Monday, September 23, 2013

My PLN Saved My Career


Teaching has always been something I’ve wanted to do since I was 8 years old.  I always knew I was going to be a teacher when I grew up.  I started teaching about 7 years ago.  I came in wide-eyed, full of ideas, and overflowing with positivity that I was going to change every kid’s life!

What happened soon after is something a little different.  I was able to do some of my more “boundary-pushing” ideas.  I was able to convince an author to donate 80 copies of her book.  I was able to convince my principal to allow me to take 70 students to Austin, Texas on a Saturday field trip.  I was able to do some really incredible things with my students.  But none of my ideas came without some fights.  We all deal with that.  We all have those people who don’t believe in what we’re trying to do.  

And as the years went by, I became jaded.  I started asking myself, “if all I’m going to deal with is pushback, why keep trying?”.  At the same time I was also becoming what I called a “test-teacher”.  I had my students scoring incredibly high on our state standardized exams.  But how were they able to score so high?  All I started doing was giving worksheets and teaching test formatted questions, because I felt like “my job depended on it”.  And I began to think, this isn’t why I got into teaching!  I never wanted to hand out only worksheets, to constantly fight to try innovative ideas.  And I began to doubt that I wanted to remain a teacher.  At the end of my fifth year of teaching, I was ready to leave the profession and find a different career.

Then my Assistant Superintendent at the time, Troy Mooney, came to me with an idea.  He saw my frustrations, but he also saw my passion.  He encouraged me to start sharing my ideas and connecting with people outside of my district.  He encouraged me to use Twitter.  

Now before I go further, let me make sure to say, at this time I hated Twitter!  I already had Facebook and I didn’t see the point in Twitter.  But Troy taught me how to use it for professional collaboration and learning, and it changed everything.

I must say though, I work with some amazingly incredible teachers at my campus and in my district!  They are awesome!  But regardless of how amazing they are, it’s still a limited pool of ideas.  When I learned how to become a connected educator, my world exploded.  I now connect with teachers, principals, superintendents, technology directors, company founders, and so much more!  And what’s even cooler is I connect with people from all over the world!

To say joining Twitter was career changing, is an understatement.  It reinvigorated me.  It re-lit my fire and passion.  And it connected me with innovative, creative, out-of-the box thinkers.  People who were fighting the same battles I was.  People who reminded me constantly of why I do my job, but at the same time also provided me with encouragement and ideas to keep fighting the good fight.

The best way I can think to really show the power of Twitter, and the power of a PLN (Personal Learning Network) is to show the ways that some of my connections, and who I now genuinely call friends, changed my career.


Matt Gomez (@MattBGomez) - Matt Gomez was one of the first people I started following on Twitter.  He’s a kindergarten teacher in Texas.  From Matt is where I learned about EdCamps, and more specifically EdCampDallas.  EdCamps lit a whole new fire in me.  They were a completely different way to learn and connect with teachers face to face.  But more than EdCamps, Matt taught me that I am capable of anything.  Of even the craziest ideas.  He taught me that excuses aren’t ok.  In his Kindergarten class he does some of the most jaw-droppingly awesome things.  His students TWEET!  The interact with classes from all over the world.  They meet weathermen, and museum curators, and so much more.  Matt reminded me that I am capable of incredible things and that I should never count myself out.


Jon Samuleson (@iPadSammy) - Jon Samuleson hasn’t only been a teacher, and tech guy, but he also runs his own Podcast (Techlandia).  Jon is one of the most innovative and humorous people on twitter.  Jon taught me that I can try crazy ideas, and I can push boundaries, and that it’s ok!  That that’s what we’re supposed to be doing as teachers.  Jon is also the person who inspired me to start my own podcast series with two of my friends..


Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) - Jimmy Casas is a principal out of Iowa.  Jimmy was one of the first administrators I really started connecting with on Twitter.  At ISTE this past year in San Antonio I was finally able to meet Jimmy.  He may be a force to be reckoned with on Twitter, but Jimmy is even more personable and inspiring in person.  Jimmy taught me that I do have a voice.  Jimmy has consistently reminded me that it doesn’t matter where we come from or what our job title in education is, every one of us has something of value to share with others!  Jimmy has also been a constant source of encouragement and strength.  To say that I look up to Jimmy is quite the understatement.



Erin Klein (@KleinErin) - Erin Klein is a teacher in Michigan.  But she does so much more than that.  Erin’s twitter feed is a constant flow of encouraging tweets and extremely innovative ideas.  When I started Twitter, like many people, I didn’t “speak” to some of the “bigger names” on twitter.  I didn’t feel worthy.  Erin mentioned me in a tweet one day, and all I could think was, “how does what I say matter?”.  Then at ISTE, like with Jimmy, I was able to meet Erin face to face.  I can’t express enough how much of a kind hearted person Erin is and how genuine.  I have formed an amazing friendship with Erin and I love following her on Twitter and her blog to continually get innovative ideas for my classroom.  She challenges my thinking and continually makes me want to be better.  She also reminds me constantly how important our students are and to never lose our focus on the fact they they are why we’re in education.



 

Wendy Sanders (@kenya75), Jake Duncan (@duncanbilinugal), Martha Lackey (@lackeymartha) and Andrea Keller (@akbusybee) - These four educators are all Texans.  They’re some of the first people I connected with not just on twitter but in my personal life as well.  We all met on Twitter, but after attending TCEA (our state tech conference) and several EdCamps, we’ve all become incredible close.  We talk almost everyday and these people are my constant source of not only encouragement but they also challenge me.  They build me up.  We’ve formed a little group who is constantly pushing each other but also reminding each other that we are doing amazing things with kids.  Without these four in my life, I would not be teacher I am today.



Stacey Huffine (@TechNinjaStacey) & Chris Kesler (@iamkesler) - I can’t write this post without mentioning these two guys.  We started the twitter journey in our district.  Stacey and Chris inspire me all the time.  Stacey is the most kind hearted and tenacious person I know.  She works so hard and gets so little recognition for all the work that she does.  Chris is an amazing guy to watch in action.  From knowing him on a personal level I can only imagine how amazing his class must be.  Between The 3 Tech Ninjas, EduAllStars, Genius Hour, and more, these two people are two people that make my PLN complete, and I’m so thankful to have them in my life.


Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers) - Angela Maiers is someone I was just able to truly connect with in the past few months.  I have followed Angela and her #youmatter movement for a while.  Through randomly reaching out on Twitter, I was able to convince Angela to come on my EduAllStars podcast.  And from there everything changed.  Angela is someone I talk to several times a week.  Angela is the one who first ever told me to “own my genius”.  To not back down when I do incredible things.  To own those ideas and share them.  Angela has encouraged me to push my own ideas and to change lives.  Not to teach better, but to reach those kids hearts far more.  To remind every kid, and every adult, that I come in contact with that they matter.  Every one of us has something incredible to offer the world.  So don’t hide, don’t keep quite, stand up, speak out, and own your genius.



Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) - Dave Burgess is a teacher and author of “Teach Like A Pirate”.  I first heard about Dave when I heard about his book.  I read his book and it blew my mind.  Then when I was able to travel to California, Dave randomly tweeted me and asked me to meet up!  I can’t explain how much I was freaking out.  My wife and I met up with Dave for lunch and I was again reminded of the power of being a connected educator.  Since then Dave and I have met up again, and we communicate often!  Dave taught me the power of a great lesson.  His question of “If a student had to pay a $1 to go to your class, would they?” is something I think about daily.  I want to be that teacher that kids are running to come to his class every day.  That teacher who brings something new and innovative into my student’s lives.  







