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. 

twitter-app

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

The power of being a connected educator through EdCamps, Twitter & Voxer

Blogger’s note:

This blog post originally appeared on the ASCD EDge blogging platform in June 2016. edcamp-leadership

Connectivity

As the 2015-16 school year has wrapped up and we are now a few weeks into summer break, now is the perfect time to reflect on the power of connectivty within our profession. What does it truly mean to be a “connected educator?” Hmmmm. A few months ago, I made my initial leap into blogging with the following post: http://edge.ascd.org/blogpost/the-power-of-twitter-being-a-connected-educator-and-the-pln-on-my-career?post_id=10153918982425804_10153918987765804#_=_ Read at your own leisure if you choose but that post essentially maps out my 5 year journey through being a connected educator and explains in short what the term means to me.

While Twitter is the longest standing form of connectivty related to my profession followed by EdCamps and most recently Voxer the three are all of equal importance to my continued growth, learning and connecting.

EdCamp movement

I first heard the term EdCamp 4 years ago while a 4th grade teacher. A first year teacher who I served as an unofficial mentor to mentioned this concept to me, showed me a video overview (which is actually one of the links listed at the bottom of this post) and asked my thoughts. She knew I was very forward thinking and already heavily connected via Twitter for eduational enrichment purposes. I liked what I saw but the movement was just getting started and I didn’t have buy-in from connected educators. I wasn’t ready to make that leap.

Fast forward to the fall of 2013. At this point I was out of the classroom serving as a school-based Administrative Intern. At this point I became connected through Twitter with Dr. Steven Weber who at that time was principal at Hillsborough Elementary in nearby Orange County Schools (NC) along with a parent at our school, Mr. Nathan Stevens who was heavily involved with the makerspace movement through his position with the College of Education media services at NC State University. Both Steven and Nathan took me under their wing and highly encouraged me to check out this “new thing” called an EdCamp. They’d both been to a few “camps” and encouraged me to go to one that fall in Raleigh – EdCamp NC. I attended. My first EdCamp I just listened, took it all in – valuable PD but the unconference layout took time to understand and soak in. However, I was a believer. Later that spring along with a colleague, attended EdCamp Rowan in Salisbury, NC and became more involved. Connecting face to face with educational leaders from around the state and having rich discussions and learning sessions about our profession in a school setting. Hooked. From then on I, I started spreading the word about EdCamps and have since attended EdCamps in Charlotte, another in Raleigh, and returned to Salisbury the following few years. This year, I’m on the planning committee for the second annual EdCamp Leadership NC held in Raleigh. In a mere three years I’ve gone from skeptic to firm believer in this process. It’s not just me. I’m fortunate to work in the Wake County Public School System, not only one of the largest districts in the nation but also most progessive. My district is constantly a leader in “the next thing” and I’m proud to say has played host to several EdCamps which continue to grow in strength and attendance. The movement is truly grassroots and growing. It takes some encouragement and and arm twisting at times to get folks to go to that first EdCamp, just like it took Dr. Weber and Mr. Stevens years ago but I’m thankful they did…and I’ve “paid it forward” to countless colleagues in my district and throughout my PLN encouraging them to attend and in turn their new love spawns similar results.

Voxer

I’ve been on Voxer for a year now. I’ll admit prior to a little over a year ago, I had never even heard of the iOS and Andriod app. I was sold at EdCamp Leader NC last summer on the value of this app as an educator. One of the sessions was about Voxer. I attended only because I had heard bits and pieces about this app and wanted to learn more. Wow. Blown away. In that session so many statewide “heavy weights” within education…all talking about Voxer and specifically #NCed Voxer group. Now I was familiar with the #NCed chat hashtag and “group” as it had been (and continues to be) very much a “go to” for me content and quiestion bouncing wise. But this group – conversations could be text, photo or VOICE? Oh my goodness – next level. My inner-nerd went into overdrive – huge. From right there in that sessions one of the group admins added me and from that moment on I at least follow from afar with the 100 or so members from around the state sometimes chiming in text or voice commentary. Easily as much learning happens for me educationally in that Voxer group as does on Twitter. Valuable. Please check it out. If you’re a North Carolina educational leader in any capacity hit me up and we’ll ensure you can join the conversation.

Conclusion

Wrapping it up, this journey as a connected educator I equate as a 5 year journey with the train going down the tracks and just now starting to speed up. I’m excited what the future of this journey will bring not only to me as a professional but also what can help me in adding value to the colleagues I work with directly, indirectly and the studens we all serve. Powerful doesn’t do it justice.

At the bottom of this post I’ve included several articles and links which are all great introductions to EdCamps, Twitter and Voxer. All worth checking out no matter your level in the process of connectivity.

Lastly, a huge shout out to Dr. Steven Weber and Mr. Nathan Stevens for adding significant value to my connectivity as an educator. You can follow both at: @curriculumblog and @nathan_stevens

Resources

http://edcampleadernc.weebly.com

http://edcamponline.weebly.com/what-is-edcamp.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7DwCI7j0Bg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svHXvjwcc1c

http://www.edudemic.com/guides/guide-to-twitter/

http://blog.voxer.com/2014/06/06/connecting-educators-through-voxer/