Speaking Digital PD

I recently held a workshop entitled: Navigating The Blogosphere and Social Media for Professional Growth. It’s a long title for a few simple ideas. I designed this 90 minute session as an interactive, experience-sharing and question-growing learning event and that’s mostly what it turned out to be according to participant feedback. I’m glad about that.

While part of my aim was to encourage participants to seek out social media opportunities to grow their professional practice and connections, I found that there was more I wanted to say. So often in promoting digital tools in education spaces, we emphasize all the things we can get from them: lesson plans, snappy ideas, old wine in new bottles, new wine in virtual bottles and on and on. There is no doubt much to be had, to be consumed, to be added to our overflowing professional plates.

At the same time, there is a piece that is so often ignored or hardly mentioned: the potency of our contribution. Yes, bloggers will tell you to blog, and that others can benefit from your hearing your story. This is true and frequently shared. The missing piece, however lies not simply adding to the jumble of voices but to take an active part in creating and sustaining community. That means finding ways to acknowledge the voices you respect,  giving credit where it is due, providing feedback and links which may benefit others. I summed up this idea in the slide below: “Go for what you crave, stay to make the space a richer one.” Show up on social media and be an example of positive digital citizenship: be kind, be thoughtful, be you. Make social media spaces better by being a good human.

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The other point I wanted to emphasize with regard to social media use is that only you know (and will find out) what (and how much) is good for you and your aims (recognizing, too, that this will shift and change over time). Resist the pressure to try all platforms or to be everywhere at once. Let those impulses die a quick death. Instead, find the things that you find useful, do those and skip the rest. If Pinterest works for you in your private life, it may be a tremendous resource for your classroom or office needs. On the other hand, if you feel especially comfortable with Facebook, why not seek out like-minded groups there to begin your journey into education conversations in the digital sphere? Start somewhere and go from there.

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If our goal is to encourage and empower colleagues, students, parents, administrators and policy makers to engage in education conversations on various channels, we need to think about how we welcome them into spaces which are new to them but territory to us. In that process we also need to break open our ideas about what PD is and can be. This is as true for us as it is for the systems we inhabit and sustain.

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I don’t consider myself a digital evangelist. I do consider myself an active member of the commons who appreciates and uses digital tools. This distinction matters to me. And that is what I aim to share with colleagues when I find myself speaking digital.

 

Blogging Beyond the Classroom – A Talk

Below is the text of the talk I gave at the panel discussion session I participated in at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference 2016. I shared the panel with Marcy Webb (@teachermrw) in person and Christopher Rogers (@justmaybechris), who was not able to join us on site. The full title of our session was “Blogging Beyond the Classroom: Online Engagement for Professional and Personal Growth.”

While planning this short talk, I started out with all kinds of “what” – What I do and where and for whom on which platforms.

It took me some time and a dry run to realize that that is not what I really want to talk about. Rather I want and need to consider the “whys” of my writing, of my online engagement, of being here.
So while I have prepared these remarks for you, they are also words I need to hear myself speak in order to test their truth.

Some truths – here goes.

There are days when I cannot wait to be able to sit down at my laptop and write, write, write.

The more I write, the greater my appreciation for those who write better than I, the larger my confidence that I can become a better, stronger writer.

I write to understand.

When I tweet I join in conversations. When I blog I join in conversation.

I find community in conversation.

What I write about is deeply connected to what I read.

The fact that I am here to talk about something that I choose and love to do blows my mind.

Having a blog means having a space for me to place thoughts and ideas. My blog is a sense-making tool.

Publishing blog posts lets me invite others into my thinking and writing space.

Just because I offer an invitation does not mean that people will come.

By publishing publicly I do not get to choose whom I invite and who shows up.

When I read the work of others and comment thoughtfully, I join a conversation and add value.

My greatest insight so far, “If we want to have audience, then we must first and foremost be audience.”

This is my motivation in my cycles of reading and writing. Reading deeply, widely, consistently leads me to write as a response, as a means of processing. And as my own writing elicits response from others, I listen and think alongside others and we start a new cycle of reading to write, and writing to read.

