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Archive for the ‘Twitter’ Category

This morning, I read a great blog post  by Michael Smith entitled “Believing You Are Great Leaves Very Little Room for Improvement.”  In it, Smith asserts that teachers’ unwillingness to change may in fact be due to a belief in the excellence of their methods, lessons, colleagues, and the school program/curriculum  itself.  I thought this was an interesting take on the situation, as I had seen the problem more as a lack of desire to change, and satisfaction with the status quo.  But when you think of a school as a microcosm, where the community is often small and closed, you can easily understand how the ideas and myths perpetrated there could come to be accepted as truth over time.  The characteristics of the faculty, students, and parents remain fairly static.  So, thoughout the years, feedback and comments may also remain the same.  In addition, because the community is fairly closed, exposure to the methodology of others outside the school is fairly uncommon.  This leads to a misconception: that something we’ve done in the past considered excellent, continues to be excellent forever.    The problems is, that as time passes, our expectations and standards should evolve.  Lessons applauded ten years ago cannot be assumed to be excellent today.

This is where social media comes in.  In order for teachers to be able to see excellence in an unbiased way, they must reevaluate their lessons in light of the work of other educators.   They need to see and hear what other teachers are doing in their classrooms, and become familiar with the tools that they too can use.  Because for most of us, attendance at multiple conferences each year is a financial impossiblity, teachers should take advantage of the free information on the web.  Using Twitter and blog posts, for example, can greatly increase exposure to worlds outside our school walls.  Information from others can help us reevaluate our plans to best serve the students.  What new sources and tools exist that can create a more authentic learning experience?  Constructive criticism is available from well-respected peers, if we’re open to have others look at our plans.  Teachers have at their fingertips a wealth of information that can lead to the develop of truly excellent lessons, if they’re only willing to try.  Educators can go on assuming that what they’re doing is excellent, or they can take a brave step into the world of information and evaluation to see their lessons as others would.  After all, how can we assume academic excellence if we’re unaware of what is possible?

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to some former students who are now seniors in high school.   After the ceremony honoring them (that’s another story), the young men came into the library to talk to me, and a simple conversation about school evolved into an educational policy discussion.

First, they told me about their “silent” library.  They laughed as they told me how they can’t talk in the library, and are threatened with demerits if they do.  “It’s different than here,”  they said.  (I never was known for a quiet library).  I have always tried to encourage discussion and sharing, and have tried to make the library a fun space that students would be happy to come to and stay in.  After all, in a student’s world where social learning and exchange is commonplace and constant, imposing silence seems not only artificial but stifling. We have to encourage enthusiasm and collaboration. And that sometimes results in more noise than most find acceptable, and may look a little chaotic, but it seems to work.  

We talked about past lessons and research, and how I had changed things to incorporate some newer tools like our class wikis, twitter, googledocs, and wallwisher.  All our middle school students have gmail accounts that they use to login to other sites and to communicate with the faculty.  I don’t think of any of these things as revolutionary; conversely, I think they’re a pretty basic step into web 2.0 tools appropriate for students this age.  If anything, I think we could be more progressive than this, and I’m working on incorporating more collaborative tools into their lessons.  I thought my former students would laugh at their simplicity, but the reaction I got was quite different.  My high schoolers look at each other in astonishment.  It seems that social media tools and most types of communication are being blocked at their school.  “They don’t trust us,”  they said.  They laughed as they told me that the school has a twitter account, but they’re blocked from reading the feed at school.  “We can’t use any of that stuff” was the general comment.

That got me thinking — how are schools preparing students for the 21st century, if policy becomes more restrictive as the students get older?  I always thought with maturity comes increased responsibility.  Where have the benefits of social media gotten lost?  Or perhaps, more scarily,  why have they yet to be recognized?  Who is driving the policy that is preventing young adults from using the tools they use now in every other facet of their lives, and will continue to use in the years ahead?  It’s a little scary when middle school curriculum and policy is more progressive than high school policy.  When 18-year-olds recognize the absurdity of a school’s blocking and filtering policy, what does that say about the educators who are perpetrating it?  Out of the mouths of babes —

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Attendance at Educon 2.2 this weekend has only reinforced the idea that conversation between educators is perhaps the most important professional development tool.  Of course, it was wonderful to listen to the great minds in education present, but the most invigorating and productive sessions seemed to be those in which the group took an issue and began to discuss it.  The conversations that evolved grew in an organic way, producing conclusions and aha! moments that would have been impossible to reach on an individual basis.   The sad fact is that once most of us return to our schools, that the discussion will no longer take place.  Educators are not given much time to collaborate or discuss the “big” education issues during the school day.  Some of us are lucky to have time to eat lunch, let alone meet with other teachers on our faculty. 

