Research-based vs. Preference-driven Teaching

I recently had a Twitter conversation with a researcher from the Netherlands who was reiterating the importance of using research to guide practice.  He pointed me to this journal article from the mid-90s, which raises concern over educators who have a tendency to use preference to guide their practice, even if their preferences defy research.  The paper identifies this as both (understandably) problematic and (surprisingly?) common.

This brings to mind a relatively recent article from the Edmonton Journal.  Ever since this debacle a few years ago, Edmonton media does a great job of portraying this part of the country as a hotspot of poor assessment practices.  I hope that there is a disconnect between the reports of the media and the actual practice being employed in classrooms there, but their local media sure seem to have a love affair with promoting practice that is based primarily on preference and that laughs in the face of research.  It tends to paint such practice as bold, brave, and desirable.  Equally as concerning are the public comments which further support such preference-driven practice while bashing research.  I find this “if it feels good it must be good” approach to be troubling.  Why does statistical data not have a more prominent role in determining what happens in our schools?  Why is so much left to preference?  (As an aside, I do realize that statistical data can be taken to the extreme and used in places where it doesn’t apply.  Particularly when dealing with people, not everyone fits into typical statistics and I’m aware of that.  I’m looking forward to reading this book for more on that topic).

It’s tough to stay on top of the research.  There is so much to know and limited time to learn.  Educators have a never-ending stream of tasks to be done in any given day, and sifting through journals to find information pertinent to our individual areas of desired growth is a nice wish but not a reality for any educators I’ve ever met.  Not to mention that for many (most?) people, sifting through journal articles doesn’t make it into the “ways I enjoy spending my time” category.  Even if it was something a particular teacher enjoyed, Hardiman et al. point out that “teachers do not typically possess the background knowledge that is necessary to parse research articles and apply findings in appropriate contexts”(p.136). And yet, despite the difficulties that are inherent in being wise consumers of research who use research to inform and drive our practice, I firmly believe that we can do more; we can do better.  There simply must be a way.

Twitter has become such a tool for me, (read more about how I use Twitter for my professional development here), but it has its limitations too.  Twitter can become a venue for groupthink or a means of propagating  preference-based practice if opinions are left unchecked.  With the right connections and knowledge of where to look it can, thankfully, also be a sharing space for research.  Unfortunately the latter is more difficult to find.  There are opinions aplenty but sharing of research among educators seems to be a much less common occurrence.

I’m not sure exactly what this means for educators in general, but I do have some ideas of what I’d like it to mean for me.  I’d like research to take a more dominant role in my practice.  Not the “I think I read it in a book somewhere so I’ll defend my practice by prefacing my conversation with generic ‘research says'”kind of research (oh, I’m guilty of using that tactic!), but the more authentic “these researchers in this study in this year found these findings and this is the conclusion that I’m drawing from that” kind of research.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think that’s the answer for everyone.  I think that most of us, certainly, could benefit from having an increased general awareness of education-related research data and we could be more intentional in sharing that data and in using that data to drive our practice, but I think there’s room for variation in specifically how that looks from one person to the next.  Could we each agree, however, to be a little more intentional in reading, finding, and sharing data that can inform our practice?  I’m willing to venture a guess that the results of this would be noteworthy.  After all, ‘research says’.

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Photo source

 

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Unlocking the Professional Development Power of Twitter

A few years ago, I learned about the incredible community of educators learning together on Twitter (more on that here).  I started up my own Twitter account (for the ‘how to’ on that, look here) and dove in.  Since then, I have been blessed with a constant stream of personalized, free PD that is deeply relevant and meaningful to my journey as an educator.

