My Personal Learning Network

This week, I thought a lot about my Personal Learning Network. Teach Thought describes a Personal Learning Network as “the group of people that you connect with to learn their ideas, their questions, their reflections, and their references.” This definition was helpful to me because it emphasize that a PLN wasn’t always about sharing resources, which is how I was originally thinking of it.

Using this broader idea of PLNs allowed me to consider even more aspects of what constitutes my Personal Learning Network, but I realized as I was making the map that I was taking in many more resources than I was contributing to, and that my PLN was largely limited to Social Media or resource sites.

I think one way that I would like to expand my PLN is to engage in more Professional Communities / Associations that are not directly related to my content area. It can often feel as though I am receiving similar information in different iterations when only engaging in English/Language Arts communities. Although becoming a member of other communities can be expensive, I would like to participate in at least two others. I am considering ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), AMLE (Association for Middle Level Education), or IBEN (International Baccalaureate Educator Network). I would also like to explore how to be more involved with NCTE at this year’s conference.

I also think, in order to share more in my PLN, I want to make sure that I am regularly posting blogs, as well as tweeting out experiences from within my classroom. I am trying to actively use the #Teach180 hashtag, which involves tweeting out something from the classroom every school day for the 180 days of the year. Additionally, attempting to participate in more Twitter Chats will allow me to connect more with educators outside of my immediate circle, which will help to expand my PLN.

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A Digital Footprint Exploration

Digital Footprints are things we talk to students about constantly.

“Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever” is a phrase I’m sure they’ve heard so much that it has most likely ceased meaning anything to them, but I had never really taken time to consider the Digital Footprint I had created for myself.

My parents have always been involved with technology, and have coached me from a young age to be safe on the internet and to make sure my privacy settings kept my information secure for online accounts. When I became a teacher, this became even more important to me because I wanted to be able to live a life outside of school without constantly worrying if parents, or students, or colleagues would be able to see everything that I posted. When I received the assignment to Google myself for a grad class, I was please to find that nearly all of the results that came up were things I intentionally put out there: My teacher twitter and Instagram accounts, my staff listing on my school’s website, blog posts I wrote for companies (like this one about what teachers need from administration, or this one about being an introvert and a teacher), and a blurb for a book I reviewed on Netgalley. My vigilance for making sure all of the boxes are checked on my private social media accounts so the profiles do not show up in public searches has paid off.

My image search resulted in about the same results, although a picture of Chris Pratt with a stuffed rooster appears for no clear reason, but who’s to complain about that?

image search

The only blip in this is my old MySpace profile, which I have no doubt I had set as private at one point, but have no touched since approximately 2007. Since then, the privacy settings have probably changed and allowed old photos to show up in my search.

Although this is certainly not a significant problem, it is certainly not something I want my students stumbling upon, so I immediately went about deleting the account. How long, though, will those pictures remain in the search? I could not find any definitive answers about this, but am thankful none of the photographs I posted as a high schooler were anything more than slightly embarrassing. I am hoping the Google Alert I set up will help me monitor what else shows up without my intending it to.

I then took actions to intentionally expand my Digital Footprint, starting with Creating my About.Me page was a bit more challenging. I couldn’t decide what exactly I wanted to put in my bio, so I stuck with the site-generated information for now, and plan to do some research and continue working on it. I have added my About.Me page to my professional Twitter, and Instagram, as well as to the bio on this blog. I was also able to purchase my domain, from GoDaddy. Although I don’t know what I’ll do with this website, the possibility of a professional portfolio is intriguing to me.

The third action I took involved book reviews. Being involved in the book world is always something I’ve been interested in and I consistently use Goodreads, but Goodreads is a somewhat isolated world. This time, I copied the same review onto Amazon, a much more public market.

I think the important thing about this activity is that it made me think about actively creating the narrative that my Digital Footprint tells about me. I have been good about being a gatekeeper for my passive footprint, but have never truly considered creating and shaping what is available, beyond creating professional profiles. I think with students it is important for us to talk to them about this active footprint. It’s already frequently discussed that the persona created in public profiles is cultivated, but it is important to talk to students about the kind of persona they are projecting rather than using scare tactics or attempting to make them paranoid.

This summer, during a district sponsored professional development, I had the opportunity of attending a session with Rosalind Wiseman, who has a degree in Political Science but whose career is understanding adolescent social issues and teacher others about them. The session was about social media and started with an activity that asked us to look at our last 10 posts on the social media outlet of our choice, what that said about us, and if that was what we wanted said about us. I think an expanded version of this with students, potentially starting with made up profiles before asking them analyze their own posts, would be a great way to start talking to kids about how to cultivate a Digital Footprint that takes responsibility for what they are presenting about themselves. Helping students create an active Digital Footprint instead of merely telling them what not to do online honors the reality of technology in the 21st century.


A different kind of vertical alignment

Taken 9/7/2017

Nothing about this photo seems remarkable. It’s a typical scene at a Friday night football game.

But for me, it captures something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about all school year: a boy who finally found somewhere to belong, a place that will push him to become the person he has always been capable of becoming.

Teachers don’t have favorites. At least not in the way that the world-at-large uses the word. That kind of favorite results in allowing certain kids to get away with things they shouldn’t get away with, directs the best instruction and all of the desirable attention toward them. Teacher favorites don’t come in that form.

