Why Twitter is Only the Beginning

The speed of connection in social media can distract us from the possibilities for deeper engagement. Brian Costello urges us past the brief and immediate in this space and challenges us to dig deeper in our practices.

The Teacher's Journey

I personally found it weird when there was a month to celebrate Connected Educators and we celebrate it in a place that is exclusively for connected educators, Twitter.  Twitter is a great tool if you are using it correctly.  Engage, introduce surface ideas, build relationships, and share resources.  For these things, twitter is great, but if it is where your connected experience ends, you may not be getting everything out of it.

So many things that we talk about on twitter require a greater level of discussion.  They are complex, in-depth, educational topics that require more than 140 characters.  We only scratch the surface with twitter.

What twitter does, if we use it right, is open doors.  It opens doors to educators to connect in other ways to really have the conversations about topics they propose on twitter.  We still have to walk through.  Our job is not simply to…

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On Children and Childhood

Paul Thomas examines the ways in which we power over children through erroneously assigning them minority status. Please consider this post today.

radical eyes for equity

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew

“[anyone lived in a pretty how town],”e.e. cummings

In one of those early years of becoming and being a teacher, when I was still teaching in the exact room where I had been a student (a school building that would eventually be almost entirely destroyed by a fire set by children), it was the first day of school, and I was calling that first roll—a sort of silly but important ritual of schooling for teachers and students.

Toward the back of the room and slightly to my left sat a big young man, a white male student typical of this rural upstate South Carolina high school in my home town; like me, he would accurately be considered in that context as a Redneck.

Just about everyone knows everyone in my hometown, and we are very…

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First School

I created it in the corner of the basement in our split-level suburban Chicago home. My parents must have recognized my love of all things school-related and they found two old hinge-top desks for me. They scrounged a chalkboard from somewhere and mounted it on the stubborn cement wall. My dad made ditto machine copies for me at his office from the workbooks I begged my mom to purchase at the strip mall teachers’ store.

I had this…

in case I had to take things on the road.

I begged my younger sister to play school with me and she’d frequently oblige. (I’m so sorry, Sharyn! It was so early in my career.) Occasionally our neighborhood friends would come down and I could convince them to put down the Barbies and Star Wars figures or quit roller skating around the support beam for long enough to cajole a worksheet out of them.

I loved that little space. I loved being the teacher.

My students often hated me.

I had internalized the system that I was attending, and I was cranking it back upon my sibling and friends, unaware that a space meant for play must release them from the shackles of their Monday through Friday, 9:00-3:3o lives.

But I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved my teachers, loved the smell of textbooks–even read them for fun, marvelling at why on Earth! couldn’t we ever finish them in a school year?

I loved the quiet dimness and echoes of the cinder block and tile hallways if I worked up enough courage to seek permission to go to the bathroom or get a drink during work time. I’d steal glances into the boiler room and the mysterious chugging machinery within.

I loved the library and the spots on the shelves I returned to time and again for my favorite books, piling them high on the checkout desk, always forgiven a book or two over the limit.

I loved the playground with it’s massive maples and places amongst their roots we called ‘secret’ for hiding special bits of stone and wood chips essential in scenes long forgotten.

In so many ways I was a fortunate child in an affluent school system that paved a foundation for my dedication to this field. But for all the warmth and goodness around me in those spaces, I knew early that others were not happy there.

In kindergarten, the beloved woman who smiled over her piano to keep us singing “O Beautiful” was also someone who tied a classmate to his chair with a jump rope. His needs were exceptional and special. I did not tell anyone who could help.

In second grade, a left-handed boy who looked out the window too long to those swaying maple towers was physically reprimanded to write neater, pay attention, and work harder at not smudging his papers. I remember the sound of his hand hitting the desk and seeing that she had made that happen, with her fierce grip on his wrist, tears and fear in his eyes. I bowed my head and colored my ditto copies for the pages of our bird books. Cardinal. Blue Jay. A robin like my name.

In third grade, the teachers shared a doorway between two classrooms. They were terse, diminutive women with high heels, cigarette-tuned voices, and a set of reprimands they spoke in common to us nine year olds:

“You’re a day late and a dollar short.”

“What? Do I look like your mother?”

“You’re going to need more than the right answer to get anywhere further than where you’re going.”

