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in-the-shadow-of-the-moon_625x352Ever since I attended FETC in Orlando this year, I have been haunted by a press conference I attended with one of the keynote speakers, the astronaut, Leland Melvin. It actually came at the end of the interview and it was more of a conversation with the man rather than a question and answer segment. We were talking about girls’ involvement in science when Mr. Melvin pointed out the phrase that drove  America and Russia for a decade, “The race to put the first man in space”. This was later replaced by, “The race to put the first man on the moon”. Looking back, that might have been the best way to disinvite half the country in participating in this nationwide endeavor. I have no doubt those words in that combination would not be accepted today, but that was a different time and a different culture. Nevertheless, it must have been a turn-off to many women and their involvement in science and math.

I often wonder why we have such a problem involving girls in more science and math classes. It is not my area of expertise, or even interest, but my youngest daughter is a Math major. Her classes are filled with males while the females in the class number in single digits. The scariest part of this is, that as enlightened as we like to think we are, we have been doing this for not only the last few decades, but also many centuries, and in some respects we are still continuing this today.

Now this is where I apply what I know with what I believe, so I am not saying that what I am about to theorize is a reality, but one possible explanation as to why something is happening. Let me be clear, there are many, many women who are successfully and prominently involved in science, math, and technology. The point is that as subjects Math, Science, and Technology are far less inviting to women than they are to men.

Now for the point I want to get to with all of this preparation. I am perplexed at the slow rate at which technology is taking to gain acceptance in being utilized as a tool for learning in our education system. The education profession itself is undergoing a change in the makeup of educators. Fewer men are entering the profession, which makes women the predominant gender in our education industry. As an aside, I wonder if the percentage of female administrators reflects the percentage of women in the education system, but that’s the stuff for another post.

My query: Could the slow rate of acceptance of technology in education in some way be linked to the hesitance on the part of many women to feel comfortable with technology? I am not attributing blame with this question, but I am trying to figure out how to apply a solution. I guess it still comes down to the obvious. If we are to change the system, we need first to change the culture. I guess if we worked as hard to put a woman on the moon as we did for a man, things might be different today.

Recently, I have read a number of posts and tweets about how people are unfollowing their accumulated “follows” on Twitter in large numbers. I guess at least some of this action was generated by a proclaimed “national unfollow day” that was made up and broadcast out by someone with a little media influence. Of course we should not tell folks how to use Twitter, since it is a matter of personal preference as to how each user uses it and what each gets from it, so the best we can do is model what we see as successes in our own personal use. It is also important to note that many educators use Twitter as part of their Personal Learning Network to personalize their learning. That should require an initial screening or vetting of those to be followed. An educator’s Twitter account is not typical of those who use Twitter for general social media interaction.

These unfollow posts had me look at my personal Twitter numbers. I have been on Twitter for many years and now follow 3,766 tweeters, mostly educators. No, I do not read each and every tweet streaming into my timeline. After seeing these postings, I wondered whether I should be unfollowing large numbers from my own account. Before I was to take any action however, I needed to figure out why I followed these folks in the first place. What was my personal follow policy?

Twitter is based on People being connected to other people. If one is connected to a specific group of people with a specific interest, the tweets will be mostly geared to that interest. If educators follow educators, the abundance of subject matter coming across through tweets will be education based. When I consider whether or not to follow someone, not being an educator or education affiliated is a major factor.

Another factor is that by following someone it encourages him or her to follow you back. Having more educators follow you back increases your reach and that increases your influence, as long as you are also thoughtful and rational in your ideas. All of this in turn develops and increases the number of followers that you acquire over time. Yes, it is a numbers thing. However, even considering the arguments for follows that I have put forward here, always remember the most important thing is whom you follow and not who follows you. Using Twitter professionally as part of a Personal Learning Network is most successful if it uses the right numbers, educator specific numbers. The greater number of great educators you follow will increase the odds for best results in gaining valuable education sources.

My follow numbers have been built up over the years with education bloggers and authors who clearly offer education ideas. I also add people who intelligently participate in education Twitter chats. I follow many educators that I meet and have contact with at local, state, national, and global education conferences.

