Navigating social media during challenging times and lessons learned from a pause in usage

In the months since I last blogged our collective lives have changed even more. COVID-19 remains with us and without a vaccine continues to alter our worlds. In the wake of the recent deaths of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor on top of years of racial inequities outrage sparked nationwide and even globally. These events have resulted in rapid idealogical shifts along with much needed conversations and in many cases action to lead toward real movements to confront these inequalities all across the nation. By far the positives of people trying their best to become better allies, supporters and friends while deepening overall understanding, learning and growing within the ongoing work was evident throughout social media.

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https://sports.yahoo.com/a-changed-world-mlb-managers-explain-how-they-are-leading-clubhouses-after-george-floyd-coronavirus-003336144.html

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/11/ceos-unveil-plans-against-racial-inequality-after-george-floyd-death.html

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/16/world/meanwhile-in-america-june-12-intl/index.html

https://www.wral.com/books-for-kids-to-help-spark-conversations-about-race-justice/19128212/

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/13/us/changes-from-protests-george-floyd-trnd/index.html

We all are living in very anxious times during these times of such uncertainty. Since the pandemic rocked the world in March our lives have drastically shifted. We’ve had to collectively shift our day to day lives as we all navigate living with a global pandemic.

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When will there be a vaccine? How and when will large in person concerts and sporting events return? What about schools? When will we have more normalcy in our world? So many questions. So much unpredictability. Social media can assist with the pandemic at local, state, federal and global level when reliable information/sources are utilized.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

Social media is a great and powerful tool. It’s been a significant part of my life for well over a decade, especially Twitter. I joined the platform nearly a decade ago and had so much impact on my life even once blogged about my entry into the Twitterverse.

I’ve always operated all social media platforms under the mindset of using Facebook and Twitter for good. During these often unstable times this is especially true.

However far too often we see users not abiding by this. Actively complaining, engaging in unhealthy/productive conversations and not abiding by social media etiquette best practices. What value is added by utilizing social media platforms in such a way?

The above mentioned activity became so toxic recently in my own social media circle that I voluntarily cut out all social media for over a week. Logged off my laptop, desktop, all iOS social media apps. Done. Didn’t think about it for over a week. Life went on. The break from the negative energy was refreshing, honestly. I had so much more of my day left. I lived my life completely removed from the social media bubble. After a week plus away I was rejuvenated.

Below are some sound resources on social media best practices.

https://www.houstonpress.com/news/4-rules-of-twitter-etiquette-to-follow-immediately-11271695

https://wlstraininginc.com/social-media-etiquette/

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/10-facebook-etiquette-rul_b_9425740

https://topdogsocialmedia.com/twitter-etiquette/

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We are living in very trying times as a society. We all deal with stress in a variety of ways. Be mindful of who and what you represent. Your words matter. Pause and reflect before you post.

 

 

Navigating a rapidly changing landscape in career and life during COVID-19

 

It’s amazing to think of how quickly our worlds both professional and personal have changed in the last few weeks alone. Interacting with teachers, students and my administrative colleagues in the building was a daily thing. Wrapping up observations for this cycle, visiting classrooms, conducting various meetings, etc. was the daily norm. Little by little cases of COVID-19 popped up in other parts of the US, then North Carolina then right here in my beloved Wake County. District meetings started to cancel, then sporting events, then, like the entire nation now, our district canceled as a preventative measure.

Teleworking. What was that? Legit has never heard that phrase a month ago, even a few weeks ago. Now – after two weeks of teleworking through Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. it’s the “new normal” as much a part of our lives as “social distancing” which also was a phrase that’s rapidly become part of our daily lives.

What has been amazing through all this is how rapidly, and effectively we all, especially within all walks of education have adapted to this swift change. Teleworking, utilizing Zoom to meet with grade level teams, district level leaders, smaller groups of educators, etc. daily to make sure we’re all on the same page with upcoming district roll-outs of distance learning and checking in on one another for some “face time”

This entire now two week plus experience above all has really put things into perspective. Life, family, our work, etc. Lots of time for pause and reflection. During the hustle and bustle of the “normal” work flow these things are easy to overlook.

