Next week, myself and hundreds of other educators from around the country will be congregating at the 92nd St Y in New York City to share stories of how they have used social media to grow personally and professionally and how they have used it to empower young people both in and out of the classroom.
The lineup of speakers is an exciting list of movers and shakers and inspiring people. I am honored to be part of such a lineup and I look forward to learning from everyone. (you can check out the schedule and the list of speakers here).
As much as the dialogue has been opened about the importance and power of being a connected educator, most are still not. This has given rise to two factions of educators, and birthed a new ‘species’ of educator–one that is globally connected, one that is abreast of trends, research and policy ahead of the rest of their field. We want to tell our story and make a call to action for a new species of educator.
|image from Melody on Flickr|
Amazingly, I did not write a single ISTE reflection piece this year. It’s always a little overwhelming trying to digest everything, but there are a few things that have stuck with me even into the beginning of August. Now that I’m on a bus headed to the #140edu conference , it seems fitting that I’m thinking about some of the conversations I had about networking.
Over the course of the 3 days I found myself in discussions about networking, relationships and learning on more than one occasion. Most discussions concluded with the idea that while networking is invaluable, building relationships is really what matters and is really what we’re about.
My involvement in social media over the last three years has taught me the priceless skills of making connections and networking (skills, I would argue, that teachers are deprived of through the nature of current programs within schools of education). I’m an outgoing person, but 4 years ago I would not have had business cards, approached people I’d never met or felt connected to larger conversations enough to pipe up in a conversation while able to bring enough to the table to join in and then sit back and learn.
I’ve been telling people how much I’ve learned about networking and I’ve been following many conversations centered around the networked teacher. In fact, I have been working with a colleague of mine to help her become one. I always tell people that I’m only as smart as the people I know. I know a lot of people.
But is “networking” really what is helping us learn? Is it really what we should strive for?
David Jakes has a great blog entitled The Strength of Weak Ties. I’ve always loved that name. While searching for the exact link for this post I stumbled across Mark Granovetter‘s highly influential sociology paper of the same name. (I’m kind of ashamed I’d never heard of it before!) As networked teachers we are connected loosely through social media, conferences and in a more local sense, our Intermediate Units, Regions, Districts, Unions, etc… These connections make us better teachers, they facilitate learning, but when I talk to members of my ‘weak ties’ network (mostly Twitter) what we really seek are relationships, stronger ties that enable ongoing support and deeper learning opportunities.
When I think of networking in the traditional sense, I think of an exchange, an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” attitude. Relationships, however, involve a give-and-take with one side sometimes giving more than the other. Relationships involve a giving of self and ideas rather than a give-in-order-to-receive mentality.
Though I began honing my networking skills through the lens of social media, I have begun to build a network here in Philadelphia as well through the work I do for the South Philly Food Co-op and the annual edcamp Philly unconference. Some of the connections I have made are ‘weak ties.’ They are limited to the skin-deep needs each party has for his or her project. However, many of those ties have bloomed into relationships that go beyond our original purpose. It has made Philadelphia ridiculously small for me over the past year or so.
Similarly, many of the weak ties that I have built through social media still remain weak. Even so, I still value them. These are the people with whom I network because we share similar jobs, viewpoints or interests. However, the more powerful, deeper connections that have blossomed from such weak ties into friendships and professional relationships have and continue to push me as a teacher and helped me discover my own passions and beliefs.
While it’s important to maintain those weak ties, let’s look beyond networking and begin to build relationships that matter.
Tonight I heard a great story on Marketplace about using Peer Pressure to affect social change.
The interviewee, Tina Rosenberg, explained how some groups, rather than focusing only on education used, essentially, Personal Learning Networks to promote social change. She sums it up below:
“…by connecting them to other people, by having them be a member of this close group, and by giving them a sense of a more positive future, and by using peers who had been in the same situation and were telling them, ‘Here’s what I was then and here’s what I am now, and you too can change,’ they found that this was very effective.”
