Tag Archives: networking

#saskedchat – Feb 19th, 2015


Topic – Professionalism – teacher well being

We had a great chat tonight with a number of new participants. Our focus was to discuss well being and ways that we, as professionals, can support ourselves and each other to be the best we can be each day.

The topic was prompted by a blog post by @stangea – Burning Out which then became our #saskedchat blogging challenge topic for the week. There have been a number of post that deal with teacher burn out and a number of response posts that discuss why teachers are not leaving teaching and staying. I won’t discuss either of these. Instead, I will refer you to my own experience, my last experience, with being at a cross-roads – Free Falling

Thanks to everyone who joined the chat and took part – we appreciate your sharing and the time you take to come together each week. Thank you!


It’ in the Attitude

For years I was a painter — I put myself through university and spent a few years afterward running my own company painting houses and commercial properties. At one point, the company had 20 summer students and 3 full time people besides myself. Like many ventures, what started off as a way to make some extra money turned into to a full blown job which led to an entrepreneurial endeavour. I learned a great deal about what life was like outside of education.

At some point, the work I was doing went from being something I enjoyed and took great pride in doing to being “a job”. I don’t know when it changed. It wasn’t necessarily what I was doing that changed but my own attitude about what I was doing. In my early twenties, I was sure there was “more”.

They made it Better

I worked one commercial job that still stands out for me. Not because of the work I did but because of two other people who were on the job. One was Tony, a tile setter and the other was Mike, a drywaller. I don’t remember much about them but I remember how they made me feel. Some people do something and the way they do it and the attitude they have forever changes the way you see things. It may be a commonplace thing but afer you see them do it, it becomes different. It leaves an impression on you that lasts a lifetime — you are made better by that exeperience. It’s not necessarily their passion for the work/thing they are doing that sticks with you but the passion for life that they have that permeates the work they do.

For me, as I worked along side these two who were doing hard , backbreaking work, I was impacted at their amazingly positive attitude. They had a presence that was ‘incredible’! They were happy and took pride and pleasure in what they were doing but it was more — it is still hard to describe. The world was made better by being with them. For that time, I once again enjoyed what I was doing.

These two would be, I think, what Liz Wiseman would call “multipliers” — they made other people better — not because of what they did but because of who they were. They had a positive effect on others. There were some people, however, that weren’t as impressed — they seemed threatened and were down and hard on them. It would make me mad sometimes but Tony would tell me to “Tend my own garden, plant my seeds and not let the weeds take over”. It took me a long time to figure out what he meant!

Attitude is Important

                                                          Mindset is important

George Couros asked this question the other day —

I think I understand what he was getting at — that what students do needs to have relevance, be connected to their lives, connected to their passions, meaningful to them as individuals — it needs to matter. I agree. I also know that there are many things that need to get done that can be drudgery and can seem like a waste of time. There were many things that I did while painting that were drudgery — but they were drudgery mostly because of my attitude. Over time, I’ve come to see that how I approach things, my mindset, makes a huge difference — in fact, it might make all the difference.

Writing for….value if…

As a student myself, very little of what I ‘produce’ sees the light of eyes. Even work that I have created and put online for an ‘authentic audience’ has seen little exposure — with a limited amount of feedback. In fact, as I type this, I look over to see a shelf full of papers I’ve written and, if I were to open a few files, there would be posts that have been published with zero views. In reality, much of the work I’ve done hits the “waste bucket” if I look at the ‘authentic interaction’ it has received. Does that means it’s a waste? Or is there value in the learning that I did? Can we always separate things into ‘value/no value’ piles? Do all the things we do need to have some immediate value to them to be worth doing? I write here to work things through myself and maybe get some feedback, maybe. But if there is no feedback, is there no value? Does the value have to be immediately visible? What if I were to return to this idea at a later date having grown and rethought things? What if others disagree with me? Does it now have less value? Or if they agree — more value? Does their status matter?

It’s part of LearningPart of my learning and growth has been to realize that being different and seeing things differently isn’t a problem or an issue or a “career crippler” as I have been told for most of my life. As I stumble, make errors and mistakes, take missteps, and agree and disagree with others, I learn so much about the world, about myself and the people in my life. Much of what I have done has been discarded, like assignments in a waste basket, recycled for other purposes. But the learning — that’s stayed with me. Sometimes, it’s what I’ve learned by having to push myself through, to not just quit and walk away that has allowed me to see things differently on the other end, to see the greatness in others who do ‘ordinary things with extra-ordinary attitude’.

