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The basic principle of Twitter is that if you follow ten people on Twitter, you will only see the tweets of those ten people. Additionally, the only people who will see your tweets will be those ten people. Of course with the advent of the hashtag that has changed. If you add a Hashtag, #Edchat for example, the range of your tweet is extended beyond your ten followers to thousands of educators who follow that specific #Edchat hashtag on a search column. People can now follow specific hashtags that are filtered from the stream.

After all is said and done, in regard to building a Personal Learning Network, who one follows is much more important than who follows back. Most tweeters have their own criteria for following people back. I generally follow people who I engage with in some substantive way. The number of people I follow is almost 3,500. NO, I do not read every tweet, but I am exposed to all of them.

The ideal way to follow someone back is to first examine his or her Twitter Profile, which has public access. There is important information beyond the person’s name and location. Information on not only the number of people they follow, but specifically who they are. Additionally, the number of people who follow them back, as well as who those people are, will be listed. A very important number on that profile is how many tweets the person has tweeted while on Twitter. It speaks to their Twitter interaction. I too often find administrators who claim to be connected on Twitter, but have profiles showing about 100-200 tweets as their lifetime total. Of course that is not limited to administrators, but that is one of my personal hot buttons.

Checking the profile is simply verifying a source. Each selection of a person to be connected to for a Personal Learning Network is actually a collegial source. It stands to reason that his or her credibility should be checked. It is our due diligence as critical thinkers to check this out when possible. I always go back to that old adage: Tell me about a person’s friends and I will tell you about that person.

One of the most important elements of the Twitter Profile is that it shows a history of the last tweets the person has posted. That is probably the best indicator of how each person engages Twitter. The profile allows you to go back in their Twitter timeline.

I enjoy examining profiles of the high-profile “Education Reformers” to see whom they interact with. I wonder if any of their perspective is influenced by their Twitter connections. I have found that many follow organizations, politicians, celebrities, and not regular educators. This is something you can try as well and draw your own conclusions.

I think that there are two very important takeaways from all of this. First, have a clear, concise profile describing who you are as an educator. This way people can quickly identify you as a serious educator to follow. Second, use the profiles of others to determine if they meet the standards that you have set for your own Personalized Learning Network. Do you want that person as a collegial source?

Although I have a huge number of folks I follow, I use TweetDeck to organize that number. I have created lists of folks that can be filtered to specific columns in TweetDeck in order to see those tweets in isolation. I do the same for specific hashtags. These lists that I have created are also available on my profile since I leave them as public.

A great way to expand your own PLN is to find great people whom you already trust and examine their profiles to see the people that they follow, the lists that they keep and follow the very same people. You can unfollow anyone at anytime without him or her being notified.

The more time we spend finding the right people to follow will go a long way in getting to good stuff in less time. Each of us has individual interests, concerns, and needs, so we all need different collegial sources to get to where we eventually want to be. With a little forethought and investigation that destination can be just a little closer before moving on to the next. Use the Twitter Profile to your own best advantage. Check it out: @tomwhitby

Earlier this week my friend Scott McLeod challenged educator/bloggers to post their five choices of things we have to stop pretending in education and hashtag it with #MakeSchoolDifferent. I was asked to meet the challenge by Robert Schuetz , which prompted my post here.

I encourage you to read Scott’s post along with the collection of statements others have made. These are my contributions:

We have to stop pretending…

  • That teachers have a choice in using technology as a tool for teaching and learning.
  • That the college education made unaffordable to a majority of U.S. citizens is the common standard of success in education.
  • That content which is being taught is more important than teaching students how to curate, critically think, communicate, collaborate, and create as life long skills.
  • That seat time in a classroom is a measurement of accomplishment (placing more significance on the ass over that of the brain).
  • That once teachers are licensed and working, their relevance and mastery in the classroom is locked in without a need for further investment of money, time and support.

What do you think? What are the 5 things we need to stop pretending? When you write your post tag it with #MakeSchoolDifferent so everyone can reflect.

