The art of communicating … collaboratively

Audience. Audience.

Do you know your … audience?

When you’re crafting your message within a medium, how deeply is the audience considered?

This message was at the heart of our focus for our learning this week for COETAIL course 3, week 4.

Less is more

The content and readings always led to this guiding precept – less is more when presenting media to an audience.

Some key takeaways:

  • Powerful, yet simplistic visuals.
  • Less text.
  • Compose like a photographer / graphic designer.
  • Let the visual be the cue to the conversation.

The task

To ground our learning in authenticity, we were asked to redesign a piece of media and seek out feedback to improve it.

Recently, I was asked to co-lead a keynote for an upcoming conference within the organization that owns my school.

Thus, the slide deck presentation will be the example I will talk through below.

The beginning

The conference’s theme, in a nutshell, is about purposeful EdTech integration.

After meeting with my co-presenter and a key organizer from corporate last week, we began our rough brainstorm.

More meetings – more clarity

This week, a more pivotal meeting was held with the majority of presenters and organizers. The meeting offered us a few more guiding directives from the corporation, giving more ideas and direction.

This led to the design of an initial slide deck.

Whilst it’s important, at this stage, to flesh out your thoughts in what you wish to communicate, you must remember not to leave the slides this way.

Thankfully, my co-lead and I are no strangers to these lessons.

The pictures below illustrate our “fleshing out” of ideas, yet we both knew that the slides were in definite need of some “design love”.

Style guide: We asked – they delivered!

Since this was a more corporate-level conference, my co-lead and I wanted to be sure that our communicative message fit the marketing style of the company’s brand.

Our audience is the educators working within schools guided by the mission and vision of this company.

The organization’s lead for this conference provided this style guide below, which was extremely helpful.

Moving forward in collaboration

My presentation partner and I decided to design in Google Slides. The medium makes it simple to not only design in a way to offer maximum creative freedom, but it also offers some key features tailored well to this task.

Best “fit” features of Google Slides for this task:

  • Easy to tag and assign feedback to all necessary stakeholders
  • Internal chat for simple collaboration
  • Simple use of HEX codes to assign colours to match the style guide above
  • Optional add-on features, like my favourite from FlatIcon

After a very productive week, and several feedback loops, my partner and I are getting closer to a finished product.

Final reflections

To be honest, the readings this week weren’t anything new to me.

That is, however, where I am after decades of lifelong learning. Some of these learning experiences include a Master’s in Educational Technology, several certifications and countless collaborative learning conferences.

I do respect that many may not be there yet, in terms of their knowledge and understanding of this timeless concept.

The resources shared this week did review some excellent tips and guiding principles.

More on style guides

Did you know that most media is designed with about five to seven colours, black and white included?

Here are some of my favourite tips and resources when designing.

  • Start with one great image or visual that best suits your message; even better if it’s your own!
  • What colours are represented in that? Match it!
  • Not sure how to match the colours? No problem, Canva‘s got you covered!
  • If you want a bit more support for which colours to choose, Coolors and Adobe have your back, too.
  • Doug Taylor (WAB), also has some great tips offered here. I’ve included one of his awesome “Tips” posters below.

How about you, dear reader?

  • Have any “gold” design tips up your sleeve?
  • What medium do you love to design in most?
  • Any other tips you could share with a design nerd like me? 🤓
Image from Presentation Load

The Delight in Data


“Data will talk to you if you’re willing to listen to it.”  — Jim Bergeson

As I embark upon the halfway point in course three, week three, of my COETAIL journey, this week was all about data storytelling.

In other words, making sense of it all, making it visual, then telling a story with it.

As an educator, this is quite an important skill to develop.

We’re always collecting data (or at least I am). The ability to make connections and illuminate the facts both visually and creatively is something I tend to geek out on.

Personal Strategy One – Tracking feedback loops and submissions

One strategy I use often is a colour coding system.

In this example, I track assignment submission and feedback in Google Sheets. Yellow symbolizes students who are in feedback loops.

White means that I’m still awaiting submission and needs follow-up.

With the data represented this way, I know who still I need to follow up with. If I see too many yellow boxes for one assignment, it also tells me that I need to go back and re-design the assignment to make it more accessible for all and revisit the success criteria with my students.

Personal Strategy Two – Assessment Traffic Lights

When the data is more objective, such as in maths, I organize it on a traffic light system.

What you see above is four learning objectives for a maths unit. “B” means before, or prior knowledge from the pre-assessment, and “A” means after from the post-assessment, which has not been administered yet in the above example.