During presentation once where we had to report on the states, one boy had proudly traced the shape of Kansas and marked a star labeled “Kansas City” as its capital.

“Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?” the gray-haired one began. She went over to the doorway, opened it and called for back-up. The red-haired sidekick clicked over in her heels, and they put on a kind of back and forth act as my classmate stood in front of the room, slowly lowering his report. “This kid thinks the capital of Kansas is Kansas City. For the love of Pete, did you even do any research?”

Did they cough and spit upon the ground, too? In my memory, they’ve become the kind of people who would have done so.

Fourth grade was a reprieve. Our teacher was golden to everyone. She never changed the burlap background to her bulletin boards, raised chicks from eggs in the front of the room and once placed a lost duckling from the schoolyard into my hands so we could take it to our family’s farm. She was the kind of person with self-awareness to lower her voice when she felt it raising in frustration. She’d try again and again to explain difficult topics to learners who were stuck, and she included us all in celebrations. She was so kind.

Except for the time she was bowled over at the year-end picnic on the park hill by a gregarious classmate who was running one way, yelling and looking in the other direction. No one expected the full-contact hit and our teacher’s legs flying up from beneath her ever-present chambray skirt. She all but cursed the poor girl’s name.

In fifth grade, I missed out on being placed in the young and pretty new teacher’s class and was instead seated next to a child who never made contact with the seat of his desk chair, orbiting about that station in as many ways as he could. His lips were perpetually cracked and he’d gape them open at me as he glanced at my work, attempting to grasp something to put down during a pause in his movement. Our teacher wore various colored nylon stockings for belts, was considered “odd” and had a curious habit of playing Brahms and Beethoven unpredictably on the boxy class record player at various points during the day. I had just begun to learn to draw a bow across the strings of the viola so I found a place inside those swells of sound.

I remember drawing the Jamestown colony and trying to remind my busy neighbor to include a town square in his work. I think he finished just one goat. One day I returned from lunch to find him crouched under the coats along the wall, crying. I don’t think I had any idea how to help him. I think I must have just taken my seat.

I wrote that I wanted to be a “chimpanzee communicator” on the page about our future goals in our little fifth grade memory book, but somewhere in there I was already considering that I never wanted to leave the environment of school.

I had schoolosis and I was a watcher. I was transfixed by the actions of my teachers and my peers, and while I know that I must have spoken and interacted with my classmates, I remember them most with an almost-photographic quality or silent pans across the scenes in those rooms.

Junior high was taxing on my need for large swaths of time and space for my tendency to notice, mull and wonder.  The pace was so different. We had many more teachers for the first time, and hallways filled with students. I survived it. I remember having to play what was termed “The Ghetto Game” for points and a grade in a social studies room. I lost early by becoming a single mother without a GED. The teacher had a habit of rearing back on his chair and putting his boot-laced feet on the desk. He wore dark-tinged sunglasses and smelled of alcohol.

In high school, the mad dash to keep up was upon me. I found myself noticing things teachers were trying to do to engage us in critical thinking to stretch our habits. During the first back to school night as a freshman, the ambulance came roaring to the school’s great circle drive and they carried out the English teacher who had just introduced us to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I had finished it overnight beneath the glow of an overheated task lamp clipped to my bed. I was ready to hang on every word of his analysis over the coming weeks. He was gone.

The class treated the substitute horribly. I faced forward and raised my hand whenever her shaky questions hung in the air without any response. I could see her fight back tears most days. She nominated me for a position in the student writing center.

I found the elective for early childhood development and the chance to teach in the in-house preschool run by a fantastic home economics teacher and early childhood specialist. My advisor made certain to say that this was a course track most suitable for students who might not go to college and those who might find work in daycares. He repeated this two more different ways. I must have had a blank look on my face. A school within a school? Nothing was standing in my way.

One of my childhood friends questioned me relentlessly about my college choices. My peers were Top Ten-conference bound. I needed constant help with my AP Calculus work. She wondered if I was really going into education. “You’ll never make very much money. And no one respects teachers.” I started leaving out big sections of my thoughts and dreams in our conversations.

