Tuesday, July 15, 2014

No Ant Left Behind

Photo by Maggie Creative Commons

     In order to survive the constant flooding, the South American red ants hold on to each other to form a raft. They can form a raft in a mere 2 minutes and can survive for months in this fashion. Researchers, at the Georgia Institute of Technology, found that the ants form even tighter bonds when the colony is temporarily submerged under water. They encapsulate themselves in an air pocket. When 1,000's of ants join together, they make a raft that is virtually unsinkable and able to withstand unpredictable waves.

     As I was planning earlier this week, I came across several articles about fire ants. Immediately, I made a connection between their survival adaptation and building a PLN. The ants pull together and strengthen each other much like we educators do. Threats to their survival only make them stronger. Separated ants are rescued by others and brought back to the safety of numbers. Their "raft" becomes unsinkable. Our PLN is much like a colony of fire ants. We work together to strengthen each other. We lift each other up. We connect. We bond. With so many challenges in education, we pull together to form even tighter bonds. Our "raft" or PLN keeps us afloat. 

     This week, I've thought a lot about how our PLN is growing and strengthening. I've been able to connect with you- a group of amazing educators who inspire me, challenge me, and make me want to be a better teacher and leader. I'm so thankful for the contributions of everyone. I value your thoughts, opinions, quotes, jokes, and the resources that you share. I recently connected with many of you via Voxer. It takes being a connected educator to a whole new level. There's something to be said about hearing the human voice. It makes sharing even more powerful. Hopefully one day, I'll have the opportunity to meet you in person. You are or are quickly becoming like family! 

     How can we make our PLN stronger? This is what I've learned so far:

  • It's not about numbers. Being new to Twitter, I've sensed that some get caught up in the numbers game. The number of Followers and the number that you are Following seems to have an importance. I don't fully understand how everything works in the Twittersphere, but it seems to me that connecting and interacting with the people that you follow is more important than the number. 

  • Real connections/conversations are important. I value the many little conversations that I've had over the past couple of weeks. Thank you for sharing your pictures and stories that are personal in nature. I've enjoyed getting to know you, your family (including pets), what you value, and the humor. (I've often caught myself laughing out loud at my computer or other device.)

  • Support fellow tweeps. It doesn't take much effort to wish someone a Happy Birthday, comment on an achievement, or at least offer to help. I often see tweets whiz by without being acknowledged in any way- tweets that seem important. They're important to the person that sent the tweet. Maybe it's the nature of Twitter. But it doesn't take much effort to favorite or retweet a message by someone you recognize.

  • Nurturing new users to Twitter etc. is essential. The Twitterverse can be a little scary at first. It's like being in a foreign country learning a new language. Thank you to the tweeps out there who have been so helpful to me. It meant a lot to me to be welcomed to a chat. It actually still means a lot.  I'm venturing out and joining several chat groups. There are teachers lurking out there (which is okay) that need a little love and kindness. They have a lot to contribute and I hope they soon find the courage to "jump in" knowing that there's a safety net of friendly educators.

     What do you think? How can we make our PLN stronger? How can we "rescue" the "ants" not in the colony so that they can experience the power and strength of being a connected educator? I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Follow my 5th graders: "Remarkable Innovators Changing the World!"
I'm just starting the blog. We start school July 28, 2015. We'll also be on Twitter!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Twitter: Joining the Flock Photo by Deano7000

     I actually set up a Twitter account back in 2011, about the same time that I discovered Edmodo. I'd log into Twitter once in a blue moon, but that was basically it. I didn't take the time to learn anything and really saw no use for it. In fact, I saw it as a big waste of time. To me, it was much like Facebook, and not really worth the investment of time and energy. (I haven't joined the Facebook bandwagon either.) However I kept hearing about its benefits, as far as professional development was concerned, from the teachers in Edmodo. But for me, I felt like I was getting plenty of PD. I already felt very connected with my PLN in Edmodo. I was collecting tons of great resources and ideas. I was connected with educators from all around the world. I was sharing and collaborating. My PLN was/is my online family!

     One day while reading posts on Edmodo, a teacher posted a hint for getting started with Twitter. I decided to see if setting up a "newspaper" from would help me to see the value of Twitter. It was the perfect crutch for me. I started to read and see what was being shared on Twitter and gained a sense that it just might be of value. I told myself that I would give Twitter a chance. About this same time, Edmodo started #edmodochat. My PLN basically held my hand and supported me in my first ever Twitter chat. It was FUN! I felt safe because I was chatting with my friends. I made a lot of mistakes! I couldn't follow the conversation very well. I forgot to add the hashtag. By the time I had responded to someone, there were 27 more tweets! But, I still learned so much from just an hour of tweeting.

      It's been about a month since I really started to engage with Twitter. I can now honestly say that Twitter is AMAZING for connecting with passionate educators, finding resources, and really learning from great people all around the world in many different fields of expertise. Everyone is so helpful, kind, and understanding especially to teachers just joining Twitter. There really is no excuse for not using it.

When I jump in, I really jump in and commit to learning. I know that I'm not an administrator yet (I'm just starting that journey), but it didn't stop me from joining #satchat or #satchatwc. In fact, I joined a lot of chats! It helped me to not only learn more about using Twitter, but it helped me to learn more about the various topics and the importance of connecting with like-minded educators. I probably overloaded the Twitter feed of many by clicking on the retweet button, but no one complained. (It was a lot easier than trying to type a tweet.)

     Honestly, I've been tickled pink to connect with some "big name" people. They don't know me and I really don't know them. But I can tell you that I've done a "Happy" dance when they've followed, retweeted, or favorited a tweet of mine. (I may be a little star-struck.) It's been really fun for me to connect and converse with the authors of the books I love. I admire their courage to put themselves "out there" to lead the way. I'm a little envious at their perceived confidence, expertise, and talent. They each seem to have their own niche or message. I question whether I would ever have the talent to write a book, give a keynote, or have thousands follow my blog. Even my desire for those things is maybe another whole blog post worth exploring. I know that they're fellow educators also on a journey of life-long learning. They're learning and growing just like everyone else. The difference, perhaps, is their willingness to share their passion and to be vulnerable. I admire that.
I feel like I'm in a new world now! My Edmodo PLN (family) has certainly helped me to be a more connected educator. They probably will never know how much I appreciate their mentorship both in Edmodo and on Twitter. I'm in awe of their talent. Although I've been teaching over 20 years, my PLN inspires me to not only be a better teacher, but also a better person. Being on Twitter, has expanded my PLN. I've met some incredible people! It's because of their gentle nudging that I'm now committed to blogging. that's something scary to me! I'm a very private person. I don't consider myself as a writer and I'm certainly not an expert at anything. In fact, I need to apologize to my English/Language Arts PLN members for my many mistakes. My brain is telling me that blogging will be for me and my growth- that learning comes from reflecting on experiences. It's really not even the writing of a blog that scares me the most- it's the sharing. One voice says, "Don't do it! You're opening yourself up too much!". The other voice says, "Jump in and share your journey!" I've kept a journal since I was 12 years old, but I've never shared. Here I go! I'm going to make a lot of mistakes! I feel exactly like this young girl ski jumping for the first time. The publish button is there waiting. Here goes---  I'm joining the flock in blogging too!