Posts Tagged twitter

Not Everyone Is Able to Tweet and Post Who They Are

There is often much discussion around the separation of our professional and personal lives on social media.  Some districts strongly encourage this separation while others encourage the blending of both.  I have been a supporter of the latter as I believe that if we share who we are online we develop better relationships with others.  In December, I tweeted the following:

From an organization perspective, I wholeheartedly agree with my tweet.  I encourage people to share who they are and be transparent in their views on education.

However, my friend Royan Lee gave me some pushback on this idea when he tweeted,

What I did not realize when I tweeted that, was that my view on the subject was coming from a lens of privilege – the lens of a middle class, white, heterosexual male.  Where I fell short in my tweet was that I failed to empathize with those whose lives are considered less acceptable to some.

When Royan brought this side to my attention… I stopped and thought about deleting the tweet, but then realized this is all part of the learning.  It was not my intention to be ignorant but by wearing my invisible napsack of privilege… I felt I was.

I immediately thought about my friends who have struggled most of their lives with a target on them for being gay.  I thought of my gay friends who are now so happy with their girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, and kids.  I thought of how these important friends that have inspired me and taught me so much cannot always share who they are for fear of being attacked by those who judge and throw stones.

I have been attacked for my views on education and sometimes these became personal; however, I have never been attacked for who I am or who my family is. For those with a personal social media account where they share all of the joy in their lives and happen to be gay (expand to LGBTQ), it is a sad reality that, because of societal views and judgment from others, they feel they cannot share this personal joy in their professional streams.

I recently shared a video of who I am with the families and staff of my new school.  It was very well received and it immediately help foster some relationships with families.  In reflection, I cannot help but think about what it would be like if I did not have the “typical wife and two children” family.  What if my wife and kids were a husband and kids?  Would I still share this?  I feel we have a fairly liberal society in BC but there would likely still be some families that would shut me out or view me differently.  We all love to belong and love to be accepted and although I would hope that I would have the courage to be publicly proud of my family, I am not sure I would as that might be risking this feeling of acceptance.  It is reflection like this that help me to attempt to look through the lens to help me understand how difficult it must be for my gay friends and many others who want to share who they are but live in a society that still has some people that look to judge rather than seek t0 understand.

I was going to write another post about the importance of sharing who we are… and I still believe this is important;  however, it is much easier for people with a life that is more acceptable in society.

Although Royan’s tweet was not specifically about the LGBTQ community, it was a wake up call for me to change my lens and seek to understand the difficulties for students and adults to post and tweet who they really are.  To all my friends, as well as those in my network, for whom I failed to understand their lens…. I apologize.  Thank you so much to Royan and the many others who continue to teach me to empathize with others and attempt to view life through a new lens.

Looking through a better lens.   cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Kevin Dooley: http://flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/4196773347/

Looking through a better lens.
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Kevin Dooley: http://flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/4196773347/

 

Tags: , , ,

The Importance of Modeling Positive Use of Social Media

Used with permission from the Magnussen family.

Cyberbullying. Stalking. Pedophilia. Narcissism. Screen time. These are the headlines that grab the most attention around the topic of students using social media.  These articles and reports strike fear into parents and schools to the point that has resulted in the banning of social media.  By banning, we put our heads in the sand and cross our fingers that somehow, in some way, students will avoid using social media or somehow miraculously figure out how to use it in a positive manner.  When we do this, what actually ends up happening is we get students sneaking around using social media tools and teaching themselves what is and what is not appropriate.  Gordon Neufeld, author of Hold on to Your Kids,  speaks of the problems with this on a broader level as peers then attach to each other without adults (teacher, family) and teach themselves which behaviours are acceptable.  In order for adults to guide and be the teachers of any skill, we need to be aware and we need to be involved.

As adults, we need to be the teachers.  We need to be the models.  Much like with other skills and behaviours. We need to focus on the relationships we have with our students/children and model and teach digital citizenship.

At our school we have students up to the age of 12.  In a very informal survey I did last year, I found that almost 75% of our students in grade 5 and 6 were using some form of social media (predominantly Instagram and Facebook) and many of them were using it with very limited support from adults.  This is not a criticism of parents nor is it a criticism of schools and teachers; we are all taking this new journey together and as we grow with the tools, we start to see the issues that arise.  Because of this, I have taught mini-units of social media with our 5′s and 6′s with the focus on digital footprint and online communication (as well as what to do when a child experiences negative behaviour online).  We speak of BOTH the negatives (ex. the importance of knowing how to take a screenshot on any device as well as the impact of this) and the positives (ex. the positive impact a child can have on others through supporting and sharing online).  My goal with these sessions is not to tell students to connect online but rather to teach the impact of posting online as well as the skills of how to communicate and interact online. In addition to these sessions, as more students and classes begin blogging and connecting for educational purposes, it also provides us with key opportunities to teach digital citizenship.

One thing that I have been thinking about lately is the idea that my friend, George Couros, recently mentioned to me: Digital Leadership.  Much like leadership offline, students and adults can LEAD others in how they interact and treat each other online.  When we put our heads in the sand and ban social media, we miss a huge opportunity to showcase and tap intp digital leadership and model a positive online presence.

