Tired of Your District Not Offering More PD?

Are you tired of your district not offering the PD that YOU want?

Are you tired of going to the same sessions year after year, and wondering “What’s in this for me?”

Have you just had enough of it all?

Then this is the post for you! Yes, we’ve all been down that road before. The district doesn’t offer the PD you want, or it offers hardly anything related to PD. They tell you there’s not enough money to send you to that coveted training or workshop, and you’re running low on funds to send yourself. Yes, these things are all certainly the pits.

However, educators have found ways around this tired cycle, and they are happily taking control of their own learning. After reading this post, you can, too! That’s amazing. Imagine no longer have to wait for anyone to give you the PD you want. In fact, you’ll wonder how you made it this far without it!

In this day and age, there is no need to wait for your district to offer you PD. A culture of open sharing and connecting in education has changed the bygone days of being isolated and alone. Educators are finding communities online where they can share and take resources and ideas for implementation in their classroom. They talk, they discuss, they read, and they write. They wait for no one, and they take what they want.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? You can be a part of this crowd, too! There are many ways to do so, but one of the easiest is by using Twitter and Tweetdeck in combination. Now before you brush Twitter aside as something celebrities use to insert foot into mouth, stop and think. Twitter itself is not the game changer. The educators that are there are the game changers. They start the discussions and share thoughts and ideas. How do you know if an educator is connected online? Look around their classroom and see if you can spot trends that seem outside of what the district has introduced. That’s your first sign.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Create a Twitter account
  • Log into Tweetdeck with your Twitter account
  • Search for hashtags in your area or interest
  • Tweetdeck will create columns for each hashtag
  • Use Twitter or Tweetdeck to create lists of folks in similar categories (STEAM, Edtech, etc)
  • Google your favorite educators to see if they have a Twitter handle to follow
  • Leave Tweetdeck running in the background and check when you can
  • Retweet what stands out to you

That’s all you have to do. You don’t even have to share at first. Granted, the list above doesn’t go into details, but you can easily Google instructions or watch YouTube videos. If that fails, ask a colleague for help! We are not so expert that we don’t need help every now and again. There are many folks willing to help you out if you only reach out to them.

Want other ways to get started? Here are just some of many:

  • Find a book that you want to read and go for it
    • Look for book study groups online, or start your own
    • Don’t want to write? Try using Voxer to document learning
    • Read, Reflect, Try, and Reflect again!
  • Look for Facebook groups of teachers to connect with.
  • Find online communities for your organizations
  • Seek webinars on the topic of your choice. Some cost, but not all

When we take control of our learning, then there is nothing that can stand in our way. Instead of saying “I can’t get the PD I want because my district doesn’t offer it”, say “What are some ways I can learn about Topic X on my own?” Reframe the way you look at the challenge, and you’ll find it’s just a little bit easier to learn what you want to learn.

Want help getting started? This friendly ITRT is at your service. I would be happy to work with you to get you started on your journey. Just comment below!

#IMMOOC: Open Sharing

Chapter 11 happened to focus on one of my favorite topics: sharing as an educator. I am always trying to get educators to see the power of online sharing and finding new ideas. I’ve already had the idea to try and get more educators using Twitter to seek ideas, even if they aren’t comfortable sharing their own work yet. I want them to see that the possibility of find new ideas is out there, and easily accessible.

When I first began teaching in 2009, I had no idea of the world out there that awaited me as an educator in terms of connections online. I was tech-savvy, but I didn’t know about the way that connections could have helped me as a first year teacher. It wasn’t something that was prominent back then, and it certainly wasn’t part of my course of study as an undergrad.

I joined Twitter in 2012. I can’t remember exactly why I did. I knew that I used that year to share my class’s stories on Twitter. I didn’t really interact with anyone else. It was a place where I could showcase student learning to parents. It’s been nearly 5 years since that time…and I didn’t start really using Twitter until after I became part of the TIS program. Now I couldn’t see myself doing without it.

Twitter only got better with Tweetdeck. My lists were so easy to read! What was this? I could follow hashtags and have lists of those! I made new connections and met those people at conferences and trainings. I found ideas and articles that changed my way of thinking and gave me new ideas.

If I had had all of this back when I first started teaching, I am sure I would have been an even better teacher. I wouldn’t have felt so isolated in my district. I would have been able to see out others to collaborate and connect with much earlier to reach beyond the sphere of influence in my small town world.

Today’s educators have access to all of this from the start, and yet they choose to ignore the benefits that they could find by connecting in the online world. It is a choice today to choose to stay disconnected. While that is up to each educator, they are making a clear choice to stay in a bubbled world. They are depriving themselves and their students of the ideas, connections, and collaboration that could be found online, if not through Twitter, then through some other means.

In the same sense, educators choose not to share their stories. They feel that they have nothing to share or contribute, or their work is not great. In this age of viral videos and news, it’s hard to feel like a simple lesson would wow the rest of the education world. And it won’t. Not everything that is shared will be the next best thing. However, each little story and idea contributes to a digital portfolio of the educator. Over time, over many years a story of growth and change emerges. We don’t have to say that we have spent time learning and trying many new ideas because our online footprint easily showcases that.