Our teleworking schedules are often sandwiched with tv updates from our local and state leaders with advice and in some cases even closure announcements of various types of business and local/state “stay at home” orders from our Governor and county commission chairman. Our Governor and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary are on tv daily in one way or another providing guidance to the people of our state. CDC task force experts do the same daily at the federal level. These are truly unchartered territories for all of us young and old alike. We are all in this together navigating through times unknown.

 

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So much has happened already and so much is yet to come as this journey continues both personally and professionally. One thing helps more than any. Check up on friends and family – your colleagues. Even a quick phone call or text if you can’t Zoom. We are all in this together – better together. These are uncertain times but thankfully we have modern technology to help in at least somewhat weathering the storm that has come and what is undoubtedly ahead.

Sometime in the next few months when things are back to “normal” we will look back on the moments we are in now and be even so more thankful we followed the guidance of the CDC, our elected officials and all went above and beyond for the overall well being of our society.

Grateful. Celebrating the awesomeness all around us.

I fell off the blogging wagon. Again. Sigh. Back on — here we go…

On this Thanksgiving we often reflect on our blessings we have in our lives. I have so many — a loving family, two of the most amazing parents who have instilled so much in me, connections within education policy and the local and state political world who continue to make me better all-around and build capacity, a circle of friends from all walks of life who share a tight bond with me, the list goes on.

I’m focusing today on the school community. 2019 alone. Nearly halfway through the school year and things have already shaped up to be an amazing school year. I’m so blessed to work with one, if not the best, administrative teams in our school district. I learn so much from my three administrative colleagues daily — we truly make each other better daily.

As their grade level administrator, I expect a lot from the teachers I lead. They know I’m right there with them every step of the way — expecting them to go above and beyond while taking risks throughout. I model by example often with the latter. They all rise to the occasion day in day out which is why I truly celebrate them so often in a variety of methods — notes, Twitter shouts, verbal praises in public spaces, etc. Be intentional — and always authentic.

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I’m grateful. Grateful to not only work along such phenomenal school leaders but also so many teacher leaders willing and often requesting to go well above and beyond the call of duty. My kind of people. Positivity. Grit. #TeamKidsFirst . They all go such a long way. Celebrate ongoing and as always in an authentic manner.

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Celebrate successes. Faculty and students alike. Positive praise, ongoing communication in a variety of methods to parents, faculty and students are powerful. Be intentional, reflective and authentic. Celebrate success. Ongoing.

I have much to be grateful for. Legit. I’m lucky. Even luckier to work with so many truly amazing people who push me to #BecomeBetter and #StriveForGreatness daily. Blessed.

Authentic education advocacy. Take the risk.

In this blog space I post about three things with a fair amount of consistency – authenticity, taking risks along with the ongoing importance of adding value to ourselves and others.

I also post about the importance of educators advocating. In North Carolina, where the vast majority of funding for public education comes from the state level, I would argue, is even more important than many states in the nation due to our funding structure. Below is a link from the local NPR affiliate that takes a deep dive into public education funding in North Carolina.

https://www.wunc.org/post/10-questions-understand-school-funding-nc

Living in the Triangle, we are blessed with having fairly easy and ongoing access to our state legislature (North Carolina General Assembly), ongoing news coverage specific to state government and the ability to have discussions with house and senate members.

The past two years, educators from around the state have gathered in Raleigh to rally for increased per pupil spending, pay increases to our classroom teachers, school administrators, support personnel, etc. as well as more overall support and genuine respect for public education in general from our state legislature. These events have been very well attended and covered both at the local and national level.

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article229849024.html

https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/01/us/south-carolina-teachers-protest-may-1/index.html

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While the majority of those that attended the May 1 event (and similarly last year) teachers made up the lion’s shared of those “in red.” As a school administrator, I proudly stood by the teachers I support in and around the school on a daily basis who were downtown doing their part. I did this last year and I did it again this year as well. Never a bit of hesitation. https://brendanfetters.com/2018/05/19/20000-nc-educators-marched-now-what/

While I was so pleased with strong turnouts, a well organized event by NCAE (North Carolina Association of Educators — National Education Association affiliate) both years I was very disappointed with the lack of educators wanting to go inside and have meetings with members. It is not a secret that I spend a few hours, afternoons and even days sometimes at the legislative building downtown lobbying members of both parties for increased education spending, support in the form of the annual budget, bond proposals for new school construction, etc. I know my way around Jones Street and the halls of both the NCGA and legislative office building pretty well at this point after several years of education policy involvement.

