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A Teacher Consultant's Personal Twitter Story

Written by Sara Allen
January 27, 2011

Sara (@saraallen91) is a 2010 Summer Institute Fellow. She began tweeting during the summer, and I observed her tweeting often and making connections with Teacher-consultants around the country. In July 2010, I asked her to write about her experiences with Twitter. In December 2010, I asked her to revisit what she wrote and add to it. Below is Sara’s story of her professional use of Twitter which began during the Summer Institute.

December 2010

Keri,

I almost forgot I’d written that, but I’d be glad to add to it. This semester of teaching has really been a time of growth for me in many ways. It’s almost embarrassing reading what I wrote about Twitter in July because I was extremely open,completely unconcerned about how what I wrote might be perceived by others. I’m kind of more aware of perceptions now, so forgive me if I seem a bit more vigilant this time around. Also, I’ve commented on some of what I wrote in July—it’s in a different colored font to help you easily identify it.

1/1/2011 @ 9:45

How Twitter has helped me develop professionally:

I think differently about teaching because of Twitter, and I feel constantly challenged to learn more in order to help my students learn more. It’s a bit different than the reading I’ve done with books or random educational articles I’d peruse because I only click on links of tweets I think might be useful or sound fascinating to me. I feel like the wise educators on Twitter help me weed through all the other educational topics I might want to read. Through reading the tweets of other teachers, I can basically know off-hand if what I’m about to click on is remotely relevant in my life at that moment.

At a time in my teaching career when I was under the most scrutiny and stress than I’ve ever experienced before in my life, the resources I found through Twitter helped me stay “educationally sane.” (If that even makes sense at all.) It’s kind of difficult to explain, but I felt encouraged reading other teachers’ blogs—especially when they were about controversial topics or topics that had never crossed my mind. For example, through a teacher’s tweet, I read an article about how education should be about learning not about “teaching.” As crazy as it may sound, this article pretty much changed my teaching lens. After reading it and thinking about it, I would constantly analyze what I was doing throughout the school day, classifying everything as “teacher facilitating, “students actively engaged” or “teacher talking, students passively engaged.” While I loved the way I was thinking differently, I felt tremendous pressure to alter everything I did to fit this way of educating students –at a time when I was arready tremendously stressed with non-classroom related issues.

Anyway, the week before my formal teacher evaluation, when I was preparing, I read your blog entry about your evaluation, and I re-read the other article I just mentioned; combined, it gave me the courage to take the risk and have my evaluation be completely and totally student-focused with me as the facilitator. Everything I had ever thought about “being evaluated” was shot out the window because of your blog, the article, and many other educators’ tweets I had “favorite” during the semester. This huge risk, me not being the center of my own evaluation, worried my husband and my former STEP-UP coach (a former teacher who guides beginning teachers) because of everything I had gone through with the administration. Honestly, I was only slightly concerned; the majority of me felt like even if I did get poorly evaluated because of a lack of “teacher talk” that I wouldn’t care because I would know I was doing what was best for the students. In fact, that’s something I’ve carried with me that Thomas Maerke once shared with me and has helped me remained strong as a teacher when I’ve felt crushed or belittled: whatever I do is for the best interest of the students and their learning.

How Twitter has affected my work with the Ozarks Writing Project and National Writing Project:

Although, I have shamefully failed miserably with being involved in the Teacher Inquiry Institute through OWP due to changing my question so many times, lack of organization/time, and countless other reasons, I have Twitter to thank for helping me discover www.bitstripsforschool.com.  At the Inquiry meeting in November, I completely changed my question to revolve around how this comic-based site could impact my students’ writing. I immediately signed up to pay the monthly fee and signed up for every possible computer lab time slot available. I’ve had my students write “All About Me” comics, “What I’m Thankful For” comics, “Idiom” comics—all while following loose rubrics I created throughRubistar, another resource I discovered through Twitter. Part of why I became so interested in BitStrips is because of the first Saturday Seminar I attended the previous December (before the OWP SI) in which an OWP teacher consultant shared her success with 5th/6th graders and graphic novels. I remember immediately tweaking her main idea we learned that day and trying it with my students, and it worked so fabulously that they begged to do it again this year (I taught my class last year in 4th grade too).

I’m not exactly sure how Twitter has affected my work with the NWP, but I do know it has helped me connect with other teachers involved with the NWP. I am now so much more aware of how many teachers are passionately involved, but I still have a difficult time wrapping my mind around the larger picture of the whole organization. Through Twitter, I have been able to maintain contact through NWP teachers who tweet often, and I can learn from their expertise in the classroom through the links and resources they share through their tweets. It is also because of Twitter that I know what’s going on with the NWP—particularly with the recent funding issue. I was able to trace tweets back to different users to find the Missouri senators’ contact information quickly, so I could do my small part to help.