ISTE 2014 gave me the opportunity to connect with other tech coaches from around the country. Of course, then we all went home, and those newly made, fragile connections could easily have waned. Enter Twitter.
Now I know what you are thinking. "Isn't that the social network that all those celebrities use to share unnecessary details about their lives?" Well, yes. But it turns out that Twitter is also one of the most widely-used professional development tools by educators. Does that surprise you? It did me.
Encouraged by my experience at ISTE, I brushed the dust off my little-used Twitter account (see my feed to the right on this page) and I joined my first Twitter chat on Tuesday, July 29. If you'd like to know more about Twitter chats, check out Janet Fout's blog post on this topic.
This online discussion was dynamic, energetic, and inspiring. Moderated by PBS Digital Innovator Adam Babcock, who asked a series of great questions, the discussion centered around how to empower students to lead in technology use and integration. Participants exchanged ideas, suggestions, questions, needs, and resources, some of which I've been able to use or pass one to our Tech Club. I was inspired and honored to be a part of the conversation.
So what can I take away from this? The power of connection. As educators we can easily become isolated within the four walls of our classrooms or offices. But our profession is inherently a creative and personal vocation, and if we don't feed that creativity through energetic interaction with others, we run the risk of stagnation, frustration, and loneliness. It isn't always easy in a busy school day to work creatively with colleagues, but five or ten minutes of interaction on a social network like Twitter, especially when combined with curating and sharing resources on Pinterest, can make all the difference.
My Edutopia article 5 Epiphanies About Learning in a 1:1 Classroom sparked some questions and conversation about implementation programs. I certainly cannot claim to have all the answers. If you are considering a 1:1 program at your school or district, you've probably already noticed how many moving parts exist. And no program, no matter how much support it receives, will run smoothly.
The SMA administration and IT director started planning for implementation two years before the students received devices. I use the term "planning" loosely. The best thing they did was to assume they did NOT have the answers. Instead, they asked lots of questions.
Walking into my first ISTE conference felt a lot like being a captive dolphin returned to the sea. Terrifying. Exhilarating. Thrilling.
Exactly one year ago, I had barely dipped my toes in the water of educational technology and its possibilities. As a member of our school's 1:1 iPad implementation team, I was still navigating the challenges of "The App Zone" (and often still getting hopelessly stuck there) and trying to wrap my mind around how a 1:1 program should work.
And here I was one year later, now the Instructional Technology Coach for my school, striding into ISTE Central, seeking out the Registration sign, and plunging in to what would certainly be one of the largest and most memorable conferences I've attended.
Even a week after ISTE 2014, I am still processing what I learned. But a few keystone ideas have bubbled to the surface--ideas that will fuel me as I begin my eighth year as a teacher and my second year as a Tech Coach.
1. "I look for teachers who say, 'I will always teach kids before I teach content.'" These words, uttered by a principal from Montana who was being recognized on stage before Ashley Judd's keynote address, have persistently floated in my mind through every lecture, conversation, Twitter chat, and reflection. Every class of students who enters my room comes from a different experience than the one before. Every class who graduates from my school is entering a world requiring skills and understanding that we cannot possibly fully anticipate. It is more essential than ever that our students learn how to learn. So as teachers, we should always begin our process with a question: How can I best serve my students' future?
2. "Play is serious business...shame on us when we marginalize it." I found Kevin Carroll's keynote address both invigorating and challenging. How often do I get caught up in the details? The stress of grading papers? The urgency and pressure to cram in all the material I can in the short space of a day, week, month, year? How often do I push aside the opportunity to make play a part of my students' daily experience? I have to remember to listen to my own inner child. To create learning experiences from a sense of joy and experimentation. To not only encourage my students to find fun in learning, but to ensure that I give them every opportunity to do so.
3. Social media can be a teacher's greatest tool for professional learning. Two years ago, I would never have agreed to this statement. I barely looked at my Facebook account, I refused to start a Twitter account, and my LinkedIn account (started only because our school asked us to) didn't even have a photo on it. Even when I opened a Twitter account last summer and got a taste of what it could offer, I still didn't fully dive in. I pushed through my first year as a Tech Coach often feeling alone and blind. It wasn't until the ISTE conference that I fully plunged into the world of Twitter, and WOW. Suddenly I am no longer alone. I have a vast pool of professionals who offer information and ideas, who can help answer questions, who struggle with the same concerns or needs that I do. If I can do anything for my colleagues this year, it will be to help them discover Twitter and other social media resources for themselves.
This isn't all, but it's a start. And that is always the most exciting part of any journey.
About this blog...
Learners Together is designed as a forum for sharing ideas, experiences and epiphanies about master teaching and technology integration. Comments and sharing are welcome.
"Getting Girls into STEM: The Power of Blended (and All-Female) Instruction". (Tormala) EdSurge, March 21, 2017.
"Confronting the Abominable Snow Day". (Gilbert & Tormala) Edutopia, Feb. 2017.
"Video Interviews with iPads: The Power of Mobile Technology". (Tormala) EdTechTeam, Jan 2017.
"Discomfort, Growth, and Innovation." (Tormala) Edutopia, Oct. 2016.
"5 Epiphanies on Learning in a 1:1 iPad Classroom." (Tormala) Edutopia, July 2014.