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Becoming a Networked Teacher Leader

Six months ago, I was so proud of myself for having eschewed Twitter for so long. As someone who was hesitant to create a Facebook page (but finally did), I made a solemn pledge that my digital social network would not go beyond that. After all, I'm too old to Tweet, and don't only famous people Tweet, anyway? Also, joining Twitter would add another "distraction" to the already long line of things that are actively distracting me from my work and my family. Why on Earth would I voluntarily sign up for MORE social networking when I'm the person whose heart soars at the thought of a rotary phone, a letter sent or received by the postal service or a conversation on a front porch. I am the queen of slow, deliberate practice, of cursive handwriting and paper notebooks and face-to-face teaching. I am not a product of the digital revolution. In fact, in many ways, I fight the ethos of digitizing our communication. "It'll make us less human," I'd say. "It will make us forget how to talk to one another," I'd warn. "Hiding behind screens exacerbates our fear of the other," I'd predict.

 In April, midway through my sabbatical, I was at the National Writing Project's Spring Conference in Washington, DC, where people from every site in the US gather for a "lobbying blitz" on Capitol Hill. I was there in DC to visit our Senators from Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed, who have been supporters of the NWP and the RIWP, and whose support I wanted to continue to cultivate. Before setting us loose on the Hill, the smart staffers and consultants with NWP gathered us in a large hotel conference room to brief us on the fine art of lobbying. During that briefing, we were encouraged to "live Tweet" our Capitol Hill experience; that is, NWP folks were encouraging us to fire up our Twitter accounts and to send Tweets to a specified hashtag. One of the results, they said, of doing this is that we would be able to see, were we to follow the hashtag, who was winning support and who was meeting a challenge throughout the days of lobbying. As the only representative there from the RIWP, I felt somewhat responsible for updating folks on my progress. I was also intrigued by live tweeting. So, at that moment, spurred on by the NWP, I opened up my iPhone and signed up for a Twitter account.

From that moment forward, my handle's been @cookout70

I now have 125 followers, have sent over 800 tweets, and I am following over 400 individuals and organizations that are in some way connected to me as a teacher and a professional. In the past 4 months, I have cultivated a digital PLN, a personal learning network, that is tailored to my interests, my stance, my professional beliefs, and my eclectic tastes. I have gained so much, in just this short time, from this tremendous network of thinkers and do-ers.

Here are five tangible benefits I've experienced since joining Twitter:

  1. I now have colleagues across the globe, folks who are preparing teachers, teaching in colleges and universities and fighting corporate privatization of public schools and spaces.
  2. As a result of cultivating international colleagues, I'm heading to the UK in November for a week. I will be spending time with professors at the University of Lincoln to study and better understand their "Student as Producer" model of teaching and learning. This, in turn, has opened up a whole new avenue for my interest in teaching writing by engaging my students in authentic, original research.
  3. I now have readers visiting my blog. Folks don't comment much, but I can see that they are reading! And, that feels good. Like I am making a very small footprint.
  4. I am able to easily stay connected to my NWP network, especially by following @writingproject and @NWPSiteLeaders.
  5. My Personal Learning Network gives me hope because I've chosen to follow hopeful people. And, that's a small way I can positively impact my psyche and self-worth in a time when I am made to feel ashamed about being an advocate for public school teachers.

As a teacher educator, first-year writing instructor, and director of the RIWP, I'm so happy to be able to use Twitter to connect the three streams of my professional life in one place. The most important piece of advice I can give you about becoming a digitally networked teacher leader is this: If I can do it, you can do it.

Here are some resources to get you started!

What are some good teacher-related discussions to join?

  • #edchat
  • #engchat
  • #edchatri
  • #edblogs
  • #yalitchat
  • #teachchat
  • #ISI2012
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