There are a few practices that can help you engage with the upcoming school year by joining other educators online. And while there are plenty of articles about reasons for getting connected, and ways of going about it, those can often be overwhelming to teachers who aren’t sold on Twitter or blogging.
My own story begins four years ago, when I finally gave in and joined Twitter. I asked my students to teach me how to “do it right” and they were my first followers. What I found was that it was more than comedians and celebrities tweeting about their own lives. It was a powerful medium that re-energised my own practice through times of difficulty; engaging with social media saved my teaching practice and made me a more connected, reflective teacher.
When I joined Twitter, I loved teaching but was burnt out in many ways. And suddenly I saw tweets from teachers who enthusiastically loved talking about their practice. I also kept hearing about these “Twitter chats” on education-related topics, where educators would gather for one hour each week, and engage in conversations.
At first, it was a firehose of water in the desert and I was intoxicated.
After I had tried out dozens of chats, I found “my people” in the #flipclass chat. I had begun flipping my own classroom only a few months before the chat began, and found that these weekly chats were life-giving. There was no negative staff-room culture, where politics were discussed more than relationship and pedagogy. Slowly, I found like-minded educators and followed them. Then I followed their followers, and their followers. I did that until I had a Twitter stream that provided me with a lot of content without users that self-promote or send too many automated tweets.
It’s not about building a following. It’s about building a community of interesting people who can push your thinking, help you find solutions, and share interesting resources.
A few people I think every educator should follow are Jon Corippo, the Director of Innovation of CUE, Alice Keeler, Google-maven and tech-wizard, Lisa Highfill, former 5th grade flipped teacher and current technology integration specialist, and Karl Lindgren-Streicher, the king of networking and sharing resources. There are hundreds of teachers I respect and would add to this list, but those four will get you connected to other teachers and resources quickly. Twitter can be overwhelming, but it can also be the change you need to reinvigorate your practice. That’s what it was, and still is, for me.
Now that I’ve been on Twitter for a few years, I felt the need to push beyond the 140 characters possible in that venue. On the recommendation of my #flipclass friends, I downloaded the app Voxer (available for Android or iOS). Voxer is an app that functions as a walkie-talkie where you can leave audio as well as text messages.
You can have chats with anyone else who has the app, but the real feature for educators is the group chat. I participate in several big group chats, which function largely like Twitter chats, except they are in audio as well as text, and they are always going. One is for English teachers in the flipped classroom community, and one is for a group of teachers who started flipping their classrooms around the same time I did. The beauty of Voxer is that it lets you build and develop relationships with teachers who share similar passions. I’ve participated in book clubs, planned presentations, given advice, and met life-long friends on Voxer.
Voxer has some of the most innovative educators engaging in chats about any possible topic in education, and plenty that aren’t about education too. To find a Voxer chat, ask the people you follow on Twitter to recommend chats and add you. Or start your own and invite people! Many sites and districts have their own Voxer chats because they are not public, and they allow for a level of transparency and authenticity that is often impossible on Twitter, where everything, by design, is public.
Another important way I’ve grown as an educator is through blogging. Initially, I started a blog as an enhanced resume, but it has grown to be a global conversation and living record of my practice. I sometimes look back and old posts and wince a bit, but I’m happy to have a record of where I’ve been, what I’ve tried, and what did and didn’t work. To start my blog, I used Weebly, but there are tons of other free blogging platforms available.
You may wonder what you have to blog about, or who would to read what you would write about. The second question is something every new blogger wrestles with, and one that has a fairly simple answer: blog for yourself, not for an audience. Again, it’s not about building a following. It’s about recording your struggles, asking your questions, and sharing the work you do with students every day. It doesn’t matter if no one is reading right now. Just write.
As to the question of “What do I write about?” the answer can also be simple: join a weekly blogging challenge. There are hundreds of educators participating in the weekly #YourEduStory blogging challenge. The concept is simple: find the week’s topic, write a blog post, and share it to social media once you finish. The topics range from risk-taking to student-engagement, to professional development. You can even suggest your own topic for an upcoming week. It’s an easy way to begin a blog, and you will always have something to write about.
Another weekly blogging challenge is in the #flipclass community. On Monday nights at 8 PM EST, educators gather to discuss topics with a slant towards flipped classroom pedagogy. Instead of just a standard Twitter chat, #flipclass spends 15 minutes opening up the night’s topic, then everyone goes to their own blog to write a #FlashBlog on the night’s topic. Flash blogging is a short blog post that takes 20 minutes to write on the chat’s topic each week. After blogging, participants return to Twitter to share their writing. The last few minutes of the chat are to read and comment on the blog posts written during the chat. It is an easy way to commit to writing a blog post a week with accountability.
Twitter, Voxer and blogging have changed my teaching practice immeasurably, but the real change has come from the relationships I’ve created with other teachers around the world. I didn’t know what to expect from my first foray into social media, and if I’m honest, joining Twitter made me nervous. I didn’t know the difference between @ and #, and I wasn’t sure I had any place joining social media. But I was struck pretty quickly with the reflective and sincere nature of every person I interacted with, and how happy they were to help, share resources, and help me think through difficult issues.
Social Media can be scary, but it’s worth taking the risk. Twitter is a great way to start. If you are nervous about it, tweet me (@guster4lovers) and I’ll do what so many people did for me: help you get connected with like-minded educators who will change everything about your classroom.