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Photo Credit - Tara Zielinski
Photo Credit – Tara Zielinski

Really?  Twitter with Kindergarten students?  That was my first reaction.  While I think Twitter is a great way to connect and share ideas, I didn’t really see it as a tool for our youngest learners.

So, I have learned something.

I first learned about the project via Twitter (of course) last Friday. From the Hollyburn Elementary School Twitter account came:

First Tweet

This tweet is a great example of why all superintendents need to be on Twitter.  It is such a great way to see a sampling of the work going on in the district.  It is such a wonderful way to ‘drop in’ on the learning in various classrooms and schools across the district.  It was this tweet that led me to be in the class three days later — a great way to take advantage of our connected world.

So, back to my reservations.  When I first heard a kindergarten class was tweeting, my mind jumped to all that could go wrong instead of all that could go right. In a controlled environment, guided by the teacher, these young students are learning about digital literacy. Their parents, many who are also new to social media, engage with them in the class and the students can connect to the world!

When I visited the class earlier this week, I learned of parents that were now following the class, and a great home  / school connection.  It was wonderful to learn with the K students about their Happiness Project and how they were sharing it through Twitter with the world.  On day two of the project, the lessons were already very impressive.

why what

So, what do K students tweet about? They are tweeting because they are happy; to spread happiness around the world and to communicate and connect with people outside their classroom.  And, they have adopted a simple rule when deciding to tweet, one everyone can learn from: “if it is helpful, tweet it; if it is hurtful, don’t tweet it.”

The students were completely engaged in their Happiness Project, and the use of Twitter was part of the hook and a great introduction to social media.  If we want students to engage ethically with social tools, we need to teach and model and that is just what I saw happening in the classroom.

Makes Happy

 

I look forward to virtually following the Hollyburn Happiness Project and the many other classes and schools sharing their learning beyond the classroom walls through Twitter with a range of other social tools.

The Hollyburn story is another fine example of a teacher taking a risk and being a learner herself!

It is always great to see what is happening in our classrooms.

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Tools

Last week I shared Superintendency & Social Networking, a post that was also published in the AASA School Administrator Magazine.  I also wrote two smaller pieces for this most recent edition; edited versions are below.  I came back to two questions that I get asked frequently – how do you find the time and what tools should one be using.

Here are my thoughts:

Finding the Time for Social Media

The superintendency is already a completely consuming job, so how can you possibly find the time to invest in social media? These are my suggestions for those looking to add social media to their work routine.

Create manageable expectations. Whether it is a blog, Twitter or other tools, be realistic about the commitment you can make to participating in social media.

Choose a few tools and use them well. There are thousands of tools available. Select a few and develop a comfort level with them. Start with tools such as YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, all of which are heavily subscribed to by those around you.

Block out some time. As you get into a routine, schedule time each week to spend engaging in social media. It might be 15 minutes a few nights a week or some time on Sunday morning, but it needs to become part of your routine.

Decide what this will replace. As you start tweeting and blogging, decide what you won’t do and what this will replace. As you engage in social media, some of the more traditional outlets, such as reading newsletters, can be eliminated.

Embrace mobility. Be sure people know you want to be contacted, and then ensure you have access to all these tools on your mobile phone, whether it is phoning, texting, tweeting or Facebook use. You want to be mobile so you don’t have to be in the office to be at work.

Five Indispensable Tools

Blog: Consider this your home base for social media and the venue for sharing your ideas on leadership and education practices. My blog is where I share my thinking, and it serves as a great portfolio of the work that has engaged me.

Facebook: Often considered more of a personal communication tool, it remains an excellent way to connect to your community. It is still the No. 1 social media tool used by our families, so it functions as a great place to share photos from events and alert the community to upcoming events.

SlideShare: This is the place to post all of your PowerPoints so they are easily accessible to educators in your district and elsewhere. No longer do I distribute presentations by e-mail. Rather, I make them all accessible through SlideShare so others can use and share them.

Twitter: This is your avenue for connecting to your community 140 characters at a time. Twitter is a wonderful professional learning network, connecting me with colleagues from around the world.

YouTube: Short videos of your school visits or records of your speeches now can go online. The use of video is growing, and YouTube is a great place to create a repository of your work.

I know these are regular questions for many – I would love to hear other tools that people find as core, and also other strategies people use to find the time.

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Growth

I have written a fair bit about how my teaching has changed.  The post I wrote earlier this year generally described three basic stages.  At the start of my career I saw myself as a content provider and storyteller. When I became more comfortable with the craft I gave more ownership to students over their learning, which created a range of simulations and role-playing opportunities.  More recently, I have searched for more ways on how to do give students ownership and, now, opportunities for real world experiences as well.