In a recent session I did with the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils on schools using social media to enhance parent engagement, a question was asked about the fear around using Facebook in schools (click here to access the archive of the session).  My response was that although I understand the fears involved with posting online, I believe that it is our job as adults in 2013 to MODEL appropriate and positive use of social media.  For example, like other schools in BC, we have fairly strict protection of privacy laws (FIPPA) so we need to have specific consent of parents in order to share photos (especially when stored online outside of Canada).  This consent is often beyond that of a 12 year old’s understanding… so in addition to the consent that is required by an adult, I ask the students before a post a photo of them.  I want them to learn that it is not appropriate to post any photos of friends or peers without them knowing.  Another area that I also am trying to model with students is how and when to put the devices away and self-regulate in a world in which there is always someone online that wants to engage.  Students know I use social media and they also see me using technology in a very purposeful manner (see Why I Took Facebook and Twitter Off My Phone).  By sharing the ways we use social media and including students in this discussion, we schools can be digital leaders and open the doors to some deeper learning experience on how to better navigate this new(ish) world of social media together.

Not only is it important for schools to model digital leadership and citizenship. it is aslo important to share the stories of other digital leaders (particularly youth) who are using social media to make a positive difference to others.  Many of you know the relationship that I had with the family of  a young girl, Lilee-Jean Putt, whom we lost recently to cancer at the age of two. Because of my online connection to LJ’s mother and father, I came across the Facebook page of a 17 year old girl, Angel Magnussen, who has made it her life purpose to help sick children in a variety of ways. Angel is not your typical 17 year old.  She is a 17 year old who is #proudtohaveDownsSyndrome (from her Twitter bio) and a passionate girl who has started her own non-profit business “Hugginz By Angel”.  This business raises money for BC Children’s Hospital in a variety of ways but most importantly, by selling (well, mostly raising money and donating) beautiful blankets Angel makes to wrap around as many sick children in need an “Angel Hug”.  From her Facebook page:

I have just started up my own Non Profit Fundraising Business “Hugginz By Angel”. I make and sell specially designed cute cuddly hospital pajamas for kids and teens and blankets young children and babies. I knit Love Hats for sick kids too. I want to make sure that every sick child is wrapped up in a warm hug. Sales of Hugginz benefit Variety the children’s charity. Please check out my Hugginz By Angel photo album to see the photos and get the ordering and sponsorship information. You can help me to reach my fundraising goals for these charities by sharing my website www.hugginzbyangel.com and spreading the word about my latest fundraising efforts.

Not only is this impressive, but it is also inspiring to see how she is using her blog, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share the stories of so many others that are fighting battles and need our support.  Because of all the work she is doing, the mainstream media has started to take notice and, in addition to the numerous honours she has received, she has been recently featured at WeDay as well as on CTV.  Although I have never met Angel (but hope to one day), please take a moment to like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter – you will read stories of empathy and unbelievable care that is having an impact on so many families needing support.

Negative issues like cyberbullying are important to discuss with our students and children; however, because of these issues it makes it that much more important for adults to model and be digital leaders for our youth.  Angel did not learn to use social media in a positive way one evening; she has the support of her mother to help tap into the power of social media and enhance her message and purpose.  As schools, we no longer can stick our heads in the sand and hope this goes away.  We need to be digital leaders and find ways to become part of the conversation, share powerful stories like Angel, and model the positive use of social media to our students.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Why I Took Facebook and Twitter Off My Phone

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Quinn Dombrowski: http://flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/8107606569/

image cc licensed (BY SA) flickr photo by Quinn Dombrowski: http://flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/8107606569/

I am proud to call myself a connected educator; however, I am not proud to say that being connected distracted me from my students… and my kids.

When I first joined Twitter in 2008, I was skeptical and was trying to use it to try to figure it out to help my wife use it for her business.  Later that year, I found the power of creating a personal learning network and for the the next few years, I could not get enough of talking all things education on Twitter and through blogs.  As a new principal, the people I connected with through Twitter we instrumental in helping me to grow and survive the first few years; however, I had trouble turning off and the phrase “power down, Wejr!” became quite common in our house.

From http://xkcd.com/386/

From http://xkcd.com/386/

I loved being so connected as there was always someone to talk and debate issues in education.  Real friendships grew out of my interactions on Twitter and I would never ever question the value of social media in education and professional learning.

This past year, my word has been “FOCUS” as this is an area I have always struggled with.  I currently have half of our large hedge trimmed, 2/3 of our patio rails painted, and only the back lawn mowed.  My wife jokingly says I must have A.D.D. but I actually do have a significant struggle with focusing on one thing at a time.   I am not good at being still; if there is a spare moment, I need to be doing something.

What I noticed this past year is that the “something” that I often needed to do when there was a spare moment was to check my social media apps on my phone. If the kids had to go to the bathroom, I would check my phone.  If I went to do laundry and was not with the girls for a moment… I would check my phone.  If I was walking down the hall… if I was waiting in line…I would check my phone.

