Heading to ISTE

com.sherpa.iste2018I’m going to ISTE! The ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) annual conference is held each year at the end of June, is THE premiere conference for all things edtech, and this year it’s in Chicago! ISTE is reportedly exhilarating, a little overwhelming, and chock full of learning and networking opportunities.

Everything I’ve read regarding how best to approach the conference advises that you set goals before you go. It’s such a big conference with hundreds of sessions, a huge vendor hall, networking lounges, tech playgrounds, and evening social events, so a little planning goes a long way. The conference even has its own app!

I want to make the most of my time at ISTE, so I’ve been making plans and setting goals, which include:

  • Attend opening and closing keynotes. I admit that sometimes I skip these at conferences because they’re always early/late, but I want to make an effort to hear the featured experts, teachers and even students who will be speaking during the daily keynotes.
  • Experience different types of sessions. I look forward to traditional breakout sessions as well as poster sessions, Ignite presentations, “ISTE Bytes” sessions, research presentations, and a few longer workshops.
  • Get hands-on. There will be several “playgrounds”, at which you can try out various technologies. I’m especially interested in maker, robotics, and other types of STEM technologies, so look forward to trying out what I’ve only seen on Twitter!
  • Make connections. I love meeting new people and learning about their jobs, backgrounds and interests, so have my business cards at the ready and look forward to adding to my PLN! I’ve heard that there are various lounges as well, which will be a fun way to relax and make new friends.
  • Visit vendors. There will be over 500 vendors in the Exhibition Hall, and attendees are strongly advised to make a plan of attack before wandering in. I plan to visit vendors with whom our district currently partners, as well as others I’d like to learn more about. I also plan to pick up some free swag, I mean hey– you can never have too many pens/sticky notes/stress balls, right? I’ve also heard there are fun games and prizes as well, so bring it on Exhibition Hall!
  • L-E-A-R-N. I find conferences extremely energizing and inspirational. I have walked away from countless conferences with a kernel of an idea which I’ve then adapted and utilized in my own work. Learning from others, being challenged, and feeling amazed by the brilliance and goodness that exists in educators from around the world is a wonderful reminder of our shared commitment to doing the very best that we can for kids. I cannot wait.
  • Have FUN! Our state-level edtech organizations are hosting an opening party at the Museum of Science and Industry, which should be a blast. I’m also looking forward to attending Flocabulary’s Open Mic Night and, although I personally don’t plan on rapping in public, I do look forward to some good tunes! It will be fun to check out some of Chicago’s musical venues along with edtechies from around the world.

I’ve got my nerdy laptop backpack ready to go, a few Luna Bars and little packs of almonds stashed in the pockets, a phone charger and battery pack, an extension cord with extra outlets for new friends, and my Twitter’s all fired up and ready for action. LET’S DO THIS!

Planning Big Events: It Takes a Village

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week was our First Annual Summer Technology Mini-Conference and it DEFINITELY counted as “doing stuff that scares you.” Not scary like “The Shining”, or even “Get Out” (my colleagues are WAY nicer, more well-adjusted people), but scary as in “there are a lot of moving parts and we’re going to need TONS of participation and help from others to make this work.” Luckily, my district is full of incredible people open to new ideas and with an obvious passion for both learning and supporting one another.

START EARLY

I’d been tossing the idea of a summer mini-conference around in my head for a few years, but felt like I shouldn’t officially propose it until I had all of the details worked out. I decided to wait until our Curriculum Team began talking about summer professional development opportunities in early April which, for a big event like this, was probably too late. Everything worked out in the end, but we would have had a few more weeks to promote the event to staff, a few more weeks to hammer out some logistical details, if I had gotten the ball rolling a little earlier. My lesson here was not to be afraid to propose an idea even if not all of the details have been worked out– because the people who will ultimately help you pull it off will also help you work through some of the loose ends. This was especially important since I am new to the district and am still learning who-to-talk-to-about-what-when, etc.

MAKE IT F-U-N

Our teachers finished school on Friday, June 1st, and the Mini-Conference was Monday, June 4th. How to entice these teachers teetering on the brink of well-deserved summer vacation freedom to come back the very next Monday for a day of PD? Choose an inviting theme, of course! Our Mini-Conference was a LUAU, and participants were encouraged to dress accordingly. Luau treats were provided, Hawaiian music played during the social breaks, there were goofy door prize drawings, and everyone got a lei! The promotional materials made the theme clear and also indicated that this would not be your ordinary PD as there was, among other luau-related graphics, a flamingo on the flyer. The flamingo resulted in my only participant complaint, however, as he rightly pointed out that flamingos don’t live in Hawaii and therefore should not have been on my luau-themed promotional flyer. Point taken, although the flamingo WILL remain on the August flyer. Apologies in advance.