As educators one would expect that teachers and teacher/administrators should be experts on the best most effective and efficient methods of getting large groups of children to understand, learn, and use information responsibly to create more information. Theoretically, these educators have an understanding of pedagogy and methodology in order to accomplish these goals. I firmly believe most educators have these very skills to accomplish this with kids.

A question that haunts me however, at almost any education conference that I attend is: Why are so many (not all) of these educators, who are so skilled in a classroom of kids, so bad at teaching in a room full of adults for professional development?

The obvious answer may be that children have a motivation to learn that is different from adults. I have addressed this in a previous post, Pedagogy vs. Andragogy.

According to an article, “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit, Malcolm Knowles, an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.

Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

If we consider these adult motivations in terms of presenting for the purpose of professional development for educators, it is obvious that presentations should not be the conventional “sit and get” Power Point extravaganzas that we have come to recognize as commonplace at education conference sessions. It would also rule out those very inspirational TED Talks as real tools for adult learning.

An adult will get a great deal more if he/she is part of the presentation as a conversationalist. In that way they will be respected and able to not only impart their expertise, and experiences, but also address their specific needs on the topic. This makes the session personally relevant and more self-directed. Another important part of adult learning is to be able to learn something today that can be used tomorrow.

This is not a format unfamiliar to educators. It is probably the key to the success of the Edcamp movement. All of the Edcamp sessions are guided conversations. It is also a key factor in the Education Twitter chats that happen globally around the clock. Even panel discussions would benefit by limiting the panel discussion time in favor of more audience participation for interactive involvement. This would extend, or, in some cases, create a designated question and answer portion with every panel session.

Lecture has a place in any presentation, but how much time it is given even with a glitzy Power Point Presentation should be a major concern of any presenter. The goal in professional development should never be to show how much the speaker has learned, but how much we can get the participants to learn.

Maybe when local, state, and national conferences call for RFP’s for sessions in their conferences, they should have an audience participation requirement. That would not be for just responding to questions from the speaker, but rather participatory learning. That participation would require more than passive responses.

This is not easy to do, which makes it uncomfortable, so it will probably not receive a great deal of attention from those who run conferences. It may not receive much attention from those who do district-wide professional development. I do however hope someone pays attention. If in fact our existing professional development strategies were effectively working over the decades that we have been practicing them, we might not be having all of these discussions of education reform that dominate our profession. Our PD efforts are not currently meeting the needs of teachers or administrators. If we are to better educate our children, we must first better educate their educators.

Over the years I have been an advocate for connected collaboration. I believe that collaboration using technology to connect people for the purpose of collaboration is different from connecting people in a room together for collaboration. I used the word “different”. I did not use the word “better”. For educators any form of collaboration with other educators is a good thing.

Historically and for centuries, collaboration had not changed the way people connected together in order to accomplish learning. If one wanted to connect with someone to collaborate it was a question of picking a time, a place, and showing up. Collaboration itself has remained the same no matter the time or place. People exchange, modify, reflect, improve, and create ideas collectively. This form of learning has proven invaluable in advancing education. It is the basis for education conferences. Learning and sharing is the backbone of education.

What has changed however is the way that people connect to collaborate. It is that element of connection that has been the game changer for many educators. Connecting for collaboration has now become a function of what technology can provide educators. Most often, social media applications provide the bulk of these collaborative connections, but other tools of technology cannot be discounted. This all requires educators to have at the very least a modicum of digital literacy. Unfortunately, this has proven to be a stumbling block for many.

The act of collaboration is the important element in this conversation. Collaborating with folks in your building, or district is wonderful, but if it is limited to just those people the potential of the collaboration itself may be limited. One advantage of collaboration through technology-connected collaboration is that there are few limits with whom or with how many people one may engage. The connections could be local or global. Access and contact with authors or education thought leaders are more possible through technological connections. The technological connections could easily include teachers, administrators, students, and parents separately or together for collaboration The overall effect of sharing has a greater reach in the world of technological connections. The limits of where or when are far less impeding with technological connections. Transparency is evident through social media collaboration. It is out there for all to see.

