Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Why Twitter Chats Remind Me of the Movie "Breakfast Club" of the 80's?

I'm a teen of the 80's and the movie Breakfast Club is an iconic treasure of a somewhat lackluster motion picture decade. Last night I lived the "Breakfast Club" out. I joined a bunch of educators at the very cool and trendy Independence Beer Garden in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after a full day of ISTE, for a meet up. Who were they? Educators from all over the world that take part in #BFC530. It's a slow Twitter chat that starts at 5:30 a.m. I've never participated in that chat because I'm fairly certain my intellectual contributing value would be in the negatives at that time of the day, but they let me hang out with them last night.

I knew 2 people there very well and I had met a few others, they welcomed me completely and we sat, ate, laughed, and talked about things we had learned for a few hours. As a bit of an outsider looking in at times it dawned on me, Twitter chats are like the theory behind the movie. There were jocks (super heroes), geeks, artist, popular kids, unpopular kids all sitting around a table enjoying each other. They came from all over the place- Tennessee, New Jersey, California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and beyond.

Each person brought something unique and different to the discussions, just like if it had been one of the Twitter chat mornings. Individual perspectives help us to break out of our current molds and see things freshly. I enjoyed every minute of the conversations, and quite truthfully I wonder if I would ever be in a situation where I could find that much in common with those same people to form lasting relationships; But that's the beauty of it- when something brings a group together, whether it be an intriguing Twitter topic or Saturday detention, our world gets bigger and our views get challenged or affirmed- no matter what the Twitter hashtag.

THAT is what I love about Twitter chats. Twitter breaks down the silo walls that teachers have worked in for centuries more than anything else I know of. Sure, a social teacher may flit over to visit the teachers on each side of them during the day but Twitter allows you to discuss with Julia from Ireland, Talia from California, Greg from Tennessee, Jerry from New York, and the list goes on and on. I'm not sure which Breakfast Club character I would have represented to the outsider watching our Periscoped "movie" unfold, what I do know is that last night reaffirmed to me the value of networking and growing my PLN beyond my comfort level.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Being a Connected Educator at ISTE- What a Difference a Year Can Make!

Last year I came to ISTE and had no personally face to face connections. I didn't really use Twitter chats much, I didn't blog on a regular basis, I wasn't seeking my professional learning network for help often. I sat alone in a big room at the keynote and gleaned loads of really awesome information but I was a silo'd educator lonely in a crowd. I would see faces and names I knew from Twitter but I didn't "know" anyone.

What a difference a year makes! This year, due to regularly participating in Twitter chats like #ChattTechChat, #TnTechChat, #BYOTChat, #GwinChat, #SatChat, etc I have Twitter "friends" that I truly want to connect with face to face while at ISTE this year. By being a constant blogger in the EdTech community, there are people that want to connect with me as well. By being part of the planning committee for #EdCampGigCity in Chattanooga, Tennessee I have another source of connection to many attending ISTE as well.

Last year, I roamed from room to room gathering information and learning but this year I gather and learn with friends! This year, I'm able to backchannel things I've heard around a table at supper with likeminded individuals. This year, I am able to discern which sessions might be most beneficial to me based on the fact that I follow these individuals on Twitter and know what their passions and points of interest are as well. This year, being a more connected educator has made my ISTE experience more interactive and rewarding.

So when I tell you why you should join social media educational communities such as Twitter (or Voxer, or Facebook, or Pinterest, or a myriad of other options that might spark your interest more than one mentioned here) don't "p-shaw" me and cluck at me like I don't understand true learning and pedagogy, just stand back and watch and be awed like I am today. Striving not to be a silo'd teacher has magnified my ability to reach out to others at ISTE to get answers to take back to my school.

Being an ISTE newbie last year was a little overwhelming, http://techhelpful.blogspot.com/2014/07/what-i-learned-at-iste2014-i-am-little.html, yet extremely rewarding. I have no doubt what I will take away from ISTE this year will be even greater do to my desire to connect to more educators in this last year. As educators, we know that connections to our students matter, it shouldn't come as a surprise to us that the same rules apply to ourselves. I challenge you to go out there, meet people, ask questions, curate information, follow and lead so you can go back home ready to set your educational community on fire with enthusiasm and innovation!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Teaching Beyond Our Fears Of Technology And Finding The Balance Within

I've never met a person that didn't fear something. Some of us fear spiders. Some fear heights. Some fear extra pounds. Some fear change. Most of us fear something about the unknown. As an instructional technologist I see teachers fearing the technology itself. I'm baffled by it quite honestly but I have learned to be a listener and to try to assuage their fears by good support and good analogies.

I have two teen daughters, one that has been driving for 3 years now and one in the permit stage of driving with adult supervision. On a regular basis when they walk out the door to get behind the wheel of a car, I say a little prayer. In their friend groups 94-98% of their peers get their license to drive and have access to drive around the ages of 16-17. It did not cross my mind to not let them have this privilege, responsibility, and what I see as a necessity in life. Most parents are on the same mind track as myself I believe- it's just part of growing up.

