Becoming a connected educator has been the most exciting chapter in my education career so far. However, getting there takes time. I set up my website and Twitter account over Halloween weekend in 2014. For the first month I struggled to get more than 10 followers. It was hard putting out blog posts that I knew no one would read but I just looked at it as completing my digital apprenticeship. The hardest part of these early days on Twitter was when I realised that there are a lot of supposed educators on Twitter who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for new users to harvest for higher follower figures so that they can cement their place as “influencers” on the site. These people are not hard to identify; they follow you this week and drop you next week so that you are left listening to them but they are not interested in hearing your thoughts. It is cynical stuff and it negatively impacted my view of Twitter to begin with. It was only when I realised the power of chats that I finally discovered the real potential of Twitter. By becoming a regular contributor to several education chats I built up a Professional Learning Network (PLN) of people that I knew directly. I was proud to have them in my followers' list and I knew that by following them I would have high-quality and relevant information in my Twitter stream each day.
The chats taught me the value of managing my #PLN. I join chats that suit my professional interests and I only add those people that I can learn from and those that I know I can depend upon to respond if I need their expertise or feedback in the classroom. If you are new to Twitter you can rely upon @shyj @mrkempnz @Jen___williams, to name just a few, who will follow back and guide you as you find your way. In this post, I give practical tips on getting the most out of Twitter and suggest some great chats for you to join.
My PLN has had a very real effect on how I teach and it has helped me develop as an educator.
1. This past Friday (June 3rd 2015) Howard Pitler of McREL in Denver Colorado joined my seminar on Evidence-Based Teaching (EBT) via Skype. As a group we had discussed the theoretical elements of EBT but Howard was able to give students a depth of insight gleaned directly from thousands of studies and practical examples that I simply could not. The students left the seminar with a very real understanding of EBT and they felt more energised by having spoken directly to an expert in the field.
An important element in becoming a connected educator has been maintaining a blog. It is here I can expand on those Twitter chats that I find particularly interesting or where I think I can offer practical support and resources to my PLN. Choosing to begin a blog is daunting. When I began I set myself some guidelines:
1. I would only blog once a week so as to value quality over quantity.
2. I would write about what I know in the hope that it might help others.
3. I would use my blog as a means of giving my students a voice and promote their learning outcomes.
I have been involved in Twitter chats where educators ask how to begin blogging. I would simply say: Just do it. Do not worry about how long a post should be or what themes you should write about. You will find this all comes once you begin. At first I wrote about what I was interested in but I found that I was being a little too niche. I was writing about topics that were of interest to German public school teachers but it quickly became apparent that there was not a lot of interest in that, chiefly because there are not a lot of German public school teachers on Twitter. What I did was evolve. For example, rather than look at solutions to #EdTech problems in the German classroom, I simply wrote in general about tech problems in classrooms. I quickly found that teachers all around the world had similar problems. Because I use Twitter to advertise my blog, I quickly grew aware of what my PLN was interested in reading about and I responded to that mandate. My most enduringly popular post has been this one on educators getting the most out of Twitter. It is very rewarding to know that this has been shared in staff meetings and used in Professional Development globally. It is the blogging process that has most clearly marked my evolution into a globally-connected educator. When I track the evolution of my blog, I am in essence tracking my journey from being a nationally-minded educator to being an internationally-minded one.
The most satisfying outcome of maintaining a blog has been giving my student teachers exposure to a global network of educators. All of our student work is posted online on our website which we keep updated through regular blogs. Just as I began my journey to becoming a globally-connected educator as a means of controlling my digital footprint, I hope that through my blog and website my students will be encouraged to go global also. Even if they do not, they are guaranteed that when they sit in a job interview for their first teaching position they will have a positive digital footprint that showcases their teaching abilities.
My advice for any teacher that is new to Twitter is this: keep Tweeting even if you think no one is listening, blog even if no one hears. Be positive when you Tweet, manage your PLN and when you have amassed followers, give a voice to those who still have only 10 followers by Retweeting.