November 14, 2012

Day 10 - #Blogathon Question Day

The amazing thing about a site visit to a school as amazing as Adlai Stevenson High School is that you often come back with more questions than when you left.  If you ever have a chance to go and participate in their site visit program, I would highly recommend it.  It is a day filled with learning opportunities that will help to sharpen your focus on exactly what it means to be a PLC and a high achieving school.  If you ever start to think you are closing in on becoming a solid PLC, take a look at their Vision & Values statement and their Collective Commitments and you will realize that there is still work to do.

So as I sat and pondered some of the questions buzzing about my head today, I started to wonder how to move forward.  I was fortunate enough to have two staff members from my building join me on this trip.  As a matter of fact, if I didn't have two staff members wanting to go, then I probably wouldn't have made the trip.  They came back energized and wanting to take action.  I loved that, but the fact was we needed to get everyone on the same page.  While they were able to see the advantages, and they wanted to implement what they saw, there were many things that we could not copy, things that would have to be adjusted to work in our building and with our resources.  So question number one was:

1.  "How do we take what we saw and learned, and share it with everyone here?"

My thought on this has been fairly clear for a while, as I have gone through this process before, but as in the past, I wanted to make sure that the idea was supported by my building leadership team first.  If they could see the implementation plan as beneficial and they could lead the learning process it was going to be more powerful and create stronger buy-in because it was not just a top down initiative, but something that staff wanted and supported.  I shared the power of the stories in DuFour's first book, "Whatever it Takes."  He shared stories of successful schools that were from all sorts of demographic backgrounds.  My district could never reproduce some of the same initiatives and programs that are produced at Stevenson High School.  But we could do what a rural, economically challenged school in North Carolina has done.  The team agreed that we would do a Leadership Team Book Read and if they thought it was worth it, we would then move on and do it with the whole staff.  

As we sat and discussed the day with our leadership team, we began to discuss changes that we knew we would like to make in our practices already.  We shared philosophies on educational best practice, instructional strategies, procedures and structures and eventually we found ourselves discussing the need to build staff relationships.  This seemed interesting to me, because I would have guessed that this building was very strong with staff relationships.  At least that is how it appeared to an outsider.  It was a concern for me, I was new and I knew that I wanted to develop strong relationships with my staff.  We needed to get to a point where they all trusted me, but what I discovered is that the building and staff had become so large, and now so busy that they had become a little fractured and isolated.  Apparently they have found themselves growing apart.  This brought me to question two:

2.  "How do we begin to build a sense of trust and commitment toward each other?"

On a different evening I will share the many lists of questions we will still need to address as a staff. Philosophical points such as, standards based grading, what is it we want all kids to know, what is our vision statement, what are our norms, how do we describe success????  The list will go on and on, but that is another night.  These questions are all a little tougher than those faced by King Arthur and Lancelot, but they need to taken on and answered.

While I am the leader of the building (not the King) and I do have some ideas on many of these questions, what is important is that we come to these answers together.  What I have also found out over the years is that sometimes what is more important than having the answers, is knowing the right questions to ask can often times lead people to their own right answers that just happen to be aligned to all that you have learned over your years of study and research.  So we will read and learn together.  We will ask questions without fear and we face some brutal facts while we also feel the exhilaration of experimentation without fear of failure.  This should keep us from beating our heads against a wall.....or even against the books we will read together.  It's going to be great!

Who says you can't learn anything from Monty Python?

November 13, 2012

Day 9 - #Blogathon Adlai Stevenson HS Site Visit

Well it is supposed to be Day 13 of posts, but I got a little caught up in moving my family into our new home over the weekend.  Soooo, I did get a little behind.  Looks like my November challenge just extended itself into December.  The good news is that the challenge has really reinvigorated me to get blogging again and I have gleaned so much from keeping up on friends posts that I am truly hoping this will improve my writing and provide me with opportunities to connect with more great thinkers and leaders.

