Letter to Teachers

A few have emailed me or messaged me and asked how I introduced Twitter to my fellow teachers in my building. It all started with the following email earlier this past week. There was a lot more interest that I had anticipated which was great. I got clearance from my principal to have a session at our institute on Friday and was luckily able to get the district to unblock Twitter.com at our school. I then hoped on Twitter and grabbed some resources to share as well used my own Twitter Tutorial. In the actual session I started by getting everyone signed up and then installing TweetDeck. From there I let them try some things out and will probably have a follow up session in the future.

Good Afternoon,

Some of you might have heard that I recently signed up for a Twitter account. If you are like me when I first heard of Twitter you are thinking that it is something that Kim Kardashian and Labron James use to “tweet” ridiculous details of their lives. While that is true, it is also a place that thousands of teachers across the world are sharing ideas, resources, and having professional dialogue. I have sent some of you links to resources that I have picked up through Twitter and wanted to offer you an opportunity to learn more if you are interested. If you are interested in learning more about how this great tool works please email me and I am planning on arranging a help session to show folks how to get started.

This is not just a “techie” thing or something that is just for core subject areas. There is something for everyone in a school from foreign language and math to counseling and PE. Here is a recent post on my blog where I list some great resources that apply to all. If you are interested or have any further questions please let me know! http://stumpteacher.blogspot.com/2011/01/my-takeaways-from-holiday-break-2010.html  



Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Actions do speak louder than words, and yet we still all like to hear ourselves talk. There are hundreds of blogs, magazines, and journals out there that put forth the latest and greatest theories and pedagogies of education. While those are all fine and good, I would rather just do something. This might seem a bit odd that I am currently doing the very thing that I am downplaying…

The point I am trying to make is that too many educators are talking about what changes need to be made in education. This is a great thing and I hope we never stop talking and writing about how to make education and learning better for our students. However, at some point the talking and writing need to be replaced by action. With this in mind I have some examples of things that have taken place in my school this that required action and not talking.

Action: I asked our district administration to unblock Twitter for staff to use as a professional development tool.
Result: They unblocked the site and I held a session in it today and showed numerous of excited teachers the potential benefits of using it as a professional development tool.

Action: I have been reading a lot of the work done by Dr. Mitra and his “Hole in the Wall” study that he did in India.
Result: I am testing his theories of collaboration and learning with my students. I have some students working individually and some in collaborative groups. At the end I will analyze assessment data to see if the theory actually holds.

Action: Many educators write and talk about the need for student and parent input in the decision making process of schools.
Result: I sent out surveys to both students and parents to gain feedback on their learning experiences. Through this feedback I have been able to change and tweak things I am doing to make the learning better and more accessible to all my students and their parents.

Action: Many people talk about being out of shape and not as healthy as they want to be.
Result: I just went on a six mile run in single digit weather and will be passing out on the couch shortly…

What actions are you taking to better your situation and the learning experiences of your students?

If you listen, they will talk

I am a big fan of Field of Dreams and the line, “if you build it, they will come.” This line has been used as a metaphor for more things than I could possibly list and has been rephrased just as many times. Yet, here I am using it once again, “If you listen, they will talk…” This has been proven to me in two very distinct ways this past week.

The first example of this was a meeting I attended a few weeks back that was organized by a group of students. A group of 7th grade students held a meeting of students, two teachers, and an administrator. I was one of the teachers who attended this student meeting. In the meeting the students brought up what they considered to be “issues” in our school. These were not necessarily bad things, but were clearly related to their learning experience at our school. In some cases the topics that were raised were simply them asking for understanding about a school policy. In others, they challenged the way things were done with the focus on student learning and overall school experience. The respectful and mature manner in which they organized, planned, and conducted this meeting was simply amazing.

Yesterday this same group of students came to me and asked if they could hold more regular meetings where students discussed these issues as well as potential solutions. My first question to them was, “why”. I support their cause but wanted to make sure they knew why they wanted what they wanted. Their response was that they had experienced changes from our initial meeting and wanted more… They felt empowered and felt like they truly had a voice. In addition, they wanted to open it up to more students to have their voices heard as well.

I welcome discourse and conversation if the goal is to make the learning experience better for students. Some teachers are not comfortable asking students what they think and offering potential improvements. However, if you want to know if the learning experience is working, who better to ask than students?

With that belief in mind, I also experienced the power of listening through a parent email. I sent all my parents an email asking for feedback on the learning experiences of their children in my class. I had specific questions that were centered on various topics related to the work and overall experience. The parent perspective is one that is not often sought and yet highly valuable. Kids will tell me as the teacher one thing and a totally different message to their parents at home. Again, some teachers would not think of getting feedback from a parent. Although, who better to get insight from than the people who spend the most time with the learners in your room? They offered me insight that I would have never gotten from a student or other source for that matter.

So I end with this…”If you listen they will talk”. Give your students and parents an opportunity to voice their opinion and offer feedback. The comments you get may not all be positive and may not be what you want to hear sometimes. In addition, it may or may not make you a better teacher, but it will empower and involve the two most important people in our job. On top of that, if we cannot accept feedback and reflect on our own teaching with the intent of improvement are we being hypocritical when we ask our students to do the same thing?

Time to come out...I can't hide anymore...