The Story is in the Stones

Often, when I visit the mall in Saskatoon, I can still see the stones that were laid by Tony — worn from years of use. The shops where Mike did his drywalling are still there as are the headers and other work. Covered over — no one the wiser. And I smile — it makes me feel different/better — and I’m thankful because I was changed by my relationships with a stone setter and a drywaller — and I can see that now.

I wish I could thank them.

The relationships with students and the impression we leave with them aren’t because of the ‘great assignments or the amazing lesson plan’. It’s not the ‘great BYOD policy and walkthrough report’ you wrote. It’s those mistakes I made early in my career. Yes, having students do work that is meaningful is important; having them interact with authentic audiences is important; having them create and produce instead of consume and respond should be an essential part of what students do in schools. But do you do ordinary things with extra-ordinary attitude? I know I didn’t.

Some people are able to work with their life passion while others are able to bring their passion for life to their work.

School Change – Breaking Free

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Despite the massive amount of changes taking place in society, schools continue to resist. However a small number break free of the traditional classrooms, halls and desks to embrace different designs that permit students to engage and embrace learning and allow creativity, imagination, and collaboration to gain an equal footing with the traditional reading writing and arithmetic. The article by Matthew Jenkins Inside the Schools that Dare to Break with Traditional Teaching explores how some schools are breaking free and choosing to build their own paths – something that is so often quoted but seldom truly encouraged in children at school. As Jenkins states

Just as we are still waiting for someone to market hoverboards and self-tying shoelaces, we have yet to see a radical shift in teaching models, despite the ebb and flow of education reforms.

Which is true in so many instances. Although there is great discussion of reform, what type of reform is the question. Too often, reform, especially any reform that deviates from the traditional, is slow and hampered by the skeptics cries of rigour and relevance. A recent article in the National Post “public-school-spending-up-dramatically-in-canada-despite-falling-enrolment-fraser-institute” explores why spending on education is up despite dropping numbers. Too often, it’s the statistics of rank and sort testing that determines if the returns on investment are worth it for education instead of looking at the needs for the future from a progressive lens. In this same way, Elyse Watkins article on ending the grading game, points to the need to move away from archaic modes of assessment and embrace creativity, life-long learning,  personal development and collaboration through new methods of reporting. As Watkins explains

While some would argue that higher grades are a reflection of ambition and hard work, they are more so a distraction from a deeper learning process. If we want to create a truly equitable education system with excellent learners, we need to stop this futile metric.

Our system of grading has changed little since schools began yet our society has progressed and developed, almost like schools and their policies were left in a systemic time-warp. Moves to change these systems are often met with extreme resistance with cries to “return to the basics” and “more rigour” being hailed as necessary in schools where “no one fails”. Schools are seen to be the ranking and weeding ground for the rest of society, a place where students learn what the real world is like and the gifted are separated from the rest through their excellent grades. Yet, time and again, we see that not only is school not anything like the real world, but the rigour of the testing machine isn’t found outside schools! Instead, as Grace Rubinstein points out, some schools are seeking ways to shift to portfolios and other assessments.

Typically, these assessments come in the form of portfolios and presentations — tasks that bear something in common with the kind of work students may ultimately do in college or in a job.

Yet, as is often the case, these changes are making slow progress. As Marc Tucker explores in What Teachers Hear When You Say ‘Accountability’, the testing regime that has been implemented, especially in the United States hasn’t produced any major gains.

There is little doubt—whether test-based accountability is being used to hold schools accountable or individual teachers—that it has failed to improve student performance. That should be reason enough to abandon it. But it is not. The damage that test-based accountability has done goes far deeper than a missed opportunity to improve student achievement.  It is doing untold damage to the profession of teaching.

Teachers, as professionals, have been undermined by policies and policy-makers who continue to add to the growing demands for accountability through increased tracking, form-filling and other data-gathering methods which do little to develop the foundational relationships between students, teachers and parents that are essential to the learning environment in schools. Instead, continued focus on grades and testing ignores the social changes that are developing outside schools.

As I mentioned in my last post, a recent study The Future of Work – Jobs and Skills in 2030 outlines that by 2030 employees with need an increasing agility and hybridization of skills

  • Portfolio careers, whereby people combine several different paid activities at the same time, become mainstream. Personal agility, such as the ability to adapt to or embrace change and acquire new skills and competencies, becomes more important.

