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

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/

21st century professional development

Blogger’s note:

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

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Modern Day PD

2016-17 will mark my 12th year in education. I’ve seen a lot change in my decade plus both in methodolgy, styles of teacher learning, student learning, the rise of social media for edu learning/connecting, etc. Considering my mother was a career eduator, I’ve literally been around the education setting my entire life and have seen a lot of changes within our profession both directly and indirectly.

One of the biggest shifts from the professional lens has been the way we receive professional development. With budget cuts to resources gone are the days often times when a large percentage of a staff could travel long distances to see speakers at workshops for PD then bring the contents back to the remainder of the faculty. This still remains to a point but most of the PD is site-based. As we shift from the traditional “sit and get” PD more and more, how do we effectively ensure our teachers, the most ones who have the most important positions in the school…the backbone of the faculty if you will receive PD effectively?

As a curriculum coach, this is one of the hurdles I’m faced with (one of the many hats I have in my position) while I’m afforded some of those traveling PD experiences mentioned above many times, I too, am not and the PD has to be school based.

I’ve learned to get creative. First of all, every school has a lot of experts in certain areas. Think about it. Coming from the elementary lens, ever school has a few teachers who really and truly excel in guided reading instruction, or introduction of CCSS multiplication methods, always on the cutting edge of classroom education apps, Daily 5 integration, 4Cs woven into literature, the list goes on. Utilizing these “in house” experts is huge! As opposed to the principal, assistant principal, myself or someone from our district central office coming out to give PD, while we can assist, teachers love learning from their peers that are “in the trenches” with them. We’ve had great success with this model at my current school and previous school as well. It’s a win-win gets some teachers out of their comfort zones by recognizing skills they have and would benefit sharing with peers and teachers are learning from eachother in personalized PD settings this way no one is learning things they already know about, have previously heard, already are experts on, etc. This makes the PD much, much more meaningful.

Being in the 21st century brings about all sorts of new technology. Example. Last spring one of our Kindergarten teachers came to me asking about the Seesaw app she had heard about. I mentioned that I had a connection on the other side of our school district who was a Seesaw ambassador and had already mentioned to me doing a PD at our school for interested faculty. I hyped it to our faculty enough that the entire staff was interested in at least learning. So…. we did a Google Hangout PD. The staff had their laptops, could see and hear my friend (45 min away) ask questions and she could see our progress in live time. It was truly meaningful PD! The link below is a tweet from the event….https://twitter.com/BrendanFetters/status/719628291074826240

Visting another workspace

Another way to grow as professionals is by visiting other educators’ workspaces, seeing them “in action.” The Science specialist at the school I serve is dynamic – always on the top of her game, asking questions, attending district encouraged Science kit PD, learning and growing. The students love learning from Mrs. Hodges and we’re lucky to have such a great educator at our school. However, she wanted to learn more. She came to me with ideas for PD beyond what she was getting. Immediately I came up with taking a day, visiting two schools within our district one middle, one elementary and seeing two amazing Science teachers in action to see how they interact in their work spaces and asking questions during down time. I spent a day with Abigail at these two schools having amazing observation experiences, discussions both with the teachers, students about their learning and eachother at the end of the day about what we saw and how Mrs. Hodges could apply what she saw into her practice. Talk about meaningful PD – she still mentions it and clearly so do I…. https://twitter.com/BrendanFetters/status/717829739734507525

EdCamps

Edcamps are a wonderful way for educators to learn and grow professionally – at your own pace and skillset. I’ve blogged in ASCD EDge before about the power of EdCamps and they still remain true. If there is one in your area and you’ve never attended – GO. Take a leap of faith. I promise you won’t regret. If you’ve been before encourage peers in your school and/or district to go that have never attended. Everyone gets a lot out of EdCamps and it’s always a good use out of a Saturday or Monday morning and afternoon! https://twitter.com/BrendanFetters/status/752508358398271489

PLN

Of course, in my opinion, the most powerful PD out there is your PLN (professional learning network) via Twitter & Voxer. It takes time to build and maintain an effective PLN but it’s so worth the investment. Feel free to check out my blog post from a few months back on this very topic if you’re not connected……yet.