MAKE IT BY TEACHERS, FOR TEACHERS

The main components of our Mini-Conference were three 45 minute Breakout Sessions. During each Breakout session, attendees could choose between four concurrent sessions offered by district teachers and staff. We had fifteen presenters offering twelve different sessions which included Google Drive Basics, Elementary Makerspaces, Connecting Globally with Technology, Utilizing Video with Students, Hyperdocs, Formative Assessments with Technology, and various technology tools such as Seesaw, WeVideo, Flocabulary, and more. I strongly believe that a major part of the draw for attendees was the opportunity to learn from their colleagues. This Mini-Con could NOT have been possible without the presenters. Almost every school had at least one staff member presenting, holding positions including elementary classroom teacher, instructional coach, information literacy and enrichment teacher, middle school core teacher, middle school exploratory teacher, and literacy and information coach. One session even featured fourth and fifth grade students as presenters! Our attendees represented every school in the district; early childhood, elementary and middle school staff; classroom and exploratory/specials teachers; coaches; and information literacy and enrichment teachers. AND principals and central office staff (I’ll get to them in a minute)!

TRY NEW IDEAS (BUT BE OKAY IF THEY TURN OUT DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU EXPECTED)

One comment that I often hear after professional development opportunities is “This is great, but I wish we had time to actually work on what we just learned!” I decided to try out a “Sandbox Time” at the end of our three Breakout Sessions in order to allow people the opportunity to get started right away with some of their new learning. Sandbox Time was ninety minutes, back in the central meeting area where we had round tables, music and snacks still set up from the earlier part of the day. I’d say it was somewhat successful– I think it was successful for the attendees who stayed around to dive into new tools, work with teammates on planning for next year incorporating new tools and strategies, or ask questions of the presenters. Some people took the opportunity to leave early– which was totally fine, as we all have busy schedules and it’s possible that the Sandbox Time was not something that they needed. In the interest of constant improvement, I’m thinking of offering both Sandbox Time AND two additional concurrent sessions so people would have a choice between working on their own in the Sandbox or attending one additional session.

WELCOME BUILDING AND CENTRAL OFFICE ADMINISTRATORS

One of the things that thrilled me was the fact that several of our building principals, both elementary and middle school, attended the full Mini-Conference. One of the assistant principals that attended hasn’t even started in our district yet– now that is enthusiasm! We also had a few Central Office staff attend a few sessions, which was also really exciting considering that they are still working full-time. The attendance of administration is important for many reasons, not the least of which is to show their support for the organizers of the conference. Their presence meant the world to me. Their attendance was also a clear statement that they value the effective integration of technology and understand its importance to our teachers and students, and also see themselves as learners along with the rest of us! Finally, their attendance showed support for the staff who were presenting. We all know how validating it is to have our bosses see us in action, especially doing something a little above and beyond, and definitely out of the ordinary!

ASK FOR, AND ACCEPT, HELP

One thing about me is that I don’t like to be a bother, so it’s a little hard to ask for help. I don’t want to impose on anyone, so I generally try to do things with as little outside assistance as possible. This makes no sense when it comes to planning large events, however, so this is when it really does take a village! I was comfortable asking teachers for help presenting, as I knew this would be an opportunity for them to grow as well. It was harder to ask for help setting up for the actual day, however– BUT I am very lucky to work with amazing people who offered their assistance at the perfect time! Thanks to Carolyn for setting aside her morning to help attach giant palm trees to tables and then dress said tables in grass skirts, among other unlikely duties. Thank to Mike for braving the morning rush at Dunkin’ Donuts to deliver our participants their caffeine, and to TJ– the best and most helpful custodian in the business. I am also grateful to Mike and Rosemarie for their wonderful support and for ultimately making this idea a reality!

LET IT GO! (UNTIL NEXT TIME)

For several nights before the big day,  I’d wake up in a cold sweat worrying that everything would go wrong and that the Mini-Con would be a total failure! When the day finally arrived, however, I just had to let it go and know that I did everything I could do make it a success, and that the rest would be up to the participants and presenters. And since everyone was just happy to learn from each other, and have a chance to get together in a relaxed environment while learning a little more about technology, chances were good that it would be at least a moderate success. At the end of the Mini-Con, a few people even told me that they were going to sign up again for August! And it’s exciting that we get a chance to do it all over again.

