Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Everything We Need To Know We Learned on Twitter

Have you ever sat through a conference or workshop realizing that you have lost time in your life that you will never get back? Have you ever sat through a presentation and been told to turn off your cell phone, laptop or tablet? Have you ever felt like the only person in the room who gets it? Have you ever felt like you were floating on an island by yourself with no salvation in sight (unless you have Tom Whitby’s Island View)? Well, if you answered yes to ANY of these questions, then this Top 10 List is for YOU! Tom Whitford and I decided to come together and create a collaborative blog post on the Top 10 Things Twitter has taught us.  David Letterman was slated to feature this list next week on his show but we couldn’t wait until then so here it is...

Our TOP TEN Twitter Learnings...

10. Zite and Evernote (just to name two) - being on Twitter has introduced us to different apps, resources and websites that have completely changed my professional and personal worlds! Every morning, before I (Tony) get ready for work, I start my day by exploring my blog favorites on Zite, which is an app that compiles all the current blogs related to topics that interest me (i.e. - Education, Literacy, Leadership, etc.) - it is like my own personalized newspaper! If it weren’t for Twitter, I wouldn’t have known about this incredible resource (or other similar resources like Scoop It, FlipBoard and Pulse - everyone should explore these different resources to find the right fit although I highly recommend Zite). As if that weren’t enough, we have been exposed to resources that have helped us organize and enhance my professional world. The one that stands out most is Evernote, which is an awesome free resource (web based and app) that allows me to create virtual “notebooks” that can be accessed from any device. Although this is not the only resource that provides this capability, what I love about Evernote is that it connects seamlessly with other resources, like Penultimate, and is a great way to organize and gather data/information on staff, kids, etc. For example, when I do walkthroughs in the building, I jot down my observations in Evernote and then at the end of the week, I use the search feature within Evernote to see what rooms I visited, which teachers I saw and what I observed happening over a period of time. It also allows me the opportunity to include pictures and voice recordings that can serve as evidence of any data collection, which is so important in this day and age of APPR and accountability. I have also used this resource in my doctoral program where we, as a cohort, have a shared notebook where we take notes from our classes and share resources with each other. Evernote also lets you capture and embed resources from the Internet and lets you import PDFs -- it is an amazing resource for all educators that can help us get organized! Last year I wrote a post about how Evernote can support a Balanced Literacy approach as a resource for teachers. The list could go on and on about the different resources I have discovered and learned about on Twitter through my most amazing PLN - there is Penultimate, Dropbox, Google Chrome, Google Docs, Skitch, PicCollage, Vine and Delivr just to name a few that have changed my professional and personal worlds!
9. iPhone/iPad - What has really blown me (Tom) away has been the increase in productivity of my iPhone.  While I have been excited for quite some time to get an iPhone (mostly because it was another cool Apple product)  when I learned about how other educators and leaders were using their Smartphones to increase productivity, be mobile, and share their learning and experiences, well then I knew I wanted and needed a Smartphone. So, when the timing was right I purchased my iPhone.  My PLN has connected me with some fantastic apps that have helped me to access files on the run, create documents while in an observation or a meeting, and utilize features such as the camera for photos or videos in a variety of ways.  And while I can do much of the same with an iPad, this all fits nicely into my pocket and I can still use it as a phone.  Although my eyes are growing weaker with age, I still find that I can use my iPhone with incredible ease. The same can be said for the use of the iPad. Ever since my (Tony) building was fully equipped with WiFi capabilities, walking around with my iPad basically lets make create a mobile office! I no longer have to sit in my office to answer emails, type up observations or write notes to teachers - I can do that all from my iPad as I sit in the back of a classroom or hang with some kids in the lunchroom - this has totally liberated me and changed my professional world! I am able to snap a picture of a kid and immediately email it to a parent. Or, I am able to observe a teacher doing a lesson and take some notes using Evernote and offer the teacher immediate feedback. Or, I can use Penultimate to leave a teacher a “handwritten” note based on a walk through. The possibilities are really endless but being fully WiFi and having my iPad with me at all times has empowered me to be a more visible and present in the classrooms every day for extended periods of time!
8. Backchanneling/Archive - This was one of the first uses for twitter I was taught. I was attending the School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education conference in Wisconsin and was told how you could use Twitter to log what you are hearing from a presenter. If everyone in the room was using the same hashtag, then you could go back and reference the notes at a later time. A side benefit was that you could learn from other educators’ tweets as well.  It has been a great tool for me as I find myself getting caught up in a presenter’s talk and sometimes forgetting to jot down a note, or while I am writing a note, a presenter also makes a key point that I miss while writing.  Twitter, together with the Storify website, allows me to follow the conversation of all who are tweeting on a certain subject and go back and review notes at a later date.
7. EdCamp - OK, second to Twitter, maybe the most powerful change I have seen in education, is the practice of the “unconference” also known as #edcamp.  Of course this is second to twitter because I don’t know if I would have ever heard of an #edcamp if I had not been a user of Twitter.  Shortly after joining Twitter, I heard talk of this thing called #edcamp. Thankfully the developers and promoters of the unconference model for educator professional development also shared many links, blog posts and videos explaining what the #edcamp model was all about.  It had me excited.....yeah, about going to a conference.  I was quickly connecting with other educators around Wisconsin trying to set one up.  I had heard there was one the previous year in Milwaukee and that they might have one again in May of 2013, but that was like 9 months away.  I AM NOT A PATIENT MAN.  I quickly started tweeting out to see if others were interested. I connected with Jess Henze (@jhenze44)  and Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) and before I knew it they had taken on the project and connected with other Twitter users that had also been to an #edcamp before and began the planning for #edcampMadWi to be held at Sun Prairie High School.  My wife and I attended and had the best time at this wonderful experience.  If you haven’t been to one yet, get to one soon. It’s unlike any other in service or workshop that you have been to before.