In education today within professional development, you have to be willing to think outside the box. Both from content, delivery and being respectful of your faculty’s time. Never lose sight of the later. I truly believe the teachers have the most vital role in the school – we need to honor and respect that. Not by giving them “one more thing” in PD but rather PD that is truly meaningful for every faculty member. It takes more on the planning end but will be worth it in the end by a mile.

The gift that keeps giving – my PLN.

During this holiday season as we all scatter about our towns, communities and even the country to see family, friends and loved ones we often reflect on the positives in our lives and all we’re grateful for. While I certainly have many blessings to be thankful for – one I’m most grateful for and a true gift is my PLN.

My PLN is wide and powerful – a daily resource of information. Whether utilizing resources within our district to capacity, a wide variety of connected educators throughout the country and beyond on Twitter, Voxer and most recently, Instagram — I’m so thankful. Each member of my PLN adds value to my life and career. Whether we bounce ideas off each other once a year or once a week — there is power in learning and growing together.  As we close 2016 here are some significant impacts members of my PLN have had this year alone…

15202739_10154486310625804_7461757797978786816_nSurrounding yourself with people who help you #BecomeBetter isn’t just a tagline it’s a way of life for connected educators and a daily aspect for all members of my PLN who truly challenge me to be my best. I truly appreciate Dr. Sandy Chambers, Mrs. Melanie Farrell, Mr. Phil Echols and Mr. Kyle Hamstra pictured above. Each of these leaders in education from within the Wake County Public School System have their own unique skill-set they bring to the table within our profession and together we share and grow to #BecomeBetter. Powerful. Together we shared our PLN journey and areas of strength at the 2016 WCPSS Fall Convergence Symposium.

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Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe are connected school leaders in my native Ohio that are leading the charge in school promotion, an area I’m passionate about. The book these gentleman co-authored, Your School Rocks…So Tell People About It! single handedly opened me to utilizing Instagram and expanding the news program(s) at our school. Check out their book if you haven’t already: https://www.amazon.com/School-Passionately-Promote-Positives-Happening/dp/0986155527/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458400536&sr=8-1&keywords=your+school+rocks+so+tell+people+about+it

img_2028Mrs. Renee White and Mr. Michael Parker West are significant members of my PLN and also great resources for elementary and middle school curriculum within our district. I’m blessed by their ongoing student-first mentality, positivity and co-presenting with them several times.

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Dr. Steven Weber is one who continually pushes me to expand my learning and growing as an educational leader. He is responsible for my initial dive into blogging, trying EdCamps (and being quickly hooked), Voxer and growing my PLN in general. I owe so much to Dr. Weber — even though I don’t see him as much as in the past he still continually adds value to my life and career.

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Angela Maiers makes me better daily. I have such high regard for her and her work through Choose 2 Matter, the You Matter initiative and Liberating  Genius. www.choose2matter.org

Marlena Gross-Taylor’s work with #EduGladiators has made a significant impact on my career and makes me go outside of the box in various arenas. She believes in me and I believe in her. I have massive respect for both of these ladies and very much look forward to connecting face to face soon. http://www.marlenagrosstaylor.com/about

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My “tribe” is significant. Mostly ITFs in our district they continually push me to try new ideas/concepts and lead with positivity. Melanie Farrell, Chris Tuttell, Wanda Hanley, Michael Parker West, Kyle Hamstra, Karen D’Elia, Juliette Kuhn and Erica Woodard are amazing educators. I value each and every one of these ladies and gentlemen (one member is missing in this photo)

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The language of mattering is powerful. I truly believe it and this gift that the above mentioned PLN members above and countless others as well. We are truly better together. Thank you all for your gifts  – #YouMatter and the world truly needs your contributions.

Blogging 2.0 – taking the leap!

After wrestling with blogging for nearly a year I finally took the leap in the summer of 2016, when so much interest among fellow educators throughout our district and state wanted to hear my connectivity journey through Twitter. I finally decided I wanted to blog about a story I had verbally told countless times. Already an ASCD member (www.ascd.org and @ASCD) I took the next step of blogging on their ASCD Edge blog post platform – one that several friends in education, notably Dr. Steven Weber (@curriculumblog) and Mr. Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) had utilized for some time, and encouraged me to utilize.