 

5 Tips for Doing Stuff That Scares You

I love change. I like learning new things, challenging myself in new ways, meeting new people, and, to be honest, I like to be thrown far out of my comfort zone. When I was in college, I completed the second half of my student teaching requirements at a sports high school in Sydney, Australia. As I was finishing college, I applied to two overseas positions: teaching English in Japan with the JET program, and teaching social studies (my certified area of teaching) at the American School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I didn’t know anyone who had done either of these things, but had met a bunch of international 20-somethings while working at a summer camp throughout college. These international youth seemed very glamorous and worldly, so I figured that if I could work and travel, I would also experience this fabulous lifestyle.

Fast forward twenty years, and I’ve lived in Australia, met my husband at that school in Honduras, added a library master’s degree, had two daughters while working as a school librarian at an international school in Jakarta, Indonesia, moved back to the U.S., moved overseas again to Manila, Philippines, then moved back once more to Chicago. I got my first administrator position, and then I got my next (current and wonderful) administrator position.

All that to say, I’m still looking for ways to keep myself off balance. Not in a self-punishing way, but I feel like I’m at my best when I’m a little uncomfortable. I think this is a good thing– reflecting on my life, I’ve been at my best when I’ve done something brand new, something I wasn’t sure was going to be 100% successful. I definitely had no road map for success in Honduras, or library school, in Indonesia, or in this brand new job, but what I know for sure is that as long as I’m not attached to achieving pre-identified results, and as long as I’m willing to be open to learning from others and making mistakes along the way, everything seems to work out okay.

Over the past three months, I’ve counted five separate circumstances into which I’ve placed myself VOLUNTARILY, and due to which I’ve experienced varying levels of discomfort– sometimes asking myself, “What are you doing??? Don’t you remember how this is hard and scary??”

First, I gave a presentation at a state conference this past February. I’ve presented at conferences before, but the topic of this one was especially personal and a little out of the ordinary. But I was driven to create and present it, in the hopes that sharing my experiences might help other people. I spent countless hours creating the best slideshow, talking points, and presentation that I possibly could, largely out of fear of failure (which was actually the topic of my presentation– I get the irony). I felt a great sense of accomplishment because I did it even though, and maybe because, I was really afraid.

The second voluntary situation is this blog itself! I want to write in it regularly as a way to develop my own thoughts on a variety of topics and to challenge myself to add to the work/life, education conversation, but the entire time I’m writing I’m trying to silence the voice in my head saying, “Does anyone really care about this?” It’s a small but powerful voice! From what I’ve read, and the advice I’ve gotten from others, is to just keep writing without attachment or expectation of outcome.

On a lighter note, the third voluntary circumstance I’ve thrown myself into is golf. My dad has been a huge golfer my whole life, but aside from a forgettable stint on the 9th grade girls’ golf team, I have not made an effort. After beginning my new job, however, something clicked– and I feel great motivation to at least be good enough to play at a very basic level in case of the occasional golf outing (even if it’s just a few holes before moving on to riding around in a golf cart, heckling the real golfers). It’s been fun taking lessons and assuming a beginner’s mindset, having no expectation of skill save that of what I may have remembered from the previous week’s lesson. It’s refreshing to look to someone else as the expert, and freeing to be able to ask any question that comes to mind without worry that maybe I should have known the answer. Not that in my current district leadership position I feel that I have to have all the answers– far from it– but there is an underlying sense (completely self-determined)  that I should have at least some idea or prior knowledge of everything I do.

The fourth situation evoking mild terror is the first annual district-wide technology conference that I’m planning. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do something like this, and am extremely thrilled and grateful to my district leaders for supporting it. It’s scary though, because having never done it before, I have no idea how it’s going to turn out. I think it will be successful, as we’ve got 21 amazing staff members presenting on a variety of exciting topics, but still, I can’t control the number of staff signing up and it’s hard to predict what hiccups might occur that in hindsight should have been completely obvious. This one is especially looming large in my head right now, as it’s happening in less than a week! Stay tuned for a post-conference reflection :-).

