About twelve years ago we were taught to do a new type of bulletin board, called a Standard-based bulletin board, SBBB. That meant that instead of doing my traditional killer bulletin board at Thanksgiving with my turkey made out of neckties or instead of doing my adorable hippo with a tulle skirt and pink silk toe shoes entitled "Dancing into...", I was to concentrate instead on student work! Cute "foo-foo" was out and rigor was in. We were taught to use somewhat of a formula.
a title + description of task + standard(s) + 4 pieces of student work with commentary
There were always variations on the formula. Teachers were taught to think and to showcase what made sense to explain the work on a board. Sometimes you could really only fit three pieces of work with the commentary, because the board simply wasn't large enough. Sometimes the commentary was by the teacher, sometimes by a peer and sometimes by the student. The board might also include a rubric or other artifact. Teachers were free to take that basic formula and stretch and create a board that was a "window into their instruction."
This certainly is not an easier board to create and I think, in the beginning, a teacher really labors, especially over the commentary, because basically you have to really understand what you are teaching and the work that students do. And you have to be able to explain it. In other words, we were asking teachers to do the same type of work we were asking the students to do - to explain their thinking! There are times when I hated those boards, because it seemed like I was always the one still there at 6:00 trying to get mine just right, but there is no question that doing the boards created a layer of depth of understanding that I got nowhere else. I really spent time looking at the standard, taking it apart, seeing if my instruction was really aligned with the standard and the student work, and explaining my thinking and the student's thinking. And then of course, it took time to display the work in a way that made other people look twice and want to read it.
As the years have passed we have made it easier for teachers. Instead of putting up a board every month, now we only ask for five boards a year and we give a 2-4 week "window" for getting the board up, so that a teacher can put a board up in her own time. We have tried to use the boards for teaching by doing "board walks" during teacher meetings. We actually walk from board to board so that each teacher has a chance to actually explain her thinking to other teachers. We have looked at the boards in the grade level ahead to help us see where our students are going. We want teachers to ask questions of each other and learn through the collaboration. We have tried to honor teachers who really do extraordinary things by giving a "Board of the Month Award" or by mentioning exceptional work in the Weekly Memorandum from the Principal. We also take pictures of the children who have their work featured and add them to our weekly Newsletters and blogs. If a teacher takes the time to really work on her board, she wants to know that someone is reading it!
So. as we come to the question, as a group of teachers, of continuing to do this type of board or not, we really have to think through how important the boards are to us. Is it just a compliance piece that we are made to do that has no value? Or is it something that we believe represents who we are individually and as a school and what we want for our students? Do we see it as a window into the instruction in our classrooms? This was easy for me because I know how much I have learned from writing commentary and from reading commentary by other teachers, but will the entire school be willing to take the road less traveled? Many schools had already abandoned the boards long before the Union got involved. In this time of paperwork overload, will our take the more difficult path, just for the sake of learning and sharing? The conversation has just begun and the verdict is still out. The conversation continues...