Give Twitter a Chance

fear of twitterI have to admit, when I first heard of Twitter I thought it was just a place for people to gossip. When I first logged in, I felt like I got a dose of TMI facebook status messages on steroids. There was too much information that I DIDN’T want to read and hard to sift through all the mess to find things I DID want to read. Then I switched my Twitter account to “private” hoping that meant it would be easier to filter out what I didn’t want to read. Eventually, I stopped using Twitter, and stuck with my Facebook account where I could block nonsense and friend people who really mattered to me. What I didn’t understand was that Twitter and Facebook are two very different entities.

I love Facebook. It has brought me closer to friends and family members that I never had much of a chance to get to know growing up. Being deaf, I always felt as if I was missing out on much of the world–my whole life was a big “nevermind” when people couldn’t find the patience to communicate with me. Facebook has allowed me to share my world with those closest to me and for me to catch a glimpse of worlds I missed out on.

I have been begging a fellow tech-savvy colleague of mine to join me on Twitter. She doesn’t “get” the hullabaloo. What’s the big deal about Twitter? In looking for a good way to explain it to her, I developed this analogy: Facebook is like attending a reunion, Twitter is like attending a conference. Facebook is you, inside, letting as much or as little of the world into your neck of the woods. Twitter is you getting out of the house and joining the party. You don’t go to a party just to shut yourself in a room with a few select people trading Pinterest recipes and talking about the crappy instagram pictures you all took of your kids. Hence, making a private Twitter account is worthless. If you want privacy or intimacy, stick with Facebook.

Now that I’ve been on Twitter a bit more, I understand that I can choose which parties to attend (hashtags), zoom in on people who are making waves (@mentions) and strike up conversations “near” those people in a way that grabs their attention (RTs or multi-@mentions). You just have to find the right people to follow and the right hashtags to use. I’m developing a digital footprint that puts me on the map. I’m starting to make a contribution to my profession. Most importantly, I’m developing a network of professionals that continually feed my growth as an educator. This past fall I was ready to turn in my letter of resignation and don the blue Walmart apron. I was sinking fast and becoming burnt out. I also felt very frustrated and alone. Through Twitter, I have found myself and a new love for teaching.

On Twitter I found @ajoycetb and @naomishema who have invited me and my students to become global friends.  I found @guster4lovers and @thomasson_engl who make the world of teaching English through #coflip model seem highly attainable. I found @johntspencer and his blog always willing to openly and candidly discuss the more difficult aspects of the teaching profession. I found @techsavvyed who has simplified my use of technology by demonstrating true integration.   Cheryl, Andrew, Ben, and John have also ignited my inner writer (hence this blog) by being so open in their reflection of their teaching practices; they have reminded me why personal and professional reflection is important. There are so many wonderful teachers sharing on Twitter. There are also plenty of administrators giving us their side of the coin. I’m coming out of my shell and I no longer feel alone.

I recommend to all Twitter newbies that you start off by attending a “chat”. Some of my favorite chats are #engchat, #rechat, #flipclass and #txed. You can go to a site like tweetchat.com, type in your hash tag and simply follow along with the conversation. If you feel up to it, join in. Hash tag chats are a great way to find people to follow. If you want more people to follow you, then you’ve got to offer them something. Share links, swap quotes, retweet content.

I think teachers who are not yet connected are really missing out. I’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from my Twitter PLN (professional learning network). People post so much valuable information and share plenty of innovative ideas. Finding my way around Twitter has lead to the best professional development I have ever experienced. It has allowed me to embrace the failures and share my experiences with the world. So, give Twitter a chance; you might just find that coming to the party is a lot more fun than swapping Pinterest recipes!

Hi, my name is Jo…

Here I am with more struggles and admissions of guilt :).  I read a really interesting post here.  The author gives a very candid look at teacher development/improvement and reflects on why many of us don’t really improve our teaching, but instead do what I would call “Extreme Makeover The Hell Out of” our practices.  We try new things, add new technology, beef up our professional development attendance, get a Twitter account, blog, join a Facebook or Twitter group for the good-humored abuse of hashtags all in the name of collaboration.  BUT while we are busy dressing the bulldog in haute couture, how often do we stop to recognize that it is still a bulldog in haute couture?!  That’s my year so far–a big fat ugly bulldog dressed in dazzling silver sequins and patent-leather cherry red Jimmy Choos (there is just something about red patent-leather that grabs my attention).

The author encourages teachers to take a good, hard look at their practices and do more honest reflection about the what, why and how of teaching.  He says that improvement requires HARD work.  Not the #omgthisfrickin’makesmewannawriteanincrediblylonghashtag kind of hard, but the kind of HARD that makes you feel like that awkward first year teacher who combs through every crossed t and dotted i in a lesson plan, wets her pants at the sight of an administrator or master teacher entering her classroom, goes home and cries into her pillow with a bucket of fried chicken and declares that she is absolutely the worst teacher in the world, and yet goes in 2 hours before school starts to set up her classroom, create handcrafted materials, and double check those crossed t’s and dotted i’s and braces herself for another day of struggles.

