Social Media Breaks

Another perfect day at the lake!
Another perfect day at the lake!

This summer I took a deliberate online hiatus from social media.  This was facilitated by some key events.

  1. I wondered if I could.
  2. Our cabin in the Sierra Nevadas does not have internet access.
  3. I didn’t want to get sand in my iPad or computer.

Engaging with social media is a habit.  Like Pavlov’s dog, the ping or even a lapse of time, brings the strong impulse “to check”.  In many instances, it evokes a smile with a quick update or joke or pic from a friend or relative.  It may bring reassurance that the kids are okay.  It may allow for the impromptu bike ride, golf game, or tea time.   It brings a connection with people connected with common interests and reminders of that upcoming dentist’s appointment.

 

By all accounts, a break from social media is viewed to be a very positive thing.   The downside of “the ping” is when it signals that you are still at work with things to tend to.  It is easy to fall into the trap of, “Better to do it now, rather than adding it to the never ending things to do list”.  I’ve looked at many emails and texts that come with an expectation of immediate response, even very late at night and very early in the morning.  The NOT working 24/7 is the quest implicit in the technology break.

 

I LOVE Twitter as a tool for professional development.  Disengaging from posting and responding to other posts brings a disconnection with “friends” or “followers”.  If the numbers game is an important goal, then the break is not a healthy thing.  If you have cultivated connections online, then you know where to find them and how to re-engage when you’re ready.  One of the best things of presenting in Boston at the International Literacy Association this summer, was connecting with some of the people I’ve connected with online.  We’d look at each others nametag and react as old friends.  As a tool to develop your Professional Learning Community, I think Twitter is brilliant.  Although the 140 characters of text do not provide enough depth to be profound, the links to blogs and articles and other professional development stimulate the thought and connections to facilitate professional growth.  I frequently use Twitter as a way to take notes and involve people inside and outside the room in thinking about the topic being discussed during professional development sessions.  I did miss the conversation over the summer.

 

A close colleague and I frequently laugh about our treatment of books.  We are both prolific readers.  She sits in one place, does not bend the pages and places them back on the shelf in order by author’s last name.  I take a collection of books with me everywhere I go.  They show evidence of the beach, the bathtub, red wine, coffee and many bends in the corners.  This is probably why e-readers have never worked for me.  Professional books are marked with highlighters, stickee tabs and underlining.   They go back on a shelf if I get them back from whoever last borrowed it.  That did not change this summer but the blogging piece did change how I interacted with the books.  Blogging pushes the reflection of text to a deeper level.  When ideas are being expressed to an audience, it is necessary to refine your thinking and fine tune how your ideas are expressed.  I think I read more this summer without blogging but I thought about what I had read less.  Blogging facilitates the reflection which makes the reading more personally meaningful.  I continued to register a plethora of questions to ask and ideas to blog about LATER.

 

After the initial break from technology, it became easier and easier not to reach for my phone or get up early in the am to blog.  I didn’t realize was how hard it would be to get back into the habit of engaging in social media.  As with anything, engaging with technology isn’t something that some people are predisposed to do.  It is a clear choice that it is important and therefore the time and energy must be carved out to engage in it.  So now I am forced with the challenge of getting back to the gym AND getting back to engaging with technology.  Fortunately I can read my phone on the stationary bike 🙂

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Beyond Face2Face

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The holiday season provides annual opportunities to catch up with friends and family.  It is so easy to get swept away in a plethora of commitments throughout the year and lose track of each other.  The parties, get togethers and dinners allow us to take the time for face to face interactions and laugh and enjoy each others company.  Yet, the reality is that we don’t get the opportunity to connect with all of the people who matter personally and / or professionally.  Fortunately there are a myriad of ways to communicate with people when face to face communication isn’t an option.  Sometimes it seems like too many and sometimes it seems there has to be a better way.

In the past few week, I’ve explored several familiar and not so familiar options.  I’m curious about how about how other people are connecting and if there are other options that I should explore.

Professional Development:  I think Twitter is one of the best forms of online professional development.  I love the links to articles, websites, blogs and YouTube clips shared by the people I follow.  I’m also a big fan of the TwitterChat.  @ILAToday hosted a TwitterChat yesterday that included people from all over North American and allowed me to connect with a like minded teacher in Vancouver.  I like how you can participate in online conversations and also message individuals directly.

