Thursday, April 6, 2017

All Roads Lead to Twitter

My path to becoming a connected educator began last April during a conference workshop presented by none other than @tomwhitby (founder of #EdChat).  A few minutes in he said,  “There is an entire community of educators sharing great ideas on Twitter that you’re missing out on if you're not connected.”  I created my account the very same day and have become an avid user since.  Twitter has become my 24/7 professional development companion.  The graphic you see below exists to illustrate the benefits of being connected; this post will elaborate on each bullet.     

Networking-  Twitter has given me a deeper understanding of and an increased ability to effectively network.  My Personal Learning Network (PLN) currently includes roughly 900 professional educators from all over the world.  Before Twitter, this network was limited to colleagues within my building and district.  Through direct messages and face-to-face interactions, I’ve established real relationships with many of these people.  They continue to motivate and inspire me through their tweets.

Professional Blogging-  Reading professional blogs has given me authentic insight into the minds of other educators.  There are thousands of educators who regularly share candid professional experiences in the form of a blog such as mine.  Although reading professional publications can be informative, hearing the thoughts of our peers will often resonate with you on a deeper level.   Had I never established my Twitter account, this blog would not exist. 

Collaboration-  Many of the connected educators making consistent use of Twitter are open to collaboration.  Learning how to use the direct message feature will enable you to begin private conversations with like-minded educators.  These exchanges can help push you out of your comfort zone with the confidence of knowing someone impartial is there to bounce ideas off of. 

Educational Reads-  The grassroots movement of teachers teaching teachers about teaching has become the norm for many connected educators.  If you’re looking to dive deeper than a “500 word” blog post on a particular topic, there is no shortage of material.  The Hack Learning Series and Pirate Books by Dave Burgess consulting are among my favorites.

Conferences-  Organizations and school district accounts frequently promote local and national conferences in “tweet” form.  As a Long Island resident, some of my favorite local conferences are the Connected Educators Summit and EdcampLI.  With a professional Twitter account, it's never been easier to find out about upcoming events.  Make sure to follow educators in your state to stay informed.

Innovative Ideas-  Shifting the paradigm from traditional schooling to that of 21st-century learning is a complex challenge.  Social media can act as an incubator for game-changing ideas in our field.  Following the right people will make innovative ideas accessible.  More importantly, these ideas will literally come to you upon logging in to your Twitter account.  Here is a list of 14 Trailblazing Educators for you to explore. 

I wrote this post to share my experiences, inspire and guide newcomers along their journey to being connected.  The education-related content on Twitter has transformed me into somewhat of an advocate.  I recently finished co-teaching a staff development course on the subject in my district and have intentions of running it again in the near future.  Here’s a shout-out to @tchrmom2boys for co-teaching with me and “hopefully” inspiring others.  On that note, thanks to all members of my PLN for adding value to my life.

How are you leveraging Twitter as a 24/7 professional development tool?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Mindfulness over burnout

Yesterday when I arrived home from work my mind was not in a positive place.  The hustle and bustle of the week at school triggered an inability to turn off my brain and relax.  This stemmed from an overwhelming schedule and a realization that it’s not getting any easier.  My previous post "Where do you teach?" discussed some of the pros and cons that come along with being a full-time teacher working in multiple schools.  I kept that post positive and upbeat, but the truth is, working in education can be extremely stressful.  Educators are consistently being asked to do more with less.

Have you ever seen one of those images that states “I’m a teacher, what’s your superpower?”  I see them all the time on Twitter.  While there are similarities between the two and I can appreciate the analogy, teachers have one fundamental flaw... we have no superpowers.  We are human and must be “mindful” of our own limitations.  They do exist.  
As a dedicated professional I always give 100%.  For me, this includes staying hours past my contractual workday, bringing work home on weekends, and going that extra mile for my students.  As a connected educator, I know for a fact there are thousands of professionals with a similar work ethic.  It’s a beautiful thing and our kids deserve it.  However, we all need to slow down sometimes in order to avoid burnout.

