Monday, March 21, 2016

Moving Towards Badges - Not so fast!

Google "badges" and a variety of images appear
Let's bring in a badging system to recognize all the great work going on! 

I thought I had this great, quick little idea to generate some celebrations in our school. There are so many teachers doing so many great things that badging seemed like an idea that could really support our culture of continuous improvement and add in some celebration and recognition. More importantly to me, it would be a way to share those great things with others, so great ideas could spread more rapidly.

While the idea was met with support, it was also met with caution. What will this do to the culture of our district? Will it be a competition with a leader board? Will this be another hoop to jump through? "I don't want people to think I'm bragging. What will I have to do to get one?"

To start, I read what higher ed institutions were doing as well as organizations in the world of work. I wanted to see how others were addressing some of the same questions we had as we started creating this system. I enjoyed the resources found here from the educators in Auburn, Maine. I also read an article on the University of Indiana's badging pilot. There are many other sites out there. These are just a couple I found helpful. There are some local districts in Iowa who have used badges too. 

Nevada Community Schools -
Bettendorf Community Schools - Technology badges (as they moved to 1:1)
Waverly - Shell Rock Technology Integration

There are cultural considerations to take into account as we proceeded with the idea. Here are a series of questions and steps we took as we've started to implement badges. My hope, like with all posts, is that maybe by sharing I can help others learn and avoid the mistakes already made. Make new ones!

What's the purpose? What will we gain by doing this?
  • Recognize: We have teachers doing amazing things and they don't always get the recognition they deserve. Most don't care about that recognition, but we all know that being told you are doing great work matters.
  • Celebrate: We want to bring ideas into our culture that support the positive, continuous learning environment. Badges seem like a way we can create winners in our organization for work they are already doing.
  • Share: Even though we are small and operate as a K-12 culture, teachers are often reluctant to share with other teachers the great things they are doing because they don't want to come off as bragging or boastful. In their modesty, we lose out on ideas spreading more quickly. If someone earns a badge, their idea/work is shared on a Google Site we created to house our instructional framework. Badges help colleagues see that they have a colleague they can go to for more information, ideas and support related to a particular topic.

What is badge-worthy?
  • We had to define what we expect for all teachers before we could say what was above and beyond. We created, "Learning Targets for All Van Meter Teachers" as a way to define what we expect from everyone (and that PD will directly support).
  • Badges are for work toward our district vision that is above and beyond the learning targets we expect from all teachers. See examples of badges here. 
    • Big Discussion Item: Badges aren't required in our district.
How will this tie into performance reviews, evaluations, Iowa Teaching standards and Individual Professional Development Plan's?
  • In our learning targets for all teachers document (linked above), we showed how each of the Van Meter specific items relate to the Iowa Teaching Standards. We listed suggestions for artifacts in a teacher's portfolio as well. 
  • Big Discussion Item: Badges are not part of our evaluation process.
What process will we use to submit work for consideration?
  • We created a Google form to use when a person or team was ready to submit work for a badge. This formal process is a little long yet and is something we are still refining. We want it to be quick yet thorough.
What will a badge look like? Who can create it?
Sample badge created by
  • I started out by trying to create my own. Clip Art is pretty amazing. Then, I realized I needed a system to help organize and track the badges.
    • Big Discussion Item: We want to get the great work communicated out to a larger audience. How will we track badges and why do we want to? For us, getting the names and work of our teachers out to a larger audience was an important piece.
  • There are a variety of systems to help. We used (fee based) for the creation of the badges, digital presence and ability to track a badges traffic online. There are others that are free and can do much of the same. Basno was the only one I found that tracks online analytics though. I investigated,,
  • We want our badges to be digital so staff can link them on their webpages and email signature lines if they wanted. 
How will we communicate with our staff about this?
  • Our teacher leaders were critical in sharing information with staff and bringing back ideas for us to consider as a leadership team. It was from their work that the Learning Targets for All Van Meter Teachers was created. 
  • Administration had to communicate to all staff on more that one occasion the true purpose of the badges. We wanted to be sure it didn't come across as "one more thing". Teacher leaders commented on how they benefited from the administration taking lead on the communication and then they followed up with reassurance and ideas.
    • Big Discussion Item: We don't want this to feel like a competition. At one point we did consider a leader board so everyone could see the badges of their colleagues in one place. Instead, we are using our intranet to highlight the work submitted, not the badge. This way we are sharing the examples of changes in instruction and student learning as the focus.
How will we hand-out the badges so it is seen as a celebration? 
  • An idea we picked up from Waverly - Shell Rock folks was to hand the badges out to teachers in front of their students, instead of in front of other staff members. The idea of being recognized in front of peers was a little more embarrassing, while recognizing a teacher's work in front of their own students seems more rewarding and celebration-like.
What expectations do we have for people once they earn a badge?
  • Share your learning with others. Keep on learning. That's it.
How will we know that it is impacting the things we want it to?
  • We have collected data for the past 5 years on Tracking and Assessing Cultural Shifts as we implement the PLC model. The celebration section of the data has been consistently our lowest category, while others have improved over time. We decided we had enough of the other pieces in place to address this part of the data. 
We hope that implementing badges will make a significant contribution to our positive culture. We are just in our initial phases and I look forward to sharing more about how the work of our teachers is making this such a great place to be!

If you are implementing badges at your school, I'd love to hear from you!