When I think back to my first year of teaching, I remember visiting forums like Proteacher and Teachers.net. I had a tiny classroom website that was full of animated gifs, way before gifs were cool and probably, admittedly, long after gifs were no longer cool. I even bought a fancy domain, BeeYourBest.com. Geeze, this makes me sound old. The site was built with Geocities which was part of Yahoo. I was also ALL about my quiet line and collected homework that year, but that’s a whole different post for another time.
I remember falling in love with the way technology allowed me to connect with others who shared my interests. I remember feeling *alone* in various schools, because typically, the person trying to do something different isn’t always welcome. It’s not popular to talk about, but it’s reality. Get a compliment from a principal in some schools and you’ll never want to walk the halls again, without getting “a look.” I was once even told I was “putting on a dog and pony show” in my classroom. If you teach creatively, you will take your share of heat. But, I could connect with others teaching creatively online and they were just as likely to help me as I was to help them. It was a beautiful thing. There were Nings. There were forums. There were chats. There were even blogs that started and the websites eventually evolved into interactive places where posts were shared, discussions were held. People’s attention span to a discussion stayed the course through disagreement, through questions, and through thinking. Through the hard parts.
Along came social media. The blog, shortened in format, became 140 characters. Instagram and Facebook became quick photo shares. It became easy to grow a huge network of other educators. Clicking ‘like’ and leaving comments. It was glorious really. Empowering to feel like you were leading others as they were leading you. You were never alone and the learning never slept. Neither did I. I remember when Twitter first started. I remember one of the first times I really connected with other classrooms. I immediately was drawn in by the power… asking questions and getting answers. Reading the tweets of others who pushed my thinking. There was this reciprocal of open sharing. The truth is, the friends I met during those early days of Twitter are deep, deep friends today. People I see in person, people I treasure as friends. The relationships built in the early sharing of Twitter were strong, real, and awesome. The power of the PLN was a real thing. “Personal Learning Network”
But the surface overshadowed it all. Personal has become more promotional. Get a like. Share it out. Retweet it. Collect followers. Recreate it and sell it (It’s happening, you know it.) Discussions aren’t as common. Companies and Kickstarters have come after MakerEd with a club, relentlessly beating the great fiber of the message out of the work done by greats like Seymour Papert. And it drains the authenticity from the pool that once was so refreshing to swim in. When you want to discuss what prototyping looks like for second graders, and someone tweets at you to buy their “new kit,” it takes the depth right out of fixing the problem. The truth is, we can’t reflect truly in just 140 characters at a time. Real growth is a slow process that will take time. So. Much. Time.
Along came edcamps and reminded me of the value of in person discussion and reminding each other of the passion and joy. But 15 or so Edcamps later, I’m left wondering… what can this model do for us in education as we continue to grow? Where does selling fit in with sharing? For sure, there are still many, many people who need to be exposed to the unconference model of edcamp. But, what’s beyond that? Could there be more?
Yes. For Sure.
So what is next? Things have continued to change. The monetization of the internet has made connecting’s purpose change for many. I’m not saying that if that’s your choice of work, it’s a bad thing. I’m just saying it’s no longer what I am looking for. My job is teaching. My heart is in a classroom, working directly with kids and teachers. I know, for a fact, unless I get an offer to go to the Moon for NASA, it is exactly where my heart will *always* be. The things that keep me awake in the middle of the night are questions I have about making learning better, making school more, improving the student experience, making sure creativity really does reign supreme in a learning environment, and taking kids and teachers to the next level… whatever that looks like, becomes, or is. The nitty-gritty of real, raw learning IS the sweet spot to me. And there is nothing that can replace it. I’m continually on a mission to rescue the eight-year-old-me that was bored in a classroom as a kid. THAT is my purpose. When I support a teacher in encouraging her kids to take risks or support kids in building a cardboard mountain, those are my “likes.”
This is probably the end of this blog. I don’t even know if anyone will read this, but the truth is, I’ve always written this for me anyway. Things I need to think about. Ideas in my head. Sharing I need to get out. But, this too has run it’s course. If I cut out all of the stuff… the Twitter chats that churn around the same ideas, the blog posts I spend time writing, the amount of time I spend reading about new ideas well before I take time to fully iterate the old ideas? The truth is, I can’t do it alone. I mean, granted, I am NOT alone in my own school and work with some great people. But there is something special about connecting with others in your specific field from OUTSIDE the perspectives and views of your own school that is a beautiful thing. It allows us to churn on the ideas we want to refresh, reform, and reinvigorate. And I still want to connect the way I have always enjoyed.
So the thought is there. A small group of teachers, in the nitty-gritty day to day of working with kids and creativity. A Slack group? Private so we can share openly, but small so we can personally get to know each other. A Google Hangout once of a month to inspire, laugh, openly share, and connect our classrooms in some projects throughout the year. At the end of the year? We find a great beach house or ranch on AirBnB for us to split the cost, fly there, and just hang out for a weekend. The last three times I’ve attended ISTE, it was the in person chatting with friends that I loved the most. Why not just cut out the trillion dollar conference expense and split a house. A Retreat to celebrate growth. It would be like an Edcamp that lasts a whole weekend. At a beach or a ranch with a great pool.
I have many questions…
- What size should a group like this be?
- How can we keep the focus on our needs? (Creativity. Kids. Learning)
- Do I go old school with a paper journal?
- How can we insure growth and push our thinking?
- Do we need a book study of the original greats in learning? Monthly themes?
I don’t have the answers. None of these ideas are new, but rather a re-prioritizing of time, tools, technology, and building relationships. This idea is still in the incubator. I’m throwing this out there to see what happens. Like a seed tossed in the wind. Maybe it will grow and something will happen. Maybe there will be blooms. As I look at what lies ahead for the school year, I hope there are blooms. I also hope there are others willing to take this journey through the weeds with me. Because the truth is, by connecting deeply, we can make ourselves, our classrooms, and each other… better together.
Or maybe I just drank too much coffee this morning.