In the technological sense, a “connected educator” has a number of advantages in collaboration over an educator not technologically “connected”, an “unconnected educator”. This may cause a rift between the connected and the unconnected in education. Questions of who is better? This is an argument that education does not need. This opens educators to even more criticism from a beleaguered public, being manipulated about education by politicians and “Reformers”. Of course the obvious best way of all is for educators to balance out face-to-face and technological connections for collaboration. Ideally, both types of connectors can be brought together, which often happens at education conferences for the purpose of collaborating on collaboration itself.

I believe most educators are collaborative. I also believe that far fewer are connected collaborators. Technological connection comes with a great deal of baggage that prevents educators from embracing it. The use of technology itself is the biggest of these obstacles. The idea of it being a huge time consumer is another. There is also a stigma of using any social media as a tool for learning. The biggest deterrent of all however is the perception that one needs to learn a whole bunch of technological stuff in order to participate in this connected world. Of course the worst advocates for this technological connection are those who are connected. They proudly announce their many accomplishments and successes as technologically connected educators and scare off anyone even remotely interested in trying it. People unfamiliar are just blown away and overwhelmed by the exuberant chatter.

Of course the obvious alternative to all of this is to have more collaboration between those educators who are not technologically connected and those who are. In the end whatever works best for an individual educator is what is best for them. Some believe the best collaboration is just down the hall. Others live on social media. My preference is to use whichever I need in order to accomplish that which I hope to accomplish. Sometimes I know where I am going and sometimes I need a direction from my trusted collaborators. The focus must be the collaboration. My bias is that for me, I need to be a technologically connected educator in order for me to remain relevant. That works best for me. Others need to make their own determinations. I am willing to collaborate with them to present what I know and believe.

Many years ago I read an article in Time Magazine where they attempted to select and rank the most difficult jobs in the US. The criterion that was used was based on the number of decisions that had to be made on that job in a single day. I was delighted and surprised to see that an Eighth Grade English Teacher position was ranked at the top of the list. As an eighth grade English teacher at the time, I felt both validated and appreciated. Of course, it was an article totally overlooked by most people who were not eighth grade English teachers, I am sure.

Being a teacher of any course of study is a difficult job requiring a person to make possibly thousands of decisions daily. Any of these decisions can have a great impact on the developing mind of a child. What then are the expectations of a teacher candidate direct from graduating college, and having only a few months teaching experience in a loosely organized, pre-service student teacher program? Of course expectations will vary from school to school, but there are some generalities that hold true for many schools.

A new teacher must learn a great number of things from the first day of employment. First and foremost there is the curriculum. Secondly, there are the school and district policies. Then of course there is the school culture, as well as the community. This is just the job related stuff. Now let’s add what needs to be done personally to set up an independent life outside of the college experience. Setting up a place to live, transportation, and expenses beyond the support of parents. It’s the big time with adult problems and adult decisions. All of this is being done in the first year of teaching.

How does the employing school respond to the needs of a new teacher? Too often an administrator will look to, or try to persuade, a new teacher to take on at least one extra curricular activity, or coach a team. I think most schools really expect that to happen. Of course on the secondary level at least having a new teacher in any department may mean that the department Chair need not worry about arguing with the staff as to who will take the difficult, or troubled classes. Those are the problems that most certainly can go to the new kid.

It goes without saying that some type of mentoring program will go a long way in transitioning new teachers into the system. Many schools, however, see this, as a costly program that can be sacrificed in times of budgetary crisis, which in education is a perpetual state of existence. It then is incumbent on the new teacher to find a colleague to call upon for help and hope that ever-observing administrators do not view it as a sign of weakness.

My greatest objection to the attitudes toward new teachers is about the assumptions people make that new teachers will breathe new life into the old and tired methods of the older generation of teachers. More often than not, if a school has a culture where it is not inspiring its entire staff to professionally develop with support and recognition from above, there will be no number of new teachers that will affect change in that toxic culture. New teachers will go along to get along. Attaching blame for that toxic culture does not fix it. Throwing new teachers at it does not fix it. Expecting teachers living with it to step up does not fix it. It takes a top down and a bottom up recognition of the problem to fix it. It takes leadership from experienced educators not kids fresh out of college.