We, as parents, don't really overanalyze the fact that driving a car means taking risks like that child has never taken before, because if we did- we would wrap them in bubble wrap and duct-tape and place them in a rubber room to protect them. I'm not saying we don't worry and lament over the fact that "J speeds" and "K doesn't use her side mirrors like she should." I'm not saying that when the phone rings from an unknown number or from your child when you know they should be driving you don't do a "mini freak out." What I am saying is that we don't dwell on the fact that for the first time ever, they have control over their path of their day. We don't dwell on the fact that not only are they taking risks with their own lives but the lives of others as well. We don't dwell on the fact that they are in control of (plus or minus) 4,000 pounds of technology that will go 100 mph and their frontal lobes aren't fully developed. (Ok, maybe we are thinking about it more now than we ever have since you are seeing it in written form).

But the truth of the matter is, we don't let our fears rule us. We dig deep into the "balance scales of life" and we come to the realization that what the ability to drive allows exceeds the potential negatives of not allowing that child to function with this important skill.

I see the use of mobile technology in the classroom in much the same light. There are pitfalls- poor digital citizenship skills, distraction, inability to ascertain when it is appropriate to utilize tech and when it is not- but much like driving a car, it will be a lifelong skill needed for today's and tomorrow's students. We, as teachers, much like parents of new driving teens, have to put on our discerning "balance scales of life" and meet those needs with our students.

Just like we wouldn't throw the keys to a car for a solo trip to a 16 year old that has never driven, we have a responsibility to hand-hold our students in discerning good technology usage. When teachers say, "NO, I don't want it in my classroom" they are limiting potential- for their learning environment and for that student individually. We must reach beyond our fears, hesitantly if need be, and embrace change and technology so our students can be future ready.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Three R's of Teaching with Transparency

 In a recent #satchat Twitter chat, I was talking about being a transparent educator. Transparency is a hard and scary task- it is honesty and openness at it's rawest. It is something as a rule I run from screaming like a girly girl that just saw a mouse. It makes me feel uncomfortable to be that real with anyone- to lay open my insecurities, my strengths, my weaknesses- being that vulnerable...well it sucks. There is a good chance I won't be the "professional" I should be because it also means leaving my emotions open, and when my emotions are open- I cry. I'm a big giant blubbering ball of sniffle because I tend to feel my emotions, all of them, like the intensity of the sun. Just typing all this makes me fluttery in my tummy!

BUT, there are benefits to transparency. When someone is transparent, we trust them. Mother Teresa said, "honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway." Transparency is an unifier. Good things happen faster when others see that their leader is "human."

I'm playing the alliteration game strong lately but it helps me to remember things as I get older especially! As I look at the value of transparency, I see three valuable "R's" that happen when associated with the teacher profession.
  • Transparency makes us RELATIONAL. If we are truly "ourselves" as educators, we break down the walls of pretense. We no longer have this added lingering "getting to know you' time because we are human to our students. We have allowed them to see us "horns, warts, and all." Our transparency helps us to be more approachable and in that, students feel comfortable letting us in their worlds. When we strive to have relationships with our students they notice, and most the time they want to be known. Think back in your lifetime, the people in your life you most wanted affirmation from were the ones that you were in relationship with- not some teacher that sat behind their desk and didn't even know your name by the end of the year. Being relational may mean taking what we have always thought of as valuable instructional time to just do things that allow safety and unity in the classroom. While it is scary to sometimes take time for things such as this, the culture of the classroom changes so much that accelerated learning can then happen due to these safe relationships.
  • Transparency makes us RELEVANT. I am 46 years old and only remember a handful of my teachers names from middle and high school. Why is that? For the most part they were just a nameless face day after day imparting the knowledge I needed for the test. I was a quiet kid and flew under the radar making A's and B's most of the time. I took no extra energy on the part of the teacher because I was easy. To me, my teachers were an irrelevant part of my life- a necessary evil, if you will. They never asked why I missed school the day after I missed, they never wondered what I meant by a comment and where it might have stemmed from. They didn't know me so therefore they and their classes seemed irrelevant to me. As oppose to a few teachers that stand out in my mind- like my business education teacher who found me in the hallway at the beginning of my senior year to suggest I take "Accounting 2" in her classroom while she taught typing (it didn't really fit in my schedule) because "I just seemed to have a knack for accounting." I hadn't even thought about taking Accounting 2 but her interest in me made me want to do so. Is it any small wonder that I later became an Accountant and then a Business Education Teacher?
  • Transparency makes us REFLECTIVE. Not just us as educators, but our students too. Transparency allows us to push our students a little bit deeper beyond the norm. By being transparent we can ask them WHY not just WHO, WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE, and there is a good possibility they will take the time to figure out the WHY just because we asked. A transparent educator can easily slip into the role of mentor. All of a sudden we aren't just the computer teacher but we are also being sought out by students as they deal with struggles, successes, confusion, and life. We become a safety net for our students through our transparency, a place where they feel comfortable (or at least not miserable) to reflect on decisions. As educators ourselves, transparency with ourselves allows for real, raw, deep reflection. Sometimes we are least transparent with ourselves as humans. We want to be a certain way so we convince ourselves that we are. If we teach and lead transparently, we will be less likely to be surprised when the world doesn't see us a certain way. We also will become more honest about where there is room for improvement in our lives. Which of course, can only lead to becoming better teachers.