Of course the primary method I use in gathering people I follow is by following those who engage me in conversation on Twitter. I consider it an acknowledgement of respect for another educator who has put him or herself out there to engage and hopefully collaborate on subjects dealing with education. That is how I have built up my Follow list. The method for reducing that list with “unfollows” is to unfollow negative influences. I unfollow those who are in my estimation mindless naysayers, disrespectful of others, or social media bullies. Hence, my Follow list has grown to an almost unmanageable number.

Manageable is very important when it comes to Twitter. The simplicity of Twitter when dealing with large numbers can be overwhelming complex. There are apps for that!

Out of necessity I use an application other than Twitter to organize and manage the Tweets that do stream to my account. I use a free application called TweetDeck to organize my account. Hootsuite is another app that does similar things. Both allow me to create specific lists of Tweeters and follow them in their own column. Even though I maintain my main timeline that streams all of the Tweets from those who I follow. I have other columns that I follow more closely. I follow a column just dedicated to the #Edchat Hashtag as one example. Additionally, I have a list of about 140 people who I have most closely associated with over my years on Twitter. I call this “My Twitter Stalwart List”. Accessing anyone’s Twitter profile gives access to his or her public lists. Anyone can follow the people on those lists with a simple click. Here is my list that you can follow: https://twitter.com/tomwhitby/lists/my-twitter-stalwarts/members

It is also important to note that in order to receive Direct Messages from people they must be following each other. The person needs to be following you, as you need to be following back in order for the DM to happen.

I know of several prominent education thought leaders who limit their follows to less than 100. I don’t get it because I use Twitter differently than they do. That is the point. People use Twitter in the ways they need to use it. However, the more people understand how Twitter works and what the possibilities are, the better choices they can make in personalizing their own learning.

If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

 

I have been very fortunate to travel both nationally and internationally to attend education conferences. A primary benefit of this is having great conversations with various types of educators. With so many of these conversations taking place on a regular basis, I find myself often depending on an opening question that resides on a short list of questions in my head. I have teacher questions, principal questions, and superintendent questions. Most of these questions are geared to being connected. Unfortunately, too often I need to first define what being connected means.

Since I have become so immersed in the concept of connectedness through social media, I too often forget that not every educator gets it yet. It has only taken me a decade to understand that. I have trouble understanding why so many educators are still clueless about the need for collaboration and its link to social media and technology? Of course, as a former teacher, I, rightly or wrongly, hold administrators to a higher standard, believing leaders should lead. My need to hold admins more accountable led me to ask (out of ignorance) in a recent Edchat, ” Why are there no standards for administrators?” Someone immediately provided: Accomplished Principal Standards from the National Board Certification for Educational Leaders First Edition National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 1525 Wilson Boulevard l Arlington, VA 22209 USA www.nbpts.org. I finally had an official document to tell me what is truly expected of school principals in order to be considered “Accomplished”. Of course that is not to say that all principals are accomplished, but it is at the very least a goal.

As I perused the extensive document, I came to the section IX. Reflection and Growth. It was an affirmation of my doubts about principals who are not connected being, or at the very least becoming increasingly irrelevant in the 21st Century model of education. Extending this out in my own head, if it applied to principals, it surely applied to superintendents as well. Here is the passage that most caught my attention:

Accomplished principals use technology as a powerful learning tool. They may participate in digital networks for communication among professional colleagues, use social networking tools for informal learning, or take part with professional colleagues in online learning communities. These principals use such learning opportunities to consistently reflect on ways to improve their practice of leadership.

 

This now provided a much better and focused set of questions that I could expect administrators to have an understanding.