Finally, I’m presenting at a big conference (ISTE– International Society for Technology in Education) at the end of the month. It’s in a format I’ve never tried before, and I could have said no, but it seemed like a new experience and, as I’ve established earlier in this post, there’s nothing I love more than being thrown in the deep end. So I said, “Sure, why not?”

TIPS TO REMEMBER WHEN YOU FIND YOURSELF DOING NEW AND SCARY STUFF:

  1. No ones cares. No ones cares like you do. This might seem really hard to believe, especially if you’re in a high-pressure environment like a conference presentation or some other circumstance where it feels like all eyes are on you, but it’s true. Your biggest nightmare (messing up your presentation, hosting a lame conference, whiffing your drive in front of colleagues) will very barely register in someone else’s mind. They might have a negative or critical thought skitter across their mind, but they will soon be back to focusing on their own worries.
  2. You’re growing your brain. Trying something new, practicing new skills, learning new concepts, all of these help stimulate the neuroplasticity of our brains. The very act of new physical or intellectual efforts helps our brains grow and form new pathways. You might never achieve greatness at these new skills, but your brain benefits all the same.
  3. Have no attachment to the outcome. This one is probably the thing that helps me the most. I won’t pretend that I don’t check the stats of this blog in the days after a new post is published, but I try to remember that I’m not writing to raise my stats or to receive some sort of outside acknowledgement– I am writing for myself. Once I hit that publish button and send it out into the universe, I’m done. I can release attachment from any further expectation. Same for the golf, or the presentations, or the conference– I want to do the very best that I can do, with the information that I have, and create circumstances with the greatest chance of success. But once you have done that and given it your best effort, you can release any further attachments to achieving specific outcomes.
  4. Examine your thoughts. Freaking out? Caught in a worry cycle? Wondering why you ever did this in the first place? Explore that. Follow your thoughts about the very worst outcome. What if it did happen? Would it really be all that bad? What might you learn if that did happen? Will people really judge you or laugh at you? This is highly doubtful. What I’ve found is that people tend to admire those who try stuff– even if they’re not successful. People regret what they don’t try– they don’t regret having tried something that failed.
  5. Have fun. Because new stuff is fun, and you often to get meet some pretty awesome people along the way! Take it from Ferris Bueller– life does move pretty fast and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!

What have you tried? Are you doing something new right now? Leave a message in the comments and let me know!

The Mentor

“What’s in it for the mentor?” George Costanza asks in a classic Seinfeld episode. “Is there money involved?” When Jerry lists the benefits of mentorship (“Respect, admiration, prestige”), George scoffs and asks if the protégé would “pick up stuff for the mentor… laundry, dry cleaning?”

I’ve never picked up anyone’s dry cleaning, but I have been lucky in my career to have had a number of mentors in both official and unofficial capacities. I can trace the lasting effect they’ve had on my career and how they shaped my understanding of what it means to be a professional. Additionally, because of their very different personal and professional styles, I learned something unique from each of them.

What follows is a list of people who both believed in and challenged me, and who consistently demonstrated the highest levels of professional ethics. I want them to know what their time and attention meant to me.

First there was was BF, my wonderful headmaster at a small international school in Indonesia. I was a newly-minted school librarian and eager to learn and grow in my position. BF was widely admired by the school community for his empathetic and supportive personal style and his unwavering commitment to doing whatever was best for kids. He also responded to every email in a timely fashion– regardless of how insignificant the question or request. Responding promptly to email is something that I have also tried to incorporate into my professional practice, because I remember how much I appreciated his quick responses. I thank BF for teaching me the importance of empathy and timely communication.

Next was DF, who was perhaps the most directly influential mentor that I had, as she and I worked together on a daily basis as we led a high school library. She and I are still close, which reflects the strong, positive nature of the relationship we built. DF has the most impressive work ethic of anyone I’ve ever met. She has boundless energy and the willingness to pitch in and do what needs to be done in order to accomplish a task, no matter how large or small, whether physical or mental in nature. Even though she was the head of our library, DF was willing to let me create programs and try new things– and would then jump in to support me every step of the way. She had no discernible ego about her position of leadership, and was also truly committed to supporting the goals of the school district through her work in the library. I thank DF for teaching me the value of encouraging others as well as the value of hard work and pitching to help until the job is done.

At the same school, I met TS, PB and KS, all of whom mentored me in important ways. TS was hands-down the most intensely passionate educator I have ever met. He was an administrator who was so supportive of teachers and students that he was willing to allow both to take risks and try new things if the purpose was to grow. When I came up with an idea for a new staff PD program, I pitched it to TS and received so much support and encouragement that there was no way I was going to fail. I thank TS for showing me that there is a place for intense passion and even argument in education as long as the goal is to help students succeed.