In other words, my writing – tweeting, blogging, curating, publishing – are forms of call and response, call and response.
I do believe that you can write your way out of ignorance.

When I started my blog, when I began tweeting, I was not aware of these things. I simply began and slowly found my way.

And I’ve had help and support. I have a “digital Godmother” who is Rafranz Davis, an outspoken tech integrationist out of Texas who welcomed me into edu-twitter like no other and made me feel at home. I found men and women in various education circles, both K-12 and higher education who gladly supported my work, and welcomed my commentary. This has made me want to stay and build and most recently, to learn how to resist the ravages of the current political climate.

I didn’t realize the strength or depth of my political views until I began writing publicly.

I did not understand that being in contact and in dialogue with authors whom I admired would matter in the way that it does, both for me and them.

It took some time to appreciate that my voice, my style, my sense of urgency mattered to more than a few people.

Now I can begin to understand that when I write, I am being politically active. I am being culturally active. I am being educationally active. And over time, I walk that arc from being active to becoming an activist.

As I stand before you today I believe that I am in the midst of that process without having landed: Active on the way to becoming an activist.

No piece of my writing is fully done when it is published and finds an audience. It is always imperfect – my best shot at that moment- and I own that.

Once upon a time in grad school, I developed some theories of action for my practice as an education leader. At the top of the list was this: Care must be at the core of everything we do. At the time, although I was thinking about schools and the education communities we build and inhabit, I see now that this particular theory of action underscores all of my public work as a writer, contributor and digital interloper. I show up and speak up because I care. I enter into dialogue and cultivate relationships of support and encouragement to both demonstrate and receive care.

I am proud to be here in this space with all of you and can honestly say that my presence at this conference, on this panel, in this community is about care – our collective and individual care.

I hope that it is helpful.

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Twitter Talk, Year 3

I want to talk a little bit about Twitter. I do this periodically in different forms and I am still learning as I go. And I want to address folks who are perhaps new to this thing and are perhaps weighing the costs and benefits of engaging.

Some thoughts from my previous posts strike me as still true and relevant. On the one hand, I am quick to extol the virtues of this non-stop stream of eclectic content. On the other hand, I wonder about some challenges of engagement including, but not limited to overwhelm and unanticipated negative exposure.

Here’s the stuff I appreciate about Twitter now:

  • My people. Yes, my people. Through this platform I have developed relationships that matter. I have met people who encourage, support and challenge me. Over time I have learned about their lives, their concerns, their joys and struggles. And I, in turn, have been able to share my own. Safely and authentically.  It’s worth underscoring those last two words, because they are not a given on Twitter or other social media channels. This fact reinforces my gratitude for the community I enjoy and prize.
  • I think it’s making me smarter. The more I read, comment, re-read, and dialogue with others, the more thoroughly I am forced to clarify my thinking and develop my own positions.  This is definitely good exercise for my brain and my social and intellectual development building stamina, strength, flexibility and power.
  • I have opened myself to the world in ways I never thought that I would. Increased and more varied reading has prompted me to write more, to reach a growing audience, to explore areas of interest which extend well beyond what I thought I knew. My work is intentionally visible and public. That fact surprises me even now.
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Visible and public – on purpose. ‘Author, Audience and Parts of Speech’

  • Twitter allows me to distribute my work more widely. I blog here on my personal space, I use Medium for other posts, I’ve become a publisher and editor and I tweet (@edifiedlistener). I specifically use Twitter to share my content and to boost writing and perspectives I consider valuable. These actions go hand in hand for me. Without the contributions of others, I would not be out here engaging.
  • I’ve learned to have more fun. It took me some time, but I’ve developed my use of humor in under 140 characters. I chat more back and forth with friends, have begun to incorporate the occasional GIF, and find myself literally laughing out loud while scrolling through my feed.
  • My use of Twitter is still quite primitive relative to others. For me there is just the platform. I don’t use an add-on organizer like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck yet. I have 1 or 2 lists which I don’t really use. I’m okay with that. Efficiency is not my point at this stage.
  • As my follower count has climbed, the currency of established significant relationships on the platform has also increased. Meeting more & new folks can be invigorating and potentially distracting. Maintaining significant relationships requires a special effort and, in a fast-paced forum such as Twitter, a certain degree of vigilance. Making wise choices about whom you engage and recognizing how they affect your energy becomes more important.
  • My connections on Twitter have opened doors I didn’t even know existed. Thanks to @EdSpeakersCo I had the opportunity to travel to Denver for ISTE 2016 to address affiliate conference organizers in a keynote smackdown. Conversations with fellow independent school bloggers led to an accepted workshop proposal for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference to be held in December 2016. In this respect, Twitter has done more for my professional and career development than Linked In ever could.

