Tag Archives: personal learning networks

Why I try to follow every teacher I can on Twitter

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by stevegarfield

Tony Baldasaro wrote a blog post yesterday that is getting a lot of attention regarding why he “unfollowed 5000 people on Twitter” and how he is going back to starting over.  There is a lot of powerful thoughts in his post on how we actually connect with each other in this space:

As I pressed unfollow 5,000 times, I realized that I didn’t know most of the folks that I was unfollowing.  Actually, it was more than that, I had no clue who these folks were.  They were complete strangers.  I literally had no connection to them, which, in hindsight, should not have been a surprise.  As I said earlier, I didn’t “pay any attention to them” how the hell would I actually know them.  It did hurt to unfollow folks who brought great value to my life, but I knew if I was going to do it, I had to fully commit.

Now I don’t want to say Tony is wrong, and from my several meetings with him I can tell you he is an awesome guy,  but I do want to offer a different perspective.

Several years ago when I first started Twitter, I thought, like many do, that it was probably the dumbest thing ever.  I used it randomly, followed some educators, but mostly celebrities, because I didn’t understand how it could improve me as an educator.  My brother and others asked people to blindly follow me to help me build a network even though I had nothing to contribute in that space.  It was not that I had nothing to contribute, but that I just didn’t really understand how I could do it on a social network.  So people followed me and I offered nothing other than a wise-crack here and there.  Then after a couple of weeks I decided to take a year sabbatical from the space :)

A year later, I was coaxed into trying it again and people blindly followed me knowing how I easily gave up on it in the first place.  I actually decided to give it a legitimate try and quickly I was hooked.  I was amazed at how much I learned from others and how open people were to connecting.  I remember sending out a google form and having people share and reshare a tweet that showed my staff the power of Twitter for professional learning.  I look back at that post and some people that helped have become good friends and some people I still don’t even know.  Yet they were all willing to help some guy from Canada who was trying to help his staff.

I even watch today as my brother asks people from his network to help him get others connected:

Him asking for this help while only following a select few would be hypocritical in my opinion. (He follows over 13,000 people.)

The network that I have connected with on Twitter have helped me through some tough times.  When my first dog Kobe passed away people supported me from wherever they were in the world to make it through a difficult time.  When I was dealing with some personal issues, again people rallied around me and either tweeted, commented on my post, or emailed me directly to offer stories and support.  Some I knew and some were total strangers, but all were willing to help.

Currently, I follow over 8500 people on Twitter and that count will continue to grow.  I rarely look at my “home” column because, as Tony mentioned, it moves way to fast.  I use hashtags and lists to find information I am interested in.  Every once in awhile though, I take a peek at that home column (interestingly enough, that is how I found Tony’s blog post) and find something amazing, or see someone I follow asking for help.  Either I try to help them myself, or “Retweet” them to help them find a connection.  If I didn’t follow them, I wouldn’t be able to do that.  I do this because so many people have done this for me.  Although it is my “Personal Learning Network” it is not just about what I take from it, but also what I can give, not only in information, but in facilitating connections and offering some help.  I am, as all educators are, extremely busy, but when I can help, I try to do my best.  We are all teachers and we all should focus on what is best for kids.

I look back at when I started and if people look at what I had actually contributed, no one would have followed me.  I think they looked at what I could contribute in the future.  I remember this summer when someone with 15 followers and 26 tweets, helped me out a great deal.  If I used Tony’s way, this would have not happened.

Now some of you may be reading this that I am not following on Twitter and if that is true, I apologize.  I don’t use a “follow back” function because I do limit my network to mostly teachers (yes, I do follow Justin Bieber), and do not really care to connect with companies.  I also don’t check who unfollows me because I don’t really know how that would be helpful to me in any way. I do follow people that don’t follow me because I can still learn from them. The only reason I wouldn’t follow someone is because I find them offensive.  I try to look at who follows me when I have an opportunity, and follow them back if they are an educator because I know that I can probably learn something from them.  But unfortunately, sometimes I miss people and when it is brought to my attention I am often quite embarrassed.  Allie Holland, Jimmy Casas, and Diana Williams are all people that I didn’t realize that I wasn’t following, yet I have learned a ton from them in a short time and actually would consider them friends now.

