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.

screenshot-23

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.

screenshot-24

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.

screenshot-25

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.

IMG_2025.JPG

IMG_2026.JPG

The world is not always our target audience

globe-1029210_1920

I’ve been thinking about privacy and exposure in the context of this ongoing feel-your-way journey of cultivating a digital presence. On a personal level, this does not seem overly complicated. I make my choices and have to live with the consequences. The degree to which I keep myself informed as to my risks and rights in my personal use and application of particular digital tools and platforms is up to me. I can’t easily hold anyone else accountable for the choices I make on my own behalf.

But that’s the catch. My digital engagements (entanglements, perhaps?) by their very nature almost inevitably involve other people: their work, their images, their responses, our shared interactions. If I take a picture with my phone and share it on social media, it is mine; until of course someone else finds another use for it and can choose to credit the source or not. In  most cases, it seems highly unlikely that I would ever learn of any other use unless I pursued a distinct search. If that same image contains another person, then sharing the photo on social media or other open internet platform should only happen if that person has actively consented. (This is based on my fuzzy understanding of model release and use of public domain images. Which is another way to say, “don’t quote me on any of this.”)

Enter, my work in a school. I happen to work in a resource-rich learning environment which means that I and my colleagues and our students have remarkable access to hard- and software to make the most of our digital skills. In my own PE classes I have an iPad and an iPod touch, reliable and generous bandwidth access, a beamer in one space and stereo systems in both teaching spaces. I use Spotify playlists for my classes and can show short playback videos of kids performing various skills and because I can, I now take several pictures of my kids in action.

What happens with all those pictures and video clips? Some are shared with families individually to celebrate a highlight or to document a specific difficulty. Some become resources for our online curriculum archives – providing useful exemplars of successful skill applications. And still others find space on our PE website. Our school has an opt-out policy with regards to use of student images. Families may inform the school if their child’s or children’s pictures may not be used in any school related media, print or online. Unless such a statement is delivered, consent is assumed and images of students may be used in various media. As policies go, this is not uncommon among schools and districts of various sizes.

Not too long ago, privacy expert in the field of education, Bill Fitzgerald (@funnymonkey) raised this question:

And I’ve been thinking about this ever since. In a highly informative post on student directory information he points out that he does not count a school’s website as belonging to social media as they typically receive far less traffic than social media accounts. So our sharing of student images, while available to “the world,” all those images and accompanying words are really designed for our school community to enjoy: students, families, colleagues, alumni and any other interested parties.

So as I become more comfortable with various video and slideshow making tools and posting these to youtube to then share on our website, I want to be sure that my colleague and I are asking ourselves some critical questions.

  • Which story are we telling?
  • How will our students benefit?
  • How will this grow our teaching, expand our repertoire, and/or contribute to the community?

Not every blog post that we put up needs to be broadcast on Twitter or Facebook. But a single photo sent home to a parent celebrating a recent success can make all kinds of difference. Drawing the line between posting for the sake of being seen posting and posting to inform and include is healthy practice in which many more of us could afford to engage.

For our PE website, the world is not our target audience. We’re not out to prove how great our teaching is or how talented our population – rather it is an opportunity to provide parents and colleagues a window into our day-to-day operations with elementary students. And the process has helped me realize how important it is for students to see themselves! So I have promised myself that once I get a slideshow up and running, our first audience needs to be the kids we are featuring. We owe them that much. And, in fact, so much more.

image via Pixabay.com

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.
1450381794

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:

 

 

On-Stage, Off-Stage

 Pretend for a moment that you’re alone with your thoughts, and that whatever you think or feel in the next few minutes is not designed for social media consumption, interpersonal bonding, or heated debate – that it’s just you thinking through you. (emphasis mine)

If you’re angry, why? No, really? What makes you angry about recent comments, events, interpretations, etc.? There’s no right or wrong answer here – you don’t have to tell me or anyone else. If you feel a bit defensive, or defiant, or sad, or guilty, or even if you’ve been trying not to think about ANY of these seemingly distant riots and uprisings and whatever, ask yourself why. Just for a few minutes.

Let your mind sift a bit. No one will know.

– Blue Cereal Education, To My Confused White Friends

“Let your mind sift a bit. No one will know.”

These words and the idea of being alone with my thoughts and not grooming them for social media consumption – well now, that caught me in a sensitive place. Because, he’s absolutely right. For those of us who show up here daily on the social media channels of our choice – we admittedly have a lot going on. When we have something to say and decide that it is indeed something we need and want to share, we run a risk. In fact, we run a whole host of risks.

