ride, she followed the safety protocol: “buckle up, mommy!” As the ride began her responses shifted at every turn from jubilation to nervousness. She threw her hands up in the air at the straight-aways and cowered at the turns when it went just a little faster than she anticipated. I don’t know how, but her face in the picture my husband took, showed both utter terror and complete excitement at the same time.

When the ride slowed to a stop, she looked up at me with her eyes and said “That was awesome!”

Her reaction reminded me so much of the power of taking risks and trying new things. Fear of the unknown is not without its emotional risks, but watching her exit the ride, it reminded me that trying new things, despite the initial fear, was outweighed with the potential for extreme joy, satisfaction, and reward.

If we apply this simple concept to education, think about what we can accomplish. Think about the amazing results we can have in our schools and classrooms if we are able to overcome the initial worry, trepidation or fear of trying something new: a new tech tool, a new flexible seating arrangement, a new strategy for connecting kids to outside experiences, a new way to collaborate and look at data, a new way to grow professionally, a new way to assign homework or give grades a new way to do something NEW!

My two year old reminded me, that although things can be scary, they can also be fun, engaging, and most importantly, worth the risk!

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