I knew something had to change so I took all notifications off my phone aside from text messages.  I STILL went and checked my phone… but instead of checking the notifications, I would actually open the Twitter or Facebook app just to check for replies or messages.  As sad as this may sound for a “thirtysomething” to be doing this, you can imagine how hard it is for our students and teens when social interaction and connections are that much more important.  To be clear, I would not check my phone when I was with the kids – I had the self-control to avoid that.  The problem was that I would check when I had that spare moment and although I would put the phone away as soon as I was with the kids (or students), I often became distracted.  I was distracted by a message or reply that got me thinking… and when the wheels started turning about a tweet or a message, I found myself absent from the next few moments with my students or family.

As we hit the summer, I wanted it all to be about my family.  I decided to take the Facebook and Twitter apps off my phone and disabled email.  You would not believe the impact this had on me.  For the first few days of the summer, whenever there was a bathroom break for the girls (during the “Daddy.. PRIVACY” phase), I would think to go to my phone.  That was a huge slap in the face to me about how often I would reach to check.  I learned to be still.  I learned to enjoy those quiet moments.  For me to check my social media and/or email, I would need to open my laptop and at a time when my focus would be connecting online.  This meant that when we were at the park, or on a walk, or away for a week camping… I could not check my social media.  I realized that by connecting less, I was connecting more.  I was not distracted and my focus was 100% on the people that were right in front of me.The reason that I want to share the story of my highs and lows of connectedness is that I think we need to find a balance that works for us, our students, our jobs, and our families.  We are in a time where being connected is becoming less optional and I worry that with so many opportunities to connect, we lose the deeper connections with those directly in front of us.  I am not saying that social media is a negative or a bad thing nor am I saying we need to avoid social media; my connections online have led to deep relationships with people that have had a huge impact on my life.  I am also not saying that everyone needs to do what I did as most people likely have more self-control than me.  What I am saying is that we need to make social media work for us.  We do not need to be available at all times to all people.  We need to be available to the people that are with us in that moment. We need to model effective, respectful, and appropriate use of our devices to our kids.  We need to step back and reflect on our purpose.

Brene Brown wrote,

Connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others.

I truly believe in the power of connection.  With access to so many people who are willing and able to connect throughout the day, it makes it that much more important to be reflective and purposeful in how and when we use social media and technology in our lives.

Thank you to the student in Jonathan Vervaet’s education class at Simon Fraser University that asked me the question, “Can we be too connected?” as my response led to this post.  Thank you, too, to my wife for her constant nudging to “power down”.

Be sure to read my friend Dwight Carter’s post Disconnect to Reconnect as this had a large impact on me last summer.

Note: I realize that I can still access the web version of social media sites on my phone but for some reason, I was able to prevent myself from doing this.  As I am now at work and have learned more self-control, I have added email back to my phone.

Tags: , , , , ,

Social Media in Education: Who is it REALLY About?

Who is it all about?
CC Image from camknows http://flic.kr/p/bmXv1d

Number of followers. Klout scores. Lists of “top” people to follow. Twitter grades. Likes. Branding. Edublog Awards. Bammy Awards. Blog hits.

Social media is filled with passionate educators that are trying to learn and grow together in a way that benefits their districts, schools, classrooms and students. My worry is that I am seeing some things that make me question if some people have altered their social media strategy to be less about sharing and learning stories of OTHERS to being more about sharing stories and ideas about THEM.  Getting attention feels good and can often distract from purpose so when you look at the list above, who are these scores/lists/ideas really about?

As someone who has used social media in education for almost 4 years (long time for some, not long for others), I have built up my personal learning network to a point in which truly makes my learning personal.  I have blogs in my reader that support and challenge my philosophies and I am always looking for new voices from whom I can learn.  I admire those that share stories of their staff and students and the impact that this is having on their education.  I admire those who take risks and share stories of vulnerability in order to help them grow.  I am, though, concerned about the sharing of only MY messages and the “I am right, you are wrong” discourse that I sometimes see in my feeds.  I have  been caught up in these zero-sum style debates and also learned from this; I have made many mistakes and continue to learn from my actions.  I am also concerned that we are having the same conversations over and over again through social media, conferences and unconferences but not really changing much in our practices.

I wonder the point at which social media becomes more about marketing the user than about the learning that can result from using it to connect with others..  We often hide behind the idea that “the intent is good and we are sharing good stories of education” when we participate and promote education and social media awards and “top” Twitter lists.  Do we really need these awards to share stories if social media is already about sharing good stories?  How many great narratives are missed and lost because people are only following the “top” tweeters and only using apps like Zite and Flipboard to read the “top” stories in education?  Do these edu-awards ceremonies create more of an echo chamber and an imbalance of power as those with large number of followers get more followers and a louder voice and those with fewer followers become more silenced? Most of us believe that collaboration is the key to driving education forward so when we set up these arbitrary competitions, what does this do to collaboration?  I see so many tweets and post questioning school/student grades, rankings, and awards and student grades, rankings, and awards… yet we also see people promoting these very same things about educators and stating that this is “good for education”.  How can it be bad when it is about students but good when it is about educators?