I am also just getting back home from a site visit to Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois.  In case the school name doesn't jog a memory for you, it happens to be the home of Rick DuFour, one of the co-founders of the PLC movement.  This was actually my fourth trip to Stevenson High School for their site visit program.  This was a program there were asked to begin about 8 years ago when they became a Blue Ribbon School of Distinction and government officials thought it would be beneficial for other schools to see how they do things at Stevenson.  This time the government got something right.  For a mere $40 fee you can attend a day of direct contact learning about how Stevenson does PLC's.  WAY WORTH IT!

As I stated earlier this was my 4th trip to their school.  When I first moved to Wisconsin and worked with the incredible Administrative Team in the Dodgeville School District, I was lucky enough to join them as they were just taking on the commitment to becoming a Professional Learning Community district as well.  I had already read DuFour's book "Whatever it Takes" and thanks to a friend who is a teacher (and now a Department Director) was aware of their site visit program.  I convinced my Superintendent to have the admin team and a few staff members from each building attend the program.  We all gleaned an abundance of information that day.  From panel discussions with teachers, to hearing about the various support programs for kids, to discussions with students during our lunch.  The day was filled with learning, but possibly the most incredible piece was the discussion on the way home.  It may have been one of the few times I was thankful to have a 3 hour drive home.  Teachers and administrators could barely contain themselves and many were creating action plans on the drive.  We stopped half way back for gas and a bathroom break and found out the other van full of people were doing the exact same thing.  The energy was exhilarating.

So how did my 4th trip to Stevenson go.......the exact same way.  I was able to hear some new presentations, a little less about some of their student support programs (that they still have) and a little more about formative assessment, data use, standards based grading, etc.  But all of it was still centered around PLC's and how the concept of Teacher Collaboration, that is focused on student learning, and maintaining high standards can make huge differences in student achievement.  My teachers were buzzing before 9:00am.  We had some excellent conversations throughout the day. They were able to recognize practices that were only half efforts at true collaborative and professional learning.  And yes, we spent 3 hours in my suburban making plans all the way home (The trip actually took 3.5 hours but the last half hour everyone began answering e-mails and text messages).  I was so excited to hear that they thought tackling the learning of what PLC's are would be handled best by doing a staff book read.  I let them know my thoughts on what two books I already had in mind and how we would start work the very next day during our Building Leadership team.  I think they were also happy to realize that we made PLC development part of our strategic plan for the next three years, so they can see there is a long term commitment to that goal.  Tomorrow we roll up our sleeves and get ready to start the dirty work of becoming a PLC.

Now it's time for us to do "the work" of becoming a PLC.  We will have to change some practices.  We will have to live up to commitments we make, we will have to get focused on what really matters and cut loose some practices that really just get in our way.  We will have to embrace cognitive dissidence and build a relationship of trust within the building so that we can take some risks and find ways to keep raising the bar for our learning as well as student learning.  It's going to be GREAT!!!

November 8, 2012

Day 8 - #Blogathon - No Office Day

Today was one of my "Best Days" as a principal.  No, not "THE" Best Day, but one of them and I am glad that I have had much more than one.  See, today I took a "No Office Day."  This was an idea that I gleaned from a good friend on Twitter.  I actually heard about it first from Bill Burkheard ( @NormandinBill ) via his post on Twitter back in September.  He referenced a blog post of his first week as the principal of his new school.  Bill is a leader I respected even though I had been a building leader prior to his first assignment.  Why?  Because he completely understood what is needed in a leader.  Like Bill I was a firm believer in leadership being about "People not Programs."  This is a little phrase stolen from Todd Whitaker, but I have never known a truer statement.  

So as I sat in my office last week, dealing with the 3rd student sent to the office, finishing up a data analysis chart, adjusting schedules for the Middle School students new electives, signing purchase orders, time cards, responding to e-mails, approving conference requests, and getting back to parents that left messages, I finally remembered why I went into teaching in the first place......I loved working with kids.  Why did I go into administration?  Because I loved working with teachers, and I knew I wanted to improve education so kids would love learning even more.  I decided right then and there to take the advice of Dwight Carter and Lyn Hilt and decided to get out of my office and into the building.  