We’re told, practically from day 1 of teacher education, about the importance of building relationships with students. There are countless articles, and books, and videos on the subject. Like this article from the Association for Middle Level Educators, or the well-known Ted Talk from Rita Pierson, during which she boldly claims “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” Every educator everywhere knows the impact that building relationships with every student in our classroom can have on the learning that takes place there.

But there’s always that handful of kids each year. The ones you make strong connections with. The ones you see something in that other people don’t seem to notice. It’s not about favorites so much as its about one person not being able to give themselves to every student. So we take responsibility for a handful that we feel we truly understand. In my district we often refer to this as a “back pocket kid”, students that you watch a little bit more closely. (I don’t believe this terminology is unique to our district but I can’t seem to find any other sources referencing this).

One of the students in the picture above was that for me. From the second he came into my classroom, joining about a month into school, there was something about him that just clicked. I could see beyond his awkward and quiet 11-year-old self. Other teachers told me he wouldn’t do work for them, that he was naughty, that he got in trouble a lot, and I just wasn’t seeing any of that. I saw a kid that would do anything I asked of him once he knew I cared about him.

And it wasn’t just me. It takes a village, as the saying goes. In 7th grade he made connections with another teacher. In 8th, yet another.

When it came time for him to go to the high school, I worried. There was no way to keep an eye on him. His original passions for football and baseball seemed to have faded and the only time I saw him the entire year, he was wandering around the high school building just before school got out, very clearly not in the class he was meant to be in.

I had no part in his decision to join the co-ed cheer team. But his Instagram post from the first football game, captioned “best decision I ever made” was enough to make me teary. He has found a direction. A team that makes him feel valuable, that capitalizes on his talents, that gives him a purpose. It is the change in his life I’ve been hoping for since he was the goofy, quiet kid that didn’t seem to fit in my 6th grade classroom, wondering if I had any more books about football.

He is the perfect example of the kind of vertical alignment we strive for in academics, a perfect sequence of adults in a kid’s corner until something finally works. It is what we want for every student. When it happens, it’s nothing short of magic.

I cannot wait to see what he’s going to do next.


The Woes of a First Year Teacher

The group of students my school has gained this year has proved to be rather challenging. Parent phone calls started getting made by day 4. On the end of day 6, our resident first year teacher was at wit’s end. A colleague and I found ourselves in his room after school as he expressed his exasperation.

“For about 30 minutes after school, I just turned off the lights and it worked. People walked through but people got it. ‘He’s not trying to talk right now.'”

My colleague and I both found ourselves offering condolences.

“Your first year is always hard,” I said.
“Yeah, did I tell you that one day I crawled under my desk during passing period, curled up in the fetal position and cried?” my colleague offered.

Even as this was occurring, I knew it wasn’t helpful. Being told that someone else once felt your pain does not fix the current situation you are living in. So it made me wonder… what would help a new teacher?

photo obtained from Pixabay, free for use.

We all know that part of the first year is struggling. It can often feel like you’re at the eye of a hurricane, everything spinning madly out of control around you.

Posts, videos, and books with tips for new teachers are easy to find. Like this article from Edutopia with tidbits of advice like “building relationships” and “blog with students”. And this collaborative post from the NEA with veteran teachers sharing advice based on their experiences.

With all of the posts floating around out there, I’ve yet to see anything with advice for veteran teachers about what they can do to help new teachers in their building. What would truly make the experience better for students? Below, I’ve compiled a few ideas of ways you might be able to make a new teacher’s year better.

  1. Help them solve problems instead of leaving them to drown.

This is easier said than done. It is more easily done in a middle school setting, when teaming and scheduling options are available but not limitless. However, finding ways to find solutions to problems or move especially difficult students around so that they aren’t together could alleviate some of a new teacher’s stress.

      2. Make sure to share your struggles.

It is easy as a new teacher to feel like you are stranded in the middle of the ocean, fighting to stay above water alone while everyone else seems to be happily floating along and enjoying themselves. Sharing your challenges with new teachers helps them to see that it isn’t just them, that even veteran teachers struggle to figure out kids, or lose their cool, or have to give in and send a kid out of the room. Knowing that this is part of teaching and not just part of being new will help alleviate some of the stress.

      3. Continue offering help, even if the new teacher isn’t taking it.

It can be scary to take someone up on their help. It can feel like admitting defeat, or like your ability to do your job will be called into question if you take any help offered to you. Continuing to offer help gives the new teacher the reassurance that someone is there if they do want help, and they may come to you eventually, or they may not come to you at all, but continuing to offer help defines you as a safe space should the new teacher choose to utilize you.

 4. Stress the importance of putting the work down sometimes

Many times as a first year teacher, I found myself devoting all of my time outside of school to school. It felt like the work kept going. and going. and going. As teachers, the work truly could be endless if we let it be. This feeling of needing to perpetually be preparing for school is a quick way to burn out. Taking time for yourself is maybe the most important trick to having a fulfilling career. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to merely tell new teachers to take time for themselves. This can feel patronizing and like it’s being said because you can see that they’re exhausted. Instead, this needs to be modeled for them. Saying things like “Last night I didn’t grade anything. I sat on my couch and watched TV and everything is fine,” is much more useful. New teacher’s will see that their veteran colleagues are doing this and realize it’s okay for them to do it too.

And teachers, new and veteran alike, if you need a little fire back in your soul, this poem is for you: