Don’t Let Your Milestones Become Millstones

It is important to mark the achievements and moments in our life that have had a significant impact, but we have to be careful not to hang our hats on our merits without allowing for movement to other significant possibilities in our future. 

I have found myself to be guilty of this on different levels, sometimes reminiscing through extensively listed details when revising my résumé to find those areas in which I have demonstrated some competency or unique experience that I feel will help to set me apart from a crowd as a capable and interesting individual. Other times, I recollect personal experiences that I feel have helped to shape me as a person who continually strives to pursue diverse endeavors in search of excellence and development of character. I even find myself trying to vicariously live through some of the exceptional achievements of my children as if I somehow have some claim to their accomplishments as my own. 

What I have found in all of these and other informal milestone surveys is something that I must refuse to accept with any permanency, which is the idea that I am somehow fixed by these relatively brief experiences. I can sometimes allow the milestones to define me and, in essence, become millstones that prevent me from taking courageous risks to accomplish more. 

My challenge to others and to myself is to not expect milestones to mark the entirety of a path but to reveal only pieces of the greater puzzle which may extend in a variety of patterns and paths to places not yet entirely known. If we are too content to look only at the milestones, as amazing and wondrous as they may appear for ourselves and others, we may very well become burdened by the millstones of upholding a steady but unaspiring reputation that fits the previous predictable path but limits us from moving to unrealized potential. Such millstones may also overwhelm us as we try to explore new adventures.

What are the implications for educators and education leaders? We can’t allow our successes or mistakes to set up our identities, nor can we allow our colleagues and students to fall into this trap. Carol Dweck’s growth mindset digs deeply into the importance of not allowing our past failures and misgivings to contribute to a sense of meager means to accomplish present and future tasks. They can inform them, but ultimately, meaning is derived from far more than milestones, and some millstones can be set free if we don’t allow them to solidify as markers of a fixed fate.  

Innovating Without Enervating

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“Innovation” is a buzzword in education right now that gets tagged to a lot of practices that aren’t necessarily innovative but more of what education technology guru Adam Bellow calls “iterative.” They’re not entirely new and unique practices but instead mirror what has been successful in other places and are modified to address needs or situations specific to those engaged in them. Iterative practices are not to be interpreted negatively in all cases; in fact, we typically like to employ research-based practices which demonstrate success, thereby implying that they are indeed iterative with good reason.

“Innovation” has no clear attributes and can often have a crazy or unusual appearance to those not authoring such ideas and practices. Some forms of innovation are absurd and reveal products as absurd as their conception. Nonetheless, in a world in which change is inevitable, it is important to have members of a group who are willing to be avant-garde such that they are purposeful in doing so. In my realm of influence, I look for these in schools and hope to be innovative in my ideas and practices, such that others will take risks and emulate willingness to try new ideas and strategies that may produce more desirable results.

One of the greatest challenges to the innovators is that they too can become enervators. To provide some clarity, look at the definitions of these words in juxtaposition:

Innovate: “to introduce as or as if new”

(“”Innovate.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.)

Enervate: “to reduce the mental or moral vigor of” or “to lessen the vitality or strength of”

(“Enervate.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.)

The energy and passion with which I pursue innovative ideas can be somewhat intimidating to those whose paradigm will not allow for such brazen cliff-jumping, and so I must temper my excitement with some of these ideas in which I now try to couch innovation for myself and others. For those whose default is not to innovate, it can be overwhelming to be in the presence of innovators without support. Even for innovators, it can be enervating to innovate alone. For this reason, I propose these simple strategies for encouraging innovation in a school.

 

New Year's resolution leads to 791st Dark Horse Defender victorygreen_bay_packers_cheerleader_4

More Champions than Cheerleaders

This is not at all intended to denigrate the role of cheerleaders in the metaphorical sense or the literal sense that these individuals support others. Cheerleaders are sometimes essential to motivate and exhilarate those for whom they are cheering. We all appreciate the cheerleaders for their very vocal, present, and energetic approach to giving encouragement; however, cheerleaders alone are not typically sufficient to sustain innovative efforts.