The colours help me personalize my math instruction. Those green students in the pre-assessment will get more challenge-based tasks and work mostly independently in small collaborative groups.

Yellow get some direct instruction; after close monitoring and anecdotal observations, I may send them off to work independently in small groups on some questions and tasks.

Red students get more support and direct instruction from teachers.

If many children are red in a specific learning objective, it informs me that I need to spend a bit more time in that area.

Once the summative assessment is done, the colours inform individual growth and next steps, and perhaps some learning objectives that need further revisiting.

With the data represented this way, communicating strengths, growth and next steps for reporting is super simple.

COETAIL Course Task |  Design an Infographic

We were asked to create an infographic as part of this week’s assignment.

Since parent, teacher and student conferences are quickly approaching, and my current teaching context is home-based, I figured it would be highly purposeful and authentic to design an infographic about some strategies my learners and I discuss often to be successful each day.

This visual can be presented to my students, as well as serve as a great visual to share at the conferences.

My team and other colleagues within my school may benefit from this visual, too.

In addition, I also thought the wider community may find it purposeful, so I decided to add a Creative Commons license to my work that would suit this.

Some COETAIL reflection questions — answered

  • How did this creation process differ from others? I geek out on this kind of stuff, so I had 100% intrinsic motivation in this week’s task and it was totally in my comfort zone.
  • How did the purpose and intended audience impact the final product? Considering audience should be front and center of any media one is creating. Such a crucial skill to teach our learners. We have a whole unit of inquiry-based on this.

Some questions for you, dear reader!

  • Has this post changed your perspective on data at all? If so, do share…
  • How do you tell stories with your data?
  • What software do you use to tell stories with your data?

Before you go, have you snapped up a Canva educator account?

  • Canva is an amazing digital design tool. Even better, they give premium lifetime accounts to educators.
  • If I’ve piqued your interest, then inquire further here.

Creativity in Collaboration


When it comes to collaboration, be more John Spencer.

Every time I watch his “7 Keys to Creative Collaboration“, all I have to say whilst watching it is YES. YES. And did I say, “YASSSSS!”?

Candour. Spending time together. Being vulnerable. Admitting mistakes. Letting go. Structures.

All crucial to the recipe leading to empowerment and creativity in successful collaboration.

Structure… funny that


Many people these days love a protocol. I think there’s a time and a place for them, sure. But I do think some people/organizations tend to overdo them.

Think my point here is to have some structure, but be sure there’s enough room for voice and choice within that in order to empower, rather than disengage.

I do find some protocols very draconian and disempowering. Unauthentic, if you will.

When anything is overdone (see unbalanced), that’s when things start to get cringe-worthy.

So be more like John Spencer; those seven ingredients posited in his video are quite a winning recipe in my honest opinion.

The Collaborative Task

As part of my #COETAIL learning this week in course three, we did an inquiry into collaboration.

In addition, we were asked to reflect on a recent collaborative activity that we recently led, or have had a part in.

So here it goes…

Setting the Context

I teach in a grade 4 context; “Studio 4”, to be exact.

I also lead a team of five other homeroom teachers, three teacher’s assistants, and liaise with three other specialist teachers (EAL, enrichment, and learning support).  That’s a lot of collaboration across a very culturally diverse team.

Our context for learning is online at the moment.  Our beautiful city, Ho Chi Minh, has been pretty hard hit by the Delta variant.

My team and I love structures, too.

In addition, guided inquiry also needs structures (although it may not always be this linear).

Currently, our students are writing personal narratives, which has a nice fit with our current inquiry into “Who we are”.

Students are inquiring into “Who they are” as writers, readers, inquirers and more.

Goal setting

As teachers, we empower our students to set goals. 

This aligns nicely with ISTE Empowered Learner standard indicator 1a.

Here are some ways we plan to do this for writing:

  • Students compose and submit a writing sample, with shared criteria across the grade.
  • Teachers assess two “Stars” and “Next steps” for each child.
  • Children self asses one star and each as well.
  • Teachers and students conference together about initial goals for writing.
Writing sample assessment aligned with curriculum
Teacher and student assessed goal selection.


Co-constructing Success Criteria

Now that the stage was set, we’ve been working on our personal narrative drafts, co-constructing our success criteria for each stage, collaboratively.

This leads to further motivation and empowerment. A shared vision of success from the voices of the community.

Co-creating a Shared Roadmap – The Journey & The Destination.

It’s important, in any big project or inquiry, that backwards design is a part of the plan. This is a productive “structure” essential for collaboration.