Sure, I have been out in the classrooms this year, but I felt like my visits have been 2-3 minutes at the most and that there were squeezed in where I could find time.  So I wanted to commit to a day that I could get into almost all of the classrooms, could watch a little longer chunk of a lesson, take some photos of the kids in action and hopefully talk with them without interrupting teaching.  It was AWESOME!!! I did not make it into all of the classrooms, but I did get into most of them.  Why not all?  Well, to be honest I was having fun watching the lessons and interacting with the kids.  I took some great photos of the many lessons I witnessed and shared many of them on Twitter today.  I had some great talks with the kids, was able to hear some great learning and thinking with our Middle School kids and received tons of hugs from my K-2 students (yeah I still love those).  I will find a way to get out tomorrow and see the other classrooms I missed today and some of the specials classes I didn't get into.  Tomorrow is "Nerd Day" for the Middle School kids, so I told them I would dress like I do every day to play the part, and then I get to go and supervise the Middle School Dance.  Should be a day that ends with quite a few smiles and laughs I think.  

While I know there has been many shifts in education, some great, some scary, there is one thing that remains the same.  Learning has always been about engagement, and engagement becomes so much easier when there is a positive relationship within the parties involved.  That is what I saw going on today.  Teachers committed to positive relationships with their students.  I hope those same teachers understand, that is why I came around today as well.  I want to ensure that I have those same positive relationships with my staff.  How can they grow and learn from me, if they do not know me....if they don't trust me.....and if they don't see me.  It really was a great day, and I will have to find a way to make it happen more often.  

November 7, 2012

Day 7 - Blogathon Challenge - The End of Political Assassination Ads....for now.

While I can't hide that I am a little pleased with the outcome of our recent elections, I still have plenty of concerns for our country and our governments position on how to improve it public education system. But, I will save that rant for another day.  Tonight my concerns are with the political ads that both sides subjected its citizens to over the past year.  Sometimes I think that those bottom dwelling mental midgets forget that children witness their TV ads as well.  Its one thing for a person my age that has figured out that politicians will stoop to anything, to have to bear witness to the name calling, and country bashing, but my children shouldn't have to listen to grown men tear each other down and bash the very    country I try to teach them to love.  I spend hours at school each day trying to teach children to be kind to to each other, to not bully each other, to try to make this world a better place by trying to see another person's point of view.  I use the mantra daily that, "I don't need you to be friends with each other, but I do need you to be friendly."  So when these same kids see the grown-up (debatable) leaders of the most democratic country in the world bickering and bashing each other......well, I start to lose a little hope.

The positive thing on the end of the election season is, we are done being subjected to the bickering.  Well, for the most part.  If you are one of those sad people that feel the need to listen to MSNBC, FOX News, or  are really needing to blame others for all that is wrong, so you listen to Rush Limbaugh, then you can go on listening to the political garbage and finger pointing each and every day.
Then to top things off last night, one of the reporters on NBC shared that there was a total of $6 Billion dollars spent on the political campaigns this year.  $6 BILLION!!!  Do you realize what we could have spent that money on?  Why do we do this?  Aren't we better off raising taxes minutely on sales tax or income tax, and lets face it $6 Billion would hardly be a drop in the bucket of the US budget.  Better yet, if we really reformed election campaigning we could say, you get this much for a budget, you get this time frame for advertising, the networks each get one debate to sponsor for no charge since we allow them to use the airways (Ok, they mostly use cable & satellite now) but supposedly the government owns the airways and they run the FCC that controls them.  So, I say we make them provide debate time for elections.  I also say that no one (including those newly recognized humans called corporations and SuperPacs) can donate money to political campaigns.  All of the funds come from tax payers.  This way, politicians don't need to feel beholden to their benefactors with large pockets.  They also don't need to try to appeal to the eccentrics in their own party and they can start to focus on the center and start working together to compromise and fix some of our problems.