Although there are some tweeters that I look at daily, Tony could have done what he was talking about by simply creating a list of his favourite tweeters and inserting that column into Tweetdeck.  It really is that easy.

I have learned over and over again, that I have no idea who I can help, who can help me, and who I can be the connector for between two separate parties, so I do my best to follow as many teachers as possible.  You do not have to be a prolific “Tweeter” to help me become a better educator although your sharing does help.  A ton of people trusted that they could learn from something from me a long time ago when I had contributed very little, so I am going to continue to do the same.

21st Century PLNs for School Leaders

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by krossbow

I have to admit that I was pretty excited to write my first post for the Edutopia group that has a great list of educators sharing some of their best practices.  I wanted to share the piece in my own learning space, but you can see the original article posted on the Edutopia site.

As many school administrators are enjoying their summer break, we all tend to think of ways that we can make our school better in the upcoming year. Often, I point school principals and district leaders to a powerful post by Will Richardson that helps us point the finger right at ourselves when we are looking to push our school ahead. Richardson states:

“Meaningful change ain’t gonna happen for our kids if we’re not willing to invest in it for ourselves first. At the heart, it’s not about schools . . . it’s about us.”

With that being said, I have spent the last few years focusing a great deal on my work as an instructional leader within my role as school-based principal, and now as division principal. Although building relationships is the most important thing that we can do in our schools, in my opinion being an instructional leader is a close second.

With all of the new technologies that are surrounding us, and to the many school administrators that are not feeling comfortable with Twitter, Facebook, etc., I would like to suggest three ways (as opposed to the typical round number of 10) that you can focus on your own professional development over the summer. Less is oftentimes more in the digital world as we move from simply being “literate” to “fluent” in this language.

So for the administrator new to the world of social media and all of the possibilities that it holds for developing instructional leadership, here are three ways that I would suggest starting to learn this summer

1) Start a Twitter Account

Twitter is not just about “what I had for breakfast” (although I did have a delicious omelette at my favourite breakfast place this morning). There are a ton of educators on Twitter that are connecting and learning from one another, while building some global relationships that will be invaluable to the future of their own professional development, as well as their schools. Two years ago, it was something that I swore to stay away from, but in those short two years, Twitter has made more of an impact on my learning than any professional development opportunity I have ever been a part of, and dare I say, much more than my undergraduate and graduate work. The learning is real, the ideas are powerful yet simple, and the connections to resources and people are infinite.

To start, simply go to Twitter and create an account. Once there, you can follow the people on this list of educators, which will immediately start filling your column with great ideas and resources. If you are lost, you can often ask questions from Twitter sherpas like Dean Shareski or Alec Couros, two guys always willing to help. You are also welcome to connect with me, and I would be more than willing to help guide you in this world that isn’t as confusing as it may seem. You can also use the Twitter Search tool and look at tweets from school administrators, or on the topic of educational leadership through the #cpchat hashtag.

If you are not sure what you want to put out there, I wrote this post, What should a networked educational leader tweet about?, to help school leaders share in a way that will benefit their own learning. Once you start to create your own Personal Learning Network (PLN), you may also want to look at creating a Twitter account for your school.

There are a ton of benefits from joining Twitter, but until you immerse yourself in using it, you will not be able to share them with those you serve.

“Go the way, know the way, show the way.” (John C. Maxwell)

2) Read Blogs

Now that you have started connecting and learning using Twitter, you will probably have figured out that most content worth sharing goes way past 140 characters. With that being said, many school administrators are looking for content specific to their position, especially since the position of school principal can be quite isolating.

