Sunday, November 6, 2011

Communicating & Connecting with Social Media

My head is still spinning from 3 days' worth of sessions at Solution Tree's AuthorSpeak in Indianapolis this past week. I will be posting my thoughts and reactions to the sessions I attended in hopes I can pay homage to the fantastic author-presenters I saw and as a way to connect those educators who were unable to attend to some of the information and resources.

 The first session I want to share is around the book Communicating & Connecting with Social Media by authors Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) and Jason Ramsden(@raventech). I almost skipped this presentation. I consider myself to be reasonably well along the technology uses spectrum in personal, professional and instructional uses of technology.  I figured I needed to see presentations that pushed or challenged my thinking rather than going to one that I knew I was going to agree with everything said.  But I kept heading back to this choice, in no small part because I was curious to see some of my twitter heroes in person.  As it turns out, the session was interesting, challenging and gave me some new great ideas for ways our school and district should be promoting their image.

About Twitter
This session focused mainly on professional uses of social media in education; for learning, sharing and getting the positive word out on our work and our schools.  I have been using Twitter for over a year but seem to go through bouts of furious tweeting followed by droughts of nothingness for sometimes months at a time, depending on how crazy my schedule at school is - and honestly, when DOES the school year slow down?  It doesn't.

Think of the 17-year locust - on a smaller scale, my contributions and consumption of social media goes through more famine than feast.  What I liked about the presentation were the concrete ways in which social media can contribute to our learning, why building learning networks and communities outside of our own schools is so important and the message that if we don't promote our own good news, someone else is going to do it for us and probably in a negative light - to get control of our  message, we have to have a message out there (#ihtech; IHMSHeybruch).

The beauty of social media is that it "redistributes" expertise - the voice is truly with the collective rather than in single traditional forces of media. This should be an empowerment - to every educator - to get the positive things that are happening in your classroom each day out to parents, community members and other educators.  Thanks to the model set by some amazing voices for educational reform, I plan to be a more "balanced" contributor to the cyber and concrete worlds we now inhabit.  Plus, you have to love that typing in less than 140 characters at once makes it feasible to contribute on a regular basis.  What will you do to be a positive change agent in your school, community and twitterverse?

Check out the book by Bill, Eric and Jason for more great ideas on how to use social media to broaden your PLN.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Vote that Teachers Go Away.... attend professional conferences, that is...

Dollars for professional development, like for all other things in our schools, are evaporating.  Getting support, permission and hopefully  funding to attend a conference is becoming more challenging, especially if the conference is farther afield.  There is a movement to rely on in-house expertise to lead professional development and a move away from bringing experts to schools or allowing teachers to travel to see presentations.  I get it - we need to rethink the old ways of doing business.  I am a huge supporter of developing teachers as leaders in all areas of school management.  But where do teacher leaders get their training and ideas from?  What are the advantages to sending not just individuals,  but teams of teachers, to a professional conference?

Professional conferences do have an important place in building capacity, for teacher leaders and also in building relationships between members of teams. If we hope to encourage teachers to be more reflective, scholarly and research oriented concerning their own practice, then we need to provide opportunities to allow teachers to learn from other practitioners and scholars. Conferences can provide time and space to think about learning and to plan ways to incorporate that learning into action in the classroom.  Conferences can give a great injection of new ideas and strategies. If we truly want to take advantage of conference learning, however, we need to be sending groups of teachers as teams.  Allowing teams of teachers to travel together to attend conferences can create an environment of sharing and collaboration around all the great ideas learned.  As we articulate our learning to others, we clarify our own ideas and become more likely to put what we have learned into practice. At the same time, we might convince our colleagues that these are good ideas for them to also incorporate into their own classrooms.  Do teams who travel together, stay together?  It is true that colleagues to spend time together outside of work are more likely to work longer and harder to collaborate inside of work.  I propose that this could be an additional benefit to allowing teachers to attend conferences in teams.  By sending a team rather than an individual, more sessions can be seen, and more information can be shared with the staff or other teachers.  A group may als be more likely to discuss different ways of disseminating their learning to others and may be able to reach more staff members back at their site than an individual teacher.

Conferences are expensive and it makes sense for teachers and schools to be choosy about the types of professional conferences they attend based on goals and needs of the school, district, department and/or grade level.  The payoff can be beyond just new learning for individual practitioners. If we treat conferences as a PLC learning opportunity, then we can increase teacher learning, improve bonds between PLC members, improve the chances of information being shared in a meaningful way with the rest of the school/district,  and increase the likelihood that the new learning translates into classroom practice.