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"The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means to an education." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Twitter's Influence On Me

Public schooling as a career is still pretty isolationist, in the sense that teachers can still close their doors and do their own thing with only students and an occasional parent to interrupt the flow of teaching. As long as you make it appear kids are learning and don't do anything that will get you in the 24 hour news feed, its all good. School administrators can filter those who get to see them or get to talk to them or get to influence them and largely keep control over their schools with only the occasional interference from a central office lackey or parent or intrusive state official every once in while.  As long as you appear to keep good discipline numbers and make it appear teachers are teaching, its all good.  The status quo is acceptable because its what "people" have come to expect.

Of course, the vast majority of educators are working hard to make sure the children entrusted to them by an unwritten social contract get world class educational experiences. But, so many are doing it in isolation because it is not seen as an effective use of public dollars for teachers and administrators to learn about their craft and get better at it through professional learning, professional conferences, or professional dialogue while on the clock.  The common perception is that if you aren't in front of students, you aren't doing the job of a teacher.  If you aren't with students or observing your teachers, you aren't doing the job of a principal.

Most parent surveys or polls of the general populace indicate that public schools are all bad, that is except for the ones MY kid attends.  Its not a new thought that because nearly everyone in America has experienced formal schooling on some level and the vast majority have experienced public school, nearly everyone has an opinion and feels entitled to declare what schooling should or shouldn't be. It makes it difficult to engage in meaningful, knowledgeable, evidence based discussions about what's best practice in teaching and learning.  Folks who wouldn't dare offer an opinion on how to write a legal brief or suggest how to lay out a business plan for a loan don't think twice about expressing how to "fix" public education.  This is an oft-lamented point on the edublogs and teacher sites across cyberspace.

In light of these three points, its easy to understand why highly educated professional educators keep to themselves and keep doing the best that they know how for the kids entrusted to them. But, social media is changing the landscape for educators both from a professional standpoint and from and instructional standpoint.  Twitter has become an extended personal learning network for many professional educators.  The micro-blogging space has created the opportunity for educators to engage in any number of chats at specific times each week where they get together with complete strangers to discuss something completely essential to their being as people and professionals.    Its created for me an opportunity to engage in discussions with other educators about topics that are meaningful in my day to day work, but also on a deeper philosophical basis.  From exploring the power of social media, to the best ways to use formative assessment, to how to be an effective principal the conversations are as diverse as those engaging in them.  Its is powerful to hear that the work we do in Georgia in our district can be both informed by and informative to the work being done in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, Rhode Island, and California.    Not only that, but a good many of the chats are done at convenient times when kids are in bed, families are settled in and the few minutes of solace that educators can grab to think about their work can be shared with others from the convenience of a smartphone, mobile device, or computer.  My PLN has inspired me to keep digging in and working for the right things for kids and for learning. It has helped to invigorate me when I needed it, and center me when I needed it.  Its like being in graduate school all over again.  Not the parts of graduate school where I was in class or writing papers, but the parts of grad school where I was engaged in profound conversation with intelligent people that cared deeply about the art and science of education and leadership.   If you haven't discovered Twitter and created your own PLN, you are missing out.