I was interviewed by a nun in an office with a view of Chicago for consideration of a scholarship at DePaul University to study education. She asked me why I wanted to become a teacher. I remember struggling to come up with words and landing on something like, “I can’t remember not loving school.” She was the first one to mention social justice to me, and that I would be expected to give back by teaching in an urban community one day. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t Catholic. Commitment to the mission of helping others through this social justice lens in the classroom was what they were looking for. Could I do that?

I signed various papers indicating that I could and the most transformative phase of my journey to become a teacher began. We read Freire and hooks and Giroux and stepped into classrooms that looked nothing like those I had come from. When asked to write a paper on our personal philosophy of education in a senior class on historical foundations in education, I procrastinated. Things weren’t feeling settled in my path to become a teacher. I was uncomfortable about attempting to understand and reconcile differences as the leader in a classroom. I panicked. I could not take on this responsibility.

Instead of writing an essay drawing upon the great philosophers of education, their contemporaries, and my dawning connection to them all, I wrote that I clearly had to quit this path because I was confused about my role in the classroom. Dr. Haymes scrawled the dreaded “See Me” across the top. I approached his desk after the last class and he said that I obviously hadn’t completed the assignment according to his guidelines but that he’d hoped I would reconsider my decision. That classrooms needed doubt, uncertainty, and the absolute commitment to ongoing questioning that I had communicated in my paper. There was a small “A” near the last line of my writing.

I took my first position in a creaky hulk of a three-story building on the the Northwest side of the city. At one time, there were over a dozen different languages and backgrounds represented in my classroom. I muddled through. A pair of Fiskars grazed my temple one day when I continued to force a point about missed math homework on a student who lived in a group home. I remember his shocked look at my fear. He bolted from the classroom. I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to follow them if they ran. My principal said to let him go.

He came back at some point as the days went on. We settled on some sort of truce and I struggled behind it all to make sense of what I was doing to him and his classmates within these structures.

I discovered the idea of classroom libraries and the possibilities that a wired classroom might bring. My students, so many of them new to this country, smiled when they could at my mistakes. We laughed more.

When it was time to say goodbye to that beautiful old building with its views of the distant skyline through the big windows and WPA murals, I wept. Where would I ever learn as much as I had there? The undocumented parents of students had just started to answer my phone calls and come see me at conferences. Small treasures were pressed into my hands. I had learned to abandon what didn’t work and listen carefully to what wasn’t being said.

I considered taking a break from this work. We downsized. Sold our home at the height of the real estate bubble and moved to a farmstead in Iowa. A rare position opened in the small rural district near our family’s Wisconsin farm. A neighbor asked if I might be interested. In the interview I had to answer a round of unending questions about managing student behavior if all other resources were unavailable. At the time, I didn’t question the ridiculousness of the question. I started to sweat and babble, exasperated. I finally blurted out the scissor story. The interview committee dropped their jaws. I was hired.

And thus began my education as a rural educator.

Somehow I’m not quite ready to write about the decade I spent there. It’s coming, of course. My work and relationships there are unfinished. I hope to tell you more about how they were the best teachers.

And of my beautiful year in the School District of Holmen. About the freedom and respect I’ve found to create true learning labs for my students. And how I finally found my niche.

It’s funny how it looks a lot like my first school on George Street in a sleepy little suburb so many miles and years away.

Connected to Libraries

Here at the Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association’s Spring Conference. Blogging while my dear library media specialist (and their kin) slumber away.  Ready for them to give me all kinds of hassle about it in a few hours. 

So I should say some things about them. (Mostly so they’ll feel really bad about giving me a hard time.)

Getting together at conferences is really special for educators. It’s often questioned by folks from both outside and inside the field as frivolous wastes of time, where teachers go, come back with all kinds of fresh ideas and then burn themselves and their co-workers out talking about them and attempting to awkwardly implement them in an attempt to “stay relevant.”

I’ve been that gal.

She quickly left the building, thankfully early in my career.

My adventure into the world of library media science in shifted the tide.

Our former librarian Kris Kreuzer brought a UWSSLEC WISE Scholarship Program flyer to a lunch meeting, with someone else in mind for it. That person didn’t eat lunch that day. Kris mentioned that she might be retiring in a few years, so the district would need another LMS, and it might be interesting to see what it was all about. “Plus,” she added, “you get a free laptop.”