When it comes to new teacher hires we should expect less and mentor more. We do nothing but add on to a new teacher’s already mountainous amounts of responsibilities with things experienced teachers and administrators need to deal with. Instead, we blame colleges and teacher prep courses for not doing the right thing. They may not be fully blameless, but they are not responsible for our mistakes. We can’t keep doing the same stupid stuff and then wonder why half of the young people entering the teaching profession drop out in the first five years. Teaching is tough enough on its own, even without having politicians and business people vilifying the profession at every opportunity. We don’t have to eat our young as well. We must accept part of the responsibility for our best hope for the future finding paths other than teaching. In consideration of all of this, as a life long learner and teacher I have told both of my children that they should consider options other than teaching. Of course, they rarely listen to me anyway.

If we are to continually replenish our profession with the best and the brightest, we need to be smarter as to how we nurture them. We need to reflect on what we do and see how it affects the outcome of what we want. If we want to maintain great educators we need to enable them with support until it makes sense to let them soar on their own. If we are to better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators.

I often wonder how we can get an accurate picture of what and how educators are teaching today. We have more, and better technology than we have ever had to record and analyze data, and yet we still do not have a clue as to what is really going on in the average classroom. The pictures that we get, or the stories that are told, seem to focus on the best and the worst. Too often superintendents spin the best, and the media spins the worst. We need to remind ourselves that any story about what is going on in education is just a snapshot that is representing a very tiny portion of the big picture.

There are too many education leaders who when talking about their schools tend to focus on the best and most innovative representations their schools have to offer. Intentional or not, this creates an impression on their audience that the entire school is filled with the best and most innovative educators. That may actually be true in some instances, but my guess would be that it is a very much smaller number than such stellar tales would lead us to believe.

Of course the idea is to offer real life examples that can be used as models for exemplary teaching. I get that, but too often these stories create an impression that these models are typical, rather than exceptional. I too am guilty of putting a positive spin on the effects of such things as technology in education, student voice, student-centered learning, self-directed PD, connected learning, and open source access. I recommend blog posts that model not only the benefits of these methodologies, but give shining examples being used today in classrooms, as if that is the norm. The fact is that the very reason these are highlighted is because they are exceptional and not the norm. It is important that these stories are shared as examples and models, but I truly believe that we need to maintain our perspective as to where they fit in the bigger picture of education.

In our latest desire for innovative education, many educators are sharing their best and most innovative lessons with their principals. The principals in turn share their best and most innovative teacher stories with their superintendent. The superintendent then takes the best of the best from all of those stories to share with the public in order to create that positive vibe for the district that everyone loves. This is good PR.

The PR process however may be creating a picture of education that is not easily lived up to. People walking into a school on any given day may be expecting great innovative, tech-supported lessons in every class only to be greeted by sit and get lectures with all kids seated in rows and quietly taking notes.

Whenever I entered a school to observe a student teacher from our teacher preparation program, I would try to walk through the school to observe at a glance what other classes were doing under the guidance of veteran teachers. It was a cursory observation at best, but there were observable differences.

My students would often have me observe them doing a student-centered lesson that usually involved group work and technology. Of course they knew what my preferences were and they believed in “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. I was not tyrannical, but I was partial to innovative lessons. I was rarely disappointed in what they did, or attempted to do. In my walk around however, I was too often struck by the fact that, I observed a majority (not all) of the teachers relying on sit and get methods with kids sitting complacently in rows.

Now we have entered into an era of Do It Yourself PD. As much as many educators talk about connectedness and all of its benefits, I see very little evidence that supports connected learning is being adopted on any large-scale by educators. Judging from books, articles, speeches and posts, educators should be in a constant state of collaboration on a global scale. Again, we are creating a complete picture of education PD that is based on a few snapshots, rather than an accurate, realistic view of what is. We do need to tell stories and model where we should be going, but we can’t give the impression that we have already achieved that goal. We need schools to do an honest assessment of what they are doing in order to determine where they need to change and improve. We can’t improve without recognizing where we need to improve. Change will best be served with both top down and bottom up improvements working for the same goal. For that to happen we need better transparency, honesty, and accuracy. If we better understand what we are actually doing, we will better understand what we need to do in order to improve.