A great blog to start at is the Connected Principals site, where a ton of school- and division-based administrators share some of their best work within their schools. Although this site does have some great ideas, there are many other administrator blogs out there which may be of interest to you. Edudemic does an excellent piece on 20 Educator Administrator Blogs, which will lead you to some great writing of administrators that continuously share those ideas.

If you are using Google Reader (which you have if you have a gmail account), you can easily subscribe to a bundle I have created that will update you on blogs as authors post them, which will save you from constantly checking the site for updates. (Contact me for details.) In general, there are a lot of other good educator blogs as well, which share some great ideas for your school.

There is some great information out there and hopefully this will have helped you on the right path.

3) Write a Blog

Now that you have had access to some beneficial learning through Twitter and blogging, how will you share this with your staff and the world? Many leaders find that sharing links through email is a great way to start aggregating resources for staff, but many others are annoyed by all these messages. However, with these media opening up the world, it is important that, as school leaders, we share our learning back.

Dean Shareski shared the idea that blogging makes better teachers, so it is logical that school administrators do the same:

“There’s a natural transparency that emerges. The teachers who blog as professionals in this reflective manner in my district invite anyone to look into their classrooms and you can get a picture of what happens on a daily basis. This goes a long way in addressing accountability concerns.”

So where would one even start?

Although there are plenty of blogging platforms out there (EdublogsBloggerTumblr, etc.), I would suggest using WordPress. It is free, has no advertisements and is simple to use. There is also a ton of support.

Reading other blogs, you may develop some ideas of what you want to write about, but if you are stuck, I started You Should Read, a weekly blog post that shares some great online articles that I’ve discovered. This is an easy way to start sharing some of the brilliant stuff you are reading, an easy way to start writing, and an opportunity to spark discussion with your staff and the global community. The best leaders not only can speak, but also have the ability to be good listeners. Blogging becomes a way to listen to your readers and learn from them while sharing your own knowledge.


Many look at tweeting and blogging as technocentric or even narcissistic, yet I look at them as ways of learning and connecting. There are so many real educators out there who want to get better at what they do so that they can always do what is best for kids. By opening up your own learning to the world, you will be surprised not only how your knowledge elevates, but how your passion for teaching and learning will benefit as well. Two years ago, a group of generous people spent time with me to help me learn about this awesome network, and I am glad to be doing the same for others now. Hopefully this will give you a good start.

You Should Read…(January 15, 2012)

I have taken a little bit of a break from blogging but I have seen a ton of great links that I wanted to continue to share.  Here are some things that may interest you:

1.  Study Finds That Facebook Profile is Truer to Life Than People Think – I was asked a question this week regarding people “hiding” behind their social media profiles and then happened upon this article.  I am sure that there are examples on each side of the spectrum but I found this article pretty interesting.  As more people are becoming comfortable with posting their information online, there is a blur between online and offline.

The study also looked at what you can glean from a person’s offline personality by the information displayed on their Facebook page, which is essentially what many of us do when we look at a new friend’s profile for the first time, to see what they’re like in photos, if you’ve any interests in common, what kind of sense of humour they have, and to judge whether this person could be a future ‘real-life’ friend. Do you think that a person’s Facebook profile is an accurate representation of their personality, allowing you to judge whether or not a new Facebook friend could become a real-life friend? And is it fair to do so?

Whatever you believe, it is definitely an interesting article that helps with understanding of digital identity.

2. 30 Goals ChallengeShelly Terrell has posted this challenge to help educators build their own personal network.  If you follow the goals (starting today), you will definitely become more ‘connected’ by the end of the experience.  (Here are some great resources regarding Personal Learning Networks)  This is something definitely worth looking into for someone new to social media.

2. One WordJen Clevette posted this right before the end of 2011 regarding one word that is going to define her year.  Jen used the word “balance” (which would also be mine for the year) and made several think about their word for the year.  This is a great activity to do with students or yourself for personal growth.

I hope you all have a great week!

