As I write this, I think about the list of items I have waiting in the wings to blog about. However, I am compelled to write about Twitter and an educator’s role to be connected in this 21st century world. I realize I have already written about Twitter ad nauseam, but a recurring concern pulls at my heart and keeps my mind in a state of unrest.
It has been brewing in the depths of my reasoning for sometime, but was brought to the forefront with a recent discussion on one of my Twitter chats where the question was posed “Do we have an obligation as connected educators to bring along those that haven’t connected?” and “What is the impact if those educators don’t connect?” Along with that chat are the multitude of conversations that I have recently had where Educators express their sincere anxiety about Twitter and “speaking out in a public forum.”
So I have decided to write about my own journey. I don’t know how to tell you personally how to move from “creeping” (that is when you just read all the Twitter feed of people you follow) to curating (where you collect content into some sort of organized online collection) information shared with you from the multitude of Twitter chats you regularly participate and contribute to. My hope is that by sharing my story it will give those the courage to move past the anxiety and experience the world of possibility as a connected educator reaping the benefits of being connected with other passionate, committed. student-centered educators.
Before I get started, I want to add a disclaimer. This is meant for the genuinely passionate learner at heart. Those that seek to become fully engrossed in the Twitter Ed world but hesitate because of the intimidating frontier of the unknown. Those of you that easily Facebook, Tweet social statuses, and occasionally show up in a chat or tweet an occasional educational link… this blog is not meant for you. You have the tools, you have just not caught the bug to fully engage in Twitter as a tool for learning, collaboration and professional development. I could do an entirely different blog on this.
So here is my story:
August of 2012 I attended a leadership academy held by our district. We were encouraged to all start Twitter accounts if we didn’t already have one, and get started. We were encouraged to Tweet during the entire conference, but for so many newbies in one room it was clunky, disorganized and sometimes very distracting, not the way back channeling is meant to be (we will get back to the term of back channeling later in the post). On the positive side, it forced us all to at least try Twitter. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a real purpose or guidance via face to face or through online links on how this Twitter thing really worked to our benefit. At that time it was just another Facebook, but limited me to 140 characters. Anyone that knows me, being limited in the amount I could say was difficult at best… I was sticking to Facebook.
I think I checked my Twitter account once every week, usually on the weekends for updates on College Football from ESPN and my favorite follow @RazorbackFB. I had no idea there was a whole world of educators connecting, collaborating and curating.
Then in early January I had a brief but life altering conversation with our campus Instructional Technology Support Teacher. She had witnessed my passion for technology integration in my classroom, my love to inspire my students, and my willingness to try new things. Casually she asked me, “Have you tried Twitter from a professional development perspective.” I laughed and said “No, not at all.” She then said, “I think you would enjoy it, why don’t you try lurking on the district’s chat this week?” I remarked, “Sure, what do I have to lose?” All the while thinking, “I have been on Twitter and I don’t think it’s all that special.”
By the way, for those of you that aren’t sure of the difference between creeping and lurking. Creeping is where you jump around on Twitter following random Twitter feeds without a particular focus. Lurking, on the other hand, is where you purposefully follow a specific chat (noted with a hash tag #) and intently read or lurk on that chat with intentional focus to gain something.
So early January I lurked on a chat. I didn’t make it through the 30 minute chat before I was “Tweeting.” I will admit, my Tweets were a bit awkward. I didn’t fully understand when to re-tweet, favorite or quote and denote a MT (modified tweet). The amazing thing is how gracious everyone was. They seem to assess my level of ability and praise my step of courage to “Tweet” while being gracious and understanding where my level of proficiency was with Twitter. That was the foundation that paved the way for more exploration.
Somehow I started following @thomascmurray and @bcurrie5, Godfathers in the Twitter World. By late January I was asked by @thomascmurray through Twitter to post a testimonial about how Twitter had impacted me as an educator. At that point I had only been actively participating in chats for three weeks. (See my first blog post.) In that time I felt compelled to start the blog you are currently reading. After spending time watching and learning from the best on Twitter, it seemed to be the next step.
Shortly after that I read a blog post by @bcurrie5 titled “Connect Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself” http://www.bradcurrie.net/2/post/2013/02/connect-yourself-before-you-wreck-yourself.html that provided a step by step process to fully engage me into the world of Twitter as a Professional Development tool.