This is a trend that is growing as people seek new and different ways to strike a balance between career and home life, searching for ways to develop and maximize their talents, no longer satisfied with careers or working for managers that do not allow them to grow and develop their own talents.

It’s one of the oldest jokes in the business world: Two managers are talking about training their employees. The first one asks, “Yeah, but what if we train them, and they just leave?” The second responds, “What if we don’t train them, and they stay?” The Week

Changing Mindsets

There are some schools working to break the traditional mould of schools and there is a growing movement of teachers who are working through grassroots movements such as edcamps to change professional development to meet their needs and the needs of their students not fulfill a PD requirement or implement a new program or strategy. Teachers are developing Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) via social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Plurk, Instagram, tumblr and other platforms in order to connect and share their ideas about teaching, learning, digital literacies, collaboration, assessment and other topics that are essential for shifting the current status quo paradigm found in most schools. In my experience as a teachers and an administrator, once teachers begin to experience the power of connecting and sharing, other aspects of their teaching also begin to shift and change. As I’ve seen over and over again, teachers who connect and develop a PLN experience a shift and change that can be career changing. 

Change takes Time
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Although many early adopters saw twitter as being the tool for connection, instead there is a growing number of tools that allow people to connect and learn together. Too often, the association is that if teachers aren’t on twitter, they aren’t growing – they lack a growth mindset – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. If we all did the same thing and thought the same way the world sure would be dull! Remembering this, one needs to look to see that many teachers are in fact embracing the use of technology and shifting. Continuing to support them and tell their stories is, as far as I can see, the best way to continue to help teachers as they shift and go through various stages of change. In my experience in a few different schools, it take about 3 years to make a shift in the culture and see large scale changes in classrooms and the school.

What about you?

What are you doing to support those around you make a shift? How do you lead through example? How can I help you as you these shifts yourself or lead others?

Great Teachers Don’t Wait for PD Days

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This was a comment I made on the #satchatwc a while back. It’s had a few retweets and some comments. This past Saturday morning, I joined in the first #edcampHOME  hosted as an edcamp event but online. As I’ve processed this event and what took place, there are a few take aways for me and then a reflection.

1. Eliminate “PD”

PD needs to be eliminated from our discussion about teachers’ learning. Although it is professional development, it has become associated to something that is “done” to teachers instead of a self-motivated improvement where you get some type of certificate at the end instead of the internal motivation to be better at what you do. Because we learn all the time, we need to tap into the natural learning process of adults instead of the imposed learning from experts.

2. Professional Learning Year-round

Learning, which most teachers know, isn’t limited to “days” or “events”. Instead, it is something that is continuous – sometimes situational – and is personal.  It needs to part of a Professional Learning Plan which the teacher creates, reflects upon and continues in a continuous cycle of learning, reflecting and refining.

3. Learning is not a solitary act

Learning is social – Lev Vygotsky and John Dewey introduced this to us a long time ago.  For too long, teachers have been isolated in their practice and, for the most part, in their learning. Social media platforms such as twitter and Pinterest have begun to change this. The decision by teachers to share their work through blogging, podcasts and gathering platforms like Google Hangouts, has begun to change the nature of how teachers’ view their practice and profession. This ability to share is at the heart of what teachers do – share their love of learning.

4. Learning requires time

This is where I will probably enter a slippery slope but …. twitter is not a PD event! It’s the beginning of a conversation but it’s the continued learning that takes place afterwards – the sharing, conversations, reflecting, writing, planning, implementing, using, coaching, …. that is the development part. Learning and practice with no game-day experience is just speculation. It’s the sharing and conversations that take place between all those involved that is development – the books that are shared, the discussions about the books that scaffold to new ideas which lead to new ways of looking at things which lead to progress which leads to the change of practice in a classroom for a teacher – and that is why the learning that teachers do is not a PD event – ever!