PB was also an administrator at the school and spent many hours of her time with me as I worked through my Master’s degree in educational leadership, for which she was my official mentor. PB and I had many long conversations, and I felt that she did take a special interest in supporting me and my career. Several years later, when I was contemplating a move back to the U.S. and looking for another job in education, she actually offered to talk to me on the phone about interviewing and job searching while I was still overseas. I of course took her up on it and received valuable insight. She was also one of the people who, when I expressed fear for my career when my family and I decided to leave our jobs and move overseas, consistently told me that “Good people land on their feet.” She never doubted me, and for that I thank PB.

KS was also an administrator at the school, and was a mentor who always challenged me to get better and do more. When he came to the school I was in a great position, but after we started working together he really leveled-up the content and quality of my work. I always enjoyed our conversations because he challenged me to deepen my understanding of school leadership and of my own capabilities. He believed in me to a degree that my own vision of what I could do in my career expanded exponentially, and for that I thank KS.

Finally, there was DH. DH was an official mentor, assigned to me in my new role as a district administrator. DH himself was a former longtime administrator, who possesses a wealth of experience in education and in educational coaching. Being a new district administrator comes with a learning curve, as it’s inherently different than working in a school building, and the ways in which communication needs to occur at this level are uniquely important. As an outsider to the organization, DH was able to help me understand how to work within the district office system and to become more effective in my approach. I experienced some significant challenges during the year we worked together, but was able to maintain both perspective (most days) and a commitment to my professional path largely due to his wise observations, recommendations, and unwavering professional support. I thank DH for teaching me how to design and maintain a successful career in educational administration, and for embodying the essence of a great mentor– even without the dry cleaning pickup.

My advice for prospective mentees: Don’t wait for an official mentor– look around you now and ask, “Who do I admire? Who is doing this right? Who has mastered skills that I’d like to have?” You can observe them in action, see how they handle various scenarios. You can also ask to meet with them occasionally. Come prepared with questions you’d like answered: “How do you manage x, y, z? What would you do if x, y, z happened?” Have no ego. You can learn from anyone, even someone in a lateral or lower position than you on the organizational chart.

My advice for prospective mentors: Be generous with your time, know that others may be watching and learning from you without your being aware, and have a firm understanding that a small gesture, word, or note from you may have unknown positive affects on someone still making their way. The benefits of being a mentor may not impress George Costanza, but mentoring’s value can yield truly immeasurable rewards for the rest of us.

mayaangelou

What Do They Say?

I haven’t written in this blog for almost three years, even though there has been plenty to write about (and then some)! I struggled to find a way to move it forward, but have recently been inspired by some great blogs and podcasts, by awesome people on Twitter, and by a respected colleague who is moving forward in her own blog journey.

I also recently made a public commitment to write two blog posts per month, so hopefully that will help. If you’re reading this blog and you notice that it’s been more than two weeks between posts, please feel free to leave me a comment and hold me to it!

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how people talk about one another and what it says about organizational culture. First, I count my lucky stars that I’m in an organization that immediately stood out as a place where respectful language is the norm. Regardless of to whom I’m talking, there is an underlying current of professional respect and regard, which influences all conversations.

sketch-3042584_1920But how do you know? If you are in a meeting with others, and the following people are mentioned, what is the tone? Positive, negative, or neutral? What if there is frustration about an action or direction that’s been taken by the person? Do staff engage in shared, public complaining or can they discuss the issue but maintain respectful language when discussing a situation– even though the person is not in the room?

  • Organization leaders
  • Lateral colleagues
  • Others in the organization

The healthiest organizations are those in which people speak respectfully of others even when it’s unlikely that the person would ever know what was said. This type of organizational culture fosters an atmosphere of trust because, as our mothers always said, “Anyone who talks behind someone’s back would do the same to you.”

Supposedly, negative gossip can serve as a form of social glue. We’ve all experienced that phenomenon, but I would argue that respectful language is even more bonding because you can feel confident that just as people are speaking respectfully about others, so they will likely speak about you. 

What can you do to foster this level of professional respect in your own organization? Choose to always speak about others in a respectful manner. You may be just one person, but you can help turn the tide and steer the ship towards the light.

