Tag Archives: PLN

The Power of People: An RSCON Reflection

Something I often read as a hindrance to culture change in public schools is the isolation of the public school teacher. The idea that schools are filled with disconnected, independent contractors, working alone is a pervasive one. Some of this is self-imposed isolation, or “flying under the radar” in the vernacular. Teachers might wish to be left alone for any number of reasons, perhaps their practice is flawed and they don’t want to admit it, or perhaps they are flouting a school policy that they disagree with, or perhaps they are just so inundated with the work of trying as hard as they can to educate young people that they can’t spare a minute.

Some of the isolation of the public school teacher is institutional, it is created and fostered by the system. Think about the places where you work, narrow corridors of unconnected rooms where teachers are lucky to see each other for two minutes between periods. Converted classrooms that serve as lounges for faculty, where fliers for upcoming board meetings are hastily attached to walls with yellow tape. Faculties that have been spread so thin by diminishing budgets that they see twice as many students as they did last year. I find it more than a little ironic that a system that often treats all students as if they were the same has no such checks on the teachers.

Whatever the reason for this isolation, how ever long it has been here, it is bad for us and it is bad for our kids. Teachers are learners, and learners crave interaction of an intellectual nature. Think about how energized you might feel if you happen to have a two minute conversation about a new teaching technique while you desperately wait in line to fill your coffee cup between periods. We need to sustain that feeling, somehow, and I believe we can.

I used to believe that the system was too large, to corrupt, to entrenched to ever change. But I don’t believe that anymore. Systems after all are built and sustained by people and I have seen the power of people. People like Shelly Terrell, whose infinite energy has lead to dozens of projects that touch the lives of teachers and students all around the globe. People like Kelly Tenkely, who asked herself, why couldn’t I start a school, and did. People like Clive Elsmore who believed in the cause of education so fiercely he gave up hundreds of hours, with only a thank you for reward. All of the organizers on the Reform Symposium team including Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Ian Chia, Cecilia LemosJerry Blumengarten and Mark Barnes are doing amazing things all over the world and making a difference.

The Reform Symposium was just an idea until it was empowered by people.

Then it became something else. It became total strangers with common goals working together to learn from each other. Although the Reform Symposium was born of social media it has never been about that, it has been and will continue to be about people. So don’t lose hope. Ideas are powerful.

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The Best Thing I’ve Done Online, Wanna See?

On July 28th at 10:00 am the second iteration of the best thing I have done online will begin. The Reform Symposium began as an offhand comment on Twitter, evolved into a conversation on Google Wave (remember Wave?), then turned from an idea into an event. The conference brought together a disparate group of presenters who were willing to donate their knowledge to everyone who wanted to listen. To me it represents the full potential of social media and what can happen when motivated, like-minded educators are given the tools to collaborate. I have never actually met any of my amazing collaborators, but I consider them to be my dear friends. Try to imagine organizing a global conference for educators ten years ago. Would you be able to do it with free online tools? So if you are looking for some free professional development take a look at the schedule and see if there is something you are interested in learning. Better yet, volunteer to moderate one of the sessions. Hope to see you there.

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Invite a Skeptic to the Reform Symposium

All of this social networking is starting to pay off for everyone! For the past month I have been working with some really amazing educators to put together a free summer conference. I have never met any of these amazing people (Shelly Terrell, Jason Bedell, & Kelly Tenkely), yet this was one of the most successful collaborations I have ever been a part of. None of use have received any reward for the time we have put into planning the event, monetary reward that is, but somehow this has been an incredibly rewarding experience. This seeming paradox lends credence to the argument Daniel Pink makes in Drive, that money isn’t a very good motivator when it comes to intellectual endeavors.

Working on the Symposium has been an empowering experience. It is empowering because by harvesting the power of connections, and everyone’s desire to improve education we can all get together for summer professional development. No one is paying anyone, no one is getting paid. Many educational conferences have costs that are so high that we cannot attend, and what do we see when we get there….great educators talking about what they are doing in the classroom.

So in the words of The Monkees, I’m a believer. PLNs work! Making connections works! I suspect many of you are nodding your heads right now, that’s because most of you believe too. So here is your charge: invite a skeptic to the Reform Symposium. Not just a doubter, a skeptic. Offer to have them attend a session with you. Sit right next to them, help them click the right links. Make bargains to get them to agree. When it is over tell them about PLNs and help them sign up for Twitter and follow up with them over the year. Do all this because if you can convince a skeptic about the power of connections that is powerful, and that skeptic will talk to other skeptics, and this movement will grow. That is how reform will happen.

