In February of 2009, at the urging of the edurockstar Tony Vincent, I signed up for Twitter. In terms of professional development, it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. By following like-minded educators all over the world who graciously share their expertise, resources, and words of encouragement, I have grown immensely over the nearly seven years.
This week, I made some new discoveries via Twitter. From Toby Price, I learned about Storyline Online, an educational website that hosts a collection of videos of famous actors reading children’s books. The videos feature pleasant music behind shots of the book’s pictures and the actor reading. I immediately shared the site with my staff, thinking this would be a great resource, especially for primary classrooms.
I learned from Tony Vincent about Air Scanner, an iOS app that turns your iPhone or iPad into a mobile document camera by wirelessly mirroring your device’s camera to a web browser, which can then be projected via an LCD projector. The app is normally $1.99, but Tony tweeted that it was free for a limited time (it's now back to $1.99). Again, I quickly sent email and Remind messages to my staff letting them know about this gem. Teachers are already using the app in their classrooms to quickly and easily display student work during lessons.
And if finding those two resources wasn’t enough, I read a tweet that led me to an inspiring blog post by Adam Welcome about how the impact we make on our students goes far beyond simply teaching them to read and write. You can read Adam’s post here.
But you know what’s crazy? I found all three of these resources within a span of 24 hours. I became more informed, armed with more resources and inspiration, and in turn shared this new knowledge with my staff, making them stronger. All in less than 24 hours. I’ve never met Tony, Toby, or Adam, yet because of their tweets, I’ve grown professionally.
I was reminded once again about the power of Twitter and became re-energized to spread the word about this online tool. There is so much to be learned, 140 characters at a time, and so many educators out there don’t know it yet. It reminded me of The Matrix.
In the movie, Morpheus tells Neo that what he has accepted as real, isn’t. If you’ve never seen the movie or need a refresher, watch this short clip.
And now the parallel…
How many teachers and administrators have accepted that the only place to learn is within the walls of a school, face to face with others? How many have accepted this as real, when in fact, Twitter could open their eyes to a world of learning previously unimagined? Twitter is like the red pill.
Have you taken the red pill? Have you discovered all that Twitter has to offer, if you follow the right people? Or have you previously chosen the blue pill? If so, it’s not too late to change your mind.
I was inspired this week to do my part to get more of my colleagues on board, to take the red pill so to speak, so I’ve scheduled a workshop within my district to teach those interested about Twitter and how it can help them become better educators. If you’ve already experienced the power of Twitter, leave a comment letting others know how it's positively influenced you. Let’s help spread the word!
Which pill will you choose?
For two and a half years, I've had the absolute privilege of serving as an elementary school principal. I love my job. As I've previously written, there are tons of perks to my position. Knee-high hugs from kindergarteners. Being greeted each morning by smiling faces on students eager to learn. Working with dedicated teachers and staff who do whatever it takes to see students succeed. Connecting with students and their families. My job is awesome. I am blessed.
But can I be honest? I often feel inferior as it relates to what I do.
I'm a lifelong learner. That means I like to find new ways to become better at what I do.
That means I frequently dive into the pool of digital professional development known as Twitter, consistently finding inspiration and resources from members of my Professional Learning Network (PLN).
That means I attend educational technology conferences and edcamps as often as I can to learn how to better leverage technology to enhance student learning. This week I had the opportunity to attend the Leadership for the Learning Symposium in San Jose. Over the course of the three days, I was inspired by Jamie Casap, Eric Sheninger, Wes Kieschnick, and others.
That means I read fellow educators’ blogs and watch TED Talks on leadership and teaching, looking to be inspired, to learn something new.
And you know what? I find what I’m looking for in all these places. I am consistently amazed by the #eduawesome teachers and administrators I meet at conferences, follow and interact with on Twitter, and work alongside in my district.
I frequently think, "Oh my gosh! Look at the Incredible things he/she is doing with students/staff!"
Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to the thought "I'm not doing that with my students/staff.”
That can then lead to the thought “Someone’s going to find out and realize I’m not as good as (Person A) or (Person B)." I feel inadequate by comparison.
As I was sitting in the San Jose airport waiting for my flight home, I was reflecting on the conference I had just attended. As I was reviewing my notes and tweets about the event, I started to slip into that negative line of thinking referenced above. And you know what snapped me out of it? American Idol.
Wait, what? American Idol? Yep, American Idol. Let me explain.
American Idol is in its final season and currently airing the audition stage of the competition, where hopeful contestants try to impress the three judges with their singing ability and earn a “ticket to Hollywood.” If you’ve been watching the show, you may have seen Melanie Tierce audition in San Francisco. Melanie is from my city of Murrieta and leads worship at my church, so it was cool to see someone I actually know on American Idol. American Idol for crying out loud! And she rocked her audition. She gave J-Lo “goosies,” brought Keith Urban to tears, and had Harry Connick tell her, “That was absolutely stunning.” If you missed her audition, you can watch it here.