6. Power of the Blog - Liberating! Empowering! Powerful! Outlet! Exciting! These are just some of the words that come to mind when thinking about what the Power of Blogging means to us. I (Tony) started a blog about a year ago thanks to Katrina Stevens who I connected with on Twitter and then met in real life at ASCD and gave me the nudge to just dive into the “deep end of the blogging pool.” I use Blogger as the platform for my blog (I know others who prefer WordPress - just find the one that feels comfortable for you) and I have used this platform as a place for my thoughts, reflections, opinions and experiences. It has allowed us to share the things that work and the things that have failed and need to improve; it has allowed us the opportunity to question things “out loud” and vent about the situations that frustrate us - like the current high stakes testing; it has provided us many chances to share the wonderful things happening in our learning communities and spotlight some of our superstars; bottom line - it has given voice to a part of us that we never knew was there. That voice, on this specific platform, allows us to share our thoughts with people from around the world and some of those same people leave comments and provide feedback that offer us different perspectives, stretch our thinking and broaden our points of view. We have learned so much from people who have responded to our blogs or left a comment on our blogs and these exchanges have inspired us to write even more. We highly recommend everyone start a blog - even if it serves no other purpose but basically being an online “journal” that doesn’t get shared with the world, it is a great way to track one’s thoughts and actively reflect on the things going on around us. In our profession, where we are constantly thinking, learning and questioning, reflection is a critical activity that we should all participate in and a blog is a wonderful way to facilitate that reflection. Since starting a blog a year ago, several teachers and students at our schools have been inspired to start their own blogs and the feedback from the parents has been really positive because they consistently share that this form of communication makes the walls of our school even more transparent - what else could we hope for? The Power of the Blog allows us to further build our PLN, connect with individuals who challenge our thinking and lead to connections that make us better educators and Lead Learners!    

5. Connections with authors/educators/rock stars - So you may not have heard how I (Tom) actually created a profile on Twitter about 3 years ago.  I heard about it around the same time I decided to give Facebook a try. The only thing I really knew about Twitter was that it was where the movie stars posted a lot of the crazy stuff they do and occasionally they posted some funny quotes. So, like many, I joined and started to follow Ashton Kutcher, Alyssa Milano, and Charlie Sheen (I think I may have followed a few sports stars as well, but don’t even recall who).  After three to four weeks, this seemed like one of the dumbest decisions I have ever made and quickly found no use for the site.  However, since learning about how to use Twitter as a professional development tool, I have connected with incredible well respected authors, researchers and just plain Education Rock Stars, that we all know and respect.  At first, I found a few well known educators to follow and a few education companies such as Solution Tree, NWEA, McRel and more. Before I go on too long, I should just refer you back to my first post on my use of Twitter and my how it has changed since then.  I think I mention following 300 people and having 100 followers.  Since that time my Professional Learning Network has grown by leaps and bounds. If you are new to Twitter, just give it time, your PLN will grow as much as you want it to (I think I now have over 3000 followers and I follow almost as many) grow.  But it has been the chance to connect with people like Donalyn Miller aka @donalynbooks (The Book Whisperer), Kate Messner (@KateMessner) an awesome Children’s Author, and a trio of PLC experts like Mike Mattos (@mikemattos65), Ken Williams (@unfoldthesoul) , Chris Webber (@Chi_Educate), plus Will Richardson, Sir Ken Robinson, Todd Whitaker (@toddwhitaker)  and many, many more that have strengthened my beliefs, understandings and helped me to be more reflective as an educator and a leader that have made another level of impact that is hard to explain. So I know many people may be saying, “So what if you have chatted a few times on Twitter, it doesn’t mean you know them,” and to a point they may be right.....But, I would also add that thanks to these online connections, I have had the opportunity to say hello in real life, and our twitter chats have broken the ice.  So many of these respected and yes, even revered education experts have told me that they look forward to meeting people at these events and often are looking for someone to go out to dinner with or meet for lunch.  Would you rather sit by yourself in a strange town and have a silent meal, or would you rather join another person that you have connected with, that has many of the same interests and passions and talk shop like you long to, but with someone you have respected and read about for years.  Thanks to my so called “regular educator” twitter connections, I have had the chance to have a sit down dinner with Todd Whitaker and even had Regie Routman buy a room service lunch for my wife and I (I still owe you for that Matt Renwick).