I couldn’t help but make the connection between these programs and what goes on in the tight-knit group of educators using social media. We learn about tools and practices and we get ideas from other educators by being part of a like-minded community of educator with whom we can share our experiences.
We can also take this idea to heart when trying to figure out the best way to get other teachers on board with social media and technology integration. Education isn’t enough. Perhaps they need some old fashioned peer pressure.
You can listen to the story here:
When the story of Natalie Monroe, the “Teacher Blogger” broke earlier this year, it rustled a lot of feathers. There were those that stood in firm support of her 1st Amendment rights, there were those that called for her to be fired immediately, and there were those that denounced the idea that teachers should be blogging at all. My opinion was pretty much in line with that of Principal Chris Lehmann here in Philly.
So when I received a call from the Philadelphia Inquirer asking me my opinion, I was elated. You can read the article here.
But this post isn’t about the article at all. Well, it’s not about the content of the article. What struck me was the comment area. Now, comment areas are renowned for being minefields for expressing everything from well thought out replies to anonymous rants and attacks. What was new for me was that this rarely happens on my blog or on those of my 25+ good friends who blog. When it does, the blogger attempts to keep the discussion civil, and if unsuccessful, thanks the person for their opinions and ends it there.
When I read some of the comments on the article, I couldn’t help but think that they are a perfect example of why social media and blogging should be taught in schools!
(these are screenshots of actual comments from the article)
Lesson #1 that I teach to my students is that once you click “Post,” “Send,” or “Submit,” your comment may exist forever. Even if you take it down.
Lesson #2 is already explained pretty well above–don’t say anything that you wouldn’t say if you were standing in front of the person. It is all too easy to hide behind a screen name and say whatever you please without considering the consequences of your words.
Lesson #3 is ‘stay focused’–if you’re leaving a comment, make sure that you stick to the topic at hand or your comment is pretty much worthless.
I’m not afraid of disagreement when it comes to ideas, in fact, I welcome them (when they are presented in a thoughtful and respectful way). It is important, however, to know how to handle disagreement when you can’t hear the tone of voice behind them or you’re not sure if it is a personal attack.
Lesson #4–don’t engage ‘trolls’ or bullies. I teach this to my students so that they know how to handle the ever-feared ‘cyberbully.’ Included in that lesson is how to report the user or block them.
With more and more stories coming out about students being bullied and about regretful Facebook postings and tweets, it’s now or never with this up and coming generation of kids.
Luckily, there are lots of talented and forward-thinking teachers out there guiding their students in the right direction.
If you must know how to leave a quality comment, just ask the students in Ms Yollis’ class:
Now what does this have to do with me blogging?
I have always been a reflective person. I have always needed to work my way through ideas, whether it be verbally or in writing. Through my blog I have been able to pinpoint instruction that works, celebrate lessons that have been successful and I have sought out advice from colleagues when I needed a helping hand. Many of my posts are crafted with the intention of helping others who may also be going through the same struggles or to provide resources to my readers.
Now, imagine being taught math by a teacher who was not allowed to multiply. Imagine the difference between being taught writing by someone who is certified in teaching writing and being taught writing by someone who is certified and has also written a novel…which would you prefer?
Young people are blogging and leaving comments all over the web and they need role models to learn from. Obviously, going by what others write in the comment area of blogs, articles and YouTube videos will not teach them how to be good digital citizens. Only practice doing the real thing will.
That said, we should also be teaching them how to use blogging as a reflective platform, not a place to rant and attack others. Who will work to challenge the next generation to break through the divisiveness and the negativity we see so much in today’s society, especially when it comes to civil discourse on the web? As more and more writing is done online, who will guide students if not their teachers?
Comments appreciated 🙂
…just keep it civil, guys…..
My last post, Research: One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do, was a reflection on a lesson with my 6th graders about evaluating sites. I shared it with my network on Twitter and was met with some dialogue about my choice of “Is it a blog?” as an evaluation question.