Tapping into such professional development is quite straight-forward:

  • Find people to follow
    • The starting point for making your Twitter use meaningful for you is to find key people to follow.  Begin by following a few people and see who they are following.
    • Additionally, you can see if they have any “lists” (to do that, go to the person’s profile page and click “lists”) and add people off of those as well.  twitter lists
    • (Lists are just a way for you to group people.  If you make a list, when you click on it, you will get a Twitter feed of tweets that are only from the people in that list. You don’t need to follow people for them to be on your list).
    • The folks on this list are a compilation of a few educators on Twitter in general and a few educators from Alberta and the western provinces.
    • Once you add a few people, Twitter will suggest others to add.  If you hover your mouse over the suggested person, their bio will show.  Use this to find people who share the same learning interests as you, who work in a similar position as you do, or who are experts in an area where you’d like to grow.
    • Remember that who you follow and how many people you follow is just one of the ways that you can customize your learning.  Whether you add many people representing broad interests or a few people with aligned interests is up to you.
    •  (When adding people, you might also want to see if their latest tweets are recent.  Some Twitter accounts are very active and some are hardly used).
  • Find hashtags of interest
    • Hashtags are a fantastic way to customize your learning on Twitter.  What are your interests?  Find the correlating hashtags and type them into your search box.  This will take you to a new Twitter feed of tweets that relates to that topic. (It’s also a great idea to go to the hashtags of your interest areas and follow the people who use those hashtags.)
    • You can’t “follow” a hashtag and make it show in your newsfeed.  They are something for you to keep in mind and search up whenever you want to learn about a specific topic.  They are also good to know so that you can use them in your tweets, so that people with similar interests can find your contributions.
    • Hashtags are not Twitter accounts.  Anything can be turned into a hashtag, thus instantly becoming a link for tweets on that topic.  Because of this, there are endless possibilities of hashtags to follow.  There are documents with gigantic lists of recommended hashtags for educators, but that’s a bit misleading since anything can be hashtagged.  The best way to find the hashtags that interest you is trial and error.  Take any topic, stick the hashtag symbol in front of it, put it in the search box and see what comes up!
    • If that’s too ambiguous for you and you’d like a few recommendations to get started, here are a few of my favourites:
      •  #edchat – ignore the “chat” part of this title (I’ll explain that further down), but know that this is a great meeting place for many prominent educators on Twitter.  I highly recommend keeping an eye on the information that flows through this stream.
      • #tlap – this is an acronym for “Teach Like a Pirate” – a book by Dave Burgess (If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour and read it.)  This stream is the place to go for ideas for jazzing up lessons and turning learning into an experience.  Questions such as “Would students come to your class if they had a choice?” are pertinent here.  It is a treasure chest of ideas for increasing student engagement and interest in learning.  Even if you think you have to teach the most boring, obscure lesson ever, you’ll be sure to get some useable ideas here!
      • #growthmindset – this is based on the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (another very worthwhile read).  Here you’ll find ways to encourage students, teachers and parents to rethink the way that we define success and failure.  Growth mindset means that mistakes are accepted as a natural and necessary part of learning, rather than as failure.  It also is a recognition of the fact that we all have the capacity to learn and grow.  Certain areas of study will be more difficult for some people than others, but we still all have the capacity to improve. (I’m totally oversimplifying, here.  Did I mention that it’s a book worth reading?)
      • #ffcaedu – this is the hashtag for the school system where I work.  While this specific stream isn’t likely to be particularly meaningful for you, your own school authority undoubtedly has a hashtag that’s already in use.  Find some educators from your school district and see what hashtag they’re using.
      • #abed – this is the hashtag for Alberta Education.  Again, unless you live in Alberta or the western provinces, it’s probably not of great interest to you, but your province or state likely has its own education hashtag too.  Check out the accounts for some prominent educators in your area and see what local hashtags they’re using.
      • #yyc – this is the hashtag for Calgary.  Your city will have a hashtag in use as well.  While this one isn’t directly related to education, let me remind you that one of the lovely features of Twitter is that it’s customizable.  If you would like to use your Twitter account for more than just purely education-related content, your city feed is a great place to look.  (Of course you could definitely use this hashtag in your posts about your school as well!)
    • I could go on and on about hashtags but with a little exploration you’ll be sure to find your own!  If you still feel that you need a list to consult, here are a few decent ones (but keep in mind, there’s no limit to hashtags – anything and everything can be one!): Teach Thought’s hashtags or Cybrary Man’s hashtags.
  • Participate (or at least lurk) in some Twitter chats
    • Twitter chats are whole other dimension of Twitter.  They are a group of educators who meet at an agreed upon time to discuss a specific topic through Twitter.  The duration of the chat is typically one hour.