This list is longer than I anticipated. As much as I aim to resist the trap of jumping on a particular branding  bandwagon, it is not lost on me that with this post and others I have written specific to this single platform, I am fueling the corporate machinery that keeps it all going. This post ends up as a wonderful display of brand loyalty and customer enthusiasm; a textbook testimonial. I want to acknowledge that and my conflictedness over it.

Rather than offer advice, I prefer to share my experiences (overwhelmingly positive to date) and leave it to you to determine what this platform might have in store for you. I am writing this after 3 years of fairly steady engagement. I feel like my growth by all measures here has been organic and manageable. I’ve had time to adjust and expand my parameters of engagement. And that has felt healthy. Which is saying a lot considering that we’re talking about social media.

Come for the intellectual buffet, stay for the kittens:

 

 

My #DigiWriMo 2015

 

What I wanted to do here was display my new found bravery in the creative sphere and offer you a cool infographic or other excellently crafted visual that would show you what a great time I had being a part of Digital Writing Month (#DigiWriMo).

The truth is, I don’t have that kind of time. I could have tried speaking it but that would have meant having to listen to my own voice. I’ll save that torture for another day.  I might have found a cool template on one of these sleek graphic tools that are all the rage and simply fill in the blanks. But you know what happens there. You spend all this time trying to get your icons all facing in the right direction, your fonts all neatly aligned and before you’ve even addressed the content two hours have flown by and you have, like, nothing.

So I am back to words and lists and narrative. At least I know my way around here.

Here was my November 2015 in #DigiWriMo:

[Actually, I got a head start in late October with the warm-up activity to create an alternative CV. Couldn’t resist that one.)

November 1st: Turned 50

November 2nd: my guest contributor post, Author, Audience and Parts of Speech, kicked off  digitalwritingmonth.com

November 2nd-7th: I encountered the warmth, generosity and openness of the #DigiWriMo community as expressed in comments, tweets & retweets on my post. It was a joy to respond and interact and meet some of the crew. I received TWO poems in response to that post and I still am blown away by that. Poetry, y’all.

In the second week, the emphasis was on visual expression in digital writing. Right off the bat in Kevin Hodgson’s introduction to the visual as a theme I found a spark to explore the novel Wonderstruck by Brian Selziek. Then I was inspired by Kim Douillard’s post to add a photo of my corner of the sky to a collaborative collection titled: Our Eyes on the Skies.

By Nov. 11th I was ready to follow Troy Hicks’ pointers and consider producing my first infographic. Although initially at at loss as to what I would want to demonstrate, as I let myself play with the tool, the actual content announced itself in due time.

Here is what emerged: DigiWriMo2015(2)

By the time week three rolled around and the focus was on using sound in writing, well, let me just say, I had my reservations. Not about the relevance and possibilities but simply my own capabilities to build this aspect into what I already do. Once again, the community had my back and the guest contributors that week provided the encouraging nudges that led me to share this post: Shhhh! An Audio Revelation. And revelation was not at all an exaggeration – being able to listen to the opening of a number of different classes was so revealing and fascinating. How do I actually manage to get a group of 16 five-year-olds to settle down long enough to give some instructions? How do we negotiate those openings with each other?