Here is my new list of admin questions:

 

1 Do you consider yourself an accomplished administrator?

2 What digital networks do you use for your communication with professional colleagues?

3 What social networking tools do you employ for your informal learning?

4 In what ways are you using these connected opportunities to reflect and improve your practice?

5 How has technology impacted your learning?

 

Of course I am a retired teacher, author, and Blogger, so I can ask these questions with impunity. I risk nothing posing these questions to administrators. Working educators do not have that luxury. There could be grave consequences if they posed these same questions to their administrators. How do we hold administrators responsible for meeting standards posed by their own professional organizations to maintain what should be expected of any 21st Century administrator? Are these standards only for good public relations, or are they really what should be expected or better yet demanded of every administrator?

I have always said that to better educate our kids we need to first better educate their educators. I think I should also now say that, if we are to hold our teachers to higher standards as 21st Century educators, we need to first align their leaders to those same standards. Feel free to print this out and place it in an administrator’s mailbox if they are not an administrator who would view this online as “Accomplished Principals Standards” suggest.

 

After being involved in social media for over a decade, I have made a few observations that might be helpful to folks who use social media, more specifically Twitter, to develop and maintain a Personal Learning Network. I started my Twitter account with a plan and focus to use it to develop collegial sources for my professional learning. That may be different from why most people sign up for Twitter, but that is an educator’s perspective that may not have been imagined by Twitter’s founders.

Using Twitter for professional learning requires a collaborative mindset. Being collaborative requires more than just consuming ideas from others. It requires sharing, commenting, reflecting and sharing again. This requires work. Twitter for professional learning is not a passive exercise. It does require time and effort. The rewards and benefits however, can more than outweigh the effort.

The key to having valuable and relevant information arriving on a Twitterstream is totally dependent on who is being followed. In order to get thoughtful and credible information tweeted to one’s timeline, thoughtful and credible educators need to be followed. Who one follows is the single most important factor in succeeding at professional learning when using Twitter. Maintaining and upgrading that follow list takes time and effort. Each of those follows is a person. People vary in their involvement in anything from time to time. They may lose interest, becoming inactive for a period of time, or maybe forever. One’s follow list needs to be constantly updated to accommodate those who drop off the stream.

Additionally, an educator’s interest may begin to branch out. In my time on social media the iPad, smartphones, 1:1 laptops, 1:1 chromebooks, Flipped classrooms, STEM, Rigor, and many other initiatives were introduced to education. With each of these introductions new educator experts emerged. All had to be added to my follow list if I was to maintain relevance. As initiatives develop in education new people most familiar with those initiatives need to be followed. Educators who are vocal and knowledgeable while involved in Twitter chats are another group from which I add follows. People who engage me in thoughtful education tweets are also most often followed. I usually look at a perspective follow’s profile to assure their educator credentials before I commit.

It is easy to get a follow list much larger than one can handily manage with all of these follow considerations. To simplify and organize tweets, chats, hashtags and groups of follows, I employ TweetDeck. Hootsuite is a similar tool. I am able to create dedicated columns that follow specific hashtags, groups, or individuals in addition to separating out my Twitterstream, Notifications and Direct Messages. Each of these designations gets an individual column.

Being a collaborative educator in the 21st Century requires that an educator be connected to other educators. With the tools of technology available today educators are only isolated by choice. Since most districts do not send a majority of educators to national, statewide, or even local education conferences, the virtual connection is the best alternative. Technology today enables that to happen. It is however incumbent on each educator to work to make those connections. It requires a collaborative mindset as well as a willingness to learn. It requires educators to be what they profess to their students, “You must be a Life Long Learner!”

The time investment to accomplish this can be as little as twenty minutes a day. The warning here however is that often times a learner may actually get caught up in the learning and spend more time than planned on a given topic. Social media opens educators to the pedagogy, and methodology of others. It offers transparency to policies. It questions the status Quo. It forces reflective thinking. It acts as a megaphone for new ideas. It gives educators a voice in the discussion of their own profession. None of this will happen however unless an educator comes to the table with a collaborative mindset and a willingness to spend time collaborating. Educators should never expect less from themselves than they expect of their students. A good teacher is also a good learner, and a good learner can always become a great teacher.