Like I said, yesterday I hit a wall.  I was stressed to the point which I distanced myself from my family and temporarily ceased to feel any joy.  I know that sounds bad; it was.  I'd like to use this post to share how I cleared my head and hopefully, help others.  The secret is mindful meditation.  

This past year I’ve begun practicing mindfulness.  The simple definition of mindfulness is “being aware of what is happening in the present moment.”  It means showing up for life, being conscious as it unfolds, and not just going through the motions on “auto-pilot”.  Here's a link to an incredible resource that explains and defines the term in greater detail.  The owner of this website is Long Island native and mindfulness guru Cory Muscara.

Practicing mindfulness is something I do regularly to avoid burnout.  On difficult days (like yesterday) I use meditation.  There is a great free app called Headspace that contains ten-minute guided meditations.  I always feel better after meditating.  It’s not that I become stress-free in just ten minutes, but, I do always feel better than I did ten minutes earlier.  Meditation is not for everyone, but mindfulness can be.  The ability to live in the moment and get rid of the excess noise (your thoughts) in your head is empowering.   

Mindfulness can take many forms.  Here are three simple tasks you can try to help you become more present:

  • Turn your phone off for an hour and unplug.   
  • Take a brief 10 minute walk outdoors. Feel your feet touch the ground. 
  • Take a few deep breaths in the middle of a long day.  Breath in through the nose for 8 seconds, then out through the mouth for 8 more.

What do you do regularly to avoid teacher burnout?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Where do you teach?

When many educators ponder this question they instinctively envision the building in which they work.  Up until last year, I did the same.  

What changed? I have just completed my first semester as a full-time teacher teaching in two buildings daily.  This position requires a 20-minute commute in the middle of the day.  Adjusting to the role of “split teacher” was challenging at first and I want to share my experience with professionals in similar situations.  After reflection, I’ve come up with a brief list of pros and cons about the position.


Perspective- The biggest pro I can identify is the gift of seeing two schools up close.  It’s fascinating to partake in two different climates and cultures simultaneously.  This has given me perspective on a much deeper level and helped clarify the nuances of each school.  For anyone who enjoys learning about organizations, this is an intriguing perk of the position.

Networking- Although you will spend less time in each building, split teachers get to know two faculties.  I have 2x the amount of colleagues and inevitably 2x the opportunity to network.  These relationships can lead to more friendship and growth opportunities.  Teaching in two buildings is a powerful way to spread your name around the district.   
Duties-  Split teachers typically do NOT have these responsibilities (at least not as many).  Aside from being a scheduling headache for administrators, there is less time for these duties due to your mid-day commute.  This will vary from district to district.  Policies regarding these duties can generally be found in either your union contract and/or your faculty handbook.


Prep time- Depending on your commute, your prep time can and will be extremely limited.  When I taught in one building I had down time almost every day.  I would spend this time walking or socializing and allow my brain to unwind.  As a split teacher you have significantly less time to prep for your classes (when not traveling).  This makes the day go fast but can also lead to burnout if you’re not careful.  I’ve found it helpful to meditate on certain occasions.
Building involvement- This is a subjective con, but for me, I do not like being the “ghost”.  If you’re a teacher that comes to work, does their job, and leaves then this could actually be considered another pro.  However, if you’re someone that wants to be an integral part of your building and participate in committees, clubs, school events etc… teaching in two schools will hinder that level of involvement.  There is simply less of you to go around.  

So, where do I teach?  When asked this, I used to tell people "I teach at Great Neck South High School".  I now say "I teach in the Great Neck school district." For better or worse, educators must be aware of the world beyond the four walls of their classroom and realize they are part of a bigger picture. It's comforting to identify yourself with your building or grade level but, in this unpredictable educational climate, change may be right around the corner.

Thanks for reading! Before you go I'd ask you to think about you current position. Do you consider yourself a school or a district employee?