 

A lot of educators are fearful of going inside the legislative building. Fearful of having discussions with members about their profession. This is an unspoken level of discomfort that goes beyond just education – to the general public as well.

I recently had coffee with my state representative one Saturday morning. She asked how the ‘Day of Action’ went. I articulated my concern that so many of my brothers and sisters in education had little to no desire to join me in post-rally meetings even though I had done the legwork of setting up several meetings with key house and senate meetings after the event. Rep. Adcock made it very clear the importance that constituents realize that members are not experts in all walks of life.

Who knows what’s best for the needs and concerns of a family farm in eastern Wake County the best? A farmer who is working ground in that specific region. Who knows what’s best for a hospital in rural western North Carolina? A nurse or doctor in a hospital. rural western North Carolina. Who best knows the needs of K-12 education in their specific area of the state? A teacher or school administrator in that member’s specific area of the state.

Our voice is powerful. Our opinions matter. Do not assume that we are insignificant in the decisions going forward. As I’ve blogged about it the past we have power at our fingertips – utilize these resources and run with them.

https://brendanfetters.com/2017/12/17/get-informed-leave-the-sideline-take-a-seat-at-the-table/

Rallies can be powerful – authentic conversations with people making policy decisions directly effecting our profession are even more. Take a risk. Add value to you, your colleagues and the profession. Advocate.

 

 

Being genuine in all walks professionally and personally – wrapping up 2018-19

I haven’t blogged much this school year. 4 times to be exact. I’ve fallen off the blogging “wagon” – I’ll own it. No excuses. My last post was New Year’s Day.

The 2018-19 school year has been very rewarding. Plenty of challenges, growth opportunities and inspirational moments galore mixed in. I’ve also backed off on my tweeting lately devoting more time to diving deeper with supporting students,  teachers, support personnel, school community  while advocating at the state and local level for public education at an increased level.

I’m back. Back to blogging. Back to picking up the “twitter game.” On Twitter there is often a lot of talk. Many educators are strong at sounding fantastic behind their keyboard or phone. A lot is sincere but also all too often superficial. Self promotion masked as “best for kids” and “best for education.”

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Allow me to catch up. As articulated in an earlier blog this school year it is vital that we lead intentionally by showing genuine gratitude for those we supervise daily. For me this year it included a group outing over the Holiday season to a hockey game, joining up at the ‘Day of Action’ education rally downtown Raleigh with teachers (see above), showing authentic appreciation beyond Teacher Appreciation week gifts (below), etc. The list goes on.

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For me, I have been determined daily to be present. Rarely in my office. Intentional at being present in the hallways and in classrooms. Daily. Students are never saying “Mr. Fetters is here…” or teachers asking “Do you need something?” My presence is part of the daily flow for the teachers I serve. This is true no matter how stressful or busy the day is – you make time. My presence in classrooms should never be anywhere near limited to teacher observations. Ever.

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Being visible and getting to know the staff you directly oversee is vital. Everyone has a story. Get to know the gist. This includes students just as much.

 

Be yourself. Be authentic. Build capacity in others. Work smarter. Share your space. #BecomeBetter together.

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Be yourself. Be honest. Be true. Be genuine. Authentic.

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School administrators – work with your team to continually push yourself out of your comfort zone to be the best leader you can be. For the sake of the students, staff and school community. #StriveForGreatness. 2018-19 was a fantastic ride and sure am looking forward to what 2019-20 brings.

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#OneWord2019: Inspire

The holiday season is behind us. A new year has started. As I relax watching the annual NHL Winter Classic following a productive walk around the North Carolina Museum of Art trail earlier today, I’m pondering the year ahead.

