Saturday, November 1, 2014

Reflections on Being a Connected Educator through Twitter

The transition to November today provides me an opportunity to reflect back on October as Connected Educator Month through the lens of my own short journey to becoming a more connected educator. In 2009, our Technology Director at the time, Darin King (@darinrking), assisted the district administrators in setting up a Twitter account. Why would I need Twitter, I wondered? After all, I had a demanding job as a high school associate principal, was in the middle of working on my doctorate degree at UND, and wanted to ensure quality time was spent with my family.  I honestly did not have any additional time for something extra. I completed my dissertation and Doctor of Education degree in 2011. My dissertation included the research, pilot, and study, of a netbook computer initiative in middle and high school social studies classrooms. Looking back, how unfortunate to think that I missed out on some potential and outstanding opportunities, resources, and connections to enhance my dissertation. In August 2012, I assumed the district Technology Director position. Through the learning process of my new position, I really did not have time for anything extra, but I began to consider Twitter as a learning tool through following and lurking. I rarely retweeted and hardly posted tweets, because after all, who would care what I would have to say. But, just about one year ago, I really jumped into becoming a connected educator.

The moment when I moved from “lurking” on #ndedchat to participating was the moment I became a fully engaged and connected educator. That moment was following the Fall 2013 NDATL F2F Conference when Kelly Rexine (@mrrexine) and Jeremy Holkup (@mrholkup) advertised #ndedchat. My first full participation on #ndedchat was November 2013.  Now, I rarely miss a Wednesday because there is so much to learn from others across the state and beyond. Now #ndedchat has joined #westedchat once a month, which has only increased the number of connections. Becoming more engaged with Twitter has connected me with so many educators and their ideas across the state and beyond.

Participating in #ndedchat inspired some of the Curriculum Technology Partners and I to launch #gfedchat in our district on February 3, 2014 as a pilot. Through #gfedchat, we explored many topics, made connections with each other, shared ideas, and learned outstanding things happening in classrooms across the district. The #gfedchat sessions provided me insight into teacher pedagogy, passions, philosophies, projects, and interests that I would not have known otherwise. For example, #gfedchat has highlighted some interesting teacher blogs that I like to read such as Eileen Zygarlicke (@zygwriter) at Community High School. Knowing the kind of work Eileen was doing with her students through the use of technology, the need to reallocate some devices became apparent. Here is a brief summary of what can happen:

“At a recent Twitter chat (#gfedchat—Monday nights @ 8:30—check it out), I invited Joel to our building, telling him he had an open invitation. I thought he was taking me up on it. Instead he...brought over six used Macbooks for me to use in my classroom. For my students to use!!!  Later as I was processing this unexpected gift, I thought about the greater gift I had received that day. I had administrative support in my quest to infuse technology more into my curriculum.  Not verbal support, action support.” (Blog post:

It sounds strange, but I believe this connection and opportunity would not have happened without Twitter and #gfedchat. As a district leader, it is an ongoing challenge to stay connected to 700 or so educators across the district. #gfedchat has provided an opportunity to increase the number of connections significantly. #gfedchat has also allowed many to become a more connected educator.  Ideas are shared and enthusiasm is generated. Here are a couple of examples:
I have shared the "Ten Tips for Becoming a Connected Educator" with #gfedchat participants ( via Elana Leoni (@elanaleoni @edutopia)

1. Embrace Making Mistakes
2. There's No Right Way -- There's Only Your Way
3. Just Jump In!
4. Be Open to Learning Unexpected Things
5. Follow Like-Minded (and Not So Like-Minded) People in Education
6. Join the Edcamp Movement
7. Join a Live Virtual Event (i.e. Twitter Chat)
8. Block Out Time to Get Connected
9. Be Yourself and Help Others
10. Start Blogging

#gfedchat takes place on Mondays at 8:30 pm. We now have over 75 regular participants and hope the number of participants and willingness to connect “anytime-anywhere” continues to grow.

Yes, even with so much information shared through Twitter and blogs, there is still a place for professional learning through books. In fact, Twitter has brought to my attention many great books. I’m probably reading more than I ever have. Here are a few examples:

Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger)
As I was reading Digital Leadership, I was so inspired by the message and the content, I thought, how could I best share and discuss all the book had to offer with the principals and directors in my district. Currently, our book study has moved through chapter 4. The book highlights the importance of being a connected educator. We have had outstanding conversations as some have admitted to their fears of Twitter while others have discussed overcoming their fears and embracing the learning through social media. Some principals are warming up to Twitter as a professional learning tool and not just something they have to deal with in negative ways through student use. Some are jumping in and most are asking for some additional professional learning. This is encouraging, so I am planning a follow-up training and practice “chat.”

The Relevant Educator by Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) and Steven W. Anderson (@web20classroom)

This book does an outstanding job of covering the many aspects of being a connected educator, establishing a professional learning network, and using technology to learn anytime-anywhere. All educators getting started in becoming a connected educator should read this book. Here are a few quotes from the book that resonated with me:

“If we are educating our youth to participate, flourish, and successfully compete in a technology-driven society then they [educators] should be learning with the very tools that they [students] will be required to use.”

“Alone we are smart, together we are brilliant” (Steven W. Anderson)

“A Connected educator is as much a learner as a teacher. A Connected Educator is digitally literate and and progressing as needed to adapt to the changes that will inevitably occur. A Connected Educator is relevant in a world of rapidly paced change.”

Pure Genius by Don Wettrick (@DonWettrick)

This is another book that I may not have found right away without Twitter. I am passionate about project/problem based learning and intrigued by 20%/genius/innovation time. While reading the book, the following quote really stuck with me, so I tweeted it out.

Great Q to ponder: "Is education about earning a grade, or is it really about fostering learning and creative engagement?" via @DonWettrick

What followed, was a great example of what being a connected educator is all about.

This brief conversation with Don while I was reading the book would not have happened without Twitter. Now #gfedchat is considering Pure Genius as a topic or book study.

My short journey to becoming a much more connected educator has provided me with a renewed enthusiasm to continually learn. Twitter has provided me access to incredible resources relevant to my position as a Technology Director. It has also connected me to so many educators in Grand Forks, across North Dakota, and literally throughout the world. I will continue to encourage others to become connected educators, because after all, “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” Ryunosuke Satoro


  1. Great post Joel! You perfectly describe the Twitter lifecycle most people go through. From "this is kinda cool" to "I am too busy" to "lurking and learning" to "does anyone care what I think" to leveraging the tool to lead educational change! Your use is a model for using Twitter in a school district to promote thought and conversation that can lead to real change that improves teaching and learning!

  2. Great post, Joel. I ordered Pure Genius and am looking forward to that book study! :)

  3. Great post, Joel! Thank you for sharing your journey!

  4. Great post, Joel! Thank you for sharing your journey!