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Scott McLeod


I have taking some time away from writing in my blog as I have been really focused on preparing our school for our new Google Apps for Ed accounts, as well as our WordPress MU site.  With these two sites, our students will hopefully have all of the same opportunities that we do as adults in creating their own personal learning environment.  Although this has been a time consuming task, in the long run, I am hoping that the “maintenance” time will be minimum.

Here is essentially how this will work.  The students will all have Google accounts that are hosted through through our school.  These accounts will give them opportunities to use Google Docs, Calendar, Gmail, and other components.  The WordPress MU site, will give students the opportunity to have their own space where they can create and maintain their own online portfolio that they will have throughout their time in our school.  Once they are done, they will just have to simply import their work to their own site, as I am hoping that this is something that they will continue on with past their time in our school.

Creating these components, can dramatically change the way we do things in our school.  The important thing though is that we ensure that this is not “more work” for our staff, but it is just a shift in the way we do things.

For example, the goal is that we have every classroom blogging within our school so that we can open up communication with our parents.  Instead of “telling” parents what it is going on through a newsletter, I am hoping that we can open up a “conversation” with parents, as we continuously tell them that they are a crucial part of their child’s development.  This is our way of showing it through our actions.  What I want to ensure is that we are not doing a newsletter AND a blog to our parents from classrooms, but we are just using a blog.  Last week, I spent some time looking for websites that could transfer a blog into a newsletter, for the families that do not have Internet access.  I am doing everything I can to ensure that we change what we do, as opposed to “adding” what we do.

Here are some other questions I am wondering about?

  1. Writing in a standard note journal or a blog? Do we need to do both or is one of them sufficient.  We need to ensure students still have writing skills as it has not entirely disappeared, but which is more beneficial to the child?  Collaborative blog or notebook journal that the teacher is usually the only one to see?
  2. Should we do daily writing in an agenda or use a google calendar to connect with students? Each student has a journal and I have seen the practice of students getting the “agenda” items for the day and copying those notes into their agenda.  Is it better to simply put the agenda into a calendar that all students have access to and forgo them writing it in their book everyday?  I know that we can ensure one of those is available to all parents (that have Internet access).  I understand that writing daily in your agenda improves writing skills (the technique), but does it encourage a love of writing?  Is the time saved here writing it in one open calendar, not better used with some deeper learning opportunities?

We have a long way to go this year in our project, but the hope is that this will become a system that is for the long term for our staff and students, not simply a one year deal.  I will be providing sessions, one-on-one time with staff, and other opportunities to help build their learning with the help of a teacher leader in our school.  The model for learning is in place, and I am excited that this is something that staff will be working on together with students.  Is there really a better way to show students the importance of lifelong learning than doing it alongside them?  Everything is in place.  We just need to make the shift.

I would love your thoughts on this project.  What are some things that you think we could do better with this project being implemented at a whole school project? What are some ways we can not do more, but shift our way of doing things.

You Should Read…(July 28, 2010)

cc licensed flickr photo by schani

This week I have read some great articles ranging from advice for new teachers, to becoming transformational leaders.  I also read one article that talks about inquiry based learning on one hand, while supporting standardized testing.  I do not always agree with the articles that I post, but I put them up here if they have made me think about my own practice.  Isn’t that what a good article should do?

Short summaries and snippets from the articles are listed below:

  • Advice for New TeachersGreat article…a lot of this advice would not have existed when I started teaching!
    • Sign on to Twitter if you are not already there. Start following the smartest people you can find in your areas of interest. Build a great PLN – personal learning network – of the smartest and most helpful people you can find. Follow people with whom you agree and follow people with whom you disagree. Follow people like you; follow people not like you. One place to start looking: Twitter for Teachers wiki.
    • Assume that your older colleagues want to be helpful and see you succeed. This includes administrators. Invite them to your classroom. Ask their opinion. Ask to see them teach – or whatever it is they do. See if you can find a project of theirs in which you can participate.
    • Seek out colleagues and learn with them and from them. Appreciate the wisdom of veteran teachers. Avoid at all costs those who are cynical about children, have stopping learning and are nodes of negativity about the school. This may means avoiding the faculty room. Seek out colleagues who share your commitment to learning. Hang out with them and do something fun.
  • Top 10 Roadblocks to ChangePrincipal Eric Sheninger gives some great points on what is stopping schools from change.  Eric believes that if you are truly a “transformational leader”, you will take people where they need to be. Read this article.
    • Upon reflecting on my keynote, as well as other presentations given by Steve Anderson, Tom Whitby, and Sarah Brown Wessling, (2010 National Teacher of the Year) I have been able to identify common roadblocks to the change process.   If identified and addressed appropriately these roadblocks can be overcome.
  • Education Week: Study: Effective Principals Embrace Collective Leadership –  I believe in collective leadership and it was great to see an article that confirms it is a successful practice.
    • Successful principals “were setting the conditions that enabled the teachers to be better instructors,” she said.
    • “It is not the case that the principal is the only person who can lead a school to higher achievement,” Mr. Pauly said. “If nobody in a school, or few people in a school, see it as their priority, then that school has a big problem.”
    • Some district policies intentionally rotate principals into new buildings every three to five years out of a belief that frequent moves eliminate complacency, Ms. Wahlstrom said. “To move them around just to move them around is probably not a good idea,”
    • By the same token, district leaders should think carefully before moving “star” principals into struggling schools—a strategy also emphasized in the U.S. Department of Education’s initiative for turning around failing schools
    • He also said he appreciated the study’s promotion of collective leadership among principals, teachers, and parents. “In the best performing districts, all of those elements have a voice in the decision making process,” he said.
  • Can You Teach Emotional Intelligence? Behind the Movement for Social and Emotional Learning – A great article that shows how much we can learn from Special Education practices in all of our classrooms.
    • In a neighborhood where safety is fragile, Roepke’s all-clear was a statement about much more than a make-believe animal.
    • “Our kids need a peaceful place,” the school’s principal, Eileen Reiter, told me in her tidy office lined with baskets of children’s books. “Our kids’ lives are so chaotic, I can’t even tell you. There are kids in foster care, or whose parents are in jail. I have a hundred million stories. So it has to be a place where kids can come and feel relaxed and feel safe and get a lot of support.”
    • Support, in this case, means more than just academic training and a hot lunch. Reiter has embraced a philosophy known as social and emotional learning, called SEL by its proponents, that focuses on teaching children the skills and strategies to recognize and moderate their own emotions and to manage conflicts with others.
    • Studies show that students in SEL programs not only perform better on achievement tests, but also have significantly fewer suspensions and expulsions, better school attendance, higher grades, and decreased prevalence of high-risk behaviors such as violence and drug and alcohol use.
    • Additionally, multiple studies show that students who develop emotional bonds with their classmates and with teachers who have high expectations adopt a positive attitude toward academic achievement, learning, and school in general.
  • How to Ignite Intellectual Curiosity in Students I wanted to share this article because it takes about critical thinking and inquiry on one hand, but the author also states that they are not against the standardized testing that is happening in the United States.  I have never seen those two ideas working together in a similar article. What are your thoughts?
    • If we are trying to get our students to participate fully in the inquiry process, we have to remember that most likely, they have been conditioned to do the opposite of inquiry — shut up and listen. Depending on the severity of the case, this may take a while to get them “unconditioned.”

    • Just so you understand where I come from, I believe that there are many things in the current educational system that need to be changed, however, state standardized testing is not one of them. I firmly believe that NCLB, although not perfect, is a great step in the right direction. I believe this because I have seen administrators and teachers, who, previously concerned only about local grades and behavior for some students, now are concerned with all students actually learning something.
  • YouTube – Personal Learning NetworksWill Richardson talks about Personal Learning Networks and helps to explain the importance of having students leverage their own PLN’s since they are already using their own personal networks.

    Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.