Here is some of the conversation:
I have been participating in the weekly Twitter discussion, #edchat, since August 2009. It has been amazing watching the conversation grow and expand, pulling more and more people into the conversation. The topics range from educational technology to best practices in education and schools. Many times the conversation is heated, often it is inspiring and it is ALWAYS fast-paced.
Many nights I have found my thoughts challenged, or had my beliefs validated. I have learned what it may be like to teach in other parts of the country and the world. I have learned that many of the struggles that I face here in Philadelphia are not isolated to my school or my district. I have also learned that perspectives are very different depending on many factors such as what state, suburb, city or rural town you teach in, whether you teach in a private school, public school, charter school, high school, elementary school or in higher education as well as many others.
Sometimes we get caught up in our own bubble, and #edchat has helped burst that bubble.
That said, there are those who feel that #edchat is a group of educators “preaching to the choir,” that it is merely a gathering of like-minded people agreeing with each other and not making any real ‘change’ in education.
However, I have found that certain #edchat discussions have forced me to think and/or rethink how I teach, what I teach or a belief that I hold. While I may not go back to my classroom and immediately implement something from the night before, my goals and approach to teaching has been influenced by the conversations I’ve had with others from around the country and the world.
How has #edchat made ‘real changes’ for you in your classroom, your school, your district or your professional life?
Please leave a comment below. I am collecting ideas to share as part of the Real Time Communication and Education panel at the #140 Characters Conference in NYC on April 20th.
On April 20th, a group of fellow EduTweeters and I will be presenting at the #140 Character Conference in NYC, organized by Jeff Pulver. A very interesting and informative Posterious blog post came through my Google Alerts for my name earlier this week describing the conference. The blogger, Alan Weinkrantz, had this to say:
Jeff Pulver believes that we are experiencing the first stages of a major communication revolution. What many people today refer to as “Social Media” he believes is really a primitive for a new way we will communicate in the future. In fact, the systemic effects of the advent of social media will be felt for a long time after the term “social media” is no longer trendy.
What a powerful statement.
I couldn’t help but think that this is a Truth that we need to keep in mind. We are in the midst of a ‘major communication revolution.’
This morning I attended a Classroom 2.0 Elluminate session with Jeff O’Hara, the founder of Edmodo, an online tool that allows for real-time interaction between teachers and their students as well as asynchronous communication in the form of assignments and media posting (videos, links, etc…) This ‘communication revolution’ is real.
I’ve also been listening to the audiobook of Malcom Gladwell’s, The Tipping Point. I saw his keynote address at ISTE’s NECC 2009 in Washington, DC and was intrigued by some of his points and always meant to pick up the book. So far, it has gotten me thinking about this communication revolution in relation to his discussion of how information is disseminated through a population.
First, he discusses Connectors, people whose social ties cross many different social groups and interests. We are connected, as he explains through describing scientific studies and experiments, by only a few, highly connected people. He analyzes his own circle of friends and deduces that it is not a circle, but a pyramid, with his most connected friend, Jacob, tying everyone else to each other.
This made me examine my own social networks and how they are connected. Can I trace my network down to one or two people who hold us together? In the world of Twitter, this kind of connectivity is vital and plays out on a grander scale. There are still, certainly, people who are intertwined among many networks and do so easily because of the tools available for facilitating connections.
He also talks about Information Specialists, or Mavens, people who are ‘pathologically helpful’ when it comes to sharing information. While the example he gives refers to supermarkets and people who keep track of prices and therefore keep supermarkets in check, we live in an ‘Information Age.’ I am always amazed how quickly people are willing to seek out information for me on Twitter. Often, complete strangers! There are also those people, it seems, whose sole purpose is to provide as much information to people as possible without expecting anything in return. Just like Connectors, these people have a much farther reach due to the social networking tools available to them.
With all of these musings, it seems to me that we are becoming more and more connected in fewer and fewer steps. There seems to be a large number of Connectors and Mavens able to spread information to wider and wider groups of people.
