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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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Poster Fac Mtg

 
Over the many years that #Edchat has been engaging educators, one topic that always generates a huge amount of interest, based on comments, is the faculty meeting. Teachers are required to attend the faculty meetings that administrators are required to hold and very few are happy with the results. The only upside is that with each meeting a check may be placed in the box for attending.

Technology may be a way to update the tired model of the faculty meeting. Email for the faculty may be a great way to distribute the mundane stuff that takes up so much time at these meetings. Of course a really progressive administrator might have a weekly Blog that could address a great many topics that bog down the faculty meetings. Once the day-to-day school housekeeping topics are removed from the meeting there will be more time for more substantive topics that affect learning in education. Using a Google Document to circulate amongst the faculty for suggested topics of discussion for the upcoming meetings might be a great direction in order to address real faculty needs and concerns.

Once topics are decided upon a flipped meeting should serve the faculty well. Material like blog posts or videos could be assembled and distributed using tools for collaboration prior to the meeting. This will prepare the faculty for what will happen rather than dropping it on them in the meeting. Assessment tools could be used for formative assessment during the meeting to gauge understanding of the topic by the faculty. Any teams or committees formed from this meeting can be connected through collaborative tools and shared documents to create a professional Learning community. Administrators in those groups will immediately be aware of any problems that might arise as the groups strive to complete their goals. There will be no need to wait for another faculty meeting to get results

Technology offers many tools to change the face of the faculty meeting. It can make it a means of change for the school culture. It can permit and support teachers with bold and innovative ideas to lead their colleagues into change, or just expand and improve what change is already occurring.

Time in education is a precious commodity to teachers. To waste a monthly get-together of the entire staff is an outrage when there are so many real needs that should be addressed or things to learn. Just because we have always run faculty meetings a certain way, that is not a justification for continuing what is so obviously a bad, or at least an unproductive practice. Administrators need to stop observing and commenting on how technology is being used by others in their school and begin employing it themselves to improve their schools. In so doing they would be modeling for all the thoughtful, meaningful, and responsible way to use technology in education without fear.

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Over the many years that I have been in education and around educators, I have never been able to understand why so many educators, so willingly and publicly, argue for their limitations. Why do they insist, as educators, on stating aloud, “ I don’t get technology and I am not going to start now”?

I taught many in-service courses to educators that required computer use. On many, many occasions educators sitting at their computers would say, “I can’t do this”. My response was simple but crude; I would turn off the computer of the person who had made that statement. After protestations about my action, I would explain that they had convinced me by their statements and attitude that they could not do the assigned task using the computer. I simply accepted their argument about their lack of ability to learn through technology. That was when the light bulb floating magically over their heads would light up. Actively trying and overcoming failures was the key to accomplishing the goal. They most often renewed their efforts after rebooting their computer.

Learning with or about technology for those who have not grown up with technology is an uncomfortable thing to do. It forces people to make mistakes and adjustments in order to learn. The idea of an educator making a mistake in regard to either teaching or in their own content area was something that could not be accepted according to most teacher preparation programs of the 20th century. That may be why so many people openly claim to be unable to “get it” when it comes to technology, rather than to bravely face the demons of discomfort.

Technology and tides stop for no man/woman. Technology that affects almost everything we do today is not going away. It will continue to evolve at even faster rates and have an even greater effect on the speed at which change takes place.

Educators today in addition to everything else they need to know must be digitally literate, because in the world in which their students will live, digital literacy will be essential to survive and more hopefully thrive.

A digitally literate educator is a relevant educator. Educators who are not digitally literate are not bad people. They may also be good teachers. However they may not be providing everything their students will need to meet their personal learning goals for their technology-driven world.

Educators do not need to argue for their limitations. There is no limit to the number of people, who for their own reasons, will do that for them, whether it is true or not. Ironically, politicians with their own multitude of shortcomings probably head that list of finger-pointers. Educators need to be aware of how the world has changed from the 20th century that has heavily influenced so many of our educators. Technology’s integration into learning is no longer a choice that educators have to make. Technology is with us to stay. As uncomfortable as it is, educators need to step up and stop making excuses for their digital illiteracy. Schools need to support professional development to get all educators up to speed on what they need to know. It will be an ongoing need since technology will continue to evolve. If we expect to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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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.

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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.

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