Champions are not simply the victors, as many tend to think of them. A very important definition of champion uses the term to indicate a role of an advocate or defender.  Innovators need to know that someone is fighting or advocating for their innovative attempts while they launch into innovative battles. Most innovators are more likely to encounter far more conflict, difficulty, and naysaying than their complacent counterparts.

For example, an innovative educator is likely to face ridicule by colleagues who are far less interested in changing and improving their practices. Others face difficulty in their implementation of innovative practices because they lack confidence or a sense of how to follow through with their initial plans and ideas. We must champion these individuals to persevere and reflect on their innovative attempts. We must be willing to defend their choices to be innovative even in the face of conflict.

 

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Resources beyond Reservations

What hinder some innovators are the reservations they impose upon themselves based on the inaccessibility of resources, either material or human. To alleviate this hurdle, we can provide space, materials, and connection to willing co-partnerships to promote and sustain the innovative projects and ideas. We can’t allow a lack of anything to hinder purposeful innovators, and we should seek to develop them and their confidence by demonstrating our commitment to their efforts in this way. An unfed innovator is likely to find his or her own food or may sink to complacency. Just as a fire will die if resources and fuel run out, a teacher’s innovative fire may die without resources.

Seldom do I simply shut down an idea due to a lack of funds; I generally try to ascertain more information about the need for the funds and suggest that they may not come and the timeline for procuring them may not be short, but I am willing to fight for funding if I see that the purpose is to improve conditions of learning for students and the passion for doing so is authentic. Most innovators seek ways to work around funding restraints and seek other funding possibilities, but they need to feel that they have license to do so, and many need to be encouraged in this.

 

time-management

Time to Try

Another common hindrance to innovation is a lack of time to innovate. Different institutions have ways to provide time for innovators. Most innovators seem to find the time outside of the school day because of their passion for innovating; however, educators also need to be given opportunity to innovate with colleagues and students without fearing repercussions for not accomplishing some other objective. Though after-school programs for students and professional learning with other adults may be one way to accomplish this, teachers with innovative ideas should be given some freedom within the regular daily schedule to innovate, such that the focus and purpose of the innovation is consistent with goals for the students and school. Many times, an innovative practice will result in more productive use of time even if it is initially an interruptor in the daily schedule.

 

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Freedom to Fail (with intent to reflect and refine)

Innovators need to know that if they fail, they won’t be punished for their efforts. Failure can not be a destination which allows an educator to settle, but a place for reflection and refinement which leads to improved practice. Repetitive failure without reflection is a sign of an absence of purpose and a reliance on improvisational methodologies. Failure that leads to complacency or despondency is not to be encouraged since it does not promote positive development, nor does it lead to more innovation. The potential for failure must not inhibit an educator’s interest in innovating further, but failure must be a point for a type of reconstructive surgery, and this may or may not always include additional innovation.

Sometimes innovation followed by undesired results in one area reveals that better-known and more trusted practices are more effective, but such a “setback” should not serve as a definitive reason to preclude future attempts at innovation.

 

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Owning without Groaning

Teachers who innovate need to know that they can take ownership of their ideas and practices and share them with others, but when they begin to feel discouraged by others not “buying in” or receptively adopting their ideas, they should be reminded that innovation can not be forced and they must be willing to accept that their innovations, though well-suited to them, may not be appropriate for others at that time.

 

post-it-notes

I am a firm advocate of innovation, such that it serves the purpose of growing opportunities and success for the educators and students of my school; nonetheless, even the best intentions can unwittingly result in enervation if certain supports are not in place. As I continue to walk with interest in innovating and innovators, I know that innovation doesn’t fit every circumstance and situation, and sometimes the tried and true methods are used so often because they effectively serve the intended purpose. Nonetheless, invention and innovation that seek to solve problems and encounter issues from new perspectives for the sake of developing our students into more introspective and creative learners are always welcome at my school.