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In life both personal and career there are always goals. Goals within leadership, health, prosperity, family, friends, etc. I want to increase capacity within others. I want to continue to lead with passion to strengthen others in significant ways. I want to inspire. Far beyond my infamous #SundayInspiration quote tweets.

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The framework has been set: https://brendanfetters.com/2018/02/17/relationships-relationships-relationships-the-foundation-for-all-aspects-of-education/

The results of that capacity evident: https://twitter.com/BrendanFetters/status/1075524399716069376

https://brendanfetters.com/2018/12/23/shifting-from-thanks-for-all-you-do-to-genuine-gratitude/

https://brendanfetters.com/2018/12/02/adding-and-receiving-value-from-those-around-us/

New year. New challenges. New Word. Inspire. Push those directly and indirectly to be the best that they truly can.

The music and lyrics of the legendary country singer and songwriter David Lee Murphy perhaps put it best in his 2004 song, Inspiration. Something we all should aspire to do: inspire others.

 

Shifting from “thanks for all you do” to genuine gratitude

“Thanks for all you do.” This has to be one of the most over-used and superficial phrases of “gratitude” uttered in our society today. Personally, I’ve long despised this phrase – with a passion. Why? For starters this is so ridiculously vague. It’s not personal, specific or even meaningful.

The Holiday season is upon us. A time for showing gratitude. How do we show those that we serve, work with, co-exist in this space that we genuinely care?

At my school, our administrative team is divided by grade levels. This school year, I knew very early on in the year I was blessed with an extremely special group of educators. Often and ongoing I let them know I cared deeply in a genuine way for each of them. Daily rounds, often leaving notes, sending a tweet or a quick “hey, I really liked —- within your lesson today,” etc.

I truly went above and beyond for them daily the entire first semester. My office was rarely occupied most days because of my strong presence around the building – especially within learning spaces.

As Thanksgiving came and went I was determined to do something special for this far beyond “thanks for all you do – happy holidays” type lines, candy, cards, etc. Purchase Starbucks? Nah, already did that last year. Dinner? Nah, not unique enough. Then an advertisement came on our local NBC affiliate in the Raleigh-Durham, NC market for the Carolina Hurricanes NHL team. Bingo. That was it.

Immediately I made up my mind. I was going to call the Hurricanes organization in the morning and inquire about group tickets. No backing down. After discussing this with my boss and thinking on it a week after getting a price quote from the ‘Canes sales rep. I made it happen.

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Last weekend, over 15 educators and some of their spouses enjoyed fellowship, laughs and most of all staff bonding over the world’s greatest sport (in my humble opinion) it was simply magnificent. Yes this was a huge investment both time wise and fiscally but it backed up so much of what I constantly say and do over and over. The teachers I serve truly matter greatly and I was determined to demonstrate this. Truly priceless.

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When you tell someone “you’re significant” and “you matter” are you being genuine? Is there authentic meaning behind this or are you giving more of a “thanks for all you do” answer. Words matter. Actions are greater.

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This holiday season and ongoing strive to always demonstrate authentic gratitude in your actions no matter the situations life throws our way.

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Receiving a holiday card like the one at the bottom of this post with such genuine words on it from the above referenced people makes it all worthwhile after all.

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Adding and receiving value from those around us

The 2018-19 school year has been a sprint. Nonstop. So much learning and growing with a workflow that that can often be intense. Blogging has fallen off my radar these past few months. I’ll admit it. I’ve articulated such many times over the course of the past weeks especially.

However, today something powerful happened. No not me jumping back on the blogging horse – beyond that. A group of three district peers and friends Michael Parker West, Erica Everett, Terrance Hinnat and I met for a few hours to discuss school community and how it connects to the powerful EdNC article from our fellow district colleague Christina Spears (who unfortunately was unable to attend)

https://www.ednc.org/2018/05/31/building-community-beyond-the-classroom-walls/

This professional development session while small was powerful. Three school administrators and one aspiring administrator gathering on a Sunday afternoon at Panera over warm beverages and side items to dive deep into successes, similarities we’ve seen, are aiming to achieve, etc. in alignment with Mrs. Spears’ article.

