Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Connecting Our Students To The World

Cullman County School District hosted it's first annual educational technology conference last week.  Derrick Waddell (http://www.derrickwaddell.com/), with the active support of teachers, students and community volunteers provided an outstanding day of learning for the educators of Cullman County Alabama.  

Sessions offered spanned a variety of subjects including iPads in the Classroom, MobiViews & Clickers, Open Source, Edmodo, Becoming a Google Search Ninja, Dropbox, and Podcasts.  

Derrick Waddell invited me to participate as the keynote speaker and presenter of two sessions: Developing Your PLN with Twitter and a Smackdown session.  

Nikki Robertson, Superintendent Billy Coleman, Derrick Waddell

One of the best things about attending this conference was meeting and learning with new friends! 

I first met Derrick through Twitter during my first, tepid steps into the vast and extremely rewarding world of developing an online Personal Learning Network (PLN).  He has remained to this day an invaluable friend.

Developing my PLN on Twitter has been a transformative experience that I love to share with others.  After 20 years as an educator I find myself excited to go to work each day and I owe it to the amazing energy and ideas garnered from my PLN. As I shared with Cullman County Educators, Shelly Terrell and the Teacher ReBoot Camp 30 Goals Challenge (http://teacherbootcamp.edublogs.org/30-goals-2012/) was the main catalyst that launch where I am today.  

One thing I wish that I had thought to share with the wonderful educators of Cullman County was how I felt a few months into the effort to build a PLN.  As I learned and connected with dynamic educators online I began to realize just how out of touch and in the dark I had been for eighteen years as an educator.  I felt overwhelmed and intimidated.  I thought I had been a good teacher, but in reality I was just following the same mediocre teaching methods the other teachers in my building had been doing for years.  On Twitter I found innovative educators doing the most amazing things in their schools that I had never seen modeled by any educators I had worked with or even heard were possible in professional development sessions offered through the school districts for which I had worked. I began to feel that there was no possible way I could ever even begin to measure up to this "new" standard to which I was now exposed.  I literally was in tears one evening as I struggled between quitting the 30 Goals Challenge, sticking my head back in the sand, and pretending not to know I could bring a better educational environment to my school than what currently existed OR I could find a way to move forward, one step at a time.  That evening around 10 pm I emailed several members of my PLN for which I had a great deal of respect, pleading for which direction I should take and how I could possibly be successful in what seemed to be an impossible venture.  When I woke up the next morning to get ready for work, I checked my email not really expecting any responses in such a short amount of time.  Not only had I received a response, I had received a response from EVERY member of my PLN to whom I had sent an email.  All of the responses acknowledged my feelings of trepidation but they also offered encouragement and support. From that point forward there was no doubt which direction I would pursue.  It is a decision I have never and will never regret. 

Building my PLN on Twitter has enhanced my personal and professional life in ways I never even imaged possible.  One person who has been a mentor from afar that I must mention is Doug Johnson (http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/).  Anytime I have a technology or library related question I know that I can turn to Doug to provide a solid, rational answer.

I do have one word of caution:  When you begin your journey down this path remember that as you grow professionally you will often times make the teachers and administrators who remain in the same old rut they have been in for years feel intimidated. Some will simple stop speaking to you while others will actively work to make your life harder. I experienced this reaction.  Instead of giving in to the drama, I choose to walk away from my tenured position that I had held for over 15 years and move to a school district that was supportive of innovative educators.  It's not surprising that this school district is among the top 100 schools in the nation. 

My advice to those who have yet to embark on this journey is this: