Voxer, Twitter, and EdCamps: How to Tackle the Harsh Realities of Finding Good Statewide PD

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Nebraskans are fiercely independent—really, they have to be.

You see it in our many public school districts, spread out across 286 school districts serving over 300,000 students (not to mention the 244 private and parochial schools serving over 42,000 additional students). Nebraskans also value local control, and elected not to adapt the Common Core standards. Instead, we use our own standards—written by Nebraskans, for Nebraska students.

While it’s a beautiful place to be, the 77,000 square miles of land can be a problem for Nebraska teachers looking for quality professional development. Just to put it in perspective, to travel from one end of Nebraska to the other is 430 miles—better bring some snacks for that trip.

But creative Nebraska teachers use new tools to conquer that distance to get our professional development. Let’s get into the specifics.

The Trifecta of Rural PD, Part 1: Social Chat Platforms

Problem One: How do you gather a group of like-minded educators in one place in order to share ideas, when so many miles separate you?

Potential Solution: Now, this first solution may sound familiar to some of you—to easily connect on Twitter, we host Nebraska EdChat (#NebEdChat), which takes place on Wednesday night at 8pm CST. Many teachers connect this way to learn about the latest in edtech tools, educational ideas and methods in teaching, and joining my fellow Nebraskan teachers for the weekly chat gives me a comfortable hour that flies by and is full of ideas and collaboration.

But it’s not just about the statewide PD chats anymore.

Take #CatholicEdChat (geared towards educators in Catholic schools), which I moderate every Saturday. Or how about this: One evening during this past spring, Nate Balcom was participating in the #MWLibchat (Midwest Librarian Chat), and a casual tweet about March and books led to a global collaboration named March Book Madness.

To truly achieve statewide PD, it’s not just about connecting on general topics anymore—it’s about finding what tickles your particular fancy (from design thinking to libraries to Catholic teaching practices) and finding others that you can jive with.

The Trifecta of Rural PD, Part 2: Edcamps

Problem Two: How do you bring educators together for a day of learning that doesn’t cost any money to gather?

Potential Solution: While collaborations and connections are formed on Twitter chats, the local EdCamp (essentially a free “unconference”) takes us into Step Two, strengthening these bonds. Although Nebraska has wide open spaces, we value getting together on a Saturday for an EdCamp, which have taken place all over the state in Omaha, Kearney, Grand Island, and Columbus. EdCamps sessions are set the day of the EdCamp, this leads to a wide range of topics for the attendees’ professional development. Many times, I have attended an EdCamp and learned more about the latest in education and brought it immediately back to my classroom.

But the beauty of an EdCamp isn’t just in the fact that it’s live. Not too far away from Nebraska’s border are Edcamps in Council Bluffs and Des Moines, Iowa. Worth the drive are EdCamps in Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri. If you can’t get an answer to a problem from someone in your state, a potential collaborator might just be over state lines.

As a big fan of the EdCamp model, I even brought an EdCamp to my fellow teachers in the Archdiocese of Omaha—and you can, too! In fact, it’s a great way to gain both PD and leadership skills in the same experience; for example, I asked some of my fellow Catholic school teachers to help me organize an EdCamp for June.

The Trifecta of Rural PD, Part 3: Voxer

Problem Three: Social media is alright, but how can you go beyond the 140-character limit of Twitter and connect with educators around the world?

Potential Solution: So you like connecting with people who might not be within your driving range, but you miss that live and in-person element. Or, you wish that EdCamps happened more frequently, so you could connect with your new friends on a regular basis. Why not try hearing them—literally—with Voxer?

Voxer is an app that can be used to text, share a photo, or share a voice message with a single person or a group. This is a handy app for continuing collaboration and asking questions that came up after a Twitter chat or Edcamp, without having to ask for a phone number.

Voxer also offers you an opportunity to be at a conference—without really being there. For example, for the past three years, I have been an administrator for the #NotAtISTE Voxer chat—a very busy and focused chat that takes place a few days before, during, and after the ISTE conference. Over 200 educators have joined this chat and have found, even if you are not at ISTE, that they can still learn and grow in your teaching through the “voxes” shared by the members of the Voxer chat.

The Possibilities are… Endless?

When looking for professional development in your area, feel free to borrow these ideas from Nebraska teachers. You are always welcome to join us in Twitter chats, our local Edamps and on Voxer. We Nebraska teachers love learning and sharing.

And remember, you are never alone—no matter how spread out your state is. The world of teaching and education is filled with endless possibilities for professional development.

Sometimes, you just have to look for them.

Barb Gilman (@BarbInNebraska) is a Nebraska teacher. She was the winner of the 2014 NCEA Distinguished Teacher Award for the Plains States.

This post is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Nebraska). 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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