Alright, I will quickly lay out my ideas for ending the TV rants.  The rants that go on in the car, and at the dinner table, well I can't stop those.  My plan for fixing politics, and therefore almost everything else in the US, would be to 1. publicly fund all elections and campaigns with tax dollars, 2. all political offices come with term limits, and 3. Reverse Citizens United.  

I know I must be on to something as even Chuck Woolery agrees that term limits would be a good thing:

Well, this will be my last political rant on here.  Although I guess I should put a qualifier on that.  If in 2 to 4 years things get even crazier than this last 2 years, then maybe I will be on here again saying how I am still dumbfounded as to how things have not changed, but as long as we are forced to go along with this highest bidder, 2 party system we have now, I am not sure we have much chance of changing things.  Its not in a politicians interest to change the system, and we, the voting public, are too easily distracted to stay focused on the changes we need to make for long term change.

By the way, tomorrow I am holding my first "No Office Day" and I am looking forward to it like you wouldn't believe.  I can feel a blog post coming on.

November 6, 2012

Day 6 - #Blogathon: Why I am anti-BYOD

Tonight I went back through some of the Tweets I have recently favorited and checked out a tweet by George Couros ( @gcouros ) that referred to a post by Andrew Campbell.  His post was about "The 5 Most Overhyped Trends in Education."  One of the trends he mentions is BYOD.  Within this post he provides a link to a more focused post on BYOD, so I went on to read that one as well along with a post by Gary Stager on why he believes BYOD to be the worst idea of the century.  All of this reading led me to reconfirm my thoughts on this concept as well.   

So I was struggling to focus in on a topic for tonight's post.  When you need a little motivation where can you go for a post.  Well, there are lots of options really.  Maybe an article you recently read, or possibly a You Tube video.  I have gotten inspiration from experiences at school, home and on occasion from quality TV like Seinfeld, The Walking Dead or my favorite The Big Bang Theory.  But, if you are looking for a real PLN experience that is directly focused on the current trends in education, there is nothing like taking inspiration from another educators blog post.

I don't want you to misunderstand me.  For a while,  I was a supporter of this program.  I was so eager for technology to become a larger part of the education equation that I was willing to settle for this concept.  I am not sure I considered it settling at first, but as I pondered it more and read reflections from members of my PLN, my understanding began to deepen and the drawbacks became clearer.

If we can just make a small analogy leap, let's consider how quickly we would reject the idea of student athlete's having to pay for their own athletic uniforms?  Too much of a reach?  How about if we said, the students that can afford football cleats can bring their own cleats in, and those that don't have cleats can either wear their regular shoes, or wait until the students that brought in their own cleats, were done with a drill, then they could offer to share their cleats with the other students.  Still to simplistic of an analogy?  How about if we asked the students that had their own Football helmets, high quality Riddell 360 helmets that are superior in concussion protection, but for the students that didn't have their own helmet, well they could use the slightly more used Riddell suspension helmets from 1965.  Seem like a good plan now?  While I don't think it is necessary that all students use the exact same device, or that students learn how to use just one type of device, the simple truth is there is a difference of what can be done with the various types of tools available.  The problem for school districts is that if there are multiple types of devices being used, how do we support them?  How do we support the students without their own devices?  How do teachers plan for the different devices?  How do we support the different types of charging needs?  If you are looking for more detail on all the reasons this concept isn't such a great idea, check out the blog posts above.  They do an excellent job of explaining all of the inequities involved, and lets face it public education is supposed to be there to be an equalizer.....or am I thinking of Finland?

