I joined Twitter in January of 2013. Originally I decide to use Twitter as a communication tool to share school news and educational tips for my school’s parents and employees. I still have that account running (@MrAlaback). I will admit that I have not done as good of job keeping the information flowing, but I am committed to provide meaningful and current information to my school’s stakeholders. I will improve on my use of this tool.
My school and district Technology Coordinators strongly urged my to pursue the powerful benefits of a Personal Learning Network through Twitter and various Blogs for over a year. I confess that I avoided their encouragement because I felt too overwhelmed as a principal and when I finally joined Twitter I thought I was too new to the Twitter world to take on something like a PLN.
I have always considered myself as a reflective thinker and a successful collaborator. Each year, I have voluntarily started several book study groups as well as led several learning communities as a teacher, technology coordinator, and school administrator. All of my past PLNs have been face-to-face encounters with people who are readily available and have the same passion and interest to help each other grow professionally and improve our ability to help our students.
Why then did I hesitate to start a Twitter PLN and/or a Blog? The answer, I never thought of myself as a writer. I have been told that I have the gift of oral communication. That people walk away from my oral presentation inspired and filled with hope and confidence that we can accomplish our vision and goals. However, I have forever been told that I have poor writing skills. My teachers and colleagues have said that I am cursed with good ideas and poor writing conventions. I have used this area of weakness as a crutch for most of my life and as such have avoided written communication as much a possible in all aspects of my life.
During the last week of January 2013, six teachers from my school and I attended the Florida Education Technology Conference in Orlando and I was inundated with the concept of online PLN through the use of Twitter and Blogs. I decided to muster up the courage to attend a sessions about Twitter as a PLN tool. Eric Sheninger presented the session the session I attended; I walked away from Eric’s session as a new convert to the online PLN through Twitter.
I came back from the conference excited yet lost on how to start. Fortunately, I am Blessed to have a wonderful Technology Coordinator who helped me begin my online PLN journey. She shared people and hash tags for me to follow and the rest became intuitive. I started as most people do, as a PLN “stalker”. I read everyone’s Twitter feeds and Blogs. I quickly formed opinions about what people wrote, but thought to myself “Who am I to contribute to talented thinkers’ ideas?”
I decided I would move beyond just “ReTweet & “Favorite Tweets”” to “Reply to Tweet” and “Tweet” my own thoughts. I said to myself,” this isn’t so bad”, then several people I followed started to ask if I Blog. I got spooked, I felt like I was in a game of poker and the people were calling my bluff to see if I was serious about participating in an online PLN.
The next day I struck up a conversation with my Technology Coordinator (who already had her own Blog going) and asked her “What do you think I can talk about in a Blog that other people would find useful, that I’m an expert about that topic, and that I would introduce new ideas to the online community?” We brainstormed several ideas, but honestly, I did not get inspired.
I came across a book recommendation Tweeted by Sean Junkins to read Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning by Kristen Swanson. I downloaded the book onto my iPad Kindle App and began reading it. Immediately I found a book that challenged me as a learner and met my “Beginner’s to PLN” needs.
I purchased three copies of the book and shared it with three teacher leaders in my school. I told them, “I want you to read this book, and let’s talk about what you read and learned.” Then I told them “After your read the book, you are to find another teacher in our school and challenge them to read the book and discuss it with you. Then they are to repeat the cycle so this book gets passed around by recommendation of a trusted colleague rather than assigned as a mandated professional development from the school or district administrator.” I borrowed the idea of book reading recommendations from Steven L. Layne’s book entitled Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies For Building Lifetime Readers. While he referred this strategy as something teachers do for students. Layne tells teacher to say, “When I read this book, I thought about you and think you will enjoy reading it.”
After reading Kristen Swanson’s book in its entirety, I came to the realization the reason to Blog is to grow professionally through reflective thinking practices and provide an avenue to collaborate with others who are reflecting on the same issues. To Blog is not to see what “I” can contribute to the online community, rather it is to see what “we” collaboratively contribute to each other’s professional growth and understanding. The “we” concept helped me see that when I Blog, I don’t Blog in isolation, nor am I alone in trying to grow and development into a better professional and educational practitioner.
To Blog is to expand the number of people who are able to join the learning community that I have grown accustom to leading, even if some start as “stalkers” at some point, we as professionals are driven to do the right thing. We will reply to each other’s comments and contribute to professional discussions. Ultimately we will start discussions about topics that we know to be important and have a passion to see improve for the sake of our profession and for our student’s success.
Therefore, regardless of where you are in your PLN journey, I welcome you to my Blog set up for us. I look forward to what we will be able to share and collaborate in the future. If you so desire, you can follow me on my PLN Twitter account @BrianAlaback.
In closing, I want to thank the following people who have helped me to secure my online PLN as an important part of who I am as a professional.
- Christine Baker @CMBPensacola, my school’s technology coordinator and my personal technology trainer, my leadership supporter, and my inspiration to continuously improve as a professional.
- Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal, for your inspiration to join Twitter and Awesome Tweets
- Sean Junkins @sjunkins, for your awesome Tweets and book recommendations
- Kristen Swanson @KristenSwanson, who authored the book Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning; you have forever changed my PLN for the better, Thank you!
- Sam Patterson @SamPatue, who was the first to call my bluff and asked if I blog and requested time to collaborate. I appreciate your Tweets and Blog messages. We will collaborate soon!
- Tom Whitby @tomwhitby, for sharing great Tweets and responding to me in a professional and respectful manner as I ventured into participating more actively in Twitter.
- Todd Whitaker @toddwhitaker, I appreciate your thoughtful Tweets and I plan to read your book Ten Minute Inservice: 40 Quick Training Sessions that Build Teacher Effectiveness; I have it save in my Kindle wish list and will down load it soon.