Connecting with individuals:  The telephone still factors in big here.  It certainly is more reliable in ensuring the message is understood and that the interaction is sincere.  If there is tone, it isn’t imagined as it is sometimes via print.  Perhaps I’m dating myself by saying that yes, I STILL like Facebook.  It’s a great way to touch base briefly, share a laugh, pass on a birthday wish and connect briefly with people.  This summer I had a chance to visit with an fb acquaintance from high school while I was in L.A.  We have a lot in common as adults and surprisingly very common experiences growing up.  I wish we had known that in school.  Great evening.  Good fun.  Connection worth keeping!

I don’t know how I ever lived without messenger and texting. When my kids first got flip phones, I use to text “Y” for yes, “N” for a definite NO and a “P” for phone me and give me more information.  I’ve come a long way!  Texting allows for quick and easy communication when not a lot of context is required.  WhatsApp is also a favorite with friends and relatives without a texting plan.

I have also used Skype for several years.  I has been great to connect with family in Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and the US but it is all about the connection available at any given point in time.   It is frustrating when the calls are just dropped and of course it’s limited to individuals or however many people can squish in one screen.    Perhaps my expectations have just gotten too high for something that is provided for free.  Just recently I’ve been trying out Voxer.  The walkie talkie type of set up allows for a more personal connection without the cost of long distance or the set up of Skype.

Connecting with groups:  This seems to be the biggest challenge.  The conference call is typically reliable but there is a down side.  It is difficult to connect the voice with a name unless you know the people in the group quite well.  The International Literacy Association schedules conference calls with provincial and state coordinators to pass on information.  It works well for this purpose but doesn’t lend itself to any interaction.

The BC Council of the International Literacy Association used Google Hangout to meet last week.  The president was in Kamloops, another member was in Halifax and the rest of the members were in a school library in Vancouver.  I’m not sure if it was because we had two computers in the library but it was difficult for the people outside the room to hear well enough to follow the conversation.  I’m curious to learn if anyone else has some good tips to pass on.

Any feedback about the types of online communication that others are using with success will be very much appreciated.

Let the Blogging 2016 Begin

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I love the new possibilities that come with each new year.  I have been blogging for several years now for a variety of purposes:

  • to discover unexplored terrain- the world of blogging
  • to share my adventure teaching and traveling in China with friends and family at home
  • to explore my own ideas and thinking
  • to develop my own writing skills by sharing with an audience
  • to share food, wine and experiences I love
  • to share subject specific information with literacy educators
  • to provide content with students
  • to encourage student writing and development of skills
  • to develop reading -writing connections
  • to share my ideas on a broad spectrum of educational issues
  • to develop a sense of community with my readers

It was interesting when I first looked at the WordPress stats and realized that people beyond my friends, relatives and acquaintances were reading my professional blog.  It was flattering but also gave me the sense that there were many like-minded people who I’d like to connect with.  I just don’t quite know how to do that.  My quest for 2016 is to figure that out.

I have a three pronged plan to develop a online community of people to challenge my thinking with divergent opinions, affirm my “ah ha” moments and shared realities, and provide information and thoughts on their own educational contexts.

  1.  I signed up to be part of School Administrators Virtual Mentorship Program (#savmp) in fall
  2. I signed up for Blogging 101 offered by WordPress. Thanks for pushing the card on this post, Josh!
  3. I’m scheduling time to respond to other bloggers.

The focus of my professional blog has morphed from a singular focus on literacy development to encompass a broad spectrum of professional issues and concerns.  I hope you’ll join me in my efforts to develop an online community of learners.