November 5, 2012

Day 5 - Blogathon: Sick Day

Ok, I am psyching myself up for a serious's not going to happen today, but I have a couple of thoughts in mind for tomorrow.  Today is going to be a bit of a lame post.  I stayed home sick today.  Not sure what I may have picked up from my kids, but it kicked in last evening as I was finishing my last blog post.  I was hoping that this morning would start with a fresh feeling.  The morning shower didn't help.  Since my son decided to open enroll to my new school building it meant that I needed to give him the 30 minute ride to school (that wasn't fun) and then turn around and head back to bed.  

I am not sure where or when I began to disillusion myself, but when I forgot to set my iPhone to "Do Not Disturb" and the e-mail bells kept going off, I foolishly decided to check my e-mail.  Now, I have been a principal for a while now, and I know that there are some e-mails that can just wait, but I am in a new district and want to be seen as responsive.  So, I checked my first e-mail and while it was not an emergency, I decided I could answer it with minimal time or I did.  Then the next one, and as I was typing my reply, another rolled in that was of a little more urgency.  Next thing I knew I spent 45 minutes checking e-mails.  As I started questioning my actions a new thought jumped into my head.  In the midst of packing and moving our family into a new town this past weekend, I totally forgot to send out my weekly update to the staff.  Most of it was all ready to go, but I wanted to check a few dates, and add a couple of housekeeping notes that came in late on Friday.  So, I went and grabbed my laptop and quickly finished up this project and sent it out to my staff.

So after doing that, I laid back on my bed and thought to myself, no wonder I rarely take a sick day unless it is to stay home look over one of my kids that are sick.  It's the same reason I have mixed feelings about leaving the building for my own professional development.  When you are a principal (and it is pretty much the same for teachers) being out of the building means that everything that keeps you busy during the school day, well it still takes place, and it will all be there waiting for you when you get back.  Except.....when you go back, there's a whole new days worth of stuff that is going to jump into your lap as well.  Why do I say, "jump into your lap?"  Well, it is a lot like something jumping into your lap.  Sometimes it is like your own children, its something that is a fun surprise, something comfortable, a familiar circumstance that isn't really a problem and sometimes even a joy.

However, sometimes it is that high strung nephew that jumps a little to high onto your lap when you weren't ready, and it takes you a few minutes to get your breath back all the while you are thinking, "Who brought this kid over to my house?"

Well, I am feeling recovered enough that I will be back at it tomorrow.  Granted, I do wish more school boards would look into the research that says kids would benefit from school hours being more like 9am - 4pm.  But that won't change by tomorrow morning anyway, so I will battle through another day and prepare my lap for whatever may come my way.  I will shoot for a more serious side tomorrow.

November 4, 2012

Day 4 - #Blogathon My next post?

Today was a rough to day to step up to the #Blogathon Challenge.  Might not be a good sign that on November 4th (the 4th day of the 30 day challenge) I am already struggling with keeping up with my posts.  To be honest, these next 2 weeks will be rough as my family is moving into a new house about an hour away.   One of the conflicts I may face is being a night or two without internet access, but OI could always stay a little longer in my office and crank out a post on those days.  However, by 4:30pm my creative juices tend to wain until I get home, get some food in me again, and hopefully hear some of my kids stories from their day, before my wife and I begin sharing Ed Leadership stories from our day.

I read a few great posts today and I have to say they inspired some thoughts for posts for the next couple of days.  One of my Tweeps, Phil Griffins ( @philgriffins ), had a great post that was both personal and professional.  His post truly hit home as I am also taking on a new building this year and replacing a well liked principal that had been with her staff for a number of years and apparently did things pretty differently from me.  I will be sharing some of my same frustrations and excitement about that same thing.

Then I checked in on another good friends post that again made me think. David Culberhouse is an excellent blogger and writes some of the best stuff I have seen on the web.  I recently checked David's follower numbers on Twitter and I was somewhat shocked to see that they were lower than I thought.  David is apparently one of the best kept secrets on the internet and Twitter for sure.  So if you are reading this post and don't follow @DCulberhouse on Twitter.....well, you should.  David shared a post that talked about the need for a Response to Relationships in our education system right now.  We have RTI for academics, we have RTI for Behaviors (PBIS) but what about one of the most important things that happen in schools every day.....Relationships?  What do we do to support this, one of the most important daily aspects of school that probably has one of the highest impacts on learning?  Thanks for sharing David.  This also gave me great thinking opportunities and I will be posting on this topic soon.  