We risk being misunderstood and our words misconstrued.

We risk being confronted with our own ignorance, misjudgment, and narrow mindedness.

We risk saying something that may offend or hurt someone else.

We risk being called out for our arrogance and tone deafness.

We risk being too right, too wrong or simply too much.

And yet, if our online experiences are positive enough, it can become quite easy to make our presence a habit, our contributions frequent and our interactions numerous and varied. If those experiences strike us as positive enough through favorites and retweets and follow-up shares, then we feel affirmed in our presence and contributions. We may feel heard, valued and seen. Like our being here is a good thing.

A challenge I face as frequent user of a few social media spaces, however, is being honest with myself outside of those spaces. IRL – in real life, my family members do not toss out stars of approval at my wittiest statements or my forthright requests. There are no retweets of our dinner conversation.  And yet, a surprising portion of my inner dialogue seems to run through a type of  social media filter.  How would I want to blog about that? Is that tweetable? What’s the right tone here?  For lack of a better term, I’ll call it “social media creep” (as in “slowly progressing” not “wierdo”).  These more recent thought filters slide in and make themselves at home in my day-to-day habits.  Their reason for being is rooted in the potential response of the other. These social media thought filters reveal speculations about how I wish to be seen, heard, and recognized in this great big untamed space by others.

I, by myself, entirely alone with my thoughts… I know it happens and it is becoming rare. My thoughts drift into writing and that writing happens with some sense of audience in mind. Before I have gone too far, my thinking may become a text that I choose to publish. Where I used to commit all this stuff to journals, I now have the opportunity to do that AND share those thoughts with the whole dang world immediately.  When Dallas Koehn, alias Blue Cereal Education (@BlueCerealEduc), suggests that we pretend for a few minutes that our thoughts are not designed for social media consumption, he cuts to the core. He calls me and so many others out for staging our being more than actually being our being. When we enter the social media fray, we step on stage and although we may feel like nondescript extras in a scene of the masses, we want to play our parts well and to the best of our ability.  If we’re good, the thinking goes, surely someone will notice us and our performance.

And being noticed, catching someone’s attention – this becomes our new currency of influence and prestige: Follower counts, potential reach. This is how we figure out who’s boss and who’s not (yet).  Social media creep wants me to care about those things. Social media creep beckons me to maximize and optimize my presence. Because being noticed more often by more people – well that must be a reward in and of itself, right?

What does it mean that I have nearly 400 followers on Twitter? Or that some 70 people follow this blog? My hope is that each of those individuals derives some benefit, some usefulness from my occasional contributions. I’m not here to start a movement. I am here to learn. to grow. to stretch. to engage.  Staying alert to what’s happening on stage may prove to be less challenging than recognizing the processes going on behind the scenes – inside ourselves. Our vanity, our egos, desires, and our need to belong have become economic drivers on a whole new scale and we find ourselves vulnerable  in strange and unanticipated ways thanks to the wonders of digital technology.

Given the personal impact of social media creep, the time that I spend alone with my thoughts becomes the best preparation I can imagine for keeping this thing real and human and meaningful, on stage and off.   “Let your mind sift” may need to become my new mantra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Other Side of a Twitter Tizzy

This weekend I found myself in a twitter tizzy. There was a chat conversation circling around the topic of how the term “connected educator” is defined. One camp insisted that it must involve the use of social media while the other camp argued that being connected may include other forms of communication, not exclusively social media. You can read the bulk of that conversation here.

My immediate reaction was annoyance and frustration, then anger. I definitely identify with the “let’s be more inclusive and drop the exclusionary language” camp and have written as much before. But what got under my skin on this occasion had to do with my perception of who fell into which camps. Older white males whose prominence in edu social media appears to hinge on maintaining very strict definitions as to who may call themselves an equally “connected educator” were clearly arguing their cause. While in the other camp, there were white women and a few white males claiming that the insistence on the use of social media actively diminishes other forms of connection which educators may employ to improve their practice and reach out to colleagues in the field. As far as I could observe there were no participants of color in this particular thread of conversation.

Of course, my perception of the situation has everything to do with the filters I applied: race, gender, social media rank relative to convo participants. As an African-American woman educator who is very active on at least one social media platform, I took objection to what I observed as typical brandishing and assertion of white male privilege to make and affirm the rules of belonging based on their relative standing in the social media edusphere (i.e., 35-55k followers on Twitter). This made me angry. And I don’t enjoy being angry.