Drew Minock (@TechMinock) - Drew Minock is someone that I just came in contact with in June of this year.  Drew and I met at ISTE, hit off, and have become really good friends.  Drew is someone I now consider one of my best friends.  Drew challenges my thinking on a daily basis.  He is creative, innovative, and inspiring.  The things Drew is doing with his 4th grade students are mind blowing.  Drew is also the same age as me, and what I love about him is that he challenges me.  He always asks me, “Why can’t you do that?”.  His joy of teaching and learning has reignited my fire of teaching and learning as well.  Without Drew as part of my support system and someone I can go to to celebrate and vent, I don’t know what I would do. Drew is also someone that I get to celebrate the great things that each of us are accomplishing, and at times even get to collaborate together. Drew is incredible and a integral part of the #shortmanclub :)


Steve Mesler (@SteveMesler) and Jack Andraka (@JackAndraka) - Olympic Gold Medalist & Classroom Champions Co-Founder Steve Mesler, as well as ISEF 2012 Winner Jack Andraka, are two people I would never have come in contact with had it not been for twitter!  I now consider both of these guys friends of mine.  Through twitter my classes have had the opportunity to learn from Jack and Steve as well as this school year, I was selected as a Classroom Champions teacher!  Meaning my class gets to learn from an Olympic Athlete who will be competing in the Olympic Games!  I have learned so much from the tenacity, honesty, and kindness of these two guys who have taken time out of their busy lives to speak with me on a regular basis. Neither of them will every truly understand the impact they've had on me personally and even more so professionally.


Brad Waid (@TechBradWaid) - Brad Waid.  Where do I even begin with Brad?  Like Drew, I met Brad for the first time at ISTE back in June.  Brad and Drew both work together in Michigan and actually have their own Two Guys podcast and website.  Brad is a fireball.  He is FULL of energy.  I have never met anyone with the amount of energy Brad has.  Brad also reminds me a lot of myself with his tenacity and passion.  I have never before connected with someone as quickly as I did with Brad.  Since ISTE, Brad and I have become great friends.  I consider Brad not only my best friend, but also like a brother to me (even if he is a little older than me haha).  When I need to vent, when I need to celebrate, when I am stressed out, when I have no one else to talk to, Brad has always been there.  I have never met anyone as genuine, personable, or insanely inspiring as Brad.  He inspires me every day to step outside of my box of comfortableness.  Brad also is my constant source of encouragement.  Brad has celebrated every accomplishment of mine and I’ve celebrated his!  We share the amazing things we’re doing and it never feels like bragging or anything.  We have traded the craziest texts back and forth, created crazy new hashtags, and more.  Brad is someone that I know will be in my life for many years to come and someone I am thankful every day to have as part of my life professionally and personally.

There are so many more people that I’ve met and connected with online that I could go on for hours and still not hit everyone.  People like Amber Teamann (@8Amber8), Adam Bellow (@AdamBellow), AJ Juliani (@ajjuliani), Daisy Dyer Duerr (@DaisyDyerDuerr), Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Amanda Dykes (@amandaCdykes), Amy Pratt (@apratt5), Mindi Vandagriff (@mindivandagriff), Evan Scherr (@Scherrology), Shelly Terrell (@Shellterrell), Jeffrey Alstadt (@jalstadt), Brad Gustafson (@GustafsonBrad) Sydney Musslewhite (@smussle), Scott Floyd (@woscholar), Jeremy Macdonald (@MrMacnology), Chris Beyerle (@cbeyerle), Craig Yen (@craigyen), Hal Roberts (@HalLroberts), Shannon Miller (@shannonmiller), Krissy Venosdale (@venspired) Carrie Jackson (@jackson_carrie) and so many more.

I can’t truly list everyone here or I would be listing for hours.  But I can say, with all honesty, that becoming a connected educator changed everything.  I can say for sure that my PLN saved my career.  Because without them around me every day, encouraging, uplifting, challenging, and inspiring me I would not be the kind of teacher I am today, much less even in education anymore.  So today, right before connected educator month starts (October), I say to all the members of my PLN, those listed and those not, Thank you.  Thank you for everything. You will never truly understand how you've changed me forever.