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Two Very Useful Twitter Tools for Educators

I have been using two particularly useful Twitter services for a little while now and I thought I would share them with you. Each of these services addresses a unique problem that I was having while using Twitter and makes the experience much better.

The first of these is ReadTwit. ReadTwit is a service that turns your Twitter stream into links and sends them to your RSS fead reader. This is useful because it saves your feed even when you are *gasp* not actually on Twitter. This gives me the ability to go through the feed later at my own pace and bookmark the best stuff. The other great thing that this service does is drill into the shortened link and give you a preview of its destination.

The second very useful tool for educators is called Topify, and it helps with sorting through the frequent follower updates that you get (particularly on #followfriday, or #teachertuesday). Topify sends you a very detailed email message for nearly every action that is performed on your Twitter account, including when you are followed, follow or block someone, or receive a direct message. The most useful thing about these email messages is the detailed information that they provide about the user allowing you to make a better decision about adding them to your PLN. The emails also allow you to take action from within without having to browse to Twitter itself. You can follow, block or even report spammers from right inside the email. Handy! Topify is technically in an invite only beta stage, but I asked for and received one within a few hours. I cannot reccommend these two Twitter tools enough, give them a try.

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Playing With the Cool Kids: My Teaching Twenaissance

twitter-iconThis year I begin my twelfth year as a professional educator. I like to think of myself as energetic and enthusiastic about my profession and I still believe that it is noble, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a little burned out lately. In addition to my teaching role I have been the acting (if not official) technology coordinator for the school, diligently attending workshops and conferences, teaching teachers, and waving pom-poms for integration. But lately I have felt that no one else is cheering.

As is my wont, I adopted Twitter early on, after hearing a buzz about it in nerdy circles. I had a very hard time discovering its usefulness, and abandoned it almost completely for nearly a year. After all, who wanted to hear about the minutia of my daily life…@MrR0g3rs “now I’m in line @ Wal-Mart.”? I’m not sure what it was that brought me back to the bird but I think it was when I decided to click the ubiquitous “follow me” button on the “Free Technology for Teachers” website.  I then decided that I should hit the “follow me” button on all of the websites that I subscribed to.

I sat back and watched the conversation for a while and realized that this was a collection of really cool people who were like me, passionate about education and technology. Beyond just being interesting, I instantly learned that this group was also willing and eager to share everything that they knew or learned. They answered questions ranging from deep philosophical queries to how many cups of coffee they had consumed that day. And they let me play, right away. They answered my questions and thanked me for my input. This group of great professionals newly energizes me and I am telling everyone I see about its usefulness and potential. I heart my PLN (Personal Learning Network), thanks for my teaching twenaissance. Want to follow the cool kids yourself, look who I’m following.

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Fear Mongering, Social Media & You

hidingI have really been trying to pick my battles in school this year. Rather than trying in vain to integrate every new technology I find into the curriculum of every faculty member I am trying instead to focus on one larger project at a time. So my first project of the year is perhaps the largest, to get my school to relax the internet filtering system to the benefit of all. It has been a bit of a bumpy experience so far, but I think that I am making headway.

After my initial meeting with the Superintendent went pretty well, he asked me to come and speak to the entire administrative team about the issue. This meeting was where the discussion got bumpy. The meeting was going pretty well, I had convinced them of the educational value of sites like YouTube, and then the subject of Facebook came up. This is where the conversation came to a screeching halt. The administrators in the room where adamantly against allowing Facebook to be used in school. When I asked what the issue was “that nothing serious ever happens on Facebook” (paraphrase), “it is a place to waste time with your friends.” I assured them that thanks to my new PLN if they gave me 24 hours I could give them ten valid educational uses for the service.

Then the conversation took a turn to where I knew it could go, but hoped it wouldn’t…”Facebook is a dangerous place where predators stalk kids.” At that point in the meeting I just sat and listened. These administrators are good people who seem to have legitimate concerns for the well being of their students, not merely a fear of litigation (although I’m certain that was present). Some of them quoted recent events in the national media like the so-called Facebook Killer, or other sorts of vague reports of kids being abused by sickos.

These fears are roadblocks to the least restrictive internet environment and unless I can craft a thoughtful and logical argument to rebut it the service will remain off limits here. Are these fears unfounded? Are they partially correct? Can I use technology to make it safer, or is this as I suspect a rather matter of culture.

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