Seeking to Be a Pulse to Tone Converter

I remember as a child picking up the receiver and dialing a number on a rotary telephone  and the odd excitement that it brought when I called a number with multiple eights, nines, or even zeroes. I would listen to the pulses, and though I still don’t know the specific series of pulses for each telephone number I dialed, I felt that this was some advanced form of Morse Code that allowed me to connect with the intended party. I also knew that if a single digit was mis-dialed, I would have to re-start the sequence of pulses and watch the transparent spinning circle make its way through each rotation again.

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Later, I remember the trimline phone that allowed for simple push-button dialing and (at least in the case of the telephones I had) allowed for the transition from pulse to tone dialing by the flip of a simple small switch.

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Again, I was not all that concerned with the significance of the  feature but found it fascinating to dial sometimes to hear tones representing the numbers and at other times listening to the familiar sound of pulses.

As I nostalgically reminisced about these phones, I began to think about the “pulse” surveys that I periodically send to my teachers to get some feedback about initiatives and programs in our school; I review the results with my assistant principal and share the feedback with our school leadership team. I realized that I make efforts to listen for the pulse, but I must (with the collective ideas and efforts of others) make these translate to setting a tone for the future.

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The pulse metaphorically presents a cause for reaction, whereas the tone is indicative of the action. Just as physicians interpret certain elements of our health by listening to our pulse, we must be careful to listen to the pulse of those whom we lead so that we might assess the health of the culture and systems therein. If we merely listen and produce no action, we will likely hear a dimming pulse.

I endeavor to listen even more carefully to the pulse this year, placing the metaphorical stethoscope on even more locations (beyond the somewhat impersonal survey format) in an effort to set a clearer tone indicative of support, love, and opportunity for all constituents of our school family: students, families, community friends, faculty, and staff. Though I anticipate it won’t be as simple to set an intended tone as pushing buttons, I hope not to mis-dial and instead generate a venue for communication that will continue to not only sustain the current pulse but to further enliven the pulse of our school. I am blessed with a team of fellow educators, staff, and families whom we serve who are fully capable of producing an even more remarkable tone, as evidenced by the great tone that we have already set together.

 

What #NOTATISTE16 Is Teaching Me

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#NOTATISTE16 gives many of us who are otherwise unable to travel to the ISTE Conference in Denver, Colorado an opportunity to live vicariously through the social media interactions with other like-minded educators at #ISTE2016 and a gorup of more than 1,000 other educators who also are not attending #ISTE2016 in person.

With the subculture that Jennifer Wagner (@jenwagner) has generated year after year with what has become a Google Community group and is accompanied by various challenges and mimicry of the actual events of ISTE, educators are compelled to collect learning experiences and to engage in a variety of entertaining and multifarious learning experiences. For the frugal with internet connections or the educators who simply love the competition to win prizes from the multitude of sponsors for the #NOTATISTE16 group, this is exciting and may even bridge the digital divide for those building a social media PLN.

So though I am learning about numerous great tools and resources for educational technology application and new philosophical approaches to education and learning, my learning has come to three major points in my participation in #NOTATISTE16 this year:

  1. Competition drives activity. I have known for quite some time that I enjoy competition, but I have realized while participating in the #NOTATISTE16 challenge that when I am focused on solving a problem or tackling a challenge I take it seriously and seek out the resources that I need to accomplish the task. This reminds me how incentives drive learners at all levels when they are meaningful and relevant and that challenges with feasible solutions and even sometimes creative or innovative possible solutions drive learners to success.
  2. Educators who share care. Seeing teachers draw from one another and freely share resources for the good of students everywhere in the realm of social media really impressed upon me more powerfully why I am an educator and why I intend to treat others with integrity and honesty without holding onto experiences simply for my own enjoyment. I am encouraged by the intentions of fellow educators to share not only their tools and resources, but also their trials and triumphs as they experience beautiful epiphanies and learning with their students and colleagues.
  3. I truly am a nerd, and love this about me. Every new device, program, and robot or gadget that I saw through the social media feeds with hashtags #ISTE2016 and #NOTATISTE16 excited me and generated a zeal for finding ways to experience it so that I might also carry that zeal to my students and teachers in my building. I do not anticipate ever losing this eager anticipation of the next valuable technology tool for learning and experiencing the world in a more exciting and engaging way.

