A year ago today I signed up for Twitter. My VP and now good friend Tia Henriksen (@tiahenriksen) kept going on and on about this twitter thing, so in all honesty, I just opened and account to make her stop because we were going to be spending the next two days sitting at the same table working for eight hours each day. Smile and nod, I thought to myself… I had only known Tia a couple of months and was still trying to figure her out!
My first tweet was lame (I asked a really vague question about supporting literacy and I didn’t really understand hashtags, so it went out into the Twittersphere and never amounted to anything. At that point I dismissed the idea of twitter and a PLN and went back on my merry way continuing to teach as I always had.
One of the many great things about Tia is that she doesn’t give up on things she believes in. At every opportunity she had, she would come flying down the hall, ipad in hand and show me something else she had discovered on Twitter. She would ask, “isn’t this great?” So I would smile and nod, “follow” that person and carry on…
I watched her feed and would follow the odd person here and there, but it didn’t connect with me, so “twittering” was something I would do when I had a moment or two, which was essentially never.
Then my world turned upside down. The tenacious Tia came to me one day and told me she was going to release my dear friend and colleague Tam (@tmanery) and I for the afternoon of April 11 to go and see Alec Couros (@courosa) speak. At the end of his presentation I felt as if someone had taken me to the edge of a cliff and showed me a whole new world on the horizon and told me I can go there anytime I want. The world of social media and how technology can bring people and ideas together was presented in a way that made me question, “What on earth I am doing as a teacher not exploiting this world that is right at my fingertips?”
And then just as I was starting to try a few new things in my classroom (like Kidblog) Tia sent me an e-mail. “You should google George Couros, (@gcouros) you are going to see him next week” which always makes me laugh a little at the thought of “googling” anyone! So I found his blog and had a quick look. “Hmmm, Principal stuff, not ready to do that…” so I carried on with my Kidblog projects and learning new ipad apps to use with my students. (I look back at that teaching and cringe, but everyone has to start somewhere!)
June 13th rolled around and if I thought my world was turned on end before, well, now I was looking at more than the horizon… I was staring into the abyss.
George’s funny, courageous, sad, trendy, and powerfully relevant presentation put the humanity into the technology. That was the moment I really got it. Connection made in my heart and my head. I learned that it’s OK to be open and vulnerable. I learned that the most important things you can do as an educator other than working with kids, is to share your learning. Share yourself with others. Be real. Share your learning…blog and tweet it out…engage in conversations, build relationships. It’s ok to feel scared and to take risks and to fail as long as you learn from that failure and get up and get on with it. Find what is best for kids and chase that dream. Make it happen.
So I try. Many days I feel like a fraud. Half the time I don’t have a clue what I am doing with the technology, but that’s OK, it’s not even about the technology any more. I teach children, the technology is just another tool in my toolkit. After George’s presentation I went home and started this blog. (It’s a work in progress…) I work so hard, I stay up way too late trying to figure things out (like how to get my Diigo bookmarks onto the side of my blog??? Anyone have the HTML for that???? Sigh.) I am so tired all the time. But then every once in a while there are these magical moments when everything falls into place and your students are engaged and learning and asking questions you never thought possible, and you just can’t wait to get up and do it all again.
The next development in my Twitter journey was when Tia invited me to go see Chris Wejr (@ChrisWejr) speak in the middle of the summer at SFU on August 14 (yeah, I caught flack for that one… pro-d? In the middle of the summer? What’s wrong with you?) But I went anyway and boy I’m glad I did! More inspiration! I also met Karen Lirenman (@KLirenman) and Dave Truss (@datruss) in person and was in “edu celebrity” awe, so tongue-tied but all ears for what they had to share.
Fast forward to today and both Tia and I have a good giggle about those early days. We pro-d 365 days a year at all hours of the day-via Twitter and those “edu celebrities” are just regular folks like you and I.
And then in late August, George came back to my school and worked with our staff for a whole day! I could hardly string three words together at the end of that day because my mind was so blown. There was so much to think about. I really wish we had the foresight to videotape that day because I know there is so much that I have forgotten or didn’t even take in. That professional development day has lead to the start of deep learning and a mind shift for our staff. We have done a lot, but it is just the beginning. One of the highlights from the ProD day was hearing about “Identity Day” which we actually did with our school in the fall. (And we collaborated with Chris Wejr! Just another example of how Twitter is so big, yet so small!)
The Twitter year didn’t stop there. I have been so very fortunate to have the opportunity to connect with many amazing twitter people through the Digital Learner Dinner Series that our district hosts throughout the year.
Our fearless Director of Instruction Elisa Carlson (@EMSCarlson) has brought amazing people like Alec Couros, who opened the digital vault for me, his brother George Couros who helped me to understand the relationship component of using innovation to teach and learn, the hilarious and unconventional Digital Storyteller Dean Shareski (@shareski), the profound and soft-spoken champion of Project Based Learning, Shelly Wright (@wrightsroom), the witty and incredibly supportive Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) and most recently, the brilliant scientific mind of Chris Lehmann(@chrislehmann).
Pulling me along and keeping me from getting comfortable for even a moment, the Engaging the Digital Learner dinner series has been pivotal in my learning. Not only have there been great speakers who are inspiring and incredibly knowledgeable, but our own district tweeps also present what they are learning and trying in their own learning journeys. It is so tangible and attainable to see your own peers do something in your own district and you know that it is something you can do in your own classroom. Because if they can…why can’t I?
This Digital Learner Series has had a deep impact on my learning this year. The twitter relationships that I once thought so shallow have been brought to life through this dinner series. Meeting a person and seeing them speak in person has pushed me to read blogs and has opened up a world of information, innovation and inspiration for me. I can honestly say I would have never made the time it takes to read blogs such a priority without the connection to the person first.
In the past it has been my school peers who have pushed me to innovate and experiment. And now from the distant tweet to the real life via Pro-D Days, presentations, Discovery Ed and most recently Skyping with Bill Ferriter’s Kiva Club, the layers of a supportive network push me to work harder and to think harder about my teaching than any other time in my career, including teacher training. The feedback and conversations that were once the informal conversations in the hall and the staffroom have expanded to DM’s, tweets and texts from so many great minds. They given me the tools and the confidence to try new ways of teaching in my own classroom. They help me wrestle with my ideas and see different angles, and they are all there to support when things don’t go exactly as planned.
There isn’t anything that can replace face-to-face conversations, but for me, twitter has become a compendium of valuable thoughts, ideas and examples from which to draw inspiration. It is a source of help and a network of kindred spirits. It has been so valuable to be able to go to this amazing resource for new ideas to bring back to my classroom. Ultimately it is up to me what I do with them.
About a week ago I read and favourited a tweet from Elisa Carlson quoting M.Fullan “…peers become the main source of innovation if you are to go from greatness to excellence.”
Twitter has provided those peers for me. Peers connecting on a daily basis through texts, tweeting with peers at three in the morning in Australia, talking with peers across the dinner table at the Digital Learner Series, peers Skyping into my classroom from a school down the road, peers reading and commenting on blogs, peers working together on projects. I am so grateful for each and every one of you, thank you.
One major truth I have learned on this amazing year: Twitter is a bottomless vault of experts and information, deep learning, powerful relationships, kindness and a whole lot of fun. I can’t wait to see what this next year will bring.
Twitter is for me, the classroom I want to create for my students.