Just as my teaching has evolved and changed, so has my learning. Early in my career I was hungry for any and all professional opportunities.  This was pre-social media and during the early days of the Internet.  I wasn’t that selective, but I did know I wanted to know more and improve.  I would read any article or book I was given. I would take gently read copies of Educational Leadership from my principal and vice-principal, and attend any opportunity offered for professional learning — from classroom management strategies and instructional design, to creating a democratic classroom.

As I moved into school administration I loved the big names and the big conferences. It truly was exciting to see and hear the big thinkers on education around the world. And, truth be known, there was something thrilling and honouring in attending these big conferences; the kind where thousands are in the room together — and I was one of them!  I sat at tables with some of the key leaders in my district, the province, and the world.  We all heard the same message from Michael Fullan to Sir Ken Robinson and had perspectives on where key leaders in our educational world thought we should go. I was sharing the room with edu-celebrities (I liked this word that Chris Wejr used recently, and committed to using it in a blog post).

Having recently attended two well-run, high-profile conferences, I realize these events with the speaker at the front of the room with all of us listening to the same message, no longer really works for me.  They are still great events, but I don’t feel they are actually pushing my learning.  What I need now is a chance to spend time making sense of what I am hearing — I crave the opportunity to engage with the smart people who are with me in the room.  I like Rebecca Rosen’s notion that “The smartest person in the room is no longer a person but the room itself.”  I have seen what is possible in the social media era. If I want to watch a speaker deliver a keynote I can watch it on YouTube. If I am going to see that keynote in person, I need to have some focussed engagement with others on what is being said.  If I am going to travel to conferences, then I need it to add value — not only to come away with new ideas, but new tools that I have had the chance to try, and the experience I couldn’t have had if I were not there.

I don’t mean to criticize the traditional conference because it DOES have value and there IS something powerful about being in a room of people hearing a similar message. Personally, however, I have moved past the learning options that were available to me a decade ago.  So, having also recently attended an EdCamp, I can say there is something between that and a traditional conference that would be best for how I want to learn.  And, I am okay with giving up a Saturday (with the promise of a bagged lunch) to sit in a high school to talk teaching and learning.

A couple of TEDx events I attended were also closer to hitting my learning mark, with shorter times for the keynotes and longer times for participant interaction. I am also finding events that bring people together from outside education, other government sectors, non-for-profits, or the corporate world, to be valuable in adding a range of views and perspectives to conversations.

And what else do I find is making a difference?  Focussed visits to districts, schools and classes are very powerful, with specific objectives and learning in action and not only in a presentation.  I also find the traditional ‘study group’ to continue to have a huge impact on my learning.  My first principal, Gail Sumanik, would bring donuts and coffee an hour before school started on Wednesday morning when interested staff would discuss an article, a strategy or part of a book.  I have carried this simple structure forward to other roles and find these conversations to be extremely valuable.  Another structure that I find valuable is some sort of networked learning – the kind that Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have led so well in BC for well over a decade.

And yes, I find the ongoing engagement on my blog, the dozens of others I regularly read and other ways I connect in social media, to be very powerful on my learning.  I love the opportunities, both face-to-face and virtual, that are about sharing and learning together.

Last, but by no means least, I guess what I want for my learning is what I want for my kids, some form of personalized learning.  And, I am realizing my learning has changed, and that I have become a different learner than I was even five years ago.

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Hah! I am doing my best to stay away from blogging, Twitter and the rest of the being “on” 24-7 culture for a few weeks, but I have had a wonderful reminder of what makes what we do as teachers so special, so I am writing a mid-summer post to share with you, what Lisa shared with me.

Lisa is one of the 24 students I had the great pleasure to work with during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. I have blogged on several instances about what a defining experience that was for my teaching career.   It was an experience I shared at TEDxUBC here (the script of my presentation) and here (a reflection that includes the video of the presentation) and also referenced in my post How My Teaching Has Changed, on how the experience has pushed me to expand real world opportunities for students.

With the Summer Olympics starting, I received this email from Lisa this week:

I just finished watching the Opening Ceremonies… what a beautiful sight! No technical difficulties with the cauldron, amazing British music, ethnic outfits during the “March of Nations”, a testament to an English children’s hospital and youth ambassadors running the final stretch of the torch relay. London really nailed it!