So as I continue into my last day #NOTATISTE16, I hope to continue to build relationships virtually with other educators and to develop a greater repertoire for both the tools and resources and the passion that comes from some of the most well-known personalities in educational technology, as well as from the new innovators who are sharing their experiences so freely with others.

 

21 Twitter Follower Types and How to Address Them

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Though the Twitter “follower” types I present here can be extrapolated to a greater context than Twitter, especially within other social media venues, my use of Twitter has helped me to analyze the benefits and drawbacks of those who follow, mention, list, like, retweet, or reference you and your Twitter account and content in some other way.

For those who are just embarking upon Twitter, it may not occur to you to consider that who you follow, like, or retweet is only a small part of the larger context that Twitter presents for its users. Unless you “protect your tweets,” you and your account are subject to the positive and potentially negative aftermath. Even after protecting your tweets, certain activity can open your shared content to possible criticism or public distribution.

This goal of this blog post is not to intimidate users but to better reveal some of the possible underlying reasons that people or institutions follow one another. With each brief follower description, I present a possible means for identifying and addressing these particular followers. Remember that these are my independent means of profiling follower categories, not specific, well-known or widely accepted types.

Before presenting the types, however, I want to explain briefly how I came to make my informal analyses and make everyone aware that there are some specific, simple ways to manage followers the moment that you become aware that they are following you:

My analyses are based entirely in my own experience and do not reflect the views of others. Having been using Twitter since 2009, I feel independently qualified to respond with descriptions based on my experience without further research; ratings are based on my interpretation of benefits and possible drawbacks of people following me as I have already encountered.

In addition, Twitter presents three different ways to deal with followers who you want to prevent from acting maliciously with respect to your account.

1. Block user: If you do not want a user to follow your account, you can block the user as soon as you become aware of the follower. Keep in mind that followers can track who has blocked them and possibly create other accounts if they are persistent in wanting to access or follow your account.

2. Mute user: You can prevent content from the user from appearing in your timelines and interactions by selecting this for your followers.

3. Report user: You may report users who you feel are in violation of Twitter’s policies by selecting this option.

Twitter has produced this video to briefly explain these three options:


Following are 21 types of Twitter followers to consider as you develop a new Twitter account or review those who currently follow you, as well as general respective levels of threat to your account (on a scale of 1 as beneficial and 5 as detrimental), and ways to identify the type and address it:

1. “Faux-lowers”

Rating: 4

“Faux-lowers” are fake accounts. This means that they do not actually represent the person or organization name used as the handle or identity, so they have a higher possible threat rating because it is difficult to determine whether they are maliciously or whimsically created to misrepresent the entity by which they are named. One can typically identify these by their profiles which have photographs or pictures that are not likely those which would be presented by the authentic individuals or organizations and by particular trends or randomness in the users they follow. The tweets, themselves, also might reveal some likelihood that they do not accurately represent the views of those named as their owners.

If the intent appears to be malicious with these accounts, use one of the previously listed responses in hopes of protecting your account.

2. “Foul-lowers”

Rating: 3-5

Some individuals use Twitter as a venue for expressing vulgar language and ideas or for transmission of inappropriate images. These, which I have dubbed “foul-lowers” may carry different levels of danger dependent on your ethical values in using Twitter; however, they are often professionally detrimental and can often put young and ethically conservative participants in less than desirable situations as they encounter them. Sadly, these users often pollute the Twittersphere for those interested in engaging in professional and educational discourse without the threat of what would typically be considered inappropriate, even by legal descriptions, for those under 18 years of age. They are easy to identify by their posted content.

Though I choose to block these users, they do not always carry a particularly malicious intent and may be unaware of the offense taken by some of their posts.

3. “Fool-lowers”

Rating: 2/3

These users are often rather benign but may post foolish and nonsensical tweets. The cat videos and memes that are rather amusing and carry little to no offensive content are among these users. Some present philosophical quips that are simply ridiculous. They do not necessarily add anything positive except perhaps a humorous or light approach to a topic, but they are very infrequently negative.