    • Chats always centre around a particular hashtag.  Often, but not always, chat hashtags will have the word “chat” in the hashtag (eg: #satchatwc)
    • Chats are usually once a week.  During the remainder of the week, people might continue to interact about that topic, using that hashtag, but not in chat format.
    • To find out what chats happen when, use this document (there are a few other such documents out there, but this one is consistently the most comprehensive one).
    • Chats always have at least one moderator.  This is the person who is running the chat.  The moderator usually identifies himself/herself on the chat hashtag just as the chat begins (and often in the half hour or so leading up to the chat as well).
    • Many people use external sites (like Tweetdeck) to manage chats but it can totally be done through Twitter as well.
    • To lurk (follow but not participate) in a chat, open a couple of Internet tabs.  On one tab, follow the hashtag for the chat, and on the other follow the moderator.  (For the hashtag tab, be sure that your screen is set on “live” rather than “top” so that you see all of the tweets).twitter live
    • If you’re participating in the chat, open a few additional tabs.  I recommend having one open for notifications and one for your own profile, in addition to the previously mentioned hashtag and moderator tabs.
    • Begin reading in the tab with the hashtag for the chat and keep the other tabs handy for quick checks as necessary.
    • The moderator will usually begin by asking people to identify themselves.  This gives an idea of who you are speaking with and how many people are participating in the chat.
    • Some chats will have just a handful of people participate, while others will have hundreds.  The speed of the chat is proportionate to how many people are participating.
    • After a few (usually five) minutes, the moderator will pose a question. (This is why you have a tab open for the moderator.  If you get lost in the chat and can’t find the question, rather than scrolling down through hundreds of tweets, go to the moderator’s page).
    • The tweet with the question will begin with “Q1” for question 1.  Subsequent questions will follow the same format.
    • People will begin answering the questions.  All answers will being with “A1” and so on for subsequent questions.
    • Be sure that you don’t begin your answer with “Q”.  People’s brains are trained to hone in on the “Q” tweets, which should only contain the question.  Regardless, it seems that most of us accidentally begin a few answers with “Q” when we begin.  No biggie – people will extend lots of grace.  Just be aware of it and try to remember to use “A”.
    • People’s answers will start flooding the hashtag’s stream.  If it’s a large chat, you won’t be able to read them all.  Just read what you can, and when you find a tweet that raises a question or comment, interact with that person.
    • Be sure to include the hashtag for the chat on every single tweet that is related to the chat.  So, even if you are responding to someone directly as a result of the chat, include the hashtag.  This ensures that it comes through the feed and allows other people to jump in on the discussion as well.  Often additional people will join in and add to a conversation that was initiated between two people.
    • If it’s a decent sized chat, the hour will fly by and will feel like a matter of minutes, and you’ll feel overstimulated, inspired, and encouraged by the end of it.
    • Chats can be intimidating, but the participants are very gracious.  If you’re confused about the actual process of the chat, just tweet out a question (be sure to use the chat hashtag) and you’ll get a quick reply.
    • The learning potential from Twitter chats is unbelievable.  They are an amazing way to connect with other educators and to engage in deeply meaningful learning.  Whether you prefer theoretical or practical learning, or a mix of both, you’re sure to be able to find the learning you love and a community of people who love it just as much as you do.
  • Finding Twitter Chats to Join:
    • In case you missed it above, this document is the resource to use to find a chat that interests you.
    • Some of the chats that I enjoy are:
      • #satchatwc – Saturday Chat West Coast.  There’s an earlier “#satchat” version as well, but given the time zone difference, I’d have to be up way too early for my liking to participate in that one.  Both chats are very similar, however.  They centre around a variety of education-related topics but they’ve always been topics that I find to be very meaningful and they’re always well-organized chats with many participants.
      • #sblchat – this is a chat about standards-based learning (sometimes referred to as outcomes-based grading, or similar terms).  Assessment is an area of professional interest for me, so the content of this chat is something that I really appreciate.  What stunned me the first few times I participated in this chat is that some of the biggest names in assessment research participate in this chat.  People whose work I had been reading for years were suddenly interacting with me one-on-one – very exciting!
      • #tlap – this is the “Teach Like a Pirate” hashtag that I mentioned earlier.  Unfortunately, I have other commitments at the time that this chat runs, however, since one of the wonderful things about Twitter is that it’s customizable, I can go back to the stream after the chat is done and still read the content that was generated from the chat.
      • #colchat – Culture of Learning chat.  This is another one that I am not often able to participate in live, but I appreciate the content and join the chat when I can.  This one is about things that we can do to improve the culture of our classrooms/schools/districts so that learning can happen more readily.  The moderators of this chat are putting the finishing touches on a book that they’ve written based on the content that’s been generated from these chats.