I worry about the edu-celebrities that have been created and the branding of people that results.  Tweets like “OMG, sitting next to ________ at ____EduConference – looking forward to great conversation” concern me.  I worry that we seek out those who are popular on Twitter rather than engaging those right beside us.  As Andrew Marcinek said to me:

…we can do great things with these social mediums, but instead, we’re competing against each other for some arbitrary glory.

I realize Andrew often says it like it is but his statement makes me reflect on my social media learning strategy.  I do not believe people intend to be competing with others for messages but if you watch with a critical eye, you can see examples of this on many occasions.

U understand the message is easier to spread with a high number of followers and viewers… but what if getting followers becomes the primary goal?  Much like how grades can take away from the focus on learning, number values on people using social media can take away from the meaningful professional learning dialogue that can occur.

Lately I have seen some people whom I respect start to “weed out” their networks by unfollowing 1000′s of people.  I understand the purpose of this as people want deeper connections with fewer people… but can you not have deeper connections without shutting out those who you once wanted to connect with? I rely on lists in Twitter as my home feed moves awfully quickly to keep up; having said this, I do check in on the home feed once in a while for new perspectives and stories. George Couros recently wrote about this trend and he threw out a great challenge to those unfollowing people in a comment,

If you really want to start fresh, why not just start a brand new twitter account? Those relationships you talk about are important and obviously a two way street so if they were important on the other end, wouldn’t they find you as well? If it not about followers and about connections only, would you be willing to start truly from scratch?

Some of my learning conversations happen through Direct Messages as I need  that one-on-one conversation.  I recently tried to do this with an individual but he/she had unfollowed me so I was not able to tap into his/her insights.  If stories and connections are truly important for education and learning, what message do we send when we shut out people from our networks?  You never know who will reach out or who you will learn from so it is important to keep these connections open.

While at a workshop on professional learning through social media, a fellow educator recently asked me – do you think people who use social media are too much about themselves? My initial response was “no” but upon further reflection and as our conversation continued we began to agree that there are some people that use social media to promote primarily themselves – THEIR blog, THEIR ideas, THEIR “brand” (and some make a great living doing this; their social media strategy is clear – to sell their message).  This conversation made me step back and look at how I am using social media. There is power in humility.  There are many people whom I follow that have grown to have a huge network but maintained humility while sharing important stories about ideas, students, parents, and educators. Here are some key questions I am asking myself:

  • Am I sharing ideas that keep students at the centre… or am I sharing MY ideas that keep ME at the centre?
  • Am I more drawn to those with high profiles or those with powerful stories to share?
  • How often do I get caught up in the attention that social media can bring?
  • Do my education philosophies align with my social media presence?  Do I walk the talk?
  • Am I taking what I learn through connecting with others and applying it to our school and students?

This post is not meant to be critical of any individuals but more to encourage more of us to use a critical eye on how we use social media in education.  We need to question the events and initiatives that may hinder the meaningful dialogue that can occur through social media.  As Alec Couros wrote:

Education needs role models who demonstrate that complex problems are solved by cooperative networks of creative & passionate individuals

Are we REALLY working to use these cooperative networks to solve problems that benefit students… or is it about something else?  I have been caught up in the attention before; I have been caught up in the numbers – but I continue to learn from these mistakes.  For me, social media is about professional relationships that connect and share stories from many different voices; then applying these stories/ideas to enhance my professional/personal life as to ultimately benefit our students.  We need to be careful not to get caught up in the awards, lists, and numbers so we do not contribute to the hierarchy of connected voices in education.  If we focus only on the strong voices in social media, we may unintentionally marginalize people and risk missing so many important stories.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

From Followers to Friendships

Fist bump – from http://flic.kr/p/7XiTUz

Many of us have written about how our PLN (personal learning network) has helped us get through challenging times.  I wanted to share some experiences of how people I have met through social media have impacted me in my day to day life and even moved from followers to friends.  I am not a fan of lists of people and this is not meant to include or exclude but more to share some recent positive experiences resulting from social media.

As I head back to work and reflect on the summer, some key moments with friends stand out… moments that would not have occurred had I not been using social media as a tool for professional learning.

People who do not use Twitter and Social Media often state that “real relationships” cannot be formed through these avenues.  This summer was a clear example of how friendships CAN result from relationships formed through social media.

At the beginning of the summer, George Couros, division principal in Alberta, planned a few days stop over in Vancouver on his way to a speaking tour in Australia.  We planned to hang out for a day and then meet up with a few others that evening.  I picked him up at the airport (I was a bit late… although I did a drive by and he was too busy tweeting out that I was late to notice me driving by) and we spent the day chatting about all things life, education, and social media.  In the evening, we met up with a few other amazing educators (whom I have also met through Twitter) for some dinner and in depth chats about technology, education, and professional learning.   The weird thing is that this was only the third time I had ever met George face to face.  We have ‘spoken’ through Twitter, Facebook, email, SMS, Skype, etc for a few years but because he lives in Alberta, we rarely get to meet.  George and I hung out like we were university buddies… often it felt like we were catching up by sharing old experiences and bouncing ideas off each other.