So I reached out to a couple of my social media mentors asking them to help me put my anger in perspective. Both were helpful. Rafranz Davis wrote back:
“Don’t ever be afraid to disagree. That’s where great ideas are born.”
So I added my 2 cents, sharing a post I wrote 2 years ago on the same topic and moved on. Before going to bed las night, however, I took another moment to reflect in my journal on what had gone on inside me, above all.
As I began to break it down for myself I also could see that past the righteous indignation about turf claiming on social media, I had my own little ego show going on. A further part of my frustration through the course of my reaction to this conversation had to do with not feeling adequately recognized, as if I had said nothing at all. My ego was bruised. And there’s the kicker: I was in some ways guilty of the very same motives I was negatively assigning to others. I wanted to gain the attention I believed I deserved and since that wasn’t happening I was also beginning to stew.

This is such an interesting aspect now that I’ve put it out there. My righteous indignation over the turf wars remains and I stick to it. At the same time, I realize that in a public forum such as Twitter, other factors may also be at play, whether we are aware of it or not. I feel grateful for the lesson here. Seeing how vulnerable my ego is in this environment is absolutely instructive and provides me insight for appreciating more fully where others may be coming from especially when they are worked up about a topic. Even my “side” of the story turns out to be multifaceted. My challenge going forward will be in allowing others to live and express their multifaceted identities and ideas particularly when they do not align with my own.

Am I a #PhysEd Teacher?

That’s an identity question. And it would appear to be easily answerable.
Am I or am I not a #PhysEd teacher?
Not surprisingly, my response is a “Yes, and…”
Because if you examine my social media profiles, you might have to dig a little deeper to locate that particular identifier. On LInkedIn you get: Professional Leadership Coach. On Twitter you’ll find:

Leadership Coach, Educator, Workshop designer and facilitator, avid reader & writer @ home on the edge of the alps. #100Connections

Facebook: Don’t even bother.
So, clearly I’m not advertising my #PhysEd badge. Hmmm…
Rather, I choose to identify as an educator. That’s broad, comprehensive and some might say, vague, too. I’ll agree to all of those.

Yet what brought me to social media were broader interests than what goes on in PE. I came to find insights on education as an industry, as a public and private good, as a right, as a privilege, as a vehicle, as a cash cow, as a straw man, as a hostage, as a force. I wanted to think more deeply about learning as a habit, as an opportunity, as a chore, as a moving target, as an invisible victim. I was looking to challenge my understanding of teaching as a practice, a career, a stepping stone, as a source of authority, as an absolute.

And yes, I am a #physEd teacher.

When I am in the gym with students, I am at home. I have music playing, I am moving around correcting body positions (“side to target”) or issuing reminders (“what does that mean: ‘to your partner’?”. The day is flush with groups coming and going, with grade level transitions to make your head spin (i.e., from 5th to KG) and I love all that. I’ve been at it for almost 20 years and have been blessed to work with an incredible bunch of colleagues who not only know their stuff but keep adding to and improving their “stuff.”

The advantages to being a physical educator are many beyond the surface ones that everyone likes to put out there: comfortable clothing (all day, every day) and no papers to grade. What I love and what keeps me coming back are the special relationships I can develop with students. Because we’re working with the body which is a very concrete and immediate experience, I encounter each child’s vulnerability and unique strengths in very different ways than a classroom teacher might. In the course of a school year, I see every child struggle with something. Every one of them has something, some barrier they need to overcome. For some it may be social – finding and working with partners. For others, there may a particular area of movement that proves challenging or even frightening. My job is to facilitate each child’s struggles towards a positive end for that individual within our class group framework. The gym provides the most fertile soil for cultivating a growth mindset in every child and in this teacher.

Yes, I am a #physicaleducator who believes that all educators need to be ready to learn from their students, their colleagues, parents, and countless other educators who are eager to share and dialogue. I am out to learn for more my than myself and to do that effectively, I cannot and will not simply “stay in my lane.” On the contrary, I travel off-road cross country and consider myself an all-terrain learner. And in the process, I am making tracks, leaving impressions, having an impact.

Yes, I am a #physical educator and all of my work is about moving: moving minds, moving hearts, moving bodies.

IMG_0388.JPG