So what is the solution?  Well, Twitter has become an invaluable resource to listen to educators around the world.  Best resources, best practices, and best tools are all being posted and discussed.  We’ve built a community that cares about the education of children.  Until this weekend, I didn’t know most of the members of my PLN, although I respected and admired their knowledge and dedication.  Had I never met them, I still would have benefitted from our conversations.  But this conference was a gift that allowed me to meet them face to face.  And I think we’ve all learned from the conversation.

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Professional development used to involve taking classes, reading journal articles, and discussing issues at conferences.  Although there was a time lag between new innovations for the library and classroom, and personal knowledge and implementation of those developments, I was appreciative of the knowledge for knowledge’s sake.  But with Twitter, that time delay has disappeared.  Twitter has become my most important professional development tool.  It has put me in contact with the best of educational professionals, and has provided me with news of the most recent educational innovations.  I have been advised of tools that work well in the classroom, and those that are problematic.  I’ve compiled lists of “the best” in every possible category, thanks to a learning network that prides itself in collaboration.  Methods and resources that would have alluded me for months are now transmitted daily.  And all this I have attributed to Twitter.

But today, while I was talking to students about Twitter, one made a comment that made me rethink this attitude.  He asked if I talked about what I ate, and read about what movies people watched — the typical stereotype of Twitter use.  It was then that I realized that Twitter is only the method by which these ideas are transmitted.  It is a communication tool, and while it does provide immediacy, the value of the information hinges on the users.  It is ultimately the teaching community and it’s search for best methodology that lifts the tool above a mere communication vehicle.  These professionals have provided me more information in several months than I would have garnered in a several years. And while Twitter gets the credit, it is their knowledge that is responsible.

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laptopAfter reading Jeff Utecht’s article on the stages of PLN adoption, I realize, embarrassingly enough, that I have only reached Stage 3: Know it All. For those of you not familiar with the post, it is not an egocentric state of mind, but a feeling of total inadequacy.  Once you become involved in discussions online with the myriad of gifted educators, librarians, and technology coordinators, you come to grips with a very depressing reality: you don’t know much of anything, and have very far to go.  This feeling has led me to try to read every tip, try every website, reply to every enlightening post, evaluate and revise my curriculum, and share these new ideas with my faculty.  Needless to say, I’m exhausted.  I can’t sleep, because I’m afraid I might miss a great blog post or the best new resource on the web.  What about that fantastically motivating quotation that was posted at midnight yesterday?  Did I miss a new “10 Best” list? So, I was relieved to read that Stage 4 of PLN Adoption is Perspective.  I’ve actually spent time this past week with my family and friends.  I’ve been working setting up my library for the beginning of school.  I watched television. Am I still drawn to a logged in computer just to check the latest Twitter updates?  Yes.  But like all recovering addicts, I’m taking one step at a time. I think there’s hope for me yet. Stage 5, here I come!

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Like all teachers, I look forward to summer as a time of rest and relaxation.  But, like my peers, I feel guilty when I don’t use the time to work to improve my teaching.  This summer, I took a grad class in Educational Diagnosis. This class, though it doesn’t pertain directly to my particular job description, provided so much insight into children’s learning difficulties and the testing for diagnosis.  My classmates, mostly special ed teachers, shared knowledge and experience that I would never have been exposed to.  As a result, I think I’ll be far more sensitive to student’s learning styles and more willing to explore more differentiated learning.

The second place where I continue to learn so much is Twitter.  I know, it has a reputation of a site with millions of followers providing useless information, but this is far from the truth.  For educators, it provides a wealth of information.  I’m currently following librarians, teachers, information technology directors, and more to learn more about the latest in the field.  A day does not go by when I don’t learn something new that I can incorporate into my library.  So laugh if you will, but my students will be better off because of Twitter.

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