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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Professional Development with the Experts Through Twitter

By Peter DeWitt — November 25, 2011 5 min read
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Great teachers know that they don’t have to know it all. They just have to know their resources.

Many times when we’re struggling with the issue of meeting the needs of our students or those of our teachers, we search for great websites. Websites from experts can help inspire us to make the necessary changes in our classrooms or schools. However, many times they may require a membership or fee, which can limit the amount of help they provide.

Through our searches we may find free sites. After negotiating our way through the sites we find resources to use with the population we’re trying to help. Other times we are not as fortunate and end up wasting our time and come up empty handed. This can be a frustration for our colleagues who do not find the internet very user friendly, which prevents them from wanting to go on-line to search for resources.

When the internet is not user-friendly to the teachers, they are less likely to want to use it with their students. It’s easier to open a textbook at work from that. Unfortunately, when this happens everyone in the classroom loses out because students find technology very engaging. They should not have to sit through numerous schools days without the opportunity to use it.

Conversation with Our Colleagues from Afar
These days, it doesn’t matter whether we are educators in a suburban, rural or urban setting; we are seeing students with diverse needs. Many students are not exposed to real-life experiences at home because their families lack the means necessary to pay for these experiences. Their parents work several jobs, and the opportunities for true learning experiences are minimal. Other times we have students who cannot read or are homeless, which makes school a constant struggle.

On days when I am trying to figure out how to help my students, whether they’re in elementary school or the graduate course I teach, I turn to the experts. I’m not referring to the people who we see at conferences where we pay a conference fee to be inspired for an hour. I am referring to our colleagues who are only a password away on Twitter.

If you can set aside an hour or so (be careful because time flies on Twitter), go to Twitter and you will be met by colleagues from all over the world who are not only willing to help you find great resources, they will set you up with groups who can expand your content knowledge. These interactive chat sessions can be very beneficial to us as practioners.

Always keep in mind that these experts are often providing their opinion, and sometimes are not research based. If you are a proponent of research-based practices, you will have to use your own media literacy to make sure that they are offering practices that are up to your standard. However, they can provoke you to think outside the box, which will lead you to better research based practices.

One of our biggest issues these days is trying to understand how to embed technology into our classrooms so that our students are engaged. They need to be given the opportunity to explore their own learning, and teachers can help them a great deal by teaching them media literacy.

When I want to learn more about social and emotional learning, technology or media literacy in the classroom I read blogs and posts by Sean Slade, Lyn Hiltand Shawn Blankenship. Or I join the #elemchat session on Saturdays at 5 p.m. eastern time and talk with Judy Brunner. In the 21st century, technology should not be something extra on your plate, it should be the plate.

However, not all educators and students are fortunate enough to have technology in the classroom. Bruce Lesley, Diane Ravitch and Larry Ferlazzo(the latter two blog for Education Week), all of whom understand how poverty can negatively affect a student’s academic progress, offer insights on how we need to stand up for these students. These chat sessions help us get a better understanding of the issue of poverty which inspires us to stand up for more equity for these students who do not seem to have it at home or school.

Regardless of whether we have the benefit of technology or not, our students need to be at the center of their own learning, and sometimes I struggle with this issue. I often hear about the “Sage on the Stage” and the Guide on the Side.” As an educator, I want to make sure that I am doing it correctly. Conversations with peers, whether they are in our building standing next to us, or a password away on the social network, help us make sure we are on the right track. By going to a social network like Twitter we are surrounded by people who are experts in the area of student-centered learning and they are a helpful resource as we negotiate our way through this process.

Great teaching isn’t about knowing it all. Great teaching is about knowing how to help our students find the resources they need so they can dive deep into their own learning. Many people feel that public schools do not do that enough, and as much as it pains me to admit it, I agree with them. We need to listen to people who will force us to look at the other side and try to find some common ground.

Education is a work in progress. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have the technological tools at our finger tips that can help keep our students engaged, we should work hard to make sure we are using them. Too many of our colleagues in poorer schools do not have the luxury of 21st century resources.

One person who inspires me is Todd Whitaker. Todd often says, “The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.” Every day we have the opportunity to have educational conversations that can change the lives of our students, and we do always need technology for that, because those conversations are the ones we have with our students. Those teachable moments can inspire them...and us.

However, when we need help or inspiration we can turn to our colleagues, and the greatest thing about being an educator is that those colleagues do not even have to be people we know. They can be people within our profession that we have never met. Educators are great that way. They want to help their students as well as their colleagues. Perhaps that is why I find Twitter to be so helpful. It is a place to connect with the very people who share our same passion for learning.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.