Want to show students the power of a digital portfolio? Show them yours. Model how you have created your portfolio, and let it be the springboard for theirs. Explain how it has provided you opportunities and experiences that weren’t possible before. Technically, I have two- my Twitter feed and this blog. If you go between both, you’ll get a pretty good idea of who I am as an educator, much more than if you had read only my evaluation from this year.

My growth and change is ongoing and always a progress. Yours is too. You share and I’ll share, and together, we only made the online world of educator a better place.

#WVSTC 2016, Pt. 2

We’ll pick up right where we left off last week and begin this week with the sessions that I presented at WVSTC.

This year I presented two sessions on my own, and I co-presented a third session with some other colleagues. This year I presented Twitter 101, Coding Clubs, and co-presented #wvedchatLIVE! As always, I wasn’t finished with either presentation beforehand, but this year it was because of the classwork, the prep for the move, and the driving back and forth to my new district to take care of things. Thankfully my one session was very hands-on. Unfortunately, guess who decided to get creative with the handout she created for it? Yup, me. Thankfully, neither of my sessions were on Tuesday afternoon, and they were spread out as well. I did my Twitter session on Wednesday afternoon, my Coding session on Thursday morning, and the co-presentation immediately after my Coding one. I also didn’t have to prepare anything for the #wvedchatLIVE one because the main presenter had already taken care of everything. I just had to participate and help out.

My first session, Twitter 101, was meant to be a step by step session and help educators get started using the platform. I discussed key Twitter terms, and then we delved into getting started. Step by step we created usernames, looked up users to follow (and followed them),
looked at various hashtags, discussed the purpose of edchats, and then looked at an easy way to organize Twitter using Tweetdeck. Really there’s so much to do with Twitter that it should be multiple sessions over a period of time with help, but when it comes to a conference, you can’t really do that. I did have a pretty decent turnout, and I gave out quite a few of my cards. Quite a few people were very pleased with my session, and I felt pretty good about it. I still think there is more that can be done to assist teachers, but again, not something that can be done in a conference session.

My second session on Coding Clubs was first thing Thursday morning and I wasn’t sure that I would have many people show up to an 8 AM session, but I had a packed room. Granted, it was one of the smaller rooms, but I had people squeezed in. We held discussions on how to start the clubs, and I told them about how the handout had many free links to help get them started. The second part of the session I had pulled out all of my coding board games and devices and let the attendees look at them and play with them. They would ask questions about which ones worked best for each level, and I told them, also reminding them that the information would be in the handout as well. At the end of the session, I was able to give out more business cards so that anyone could contact me should they need me.

After my Coding Clubs session, I had to hightail it over to the #wvedchatLIVE! session across the hall. Thankfully it hadn’t started yet. The goal of this session was to do an edchat with the audience right there and let them see the benefits in person. This way, we could also provide any help and assistance as necessary. Randall, who was leading the workshop, had already pre-scheduled the questions to be asked so he was able to hold discussions and answer questions in between about the edchat as well. We had a smaller audience than anticipated, but the ones who were there were actively participating. I would love to see if, in time, more folks join our biweekly chats on Twitter. I haven’t been active lately, so I don’t know if the amount of participants increased last time or not.

I was much more pleased with the outcome of all of my sessions this year over last year’s. At least this year, I had more people in attendance, and more folks asking questions along the way, too. I felt more confident in my presentation manner, but that’s most likely because it was my second year presenting. I also had my roommate, aka the amazing Dr. Rikki Lowe, livetweeting both of my sessions. I still think that next year I will do just
one session. Then again I’m pretty sure I thought that last year as well, and that didn’t go as planned…I just get too eager to share my stuff!

In addition to the sessions I attended, I also attended the Twitter edchat meetup for #wvedchat, the STEM Playground, and the TIS Reception. Both of these are my ways of making connections with other colleagues around the state, and I wouldn’t miss out on the good food either!

Immediately after the last session of the day on Tuesday, WVSTC hosted its very first STEM Playground. I had brought my coding games and such to use in my presentation, so at the last minute I asked those in charge if they wanted me to set up a spot with my stuff. They were happy to add me and get me a table. I spent 2 hours sharing my games and letting parents and teachers explore their options for preschool on up. It was fun, but very tiring.

Tuesday evening was also our Twitter edchat meetup, so we went to the Mountain State Brewery in Morgantown, WV for some yummy pizza and trivia night. Last year we’d done well with trivia. This year I didn’t even participate, as our group was so big and spread out over a long table. I did enjoy discussing technology toys, Pokemon Go, and things I’d
learned about at the conference so far. The Twitter edchats are meant to be a fun way to relax and kick back with faces that one might only know from online. I also loved that we had more people attending this year as well!