Brian Kuhn, the technology leader in Coquitlam, is someone whom I met through Twitter and blogging a few years back.  I originally went for breakfast with Brian to pick his brain about developing a tech vision for our district.  What resulted has been regular (EARLY!) breakfast meetings throughout the year that include dialogue not only about technology and education but also about family and life in general.  We often meet up at conferences or events and I follow his travels around Europe and mountain biking trails via Facebook and he follows the growth of my young daughters.  Today we attended an Edcamp together and he made a comment “It is so cool to see photos of your daughter growing up… feel like I am watching family”.   Brian is a bit of mentor to me but also has moved to a trustworthy buddy that I can chat with about anything.

Another connection with Kuhn.

A few weeks ago, I was heading up to a family reunion in Salmon Arm and the route to there took me through Kamloops.  Cale Birk, a principal in Kamloops, invited me to stop by his place on the way back.  His house was a perfect pit stop for my family (you cannot get very far with two 20-month-old daughters in the car) so we popped in for a few hours.  Again, hanging out with Cale was like being with a buddy that I played hockey or basketball with.  We chatted about everything until finally my wife gave me the signal that we had to head out.  The crazy part of this is that our wives had actually connected through Facebook a few weeks prior as they are both dance teachers.  Further, Cale has 2 beautiful daughters (2 and 4) who immediately connected with our daughters.  The best part of this meeting was the fact that I had never met Cale face to face before.  We had also used a variety of tech to communicate with each other so we knew each other quite well but meeting face to face created that friendship.  Cale, Lori, Paige, and Kate stopped by our place for lunch the following week, en route to Victoria, and we are planning some more gatherings in the near future.

 

Meeting the Birks


The last example I want to share does not involve a face to face meeting but more of someone whom I keep in touch with on a regular basis.  Darcy Mullin, a principal in Summerland, and I have been Skyping once a month for the past year.  In addition, we chat via Twitter, Facebook, email, and text messaging.  Although our attempt to meet up this summer (which would add up to a whopping 3 times) did not work out, Darcy and I kept in touch by Skyping a few times and texting throughout the summer.  The best thing about our conversations this summer is that the focus was not just on education but mostly on our families.  Darcy has twins as well so the stories of my daughters really bring him back; too, I enjoy his narratives of his family outings throughout BC and Western USA – the excitement in his voice when he speaks about his wife, son, and daughter is truly contagious.

Meeting with Mullin

To me, the learning that results from the connections we have with people is obvious.  This post is by no means meant to be a cheesy shout out to George, Brian, Cale, and Darcy nor is it to exclude the many other people and friends I have met through social media; it is to share and highlight the potential deeper relationships that can arise from the effective use of social media.

Connecting through social media is not about the quantity of followers or ‘friends’ that a person has but it IS about the deeper, trusting relationships that can result if you take the time to make these relationships happen.  These guys have had a huge impact on me – and I probably would never have met them without social media.  I look forward to deepening the relationships and learning with a few more folks in the near future. Thank you to all those that have taken the time to connect with me to help me both as an educator and as a person.

For another example of how followers can turn into friends, please check out Stacey Garrioch’s wonderful post on #edcampkinder.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Catching Moments

Moments at the park with my kids.

I recently took a few weeks off Twitter, Blogs, and Facebook.

As I did this, there were a few thoughts that I had but this one stood out:

You can always catch up on the tweets and posts… you can never catch up on the moments.

My kids are growing up so quickly… moments with my family are what I live for.

I love being so connected and forming amazing professional and personal relationships with so many great people.  It is difficult to even put in words how social media has affected my career and life. The challenge for me is to continue to work toward a more balanced life that includes being connected.  I don’t plan on spending less time using social media but I will be spending time differently.

I may be a bit behind reading tweets and blog posts but I know I will be there more often to catch the moments right in front of me.

Thanks to Dwight Carter for our phone conversation and his post that caused me to reflect.  Thanks also to my wonderful wife for the reminders and the push.

Tags: , , , ,

Power of a Positive Digital Footprint – A Personal Story

Adapted From http://flic.kr/p/7uNd7J

I am one that is constantly sharing with others the importance of a positive digital footprint.  This became so important to me yesterday as my Facebook account was hacked and someone acted as me and tried to get my friends to click on very inappropriate links. Now that I have had time to calm down and discuss this with a mentor of mine, I can think back and reflect upon lessons learned during this trying experience.

Lesson 1: Stay Calm.  When I saw that someone had posted sketchy links on my page (saying I “liked” the links), I did not respond in the most effective manner.  To be honest, I freaked out.  I even commented on the posts – so basically commented on my own posts which made it seem like I completely lost my mind.  All I could think about is the staff members, family, and friends that would think that I “liked” these links.  I frantically removed the items (or so I thought) and then filled my page with posts begging people to understand that my account had been hacked.  In times of stress, it is so important to realize that we cannot change what has happened but we can change how we respond.  If I could rewind, I would be more calm and work with some of the amazing people around me to develop a strategy that would turn this negative into a positive.