This all came to be a few weeks ago with Erica reaching out to around 20 district peers via email. The collective group had a choice of meeting dates/times to choose from with today being the eventual winner.

During the course of our meeting we all realized that each of us had connected directly or indirectly from Twitter over the course of the last 2-3 years. We have become so close as district peers that each of us had lost sight of that. What a strong connection tool Twitter is. It has enhanced all of our personal learning but also school community bonding through hashtags. #WendellHowlout and #WeAreCarroll are significant school community connection drivers for Mr. West and myself at our respective schools for sure.

While district and school learning is always strong, sometimes the learning and personal connections we choose are the most powerful. Who knew a colleague-initiated two hour meeting on a fall Sunday afternoon in Raleigh with 4 district colleagues would be so powerful? It was.

Value added. Value received.

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Unplug, unwind, relax and recharge

No matter your role in education there is one constant – the work is tough. Consuming, involved, detailed and challenging are all words that could easily describe the overarching work we collectively do on a daily basis. Rewarding, inspirational, exciting and engaging are all words that could describe the work as well.

No matter your aspect in this work whether an elementary classroom teacher, central office administrator, high school counselor or middle school assistant principal, you’re constantly on – pedal to the metal from August to June when the school year ends.

As connected educators sometimes we never slow down. Even those of us working all or part of the summer sometimes don’t take time to slow down, cut off and self-care. We’re always learning, growing, reading, blogging, PDing, etc. on top of other professional obligations. I know this because I’m often guilty of such as well year after year.

This year I put a stop to that. The month of July — I all but cut off. Very little tweeting, no blogging, no professional reading, a month related to self-care. Why? I knew when August 1 came it was going to be pedal to the metal. Nonstop until the end of the school year. The blogging would come (here it is!) the professional literature, books, resources, tweeting, Twitter chats, vlogs, etc. would all be there to enhance the work.

The value of self-care is well documented by a wide variety of extremely reputable resources:

https://psychcentral.com/blog/self-care-living-life-according-to-your-values/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/payout/2017/09/19/practicing-self-care-is-important-10-easy-habits-to-get-you-started/

 

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Spending several days on my family’s farm in Ohio away from the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced world of the city and our profession personifies being cut-off. Peaceful. Calm. The above photo captures the essence of that. The learning, growing and work will be there. At the end of the day when we have time to invest in ourselves we need to do such. I’m grateful I have and encourage my brothers and sisters in education to do more of this. I’m all for professional growth, but I’m also for the value of self-care as well. Sometimes we fail as the later. Its vital we invest in that too.

We live in a fast paced world and work in a profession that is rapid as well. This requires us to be on – ongoing. Cutting off, resting and relaxing for a full month has been incredible. I’ve continued being on during my time off many times before. This go around I’m so thankfully for cutting off because I’m completely refreshed and recharged. Ready to take on the 2018-19 academic year like none other!

The power of Twitter, being a connected educator and the PLN on my career

Blogger’s note:

This blog post originally appeared on the ASCD EDge blogging platform in May 2016. 

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Introduction 

As a 4th grade teacher in urban Raleigh, NC going into the 2011-12 school year my forward-thinking principal came up with an iniative that was, at the time, very progressive within public education. The summer leading up to the new school year, he was reading up more and more about the power Twitter had on education if utilized effectively by key stakeholders within the building. Despite being around, 4-5 years at this time, Twitter wasn’t really utilzed by anyone in education and was seen globally as a way for folks to put their opinions out there and “connect” with their favorite celebrites. Thankfully for me, this former boss of mine opened my eyes to this groundbreaking technology that has truly revolutionalized my career on many levels.

How it started

In those inservice days ahead of the 2011-12 school year officially starting, my former principal introduced our staff to Twitter. As a seasoned educator who was always forward thinking, I immediately saw the potential benefits.