There are so many things to consider blogging about, ti actually gets to be tough to try to narrow them down.  I am thinking up a post on time.  It seems to always be a sore subject in school.  You know, never enough of it.  I hate to go with a strictly complaining style post.  It goes against my try to be positive vibe.  Also thinking about posting about my kids, and all that I put them through with constantly talking school, making them pack up their lives and have to move, making new friends, only to leave them after a few years, and then they talk to me about wanting to be a teacher some day.  Nah, that post could go on for too long. I definitely have some ideas to consider.  I hope you weren't  tuning in today to get some deep thoughts or some new research to take and share with staff.  Today was a post for me to help plan out a direction for the next few days.  Oh yeah, and I am not sure if you heard about it or not, but there is a big election going on and if you have missed watching TV (or You Tube videos) you may not have noticed a few commercials about the politicians lately. I may have to share a rant night on that subject soon too.  Besides, if you know me at all, sometimes I am just here to entertain.  Enjoy this video clip before checking in tomorrow.

Day 3- Blogathon Challenge - Be a "Coach"

I have been involved on some excellent chats on Twitter and one of them has been the #educoach chats on Wednesday evenings. While I like to fancy myself a instructional "coach", I am not.  I recently left a district that was finally creating a Reading and Math coach position in the district.  I was so excited when they decided to move in this direction, many of the building principals were.  The chance to have someone that is not an administrator (the person who does your evaluation) come in and observe teaching, for the sole purpose of working with the teacher to make instructional strategy improvements, was wonderful.  No more judgments about whether this was going to be on an evaluation, or the teacher immediately going into self-defense mode, or my favorite, the distrustful comment of "you have never been a classroom teacher, what would you know about teaching reading or math!"     It didn't usually get that heated, but it has come up and sometimes you can just read it in their eyes.  Of course after many reading and instructional practice conversations, most of my staff has pretty good faith that I do know what the heck I am talking about, but I am still seen as an administrator.  It is for this reason that I have such high hopes for the instructional coach movement.  It's not new, but in many districts it has been cut and seen as a luxury that can not be afforded.  There has also been a movement to have teachers coach themselves.  My concern with that approach is that this creates a time problem for staff again.  Not that it can't be done this way, but rather viewed as just another thing added to the plate of a teacher.

But, I also have a concern as to why can't we find a way for the principal 
to be viewed as a "coach."  It took me some time in my last district to build up this rapport with staff.  We did quite a few book reads together and many informal philosophical discussions about what my beliefs were about teaching, evaluation, where education was headed, and our need to become a focused and cohesive Professional Learning Community.  I let them know that when we could sit down and have serious critique of our practices, strategies and effectiveness, that none of it needed to be personal.  They had a low trust environment when I first entered their building and they felt like their views, and expertise were ignored prior to my arrival.  Through time, conversation, learning and just experiencing my mode of operation, they came to accept me as a leader they could trust.  A couple of them even commented that "you seem more like a coach than my boss."  That gave me shivers....not the word coach, the word boss.  While I realize I am "the boss" to many people, in that I am the person in the authoritative role, or the person they must report to, I hate to see myself viewed in that manner.  At that point, I knew that I wanted to be viewed as, the "Coach."  A person that is respected, but listened to as well as someone you can go to with questions.  Someone who listens, sees, and guides you on a path.

A video clip I came across on You Tube recently made me again think about the importance of that role and how more administrators should try to assume that identity with their staff.  I have met a great many that due, through my connections on Twitter.  While not all of them participate on the #educoach chats on Wednesday nights, many of the people I follow share their practices and strategies and you can just tell that they "get it" and take the coaching approach with their staff.  Yet, I am still aware of so many that do not utilize this approach and would benefit from it greatly.  They would build more trust with staff and less fear, and there is a lot of fear in education right now.  Many teachers feel like things are being done "to them" instead of for them or with them.  Be the inspiration they need to cross the finish line.