I had recently been in conversation with someone who was saying that I “better get my Master’s or you’ll never move on the pay schedule and your retirement is going to be way lower than it should be.” (I’ve always loved that reason folks often cite in our field for pursuing more education. Loans bother me. I prefer to go to school when I have questions and interests calling me into missing great swaths of time with loved ones.)

I was pulled in a little closer when I read on the flyer about developing rural educators in Wisconsin to be 21st century leaders in their schools and communities. 

I loved my little rural middle school. It was challenging interesting work on a daily basis with students and families who taught me so much about living and growing up in a country setting.

I was already and advocate for the transformative use of technology in learning. I was provided with some very important training when I working in the Chicago Public Schools with the amazing teacher-admin-professor, Heather Smith Yutzy, with whom I had studied middle school teaching methods at DePaul University. Heather had approached me and my colleague Michael to attend a series of sessions about using the Internet to impact instruction. I think it ended up being about building webquests. It was 1999.

I had been introduced to methods to use technology not as a replacement tool for learning, but as an invitation to learn more and interact differently with the world. I was hooked.

Heather and others who supported my decisions to integrate technology into my middle school classrooms helped pave the way for my decision to apply for the scholarship.

So back to this group of connected educators with whom I’m attending this week’s conference:

We were an awkward group four years ago, brought together by a team of professors of library media science who had studied the gaps and needs in our state and worked tirelessly to apply for grant funding to slow the loss of transformative library spaces in Wisconsin. Dr. Eileen Schroeder and Dr. Anne Zarinnia, together with their consortium colleague leaders, were welcoming us to the field in the basement lab classroom one sunny weekend on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

They were sharing a map of Wisconsin with marks for each UWSSLEC WISE scholar around the state. We had already done some awkward getting-to-know-you interview activities. They began handing out technology, including an iPad for each of us that they had purchased with extra grant money. “Use it. Bring it into your classrooms. See what you can do with it.” We were having our Oprah moment in that dingy little lab, pinching ourselves that we had really been chosen for this scholarship out of hundreds of applicants.

And then they introduced us to Buffy.

“She’s from Georgia, and she has these little dogs. What do you call them? Dahx-hundz?” Dr. Zarinnia explained, her Welsh accent wrapping itself around the memory. “Our Skype connection may be troubled by all that barking. Just so you are aware. And that accent…”

Before we knew it, we were in conversation with one of the leading minds in what would soon become our passion and true calling in education: finding the power to create an “unquiet” and user-focused library media space in our schools. Of embracing multiple literacies. Of bringing democracy into the library space and turning the tide against old, warn models of librarianship.

Ms. Hamilton was phenomenal at engaging us by painting a picture of her work in Georgia to develop the library as a place of dialog over what was meaningful and important to its users. I remember her showing us photos of kids gaming in the morning with Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards, podcasting about their favorite books, blogging and Tweeting. Her fierce love of traditional literacy and books was an important piece of the puzzle but, she cautioned us, just one piece of what we need to value in our library spaces.

I remember asking Ms. Hamilton if this kind of transformative, student-centered space could coexist within the growing confines of the standardization movement; if testing was keeping up with the transformative style of twenty-first century librarianship that she was developing. What restrictions would these tests impose on her kind of work? 

Because I should say at this point that I was hooked on this direction for my career in education. 

A lifelong lover of libraries, but the very opposite of quiet, I felt I was meant to help carve out a space for my students like the one at Creekview High School in Georgia. I could not wait to get started.

Buffy was considerate of the question as she is with just about any question hurled her way, and the woman is a force of nature at fielding questions from anyone on the planet about the things she cares about: literacies, voices, transformative directions in learning.

She said that it was a good one to consider given the high-stakes piece of the puzzle. She did say that testing was perhaps trying to go in a different direction, and that she had hopes that assessments one day would truly reflect what her learners knew and could do outside of content recall. 

I was convinced.

My new WISE buddies and I started packing up after our first day. Lots of sighs of hope and promise and many ‘thank you’s’ for the tech were exchanged with the professors. 

But we were beginning a journey together that holds fast to this day. 

