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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

Will You Dive Into the Twitter PLN Challenge?

By Peter DeWitt — December 27, 2013 6 min read
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If you read this, at least you’ll know I have a sense of humor....

For the past 2 ½ years I have been a huge fan of social networking. I can’t believe it’s been over two years, but I wrote about why I thought, and still think, that educators should join Twitter. Twitter offers some great resources that could ultimately be the best professional development educators have experienced in quite some time. The social networking giant is an important venue for our educational conversations, but it’s the people who are on Twitter that make it so great.

There are some byproducts of being connected on Twitter, and to keep this positive, I’m not going to focus on the negative aspects (i.e. bullying, ranting anonymous Tweeters, etc.). It’s not that I want to ignore them, because I have written about them before, but I do want to avoid them for this particular blog. Besides, negative people were negative long before Twitter and Facebook.

One of the byproducts from Twitter are the number of Edcamps that are taking place around North America, and they are growing into an international network. A small group of us are organizing one for upstate New York for the fall of 2014, and we certainly couldn’t do it without the help of our friends at Edcamp New Jersey, Tom Whitby, and the educators involved with the Edcamp Foundation (thanks Kristen Swanson!).

Edcamps bring together teachers, parents, school leaders and students (depending on the Edcamp). Why Twitter has been important to these events that are considered an unconference, along with larger regional, state and national conferences, is that although educators may be meeting face-to-face for the first time, they may have been interacting through Twitter for years. It’s like on-line dating without all the awkwardness, and most people don’t go home with one another....but I’m not judging if they do.

The PLN Challenge

So, a few weeks ago I was challenged by my friend, and fellow educator in my Professional Learning Network (PLN), Tony Sinanis. The challenge was to answer a number of questions about myself and post them to my blog. I deflected the challenge. I flat out turned Tony down! I told Tony that Education Week probably wouldn’t appreciate the silly challenge.

...and then I began to change my mind.

I will admit that a few of my friends in my PLN who I am organizing the edcamp with were less than accepting. They e-mailed me numerous times. They challenged my outright through Twitter....right there out in the open for everyone to read...they applied positive peer pressure.

So, here I am changing my mind out in the open...

Truth be told, I don’t think it’s a silly challenge, so if you do...please stop reading now. These friendships that I have created on Twitter are with educators I learn from, and look forward to seeing at conferences. We have met for a cup of coffee, texted and talked on the phone. They have challenged my thinking and supported my voice. They may be my in PLN, but more importantly, they have become friends. Perhaps it’s the holiday season (let’s chalk it up to that!) but I want them to know that they, along with those of you who comment on my blog, have made me think, and rethink. You’ve made me reflect on my practices, and to a larger extent, have helped me consistently reflect on public education as a whole.

So...like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind (only Lisa Meade would remember that movie), I’m making a grand entrance.

HERE ARE THE RULES OF THE CHALLENGE:
Acknowledge the nominating blogger. (Tony Sinanis)
Share 11 random facts about yourself.
Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition and a little blogging love!
Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

The last two I will not be doing. A precedent has been set by Tim Dawkins, an assistant principal at Queensbury High School, which also happens to be my alma mater. Tim crossed off the last two on his blog, so I’m doing the same. However, I will end with a question for anyone who takes the time to read this blog.

11 Random Facts:


  • I worked as a bank robber in Ghost Town at the Great Escape (used to be called Story Town) in Lake George, NY when I was 16.
  • I had a mohawk when I was 18 because I was a competitive x-country skier. Yes, we wore hats so that did not make sense. Did I say I was 18? Yes, there is one picture...
  • I played the electric guitar, usually to the music of KISS, when I was 16.
  • I broke my electric guitar by spinning it around me...like the musicians did in random hairbands in the 80’s. Their guitars typically didn’t fall to the ground...
  • I was retained in 4th grade, struggled throughout my formal school experience, and graduated 4th from last in my senior class.
  • My dad died when I was eleven after a 3 year battle with Cancer. As the youngest of five I spent the least amount of time with him, but have been told that I am a lot like him. I’m proud of that.
  • There is a strong misperception that I hate assessment. It’s not true. I value authentic assessment, and believe it’s important for student learning.
  • The perception is correct that I do not like high stakes testing, and I strongly believe it needs to be revamped. In NY, where I reside, students are forced to take tests for hours that are tied to teacher/administrator evaluations, and schools do not receive an item analysis. That will go down, in my career, as one of the dumbest, and most harmful, things I’ve ever experienced.
  • I have been with my partner for 12 years, and it has been awesome.
  • I strongly believe that all students, regardless of religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation deserve to be treated fairly and respectfully in every single school setting. They should not be told to change who they are. Thanks Jack.
  • As much as I put myself out there when I write, challenges like this are difficult for me because I am pretty introverted.

The 11 Questions I am forced to answer:


  1. What is your favorite TV show? House Hunters International
  2. What is one app or resource you’ve learned about on Twitter that has been a game changer for you at work? Touchcast on my iPad. Everyone should use it.
  3. In one sentence, share your vision for your school or district. To maximize the potential of every single student, teacher and school leader. I’m on a leave of absence and miss my school community.
  4. What does being a connected educator mean to you? It has opened up a whole new world for me, and helped challenge my perspective.
  5. What was the most amazing lesson you ever facilitated or observed? There isn’t one. However, I led a 16 week inservice in my school district when I first began as a principal. Every time we met teachers had to share a best practice and I was in awe of the people in the room.
  6. What is one thing about your school or work place that you are most proud of? My teachers, staff, students and families. Poestenkill Elementary School changed my life.
  7. How has your PLN impacted you? Didn’t I say they challenged me? Tony asks the same questions in different ways!
  8. What motivates you each day to be an educator? Students, especially ones like Jack.
  9. What is your favorite device or gadget? My laptop. We have spent quality time together in the writing process.
  10. In one sentence explain to a “disconnected” educator why they should consider getting connected! Given the right circumstance, and with the right effort, it can change the way you think.
  11. What makes you happy? Being done with this challenge....or...my family.

Thanks for reading. I hope you all have an awesome New Year, and I appreciate your comments...mostly the positive ones. If you read this at least you’ll know I have a sense of humor. My question to all of you is...

What inspired you this year?

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

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.


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