In summary of my now rather-lengthy post (sorry!), to get started with using Twitter for professional development: follow people, find hashtags, and join chats.  You can spend as much or as little time on Twitter as you like, but the learning is always available, it’s always customizable, and it’s always free.

Happy learning!

Beginner Basics for Twitter

Previously, I’ve shared my rationale for joining Twitter.  If you’re interested in joining the world of Twitter but need some guidance for the beginning steps, read on:

Opening an Account:twitter home page

  1. Go to Twitter.com and sign up.
  2. You will be asked to choose a username, which will become your “twitter handle”.  When people want to respond to you via Twitter, they will use your handle.  Any tweet (including handles) must not exceed 140 characters, so ensure that your handle isn’t too long.
  3. When twitter eggyou sign up, by default you will have an egg as your profile picture.  The egg tends to be indicative of accounts that are rarely used, so change your picture to something…anything.
  4. Provide some biographical information in your profile description to help connect with people with similar jobs or interests.  twitter bio
  5. The first few tweets are the most nerve-wracking.  Send out a few to try it out.
  6. Find some people to follow.  After following them, their tweets will show up in your “Twitter feed” (to find your feed, press the “home” icon on the Twitter website).  This is your live feed of tweets from anyone you follow.twitter feed

How to Read a Tweet

  • Twitter handles:
    •  As was mentioned above, the @ and the characters immediately following it is a Twitter handle.
    • Clicking on it will take you to that person’s page, where you can view all of their tweets.
    • Including someone’s handle in your tweet will cause them to be notified of your tweet and will put the tweet into their notifications.  In the tweet below, by putting Shelley Burgess’ handle in, I was able to ensure that she would see that particular tweet.

  • Hashtags
    • Twitter uses hashtags (the # sign and the characters that immediately follow) to collate data.
    • This is similar to a Twitter feed but it is specific to a certain topic.  Unlike your Twitter feed, here you are able to see tweets of people who you do not follow.
    • If you would like to ensure that people who are interested in a particular topic see your tweet, include a pertinent hashtag.  I wanted to share my tweet below with people who were interested in neuroscience, so I included #neuroscience.  Anyone can look up #neuroscience and this tweet will show up, even if they don’t follow me.

  • Links
    • Note that hyperlinks often look different on Twitter than they do elsewhere.  This is because of the 140 character limit.  Sometimes the link has been condensed using a URL shortener.  These look something like this: http://goo.gl/YDeezH.
    • Links that have been condensed by a URL shortener are becoming much more rare because Twitter will now automatically shorten links.  If you put in the full URL of a site, Twitter will only show the beginning of the website and the rest is cut off, like this alamocity.citymomsblog.com/2015/08/20/dea…

Really, the best way to learn how Twitter works is to start using it.  Set up an account, follow some people, and then click on the links and explore.  A whole world of information is waiting to be discovered!

What Can Neuroscience Teach Teachers about ‘Aha!’ Moments?

Photo credit: pixabay.com

Photo credit: Pixabay.com

I love it when I can read about research and immediately see some direct implications of that research in my teaching practice.

For the results to be legit, researchers must surrender control of the outcome.  Due to this, sometimes scientists devote a chunk of their life to a project that didn’t reveal what they thought it would, or didn’t reveal what seemed useful.  What a terribly frustrating thing, yet inherently necessary due to the very nature of research.

Gabrieli referred to such unusable research as “file drawer research”. Interestingly, he stated that there are issues with this.  No one wants to publicize research that they’ve done that didn’t work, or that didn’t cultivate useful data, yet if they did, it would contribute to the greater field of knowledge.  At the very least, it would enable others to ensure that they didn’t repeat the same research, but it also would contribute to the pool of studies.  If data reveals that ‘all studies showed X results’, but in reality there were studies that didn’t show those results but they weren’t published, then the full story is not being revealed.

But, I digress.  My point is that sometimes research doesn’t seem to work.  Other times, it generates data but it’s not immediately apparent how that data is useful.  Again, this makes sense given the nature of research.  In light of this, it feels like a treat when there is research done and shared that contains workable, useable data.  I enjoyed such a treat when I read this article about the ‘Aha!’ moments of insight, summarizing some of the work of cognitive neuroscientist John Kounios.  Here is some of the useable knowledge I pulled out of it:

  • Finding: prior to that moment of enlightenment, or sudden ‘knowing’, our brains have been processing the information but at a subconscious level. Thus, it feels like a sudden state of enlightenment but our brain has actually been thinking about it for a while.
    Application: that dreaded “blank stare” that students give when they have no idea what we’re talking about, does not necessarily mean that they are not taking in any of the explanation that is being given.  They might be processing on a subconscious level.  Persevere through those blank stares – they might just be the precursor to sudden insight.
  • Finding: a surge of brain activity happens immediately before sudden insight. One of the changes in the brain during this time is a sudden burst of alpha waves visible on EEGs.  This is interesting because alpha waves inhibit the visual system – the higher the amount of alpha waves, the more the visual system is inhibited.  It seems, from what Kounios shares, that the brain essentially dials down its use of visual stimulus to allow for greater use of other brain activity for that short moment of time.
    Application: teachers often struggle with the concept of ‘wait time’.  It can feel uncomfortable and unproductive to have moments of silence during conversation with a student.  Watching a student’s eye movements could help encourage effective use of wait time.  If a child is looking away, it’s probably a good idea to help with their brain’s attempt at reducing stimulus.  Stay quiet, let them think, and see if a moment of insight arises as a result.
  • Finding: Those who are prone to have moments of insight show different brain function (even when not having ‘Aha!’ moments) than those who have fewer such moments.  Kounios is working on developing “different type of thought exercises” that can be administered to further develop the areas of the brain that are activated for sudden insight, but even with his existing research, there are some implications for teaching.
    Application: Kounios himself gives some application here:
    – He speaks of the importance of having a positive mood. For more learning on developing this in the classroom, a great place to start is to read Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset (#growthmindset on Twitter) or follow the culture of learning chat (#COLchat) on Monday evenings on Twitter.
    – He also speaks of the benefits of large rooms with high ceilings (most classrooms) or, more ideally – the outdoors.
  • Finding: ‘Aha!’ moments cause an emotional rush. It doesn’t matter if the outcome of the problem that was solved has a positive or negative connotation to it, simply solving a problem through sudden insight creates this rush.
    Application: This indicates the importance of working within a child’s zone of proximal development (if you’re not familiar with this concept, I highly recommend reading more on this important work by Vygotsky).  If we give students work that is consistently too difficult or too easy for them, they will not have opportunities for such sudden insights and that emotional rush of learning will not be something that is accessible to them.

Throughout the article, Kounios references his book eureka factorThe Eureka Factor” and explains that it contains much more information about his work (written in lay terms) and many more ideas for the practical applications of it.  The positive feedback loop of reward from sudden insight is something that I greatly value in my teaching – it’s a large piece of what makes the job both meaningful and rewarding.  If there is some way that I can further cultivate such moments in my classroom, I’m all for it.  I’m looking forward to ordering his book and learning more about this.

The Early Years: What I wish I had known.

I remember well my first few years of teaching – they were intense.  Over the years, I have concluded that there are a few lessons that I wish I had learned earlier in my teaching career:

Lesson 1:
I wish I would have known that I would feel like I had sold my soul to my new profession
To eat, breathe, and sleep ‘work’, yet still always feeling like you can hardly keep your head above water – this was my first year of teaching.  Social events were a distant memory, a balanced life a foreign concept, and stress an ever-present companion.  To add insult to injury, public perception of the job includes many who believe that teaching is a cushy job: a few hours of work each day and copious amounts of time off – and random people would cross my path and remind me of this.  Have they no idea?

And that I wasn’t alone in feeling overwhelmed
I worried that the extent to which I was overwhelmed and ridiculously busy with work meant that I was doing something grossly wrong, but what I was experiencing is often the norm for beginning teachers.

And that ‘overwhelmed’ would not forever be an inherent aspect of this career.
I had been told that the stress and time commitment would be greatly reduced as the years went on, but I doubted.  I wish I would have known with certainty that that was true.  It would get better – so much better.

Lesson 2:
I wish I would have known to tap into others as resources.
My third year of teaching saw me land a job at a huge school.  This school was the queen of collegiality and there I learned how to utilize my colleagues for the powerful resource that they were.  Beautiful, wonderful, time-saving, quality-enhancing things happened there.  They gifted me with binders of all of the materials that they possessed or had developed in years past.  Someone would do something new that worked well and would give their materials to the rest of us to add to our collections.  Someone else would try something new that ended up being terrible and would let the rest of us know so that we could avoid doing the same thing.  We would revamp tests and we would tweak each other’s work while giving feedback and encouragement.  We would share frustrations and joke together on the tough days to make them more bearable.  We journeyed the school year together, and it was wonderful and it was beautiful and somehow, suddenly, this whole teaching thing felt like it was becoming so much more manageable and so much more enjoyable.

Lesson 3:
I wish that I would have had access to the amazing network of teachers on Twitter.
My first year of teaching was in a tiny school.  We are talking three-teachers-kind-of-tiny.  The kind of collegiality described above just wasn’t a possibility.  I had so many questions, and wished I would have had more resources for finding the answers.  Twitter didn’t exist yet (even the Internet itself was still a novel concept) but it would have been the perfect tool for me if it did.  We are not all going to work in a huge school that loves to share resources and work as a team, but we can all access that same type of resource.  It’s all there – it’s online.  Twitter is an amazing meeting ground for teachers to empathize with each other, encourage one another, teach and mentor others, and to journey the road of teaching together.  It’s invaluable.  I hope new teachers know how to use it (more on that in a forthcoming blog post), and know that it’s wonderful, and know that it will remind them that they are not alone.

Lesson 4:
I wish I would have known more about balance.
I had no idea how to live a more balanced life those first few years of teaching.  I wish I would have known that things didn’t have to be perfect – that the students can still learn from less-than-perfect lessons.  I wish I would have lowered my expectations for myself a bit that first year – to have given myself a little more breathing space – and just focused on making it through.

Lesson 5:
I wish I would have known about teacher attrition rates.
Teacher attrition rates are quite high.  That means that many teachers leave the profession – particularly during their first few years.  I wish I would have known that.  I wish I would have known that simply making it through the first year alive was a huge accomplishment.  That might have helped me with lesson 4 – lowering my expectations for myself.

As much as I would have loved to have known these things when I began teaching, there was one lesson that I learned pretty much immediately.  It was this one lesson that enabled me to put one foot in front of another and make it through those first years, and it’s the same lesson that keeps me going today.