5. It isn’t PLN platform specific

Yes being part of a twitter PLN is a great thing but it isn’t the only platform – the landscape is ever changing ever more rapidly and to limit the interactions of “great” to one is, well, just inaccurate. It also is a bit telling of how we want to talk about being open to change but, really, are kind of set in our ways. Like the death of Google Reader shouldn’t have really been an event because of the number of alternatives and the ease of shifting – but it was change. It’s leaving the safety of the known for something less proven or even the unknown that puts people off. Change isn’t a big deal – unless we make it a big deal. The death of GR would have passed with little notice had it not been for those set in their ways. There are teachers with whom I have worked that don’t tweet at all, they pin. And pin and pin and pin. In fact, they have developed a PLN that focuses on the sharing they do via Pinterest. And it’s just a viable and credible for learning as those who use microblogging platforms like twitter or plurk but I have heard the whole idea of sharing via Pinterest to be seen as “second-rate” sharing. Really? Now we rank the sharing we do? It’s time we validate what people do, commend them and listen to their stories and share in their excitement instead of the nose-snubbing response.

Too often, those who have reached “rock star” status tend to set the trends which, unfortunately, those who follow tend to continue. The #edcampHOME event was a divergent trail, even from the traditional edcamps and should push our thinking and learning about our need for conferences, or at least, our reliance on them as gathering events. It allows the “experts” of teaching – those in schools and classrooms who are learning and sharing – to come together regardless of distance or time of year or finances – to begin those conversations that  will continue each person’s learning.  It brought together a great many teachers and other people in education to share and learn when they would have not been able to have such face-to-face encounters.

(An aside to this – there seemed to be many of those participating who had already been to f2f conferences or who were then going to f2f conferences which makes me wonder about the learning cycle – where is the time for reflection and refinement? Are teachers become “tool technique” gatherers, moving from workshop to workshop in order to gather tools/apps to use in the classroom as an end? As an administrator, I want to know how this or that tool is better for “what we do for students” and not that it is “cool and will streamline my ability to handle the dissemination of information to students in a timely and proficient manner.”

However, this isn’t the first time educators have gathered via the internet far from one another to share and learn. Many of us have done this in numerous other events- for a number of years – seeking to improve what we have been doing – sort of Outliers.  This time there was a Tipping Point – a large enough group who saw it as a viable and acceptable way to share their learning and were wiling to step out of their comfort zones to give it a try. However, this is a natural progression as the idea of professional learning evolves from that of development to that of continuous learning and improvement through the social platforms that are available and the idea that learning isn’t an event to be graded or scored or give us a reward.

Finally, learning is “cool” even for a teacher!

Taking A Chance

Like many people, I checked in on Nik Wallenda in his walk across the Grand Canyon. Twitter was full of tweets as he made his crossing. I watched a few minutes. As I watched, I wondered how many people have had to do their own walk across a canyon with no net or supports?

My Own Crossing

The past 22 years, I’ve spent in education in some way – a classroom teacher for 10 years followed by 12 years as a in-school administrator. I’ve worked in 11 different schools – twice been an administrator for 2 campuses at one time. In 5 days, this will end. I will no longer be involved in public education as I have been for the past 22 years.

The thing is, I’m not moving on to another job. In fact, over the past few months, I have attended a number of interviews, attempting to move into a central office position or into something related to education. I’ve been unsuccessful. The “common sense” thing would be to have just continued on. Really, in this economy, why would I do such a thing? With 8 kids none the less?

So why did I do make the decision to move on without a safety net?

Well, it almost sounds like it came to me in a dream – my gut said it was time! Now, just so we’re clear, I have 8 children, 2 in university and 1 living in France. This move is, by all accounts, as crazy as walking across the Grand Canyon. To some, it might even be crazier. My wife, a teacher also, has a temporary contract until February. That’s as far ahead as we look.

No net.

No safety lines.

The only reason is because I believe that I have a more to offer than what I am currently doing. We are in for some intense changes in education and believe my strengths and abilities can be better used in another capacity. To continue down the current path would ignore that path less traveled, would not allow for even greater changes. I could no longer follow the current path.

Educators as Entrepreneurs

I spent a great deal of time in my early twenties building a company – working to create a customer base, focusing on high quality service with a high quality product. It was a painting company and I began working for someone else, making someone else money.  Eventually I struck out with a partner with nothing more than the desire to be successful. We expanded, eventually employing 22 other students. However, we realized at that time, having more people working for us didn’t mean we were making any more money. In fact, the profit factor doing that type of work was very small. So, my partner and I changed tactics, began to focus on higher end jobs, moving from fences and outside siding to repainting interiors to new construction. During this time, our focus was on quality not quantity – we grew a customer base that soon expanded to a point where advertising was unnecessary. We hired a few key people who were eager to learn, willing to work and whom we rewarded for this. Through all this, my “gut” has been more right than wrong when it came to hiring people and making decisions.

