Thursday, April 12, 2012

Isolation Island to Island of Instructional Leaders

The following post was intended to be the first on my blog and I wrote it on the day that I returned from the ASCD Conference a few weeks ago. I had been toying with the idea of starting a blog because it seemed like something I wanted to try but actually getting started was a whole other story. So, while charging my iPad at ASCD, I ran into Katrina (@KatrinaStevens1), who I had been following on Twitter for a while, and after sharing my blog struggles with her, she shared gave me some great advice and offered that push I needed to get started (thanks Katrina).  This is the result of that first attempt...

It was late January and our family was preparing for our son's upcoming surgery (that's a whole other type of Isolation Island). Being that there was ample stress permeating our lives, both my wife and I took the opportunity to unwind with some reading each night after tucking the little guy in. I was finally catching up on some professional reading when I came across an issue of Scholastic Administrator. I was immediately intrigued by the cover that featured a man holding a phone in front of his face and the Twitter "mascot" sitting atop the phone (I know many of you know the image I'm describing). I had heard a lot about Twitter but was extremely resistant to try it because I always associated it with celebrities (the Kanye Wests and Britney Spears of the world) sharing random thoughts and details about their lives that I had no interest in reading. There was also some talk about Twitter in our district a couple of years ago in regards to communicating with parents but once again I was resistant - mainly because I didn't know much about the tool. But, here was this guy, a fellow principal in New Jersey, on the cover of the magazine spotlighting how he used Twitter to enhance his craft. Being that I am always looking for ways to make myself a better instructional leader, educator and colleague, I dove into the article and soon found myself hooked and ready to create my own Twitter account!

The guy on the cover turned out to be Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) and he was using Twitter for the purposes of professional development and for connecting with other like-minded educators (I recently had a chance to hear Eric speak at ASCD and I left the workshop feeling empowered and even more knowledgable). As the principal of an elementary school, with no other administrator in the building, the leadership experience often leaves me feeling like I'm on my own little island - Isolation Island to be exact. Don't get me wrong, there is rarely a minute when I am actually alone while at school but the ability to dialogue, problem solve or collaborate with other administrators doesn't occur on a regular basis (even though I work with some dedicated educators). There is something so exciting and inspiring that happens when dialoguing with other instructional leaders and administrators about their experiences, successes, failures and passions. Although I have attended conferences in the past, the experiences didn't necessarily have a lasting impact on my professional development because the ability to brainstorm, expand and collaborate with others on next steps was still that missing link.

Well, I am happy to share that Twitter has changed all of that for me - BIG TIME! Since I joined Twitter at the beginning of February (less than 3 months ago) my whole professional world has been thrown on its head - and that's a great thing! I can honestly say that I have learned more about teaching, learning and instructional leadership in the last three months than I have learned in the last three years. Since joining Twitter, and learning the ropes (I still have a lot to learn) I feel like I jumped off of Isolation Island and made my way to the Island of Instructional Leaders (and Pioneers)! So, what have I learned since joining Twitter? How have I been impacted as a leader since joining Twitter? Here are just a few things that have happened for me since joining Twitter...

  1. I have developed an amazing PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network) filled with other passionate and knowledgeable educators who challenge me to think and push myself to new levels and in directions I never imagined! My PLN is made up of other principals, educators, central office administrators, life long learners - there are too many to name individually but I am grateful to each of them because I have gained something from them that has made me a better leader and educator!
  2. I get to follow some of the people in education who I respect and admire - Todd Whitaker, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Alfie Kohn, Kathy Schrock, and Fountas & Pinnell just to name a few! Not only do I get to read what they're thinking about or working on but I can reach out to them directly with a question or comment and can usually get a response!
  3. I have learned the power of the HASHTAG and how using the right tag unlocks a whole other world of professional conversations and sharing of ideas! Whether its the #ptchat on Wednesday evening or the #edchat on Tuesdays, there are literally hundreds of people online sharing ideas about a specific question, topic or book and the flow of ideas is unreal!
  4. I have learned about Zite, which has literally changed the way I start my day! I cannot begin getting ready for the day if I don't spend time reading through the blogs, posts and articles organized by Zite for me! (Eric taught me about this one at ASCD!!)
  5. I have learned about Google Docs (and many other Google components) that have shown me different ways to harness and focus the power of collaboration - what an amazing (and FREE) resource!! I have already created an account and started checking things out!
  6. I have learned about Evernote, which has literally changed my professional life! It is an incredible app that allows me to type up stuff, take pictures, etc. and access the material from any device where I have downloaded the app because of the way it syncs! So, while doing walkthroughs each day in the building, I walk around with my iPad and take notes using Evernote and then when I get home at night those notes are on my laptop, which makes my life so much easier when offering specific praise or feedback! I will definitely be using Evernote for my formal observations next year too!
  7. I have learned about Diigo, which is such an amazing tool whose potential I haven't even fully realized yet! Basically, it allows me to visit different websites, read through them, make notes or highlight parts of the text and then bookmark it to my diigo account so I can access it later! And, I can access Diigo from any computer so all my bookmarks travel with me - AMAZING!
  8. I was inspired to share the world of Twitter with my staff and colleagues through a voluntary training session where more than 40 people attended! It was great to see fellow educators get inspired and avail themselves to this new medium for professional development and for becoming a connected educator!
  9. I have learned about some great online resources like mentimeter, yolasite,,, twurdy, and socrative just to name a few! Check them out whenever you get a chance because they can change the way you do things in your classrooms and in your school!
  10. I started my own blog (hopefully you're reading it now)! I use Blogger for my postings and I am loving every minute of blogging! I find Blogger to be user friendly and the steps for getting started and refining my blog straight forward and easy to follow. Blogging makes me feel empowered and has allowed me a whole other outlet for my ideas, successes, failures and passions as they relate to the world of education!
These are just a few of the things I have learned over the last few weeks since joining Twitter and sharing my Tweets with the world. Needless to say I have taken my professional development into my own hands and the experience has been liberating! Sometimes I feel like I am learning so much that I don't know where to begin but I have come up with a system for that too - I Diigo the things I want to hold on to and access them when I ready to learn something new. I can honestly say that not a day goes by where I don't learn something new ever since I made the move from Isolation Island to the Island of Instructional Leaders!


  1. Yes- exactly my experience!
    "I have taken my professional development into my own hands and the experience has been liberating!" >agree!

  2. Everyone who reads this Blog, or similar Blogs promoting self directed professional development, please print it off and place in staff-rooms (or discretely on the desks of principals and trustees and directors). Forward interesting and amazingTweets to those friends or colleagues, who are not connected (those who are not on Twitter...yet!) via emails for just one day. Just show them what they are missing. Lead them to water and see if they will drink. Lead them to Twitter and see if they will, or just read and listen and learn and be entertained and connected to the best PLN ever....Thanks to Sylvia Duckworth for leading so many to water. Check her blogs out and follow her on Twitter too!

    Good Blogging to you "Leading Motivated Learners"! Live long and prosper!

  3. It was so great to read this article! I have already downloaded Zite on my iPad. Very interesting! Keep it up, I look forward to hearing more from you.

  4. Another great blog. I love your openness. You're an inspiration to your students and teachers - always open to learning more and sharing ideas.