The Ultimate Lesson:
Teaching is worth the sacrifices, the stress, and the everything else.  It’s worth it.
It’s worth it – this teaching thing.  It really is.  It’s not a job for the faint of heart, it’s not a job for the lazy, and it’s not a job for people who just don’t feel it (this is one job that you have to love if you’re going to stick with it).  But if you love it and if you stick with it, you’ll reap the benefits, because it’s worth it.
It’s worth it to see the eyes of a child light up with the wonder of new knowledge,
To see a child who always thought “I can’t” learn “I can”,
And to hear a child pose a deeply reflective question about a topic that’s being discussed.
It’s worth it to see a child from a tough home situation come to school – his safe sanctuary.
It’s worth it to see a child with a learning disability learn how to compensate and discover that his perceived limits are less limiting than he realized.
It’s worth it to hear laughter bubble out of a room full of children,
To see the look of pride for a job well-done,
And to experience the development of a micro community that happens each year.
It’s worth it to watch a child with Autism be cheered on and supported by his peers,
To see the students stand up for what’s right and confront what’s wrong,
And to witness leaders emerge from the group.
It’s worth it to hear the students debate after class about a controversial topic that was discussed during class,
To push a child to work harder and do more and have him come back and thank you when he does,
And to see a child five years later and have him still express gratitude for ‘those lessons I learned about life’ while he was in your class.
It’s worth it.

I could go on.  The list is long and it certainly doesn’t end here, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.  Part of the joy of teaching is composing your own list of ‘worth it’ items.  It’s a list that will keep growing.  It’s a list that you’ll need to remember.  There will be hard days, and there will be harder days, and then there will be days when you feel like you can’t even go on.  Reflect on your ‘worth it’ items.  They’ll keep you going.

The first few years of teaching might not be inherently wonderful, but they will be filled with wonder.  Dwell there and know that it will become easier.  It will become less time consuming and overwhelming.  Know that you are not alone.  Any veteran teacher was once a beginning teacher.  We’ve all been there, and we’re here to help.  You’ll make it through.  The second year will be so much more manageable than the first, and the third much more than the second.  You’ve got this.  We’re cheering you on.  Your ‘worth it’ list is ready to be written.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet: There is no question

About a year and a half ago I attended a professional development day with a session on Twitter.  I was rather incredulous that such a session would be considered worthy of my time, but to enable myself to scoff and ridicule in a more informed manner, I decided to attend the session.  Educators are busy people and social media can be very time consuming – what benefit could there possibly be in following celebrities and seeing pictures of their breakfast each day?  I was about to learn that Twitter could be used for more than celebrity gossip.  Little did I know that my professional world was going to be radically affected by my decision to attend this session.

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Why I Appreciate Twitter

Educators have really done a spectacular job of creating a sub culture and community on Twitter.  When utilized as a network tool among educators and others with a vested interest in education, it has the capacity to profoundly impact and improve one’s practice.  Here are some of the reasons why I fell in love with Twitter:

Personalized Learning: Twitter is easy to manipulate so that your learning is personalized to your passions, strengths, and weaknesses.  Find and follow people who excel where you don’t, and learn from them.  Offer your insight to people who need it.  Follow your passions and grow with others who are just as passionate about the same topics.

Vetted Suggestions: People don’t typically become passionate about things that they haven’t tried.  Most of the ideas that flow through the pages of educators on Twitter are things that have been successful.  They have been revised and tweaked and are practical, useable, and worthy of consideration.

Accessibility to ‘Gurus’: It took me multiple days to stop flying high after my first Twitter chat.  I was dumbfounded.  These education ‘greats’, whose works I had read, who had greatly inspired my practice, and who I hoped to be so fortunate as to meet one day, had just sat down and chatted with me – directly – through an organized Twitter chat.  Questions that I had after reading their books or roadblocks I was encountering with applying their theory – all of that could be addressed with them personally.

Portion Control: We’ve more than likely all been in a professional development situation where we reached our saturation point but the conference or session was still in full swing.  On the contrary, it’s not uncommon to attend some form of professional development feeling like it was just enough to get you interested but then drew to a close and left you hanging.  Twitter is adjustable to your own learning needs.  If you’re the kind of person who needs to take one idea at a time and let it percolate for a while before moving on, no problem.  If you prefer to feel like you’re drinking from a hydrant and fully immerse yourself, there’s more than enough content available for that, too.  Similarly, learning on Twitter is on demand.  Learn anytime, anywhere.  It’s incredibly convenient.