And then I moved on – became a teacher and then an administrator. Over time, I became someone who was able to move things along – a change agent if you will. This was especially true in my current situation where we combined two schools into a brand new K – 12 school in a new school building, building a new culture, creating a new vision/mission and focusing on “Doing what is best for students”. As a change agent in this type of situation, I realized that there was a limited time-frame for progress and that I would need to move on at some point, allowing someone else to move the school community along. It’s the nature of the situation.

Crossing the Canyon

So now I face crossing the canyon – setting out without a safety net – with nothing more than the belief that there needs to be changes, to “Do what is best for students” and parents and teachers in order for education to be more than what it is currently. I’m guided by my “gut” much the same way I was guided 20-odd years ago. This time, there is a lot more at stake – 9 people that are depending on me for all sorts of things.

The easy thing would have been to continue to do what I was doing. But, if you’ve ever watched the movie “For the Love of the Game”, you’ll understand –  “Do or Do Not. There is no Try” – Yoda, you’ll know that that really wasn’t an option.

That Canyon Sure is Big

Like all things that look impossible/daunting, they are if you try to do them all at once. I do have a plan – sorta. However, I’m going to take part of the summer to refocus my energies – bring them back to my passions – technology and  learning, PD for teachers and bringing together the two for a better learning opportunity for teachers, students and parents. Then, one step at a time, I’ll venture out. There won’t be a webcam to capture every step but I do hope to begin developing my Ed Administrators 2.0 Ning to greater degree, expanding my blog and writing and connecting with others. My current position has required a great deal of energy and, really, it’s taken me away from those things that provided me with energy, stirred my creativity and touched my heart and soul. I will cross that canyon – the difference here is I’m not sure what the other side of the canyon looks like – and that, for what it’s worth, is just as exciting as crossing the canyon!

Opening the door and building a network

My it’s been a busy week. We’ve had all kinds of things going on – a winter storm Friday made it a busy afternoon as our busses were canceled for after school. This meant we were phoning parents and arranging for students to go to their billets in town. For the most part, things went smoothly. Of course, there were some of our older students who just had to make life interesting and a few of the billets we had listed weren’t home or had moved so we needed to make other arrangements. However, despite these small bumps, the whole thing went smoothly and in a matter of about 45 minutes we were able to take care of things.

As I watched our staff work together to make phone calls, talk with students and take care of business, I realized how lucky I was to be the principal of such a great group of people. Everyone who was free pitched into making calls and talking to students. The secretary, the hub of our school, was answering phones, taking down notes and coordinating efforts of organization of students. Good principal that I am, I let people use their talents and do what they were best at while I made sure that parents who were arriving were assisted and students who left with their parents were noted.

A strong network

Our school is an example of a strong network. People work together, each person using their talents to help others, strengthening the whole. Now, we are working on our PLT’s and looking at how we can continue to improve the learning of the children in our building. The teachers continue to try new things, although not as open to technology as I had hoped, but still willing to try new ideas and ways of doing things. They share information they’re reading and new ideas about what they are doing. They look to go to conferences and bring back information that they share.


Personally, as an administrator, I don’t get to do as much sharing with staff as I did when I was a teacher. This is where my online PLN comes in. I first started blogging in January of 2007. Since that time, I have been able to meet a whole host of new people whom help me in my learning and professional development. Like many others, my introduction into this began with reading other blogs, commenting and looking for new ideas and ways of doing things. With the introduction of twitter, jaiku and pownce, I’ve expanded my network to include so many more people with a vast array of experiences and talents. This, however, has made me take a step back and look at my network and what exactly I want from it.

When I first began to blog, it was to get in touch with others in education and network and share with them. I enjoyed the sharing of information and the discussions that took place as I read through blog posts and commented on most of those in my RSS feeder. However, over time, I realized that most of the people with whom I had contact were discussing technology from the perspective of a tech coordinator, tech teacher or tech somethingorother position. There were few administrators with whom I could connect and few teachers who were not technology teachers of some sort. The discussions followed a pattern where an issue arose and then many of the blogs would comment on it in some way or another. This was the pattern that would be followed with a few people writing about personal events or how events with technology were panning out for them.