 

We often hear that the most influential element in a student’s life is the teacher. As an educator this can be both an honor and a daunting responsibility. It elevates the status of a position, often viewed by some as public service, to that of a valued mentor. This would all be well and good if education could truly be defined as it was for centuries in the past. Students were empty vessels to be filled with the knowledge of their teachers. If this were in any way true today, and a teacher was able to pour all of the knowledge contained in his or her head into the empty vessels seated in rows before him or her, the teacher would still not be imparting enough information for an adequate education in today’s world. Our world, as well as information itself, changes and evolves at too fast a pace. Teaching and learning are evolving and many of the old concepts no longer apply.

Unfortunately however, many politicians and some educators buy into this traditional model of what an educator should be, and base teacher evaluations on it. In many states a teacher’s evaluation will be predominantly based on how well his or her students perform on a standardized test. That test performance has de facto become the goal of education.

What makes all of this so complicated is that kids are not widgets. They are complicated. It may be true that a teacher may at times be the most influential factor in the classroom for some kids, but not for all kids, and not every time. Kids do not leave everything at the door of the classroom so they can have their vessels filled. All of their problems travel with them. The difference between kid problems and adult problems is that, hopefully, adults have learned coping mechanisms, but kids have not.

Teachers do not just address that part of a kid that is in school to learn. The whole child with all of his or her problems must be addressed. Learning, no matter who is the teacher takes a back seat to safety, hunger, health, and emotional stability. When it comes to kids we need to first address Maslow’s Hierarchy before we can get to Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is never a consideration in a teacher’s evaluation.

Kids today are entering schools after traveling through neighborhoods that might be considered war zones in some countries. Kids are coming from homes where education is not a priority at all. English in many homes is a second language at best. Kids are coming to school not from homes, but cars or shelters. Beyond the complications of urban poverty, we have large regions of the country experiencing rural poverty with different problems for kids, but the same results. Their problems and needs take precedence over learning in school.

How can we possibly assess and evaluate a teacher’s performance without assessing and evaluating each of his or her students? The tests that students are forced to take may be standardized, but the students themselves are not. Each student is different with problems that affect their ability to learn each and every day with varying intensity. That is what complicates learning and teaching. How can there be simple solutions with so many complicated variables?

To complicate things further for teachers, they must also deal with the red tape of shortsighted policies. Policies often put in place to address issues that have little to do with educating a child. Teaching involves dealing with the whole child and all of the complications that come with it; yet, we are told that a standardized test for all is the answer. It is the golden measure. It will tell us how much each student has learned and how effective each teacher was in teaching without regard for any other factors beyond the grade on the test.

With standardized testing and all of the curriculum materials and extras that go along with that making a BILLION dollars a year for a few companies, I fear it will be with us longer, but we have already lived with it for longer than we should have. We cannot however allow politicians to use these tests to decimate the teaching profession and public education beyond repair. Yes, we need to evaluate a teacher’s performance, but it must be done fairly and in consideration of what the job really requires. It can’t be done in a way that simply ignores what it is that teachers are being required to do every day they report to work. Teaching and learning have nothing to do with empty vessels. Politics and politicians however might better fit that description. Maybe before we can better educate our kids, we need to first better educate our politicians.

When asked to define what Pornography in the public domain was, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that”.

The point was that the term was too subjective with too many variables to specifically define it, but its existence should be obvious to the average thinking person. Of course there will always be those whose views are more conservative or more liberal on any interpretation, but the general consensus usually prevails.

I have written as many authors and bloggers have about what is relevant in education, yet the term “relevance” is too subjective with too many variables to specifically define it, but its existence should be obvious to the average thinking person. Of course there will always be those whose views are more conservative or more liberal on any interpretation, but the general consensus usually prevails. I know it when I see it.

As things change the relevant person keeps up with that change as it affects the world in which we all live. At one time change was slow so relevance was easy. Slow change allowed slow acceptance. Change requires people to stop believing in what was a truth and accept something else in face of change. That is not easy, but given time, people eventually come around to accepting change and being relevant, at least until the next big change comes along. With each big change the process repeats. Relevance is not a passive exercise. It requires steps and commitments for it to happen.

