Groundhog Day... the movie... doing the same thing over and over and over again... hitting the plateau and getting stuck at that spot... that was the best way to describe my professional world. I was becoming Bill Murray and I wasn't thrilled about it. Don't get me wrong - I love the movie and I think Mr. Murray is a talented actor but feeling like I could pull up my calendar from the previous year on any given date and it would basically be identical as the current date was starting to get concerning... boring... and a little scary! Not only did my ADD heighten my awareness of how stuck I was feeling but I always prided myself on staying current... on learning... on growing... on getting better and for the first time in my career I didn't feel like I was achieving any of those professional and personal goals. I was doing the same thing over and over again and I didn't feel like I was contributing to our school community. I wasn't feeling like a "value added" cog in the well oiled machine (I won't even go into a rant about the value added model because I don't believe it is an effective way to evaluate educators but it seemed to fit here).
Fortunately, I work in the most amazing school, nestled in the most awesome community, on the planet! Our kids, staff and families always find new and exciting ways to do things. They always serve as a tremendous source of inspiration for me... and this was contributing to my personal problem.... everyone around me was growing, learning and enhancing and I was feeling stuck! I needed a jolt... I needed to learn something new... I needed a personalized professional development experience that would rock my world... I needed to be a better principal.... I needed to become a Lead Learner... I needed to get connected!
In January 2012 I jumped into the deep end of the pool and joined Twitter. I was extremely hesitant to do so because the whole social media thing wasn't my scene (all the negative buzz in the press didn't help) but I needed something to move me... I needed something to save me! Although I didn't get the whole Twitter thing at first and I wasn't seeing the benefits or rewards I figured I had nothing to lose because I needed something or else I didn't know how long I could last, professionally! So, I slowly started to build my PLN - my Personal/Professional Learning Network - and I filled it with passionate educators who seemed to be using Twitter to share, collaborate, learn and grow. I started by "lurking" - just reading the tweets of those in my PLN, connecting to the blogs of different PLN members, checking out the apps people were suggesting and reading the articles people deemed worthy to share. It was slow and subtle but before I knew it, I was hooked! I was learning! I was growing! I was starting to break the Groundhog Day cycle... what a relief!
Twitter was saving my career! Instead of watching the news each morning I started my day by checking my Twitter feed and invariably, I learned something new. I read about something I wanted to try to help me be a better administrator. I explored something I thought our teachers might love or our kids might enjoy. I was leaving the plateau! After a few weeks of lurking and consuming, I started to share information that I thought was relevant and useful (links to articles, featured apps, etc.) and started to interact more with the people who I valued in my PLN and to my surprise they started responding (thank you Joe, Eric, Jessica, Todd, Bill P., Peter, Vicki, Lyn, Josh, Pernille, Tom W., Tom W., Jimmy, John, Andrew, Joan, Matt, Jason, Spike, Bill B., Michael, Curt, Daisy, Dana, Brad, Scott, Erin, Elissa, Bill K. and the list goes on and on)! I was forming connections that would change my world. Connections with passionate and dedicated educators from around the world - Australia, England, Thailand, Pennsylvania, Canada - you name the spot on the map and there was a dedicated educator from there who was willing to share on Twitter! This is when the experience really changed for me... this is when I started to feel energized... excited... empowered. This is when I took control of my learning and growth. It wasn't about Twitter... it was about the connections. The people on the other end of the tweets that I loved reading were the source of my growth. The people who believed in education; the people who were dedicated to doing what was best for children; the people who believed they could learn and grow every single day. Those connections... my PLN... these people I didn't know in "real life" were becoming my support, my resource and my friends. My PLN and being a connected educator were saving my career.
You might be thinking - why do I need to go to Twitter for these connections when I have colleagues I work with each day and could just pick up the phone to connect? Well, that is a valid question and one I considered at length. I have incredible colleagues and I have learned a lot from them over the years but what I found was that we were all wrestling with the same questions, issues and needs and getting an outside perspective could only be a positive thing. The thing that is different about the educators on Twitter... the people who I have connected with... is that they are the best of the best from across the globe (not just from your own school or district)! They are willing to share, collaborate, problem solve, seek advice, give advice, offer perspectives, share resources or just share a joke or story that makes me laugh and gets me through the day.
Lately I have been reading a lot about participatory cultures and I think this concept best captures the Twitter experience... the power of the PLN! Jenkins defines a participatory culture as a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement (discussing ed reform, sharing our students' blogs, etc.), strong support for creating and sharing one's original works (i.e. - blog) and a type of "membership agreement" where what is known by the experts is freely shared with the novices - and that experts and novices fluidly switch roles because at some moment in time we are all experts or novices. Members in a participatory culture feel like their contributions matter and they feel connected with the others in the community. Based on this "definition" and the connections I have formed on Twitter, I would say that the educators on Twitter have created a participatory culture... a culture where everyone feels valued, supported and heard. A place where one's thinking is stretched and being pushed out of one's comfort zone is the norm not the exception. A place where the connections serve as the inspiration.
Want a place where you can personalize your learning and professionally develop yourself while standing on line at the supermarket? Want to learn from some of the most amazing educators in the world? Want to consume, share, grow and enhance your skill set every single day? Want to avoid the Groundhog Dog experience? Want to save your career? Then the answer is simple... GET CONNECTED!