Those who are now joining into the different networks are bypassing, for some part, the blogging portion of networking to some degree. They are entering into the networking using twitter, pownce or jaiku, getting to know other people on the network and sharing with them. These relationships are usually rather loosely held together by subjects, interests, proximity or something else. This continues as different people interact, sharing and discussing on the network, adding new people to their friends as they see the names mentioned in discussions or from visiting other people’s friends. This is how my network grows. I continue to add people to my various friends lists, watching what they say, commenting to them when I have something to say or something to share. I haven’t developed, it seems, as close of a connection as others have but that’s to come. I also notice that anyone who has had a f2f connection has a different dimension to their relationships than those who haven’t. I also like to visit the blogs of those people in my friends list and add them to my RSS. That way, I can read their thoughts and ideas and continue conversations via the blogs. I try to comment and am working on making sure that I do this more regularly.

Different tools give you different networks

I use two main tools for my instant chatting with other educators. Twitter is much more active with many more users who are doing a vast array of things. When I first started, I was amazed at all that was going on, wondering how people were able to spend that much time online and still teach. Again, I came to find that many of them were in computer labs or dealing with computers all day and therefore were able to be online almost all day. This really made me wonder how I was going to keep up with all that was going on. Thankfully, summer came along and I realized that, despite what I had thought, I could live without being online all the time. In fact, I realized that being “connected” had its limitations. I needed to make sure that there was some balance to what I did.

This is what led me to look into a few other networks that I now use. The first is ning. I was introduced to Classroom20 through Leadertalk. This introduction has led to a great set of networking nings where I interact with other teachers and administrators, discussing using technology in classrooms, the implications and the frustrations. These networks are very different from the blog networks I first started using and the conversational networks that I had recently began to use. In fact, I even started one of my own with the focus being administrators as a place for those who are in that type of leadership role to gather, talk and share. I like the interaction on these networks. Some of the people are the same ones that I have on twitter but many are not. The conversations range from practical “how to” to more philosophical ones. One of my favourites is Fireside Learning started by Connie Weber. Many of the discussions are ones you would have beside a fireplace; very casual but very deep and I’d like to thank Connie for asking me to join. (I haven’t left town, I’m just really busy;)

My other major network is Pownce. Now Pownce is a chat-like network a bit like twitter. However, as twitter relies on short brief 140 character bursts of chatter, pownce doesn’t have those limits. The discussions range in length but there are longer, more developed discussions that take place. The main things I like about pownce conversations are that they can vary from private one-to-one, to all your friends to public. This can be very handy especially when you are looking for feedback about an issue. And because it’s not limited by 140 characters, the conversation is more relaxed. Personally, I find it to have fewer “Look what I found, did, shot, podcast, ustreamed, ….” and more about input and discussion. I find that each has a place but I’ve never had anyone on pownce say “I don’t want to be away because I think I’ll miss something.” That, I believe, is one of the biggest “problems” with some of the networks that are developing. Having been there myself, I can understand how that thinking develops but it sin’t necessarily a postive one.

In fact, I believe that our idea of what a network does and can do for us will continue to evolve and change. In my previous post, I stated that we needed to help those who were entering this edusphere become acquainted with what was going on. I believe that it is now more true than ever. With all the available tools, it becomes overwhelming knowing where to start. With that said, it might be easier to help someone get started since the different networks are so much easier to join. Now I don’t know where the blogging all fits as not all people who join these new networks blog. They’ve become quite the mixture of different personalities, sharing, growing and adding new tools and exchanging ideas all with the idea of wanting to help students.

As these networks grow and change and more educators begin to use the tools that are available, our networks will continue to grow and change. Some, like twitter, I believe will continue to be used for fast paced discussions and up-to-the-minute new tools and ideas. Others, like ning and pownce, will be less fast paced, more discussion oriented, as is their nature. All these will, of course, be affected by the introduction and use of video discussions and other tools that have yet to hit the streets or become mainstream. The main thing is that, while networking has always been a part of what teachers have done, the opportunity to do so has increased. In fact, some may say that not being involved in some sort of online network as an educator may be cause for some concern given the proliferation of these networks online. I’m not sure that it has reached that point, yet, but it may soon become an expectation that teachers be involved in online PD of some sort and definitely involved in district/division wide online groups. We’ve reached the point where distance is not a concern. What is the concern/stumbling block is the failure of many within education to use the tools that are available to do the work they were designed to do. As networks continue to shrink the distance between people, educators will need to open the door and begin building their own network outside of their schools and that’s where many of us who have been using the different networks can help them in choosing something that will fit with what they are wanting to do.

