Sunday, May 18, 2014

Twitter Power!

I have had a Twitter account for about four years. It was dormant for a long time but then my teaching partner, Melissa Hellwig, and I presented our 20% Time Project Classrooms at EdCampSTL in February and that's where my Twitter love affair began. Nearly every teacher in attendance at EdCampSTL was a techie and immersed in Twitter. We quickly got Melissa on Twitter and started connecting with other educators at the conference. Later I discovered Twitter Education Chats, and it was over!

When I got into my first Twitter EdChat, I was amazed by the number of teachers who were doing online professional development, usually in the evening. This was on their own time, after a long day at school. What they were sharing was wonderful. These educators were sharing the stories of their classrooms, the technology tools they were using to advance the learning of their students, the stumbles that they made along the way and the successes they had every day in class. This was amazing to me. There were teachers, student teachers, principals, superintendents and board members from across the country, and the world, in these chats. It really was mind-blowing.

How had I missed this entire subculture of online learning and sharing? How did I not even know that it existed? Fortunately I just happened to stumble on a chat and from that stumble, I learned that there is an entire online learning community that uses Twitter as a personal learning network (PLN). Incredibly, I have to admit that I have learned more about teaching, learning and technology in the last six months on Twitter than I have in my entire 26 years of district-offered professional development opportunities.

The thing that makes Twitter PD so good is that it is immediately relevant to my classroom. If I am doing something new, I can find dozens of teachers across the country who have tried the same thing and instantly access their experience. If I want to find out about a particular topic, I can attend an online chat and "lurk" (just read what the other teachers are saying in order to learn from their experiences). All of this PD is immediately relevant to me. Some of the most intellectually nimble and imaginative teachers are in these Twitter chats.

One of the most important things about these chats is that I get to share what we (Melissa and I) are doing in our classrooms. Twitter has metaphorically allowed me to fling open the classroom door and share with others what is going on in class. Now, I have always been one of those, "Let's close the door, do some really cool things, and not worry about getting into trouble" kind of teachers. I know that many things that I do in  class are not "traditional". However, seeing all of the like-minded teachers on Twitter, I realize that there are a lot more teachers like me out there and that has given me even more confidence and faith that what I am doing is right for kids. A solid, progressive, forward-thinking, technology-laden education is what I've always tried to give my kiddos and now I see that there are thousands of others out there with the same values.

There is an audience for what we are doing in our classes but what we have found is that audience is more outside our school than inside our school. We have so many talented teachers on our staff who are doing their own thing with little time to see what others are doing, but by sharing on Twitter, we have found support systems, like-minded teachers, and cheerleaders who want to replicate in their classrooms what we are doing in ours. That is validating and it is awesome!

Now, at least three times per week, I find myself starting conversations at school with, "Last night on Twitter, I saw this really cool...". Sometimes people may get sick of hearing about all of my learning on Twitter but my students are the primary beneficiaries of it. I try to get into as many EdChats per week as I can because I get a charge out of the learning, sharing and validation by teachers for teachers. Twitter gives teachers the power to access professional development from some of the leading minds in education today. It is an amazing tool.

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