Are we at the Tipping Point of communication as we know it?
Gladwell photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
My 4-6th graders have been working Persuasive Essays for the last month. (While that seems like a long time, it is really only 4-5 class periods.) I decided to have them hand in their work using a drop.io dropbox rather than my server dropbox so I can grade their work from home.
While playing around with the drop.io settings and functions, I noticed a ‘comment’ feature. “How cool!” I thought. Not only could they read each others’ essays, but they could leave feedback as well! I created a guest password and linked it to their assignment page. They logged in and then the fun began. It was so exciting to see them taking the time to read each other’s essays. While the comments were not exactly what I wanted (some were more about say “what’s up” or “you go girl” than actual feedback–totally my own fault because we didn’t spend a lot of time going over giving useful feedback) it was fun and engaging for them and they were excited to know that their work was being read by their classmates.
There were a few teachable moments when a student posted a “so and so likes you” comment to a boy’s essay and when another student left a few rude comments signing someone else’s name. It gave me a chance to remind them that once you put your words and thoughts up on the Internet, they are there forever and you can’t take them back. It also gave me a chance to discuss netiquette and real life situations that occur when using social media.
I kept having to remind myself that nothing is perfect the first time you try it. This was a great activity and a successful one with a few hiccups, and it is a great jumping off point for the collaborative work I am planning for the Spring.
Every day I see proof of the power of social media to motivate students to engage with content. There is no other kind of tool that would allow for students to view each others’ work so quickly and leave feedback so easily. Also, knowing that others are going to read your work, especially one’s peers, often motivates students to take more time and be more careful in how they write and what they write.
Now my question: am I going to get in trouble now? The District is so fearful of these kinds of tools and activities.
I’m not usually one to follow the crowd, but as I saw people tweeting out their ‘end-of-year’ blog posts, I figured that it might be a good idea, even if just for selfish reasons. 2009 has been a transformative year for me. It has marked a complete shift in my professional life and as a result, my career has become more fulfilling and exciting.
I did not accomplish all of this on my own. It was a slow progression, starting with the ISTE conference in June, when my world was expanded beyond my classroom, school and even district walls.
December 23, 2008: I started this blog with my very first post: The Purpose
June 22, 2009: I joined Twitter with the handle: mbteach
June 27: My first day at NECC 09, a life-changing experience.
July 11: I start to realized that my new Twitter and online world is taking over my life. Vicki Davis leaves a comment on my blog!
July 16: I decide to make a plan to go “OTG” when I need to in order to find balance in my life.
July 20: I attend my first Edublogs Elluminate session about Online Identity with Di Benard
August 4: I reflect on my summer job that includes very little technology and I use Glogster for the first time.
August 14: I reflect on my first #edchat experience. Little did I know that #edchat would take over the Twitterverse for educators!
September 9: I realize and reflect on how important my PLN is to keeping me sane and to providing a strong community with which to learn and explore.
September 12: I speak with Aparna Vashisht from Parentella about #edchat and connecting teachers with parents and vice versa. She later invites me to participate in the #140 character conference in LA, but I’m moving into my new house that weekend!
September 25: Received my Masters degree diploma in the mail from Saint Joseph’s University. Completed an Instructional Technology Specialist program.
October 2: Shelly Terrell asks me to do a guest blog post on her blog, Teacher Reboot Camp. I write about Education in America.
October 5: I close on my new house!
October 9: A colleague and I take a group of students to a gallery to learn about David Kennedy, a Philadelphia artist from the 19th century. I realize afterwards how important it is to get students out into the real world and expose them to new experiences.
October 20: I get my Google Wave account and begin playing around with Doug Peterson and Andrew Forgrave.
October 21: I start a blog for our history project and make the first post. The response from my PLN astounds and excites my students. I start to realize how motivating writing in such a forum can be for students.
November 2: I attend a meeting at the district’s main offices and receive an iPod touch without being told why or how I’m to use it in the classroom. I also learn that I am infamous for my constant requests to have certain sites unblocked so I can use them. A lesson in poor technology planning and in being a squeaky wheel. Filtering issues start to look hopeful. Kind of.
