Sunday, June 23, 2013

Being a Connected Educator

I've been on a few Twitter chats about this topic, such as #21stedchat, and I think that the topic is relevant here - on a blog - and to most teachers.  I think there is increasing pressure to become "connected" to other teachers because there are so many benefits.

Before we go any further, I need to point out that no one really thinks that teachers cannot be effective if they aren't connected.  I think that there are too many ways to be effective to believe that a teacher couldn't find a way to be a good teacher without it.  And, of course, there were many good teachers before there were connected teachers.  Yet there are so many good ideas - and good people - to connect to, it's much easier to be effective when you can connect and collaborate with others.

I've tweeted about this before - there are several examples, from my own teaching, of how I've made use of ideas from other people on Twitter.  The more I think about it, though, the more I think it matters exactly who you connect to.  Because Twitter is simply a meeting place.  If you aren't meeting enough good people, or don't know where to look, it's like going to a party where you don't know anyone and you're too afraid to introduce yourself to new people.

So where am I getting the best ideas?

I've posted about the #tlap community before, and I think this is a great place to listen and share ideas about teaching.  I created a Google doc with some ideas about my favorite Twitter chats for a department meeting a while ago.  This is a little dated, but also emphasizes a couple of key chats (not including #TLAP, which I discovered more recently).  The master list of Twitter chats - the biggest list of educational Twitter chats I know about - is this one, compiled by Jerry Blumengarten (aka @cybraryman1).  It's huge - it's a nice indicator of exactly how many cool things are going on there.

That takes me to the next point.  Obviously, there are a ton of different Twitter chats and different ways to connect with other educators.  I think that Twitter is the fastest and easiest way for teachers to interact with other teachers.  That's how I've become connected.  But I don't want to merely provide a list of teachers to follow and tell people that they must follow these people.

Why not?  Well, I think that Twitter is a different experience for a lot of people.  One of the reasons that I had so much fun with it from the very beginning was because of two positive experiences I had.  First, I followed Seymour Simon, a moderately well-known children's nonfiction author.  Not only did he follow me back within 24 hours, but he sent me a welcoming message expressing his respect and admiration for teachers.  I've read - and used - much of his work, and that was a big deal for me.  I bragged about that quite a bit, in fact.  The other really positive experience was when Donalyn Miller replied to a few tweets of mine, and followed me.  That was enormously gratifying.  Since then, because of Twitter and #engchat, I have been included in Troy Hicks' most recent book. (Crafting Digital Writing, pages 144 and 145.  I'm also in the index!)

A lot depends on what times you are looking at your Twitter stream.  It depends on who you follow (and I recommend following a LOT at first.  You can follow up to 2000 people from the beginning.)  It also depends on who you know.  I would bet that many teachers already know someone on Twitter, and it makes sense to follow that person and check out who that person follows, especially if they have similar interests and goals.  But some of my strongest relationships on Twitter come from the back and forth that occurs during the chats, and I've been given several opportunities to collaborate with teachers on Twitter to create and share resources.  I've shared some of the successes and failures of my teaching experience, and I've received helpful feedback on some of those.  I've offered feedback on other people's ideas, and I've learned a great deal about other people's great ideas and tried some of them.  Here are a few examples of things that I've used in my classroom or personal life because of Twitter:

  • Genius Hour (passion-based learning, where students pursue their own passions during part of the school day or week)
  • the book Wonder
  • Twitter itself, in several different ways
  • Wonderopolis
I'm planning to use more.  Much of the learning and change has occurred in subtle but important ways.  I already removed my "big desk" from my classroom and planned some major changes for next year because of several conversations about Genius Hour and different attitudes toward classroom space.  I'm working on a few more YouTube videos so that I can use a slightly flipped class (a tilted class?).  I was blessed with a chance to write for the Nerdy Book Club (again, because of Twitter), and I'd like to do more like that - and share more like that.  I'm working on a class newsletter, and I have many ways to share that with parents and the world.  

It's really kind of overwhelming when you think about it.  

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