Lately, I’ve been remembering my first 3-5 years of teaching and I agree with Mr. Pershan.  I can honestly say that I was a better teacher during those first 5 years than I am currently (working on year 7).

I recently sat with a colleague and expressed to her my dismay at being unable to pinpoint WHY I’m struggling to the point of drowning this year.  I was given an extra prep this year to help with planning for a heavy load (I’m teaching English at every grade level 9-12th with a wide variety of ability levels 2nd grade-post secondary), I passed off my position as ELA chair to someone more experienced, and I’m at school for nearly 10-12 hours a day most days and yet I still can’t “Get things done.”  I’m not creating phenomenal lesson plans, I’ve hardly touched my iPads this year, I’m barely getting my gradebook up to date, and I frequently have days where I just sit in my car and cry.

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I’d like to introduce myself.  Hi, my name is Jo, I got a husband and kid and I work in a “Button factory” one day, my Boss comes to me and says, “Jo, are ya busy?”  “I say no!” “Then push the button with your right hand”…hi, my name is Jo….

Remember that song?  It goes on for as many body parts as Joe-Schmo can manage to use to push all these endless and sometimes pointless buttons.  That’s my year.  Pushing buttons is not hard.  Pushing hundreds of buttons with body parts that rarely see the light of day is #omgthisfrickin’makesmewannawritealonghashtag hard BUT it is not going to make me a better teacher.  It will not make Joe a better employee.  In fact, it makes him a schmuck.

We as teachers need to learn to take the “simple things” and learn to do them WELL.  Learn to do them so well that people start to realize that these “simple things” really aren’t that simple; that they take quite a bit of skill and expertise.  It’s not about how MUCH you do, but how WELL you do it.  Think about the teachers that you looked up to when you were an intern.  My observing teacher was fantastic at connecting with students.  I don’t remember ever lauding over her lesson plans, or her use of technology in the classroom.  I do remember being awestruck to see her strip off her shoes and race her students barefoot to the cafeteria, hellbent on beating them. It’s a skill that I still have not managed to master (BOTH connecting with students and stripping off my shoes to run barefoot to the cafeteria)  but may be the one simple thing that I need to perfect in order to improve my teaching.  By establishing a personal connection with each student, she was able to get these kids to idolize her and cooperate even on their toughest days.  You could see that she personally cared about each and every one of her students and that each student KNEW that she cared.  They trusted her and loved her.

Now, that does not mean I need to attend a plethora of professional development workshops on the “back to basic” skills of teaching, nor do I need to find a twitter group to vent all my frustrations to in a fury of hashtag bombs.  What I need, want, and miss most of all is a mentor to share resources, provide feedback, and help me evaluate what works and what doesn’t.  I need a mentor I trust and look up to within my profession–not an administrator giving feedback for evaluation purposes.  But first, I need to take the damn Jimmy Choos off the dog and admit that it’s SO not working!

So, I may be Jo Schmuck this year, but I’m going to at least admit it and attempt to work harder on perfecting simplicity.

The Case for Flipping PD

010611085517clipart_board_meetingI read a very interesting article that reiterated everything I believe about effective professional development (you can read the article HERE).  For the longest time I have sat in workshops or department meetings and wished that I was just about anywhere else.  It was never about the topics being uninteresting or that I didn’t feel the information applied to me, but rather I always felt that time was not being used effectively.  We are constantly told to give students more hands-on experience and less “stand and deliver” teacher-centered instruction.  We know that project-based authentic instruction works better for student retention.  We also know that differentiation is essential to the mixed ability classroom, and yet we assume that all of our teachers have the same needs, same abilities and are able to learn information the same way.

How can we expect our teachers to put into practice things that are constantly given in traditional methods?  Time after time, I hear teachers saying: “well that information is great, but I need you to SHOW me what this looks like in the classroom.”

I feel like I’m always sitting through presentations in which I could easily google the same information that was placed into a powerpoint.  I dislike being asked to “bare with a presenter” and “hold questions or discussion” until after the presentation.  I would much rather watch a presentation on my own, which gives me time to digest the information, write down any questions that I have, and be more prepared for discussion.  I love workshops that allow me time to discuss topics with other teachers, share current trends and practices, as well as demonstrate what effective teaching looks like in the classroom.  I love being asked to be a “student” and experience education from my students’ perspective.  It helps me reflect on my own teaching habits and find better solutions to certain problems I face with behavior, content, and instruction.

A note to administration:  I know professional development like this takes time, but keep in mind, this kind of time investment is exactly what you are asking your teachers to do.   If you can put in that time and effort to design professional development that invigorates your staff, provides an effective instructional model, and places your teachers at the heart of open dialogue, you will not only improve on morale, but you will have developed a professional learning community that extends beyond the workshop.