 

 

12 Ways to Rock Being the Boss of a School Librarian

So you’re the boss of a school librarian? Congratulations! School librarianship can be one of the most rewarding positions in a school, as long as it’s a respected and well-utilized role. The good news is that school administration can positively impact the mutual satisfaction of both the school and the school librarian.

HERE ARE 12 WAYS TO ROCK IT:

  1. Encourage your school librarian to be proactive. They need to get out there and work on relationships, attend curricular meetings, and be part of the life of the school. One of the best things about being a school librarian is that your role is somewhat amorphous– no one knows exactly what you’re supposed to do, so it’s an opportunity to surprise and delight your staff by exceeding their expectations. In my experience, expectations of a school librarian are that they check books out to students. It’s not difficult to raise the bar here!
  2. Demonstrate to the staff your respect for your school librarian. They are watching you and will follow your lead. Listen to your school librarian, ask for his opinion, and encourage others to do the same.
  3. Include your school librarian to participate in a wide variety of meetings and committees. The school librarian’s schedule is often flexible (I know this isn’t always the case), so it makes sense to include her in meetings on a wide variety of topics– no sub coverage needed (again, depending on the case), and you get additional input from a unique perspective.
  4. Encourage your school librarian to be a technology leader, and include her in technology planning meetings. Most school librarians I know are tech-savvy. They also have direct and specific knowledge about copyright and other issues of digital citizenship, so adding this additional element to your technology meetings makes good sense.
  5. Visit the library often. Talk to the librarian, talk to the staff, and talk to the students. The school library is usually one of the main areas of the school in which students hang out before, during, and after school hours. You can learn a lot about your school community by spending time in the library.
  6. Leave your office and work in the library for an hour a week, at different times of the day. Observe how it functions, how students and staff use the library, and note any areas of need. Provide support and feedback, much as you would after a classroom walkthrough. Plus, you might even get some work done (the library’s good for that)!
  7. Hold meetings, events, and celebrations in the library. Show it off. People who don’t usually come to the library are often surprised at what a great space is is, and are then more likely to come back.
  8. Talk about your own reading— professional, personal, what you liked to read when you were in school, anything to demonstrate that you value reading.
  9. Ask your school librarian to provide professional development (information literacy, technology, etc.) for teachers. Institute Days are a good time for this, as are faculty meetings, after school workshops, lunch-n-learns, etc. Maybe she could even create a series of short video modules on a variety of topics (this is where the tech savvy-ness comes in).
  10. Provide adequate support staff. This is perhaps the most important support you can provide to your school librarian. All of the other suggestions on this list are almost impossible if the school librarian is tied to the library’s physical space and is solely responsible for the clerk/supervisory activities of the school library.
  11. Meet with your school librarian on a monthly basis. Keep in touch with what’s going on in the school library. Share with him issues that you are working on as well, because he might be able to help you by providing support, ideas, volunteering for committees, etc.
  12. Understand the importance of the physical library space. If it’s not inviting or comfortable, encourage (and financially support) your school librarian to make improvements.

For more information on hiring school librarians, read the fabulous Jennifer LaGarde’s recent post An Open Letter to Principals (Before You Hire a New School Librarian)!

Loving Twitter Part 3: Twitter in the Elementary Classroom

AdaEmmersonTwitter

My Grade 4 and Grade 2 tweeters!

I work in a school where, partially thanks to our awesome and proactive ES Technology Integrator, Elementary School Twitter usage is a regular part of the curricular program. A quick glance at the ES Twitter List for our school shows that, during every hour of the school day, an ES classoom somewhere in the school has tweeted. I come from a primarily high school teaching background, but have worked in close proximity to the ES over the past two years here at my international school. I also have two elementary-aged daughters and have followed their classroom Twitter experiences quite closely over the past two years, and also have a few good friends in the ES who were willing to share with me more about their Twitter journey.

One obvious question is: How can you use Twitter in the Elementary School when Twitter’s minimum age requirement is 13? The way that our school has addressed this issue is by having classroom accounts. The account names might either be something like “Ms. Dewey’s PreK Class”, or, at our school, each class chooses a name for itself at the beginning of the year, so my daughter’s classroom Twitter account name is “Puffer Fish”. The teacher is the account owner and holds the password.

When students first discuss their classroom Twitter account in the beginning of the year, teachers usually engage with them about appropriate information to post, what not to post, who their audience might be, how to compose a tweet, etc.. This early exploration into appropriate use of social media is crucial to forming a strong foundation in digital literacy/citizenship. 