In the days leading up to the games, I was frequently thinking of you guys and my whole Students Live experience. I’ve thought about A New Direction and how they’re probably busy attending events, conducting interviews and composing articles. Yesterday, while watching a CTV program on London 2012, they named these Olympic Games “the first Twitter Olympics”. I found that interesting because I distinctly remember the Students Live meeting when we set up our Twitter accounts. I was so unfamiliar with the idea that I remember vividly how confused I was when you showed us a parody video of Twitter. And of course since the 2010 Winter Games, Twitter has grown at an unbelievable pace, but I always enjoy reminding my friends that I was the first to have Twitter! Earlier today, I tweeted this, “The worst part about hosting the Olympic Games in your city is that they will never again even compare. #London2012″ and I think it’s safe to say that much of that is thanks to the incredible opportunities I was given through Students Live.
 
I can’t even begin to describe how useful my Students Live experience was when it came to applying for scholarships, filling out supplementary post-secondary applications and much more. Throughout my grade 12 year, there wasn’t an application I submitted that didn’t mention Students Live as one of my proudest accomplishments. On top of that, I often consider Students Live as the most life changing time in my life. That was the first time I had ever branched away from my safe little community and done something that challenged me and pushed my comfort zone a little. After the 2010 Winter Games; however, I have been involved in so many other programs similar to Students Live that continue to challenge me. It is thanks to Students Live that I broke out of my little bubble and branched out to new things. Just before I graduated in June, I had to present a “Presentation of Self” to a panel of teachers, fellow students and community members, and when they asked me what my most life changing experience has been, I’m sure you can predict my answer.

So this is just a little note of gratitude for you all, and to show my appreciation for everything you have done for me. In September, I will be beginning a new chapter of my life as I head out to Halifax to attend Dalhousie University. Even as I leave Vancouver behind, I will always hold those few months in the winter of 2010 close to my heart. I know how much effort you put into making the experience unique for us, and I can tell you that it really was ‘once in a lifetime’.

The relationships I have created through Students Live and Sharing the Dream are also priceless. On Monday night, I went to Emily’s 19th birthday and watched her enjoy her first legal drink! We reminisced about the hockey game we attended together and watching the gold medal game in the Sony store at Pacific Center. I still frequently read Michelle’s blog from her experiences of first year at Bates College and I often chat with Dharra over Facebook.

I logged onto my Blogger account today and I was surprised to see that one of my posts has 622 views, and people are still viewing my blog today. Who would have thought that Singapore would have generated 318 views on my blog, and 55 from Ukraine…

So one last time, I would like to thank you all for everything you did for me and the rest of the Students Live and Sharing the Dream teams.

Enjoy the rest of your summer and GO CANADA GO!

It is the little things that are not so little, like the small gestures and heartfelt “Thank Yous”, that can bring so much joy in our profession.  Thanks Lisa.  It is also so true adults often learn as much or more from the kids we work with as they learn from us. In reading Lisa’s note I am once again reminded that technology done right can (and should) humanize and personalize.

Through Facebook, and likely face-to-face again in the future, I look forward to following Lisa’s next steps.  And, as she says , Go Canada Go!

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I feel like a Twitter veteran with my five-year subscription anniversary coming up on March 23.  And yet, in recent weeks, I have been disillusioned with Twitter — it must be the growing pains of social media.  While the current labour unrest in BC has, at times, brought out  thoughtful discord, too often, as discussions have moved to Twitter, it has brought out name calling, anonymous accounts, idea trashing, and inappropriate language.  Too often, adults have used the power of social media in ways we would never want our kids to.  Too often, I see one of the great powers of social media for educators being misused, instead of fostering its ability to role model for students how we engage in ethical and thoughtful ways.

So, with that said, I stand by the comment that I often make — that learning through social media, and Twitter in particular, has been a most powerful and inspirational learning.   Here is a slide I often include in my presentations describing Twitter:

A recent article by Max Cooke:  Twitter and Canadian Educators,  from the Canadian Education Association, nicely captured the use and potential for Twitter:

An emerging group of leaders in Canadian education has attracted thousands of followers. They’ve made Twitter an extension of their lives, delivering twenty or more tweets a day that can include, for example, links to media articles, research, new ideas from education bloggers, or to their own, or simply a personal thought. At their best, edu-tweeters are adeptly leveraging Twitter to brand themselves, to reinvent teacher PD, and perhaps to accelerate the transformation of our Canadian education systems. Twitter is being used to extend formal PD conferences beyond their venue to followers on Twitter in real time; it’s facilitating informal discussions (“unconferences”) among educators with common interests; it’s allowing best practices to “go viral” on the Internet; and it’s allowing innovative classroom teachers to challenge the status quo.

In his article, Cooke included a list of 30 Canadian Educators to assist new users as they begin to explore Twitter. One of the key ideas about Twitter is to follow a diverse group of people to avoid the ‘echo chamber’ effect. I, personally, have found it very useful to follow a group of people with local, BC, Canadian and International content, and even a few for humour (how else do I explain why I follow @peeweeherman), and I am often asked by new users, who to follow?  My suggestion is you start by following one person, look at who they follow, and build your interest and list from there.  I found Cooke’s list of Canadian edu-tweeters to be very helpful, and it gave me a few great, new people to follow as well.

So, whether you are a new or experienced user, and having been inspired by Cooke’s article, here are 40 BC edu-tweeters I would start with as you look at who to follow.  I understand there are several thousand BC educators now using Twitter, so this list is only a small sample of the connections available. While almost all organizations have corporate accounts, I find following and engaging with people to be much more satisfying. My only rules in creating this list were (and are) that people are directly related to K-12 education, and not in West Vancouver (the West Van tweeters are all great and I encourage you to follow them from this list here).

Aaron Mueller, Secondary Online Teacher, Vancouver

Al Smith - Teacher-Librarian, Kelowna

Brian Kuhn – Technology Leader, Coquitlam

Bruce Beairsto - Adjunct Professor, Simon Fraser University

Cale Birk – Secondary School Principal, Kamloops

Carrie Gelson – Elementary School Teacher, Vancouver

Chris Wejr – Elementary School Principal, Agassiz

Darcy Mullin – Elementary School Principal, Summerland

David Truss – Vice-Principal, Coquitlam

David Wees – IB Math and Science Teacher, Vancouver

Elisa Carlson – Director of Instruction, Surrey

Errin Gregory – Elementary Teacher, Gold Trail

George Abbott – BC Minister of Education

Gino Bondi - Secondary Principal, Vancouver

Glen Hansman – 2nd Vice-President, BC Teachers Federation

Gregg Ferrie – Director of Technology, Saanich

Heather Daily – Teacher-Librarian, Coquitlam

Hugh McDonald – Elementary School Teacher, Surrey

Jacob Martens – Secondary Science Teacher, Vancouver

Janet Steffenhagen – Education Reporter for the Vancouver Sun

Johnny Bevacqua – School Principal, Vancouver

Karen Lirenman, Elementary School Teacher, Surrey

Kelley Inden – Secondary Humanities Teacher, Nechako Lakes

Larry Espe – Superintendent, Peace River North

Peter Vogel - ICT / Physics Teacher, Vancouver

Mike McKay – Superintendent, Surrey

Moira Ekdahl - Teacher-Librarian, Vancouver

Neil Stephenson – District Principal of Innovation and Inquiry, Delta

Paige MacFarlane - Assistant-Deputy Minister, BC Ministry of Education

Patti Bacchus – Board Chair, Vancouver School Board

Ron Sherman – Elementary Principal, Kootenay lakes

Robert Genaille – Teacher, Fraser-Cascade

Sheila Morissette - Secondary Principal, Surrey

Silas White – Board Chair, Sunshine Coast

Stephen Petrucci – Director of Instruction, Peace River North

Steve Cardwell – Superintendent, Vancouver

Tamara Malloff – Teacher-Librarian, Kootenay Lakes

Terry Ainge – Secondary Principal, Delta

Tia Henriksen – Elementary Vice-Principal, Surrey

Valerie Irvine – Educational Technology Professor, University of Victoria

Looking through my list of who I follow, and checking in on their accounts, has been a good process and an excellent reminder of the passion and curiosity so many BC educators have and are sharing in digital space.  It was interesting to see how different districts were represented — I could have found at least another dozen from Surrey for example (like @rwd01 and @bobneuf ) but tried to share a more provincial picture.  This list should not be looked at as a Best of list (this is relative), but rather a starting point for new users, or users with more experience looking to broaden their conversations. To be sure, even as I go through my list, I know I have missed a number of awesome BC educators I learn with and from on a regular basis.

So, what of the powers of this social media tool? It is the ideas, not role or geography that matter.  And, hopefully, this small slice of my network can help you grow your network.

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I have used the above slide in a number of presentations to make the point that British Columbia is leading Canada (perhaps even the world) in the professional use of social media in K-12 education. I freely admit I don’t have the statistics to back up the claim — there are simply more teachers, administrators, parents, trustees, and others here, who are logging into their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts in the name of professional learning, than any other jurisdiction.

In the past year we have moved from several dozen blogs around K-12 education, to numbers in the hundreds, with representation in every area of the education system.  The #bced tag on Twitter is one of the most engaged with conversations about the ever-changing education profession, and there are many other social sites having these conversations as well.