The TIS Reception on Wednesday evening is a time for all current TIS Cohort members and alumni to come together for a couple of hours. Everyone enjoys good food, which was provided by the Waterfront Hotel again this year, and then we have some kind of shareout activity. A Genius Hour was scheduled, but not many people stepped up to take a slot, so it simply became a time to shareout a new technology tool instead. I had already volunteered to present on Mystery Skype. It was very easy to prep for, as I’d already written up a getting started blog post. I used my time to demonstrate what it was through video, and then when all was said and done, I was able to hand out notecards with my QR code link to the blog post. I had a lot of people take one, and they would tell me they’d never heard of Mystery Skype before. I hope that some of them at least give it a shot! The only sad part about the TIS Reception is that we found out one of the cohort leaders, Valerie, was set to
retire before the year was out. It was a bit of a damper, but we all wish her the best of luck. She is one amazing lady!

Overall I greatly enjoyed my time at the conference this year. Everyone kept asking me if I would be returning next year since I’m now employed in Virginia. I told them I would definitely be back because I would hate to miss out on seeing all of my colleagues and catching up. Plus, I simply love the atmosphere, and love giving back some of the knowledge that I have gained. Wouldn’t trade that for the world!

Behind the Scenes: Building a PLN, Part 2

Last time we took a look at some behind the scenes steps to building a Personal Learning Network, aka PLN. This time we’ll take a look at some more steps to get a fuller look at what truly goes into building a PLN.

1.      Active participation: A PLN won’t just build itself once it’s been set up. In order for a PLN to flourish and grow, it needs you to actively be involved with it. For example, if you’re using Twitter, you’ll probably want to be tweeting at least once a week, and reading through tweets of those that you follow. If you’re a blogger, you’ll want to make sure you’re posting somewhat consistently. If you’re reading blogs or sites, make sure you set aside time in order to do so.

It’s easy to let things fall to the side. I’m just as guilty of doing it myself. Sometimes things just happen or life gets busy. I’ve made sure to set aside time so that I may focus on my PLN. It’s easier to start with one day a week at first, and if need be, add more time as your schedule fits. I may check Twitter throughout the day, but by evening, I’m rarely checking it, unless I get a notice about someone sending something my way. When it comes to reading blogs, I’ll try to catch up on my reading at least once a day. This doesn’t take too long because I only follow certain blogs, and they don’t always update each day. As for writing my own blogs, I write down my ideas on a Word document when I think of them. I aim to post one piece of content a week. I write when I am inspired and have the time. If I can write more than one post in a setting, I will. I’ll simply set it to post on a future date in my blog. This particular post was written in May, but it won’t have posted until sometime this summer.

Since most people will only start with one tool, they only need to sit down and determine how much time they want to sit aside to engage with the tool. It doesn’t have to be a lot at first, and probably won’t for awhile. As you become more comfortable with the tool, increase engagement as necessary.

2.      Give and take of information: Building a PLN works best when you’re engaged in finding new information AND sharing your own information at the same time. At first, you may feel as though you don’t have very much to give at all, but in time, you’ll find that there’s a lot of information that you can share. Don’t feel obligated to share right from the start if you’re just getting used to how to use the tool in the first place. Give it some time, and then jump right in!

For example, when educators look at others who blog, they might wonder how they can do it, or if they’d ever have anything worth sharing. The answer is yes. From class updates to reflections to lesson plans to opinions about what is going on in education today, educators will find they do have plenty to say.

Many educators find they get the most out of their network when they can discuss or talk with others in that network. This can spark impromptu discussions on topics and allow educators to see how others might feel about a particular topic.

3.      Using Tools to Build Smarter: Tools can help make managing a professional learning network easier. After all the saying goes “work smarter, not harder”. Twitter is an easy tool to keep up with at first…until you have a lot of people you’re following, or an edchat running. There are tools that allow users to break Twitter down into more manageable chunks.

TweetDeck is a great tool to use on Twitter. It allows users to create columns for certain users, hashtags, topics, and more. I can add the people I follow to lists. For example, I may choose to have a list of people who mostly tweet about Minecraft, and another who tweet about edtech. I might follow the hashtag for #stem at the same time. Tweetdeck allows users to customize to their heart’s content, making it much easier to sort through large amounts of data.

Another way your professional network can get out of hand occurs when one follows blogs. It’s easy to keep up with one or two at first, if you bookmark the site and remember to check every site that is bookmarked each day. Once you add more blogs though, it can be hard to remember to keep up with every single one. A good tool to utilize here is an RSS Reader. RSS stands for “rich site summary”, but is also known as “really simple syndication”. An RSS Reader allows a user to gather content from multiple sources into one location. Instead of me checking each blog individually, I simply add them to my RSS Reader, and then sync the reader each day. If new posts are up, they will appear in my reader immediately.

There are many RSS Readers out there, and which is best is all going to depend on personal preference, and the device being used. I use Feedly’s website to set up my Reader, and then use Newsify on my iPad because it syncs with Feedly. I like the layout that Newsify uses, so I stick with it. A quick Google search will provide many results, so make sure to narrow down your searches by using “RSS readers android”, “RSS readers iOS”, and so on. Try out a few options and then stick with the one that works best for you.

Now that we’ve gone through a look at some of the behind the scenes work, you’ll see that it takes work to build up a successful Personal Learning Network. It isn’t something that can be done quickly, or that will be successful right away. However, with the right amount of time and effort, it can grow and be successful.