Reflections on Twitter and my PLN
Using Twitter to develop my education PLN has been an interesting experience because I was quite familiar with this platform, but my primary uses have been for marketing, public relations, to spread humor, and for social activism. I was not familiar with Twitter chats at all, nor did I know about Twitter Deck. This new insight into how to use Twitter to continue to build my PLN has been very helpful. It is great to be able to easily connect with others who are as equally passionate and informed as I am about the development of 21st-century intrapersonal and interpersonal skills through early bilingualism. This is something that is a niche within a niche and very hard to find others who are active in this area of education. But in the Twitterverse there seems to be a chat or hashtag for everything! This has given me a glimpse of where I can find a professional community to learn from and join forces with.
I do feel, however, that I may need to have different Twitter accounts for the different ways I use Twitter. Ever since I started using it for education chats, I don't feel as comfortable posting silly GIFs and cartoons just for laughs, or engaging in activism posts that could be seen as political. As an emerging education leader, I feel I need to maintain a certain decorum and neutral professionalism on my Twitter feed. Thus, I had to start a new Twitter account for my other passions, which I plan to engage in anonymously.
A PLN is exactly what I have been missing for the last 15 years of working in almost complete isolation while building and operating an educational camp in Costa Rica and then running and directing and operating a day camp, Spanish immersion classes, and an afterschool programs for many years. Finding my PLN is in great part why I went back to school for a master's degree. Without a PLN of other educators, I feel the risk of becoming stagnant in my learning and feel quite isolated and alone at times. Now that I am building my education PLN, I feel more confident to go into the world and present my education projects for funding and find institutional partnerships.
I truly enjoyed the way the EDL 680 course of SDSU was structured because it included a lot of opportunities for applied learning and engaging through technological platforms that help our work and ideas reach an authentic audience. The focus on creating a PLN by actually going out there and finding chats with other educators and publishing on Twitter helped bridge the divide between the real world and the classroom. I felt less like a student and more like a thinker and leader.
I hope to transfer these lessons to my practice as a teacher and as an education leader. Twitter and some other platforms are not appropriate for all ages, but it can be used with parents, with staff, etc. In particular, I am considering how to use Twitter to create a way for the childcare providers and teachers who take my training courses, to continue communicating with each other, ask questions, and share ideas and encouragement.
Seven 21st Century Survival Skills
Today's children need to be equipped with a greater set of skills than prior generations. I believe this because I have lived it in my own life. As a Gen-Xer I have had to keep up with new ways of living in synergy with technology and a nomadic lifestyle due to war. Thankfully, I my education and experiences helped me develop an inner repertoire of survival skills that made me be able to survive in today's rapidly changing world. However, some of these were acquired by chance and without intentional focus on these survival skills, many children will never learn them.
Discuss your previous experience with Instructional Rounds/Learning walks, could be your own experience of what you've heard about this strategy for improving instruction. I do not have any experience participating in Learning Walks. However, I was thrilled to learn about this simple concept, because I have always felt that one of the biggest problems that students, especially young students, deal with, is inconsistency with rules and expectations from class to class. Having teachers learn about how the other educators in their cohort deal with things like behaviour management would greatly help those students who have a hard time with transitions and who get easily confused by different implicit and explicit messages from different teachers. Every teacher has the right to have their own behaviour management strategy, but more consistency from classroom to classroom could help children feel more at ease by knowing clearly what is expected of them and what the process is when they are choosing not to learn and not to let others learn. I believe that when a child feels at ease and safe within their known boundaries, they are more free to be creative and instruction is improved.
2. Discuss how these videos connect to the ideas Wagner puts forth about improving instruction.
Wagner speaks to the need for more interdisciplinary learning. Learning Walks are an important tool to make this happen for students so they can have continuity around the same project or lesson from the math to their ELA to their art class. Also, Wagner speaks to the great need to teach teamwork and collaboration. Their witnessing of Learning Walks and their outcomes is a great way to see this collaboration in action, thus, modeling how things happen in the real world in and in other work environments.
3. Thinking about your own leadership, how would you bring this strategy to a school you lead? Think about being a new leader and how you would roll out this new plan, keeping in mind the differences in learners/teachers, and the structure of this school's professional development strategies already in place. Dream big, however, keep yourself grounded in the reality of today's schools.