Lesson 2: If you have created a positive digital footprint, trust your reputation.  I have worked hard to post tweets, blogs, links, etc in a transparent (and sometimes vulnerable) manner that reveals who I am and what I stand for.  People I connect with through apps like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram know that I would never promote sites of this nature.  Looking back, it is quite comical to think that I was worried that people would think that I was posting this.  I should have trusted the fact that people knew me and had enough respect to understand what had happened.

Lesson 3: Rely on coaches and mentors.  I received a few messages today that the links were still in their feed.  People continue to look out for me and that is such a huge benefit of being part of an online community.  One message I received was from a long-time friend and social media mentor (who actually got me started on Twitter and blogging).  He wrote:

No doubt it is stressful and you are right to be concerned about perception as a result of the posts. At the same time this is your chance to shine and be stoic about it. Have a bit of humour about it. Fret on the inside, but stand tall on the outside… This is a reality of SM, you are a leader re SM in Edu. Act like it.  

It was a virtual smack upside the head to snap out of this poor me approach and use this as an opportunity.  After chatting on the phone with him, it became clear that I should have tapped into people like him from the start, someone from the outside that can offer some respectful guidance.

I can just hear some people that are on the fence of using social media saying “see, this is why I don’t get involved”.  My response would be that yes, you may miss out on a day in which someone posts something negative on your page… but you are also missing out on so many opportunities to learn and connect with old and new friends, colleagues, and family.  You are also missing out on the chance to share and steal ideas to not only make you better but also all those around you.  Most importantly you may be missing out on the opportunity to form key relationships with people that share the good times and help you through difficult ones in a way that actually make your life that much more enjoyable.

Was yesterday difficult and stressful? Absolutely.  There were, however, some moments in which I could laugh at what happened – thanks to people in my network like this:

Someone once said, “If one day you will look back and laugh, why not laugh right now?”.

I can now reflect on the day and be reminded of staying calm in times of challenge as well as the importance of having a positive digital footprint and a community of positive people around you.   #lessonlearned

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.          - Martin Luther King

Tags: , , , , ,

Rethinking the Traditional Conference Model

Diane Ravitch gives the opening keynote at NAESP 2012.

I recently spent 3 days in Seattle at the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) annual conference.  The 3 days were jam-packed with keynotes and plenary sessions by some well known thinkers and speakers like Diane Ravitch, Douglas Reeves, Rick and Rebecca Dufour, Rick Stiggins, Yong Zhao, Andy Hargeaves, Rafe Esquith, and Eric Jensen.  I came away from this event truly inspired…

My personal learning network at NAESP.

However, my inspiration was not solely from the speakers – much of my inspiration came from the brief but ongoing dialogue I had with 3 principals I met through Twitter: Scott Friedman (@irishscott), Christian Pleister (@cpleister), and Jeff Prickett (@jdprickett) – follow these awesome guys on Twitter – well worth connecting with them.  I attended the conference alone but because of social media, I was able to connect with these educational leaders, along with a few others, to discuss the words of the speakers and how we could use the ideas in our schools and education systems.

I have described before how my learning has been greatly impacted by social media… but I have to admit, although I was inspired at the conference, I was also very frustrated.  After 3+ years of learning alongside others through Twitter and blogs as well as participating in 2 Edcamps, I have learned the importance of taking the time to reflect and engage in powerful dialogue around ideas in education.  The schedule of this conference was similar to every other conference I have attended: keynotes and number of sessions compressed into a few days (although this conference had more “famous” speakers than any other I have attended).  The problem I have with this format of session 1, session 2, session 3, session 4 is that there is no time to reflect and discuss the HOW’s of education- HOW do we take the ideas of these thinkers and create change in our schools?

The Edcamp model allows a large chunk of time in between sessions for participants to dive deeper into the ideas.  In addition, the sessions themselves are not about being a spectator but more of being an active player in the discussions.  At NAESP, not only was there no time to connect with others face to face, but there was no wireless and thus, the multiple conversations that often occur in backchannels on Twitter was lost.  There was also no lunch provided… I am not disappointed in this because I had to reach into my pocket to buy lunch; I am disappointed because participants dispersed into their own schools and districts so very few opporunities were there to connect with new people (but as I said, I was privileged to be connected with others prior to the conference through SM).  At one point, as Andy Hargreaves was discussing innovation, I leaned over to Jeff and said, “how innovative is getting 1000′s of educational leaders in one place and have them… NOT talk for 3 days?”.

Now, I am not being critical of NAESP as the speakers they brought in were educators that I had looked forward to hearing and as I said, I came away inspired… but I think it is time to truly challenge the traditional conference model of professional learning.  The Edcamp model is one idea but I strongly believe that conference organizers just need to steal the collaborative idea of edcamps and build it into the conference.  Instead of going keynote, session 1, session, 2… why not have rooms dedicated to those who want to collaborate and dive deeper into the learning and ideas presented by the keynote(s)?  These areas could be completely free for participants to choose or could be focused on a specific topic or area of interest facilitated by an individual(s) determined prior to the conference.