Fresh Perspective: One of my colleagues comments on the risks of incestuous professional learning.  When most of our own professional learning happens within our own four walls, or even within the parameters of our school district, we can get locked into circular thinking.  Twitter blasts through all of that.  Interact with people in every type of school imaginable, in a myriad of education-related positions, and in locations across the globe.  You’re certainly not going to agree with everyone, but that’s wonderful: expand your thinking, learn to better justify why you stand by your practices, and call into question some of your practices that might need re-examination.

Budget friendly: Professional learning is expensive!  Conferences quickly add up with costs incurred from travel, lodging, meals, and substitute coverage, not to mention the cost of the conference itself.  I’ve often come away from an hour on Twitter with more useable, practical, personally relevant learning than I could ever hope to glean in a day or weekend of traditional seminars.  The fact that there is endless, meaningful learning available completely free of charge is not something to overlook.

Twitter has been great in terms of inspiring confidence in me.  It has validated not only my thoughts and contributions to discussions, but it has also validated my struggles.  To know that someone else, somewhere, is struggling with the same thing as you is comforting.  It’s also comforting to know that there are people who are able and willing to coach you through the struggle and walk the journey alongside you.

My venture into Twitter was also very timely.  I had come to a place where I was, for a variety of reasons, feeling disillusioned with education.  My interactions on Twitter renewed my hope in the pillar of education and breathed new life into my passions in education.  My online learnings have snowballed into much more self-directed study and I am now much better equipped with knowledge of how to fuel my passions.

A year and a half ago, when I attended the Twitter session with the intent of harshly criticizing it, I quickly learned that I had no idea that this world of professional learning was happening.  There was a wealth of learning available and I wasn’t in on it.  I suddenly felt like I was missing out – and I was!  I was missing out on more than I could ever know so I jumped in, hit the road running and haven’t stopped since.

Beginning my Blogging Journey

Perhaps I should begin my blogging journey with full disclosure: I’m not a fan of blogs.  For many reasons, they’re just not my thing.

“Humans are producing such quantities of data—2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily, to be precise—and on such a steep curve, that 90 percent of all existing data is less than two years old.”

Essif, Amien. “Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google.” Alternet. 23 May 2015. Web. 7 June 2015.

I see statistics like this and I wonder how much of that information could be categorized as self-published, unverified data and unsolicited opinion.  I would prefer to not add to that category of data, and I do recognize that many blogs would not fit into those descriptors.  Regardless, it’s not without reservation, and I feel that I’m executing a bit of a double standard to begin blogging myself, but here’s why I’ve decided to forge ahead in this anyhow:

1. Twitter and the limitations of 140 characters

About a year and a half ago, I joined Twitter.  It has been really quite revolutionary in terms of my own professional development (more on that in my next post).  Although I have become quite adept at conveying my thoughts in 140 characters, sometimes a longer discussion is simply necessary.  A blog will enable me to convey some of the thoughts that require more conversation.

2.  Structured mental processing

I would imagine that many people can relate to this: I often process thoughts incompletely.  If I were to have more focused thought on an issue or concept that I am pondering, it would be really valuable, but I don’t bring my thought processing there as often as I should.  Writing brings structure and clarity to our thoughts so a blog, I hope, will be helpful in terms of my own thought processing.

3. Digital Citizenship

I try to teach my students digital citizenship.  It’s an area where I have much room for growth in my teaching but it is something that we, as educators, can’t deny as necessary.  What good does it do if I don’t ‘practice what I preach’?  Having a blog forces me to think through and deal with some of the digital citizenship issues that I should be discussing with my kids.  I can better teach them if I’ve worked through the same concepts for my own self.

There are other reasons that I could add to the list, but these are my main ones that have propelled me forward.

And so, I begin this journey.  We shall see where it goes.  Join me if you wish.

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