There are now hundreds of Education Twitter chats taking place around the world at almost any time of day or night. To follow any chat in real-time all one needs is the hashtag (#). The hashtag is the key to the chat. Using TweetDeck, Hootsuite, or some other third-party application it is easy to create a column that will follow only the hash tagged tweets of the chat. That will focus on and deliver each of the tweets in the chat in the order that they are posted.

Of course in a chat that may have fifty to a hundred participants it is impossible to follow every tweeter’s tweets. Very much like any face-to-face social gathering of such numbers of people, one would only engage with a few chatters at a time and focus on the topic of discussion within that group. I enter chats with the intent of engaging a few people with my point of view on the topic to challenge and test my own ideas, as well as the ideas of others. Many chats archive the entire chat so people can go back to see whatever it was they thought they might have missed from others.

My personal preference is to participate in chats with one topic to be explored in-depth as opposed to chats, which program 5 or 6 questions in a one-hour slot. My feeling is that the chat never develops naturally with predetermined questions. The participants may just be getting started when time demands a change to the next question. Maybe it is a control thing on the part of the moderators of those chats. It does keep things moving in the chat, but it seems more forced and less organic. There are many however who thrive in that format. As long as topics are being explored the format of the chat is less important. We can never answer for how other people learn and participate.

In a single question chat the participants are more reliant on moderators to feed off of and restate questions and ideas. It is more of a practice in the art of discussion and less formula.

The purpose of any chat is to get a more in-depth discussion and reflection on a given topic. Hopefully, the most successful chats will generate Blog Posts with further reflection and clarity. The people attending these chats often have a specific interest in the topic. The use of Twitter as the platform for education chats enables not only anyone interested in the topic, but also people whose area of expertise might be that specific topic. Keep in mind that twitter has a global reach, so the only possible barriers to anyone’s participation might just be time zones. Many authors, speakers, bloggers, and thought leaders will often participate in chats.

Regardless of titles there are many chatters who offer great ideas, or challenges during chats. It is great to assemble educators who have a common interest to express their ideas on that interest. They are the very people who one needs in a Personal Learning Network to continue following and interacting within meaningful ways. Every chat should offer up some new people to follow on Twitter, or to engage further in Google Hangouts or Skype calls.

The one long-standing criticism of Chats is that they have a tendency to become echo chambers of like-minded people. I would agree that educators do have a common interest, but it has been my experience that they rarely agree 100% on anything. Everyone has his/her own slant on any given topic. Some even abandon their personal beliefs to stir the pot with opposing views. This is where experienced moderators prove their worth in chats. I do not prescribe to the echo chamber argument.

New chatters are usually hesitant to get involved at first. They sort of lurk and learn the culture of the chat. They try to figure out the leaders and just try not to get overwhelmed because of the rate that most of the tweets fly by. It can be quite intimidating. Most chats start off slowly as people begin to gather. It usually takes 5 to 10 minutes to get going. Some chats have people introduce themselves others just dive right in. There is one distraction newcomers should be aware of. Hashtags for chats are used for any tweet that may be related to that general hashtag. For instance a hashtag widely used for any Tweet dealing with education is #Edchat. People use this 24/7. That means that during the #Edchat Chats tweets my come in that have nothing to do with the topic being discussed. Knowing this before the chat helps filter through the noise.

To bullet point the chat strategy:

  • Set up a column to follow the Chat
  • Enter the chat to engage a small number of people and not the auditorium.
  • Identify the moderators for guidance
  • Follow on Twitter the most interesting participants to add value to your own PLN
  • Do not get distracted by off-topic tweets
  • Engage clearly and succinctly
  • Reflect on your experience

Now all you need is find a chat to engage in. There are chats for educators in various States within the US as well as many other countries. There are chats for specific grades, subjects, courses, and interests. Of course the Granddaddy of chats is #Edchat which takes place twice each Tuesday. The first #Edchat is at noon eastern time and the second #Edchat is at 7 PM Eastern time with a different Topic. The #Edchat Topics are decided by a Poll each week. Please Join Us!

Here is a list of all of the Education chats taking place globally on Twitter.

All Chats

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