It is no secret that funding for professional development is down and therefore, attendance in conferences is down.  I love the Edcamp model but I also think there is still a role for keynote speakers and session presenters.  In addition to rethinking the entire methods of professional learning (professional development days, etc), it is time to rethink how we do our professional learning so it is more cost effective and more collaborative.  It is time to rethink the traditional conference model.

What are your thoughts on conferences and professional learning?  Have you attended conferences that had a traditional conference model WITH time for collaboration?

A special thank to all those I met at NAESP – the inspiration for this post is the slight disappointment we did not get to learn more from you.

Tags: , , , , ,

How Social Media is Changing Education

CC Image from http://kexino.com

The title of this post is a bit misleading.  It is not social media that is changing education, it is the people involved in education who are collaborating by sharing great ideas and challenging others to continue to grow as learners.

Before social media, there were pockets of brilliance in every school, district, and education system but very few people knew about them.  In some countries education was (and still is) viewed as a “race to the top” in which you do not share ideas, you hoard them and hope that your ideas are better than others’.  Schools competing with each other do not share ideas and, as a result, they do not grow as effectively.  What social media has done is allowed the spreading of great ideas in more efficient manner.  Educators in British Columbia can connect and learn from practices taking place anywhere in the world; in addition, they can receive feedback on ideas from any people interested in education.   Good ideas not only become viral but these same ideas also grow to become even better.  I love stealing ideas (and giving credit) from other educators.  George Couros told me one time, “the more people I connect with on Twitter, the more ideas I can steal to make our school better.”

Yes, we still have rankings of schools and countries and these do create much harm and stress; however, as Chris Kennedy said, we can now connect with educators in the other countries to find out what they are doing well and how we can work together to bring those ideas into our own systems.  Let’s be honest, do we want ONLY our students to do well or do we want ALL students to do well?  Can we help create a better society if we are only helping students within our walls to be great?  We don’t hope to be the best by knocking everyone else down… we hope to be GREAT alongside those who we work and grow with.

On Saturday, I had another great edcamp experience at Edcamp Fraser Valley.  The Edcamp experience is highly promoted through Twitter and blogs and the actual day can almost be like a microcosm for Social Media.  We had sessions facilitated and participated by parents, teachers, professors, admin, and students (from elementary through university) and it was all about sharing great ideas and making them better.  People left the edcamp reflecting on how they are going to bring these to their school or learning community… and they left with connections to people that can help them to do this.  We meet people who have like interests that inspire us and we meet people who respectfully disagree and cause us to look at things through a different lens (in my opinion, this is what we need to see more of in social media – those intellectual collisions that help us grow). Edcamps and social media are driven by passionate participants who want to share a voice in education.

Social Media is a place  in which there is less hierarchy (I realize it still exists).  Prior to social media, the idea of me connecting with the author of the book I just read or the keynote speaker I just heard would have been absurd; now, I almost expect to be able to continue the discussions with others, including the speaker or author, through social media.  Also, when conversations are occurring on Twitter, I rarely know the formal position of the person I am chatting with as it is about the dialogue, not the position.  We purposely did not include position or affiliation on our name tags at EdcampFV for this reason… it is not about where you work or what you do but more about what ideas you bring to the discussion.

Gone are the days when we believed we should be trying to be the best by outdoing the school or country next door.  In today’s world we are starting to realize that in order to become great, we need to collaborate and help each other grow by sharing ideas and challenging mindsets.  Yes, policy changes need to take place but the people that can drive system change are those who work within the system; educators, including everyone that impacts education, can affect change by modeling and sharing great practices.

So, how is social media changing education?  It is not… but the people using it to continually connect are directly and indirectly affecting those ‘around’ them and thus, changing what we call education.

 Thank you to George for the chats that have inspired this post.  Just realized that George has already written on this topic so have added it here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Becoming a Connected Leader: A Journey

Image from http://bit.ly/pZYAkL

I recently had the honour of presenting to a neighbouring school district about my journey in developing on online personal learning network (PLN) and becoming a connected leader.  The slides from the presentation are below but here is a brief (ok, this is LONG for a blog post) summary of my journey into tapping into the most effective, ongoing professional learning in which I have ever been involved.

In 2009, my wife and I met with a good friend, Kye Grace – who is a bit of an online marketing guru, about how we could use social media to help market her dance studio.  About halfway through lunch, while listening to him describe how using a Facebook Page and Twitter could help our business, he said “you know, I am sure there are a few educators on Twitter you could network with and learn from… and I think the parents of your school might like a Facebook Page to read about all the good things happening at your school”.

Following this meeting, I played on Twitter for about a month and followed business folks, sports reporters, and a few authors with a personal account I created; we also created a Facebook Page for the dance studio. I then took the plunge – I spoke to the staff and then created a Facebook Page called “Parent Info For Kent Elementary” and opened a Twitter account (@mrwejr) that I would use to also send messages to parents.  Little did I know that this new Twitter account would lead me on a journey to meet passionate and inspiring educators from around the world.