The 19th Century in education was fairly consistent because change was slow in happening. Textbooks could be used for years with little change in content. Education controlled the information used to educate people, so everyone followed the system’s rules to gain access to an education. Relevance was not an issue since the system itself could determine what was relevant.

The 20th Century started the same way, but about halfway through it more advanced technologies began to affect the rate at which change happened. Relevance began to outpace the system. The space race blew up the pace of change. People needed to keep up with the changes in information and content in order to remain relevant. Education needed to make more and more adjustments to keep up with this rapid pace of change. Television, videotape, audio recording, offset printing all began to influence changes. Personal computers and the establishment of the Internet came in the latter half of the century spurring on faster-paced change that was to never slow down. The institutions of learning no longer controlled access to information, and that alone began to question the relevance of these institutions, as well as the teachers within the system.

After we survived Y2K information became more and more digital. Industries that could not maintain relevance disappeared. The world became digital with almost unlimited access to information and content. People no longer needed permission to publish content. Curation and creation of content is different from the 20th Century. Access to information, which is content, is the staple for learning and it can now be done without permission from learning institutions.

Educators need to realize that these changes have taken place in many cases in spite of them and their efforts. There will be no slowing down for people to catch up. In a world that is so affected by technological change educators need to be digitally literate in order to maintain relevance in this world. Flexibility and adaptability become important skills for the modern teacher. This is the world that kids are growing up in. Change is inevitable and the teacher is no longer the sole keeper of information. Kids can access information at any time and anywhere. Permission to do so is a personal password away. As educators, what and how we learned may not be what and how we should teach.

In order to maintain relevance, one needs to be aware of what is going on in the world around him or her. Collaboration with other educators can be a key component to succeeding at maintaining relevance. Joining collaborative education communities can inform and support any educator willing to share openly with others. These connected colleagues can lead and participate in education discussions that will never take place in staff rooms, or department or faculty meetings.

Pedagogy and methodology to meet 21st Century needs are regularly discussed. Ideas are proposed, discussed, vetted, modified and improved through many of these connections. Blog posts have all but replaced the journals and newsletters of the 20th Century. Teachers may personally and directly discuss, and collaborate with the thought leaders, authors and policy-makers in education to affect change.

We have come a long way from the 1800’s and looking back we can see the flaws in the teaching methodology of that time. We can also agree on how that would not be relevant for today’s learner. We would also agree that the same would hold true for the first have of the 20th Century. Where people start getting off the train is when we hit the latter half of the 20th Century. We are all products of that latter 20th Century mindset. If we are not careful, our students and we will be victims of that mindset, because it is no longer relevant for our learners. We need to make those uncomfortable steps forward, so we will not be left behind. In this fast-paced-rate-of-change era in which we live, even those who are just standing still are ultimately falling behind. An irrelevant educator may not be obvious to everyone, but he or she only needs to be obvious to his or her students to be ineffective. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

 

The title of this post immediately kills any chance of a large-numbered readership when it posts on ASCDEdge. For some reason any post with Twitter in the title does not do well with a general population of educators. Social media as a source of professional development has yet to catch on in large numbers among educators. There is however a growing number of educators using Twitter who look for strategies to better serve them in social media for collaborative learning. Whom should I follow on Twitter and how do I find them are key questions that need to be addressed.

First, we must understand that the worst advocates for collaborating with Twitter are more often educators who are collaborating through Twitter. They tend to overwhelm the non-users or new users with elaborate stories of the astonishing wonders of Twitter, as well as all of their astounding Twitter connections. They create an image in a newcomer’s mind that intimidates and scares them from engaging. Additionally, advocates often use jargon and acronyms of experienced Twitter users that do not communicate well with the novice while further mystifying the process. I will attempt to keep it simple.

The Follow Concept

To understand how Twitter works one needs to understand that the only information one gets is from the people who one follows. That is why when we first signed up on Twitter, there were no tweets in our timeline. We were not yet following anyone. The first reaction of an educator is to ask where are all these sources people are talking about?