In the process, I also learned how to use Sound Cloud and audiocopy. My #DigiWriMo treasure chest continues to grow. Along the way I discovered so many great voices and perspectives which gave me both pause and inspiration. In the final week when the emphasis was on transmedia expression I found that I had indeed hit a wall of sorts. The notion of “transmedia” somehow overwhelmed me at that moment, in that week, although the whole month long I had been doing precisely that in bits and pieces. Once again, the community was right there with me offering both understanding and opportunity. In the final guest post, “It All Falls Apart,” Anna Smith documented and shared her production process in creating her transmedial oevre “Pieces.” In my comment I was able to give voice to the odd uneasiness I was feeling for not having gone “the whole nine yards,” as they say. And I was able to sum up what this month of creative community meant for me:

#digiwrimo is more than a number of days, more than a collection of interested and interesting people, more than the numerous artifacts which were created under its auspices. For me, #digiwrimo has become a frame of mind that I want to hold onto: a reminder to dare to experiment and contribute to communities of play and experimentation, digital and otherwise.

Just like that, it’s suddenly December and all manner of fresh engagements fill up my calendar (and probably yours, too). But #DigiWriMo as an experience, as a source of inspiration, as extraordinary meeting of the minds – will remain with me. Practicing “being the audience I want to have” is an ongoing commitment and one I gladly honor. It’s the frame of mind that will grow along with me. For that I am immensely grateful.

 

 

When all I want to do is read and write

image CC0 via Pixabay.com

image CC0 via Pixabay.com

This is a day on which all I seem to want to do is read and write. Read and write, read and write. But I’m at school and the kids won’t let me be. “Watch me!” they cry. They are starving for my attention and I see that there is no way I can possibly feed them all. They are feeling so hungry and so am I.  We’re all hungry, only for different things.

This is a day when I feel useless to them, worse than my own sub. I can’t even claim that I am a stand-in for my best intentions. No, I am not. I want to be somewhere else where it is quiet and peaceful and the wireless is functional. I am desperate to be reading and writing. Because of my peek-in reading this morning I had to immediately track down a new book in the elementary library. One read that leads to more reading and I feel a moment of relief.

My students hardly know how badly I need to write. They can’t tell. But maybe their parents will when they read the report comments that I have penned (electronically, of course) with such love and care. Comments are where my love of writing and the love for my students meld. Every comment is unique because every student is unique. Sometimes a comment can become a remarkable vignette of this child in this moment in my eyes. It is a joy and challenge to paint a picture of each child in the context of my busy gym space over the course of 9 or so weeks. When I describe their antics, struggles and idiosyncrasies, I try to make extra space for their strengths to light up the paragraph, even when I have a hard time coping with a difficult behavior pattern or two.

I just finished the first round of comments and so feel like a kid let out for recess. But then there are all these other demands: More curriculum documentation, new equipment that I have to integrate into my planning and lessons, tech tools that still need experimenting with. These tasks make me cranky. Because I’m like a kid in that I don’t really want to do the stuff I’m not really good at. I’m convinced that too much learning and growing isn’t good for you. It can make you tired and feel depleted and make you forget that you’ve already come so far. I’m not Lot’s wife. I won’t become a pillar of salt if I turn around and look at where I’ve been and take in the incredible traces I have left, am leaving. I’m not Lot’s wife, but I feel like I might be. Because, you know, continuous improvement means never standing still, always looking ahead, in order to be a part of ‘the next big thing,’ right?

It’s rare that my need to vent reaches the outside edges of this blog. But perhaps it’s high time to let off some steam, to throw off some of those public allures.

I read a post this morning about getting more traffic on your blog and I thought it both ridiculous and very revealing.

Here’s a taste of what I found:

According to Danny Iny, successful blogger and owner of Firepole Marketing, if you have a new blog that’s getting fewer than 200 page views per day, your focus should be on gaining more traffic. Okay, but how?

And I get that there’s a whole world out there in the giant attention economy filled with bloggers of every stripe who are literally “in it to win it.” They want, crave and pursue traffic because that’s what marketing experts like Iny say you should do. It made me think about the sound of that term: “traffic.” No, no, that’s not my point in being here. My interest, my purpose is in cultivating and caring for audience, which I understand to be quite distinct from traffic. 200 page views per day? Here? No, that is clearly not the party I am hosting. But for those who arrive here through one channel or another should feel welcomed, at ease, free to comment and share. That is what I am here for. It is the pay off for all the reading and writing I do and look forward to doing.

Meanwhile, I feel better now that I’ve got some writing out of my system. Sometimes there has to be room for this too: the unvarnished, the meandering, and even loopy post.