The first real connection I made was with a teacher from Alberta, Joe Bower.  I came across Joe’s article “For the Love of Learning” and he basically described the journey I had gone through with my master’s program; I, too, began to question the use of grades, rewards, and punishment in schools.  Joe and I began to write through email and he recommended I read books by Alfie Kohn, Carol Dweck, Daniel Pink, and Seth Godin.  Looking back – these authors and the resulting conversations with people around these books have helped to develop my evolving philosophy of education.

After about a year of tweeting and reading other educators’ blogs, I dove in and created the “Wejr Board” blog (some mocked my last name Wee-jer and called me Wejr Board in high school).  The blog was to be a place for me to get my thoughts out there and create dialogue around education with parents, teachers and other educators.  A few months after I began writing, our school made a decision to end our current awards ceremony;  I followed this meeting up with a blog post titled “Death of an Awards Ceremony“.  Up until this point, getting 100 views on each post was about the norm… when checking the analytics of the site on this post, I had over 1000 views in a single day – what I realized was that Alfie Kohn had actually tweeted out my post. Not only was this exciting but it also led me to connect with many other educators with similar thoughts; more importantly, it helped me to gain confidence in being challenged as an educator as many people did not agree with our school’s decision.  Getting challenged online has significantly helped me in face-to-face dialogue; I have realized that getting challenged helps me grow as an educator and it is important to respond professionally rather than react defensively.

During the rest of 2010, I truly began to realize how social media could power up my PLN.  I joined the “Connected Principals” blog site (created by George Couros and Patrick Larkin) that helped me network with many other administrators from other parts of the world.  I read and was inspired by  George’s post on “Identity Day” so I stole this idea (a huge benefit of a PLN… stealing ideas) of having students complete a project on themselves and presented this to my staff; because this aligned well with our school goals, we hosted our own Identity Day in April, 2011 (and will have another one Feb, 2012).  The fact that I had connected with George led our school to host this inspiring event that left me watching every student in our school proudly present on a strength or interest they had.  Not only had connecting with other educators benefited my learning but now it was clear that these connections were benefiting the students in our school.  Our students have also grown through connecting with other classes through teacher-assisted email, posting blogs and using Skype.

A huge Aha! moment came for me when I attended Edcamp Vancouver later that month.  My previous professional development experience was that I would attend a workshop, sit in the back and take notes, come back to the school and try to implement some of the ideas in a school or classroom (and usually after a few weeks, the excitement would fizzle out).  This experiences demonstrated the benefit of an online PLN.  I found out about the (un)conference through some key members of my PLN (David Wees in particular).  I then started to get excited by chatting with other educators who were planning on attending.  When I arrived at the school, it was like meeting old friends for the first time.  I felt I knew so much about these people – their philosophies, their classrooms and schools, even their families – yet I had never met them!  The day was spent with endless passionate dialogue around how we could create positive change in change educations; these conversations carried on in blogs and Twitter and continue to this day (we are planning Edcamp Fraser Valley for December 3, 2011). The excitement remained as I attended the Edtech BC conference that was keynoted by another friend (George Couros) whom I had spoken with online through a variety of means but never met.  You can imagine how hanging out with the keynote speakers George and Alec Couros for 2 days picking their brains about education and life made my conference experience.  My whole professional learning experience, both online and face-to-face, has significantly improved since this journey began.

Not only has the development of my PLN helped me as an educator, but it has also helped me on creating more avenues to communicate with parents.  People like Bill Ferriter, Sheila Stewart, and Heidi Hass Gable (along with a number of parents within our community) have helped to meet parents where they are.  At our school we now use Facebook, Twitter, Remind101, Flickr, YouTube, WordPress and many other tools to help us connect with the families in our school community.  The key for me is to use tools to develop communication WITH parents rather than only TO parents.  Instead of only handing out our newsletters in paper form (TO), we now have them in blog form so parents can offer feedback and questions (WITH) .

My PLN used to consist of our school staff, district admin team and the odd list serve; it was effective but primarily LOCAL.  Now, not only do I have my local PLN, but through the use of Facebook, blogs and Twitter (also Google+ and LinkedIn), my PLN also consists of thousands of educators and is now GLOBAL.  I have tapped in to my PLN to help plan staff meetings around motivation, literacy, and assessment and have also used it to continually collaborate with other passionate educators to help me grow not only as a leader but also as a LEARNER.  Twitter has become my own personalized human search engine as I am able to plug in to people with experience who can answer my questions.  Twitter actually SAVES me time.

This learning journey is just beginning for me.  I encourage you to tap into the resources at your fingertips.  Use social media to become a connected learner.  Thank you to ALL those who have helped me on my learning journey.

When beginning your journey, be patient. Observe. Build relationships. Seek out intellectual collisions. You will have that Aha! moment and when you do, you will never look back.  For some of my thoughts on using social media, please see the slides embedded below.

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,