The “race” is personalized. But it’s crucial that each learner knows where their personalized writing journey begins and ends. Even better when there’s a visual.

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday

Part of what my team and I collaboratively have designed, as part of our writing “structure”, is at least two rounds of “Writer’s Workshop” in every major piece of writing.

We follow it up with a “Transfer Thursday” where learners inject their newly acquired skills directly into their respective projects the next day.

How does it all work?

Since this was our first round of “Writer’s Workshops”, this is how my team and I collaborated, and some of the structures we used.

  • After analyzing writing samples, as a team, we collaboratively determined six of the most pressing “needs” in terms of what workshops to offer for the students.
  • All workshops were aligned to the 6+1 Writer’s Traits, which is a part of our literacy curriculum.
  • Each homeroom teacher chose a workshop to create and lead using Google Slides and Seesaw Activities.
  • Students selected a workshop from these six areas using a Google Form. They were encouraged to align their choice with their writing goals.
  • Teachers assigned the respective Seesaw activities to align with each workshop to their homeroom students.
  • On workshop day, students attended the respective workshops by clicking on the correct Google Meet link shared with them.
  • Each workshop teacher had a grade-level collaborative mix of students.
  • In each workshop, teachers and learners engaged in provocations, modelled examples, breakout room discussions and small skill-building tasks related to the focus of that workshop.
  • Learners finished the workshop with a short reflection.

Overall, the day was truly empowering for both teachers and students alike.

The next day, students engaged in “Transfer Thursdays” and revised and edited their work with their new skills, while they were fresh. Essentially, adding that layer of authenticity to the skill.

This was just writing.

Final thoughts on Collaboration

We’re called “Studio 4” in what would traditionally be called “Grade 4”.

Workshops and cross-collaboration are key ingredients to what makes our community a Studio.

As a collaborative team, we look for golden opportunities like these as often as possible.

As a school, this is our guiding precept:

“It takes a village to raise a child.” – African proverb

Collaboration Curiosity

  • How do you and your team collaborate? Would you say “yes” to most of Spencer’s seven ideas he posits?
  • What opportunities do you create alongside your team where students can learn like a village, rather than a silo?
  • What other key ingredients would you add?
  • What are your feelings on protocols?

Intentional Design

New course, new school year, new job changes…


This week, COETAIL course 3 kicked off with a focus on intentional design.

After going through the excellent readings shared, I’d say most things consolidated my beliefs and practices on this topic.

Below are some skills posited in the readings that I practice regularly, and actively teach with my children.

Contrast – Alignment – Repetition – and Proximity [CARP]


I remember first being introduced to this by Keri-Lee Beasley in her workshop at a Learning 2 Conference in Manilla some years back.

It really struck a chord with me.

CARP is always at the front and center of whatever content I produce and I am often teaching these concepts in small doses or in workshops with my kids.

Here’s a great visual on the topic created by a former COETAIL-er, Reid Wilson.


Thoughtful Organization


Chunking, small snippets of ideas, small lists, sub-headings, space …

Generally speaking, if we can group our ideas into 5 or less synthesized and salient arguments towards one very central and focused topic, that’s a winning recipe to a successful post, in my opinion.

Less is more


A quick search on Google for word limits in a blog post suggests that 2,000 or less should be your target.

I’d argue no more than 1,000. If you’re running over that, think of how you could separate your ideas into two more digestible posts.

As human attention spans keep reducing to less than that of a goldfish, this is great food for thought for intentional curation of your content.

Leave your audience with some takeaways


I like to mix it up with any combination of the following…

-Sage quotes related to your topic

-Other related content to explore

Questions to spark inquiry/further exploration

Intentional Design Reflection:  What are my goals? What could I do better?


– Images: The power of a visual. I think being more aware of balance and where a visual would really add value to ideas.

-Simple language: Definitely guilty of needing to review and simplify the vocabulary I use. This was well posited in the article shared this week by “The Writing Cooperative“.

Some further takeaways on this topic


-Inspirational educator designers: Suzanne Kitto, Keri-Lee Beasley, Tanya LeClair, Sonya TeBorg and Alison Yang

Canva | Graphic Design Basics Course (kudos to Ryan Krakofsky for bringing this to my attention)

Design media: What media do I tend to use to “design” in/with? Google Slides, Canva, Flaticon, The Noun Project, Photos for Class, and UnDraw

A leaving favour to ask of you!


  • As a geek on this topic, do you have any great resources to share?


Design is intelligence made visual.” – Alina Wheeler, Author