There, I’m done. Thanks.

 

 

Digital Consciousness Training (Rough cut)

CC via Pixabay.com

CC via Pixabay.com

Let me start in the middle. When I open up my WordPress blog for editing on my iPad or through my browser it gives me this baby blue and white watered down version of itself. For reading this is more or less fine. But when I want to post something, I don’t want ‘watered down’ and ‘super simple.’ I want to see the full complement of my options, all the knobs, buttons and icons I can stand, many of which I still don’t know how to use. But I want to have them there and visible and available and at my disposal.  At the top of this very page there’s that infamous claim: “There’s now an easier way to create on WordPress.com! Switch to the improved posting experience.” But that’s not what I want. I don’t want the “easier” way. I don’t want their version of an “easier” way. It does not add up to an “improved posting experience” for me and I get a little annoyed.

In many ways this is par for the course, especially in dealing with consumer technology. The marketing and sales people insist that the developers keep coming up with a thousand different ways to maintain and grow the clickety-click-click of new users, members, consumers. The guiding question is no longer “what makes this person tick?” rather “what makes this person click?” In this brave new economy, no matter how much information we can access so quickly and easily, to our favorite and most frequented digital platforms, we are really only as valuable as the data bread crumb trails we leave and the thousands of keystrokes, swipes, and clicks we contribute to the mounting masses of relentless data.

One of the questions I ask myself is, where is WordPress going with this “improved posting experience”? What is it that they want me to understand? I feel like I am  gradually and unwillingly being weaned from the more complex, layered and nuanced posting experience over time – that one day I will arrive and that skimpy baby blue option will be the only one left. Unless, of course, I want to pay.  This is what I anticipate happening because this is what technology companies do. At some point they have to find ways to make some serious money from all these “free” services. Their shareholders are banking on it. I get that, but it is still so easy and common to feel duped in the process.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tech lately. I use my fair share of tech and while I would hesitate to apply the term “tech savvy” to my digital profile, I have learned how to figure stuff out, whom to ask for help and how to read directions carefully and to decide when a video tutorial will do the trick. Upon returning to my teaching post, I’ve found numerous ways to integrate more tech into my planning and teaching routines. My colleague started a great blog of our program last year while I was away and now it is the easiest thing ever to share pictures and videos of what our kids are doing in class with parents, colleagues, students and anyone else who may be interested. I like that.

We have a department iPod which has a great selection of music on it which I use a ton in class (music is my start and stop signal in most cases). We have a well protected iPad with a bunch of different apps related to fitness and performance. I can connect the iPad to a beamer and the stereo and show demonstration videos or use the video delay app which allows students to see a playback of their performance a few seconds afterwards – talk about immediate feedback! The possibilities are countless. And yet.

It’s still early in the year and these new additions are definitive upgrades. But it’s still up to me, the teacher, the human, the pedagogue  to determine what, when, how much, and for what purpose tech can be applied for the benefit of student learning. And because I am the teacher and human, there is also resistance. It is frustrating when things don’t work on the first try, or I miss seeing what my students are actually doing in real time because I am busy trying to position the camera to catch them doing it on film. It pains me to get the video up and not have sound. I dislike appearing incompetent. I am human. I am the teacher. Trying out new stuff, both with and without tech, is both risky and rewarding; it’s troublesome and (mostly) worth the trouble. It’s the hardest thing to be patient and keep believing; to have that ounce of faith that in a month or two, this awkwardness of switching cables, locating the remote, waking up the sleeping beamer and more, will gently recede into the background and I will look like I know what I am doing.

My tech use in class will likely become as routine as our strengthening routines but only within the parameters of genuine usefulness. This is not about making my work “easier”; that is not my interest. Rather I want to take on the complexity and messiness of teaching and learning with tech rolled up inside and navigate, find my way. Right now I’m taking a lot of new tools for a test drive. And sometimes I feel like some of those same tools may be taking me for a ride. This kind of travel is tiring and may make me a little irritable in the short term. That’s a bargain I am willing to strike en route to becoming the better teacher, and hopefully better human that my students need and deserve.

