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The secret to the greatest year of growth I’ve ever experienced

“But now, by saying what his future was going to be like, he had created it. A plan is a real thing, and things projected are experienced. A plan once made and visualized becomes a reality along with other realities—never to be destroyed but easily to be attacked.”

~John Steinbeck, The Pearl

I’m hesitant to talk about it, as to put it into words—to write it down on a blogpost, available for anyone in the world to read—seems to make it real, “easily to be attacked.” But I guess that, without knowing where I was a year ago, it’s hard to express where I am right now…

It was pretty bad timing—I mean, the very beginning of the school year, before any of the stress kicked in, and it was as I lie my head down in bed. I’ve come to learn about myself that often times, I feel something, yet can’t quite put the idea into words, so I circle around it, explaining it any number of ways, until I accidentally stumble onto some unconscious truth about myself. On that humid August night, I kept coming back to these tenants:

  • I was becoming burnt out on how/what I was teaching.
  • I was becoming complacent with what I knew.
  • I was feeling professionally alone in the world.
  • I was not sure what I needed to “cure” myself.

I’ve always envisioned myself to be a life-long teacher—one of those guys who leaves the classroom at the age of 75 or 80, after half-a-century of working with kids—so to just be starting up year #4 and already be feeling exhausted and unmotivated was something I’d never thought through. Is this it? Am I in the wrong job? Should I leave my school? Worse yet, am I in the wrong job? Should I start on a backup plan?

As the year progressed and I got in more reps with my students (i.e. the reasons I’m alive), I stopped feeling so sorry for myself and actually began enjoying school, but the underlying sense of stagnancy and isolation never went away. I continued to lead a double life of Super-Teacher by day and Señor “I don’t know how much longer I can do this” by night, until something happened:

I rediscovered Twitter.

Now, I’d been a big user of Twitter for quite a while, but only in the most superficial and pointless way. I regularly posted jokes that only I thought were funny, shared relatively narcissistic and opinionated takes on the world around me, and essentially used Twitter as a sort of open-mic night. But I’d never heard of using Twitter professionally, as a form of professional development, until I began to stumble on these excellent articles about that very thing. (I wish I had enough foresight to bookmark the first page that convinced me to rejoin, but alas…) Could Twitter be something that was for more than just wasting time?

I began following a small group of innovative educators on Twitter, gulping each message as if it were a cold bottle of Dasani in the Gobi desert. From these highly-prolific Tweeters, I found other, more accessible teachers from around the world, and began to follow and tweet at them. Shockingly, a lot of them replied to my questions or comments, further pushing me down into the rabbit hole. A lot of them appended the hashtag #edchat to their ends of their tweets, and after a bit of investigation, I discovered the secret back-channel world of synchronous Twitter chats. I joined my first and felt overwhelmed; I joined my second and began to contribute; I joined my third and became completely hooked.

In 140-character bursts, I learned (among other things):learn-twitter

Most of these things I only learned within a period of days—not months, or even weeks, but days—and a lot of it was stuff that, in conversation with colleagues, they had never heard of either. As I suspected, we were living on a literally and figurative island, professionally-speaking, and being passed up by innovative educators elsewhere. However, though one small social media tool, I went from an uninformed outsider to “in the loop”.

If you're a teacher, FOLLOW THIS MAN!

If you’re a teacher, FOLLOW THIS MAN!

Better yet was the connections I made with the hundreds of inspiring teachers I met along the way. There’s that initial group of educators 1 that got ball rolling for me, and then a second wave that came from following the people that the people I was following were following. When I learned about QuickKey, I contacted Walter Duncan about becoming a beta tester and accidentally made a great friend who’s been an enormous encouragement in my daily life, not to mention his dedicated army of the most caring people online. There were pals I made through some awesome, insightful, productive Twitter chats, and some even better pals I made through the most epic Lord of the Rings pun run imaginable. 2 And, of course, how can I forget the 63 rockstars I met and learned from at the single-greatest professional experience of my life, Google Teacher Academy… Remember how, when you were young, your days were filled with so much wonder and learning that the hours seemed to just creep by, and weeks took forever, and a year was just a completely unfathomable concept? The 36ish hours I spent learning with these fantastic educators in Chicago truly feel like weeks (in a good way), and in the couple of weeks since, I’ve felt a surprisingly strong connection grow between our cohort. I’ve truly developed a Personal Learning Network of other teachers to swap ideas with, share concerns and problems with, and exchange much-needed support with.

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And once more, to make this completely clear—this is from Twitter. You know, where narcissists waste time talking about their lunches. Thanks to making some connections with a couple of brilliant minds online, I’ve truly had the greatest year of professional growth I’ve ever experienced. In fact, it’s been such a wonderful ride, my mission has changed—from becoming a Twitter taker to, in the next year, becoming a Twitter giver… or at least a Twitter connector.

In my video application to Google Teacher Academy, I talked about, as one of my goals, finding a better way to link Seventh-day Adventist teachers 3 around the world to eachother. As I’ve reflected on the extraordinary year I’ve been blessed with, I’ve come to recognize the value of Twitter, and I’ve become obsessed with helping as many colleagues as I can build as many awesome connections as I have been privileged to. I believe that the best way for me to innovateinspireleadand change the world is to pursue my goal of building and developing a worldwide professional learning network of Adventist educators.

So that’s why, for the last 48 hours, this has been my obsession. Game on!

Notes:

  1. That group is so influential to me, in fact, that I catalogued them into a Twitter Starter Kit list for my colleagues to use.

  2. In case you don’t know, a lot of Adventist teachers, especially in the elementary and middle school ranks, teach in one-room schoolhouses OR multiple grades at the same time (ala one teacher who’s in charge of 6th, 7th, and 8th grades). I’m sure those guys, scattered around the country and the planet get pretty lonely and feel awfully isolated, especially when it comes to new teaching techniques and technologies.
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Shakespeare in 140 characters

Every year that I’ve been at TAPA, I’ve spent the Fall & early Spring semesters teaching my British Literature Senior students about the awesomeness of William Shakespeare. We spend time reading a few plays, watching a few plays, and studying how they connect to the lives of both Shakespeare and us, his modern audience. Earlier this school year, a bolt of lighting struck me and made it clear that the best way for my students to really get Shakespeare would be for them to actually put on/perform a play. When I came to that realization, I decided to have my students put on a play for their peers.

For the last few weeks, my British Lit classes have been working on reading the original text for “Twelfth Night” and my Lazy Bee abridged copy a dozen times. Along with that, I’ve been having my students study the play through completing worksheets, presenting summaries of scenes, and, most recently, tweeting the entire play to the entire world. Here is a selection of the amazing tweets done by them. Continue reading

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