As Fisher and Frey say in their article, Using Teacher Learning Walks to Improve Instruction, “Issues of trust must be dealt with directly, and professional development and discussion should precede practice. The investment in time and conversation is well worth the effort so that learning walks are viewed positively from their inception.” In other words, teachers need to be prepared in advance for this new strategy and given a chance to express their concerns and anxieties. Ideally, they can hear from other educators at their school site or through videos with reassuring stories of the many benefits of Learning Walks.
Fisher and Freys' idea of having Ghost Walks first is a good one as it breaks the ice and gets the teacher used to having others in their classroom. Also, having specifically-focused Learning Walks like “Capacity-building learning walks" are also a great idea because there is a set purpose and focus to the observation vs being observed for anything and everything which can make teachers feel uncomfortable and vulnerable and it creates boundaries that will feel more comfortable. Also, letting teachers know in advance and meeting with a facilitator in advance are great strategies I would employ.
However, I don't know if I feel comfortable with teachers taking on a possessive tone with their classrooms and being able to not participate. The classroom belongs first and foremost to the students and our role as leaders is to do the best we can do for them. Teachers are the facilitators, but they cannot close the door to observation and the benefit of a professional development activity like Learning Walks. I would phase it in slowly and use those ideas from Fisher and Frey, but I would not allow teachers to choose to not participate just like they cannot choose to not participate in a professional development day - I would make sure it does not take up any of their time and is structured within their regular work day with a planned activity for the kids to do with a sub to cover their classroom while they observe.
In The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner says that schools are not failing; rather, they are obsolete. This is a rather general statement that on face value, is flawed because there is certainly a need for schools. It is not that schools are obsolete, it is that much of what is being taught in schools is obsolete, and particularly, the way things are taught. For instance, in schools individualized learning and production of classwork is still king, while as the global workplace calls for teamwork and collaboration.
The global achievement gap is invisible to most of us for a number of reasons. One of these is because many teachers work in isolation and do not see how their classrooms compare to other teacher's classrooms, especially across the world. There is also a lack of data and research comparing the quality of instruction happening in classrooms around the world and how this relates to the skills that employers are looking for.
If schools are to adapt to the real world, the focus of school work must no longer be defined by a specific specialty, but by applying knowledge to solve problems, create a new idea, and improve on something. This calls for teams of educators from different disciplines co-teaching and having classrooms equipped with tools from numerous disciplines. It means more group projects that are aligned with real-life problems where knowledge and multi-angled problem solving can be applied to help the school or community. It means more ways of assessing, such as a portfolio and not only the results of team projects, but the habits and collaboration skills of the team members.
Learning walks are a great way for teachers to see how other teachers teach. It gives teachers an opportunity within their own school community for continuous growth and improvement. It helps teachers share strategies and give children more consistency between classrooms. Since teachers are always in the classroom, they often do not get a chance to see how other teachers are teaching beyond their teacher preparation period. Learning Walks gives them a chance to reflect on what they are doing well in their own classrooms and what they can improve upon.
Wagner lays out in his book that he would like to see more students engaged in learning through hands-on activities, like going to the local pond and collecting water samples to test the water quality vs have to stay in the classroom to learn content that is going to be on a standardized test. He would like to see more emotional intelligence and soft skills being developed, such as being inquisitive, knowing how to work in a team, problem-solving, being adaptable and flexible to new ideas, and expressing one's thoughts.
Wagner made a case for education that is relevant and in tune to the real-world skills employers are looking for. In the article, Connecting Professional Learning and Leadership, George Couros speaks to the need to prepare students to be teachers of others. Being able to teach others and empower others to be leaders and teachers is one of the important skills of the 21st Century worker. It is also a critical way for the reforms that need to happen in schools to spread. Peer to peer influence is critical for any reform to take root and stick. And the reform of making school instruction align with the 21st Century Skills our children need will be a huge undertaking that teachers will be primarily responsible for carrying out.
In the article, It’s Not a Technology Issue, Eric Sheninger also spoke of the need for teachers to embrace the 21st Century and the new tools it brings. In this case, he pointed out that teachers are the models of our students and they are also users of the technological tools that they often shun in their classrooms. Rather than reject the use of mobile devices altogether, teachers can model proper digital citizenship and integrate these tools to engage students and help them increase their technology-supported skills in areas such as research, digital literacy, and increased productivity.