Over the past six years as a Principal in a rural school, Twitter has been a central part of my practice to become a Connected Educator. It has shaped me, my staff, and almost every part of my life. Here are a few of the habits I’ve picked up along the way:
With Twitter it is easy to get sucked into conversations you never expected to have and to find ideas and resources that you didn’t even know you were looking for. Maybe you were just checking your twitter feed, maybe you joined in on a great discussion in a scheduled chat like #edchat, #educoach, #atplc (all things PLC), or your state's educator chat. After being involved in a great sharing discussion on Twitter, it's hard to "shut it off" and you just want to share what you've learned with others at school. I share the great ideas I find on Twitter by “Retweeting” them and sharing with my staff in my weekly memo.
"Do you know of an iPad app for keyboarding?" "Can we look at other examples of standards based report cards?" "How do we get started with Battle of the Books?" "I'm struggling with ____ do you know any teachers that have been using this for a while?"
As a principal, I hear questions like this on a daily basis. Just because I don’t always know the answers, doesn’t mean I don’t have them. Prior to being connected on Twitter, I would have just sent out an email to the handful of principals that I know in nearby school districts. Now I turn to Twitter. I ask thousands of educators my question and find someone who's an expert.
Twitter is great to find ideas and get connected with others, but sometimes 140 characters just won’t do. To have more in-depth conversations I turn to Skype or Google Hangout. Voxer is great when you want to leave voicemails or walkie talkie back and forth with a group of principals/educators, allowing us to continue to have an ongoing audio discussion that all four of us can hear. Educators (both principals and teachers) are so busy, that it’s nearly impossible to find a large chunk of time for an extended conversation. Voxer allows you to leave each other messages (for one individual or for a group of people on Voxer) and pick up with the conversation whenever you have time to check in.
There are so many great educators sharing what works and what doesn't. It can save you time from making the same mistakes. When I first discovered great blogs to read I would check each individual website weekly, wondering if there was a new post...but no one has time for that! Now I use the tool Feedly which allows me to subscribe to blogs. All I have to do is check Feedly when I have time to read the latest blog posts...no more wasting my time going to each individual site.
You probably enjoyed learning at conferences prior to being a Connected Educator, but conferences take on a new level of learning when you already know several of your "tweeps" (people you're connected with on Twitter) will be there. Instead of just attending, taking notes on what you're learning and thinking about it, you have others to discuss with and continue the conversation afterwards on Twitter. If there are many Connected Educators at the conference, then it's likely that you'll also get to socialize with them at a "Tweet Up" at the end of the day. It is very common for someone attending the conference to set a time/location for a “Tweet Up” (usually at a place for some choice beverages) and starting tweeting out the details with the conference hashtag so that anyone on Twitter attending the conference can meet up (thus the phrase “Tweet Up”) together to meet all their “Tweeps.”
Blogging and tweeting can be such a great tool reflection. As stated in #4, blogging is not bragging; it is great to share your reflections online and get feedback from others in the comments to offer further suggestions or challenge your thinking. I only make the time to write a new blog post a couple times a month, but often find myself "blogging in my head" as I'm reflecting on something at school. Even though I don't get to writing that blog post, the reflection process has been helpful for me.
I know I'm not alone. It only takes a minute to check Twitter. Find that minute waiting in line at the grocery store, muting TV commercials or yes, even in the bathroom.
I always intended to attain my doctorate in education. However, I have learned so much from being a Connected Educator that now I don’t feel a need to pursue higher education anymore. All this learning is at my fingertips for free. There is a wealth of free online learning opportunities; following the tweets of a conference hashtag as others tweet from it, joining in on free webinars that educators on Twitter organize, or joining MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) that you learn about from Twitter.
Podcasts are a great way to continue your learning while walking the dog, cleaning your house or on your daily commute. I have first learned about the many choices out there via Twitter. Some of them include: Techlandia, TeacherCast, Choice Literacy, and any broadcast from the EdReach network. I love learning about best practices and new ideas from the tech/literacy/building level leaders that record these. Can't find one that speaks to your topic? Then start your own! Just recently a couple other principals and I started the Principalcast Podcast since we couldn't find anything specifically for principals.
I like to refer to the isolation of busy educators as “Gilligan Syndrome,” which sets in when you get "stranded" and don't know how to reach out to others for help. This is common for administrators, lone subject teachers or even busy teachers who don't get to converse with their colleagues often. Utilizing the connections you make on Twitter is a great way to get yourself "unstuck;" you always have other educators to turn to when times get rough. To make the best of Twitter, figure out the strengths of the people you are following. You can always tweet out a question for everyone to see, but when you have a specific question it is great to know someone who is an expert on that topic to send a direct message to so you can talk to in a Google Hangout for further help.
*Gilligan Syndrome is a term that Curt Rees, Jay Posick, Matt Renwick and I have come up with as we present to educators in Wisconsin about becoming connected educators.