November 14: I attend my first BarCamp, which proves to be a perfect storm of social media. I connect with fellow educators Kevin Jarrett, Dan Callahan, Rob Rowe, Kristen Swanson and Ann Leaness through Twitter and GoogleWave. We use Google Docs to plan a session in a few hours and present it right before another Twitter colleague, Mike Ritzius and his fellow educators. We are now in the process of planning a education-focused BarCamp (EduCamp).
November 23: One of my 6th grade classes video conferences with Gerardo Lazaro‘s 6th graders in Lima, Peru. Gerardo and I used Skype, Wikispaces and Google Chat to pull it off. Hurray Social Media! I see the power of communication across continents for my students.
November 26: I sit next to the chief financial officer for the School District of Philadelphia and learn a few things about ‘Us vs. Them‘ attitudes. I realized it’s stupid to play the blame game when students’ futures are at stake.
December 9: I learn that my blog has been nominated for an Edublog Award. I am thrilled, honored and humbled by the recognition. I also receive a challenge from my friend, Shelly Terrell to write about teachers who inspired me growing up. I immediately jump at the opportunity and send the challenge out to more friends and PLN members.
December 10: I run a district-wide webinar on Social Bookmarking. A lot of teachers I ‘know’ through the district’s tech listserv attend, and it has very positive feedback. I think: WOW, I have a PLN here in the district as well, how cool! I also think: WOW, I can’t wait for the next one. I’m gonna sneak some Twitter people in, for sure!
December 17: I hold a meeting with 15 other teachers in my building to put together for a plan to improve our school’s climate. It is a wonderful meeting and I feel the power of teachers taking initiative rather than leaving decisions and actions up to administration. I create a Google Group to keep track of asynchronous discussions.
December 19: Mother Nature dumps 2 feet of snow on Philadelphia. I get a lesson in cooperation and teamwork.
My Year in Reflection:
Not everything this year has been celebratory or transformative. There have been some bumps and will continue to be along the way in 2010. My school has been relocated this year to 59th Street and Baltimore Avenue for this current school year so that a new school can be built at our former location at 58th and Media Streets. I have not driven past the construction, though my students tell me that there is a foundation built. At least (for now) Google Maps has the old school and yard still there:
A new school isn’t really a reason to feel sad, we needed it sorely. What is sad is the way the school culture has not improved, and may have even gotten worse in the temporary location. We have been practically taken over by the district and the region, teaching scripted programs for an hour and a half each day. Our teacher are disheartened, the recess yard and lunchroom are chaotic and, at times, hazardous, and students are often left unattended during the day due to support staff mismanagement.
In addition, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (my union) announced, right before Winter Recess, that they are once again extending the contract. We have been working under an extended contract for over 2 years now. Then, Jerry Jordan, our union president makes a statement about the new Race to the Top program and how that will affect schools in Philadelphia. My school is already in corrective action—will we become a “Renaissance School,” with 50% or more of the staff to be replaced along with the principal? Luckily my position as a lab teacher is an important one (everyone needs a lab teacher, right?) and the way I have made myself known this year throughout the district should make it easier for me to keep my job.
Wait, is THIS what adulthood looks like?
Looking back over 2009, I have grown up more than I could imagine. I have learned more this year than seems humanly possible. It is all thanks to the wonderful people I have met through Twitter and in my district who are innovative risk-takers, who take the bull by the horns and don’t put up with bull. I am thankful for them coming into my life and I look forward to another great year in 2010. While I’m sure the learning curve will not be as steep as it was this past year, I am certain I will never stop learning and trying new things.
I would also like to extend my gratitude to those of you who subscribe to this blog, whether you have participated in comments or not. When I started this blog almost exactly a year ago, I had no idea where it was going and I am elated that others are interested in my ramblings.
Best wishes to everyone in 2010!