The Couros Brothers Inspire Educators

 

Alec Couros referencing George Couros at Whistler Conference 2015 for VSB Admin

It is fairly common to hear couples that speak on the same topic at conferences.  It is less common to have siblings pursuing and presenting on the same area of study.  This year I had the good fortune to hear both of the Couros brothers speak.  Although I follow both of them on Twitter, @gcouros @courosa, read their blogs (The Principal Change by George and Open Thinking by Alec),  face to face contact is still best case scenario for me.  George Couros came to speak with Jordan Tinney at a PDK Vancouver (UBC Chapter) dinner meeting: ” Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning:  Leadership and Learning in a Changing World “. He awed the Vancouver, B.C. audience with his forward thinking about the mindset of innovator’s (2015, The Innovator’s Mindset:  Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity 2015 release) and implementation of a wide variety of progressive tools and strategies to stimulate curiosity and make learning visible, including various digital portfolios.  This was the first PDK- UBC Chapter meeting where people were tweeting from outside the room.  Interest in the topic and his 92.2 K Twitter following were undoubtedly part of the reason.  When I learned his big brother, Alec Couros, would be joining Vancouver administrators in Whistler for our Fall Conference, I was not sure what to expect.  His job as a professor at the University of Regina indicated ivory tower, but his 94.7 K Twitter following, tweets and blog posts indicated something more dynamic.

To my delight, his session was every bit as engaging and informative as his brother’s session with Jordan Tinney in Spring.  The session started providing a theoretical frame as to why educators need to establish an online presence and be the authors of their own story.  He also spoke to our responsibility to define respectful discourse on the internet and teach our students about appropriate posting before any damage is done.   Then he emerged into a whole range of ways to engage our students in their own learning using technology and available APPS.  Dr. Couros provided opportunities for online engagement via a Twitterchat and references so we could go back and play with new tools at a later date.  Educators with varying degrees of comfort with technology and differences of  background knowledge on social media walked out of the room excited about their new learning and with a manageable path they could navigate.

Both of the Couros brothers were able to inspire their audience with not just an openness to change but an excitement about the potential of change.   Their willingness to “boldly go where no “one” has gone before” (Do I need to cite Star Trek?) is energizing for some.  That is not to say that people who embrace change are not without fear.  With any change in life, there is risk.  Continuing on the “tried and true” path is the safest route and perhaps shields us from possible criticism for the questions we can’t answer or for not getting it “right” the first time around.  However as reflective practitioners, our role is to identify what we do well and what we could do better.  How do  we welcome and better facilitate the learning of our students with diverse cultural and linguistic profiles? With varied academic strengths and needs?  With questions we can’t answer?  With varied mental health?  With varied trust in the school system?  With delight in the experiences and energy our students bring into the classroom?  The Couros brothers were both able to shed some light on the possibilities.  They also provided the encouragement, background knowledge and manageable steps to keep us moving forward, not just for the sake of change, but for our students who will need to navigate in a world quite foreign to the one we grew up in.  Thank you, gentlemen 🙂

 

 

To Blog or Not to Blog

The perfect sunset.  The funny moment. The great jazz performance.  There are all kinds of reasons that people take to social media to “share”.  Tweets and blogs abound.

  

I started my first travel blog,  Hoodooquest.blogspot.com, on my first trip to China as a way of learning about this “new terrain of blogging” and to share my Chinese teaching adventure with family and friends.  My friend, Jan Wells, informed me she read it every morning with her coffee and the newspaper while I was in China.  Then I discovered that people I didn’t know, read it too.  This gave me the confidence to jump down the “rabbit hole” into the world of blogging.

I’ve always written a journal. I have volumes, starting with the pink Holly Hobby diary, on family, school, friendship, skiing, romance, food, travel, motherhood, injustices of life and grand celebrations.  They are highly personal and come with disclaimers that they should be destroyed and certainly not read when I die.  Yes, I have always had a flair for the dramatic.  Blogging can encompass a similar style of writing with strong voice and opinions.   However the public aspect of blogging requires an additional lens.  I am processing my own thinking, but very aware of engaging an audience.

My early blogs were specifically intended as teaching tools (T2fish.wordpress.com, tecumsehcomputerwhiz.wordpress.com).  They had specific learning outcomes and a body of content to present.  They targeted Tecumseh students but the stats reflected the interest was beyond the school community.  My next evolution of blogs were very similar to newsletters.   They shared relevant information with a specific audience and I tweeted them for accessibility to a greater audience:  For the foodies – SeriousIdulgences.wordpress.com; For educators and community members interested in social justice for children-  cultureofpeace4kids.wordpress.com ; For PDK members in Vancouver – pdkvancouver.wordpress.com.  However I learned most about engaging an audience when I used Kidblog to introduce blogging to gifted students.  Those kids created amazing blogs about their passions and our conversations about audience inspired interesting thoughts about reaching a like minded community of learners to provide feedback and mentoring.  I’m just beginning to touch on the things they taught me.  It was at that time that I started to actively follow blogs and the twitter feeds of people who inspire me and make me think, such as Jordan Tinney, George Couros, Chris Kennedy, Steve Cardwell and Ruben Puentedura.

