Saturday, January 25, 2014

To Tweet or Not to Tweet? There is no question!

If you’re on Twitter, you are already a believer. I’m preaching to the choir. But, if you teach at a school where many sites are blocked, you probably don’t know how much you need Twitter. Do I understand why IT people place restrictions on internet access in schools? Totally. But,  I believe blocking access to social networking sites for teachers creates a major obstacle for professional learning in schools. Social networking sites are professional learning networks. In his blog post “Tiny Bits of Learning”, Chris Betcher shares how professional development is changing.

“Learning needs to be ongoing. The world is changing. There are new tools that can help students learn, new ideas about learning, new brain research, new emerging technologies, new social structures, and so on… to think that you can maintain a professional outlook by attending two or three PD workshops a year is almost laughable. To keep up with new learning, you really need to be plugged into an ongoing source of professional discourse and resource sharing. It needs to be something that happens regularly, at least several times a week. Like so many other aspects of the 21st Century, some of the “ways we’ve always done things” don’t really cut it anymore.”

Are we talking about a ton of time here? No. You could spend a lot of time on Twitter. Or you could spend a little. But the amazing thing is, in just ten minutes, you can find information that inspires you, about anything you want to know.

“Just ten minutes. Even just skimming through that list of things would give me more relevant PD than most teachers get exposed to in a whole year. And those of us who use Twitter in this way are able to tap this stream of information any time we like.” (Chris Betcher)

Last year, after being on Twitter for about two months,  I came up with a list of 20 things I wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for Twitter or Facebook. Quickly. And really, there’s more I could have listed. Serious game changers. All impacted my classroom practice in one way or another. I’d love for you to check out this list, or better yet, check out Twitter and create your own! But I don’t want you to be frustrated when you go to check out these things at school when you find out they’re blocked.

Teachers need an all access pass to social networking.
This list exists for one simple reason: social networking. So while I could tweet away at home, I also needed access at school because that’s where the ideas on this list were meant to be implemented.

Take blogging, for instance...
Two summers ago, I first began bouncing around the idea of blogging. I wasn’t sure I had anything meaningful to contribute, but I did think my students (and families) would love seeing their writing published for a worldwide audience. However, as a first grade teacher, I knew my 5 and 6 year olds were NOT going to be word-processing much. I needed to know how other teachers of young children were blogging with their students. My friend, Joe Wood is an Area 3 Writing Project Teacher Consultant and the Technology Coordinator for Natomas Charter School in Sacramento, California. We connected on Facebook, where he regularly posts articles about technology in education. One day, he posted a link on my wall to Linda Yollis’ classroom blog and he said, “ This made me think of you!”  

Linda Yollis is an elementary Google Certified teacher in Southern California who blogs weekly with her students. I would not have a blog without Linda Yollis or Joe Wood. She doesn’t even really know me (although we do follow each other on Twitter, and I subscribe to her blog) and yet her blog was totally the inspiration for mine. There are so many ways she uses her blog with her students that I found were totally doable in first grade. Every time she posts her blog on Twitter, I get a new idea that I can’t wait to try! And I’ve learned about different digital tools just by seeing them on her blog. 

My first attempt at blogging started at home, on Blogger. Easy enough! Then, I opened it up at school to share with my students. Blocked. No images showed up. So frustrating! Turned out we didn't have access to Blogspot at school. So, back I went to Joe and Facebook! A few chat messages later, Joe recommended Edublogs. Thankfully, it wasn't blocked at school! It worked out well, although I still had to unblock YouTube every time I wanted my students to see a video I posted, or to watch a book trailer.

Blogging is just one thing that I would never have done if I hadn’t had access to Facebook or Twitter. Do I use these tools socially? Sure. But mostly, I look to social networking for daily inspiration related to my passion-- teaching and learning. Whether it’s a good book to read, or the latest tech tool we need, teachers need access to the social networking at school. We’re professionals. We want to learn. We need a network of other like-minded and passionate professionals that are sharing daily about what we want and need to know.

Twitter is more than finding out what Justin Bieber’s latest haircut looks like or following Boo, the world’s cutest dog. Sure, that’s out there. Chris Betcher said it best, “I don’t care about that stuff, so I don’t follow those people, so I don’t see those tweets. Twitter works because you get to make choices about who is part of your network.  You create relevance for yourself.”

I’m looking for professional development that’s relevant to my life and my classroom. Given access, when and where we need it, whether at school or in my pj’s, I promise you won’t be disappointed! Twitter. Let's get tweetin'!

*Edited from my original post on January 27, 2013

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