November 2, 2012

Day 2 - Meeting "For Real"

There's something about coming up with a blog post on a Friday evening that......well it gets tough to decide what to focus on.  The list of things to pontificate on after a week of school gets tough to narrow down.  So I will make it easy on myself and share my thoughts on one of the many times that words have dribbled out of my mouth (or in this case off my fingertips) that made me later say, "Ooops....that's not quite what I meant."

Recently I made a twitter comment to a few of the members of my PLN that I couldn't wait to meet them "for real."  Then I had one of my Tweeps send me a tweet back that said, "Thanks Tom. Look forward to meeting you "for real" at #SLATE2012 ."  And I started to wonder, "did I offend any of my friends by making the statement that somehow our online relationship wasn't real?" 


I am hoping not.  These new friends I have made are some of the most important friends of my life. No, we didn't grow up together.  We don't share memories from the playgrounds we ruled as 6 and 7 year old kids.  We didn't go through the painful relationship phase as mixed up hormonal middle schoolers. But some of the friends I have made via Twitter may be responsible for more professional and personal growth than most of my childhood friends could ever claim.  While the years of experiences definitely vary, the bond that I have created with the sharing of learning, experience and common concern, has made a deep impact on me and I and I value them more than many people would even understand.  

So, as I sit here on the couch on a Friday night, watching my twitter feed roll by, taping up boxes for my families move into a new home, and keeping half an ear on one of my favorite movie, "The Book of Eli" while the other ear and a half  stays free for my wife and kids, I think, did your lack of wisely chosen words once again create a rift?  I'm hoping not.  I'm hoping that the close friends of my PLN, are like me.....excited to meet face to face, a new kind of close friend. A friendship that was fostered by the desire to learn from each other. While the majority of our conversations are limited to 140 characters, they are meaningful and important conversations, they are jokes, they are personal, they are filled with hope, excitement, and wishes. And still I look forward to meeting them all face to face, so we can share extended conversations, share even more jokes, and put those incredible minds together in a live, unlimited organic conversation that may go in unknown, unplanned directions.....and then again, maybe it will just be filled with wisecracks, jokes and pokes as we get the chance to relax with friends and unwind from a job that is truly 24/7/365 and under more public scrutiny than politicians.  Yeah, while I have made some really excellent friends, I can't wait to meet them "for real." 

November 1, 2012

Day 1 - Blogathon Challenge: It will all come rushing back.

I was thrown a little this morning as one of the Ed Leaders that I truly respect sent out a tweet that stated "To #follow or #unfollow?  Is that the question?"  Since he listed myself and a few other well respected (well at least by me they are) Ed Leaders I follow on Twitter as well as their blogs, at first I was like, "Whoa, did I say or tweet something on twitter to offend him?"  Being as thick as I usually am, sometimes I miss these things.  He quickly tweeted me back and let me know that he was asking us our thoughts on Tony Baldasaro and Joe Bower's recent posts regarding unfollowing large amounts of their followers.

I took the time tonight to read both posts (it was a crazy day at school so I didn't have time to sneak in any professional reading today).  It was some interesting reading and I have to say, I do understand where they were coming from.....but I also have to say, I disagree with their method.  While I know I do not follow every tweet of all of the people I follow (I hope that doesn't offend them) I also know that I sure don't expect them to follow every tweet of mine.  Unlike Tony and Joe, I have not collected 5,000 or more followers.  Still, if I had that many, I am also not sure I would follow them all.  I do check to see what my followers tweet, check out their profiles to see if they are remotely in the area of education or leadership, and if not, I choose not to follow.  Heck, I have even blocked quite a few, mostly because I could tell they were there to sell me something that I really wasn't interested in or held such deeply different views from me.....well, I just knew that relationship wouldn't blossom or that I really wouldn't glean much from their tweets.