This input, suggested reads, my professional  inquiries, collaboration with colleagues and students have made Inquire2Empower (carriefroese.wordpress.com) my most interesting blog to date.  I started writing it as a way to build community with other literacy educators in British Columbia.  It has emerged to a place where I not only share information but also develop my thoughts on a variety of professional topics including literacy, leadership, thinking skills, educational technology, human rights …basically all of those issues that are near and dear to my heart.  The public nature of my blog, holds me accountable for taking the time to reflect on my learning and articulate my thoughts. Once it hit over 2,000 views, I realized people were interested and I had developed an online PLN.

Inquire2Empower is very much question driven, as suggested by the name.  During my first temporary contract as a teacher, I was doing a maternity leave.  My burning questions were why did I hate teaching reading when I loved to read?  How could I engage students in the lesson with contrived, didactic material?  It taught me early on in my career that the pursuit of the answer is what has the real power to make a difference my practice.  Blogging and tweeting brought to light the concept of Virtual PLCS (Casey Reason 2015).  Social media has very much facilitated the formation of a wider community of informal groups that have emerged into symbiotic relationships.   The world of blogs and twitter have provided a structure for me to reflect on my learning but also provided opportunities to participation in Ignite Nights in Vancouver and Coquitlam that personalized the online connections.   It also opened up risk taking ventures like “One Word Burger”.  It has provided amazing choices of speakers for professional learning and the people attending are eager to participate.  It also allows for the follow up and consideration of the ramifications after complex sessions, like Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model.   It has opened up opportunities for me to personally present to interested audiences.  Multiple pathways of learning.  Isn’t that what makes the world of education so interesting? Yes, for me, the answer is “to blog”.

Innovation Brewing Everywhere

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A two week Spring Break provided a good excuse to go see how my daughter was doing in Spain.  I spent a big chunk of time en route, in the Newark Airport.  Innovation is alive and well and celebrated in Newark Airport.  All the restaurants had iPad menues where you placed your order and paid before you ever saw your server or the food.  #MakeThingsBetter was advertised widely and aimed to popularize the notion that the energy industry is committed to better energy in the oil, natural gas and solar energy sectors.   “Innovation brewing everywhere”.

In Spain, Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia speaks to the quest to innovate, that has existed throughout history.  Gaudi started work in 1884 on this “modern cathedral”, knowing that he would never see it completed but with the quest to work out the architectural challenges he had been wrestling with throughout his lifetime.  The innovation is celebrated inside and outside of Spain and funded largely by the Catholic community and the tourists who flock to stare in awe at the magnificence.

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The quest to innovate is alive in every area of life.  The Michelin star chefs strive to create the most delectable pintxos for the Spanish and tourists to enjoy on a nightly basis.  It is well worth the quest to have a glass of wine and the house “pintxo” specialty and then move on to the next spot.  The quest to innovate feeds the Michelin star chef and the quest to discover “perfection in two bites” feeds the consumer.  Medical science has cured the cancer that took Terry Fox’s life.  Planes can travel at speeds that break the sound barrier.

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Innovation  is wholeheartedly embraced in education by some educators and students alike.  The potential of doing something better captures many imaginations.  They say that change is difficult because in schools because people walk into the classroom and proceed to teach exactly as they were taught as children.  Yet, there are also those educators who do not want to replicate their own experiences, see the spark of enthusiasm or the blind faith in success in their students’ eyes.   That keeps the momentum moving towards the potential for something more or something better in our schools.  Social media allows people of like mind to connect and inspire the ability to move forward.  Jordan Tinney and George Couros are two of those people who engage online and provide the inspiration to consider the rationale and potential pathways for reaching towards new possibilities with technology.  I’m thrilled to be able to continue the conversation in person at the next PDK dinner meeting on April 22, 2015 at the Arbutus Club in Vancouver.

Stay tuned to #pdkedchat on April 22nd to participate in the Twitter conversation.