4. 24/7 Personalized Professional Development - There is no better way to describe the power of Twitter than a FREE Professional Development Resource that can be personalized for each learner and can be accessed 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week! You can find blogs, links, presentations, infographics, etc. that will provide you with an opportunity to learn about anything that interests you, anything you want to try in your professional setting, anything that supports an initiative and even things that will stretch your thinking and push you really far out of your comfort zone! Where else can one say that they can get that type of personalized Professional Development at any time of the day? NOWHERE! Research shows that high quality PD is lacking for educators - especially for principals and administrators - but after a few hours lurking on Twitter, that can all change... and that’s without even developing the PLN! All one has to do is pick the “right” people to follow (based on your setting, position and interests/passions) and just learn from those people. This is really one of the “hidden” treasures of becoming active on Twitter - you can learn about so much in real time and then apply it in your professional world and see what happens. We have learned more on Twitter in the last year than we have learned in the last several years as educators. The learning we have done based on our connections on Twitter is timely, relevant and current - we love feeling like we are on the cutting edge of what’s going on in the world of education! There is no conference, workshop or course (research shows that these types of PD experiences are typically ineffective) that can harness the Power of FREE Personalized PD 24/7 like Twitter does for us!

3. Google Hangout/Chat or Skyping - this is how someone can take their PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network) to the next level! Research shows that people learn best, in regards to professional development experiences, when they are part of a cohort or group. Well, the PLN is your virtual cohort - the people you can connect with each day and learn from and when the opportunity presents itself, you can connect with these people face2face through a resource like Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangout! We recently started connecting with some of the members of our PLN in a face2face way through Skype and Google Hangout and we feel that it has taken our relationships with these people to a whole other level. We shared, collaborated, discussed, offered perspective and took this virtual connection to a different place! There are actually times when we would prefer to Skype with someone from our Twitter PLN than speak to a colleague from a local school because we want that totally different perspective and point of view. There are other times when we just need to vent or have a good laugh and seeing a member of our PLN gives us a chance to do that in real time! The power of Google Hangout and Skype, in terms of collaborating with the tweeps from your PLN, is AWESOME and will certainly help you learn and grow. 

2. Connecting with Tweeps in Real Life -  So while we have greatly enjoyed connecting with educators from all around the world on Twitter, what we have found to be even more enjoyable is connecting with these people in real life as well.  Twitter has allowed us to have professional conversations with other educators with different experiences from ourselves, but it has also allowed us to make personal connections as well, and while it is fun to do that over Twitter, what has been an incredible experience is to meet our Tweeps face to face.  Tom has had the chance to meet some of them at #edcamps, conferences and most recently at the ASCD National Convention in Chicago. These connections have proven to become friendships. People that we can count on for many things, sometimes the least of which would be professional advice.  I believe I connected with and have become friends with one of the most inspiring, reflective and innovative educators today, George Couros. He made such an impression on me before we ever met face to face, that I knew that someday I would have to make that meeting happen. When it did happen, I had to share thoughts on the experience in my post here.  We could go on and on, about how much these relationships have meant to us and how much we have learned from our PLN, but it actually leads to our final point. 

1.  POWER OF THE PLN- Our experiences on Twitter are similar to the thousands of educators across the globe that have turned to Twitter to develop these connections with other like minded educators who are dedicated to learning and growing. Busy educators, who want to ask for advice, share opinions, offer personal perspectives and engage in chats with colleagues from around the world turn to Twitter to help them build a Professional/Personal Learning Network, commonly known as the PLN. This concept directly connects to research supporting the idea that educators, and specifically lead learners, learn best when they are part of supportive community/cohort that extends their thinking, informs their practice and supports their initiatives. The PLN becomes an online community that allows for the sharing of lesson plans, teaching strategies, student work, school-wide professional development plans and leadership philosophies across the country and globe. In this day and age where we are faced with budget cuts, increased student needs and limited staff development opportunities, especially for Lead Learners, Twitter and the PLNs have provided free professional development that can be personalized for each individual and offer instantaneous innovative ideas for addressing the day to day challenges of leading a school or classroom. Twitter, and other social networking sites, function as social learning resources and spaces where educators can be exposed to a whole other type of discourse and literacy practice.  Successful professional development through the personalized learning experiences fostered by the PLN can encourage educators to begin a path of learning that lasts an entire career. Through the PLN, educators, and specifically Lead Learners, are able to inspire, inform and challenge one another by sharing their ideas, opinions and current resources to grow as professionals. In fact, during recent conversations with Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza), Jessica Johnson (@PrincipalJ), Bill Powers (@MrPowersCMS) and Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt), who are all Lead Learners, they each spoke about the fact that Twitter is the “vehicle” to help lead educators to the development of a PLN and the PLN is where the learning happens! Considering this work and the endless possibilities it suggests, thought should be given to the idea of having every aspiring educator create a Twitter account while in school so they can slowly build their PLN!

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