Stay tuned as I will once again be reintroducing the New Faces posts where I highlight a blog of someone that I’ve just discovered.

Let’s meet them at the door

I’ve been really busy of late with all the things that go on in the life of a parent, principal, coach and community member. My senior boys basketball team is showing signs of becoming a real contender – which means that we have to play more – with more nights away. I’ve also been working very hard on getting some of the policies for our school ready – reworking areas that just don’t seem to fit. I’ve been expanding my use of various web2.0 tools including such things as Jing, VoiceThread, Animoto and other tools. Now this is because I’m hoping to do a session at the upcoming Tlt Conference in Saskatoon in May. I am focusing on tools that can help administrators to become more familiar with what is available and begin to use the tools in their own lives. I’m hoping to use Jing to create a Jingcast of some of the tools I hope to use plus add to my admin wiki some of the things that I am learning and working on during this time.

Tonight, after reffing and coaching a bball game, I was able to sit in on Alec Couros university class using Ustream. During this time, one of the participants, nnoakes, asked a really good question about the whole networking idea. George Siemens, who was guest presenting on Connectivism, had just mentioned some of the major educational bloggers in his presentation. The question posed was something like:

How does the network open up for new people as most of the people mentioned refer to one another in their writing and their own network includes one another.

I also wonder this. I recall a commment that once directed me to some advice on becoming more widely read. It included commenting on other bogs, writing regularly, keeping the topics current, referring to what you’ve read and so on. Well, I must say that it’s a lie, as far as I’m concerned. Many of the big names were there at the start and continue to grow their readerships because they were there at the start – and rightly so. Some have done some great work with connecting classrooms and including technology in their teaching and this has grown their readership. Some have interesting comments and make controversial comments which brings them readership. The rest, well, we write on, sometimes having a good post that draws attention from readers or we manage to be noticed by a blogger with a large reader list which brings in readers.

As the number of teachers who enter different networks grows, it will be interesting to see how things pan out. I know that I’ve seen the frustration in a number of bloggers who find it very disappointing that it is so hard to get comments or interaction. Having commented on a number of blogs, I know that it takes a great deal of time to do this. Some say it pays off in attracting readers. I’m not convinced. I’m not convinced that, like all other areas of our society, there won’t be just a few major players whose writing is followed by many while many of rest will continue with a very small readership, occasionally attracting readers because of this or that.

My reasons vary but mostly come down to this:  most of the big name bloggers are not full-time teachers or school building administrators and are outside looking in. There, I said it. There is only so much time in a day, there is only so much time to do reading and commenting and many are finding that to be committed to a network requires time that many teachers do not have. So, if you are a well known figure, you can pop in and out of twitter and leave a few posts and then not appear for a day or two and people will respond to you. The rest need to build and nuture our networks – commenting and building, building and discussing, discussing and sharing. Any time away and our network moves on – not really leaving us but not allowing us to just drop in.

Now, we do make some personal connections, especially if we can meet f2f with people from our network. This really adds to the relationships, strengthening the bonds but, like most teachers, the chance of attending a major national conference and meeting these people is, well, not that likely. Those who do get this chance, appear to build and strengthen their network in ways that are different than others. With many of well known names, they meet one another at these conferences to get reaquainted and reconnected. Their conversations have references and such that those not attending cannot share. It may not create an exclusive network but it does affect those who are involved. So for others trying to get involved, it becomes even more difficult as they try to make sense of it all.

Maybe we need to really go out of our way to help those just joining the community and network. Mentor them and introduce them to different educators. Really share ourselves with them instead of allowing them to find their own way. The idea similar to what happens with new teachers. Those who have mentors tend to develop in a much different way than those who learn by trial-by-fire. Education, unfortunately, is know for the latter and not the former. For so long, we have not opened the doors to new people but instead allowed them to make it on their own. Maybe, as we explore these new venues and tools, we need to toss open the doors and do more than just invite them in. We need to meet them at the door and help them find their way. We need to check in on them and see how they are doing and share cool ideas or tools with them. Those of us who have some experience, need to share that with others and maybe go beyond just our blog sharing. Maybe we need to meet them at the door, welcome them and help them with what they are doing. It’s one thing that does work in school.