Yesterday I joined 10,000 other teachers from around the world for the Educator Collaborative’s Spring Gathering, a free virtual conference that brought together the talents of incredible educators who generously share their passions and expertise. So as I sat in the comfort of my family room—watching my 10-year-old draw, his brother put together a birthday Lego set, and the youngest play Mario Kart—I tuned in to check out a few sessions.
I sat down with my laptop and—since I couldn’t find my earbuds—my son’s gigantic bright green headphones (I looked really cool). I grabbed my favorite pen, took out my notebook, and opened to a beautiful, clean page. It didn’t take long, however, before I realized that I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with all the ideas I wanted to jot down. So instead I decided to join the Twitter chat online (#TheEdCollabGathering) and figured I could go back and take additional notes later when the archives were posted.
Two years ago, I would have never considered myself the type of person to Tweet during conferences. In fact, at NCTE a couple years ago, I remember looking around during a Penny Kittle session amazed at how many people were looking at their devices or typing on their laptops instead of pulling out notebooks. I mean, we’re English teachers; the notebook is kinda our thing, right? And that’s Penny Kittle standing up there! Why is everyone texting furiously on their phones? So I went back to my trusted notebook, my favorite black gel pen, and silently judged those around me.
Fast forward to yesterday—I had multiple tabs open in my browser and my Tweetdeck up and running. (I’ll wipe that egg off my face now.)
What I don’t think I understood in my pre-Twitter days was Twitter’s potential for having authentic conversations—however brief—about teaching and learning. The only contexts in which I’d heard Twitter used were either updates from celebrities that proved that they were “just like us” or angry, anonymous Twitter users who liked to stir up controversy. I didn’t see the obvious—that Twitter is simply a tool. And as I tell my students, like any tool, it’s what you do with the tool that matters. In general, tools are neutral.*
Did I miss having my notebook, with my notes scribbled this way and that? Honestly, I did a little. But by forcing myself to choose which tool would be best in the moment—notebook and pen or Twitter and typing—I was able to connect with other teachers in a larger conversation. My notebook is a conversation I have with myself, but Twitter is a conversation I have with others. It’s become a way to connect with countless other teachers crazy enough to spend part of the weekend doing PD in their PJs.
My experiences on Twitter yesterday and in the last two years has me thinking a lot about effective professional development. Too often when teachers hear the term “professional development,” they have a generally negative view. Teachers are busy people, so no matter how useful an in-service may potentially be, some teachers tend to see professional development as another thing they have to do. Sometimes it takes just one negative professional development experience to taint all future ones.
With advances in technology and social media, however, there’s really no shortage of professional development opportunity. On any given night, there’s a Twitter chat that instantly connects you to other teachers trying to find solutions for the same problems we all encounter in our classrooms. Twitter has allowed me to connect to mentor teachers and experts in the field I might not otherwise. To be encouraged by a small Tweet or retweet from someone like Penny Kittle or Kelly Gallagher or Kylene Beers can be a much needed extra lift. Through Twitter, I’ve found links to articles, essays, lesson ideas, and research that inform my instruction in both practical and “big picture” philosophical ways. On more than one occasion, I’ve taken an idea I originally found on Twitter and applied it the very next day in class.
In a lot of ways, my day of PD in my PJs represents the way professional development has shifted, or perhaps needs to shift if it hasn’t already. I came across this infographic from EdSurge that captures the shift from traditional PD to a Brew Your Own PD model that the digital world offers.
BYO(P)D might sound like another one of those cliched educational acronyms, but there is something to be said about personalized learning. As the writers on EdSurge articulate:
Personalized learning is on the rise for learners in our schools. Redesigned schools include personal learning plans, playlists of content tailored to fit each learner, adaptive curriculum, and access to learning anytime and anywhere.
That’s great for students but what about teachers? Where’s the personalized learning, the carefully constructed playlists, the pitch-perfect material that fits their grade level and subject needs and interests?
So where is that personalized learning for teachers? Where can I learn—as the infographic suggests—anytime, anywhere? Where can I find support from expert teachers? Where can I find those learning communities that can inspire, encourage, and motivate? Where can find individuals who will push me as a teacher and thinker?
Well, I found 10,000 of those passionate individuals yesterday.
And what did I learn? That’s in Part 2,
posting shortly posted here.
* I say in general because I still think that there is an argument to be made that certain tools, like Twitter, are designed in ways that promote certain (negative) behaviors. This great episode from the podcast Note to Self unearths some of these issues that’s worth a listen.