My parents always taught me to be proud of who I am and stand up for what I believe in. I like to think I have lived with this principle in mind for the better part of my life. However, something has changed and I can deny it no longer. I have hidden it from my friends although I think some of them are starting to suspect something. My wife now knows and it has led to many lengthy and deep conversations. I have chosen to confide in a few of my closest friends and I am not sure how approving they actually are even though they say they support me. I want to tell people but am not sure how it will be received because I am the only one in my circle of friends and would certainly be the only one at work…I can’t keep it in any longer and it’s time to come out…

I tweet… and I blog…

There, I said it and it is out there for the world to know and it feels kind of good. I tweet and blog at night when my kids are in bed. I tweet when I have a chance during my personal planning period at work. I tweet when I am stopped at a red light (never while driving). I even tweet and blog while watching my beloved Chicago Bears. In addition to tweeting and blogging, I read on average 40-50 blog posts and articles a day about education related topics.This tweeting and blogging had been kept hidden for too long now.

Why have I kept this hidden? I don’t know. Maybe I thought people would laugh like I did when I first heard of twitter and blogging. They will think it is something only Ashton Kutcher and Labron James do. They don’t realize the thousands of dedicated educators that tweet 24/7. These educators create a virtual professional development environment that blows any traditional professional development out of the water. Maybe I was ashamed because I didn’t want them to think I was trying to be “better” than them because I was talking to teachers in Australia about classroom management or about networked learning with a principal in Canada. Maybe I don’t share my blog with my co-workers because I am afraid of what they might think. A perfect stranger can hate my blog, but can I handle someone I work with every day not approving of what I write? Whatever the reason, I hid what I was doing because I was not sure anyone would approve…not any longer.

I am going to share my blog with those I work with. I will encourage them to write their own and share their experiences with educators all over the world. I am going to show them my tweetdeck and have them watch an #edchat discussion. I will talk to them about what I learn every single day from my professional learning network and will encourage them to join me. I will email them links and blogs that I pick off of twitter and Google reader from my PLN. I show them on a daily basis how twitter, blogging and my PLN makes me a better teacher and ultimately how this helps my students. I will hide no more…

You drank a beer during a teacher conference?

On Saturday I spent roughly 17 hours listening, speaking, sharing, collaborating, and learning at the Reform Symposium. For those of you that were not there, you missed something truly special. This was my first such experience with an online and FREE conference and it was nothing short of amazing. During the morning I fired off an email to a colleague about my participation and they asked me what the presenters were getting paid. My response was, “nothing.” They were all volunteers giving their time and expertise to share their knowledge with all of us. To me this was such a critical key to the success of such a conference and the power behind it. This was a group of professional educators giving freely of their time to share their knowledge with other educators that will ultimately help student learning. I do not know of any other profession where people would give up their Saturday to learn and share with others all because they thought it was the right thing to do. What is even more amazing is that these people are sharing with complete strangers in most cases. I knew some of the participants through my interactions on Twitter, but by and large we were all just names on a registration spreadsheet…but we universally believed in learning from each other to do our jobs better for kids. Personally, I gained 90 more Twitter followers from this one day and therefore 90 more people in my PLN to learn from!

Some of the specific highlights for me was the keynote speak from Dr. Alec Couros during the middle of the conference. Dr. Couros spoke about why networked learning matters and gave some great advice and insights into his work which is truly inspiring. Another highlight was the open discussion on parental involvement conducted by George Couros, Amanda Henson of Parentella, Monika Hardy and her student. This was a great session because we got to hear what some people were doing in terms of involving parents in real examples and not theory or speculation. For those administrators reading, look at the work of George and his use of social media to inform and educate for some great insight and forward thinking.

I also attended sessions on using Glogster, Diigo, Student Centered Classrooms, and some great discussions on mentoring and classroom management. Another highlight is actually going to sound bad but it was when one of the speakers, Nick Provenzano, was unable to attend his session due to a power outage. In most conferences there would be a sign on the door that it was cancelled. Instead, the great moderators picked up the “mic” and brought in some great people like Jerry Blumengarten and Tim Gwynn who stepped in and helped Kelly Tenkely one of the moderators. Another of the great moderators worthy of mention was Shelly Terrell who most in the education world and certainly the Twitter world know well. I offer a whole hearted and truly genuine thank you all I have mentioned and the literally hundreds of other educators that helped put on the symposium that those that participated and helped me learn. It truly was a learning filled day that I am currently still decompressing from.

It is my understanding that they run another of these learning opportunities in the summer and I would encourage everyone to participate! Yes, as the title stated, late in the evening I did enjoy a fine beer while sitting in one of the sessions. I don't know any other conference where you can do that! In closing, I created this short little “rap” based on the song Vanilla Ice…and Mick Jagger and David Bowie… Below are the lyrics for those interested!

Education Ice
Yo PLN let's kick it!

All right stop collaborate and listen
Symposium is back with the latest edition
Sharing grabs ahold of us tightly
Keepin us up both daily and nightly
Can I learn any more yo I don't know
Turn off the lights and my screen glows
To the extreme I rock tweets like a vandal
Light up the chats and teach folks in the pan handle
Click, search the hashtag that booms
We teaching your brain with an educational boom
Deadly when I blog a dope remedy
Anything less than insightful is a tragedy
Love it or leave it you better participate
Get to the sessions cause speakers aren’t late
If there was a problem yo we’ll solve it
Education is changing while teachers evolve it...