Our teacher hearts were changing and have changed, but I come to a conference in the middle of our state to reconnect in person with the people I have been online with every single day since Buffy sparked our learning four years ago. These are some of the most fantastic library media-minded folks in our state. Look for their work. Visit their libraries. Find them on Twitter. Even those among the group (ahem!) who are not at the helm of transformative library media centers in Wisconsin are interested in this work and carrying the torch for the kinds of learning that Buffy shared with us.

Laura Effinger

Ellie Rumney

Polly LaMontagne

Susan Queiser

Tiffany Braunel

Mike Slowinski

Brandon Berrey

Julie Weideman

Jessica Schmitz

Lorisa Harvey

Leslie Hermann

Abbie Thill

Joe Diefenthaler

Laura Wipperman

Janet Sager

Lisa Sorlie

Arlette Leyva

Stephanie Kilger-Karker

Trisha Sabel

Introducing my PLN to the next gen

So this has been a good week.

We had a fully functioning kitchen lab working to produce a healthy version of the iconic Shamrock Shake.

We had a team of students designing a gaming arcade that will ultimately fundraise for an organization set up by Rob Johnson, the father of our student, Aaron Johnson, who lost a valiant battle with leukemia this winter.

The Sphero obstacle course plans continue to move forward, especially after a visit from our friend Nick Torgerson, who also helped lead lessons on precision and accuracy, and design thinking with Sphero. He also hosted an impromptu guidance session about college and savings, and the pride he has for MIT, and he shared just a bit about his robotics work on that amazing cheetah.

Parents and families had a chance to meet the Sphero interactive toy, and parent-teacher conferences were all the more interesting because of it!

In addition, I attended a fantastic SAMR/Google Apps training seminar led by the imcomparable Naomi Harm.

Throw in a professional development/Personal Learning Community conversation conducted entirely via text messages, lunch with two fantastic colleagues, and a chance to spend some social time with a fabulous bunch of educators, and things really rounded out nicely.

One of the coolest small-mighty moments of the week for a Twitter fanatic like myself was my conversation with our mathematics volunteer, Jacob Rice. As we worked with students on Friday, our conversation turned to the power of connected environments for learning as an educator. I explained that Twitter was fundamental to my practice.

Jacob gave me that skeptical smile that most people offer when I begin to Twitter evangelize. They usually follow up with, “I’m not really into that whole Twitter thing,” or something similar to this. And I can honestly say that I was not “into” the “whole social media thing” a few short years ago.

He went on to explain how it is used by his peers, and I acknowledged that it can be a space fraught with all kinds of awful extremes and examples of human behavior that we try to avoid in our real world environments.

But you know I didn’t leave it there. (WISE Scholar friends, I’m talking to you.)

I shared how my Twitter Personal Learning Network (PLN) has been a lifeline for me in this work. How it has rescued me from feeling that the fundamentals of my practice, conversation and connection–often with some of the most forward-thinking and wonderful minds in our world–can be lost in the day to day rhythms of schoolosis.

I told him to get into the conversation about mathematics education because he has a voice in it and there are so many great ones in the space there to engage with. Now.

Good things come in threes (or whatever) so I should also say that I shared the Twitter Sermon with Nick Torgerson and with a friend of Jacob’s, Charles Labuzzetta, to whom I was introduced to when I ran into his fantastic mother Carol at the bookstore Saturday evening. Carol was one of the first parents I met in my new district, and I have been so grateful for her welcome. Charles is working on something very interesting with DNA and computer programming at Iowa State University. We hope to connect him with my students to learn more.

All three young educators are now listening and conversing in the Twittersphere. My students will have the opportunity to learn even more from these leaders in from our community. I can’t wait to read their words.

You should definitely come join us there.

And, for the record, all three gentlemen are YOUNGER than I am. Yes. That’s right. I introduced a social media tool for education, learning, and exceptional conversation to members of the NEXT GENERATION. Feeling kind of good about that. But I promise that’s the last time I’ll mention it. 😉

Follow Nick @teknickMIT

Follow Jacob @Jacob_R_Rice

Follow Charles @clabuzze

Coming soon: A heart-swelling phone conversation with a college-bound former student who ventured with me six long years ago in our middle school classroom into Google Apps for Educators.

See you at #WEMTA14 and in the Twittersphere, friends. I’ll be back on the road to my learning labs bright and early Wednesday morning. And I’ll see parents at Evergreen on Thursday night. Better catch some sleep while I can.