Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pushing Boundaries

When I first began teaching, some fourteen years ago, my teaching colleagues were the people in my building. If I was branching out, maybe some friends I had gone to school with. We were limited by our geographical boundaries. Who was near me? Those were the people to discuss teaching practice with. Is there anything inherently bad about this? Not necessarily. But often, when we are in the same building we have similarities in teaching styles. We are exposed to many of the same kids, the same administration; the same professional development is brought in.

About six years into teaching I began craving more. I had finally gotten my feet firmly under me. I felt like I was doing a decent job, but could do better. I live in such a small area. I tiny town in Central Illinois. Speakers don’t really come here, but I could go to the speakers. But where to begin?

I began with reflection. At the end of each school year I reflect back over the year. What went well? What do I need to improve on? That year the answer was clear, writing. So, whom do you turn to? I looked to people like Katie Wood Ray, Lucy Calkins, Nancie Atwell. I read whatever I could get my hands on. Traveled up to 14 hours in a car to see one of them speak. And I became a sponge. I soaked up their knowledge, their experience, their expertise. Pushed these concepts into the classroom. My room became transformed, and so did I.

For a few years, this was enough. I continued to read, continued to grow. Then the itch returned. It wasn’t enough to read, I needed to talk to others that were like-minded in their teaching practice. I wanted to talk to others that would push me, to grow and learn even more. Enter Twitter.

I was fortunate in the summer of 2009 to attend a workshop on technology. During the presentation one of the speakers mentioned using Twitter for professional growth. I was intrigued. I used Facebook but hadn’t jumped into Twitter. I began slowly. Set up my account. Followed a few people. Sat back. Slowly I found more and more teachers. The trick was finding someone that “tweeted” things that made you think. Look at whom they follow. Follow some of them. And keep tweeting.

Twitter has given me more professional development in the last two years than my entire career before. I can sit in my pajamas and discuss books with other teachers. I can contact authors my students are reading and ask them a question. I can ask for help with a problem I’m having in the classroom. And I can make friends that go far beyond what I ever dreamed possible.

Have you tried Twitter? Let me know what you love about it, what you struggle with. Check out amazing chats like #titletalk or #engchat. Experience #bookaday and push yourself to join. I do tweet, a lot, but with something like Twitter I think you get out of it what you put in. Although, in my case, I get so much more, which is why on this holiday I count Twitter and my friends there as something I am most definitely thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!