So back to me in the airport, starting to slip into the abyss of self-doubt. To try and clear my head, I pulled out my phone to check Facebook and came across a local news article about Melanie’s audition. In the article, Melanie was interviewed and asked about her biggest challenge trying out for the show. She responded with this:
“I didn’t know the level of talent would be so high. You constantly have to remind yourself of what you have in what you’re able to bring, and know that it is not stolen by other people having such a high caliber of talent.”
Though Melanie was referring to the talent on American Idol, her quote resonated with me. Just because there are a bunch of other talented singers on the show doesn’t diminish Melanie’s talent. The same idea is true for me. Just because others are doing incredible things in their schools doesn’t mean what I’m doing isn't good as well. Just because (Person A) rocks, that doesn’t mean I stink! Should I strive to improve as a leader? Absolutely! Should I emulate best practices and try to incorporate them in my own school? Without a doubt. But I shouldn’t do it by playing the dangerous game of “Who’s Better?” That game has no winner.
I’m challenging myself to remember Melanie’s words of wisdom and not play the comparison game. If you sometimes beat yourself up in the same way, I challenge you to remember them too. We cannot let the talent/experience/skills of others rob us of what we bring to the table in our own schools. As we travel on the road to excellence, let us not lose sight of the good we are doing, the positive impact we’re making as we travel on this path.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years, you've probably noticed Hollywood’s recent obsession with superheroes. It seems every other blockbuster has been about a character with superhuman powers or abilities. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man -- superheroes have dominated the box office. This March, the world will have the opportunity to watch two of the most popular and powerful superheroes battle it out on-screen in the new movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Wonder Woman is even scheduled to make an appearance. It should be, well, super.
Many like to debate -- Which superhero is the best? Who is the greatest, the most powerful? Everyone has his/her opinion on the subject, but I submit to you that the greatest superhero of all is none of the ones mentioned above. The most powerful superheroes on the planet live among us. If you're reading this, chances are you're one of them. The greatest superheroes are teachers. Don't believe me? Watch this short video.
Larry Gilmer is a coach. Larry Gilmer is a teacher of young men. Larry Gilmer is a superhero to those around him. Just listen to what his former players and colleagues had to say about him. What they remembered from their time in his “class” had nothing to do with wins and losses. What made an impact on their lives was his character, how he treated his players, how he consistently told them he loved them.
What we do as educators goes far beyond academics. Teaching foundational skills is important, yes. We should consistently pursue excellence in our instructional practices, helping every student master the academic standards. But we have to remember that our impact far exceeds what our students learn in reading, writing, math, and science.
What will my students remember from their time in my class and school, besides vocabulary definitions, the stages of The Water Cycle, and how to add fractions with unlike denominators? What will your students remember?
Don’t think our students are watching our every move? Watch this short story about what one of my former students remembered about me. What will yours remember?
Have you ever thought back to what life was like before the Internet, before the completely connected world we live in today? The other day I was thinking back to when I was getting my undergraduate degree, back in the early 90’s. I was remembering what it was like having to write a research paper. I had to go to the campus library, sit down at one of the research computers (with a monochrome monitor), type in a search term, scan the results, and then hope the library had the scholarly journals containing any promising articles. For the record, the library did not typically have what looked like the really good articles -- very frustrating. If the journal was in the building, I’d have to find it, stand in line at the copy machine, and photocopy the article before returning the journal to the shelf. A very long and tedious process, not to mention expensive (at least for a college student).
Compare that to today. If I needed to write a paper, I wouldn’t be required to go anywhere near a library, unless I was looking for a quiet place to write. All of my research could be done from my dining room table on my laptop. Or sitting on the couch with my iPad. Heck, it could be done anywhere in the world using the smartphone in the palm of my hand.
How often have you asked a question about something and within seconds had the answer, thanks to your phone and Google? For example, while driving the other day, a Genesis song came on the radio. I wondered aloud who, besides Phil Collins, were members of the band. Within seconds my wife had the answer up on her phone. Amazing!
Miss that amazing play from the game last night? No problem. The ESPN website or app has you covered. Didn’t see the amazing American Idol audition everyone’s talking about? YouTube to the rescue.
We live in the Information Age, with the world’s knowledge and resources at our fingertips. The phone in your purse or pocket has more computing power than all of NASA at the time of the lunar landing in 1969. If you’re looking for some piece of information, chances are you’ll find it.
So my question is this -- Are you sharing what you have with the world? With all of the information and resources available online, are you a contributing member? Because the fact is, right now, somewhere in the world, someone is online searching for what you have. A lesson plan. A project idea. A teaching tip. A blog post. A picture of your classroom or school. An encouraging thought. What you have can be exactly what someone else is looking for.
My #oneword2016, part of the #YourEdustory challenge, is share. This isn’t my first blog post about the idea of sharing, and it probably won’t be the last. As much as I’m writing to encourage others, this post is also serving as a needed reminder for myself. It’s not about “My idea is the best” or “You need to do this if you want to improve.” It’s about putting it out there and letting others decide to take it or leave it. But what if that one idea, that one thought you have would make all the difference in the world to someone in need of some inspiration or encouragement? As I’ve written before, do not underestimate your influence.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
Brent on Twitter