The conversations around the profession itself are very interesting.  In social media, ‘role’ becomes less important; there is a flattening of society and it is ‘ideas’ that have increased value.  There are also incredible opportunities  to reflect, share, and learn without the limitations of geography. I could go on, and there have been many others who have covered the ground about the value of social media for educators, and how Twitter and blogging can be extremely powerful in professional development.  This is true for those interested in education in BC, but it is also true of other professionals around the world.

So why has BC moved so quickly and taken such leadership in this area? As mentioned, I have no statistical proof, but a series of ideas as to why BC is the leading jurisdiction using social media to engage in the profession of education.

Some Thoughts:

1) It is not as “new” here as it is in many places:  Five years ago, as a principal in the Coquitlam School District, I was seeing for my colleagues, blogs were already becoming routine including: Brian Kuhn (district), David Truss (school administrator) and James McConville (teacher), all engaging in social media.  We have a long history of models to look at and are in a much deeper place with this type of learning than other jurisdictions.  So, it is no longer a novelty here that it is in some other areas and is a much more mature and developed.

2) Networking is a core element of BC’s education scene:  Since 2000, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have been working with teachers, administrators and other educators through The Network of Performance Based Schools.   This network (which I blogged about here) has been a model for jurisdictions around the world.  The culture of face-to-face networking moves naturally to social media networking, and connects the interest around learning ideas.  This social media networking is an extension of the face-to-face conversations that Halbert and Kaser have long sponsored.

3)  The traditional media “plays” in social media: Most notable is Vancouver Sun Education Reporter, Janet Steffenhagen, who has the popular Report Card blog and is a regular tweeter.  She is not the only one.  From The Globe and Mail, to CKNW, to most local newspaper reporters covering education, they regularly engage in social media.  Often, we now see what will be “news” on a nightly newscast or morning newspaper make news first on Twitter or in a blog.  Social media has become fertile ground for education reporters researching their next story; it is seen as a place to break and make news.

4) Organizations and government “play” in social media: I knew Twitter was part of the establishment and no longer on the fringe when I saw the education minister join a debate online one night. Of course, that is not the only example. Almost every organization involved in education is on Twitter including the BCTFBCPVPA, CUPE, BCSTA and BCPSEA. Not only are these organizations out there in a corporate sense, but many in their leadership have their own accounts.  One can look at examples like the recent Facebook campaign by BC principals, or the revamped and expanded BCSTA social media presence on the value being placed on social media.

5)  There are some regular and thoughtful voices:  There are a number of individuals with a profile well beyond our borders.  From  Bruce Beairsto who blogs on the Canadian Education Association site, to well-known edu-bloggers including Chris Wejr from Agassiz, David Wees from Vancouver, Cale Birk from Kamloops and many more, there are some regular contributors who are seen as “go to” people for interesting reflections and ideas.

6) We are at a time when we are examining the profession:  Even before the BC Education Plan, the last several years have been full of discussions within the system about how a high-performing system should evolve.  With some high-level direction from the province, but not a lot of prescription, the time is ripe for sharing ideas and innovations within and across jurisdictions.

7) We have an amazingly dedicated profession:  Even in challenging times, it is stunning to see the number of teachers, school administrators and other educators spending time in their evenings and weekends to reflect and share through their blogs, Twitter and other venues.  The reason why we have one of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world is because it is accompanied by an equally talented and dedicated group of educators.  As social  media has grown, so has our educators’ need to harness it for professional growth.

This is far from an exhaustive list.  But, I am often asked by other jurisdictions why those who are involved in the BC education system have taken to social media at such a greater rate than anywhere else?  I believe it is our ability to see around the corner to where we need to go next that is part of our success story, and that is what we have done by engaging in social media.

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This Friday, I am presenting at the British Columbia School Superintendents Association (BCSSA) Summer Academy on how district leaders can use social media to build community.  I have embedded the slides below but, as always, they only tell part of the story.

This presentation is a departure from the one I gave two years ago at the same event (linked here) which focussed on Student Engagement in an Age of Distraction.  It focussed on the changes taking place inside and outside of education, while the new presentation is more about how we can use the new technology as part of how we can lead the change. In fact, if we want to have an influence and presence as education leaders, our participation in digital space is no longer optional.

There are always risks as we expose ourselves more publicly, but social media allows us to tell our own stories in our own words, to connect to new people and new ideas across roles and geography, and to model for others in our system — students, staff and parents — continuous learning.

I am closing with the quote: “don’t talk about it . . . be about it”. This is a call to all of us who lead in education because we need to model the way.

There is more content about social media, education and building community in this presentation, and in the coming weeks I will  devote a number of separate posts to share this information.

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