Before We Were Connected: How To Achieve a Statewide Professional Learning Network

By
Katrina Keene

It’s only fair that I begin this post with an honest perception of my experience as a “connected” teacher in the state of Tennessee. My journey began in 2001, when I accepted a 3rd grade teaching position in Shelby County, TN. The county was small, yet quaint. As many schools do, we taught in silos—but being that this was my first teaching job, I didn’t know any better.

Throughout my years of teaching, I leaned on educators in my own schools, but began feeling alone when it came to using technology integration. I bought computers off CraigsList for my students, and started using tools such as video conferencing, KidSpiration, blogging, WebKinz, Nings, and Glogster. I often sprung out of my classroom to show fellow teachers the amazing things my students were doing, but only to be greeted with disgust or criticism. Wasn’t this what we were suppose to be doing as teachers? 

I began attending local conferences, and researching online about what teaching and learning should look like. I found that I wasn’t far off in my thought process—but where were all the other teachers like me? How could I find them? What if I was alone in this?

When in moments of doubt like mine, here’s my advice: don’t wait for the connections to come to you. Go after them.

Trying to Find Others—And Failing in the Process

Now, you might be thinking that my next move was Twitter, and that I magically connected to educators, making this a beautiful ending to my struggles. You are right… sort of. My next move was in fact Twitter, but being that this was 2008, I didn’t have many people to connect with. I struggled with not only how to utilize Twitter, but how to form this complicated thing called a “Tweet.” So, I gave up. Twitter was pointless, and I was alone in this world of teaching. I took two years off as an educator and became the Executive Director of a local pre-school in Chattanooga, TN. During this time, I disconnected from the frustrating world of education, and came to the conclusion I must not have known what I was doing.

But all wasn’t lost. In July 2011, I was offered a position as a K-12 Technology Integrationist in Florida. Without a second thought, I took it and moved my family to embark on this life-changing challenge. Two months into the job, I attended the Florida Council for Independent Schools (FCIS) conference—just to find that everyone and their brother was on Twitter.

Anxiety hit me as I knew right then and there I had fallen behind. Only two short years removed, and I was again lost in a world that was now ahead of where I was. I had to get back on Twitter, and I had to do it now! I connected with educators all over Florida and started branching out across the United States in an effort to learn as much as I could from experts in the field. I started joining chats and filling my brain with new ideas, inspiration, and pure happiness from these educators who were driven to be connected.

But in the midst of all this, there was one big issue: I couldn’t tear my mind away from my home state of Tennessee. So, I decided to give Twitter one more shot—and eventually got swept up in creating a statewide movement.

The Beauty of Finding (and Founding) Statewide Twitter Chats

Starting from scratch: In late 2011, I discovered a new chat called #TnEdChat and began joining in weekly. Founded and moderated by Samantha J. Bates, #TnEdChat started off with a small group. #TnEdChat brought new life and understanding to my perception of connected educators in the state of Tennessee, and while t was a small group, it was there.

Finding other early adopters: Inspired by this one chat, I began to seek out others—and came across Julie Davis, who was a Technology Integrationist for a school in Chattanooga. During a visiting back home to TN, she and I met up at her incredible privately-owned donut shop, and found similarities in one another in regards to being connected in the state of Tennessee. We shared story after story, and connected on a level that I had not previously found during my years teaching in Tennessee.

Inspiring other chats: My new found connections sparked my desire to locate even more educators—including Greg Bagby, principal of a local Hamilton County School in Tennessee. We messaged back and forth, back and forth, and so on—until eventually, two new chats were born: #TnTechChat and #ChattTechChat (a chat local to Chattanooga area educators). Due to the fact that these news chat had a “tech” focus, it didn’t conflict with #TnEdChat.

“Blending” them altogether: #ChattTechChat wasn’t the only city-specific Twitter chat to be founded. #NashTechChat, founded and moderated by Tim Carey, aimed at connecting Nashville-area educators. However, this brought up a big concern: there was now this large group of Tennessee educators talking on Twitter, but all on different chats, and at different times. So, I contacted the lead moderators of #NashTechChat and #ChattTechChat, and we rolled our chat into one, under the #TnTechChat name.

This evolution of #TnTechChat revealed something to me that I never knew in years past—that I had given up on my home state. If I had put something in action when I first began on Twitter, perhaps our state of Tennessee could have been connected sooner. But regardless, we were and are now connected, and there is no stopping us.

A Call to (PLN) Arms

I’m proud to say, #TNTechChat is halfway into its second year and going strong each week on Tuesday evenings at 8pm, Eastern Daylight time. If you are new to Twitter and to Twitter chats, never fear! You can always catch up, as #TnTechChat is archived each week on Storify.

I encourage every educator to connect outside of their schools, their silos, and hop on Twitter. The best professional learning experiences and educator connections are waiting for you… you just have to go out and grab them.


Katrina Keene (@teachintechgal) has been a Director of Innovation (most recently at Innovation Christian Heritage School in Tennessee), IT Director, and classroom teacher. Katrina currently works for Dell as an Educational Strategist.

This post is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Tennessee). The project is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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