Something very strange is happening. It is August. I have seen the back to school commercials begin. I have sent my daughter’s day care an email telling them she will be coming back next week. I have started to schedule days to go back into my classroom.
And I. Am. Excited.
That’s the strange part. For the past few years, around this time, my stomach has started to fill with dread as thoughts of the start of the school year encroach on my summer. I lament the ending of summer and I worry about what I will face as I head back in to school. As I think back over the past few years, I can recognize that it is never the students themselves that bring this dread upon me. It’s everything else. It is sitting through the meetings that sometimes infuriate me. It is listening to the complaining of my coworkers. It is the committee work that I don’t find value in. It is the professional development that never quite satisfies me in the way that I hope it will. It is all the “other” stuff that comes along with what we do. That is what fills me with dread.
So what is different this year? Why I am I not feeling those familiar pangs of dread? What has changed?
It is Twitter. It is being connected. It is being inspired by what I have found here.
This realization was a powerful one for me. I knew that I was enjoying my time on Twitter. I knew that I was gaining new insights from the people I connected with. I knew that I was learning from incredible teachers. But was it really changing me? Was it really changing the way I felt about what I do? Was it really creating positive changes in my attitudes toward teaching?
I have only been on Twitter for two months. I have only had this blog for two months. I have only been on this journey towards being a connected educator for two months. And already I have gained so much. So I stopped to think about the things that Twitter has given me and here is what I have come up with:
1) Inspiration — In the job we do, it is so easy to become bogged down with the details. The things that can drive us crazy. The paperwork and the bureaucracy and the negative attitudes and the negative public impression and the never enough time and the ever increasing curriculum and the new standards and the assessments and the newer standards. All of that starts to weigh so heavy on our hearts and if we aren’t careful, it can wipe away any inspiration that we used to have. But, then you spend an hour on Twitter. And the inspiration is there in 140 character tidbits. All of a sudden you are surrounded by positive energy and new ideas and smart questions asked by even smarter people. All of this serves as inspiration. All of this makes me want to run right back into my classroom and do better for my students. This is the kind of inspiration that doesn’t just make you feel good, but it makes you want to take action. It makes you want to try new things, even if you aren’t sure that they will work. It opens up possibilities and the mere thought of there being the possibility of something better is enough to keep me coming back to Twitter.
2) Community — As I have mentioned several times in previous posts, it is so easy to become isolated in the job that we do. We spend our days inside of our classrooms and if we are teachers who are trying to do things a bit differently than the people around us, it can be so tempting to hide ourselves away to protect ourselves, our students and our work from scrutiny and criticism. It starts to feel as if you are alone in your thoughts and alone in your actions. And then you spend one hour on Twitter. And you instantly see that there are literally thousands of other people who are just like you. And they are there to support you and guide you and question you respectfully and encourage you and comfort you when you face challenges or failed attempts at greatness. This community matters because it is much easier to try something new when you know that you have others who will have your back. It is much easier to try something that you aren’t sure will work when you know there will be many people there to offer suggestions if it fails or celebrate if it is successful. This community matters because it is easier to be unafraid when you know you aren’t doing things by yourself.
3) A voice — I have spoken before of how important Twitter has been in allowing me to rediscover my voice. For several years, I have been asked to please quiet down as I spoke out against things that were being done in my district that I did not believe were best for kids. I have been spoken to by several administrators who have told me that I intimidate others when I offer my opinions and that I need to take a step back. And for the most part, I listened and I started to believe that there was something wrong with me. And instead of looking for better ways to share my concerns, I just stopped talking. I sat quietly in more meetings. I made jokes instead of making suggestions. I kept what I was doing quiet and figured that the right thing to do was to be quiet and smile more. And then I spent one hour on Twitter. And I realized that other people were saying the same things that I have been saying. And what I realized was that there wasn’t anything wrong with my message, it was the way that I had been choosing to deliver it that was causing the problem. One of my biggest character flaws is that when I am frustrated or when I feel I am not being heard, I tend to just yell louder instead of speaking smarter. What Twitter has given me is a place to flesh out my ideas, to have conversations with others about these ideas, to get feedback on these ideas so that when I share my ideas at meetings, they can be heard. I can come to the table to offer alternatives instead of just complaining about what won’t work. This has been an incredible learning experience for me and I truly believe it will be one that will directly benefit my students as I have learned how to fight for them in a better and more effective way. I don’t have to fight to be heard any longer, because I have been heard through the connections I have made on Twitter. And more importantly, I have remembered that I do have something to say and that what I have to say has value and worth and I don’t have to stop talking and be quiet. I can still tell jokes AND I can also continue to speak up for what I believe is right and important.
4) Ideas — I used to think that I couldn’t use any idea that I didn’t come up with myself. I am not sure what started this ridiculous belief, but I am pretty sure that it has something to do with my own arrogance. In general, I am not an arrogant person, but when it comes to teaching I often used to think that nobody knew my students better than I did, so no one could possibly come up with ideas that would work as well as my own ideas worked. And then I spent on hour on Twitter. And all of a sudden I was exposed to all of these incredible ideas that I knew would work wonders in my own classroom. All of a sudden, I realized that people had such powerful ideas and if I continued to shut myself off from them, I would be doing my students a disservice. So I started writing down other people’s ideas and I started thinking of ways to bring them into my own classroom. And this list makes me so excited. This list is what is pushing me back towards my classroom and back towards this school year and back towards teaching with enthusiasm and joy. This list is what wakes me in the middle of the night or keeps me from going to sleep in the first place. This list, that has come from Twitter, is what has already made me a better teacher. And in creating this list, I have learned that I need to be more open to other people’s ideas because we will always be better together than we will be alone.
5) An understanding of the power of connection and collaboration — In past years, I have been pretty uninterested in using much technology in my classroom. Unfortunately, most of the PD that we have received in regards to technology has provided us with different tools to create final products. We have learned how to make iMovies and Keynote presentations and VoiceThreads and other pretty things. This has never really interested me that much. Sure it was fun for the students, but really it was something the kids already knew how to do and I was happy to let them do it. But I didn’t think I needed to spend much time on it in my classroom. What was never explained to me, until one powerful keynote presentation by @, was that the real power of technology lies in its ability to connect us to others outside of the classroom and open up worlds of collaboration. After hearing Kristin speak, I thought that maybe I should check out what this Twitter stuff was all about. And so I spent on hour on Twitter and my world changed. I immediately felt the power of connection and the power of collaboration. And I knew it was something that I had to bring to my students. And over the course of this summer, as I have learned more about what it means to be connected, I have thought of more ways to give that to my students. If I had not experienced Twitter for myself and all the power that it holds, I would not have been authentically able to bring that to my students.
So yes, sometimes Twitter sucks away way too many hours of my day. And yes, sometimes it can feel that it is just used for self promotion. And yes, sometimes it can feel as if all we are doing is patting ourselves on the back and preaching to the choir. But I have found so much more here. This world. Twitter. It has changed me. And now I want it, and other forms of connection and collaboration, to change my students. So thank you Twitter world. And thank you to all of you who have worked to make this world what it is. Thank you to those who came before me and to those of you who are still here. And to those of you who are thinking that Twitter has nothing left to offer you, please realize how much your presence here still has to offer all of us.