To maximize the effects of Twitter, my former boss had every certified faculty member on staff from classroom teachers, intervention coaches, specialists, counselor, etc. create a Twitter account. It was then expected that every certified staff member sent out three tweets per week. This gained traction as the year rolled along with the message being engrained within the school culture. Every “school messenger” phone call that went to home to parents included mention of Twitter, being sure to follow your child’s teacher on Twitter and basics of Twitter/sign up information on the website and many letters going home from the school of with students. The PTA was on board, classroom teachers and as the year progressed, more and more parents.

As a classroom teacher that year I started to really cherish the social media platform. After the first quarter I found myself tweeting more and more and ecliplsing the “minimum requirement” for tweets. I continued to promote the platform with parents and by the middle of the school year over half of the parents in my classroom followed me on Twitter. As my following increased so did my tweets. I was now not just tweeting but adding photos of student work, promoting upcoming classroom projects, and dabbling with school-wide function promotions. By the end of the 2011-12 school year I was sold. Twitter for educational purposes was the real deal. What an effective way to reach out to parents when you promote it and stand by it.

The 2011-12 school year was a gamechanger for my career. After that school year I started to branch out more and more with the usage, classroom promotion spawned into school wide promotion, then district promotion. Photos, videos, and my network started to grow.

Beginnings of the PLN

Network? Yes, the Professional Learning Network (PLN) It started out as connectivity with educators I knew from around my district getting ideas for curriculum, school promotion, PBIS implementation, etc. Then I began reaching out to educators outside of the district from around our state…folks I never even met in person but came highly recommended from others. Then this spawned to nationally and even internationally. Before long, a few years after this whole classroom Twitter started I had a strong PLN of connected educators from literally all over the nation and beyond.

Through the usage of Twitter, I became more connected with educators from North Carolina through #NCed bi-weekly chats, EdCamps throughout our state and school visits of connected educators throughout my PLN. EdCamps, while powerful face to face conversations about various areas of importance within education also serve as a great connectivity/tweetup tool as well as a fantastic way to grow your PLN.

In my current position as an elementary curriculum coach, I utilize Twitter for two key reasons: school promotion and academic resources from my PLN. I’m in classrooms K-5 daily and if something amazing is going on (which is often) at our school I’m taking a photo of it and Tweeting it out utilizing our school-wide hashtag. Teachers come to me all the time for advice about curriculum and content that goes beyond our pacing guides and curriculum mapping provided by the district. I get a lot of my answers along with great articles from my PLN via Twitter. By the same token, I’m able to contribute a lot of my knowledge with other educators through my PLN. It’s truly a win-win.

Next steps

Beyond Twitter and EdCamps, I also utilize the Voxer app, mainly with a group of connected educators from around our state, which adds text, voice (walkie-talkie style) and photo as another layer of connectivity. Voxer is actually how I helped get assistance/advice when coming up with a hashtag to utilize at my current school. I wanted something simple, short, yet effective. I posed the question via voice with Voxer and within a few hours had feedback from 10-15 leading educators from around North Carolina to assist in hashtag ideas based on the information I’d given (school initials, PBIS theme, mascot, etc) now we have a great one that accomplished all the goals I had lined up.

Today, Twitter/Tweetdeck as a resource and connectivity tool are as much a part of my day as email, face to face conversations, walk-arounds, meetings/trainings at our central office, PLCs, etc. I’m so thankful for this platform to opening my eyes to far more than just the walls of how things are done in my school and even district.

I’m thankful to work in a very Twitter-friendly school district that embraces the technology for many of the reasons mentioned above and even has it’s own bi-weekly chat (#WCPSSchat) now which is connecting more and more intra-district (and visitors) educators.

Whether you’re just getting started with Twitter, moderate or advanced, I highly recommend the following three books:

http://www.amazon.com/Digital-Leadership-Changing-Paradigms-Times/dp/1452276617/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461528525&sr=8-1&keywords=digital+leadership+by+eric+sheninger

http://www.amazon.com/What-Connected-Educators-Do-Differently/dp/1138832006/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461528686&sr=8-1&keywords=what+connected+educators+do+differently

http://www.amazon.com/School-Passionately-Promote-Positives-Happening/dp/0986155527/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461528717&sr=8-1&keywords=your+school+rocks