So while my twitter feed isn't maddeningly whizzing by at a clip that human eyes can't keep up with, it can go pretty fast, especially when there is a great chat going.  I should also note that I almost always use Tweetdeck for my tweeting.  It allows me to follow specific hashtag chats in one column, watch for specific tweets that mention me in another, and check tweets I have favorited and want check on at a later time, all while the timeline keeps a pretty constant flow rolling in.  As a matter of fact, when I am left to using twitter on my iPhone or iPad, I go a little crazy trying to keep up, not to mention I type much slower on the iPhone or iPad (does that mean I am becoming a serious TWEEP?).  So now that I have found a tool that let's me manage my followers and the people that I follow in a way that doesn't make me feel like I need glasses or at least some kind of super stimulant to keep up with the tweets, how do I manage to respectfully participate with all of the connections I have made via Twitter?    

Well, to be honest sometimes, I am not the most responsible (or maybe responsive) Tweep.  I try to focus first on the folks that have spoke to me directly.  If I have tweets in my mentions or interactions columns, I try to respond to them first.  But, if I cross a tweet in my timeline that speaks to things I have been thinking about or just really makes me reflective....well then I join in.  I always wonder to myself if I am being rude.  I saw a tweet come through the other day by Beth Still (a Social Studies teacher and a very connected educator) who has around 8,000 followers but only 500 people she follows.  The tweet was directed to someone else but something in it struck a note so I commented back.  I also made an apology for jumping in on someone else's tweet, to which she replied, "Why sorry for jumping in? I want people to talk about this."

I guess what I am getting at is that while I am sure that my list of people I follow is not nearly as long as Tony's or Joe's, I can't imagine unfollowing them all, and then working my way back up.  I am sure there are a few folks I follow that I just don't connect with that frequently now.  Tony is one of them.  He was one of my first follows.  He is well respected and was often listed as one of the highly recommended #FridayFollows.  I also followed his blog posts closely when I first began using Twitter.  It's not that Tony and I don't connect on the same level anymore, I just think at times our East Coast/Midwest time zone disparities keep us from being online at the same time.  Every now and then he sends out some great tweets (usually connected to his awesome blog posts) that I try to favorite and check out when I can.  He is very passionate about the introverted learner and that would be a weak area for me.  As soon as I remotely know someone, I can talk their ear off.  Tony would probably find a quieter spot in an Edcamp conference if I was around.  Still, I know I have tons to learn from him, so I will continue to follow him via Twitter and his blog.  Joe is also excellent.  I caught Joe Bower on twitter via someone else retweeting one of his blog posts.  I checked it out and I knew right away that Joe and I saw eye to eye on quite a few things.  Not everything, but a lot.  So I quickly followed him and favorited his blog.  I have repeated this process over and over.

I follow over 1,500 people now.  Can that keep the timeline moving along fast at times?   Yep!  But I can't imagine that someone I thought worth following in the first place, might not share an idea or new piece of knowledge that I would miss desperately if I didn't keep in some sort of contact.  This is the strength of my PLN.  Not that I have 150 relationships that are deeply involved and whose lives touch mine in deep meaningful ways.  I have phones and cars for things like that, and to be honest my siblings and parents say I don't use those resources enough either.  No, I have 1,500 plus people that I can go to with questions or that will supply me with enough professional development power to make me a more effective leader and educator in the less than 2 years I have been using Twitter.  Some that I have connected with in Powerful ways that I do care deeply about, and many more that I have learned from, shared with and that are just important people that I am glad I have rubbed virtual elbows with via social media.  I wouldn't unfollow them for any reason, especially something like my belief that my lack of direct conversation has made me think our connection as a PLN has weakened.  I know the right topic, comment, post, tweet or just the right joke will cross my view someday and that we will open that connection again, like an old high school friend that you bump into years later, and it all comes rushing back.