The Professional, Personal, and Private Sides of Social Media

This week I had the honor of working with my colleague, Julie Cremin, to facilitate our school's in-house summer EdTech conference. It is meant to help inspire teachers at our school to set new goals for engagement and tech integration in their classrooms.

My intro to the PLN session.
The thing is, although teachers know technology has the potential to change the way students learn, many do not know that it can change the way they develop as professional educators. Our teachers spend much of their time putting their students first, so Julie and I felt strongly that part of teacher EdTech training should be about the educators. After all, the students would benefit from their teachers' growth in the end, right?

Near the end of our 3 day conference, the final session I facilitated was about the power of building a PLN (Professional Learning Network) through social media. First I defined PLN for the teachers who joined the conversation.

The group of people a learner interacts with, formally or informally, and derives knowledge from in online or in-person environments.

Click here to see the guide.
Then I gave them some key resources I've been able to create with members of my PLN. These included The Guide to Social Media for Educators I co-authored with Larry Magid, and a podcast called The Connected Educator with Dr. Will. You see, this was not going to be a "how-to" session. It was going to be a "why" session. Many educators are intimidated by social media because of the tough language in their school's acceptable use policy or because of the news stories of online harassment. My mission was to show them the professional and personal benefits of engaging on social media, while giving them the knowledge they need to protect themselves.


Resource Curation & Sharing with Google+

Glenn Blakney is a middle school math teacher at our school. If you ever have the pleasure of talking with him about why he believes in the power of math, he will likely bring you to his Google+ page and start clicking on the many resources he has posted there. You'll get to watch videos, complete experiments, and read fascinating articles. When Glenn talks about math, it's clear he is the person you want teaching your child. When you look at Glenn's Google+ page, you will wonder where these amazing resources were when you were a student. Glenn is thriving from the resource gathering and sharing part of the PLN, and his students are the beneficiaries. All of this shown through during his contribution to our session.

Twitter Chats and Lesson Ideas

Alexandra Horelik and I have a funny history. We've been connected as history teachers for several years on Twitter. I even sought her out for advice as I implemented a new teaching strategy - the #EdCafe - I knew she had experience with last year. Thanks to her advice and resources, my students were able to successfully implement it in our class recently. This past week we found ourselves face to face for the first time. As luck would have it, our new jobs brought us to the same school! Alexandra shared her favorite ways to use social media: Twitter chats, like #sschat and #sstlap, along with discussions of lesson plan ideas and strategies on a more personal basis.


That Real Personal Connection

Tammy Neil
Then it happens. You meet your professional soulmate. Tammy Neil  math teacher/library media specialist/computer applications and game design extraordinaire/teacher of the year (yup - she deserves every letter of that title) is my soulmate. We have little in common on paper. We're from states with starkly different cultures and economies. We've taught content areas that are considered quite different. We aren't the same age or religion. And yet, Tammy and I have so much in common when it comes to our pedagogy, our love for connecting with others, and our beliefs about what is best for our students.

Tammy was kind enough to make time on her third day of school to be a part of our PLN session via Google Hangout. She and I talked to my new colleagues about how we first connected in a Twitter chat, started talking more on Voxer, and met at a conference in Orlando, Florida shortly before she drove me to my first edcamp experience in Tampa. Since then, we've met again once at ISTE in Philadelphia and continue to talk quite often on Voxer. She is one of my newest and truest friends. We've met one another's students (via Google Hangout), written to and about each other on our blogs, and supported the other though times of both celebration and struggle. I'm fortunate enough to have forged a relationship with Tammy that is an exemplar for how valuable social media connections can be for educators and for their students. Sharing that first-hand experience with Tammy was a privilege.


Remembering AUPs

Remember to keep your district's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) in mind while allowing yourself to grow through your own PLN. Formalities are no fun, but they are important. Even as I was showing my new colleagues how far a PLN can take them, I was explaining our school policies when it comes to online interaction with students, parents, and members of our school community. Teachers should feel empowered by the connections that social media can make possible. They also must recognize that school AUPs, which can limit those connections, are written to protect all members of the community. With that in mind, some AUPs have been in effect for 5 years or more and need updating. When that revision happens, it is important for administrators, teachers, parents, and students to be a part of the process.

Since then, we have some new teachers to Twitter from my new school. A few have told me they are ready for me to introduce them to my PLN, and they might even try out a Twitter chat. Social media is a tool that can be used in different ways by different educators according to their differing needs. The key here is that instructional technologists, like Julie and I, would be wise to remember that educator professional development should go beyond tech-for-the-sake-of student learning. When teachers see how the technology -- social media in this case -- can benefit themselves, we will get more buy-in and the students will be the ultimate beneficiaries.


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