So when I rant a bit about the ferociousness of the information economy, I do that as one who is immersed in that economy and eager to see it live up to its promise to help us become better people. So far, much of what I have seen has not been overly convincing. So I rant and resist and point out and raise questions even as I use the tools and share terrabytes of data. The tools I select to use in my classroom, therefore, merit all the more scrutiny and caution and care. Balancing risk with rewards is always more complicated in action than in the written plan. Teaching with tech, or not; blogging with the full dashboard of options, or not – Which is better? When? For whom? These question recycle themselves in my mind. Contemplating my possible responses becomes my diet of digital consciousness training.

Digital. Consciousness. Training. – That may have to become my thing.

What am I doing here?

Much to my own astonishment I will soon have sent over 1000 tweets.  In a the space of about 15 months I have dramatically expanded my twitter activity and reach. While the numbers are still modest in terms of the Twiterverse at large, for me the reality of over one hundred followers and just under 100 people I follow – is slow to sink in.  Imagine meeting up with all of your followers in person at one time – what kind of space would you need?  A classroom, small lecture hall, an auditorium, a high school stadium?

About 4 years ago when my tech-savvy teenage son was still living at home, I asked him, “What’s Twitter?”  He chuckled and said it’s like “shouting random messages into cyberspace.”  Then he added, “it’s pretty pointless.”  That was good enough for me. It saved me from having to delve any further.

Once I joined Twitter in the summer of 2013 I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not at all as pointless as my son had estimated. As an educator, I was thrilled to find the richness of the conversations in progress – on everything from #edreform to #SEL (social and emotional learning) to the #futureof school.  And the more I read,  greater became my own desire to contribute.  I started by responding to a few blog posts, then writing more on my own blog. It became a cycle: catch a great link – retweet – write a blog response – tweet that – read more and so on.

Now nearing the 1000 tweet mark, I ask myself: What am I doing here?

When I started I was all about drinking it in: lurking, consuming, stockpiling.  And now?

  • I have made writing a priority. This post may become #93. The number of people who read what I’ve written varies tremendously but I do know this: Every time I post, at least one other person reads it besides me. And that is reason enough. Through followers of the blog and on Twitter, almost 200 people receive notice that I’ve put something out there. In the event of a powerful retweet, then the possible audience can grow into the thousands.  But that’s not the point. Daring to write, to say what I want to say and to offer it to whoever’s game – that is the priority that matters.
  • I pay attention to people and ideas.  I feel strongly about some things: student-centered education, social justice, and every intersection of those themes. Most of the people I actively follow are generally tied to one or all of those themes.  There may be others who offer perspectives slightly outside those distinct realms and add to my understanding of topics which influence my primary areas of interest, such as: tech industry happenings and political trends.
  • I am here to connect the dots.  The Twitterverse and internet are chock full of billions of disparate dots. From my little corner, I see but a miniscule fraction of those dots, by choice.  At the same time, those dots within my view may produce unusual and beautiful patterns. My joy lies in drawing connections from people to ideas, and ideas to ideas.  I’m a big fan of cross-pollination.
  • The excellent people I meet and the wealth of their contributions are why I stay.    About a month ago I conducted a sort of self-assessment of myself a s a coach and in that process I identified the type of people I appreciate and seek out as partners for collaboration. They “dare to diverge, show a degree of mental, emotional and physical fitness, have HUMOR, have a growth and change agenda, and demonstrate brave intentionality.”  It may or may not surprise you, but I have met more people who fit this description within the last year than in the previous 10 years. Some I have met through social media and others locally. The key is that “what I appreciate appreciates” and in terms of remarkable acquaintances, this maxim has delivered handsomely.

Twitter is by no means single-handedly responsible for all this good stuff. Rather, Twitter has provided a easy-to-navigate platform where I can meet and interact with individuals and groups who add value to my learning and understanding.  Now that I am even clearer about my purpose in populating and shaping my sliver of the Twitterverse, I can take even greater ownership of the role I want to play and how I can best serve the interests of these new connections I have welcomed into my life.

 

Special thanks for this post go to Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak, who kindly asked me way back in August 2013 what I wanted to do with my social media engagement when I requested his sage advice for beginners.