At the same time I saw another follow, I had somehow acquired, repeatedly Tweet about a book titled “Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess. This contact @iamkesler was going to be conducting an online book study. Of course I was game. I ordered the book, signed up for the book club and got ready to participate in my chat with #tlap.
At this point I was actively participating in my district’s general chat and district’s technology focused chat. My rate of consumption of knowledge had grown exponentially and strange things were happening to me. The instruction in my classroom had changed. I was becoming more engaging and the level of student engagement had increased. My willingness to try new things with technology and flexibility with implementation had changed drastically for the better. On top of that, I was seized with Twitter-itis and sharing to anyone that would listen. When a conversation couldn’t take place, I resorted to sharing the links from Twitter via email. I was consumed with the fact that Twitter was a treasure that needed to be unearthed.
In late March, after successfully hooking my Principal, I shared out with our Technology leadership team the praises of Twitter. (see my blog “Learning “Twitter-ese”:Spreading the Twitter Message”)
At this point the amount of learning I was ingesting was at such a high rate I knew I was forgetting far more than I was able to consume and hold on to, and it was worth holding on to! Then in early April when I was participating in my district’s technology chat I learned about curation. This was a Tuesday. I had a conversation on Wednesday with my principal about it and by Friday I had done my first curation in Scoop.it for a class ecosystem activity. I have since added so many curations on Scoop.it I have purchased an educators account to have more than the initial five that are free. (Feel free to follow or scoop me at http://www.scoop.it/u/kwilson01)
Then that same chat PLN invited my principal and I to co-moderate a chat about “Designing the Learning Experience.” in late April. I was a proud mother hen that night as many of my colleagues jumped in and participated. A few even gained the courage to start participating in other chats. The message was spreading.
But it doesn’t stop there. I just launched a pilot #geniushour in my classroom. All because of the contacts, collaboration and encouragement of fellow educators on Twitter.
So this is my story. It was a slow smoldering burn for a long time, and then began burning with an intensity that continues to burn without any signs of diminishing.
If you are still with me and are still reading, you may be thinking, “Okay, nice story, but where do I start?”
1. Get your feet wet. Participate in a chat where you know another Twitterer or in a small district chat where the feed doesn’t move fast or overwhelm you.
2. Try Retweeting items you feel are worthy being repeated or you were thinking the same thing. Favorite quotes you like or resonate with you, or just to show your support of a fellow Tweeter.
3. Google questions you have about Twitter, read blogs that offer tips, check out my Scoop.it about Twitter for PD http://www.scoop.it/t/utilizing-twitter-for-pd-purposes and put in your calendar the chats you want to remember to participate in with a reminder 15 minutes before they start.
4. Don’t stress out with all the “rules” to follow on Twitter. Some have rules about keeping your follower-ship tidy, suggest tools to do so, and say that you should still use proper grammar and spelling in 140 characters. Honestly, most people just want you to be nice, transparent, honest, real, collaborative and encouraging. If you are nice, most are nice to you. Do thank those that follow you. Do let those that encourage you, re-tweet your tweets and take a personal interest in your professional journey know how much you appreciate them. I refer to my inaugural Tweeters that helped me become fully engaged in Twitter as part of my Twitter family tree.
5. Begin curating ideas, links and infographics you want to come back to from your Twitter chats. There are lots of different curation applications out there including PearlTree, PaperLi, Flipboard, Pinterest and my personal favorite, Scoop.it.
6. Set some goals for action based on what you have learned in your chats/Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and Tweet your experiences/successes.
7. Try back channelling. What is back channelling? That can be several things. In a live conference or professional development it is the side conversation happening on Social Media about that particular topic/learning among participants. It can be formally set up through a hash tag on Twitter, or on Edmodo or Today’s Meet. On a Twitter chat it is side conversations that happen with people in the chat regarding the topic but are a thread not showing in the main stream of Tweets because it is more a conversation between those few people and not necessarily meant for the entire chat group. (Don’t misunderstand the Tweets can still be seen, they are just not going to pop up in the main feed… hence back channelling.)
8. Spread the message, mentor a new Tweeter, and reflect from time to time on your growth.
9. Start a Twitter account for your class.
Twitter allows us to truly model for our kids “learning anywhere, anytime.” This video comes from one of my Twitter “mentors” and original members of my Twitter “family tree.” It provides a compelling and convincing argument for the need for all educators to be passionately connected.