***The following comments and videos provide more insight into the teacher motivation behind Twitter and the student experience and perceptions of using Twitter.***

I asked six PreK, Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 teachers a few questions about how they use Twitter in their ES classrooms:

  1. How often does your class tweet? Most reported that they tweet between 1-5 times every day.
  2. How do you (or they) decide what or when to tweet? Most reported that they tweet when they’re engaging in an especially interesting or enjoyable activity. A Grade 1 teacher also stated that “We also tweet based on need. We’ve used it to tweet solutions in Math, with our twitter feed projected on the screen. We also use twitter to share reflections.​ I usually have it out for them to access if there is anything they feel is worth sharing about their learning.Yesterday at  Terrarium Workshop, I laid out the iPads alongside the other tools.” A Grade 3 teacher responded that “Sometimes for a lesson we all take an iPad and tweet different pictures at the same time.  We then keep the Twitter page projected on the board so that there is an ongoing collection of pictures.” 
  3. Do you compose tweets together as a class, or do individual students take turns? Responses included “Tweets are composed mostly by individual students.  Tweets are usually with a picture of what we are working on.”; “I have jobs of the week and each week a different child is chosen so everybody gets to have a go at least twice. They are good at deciding or asking when to tweet.”; “We compose with individuals, small groups, and whole class.; “I use their words and quote them.”
  4. Do you have any specific examples of when something really cool happened because of a tweet? The most exciting example was when a PreK class tweeted questions to several airlines, and ended up engaging in a Twitter conversation with @KLM! Another reported that“We’ve tweeted at airlines, astronauts, authors, and other interests. We tweet with our UK buddies and we have followed a nursery rhyme group to get new rhymes for our rooms.” A Grade 1 teacher’s experiences included “When an author retweeted our read aloud of her book; when a tweet on shapes was retweeted; when they had to search for me around the school and we exchanged messages and photos on twitter; when a student said, ‘Let’s tweet Jamie Oliver’ when I asked how we might find an expert to ask our question about restaurants​.” 
  5. What do you think students gain from being engaged with Twitter? Responses included: “Their parents have a better understanding of what we did that day and can engage in conversation about what happened. It really reinforces the home-school connection – and connection to families far away.”; “Immediate sharing to the world!”; “They love it as it keeps then connected to their families, they take pride in their work, they want to do it, they ask, great for general literacy skills & confidence.”; “An online collection of different things that we’ve been doing.”; “Our skills are embedded in the use of Twitter, but one particular use is the chance for instruction about technological behavior  and interchange, because they use Twitter, we are also learning about how to interact online.​”
  6. Any additional comments or observations? Responses included: “I’m not quite sure if they understand the reach of Twitter and how other people connect and can respond to each other via Tweets. They don’t realize who their audience is going to be.”; “I would like it more if we had more interaction from parents on the tweets.”; “I wonder how to search for tweets without needing to hashtag every tweet.​”

I also interviewed three Grade 2 students about why they use Twitter:

My final thoughts about how our ES program is using Twitter: We are proficient in teaching students how to use Twitter by composing tweets, adding pictures, etc. We also do well with the habit of regularly tweeting (not every class tweets every day, but we have enough of a critical mass that Twitter can legitimately be described as being an important element of our program). Students also seem to understand the importance of sharing their work and their learning with others.

I think the area in which we can most improve is in Connecting. We have mastered the art of tweeting for one-way communication: to promote, inform, remind, share, etc., but haven’t yet truly explored what makes Twitter so unique and impactful, which is forming connections with others. A few classes have made connections and have found the experience to be powerful for students, but most classes are still using Twitter as a one-way communication tool. Possibilities to consider include: creating a Twitter slow chat that happens once a week between ES classes (classes could answer one or two questions during the course of a day); having Twitter “classroom buddies” where two classes are responsible for tweeting to and communicating with each other via Twitter during the semester/year; encouraging administrators to tweet at classrooms on a regular basis; partnering with classrooms around the world to converse and learn about one another’s cultures; conducting parent information sessions or speaking directly about Twitter during Open House nights in order to encourage parents to join and participate; exploring lists of education-related Twitter chats to see if there are Twitter events in which ES classrooms could participate; continuing to tweet to experts, authors, other classes, teachers and administrators, etc.. The possibilities are endless if you creatively explore the ways in which Twitter can facilitate safe, meaningful connections for students in the elementary school.