After that first post,  The Power of Twitter, being and connected educator and the PLN on my career, I started to blog here and there once a month or so, often after being encouraged by others in my PLN, but always on the same platform. I was enjoying the occasional blog post on ASCD Edge, but was remaining stagnate in terms of my overall growth as a learner and educator in this domain. I needed a change but didn’t truly realize it.

Fast forward to last this past week. I’m blessed to work in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) the largest school district in North Carolina and very progressive in terms of new concepts, ideas and innovative thinking within education. Every fall and spring, WCPSS holds a Convergence Symposium at the McKimmon Center at NC State University. This is a conference event held over two days with an opening and closing keynote address. The keynotes often hold a few sessions as well. Think smaller level of NCties on the state level or ISTE on the national level regarding what this conference is like. Edu tech and media services are the primary targets so every tech facilitator both school and district based is invited along with media. Additionally classroom teachers, administrators and other stakeholders in our district are often invited along with a handful of out of district guests in education. For the past two years, I’ve been fortunate to attend and also present at both fall and spring editions of the WCPSS Convergence Symposium. 15220046_10154486311260804_4758858825984773281_n

This year, I was excited to present in three sessions with some of my biggest edu heroes in our district: Mrs. Melanie Farrell (@MelanieCFarrell), the above mentioned Mr. Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra), Dr. Sandy Chambers (@DrSandyChambers), Mr. Michael Parker West (@mikeaustinwest), Mrs. Renee White (@RaRaPenguin) and Mr. Phil Echols (@PhilEchols) all of these wonderful educators in our district are vital to my PLN and certainly recommend following on Twitter if you aren’t already.

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Going into this year’s Convergence, aside from presenting material on a large level, I was most excited about day 2 out of the gate. This was the day one of my biggest heroes in education was presenting, George Couros. (http://georgecouros.ca/blog/ and @gcouros) While George was presenting three sessions Wednesday, I knew I would only be able to attend his final presentation since his first two conflicted with sessions I was presenting in. However, his final presentation before his closing keynote address was one I couldn’t wait to hear. Blogging. Yes, I knew, thought didn’t verbally admit it, I was stalling in my blogging movement and desperately  needed to hear Couros’ message considering he’s quite the edu blogger. Did. He. Ever. Deliver. A few days later, I’ve created a WordPress account, upgraded to a personal account, and have shifted from being isolated to having my own blog and domain. Yes, Couros’ session sparked all of that (along with powerful lunch conversations with many of the above mentioned plus post conference discussions all about blogging next steps.)

This is where it all began. In a packed room at WCPSS Convergence. Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 30, 2016 Throughout George Couros’ presentation on blogging my head could barely contain it all. I had moved past the fact that despite being a life long Alberta resident, Couros was far more into NFL and NBA than the NHL, hence our limited conversation about hockey, which was a bit of a downer, though I digress. So much information was being tossed around though in that 45 minute, information and energy packed session, I knew it wasn’t a question of if I was going to take my blogging to the next level but when. After his session had concluded and we chatted about the day so far over lunch with a group of 30 or so connected educators from our district and beyond over Amedeo’s down the street https://twitter.com/edtechtom/status/804017450962583553 blogging took center stage of the conversation for nearly all of us present.

By the time George Couros started his closing keynote address Wednesday afternoon, I knew I was ready to “blog 2.0” as I began to refer to this “next step” in my blogging adventure.

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His closing keynote was so strong, so empowering, I knew that my inevitable when with blogging 2.0 was coming even sooner.

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In short, while my 2016 WCPSS Fall Convergence Symposium experience was one of the highlights of my career in education thus far because of the lasting impact of George Couros’ words, message and our conversations I would be neglecting the power of my PLN both in our district and beyond if I didn’t mention their lasting vital impact. Not only the above mentioned co-presenters but also “my tribe” pictured below and all by folks I’ve connected with through EdCamps around the state, district level meetings, Twitter, Voxer, etc. Your impact on my career has been and continues to be invaluable.

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In the words of another one of my true educational heroes, Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) #YouMatter. (Which coincidentally is a central theme in one of our presentations at Convergence and will be presented again at the 2017 NCties Conference in Raleigh.)

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Here is to my wonderful PLN, George Couros, Angela Maiers and so many who have contributed in my ongoing effort to #BecomeBetter and make the leap from entry level blogging to “2.o” I truly appreciate all of you more than you’ll ever realize.

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