Of course the first thing a newbie starts to do is follow the famous people, mostly entertainers and athletes. The timeline then begins to show their Tweets, mostly Public Relations, or fan related tweets. But where are the education Tweets that will get me collaborating, you might now ask. They don’t exist if you are not following educators, even more precisely, if you are not following the right educators. Following ten actors, ten singers, two politicians, and the art teacher down the hall will not generate many education sources, unless the Art teacher down the hall is also an adjunct education professor.

The Timeline

The key to getting many helpful education tweets containing sources that a teacher may use in the classroom is to follow many, many classroom teachers. Of course to pinpoint your specific education interests you will need to pinpoint those whom you follow as well. A third grade teacher may want to follow many other third grade teachers. A math teacher would concentrate on following other math teachers. As you build your Personal Learning Network (PLN) of collegial sources, you will find people outside your specific realm of interest that will also add value to your learning. As all of these “follows” Tweet their information out, your timeline begins to be populated with tweets giving education information and sources. Of course if you are also following your fantasy football team, you will have a great many football tweets as well. You may want to consider creating a separate account for your athletic gaming interests.

The Profile

All Twitter accounts have profiles. You should fill yours out so that people know you are an educator, as well as specifics that are unique to you in education. This is how many people judge whether or not to follow you, basing that decision on your profile. You may do the same thing. Go to a person’s profile to make sure they are an educator that would add value to your PLN. Of course you may unfollow anyone at anytime if they do not prove to be of value to you personally. They are not notified that you unfollowed them.

I often follow educators who engage me on Twitter but that is not a rule; it’s a personal choice. There are well-known Tweeting educators who follow less than 20 people. I follow over 3,000. NO, I do not read every tweet. It is a personal choice for my Personal Learning Network. You decide what you need.

Chats

There are hundreds of education chats taking place every day on Twitter. It is very easy to access and participate in these chats. It is a great place to identify educators that will enhance you PLN. Educators involved in these chats engage in education discussions that often expose their individual education philosophy and education experience. Follow those people from the chat that you believe may offer you value to your network.

Blogs

Blogs are a great place to find people to follow. The blogger lays it all out for everyone to see. You can quickly identify where any blogger stands on education. Most bloggers make it easy for you to follow on their site. Look for a “Follow Me” icon and click on it. Many bloggers are authors as well and they often attract other authors who guest post. Authors post their Twitter handle in their bios for people to follow.

Follow Lists

If you access a person’s profile, you can go down a little further and access their ‘Lists”. Many Tweeters create lists that they develop for groups of educators. They will use these lists to follow group members on a separate column on TweetDeck or Hootsuite. You may follow these educators as well by clicking the follow button next to each person on that list. It is not stealing. Additionally, you can follow anyone that person is following as well just by accessing his or her follow list.

A great way I have found is to start a newcomer out with a list of over a hundred educators to follow. These are people who I have followed for years. The timeline of that newcomer now immediately fills up with information and education sources. The entire collaborative element rapidly becomes crystal clear. This is my list: https://twitter.com/tomwhitby/lists/my-twitter-stalwarts/members

#Follow Friday or #FF

Friday for educators is known as Follow Friday. If no one explains what it is to you, you may go months seeing the #FF hashtag and never understanding what it represents. I didn’t get it for months. Friday is the day that Tweeters make recommendations of great people to follow. A tweet will go out with a twitter handle and why you should follow this person and then at the end the #FF hashtag. A shortcut method, less personal or informative would be to list a number of Twitter handles and the #FF hashtag. I personally like to give reasons to follow folks.

Conclusion

There it is, a strategy for following all laid out in simple terms. A big problem with collaborative learning through social media however is that it is not a passive activity. There is no way of getting around the work one needs to do in order to get positive results. Having a plan or a strategy does make things easier. Focusing on following educators, who themselves are focused, makes for best results. Don’t just follow those whom you agree with, but follow those who challenge you as well. The most important thing to remember in Twitter: Big numbers of followers may impress some people, but whom you follow is far more important than who follows you.

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