Typically these followers pose little threat to your account unless they intend to sabotage your tweets by replying with oddities or by misrepresenting your content, so there is typically no reason to react to their choice to follow you unless you are trying to maintain that only positive and beneficial accounts follow yours.

4. “Fill-lowers”

Rating: 1/2

These users are generally following you to fill a role on their following list. Sometimes it is not so much to even watch your tweeted content as it is to be connected to you or to publicly reveal their interest in what you might present online. Sometimes, in education, especially, these users are very positive and are looking for your account and content to present to others or to inform their own practice. Many times, they do not have a lot of their own original content and may use Twitter primarily to aggregate and organize resources and thoughts related to their interests.

A typical response to these followers might be to generically thank them for following and express an interest in continued collaboration, either in an auto-response or mention publicly.

5. “Fan-lowers”

Rating: 1/2

These followers either met you once or twice in some context and realized that they would be interested in what you had to tweet or discovered your Twitter content through someone and now find what you tweet interesting. These can be very beneficial in spreading or applying the content that you share, especially if you are one of the few whom they follow.

It is good to encourage these “fans” and try to identify the content that you have provided that contributes to learning and growing as a result of your interactions.

6. “Fellowers”

Rating: 1

These are the followers who have elected to follow you because of a fellow interest, as identified in your profile or tweet content. These are usually the most beneficial followers to have and typically result in the development of great relationships that may even manifest in face-to-face interactions and collaboration.

Follow these followers back, and express something sincerely based on their influence on you via Twitter or elsewhere. They will often help you to better connect with other like-minded resources.

7. “Phase-lowers”

Rating: 2/3

“Phase-lowers” are the followers who are in some particular phase of their interests or ideas on Twitter. They are not really beneficial, nor are they detrimental in any long-term sense. They are also not likely to be followers for a very long time. They are interested in something temporarily that is contained in your tweets, but they may shift their focus for their use of Twitter at any time.

It is difficult to identify a “phase-lower” until he or she has un-followed you and possibly re-followed you later. You may follow back or simply wait to see how the interaction unfolds.

8. “Trollowers”

Rating: 5

These are by far some of the most malicious and difficult types of followers. Also known elsewhere as “trolls” on the Internet, they seek to cause problems, often hinging their attacks on misunderstandings, logical fallacies, and manipulation of information to promote discord and confusion to distort the intent of users.

Their malicious purpose is usually very clear in their tweets, and they can be thwarted to some extent by muting and blocking, but if their discourse continues and violates Twitter policies, they should be reported. Often boycotts of these accounts and multiple reports can deter them from having a toxic impact, but these individuals are usually tech-savvy and will find other ways to subvert your efforts, so try to avoid engaging them, when possible.

9. “Fog-lowers”

Rating: 3

“Fog-lowers” have a very unclear intent with respect to their use of Twitter. It may never be clear why exactly they use Twitter. Because of this, they may or may not have an impact on your account.

There is little advantage to investing in these followers unless you eventually identify a reason for their decision to follow you. There is also no reason to necessarily block or mute these users.

10. “Friend-lowers”

Rating: 1-3

These are the followers who are friends in another context and may follow you, not because they have an interest in your Twitter content, but because they want to reinforce your friendship by showing an additional connection to you in the digital world. They can be quite beneficial if they share qualities of some of the other more engaged follower types, but they are not always set to grow or learn as a result of the online relationship as much as they are showing that they will be publicly recognized as those who are connected to you in some way.

Responses to these followers should reflect the same types of responses that are emblematic of your friendship in other contexts.

11. “Fami-lowers”

Rating: 2/3

Unless you have major family tensions, these, too, are not negative and generally support your other existing elements of your relationships, but they allow you to see what your family members are sharing on Twitter and may provide you with something else to say at the next family reunion.

Follow back if you want to preserve your place as a connected family member, but Twitter may or may not have any impact. Consider how your family members would respond to your following back or not; this should best guide your decisions regarding these accounts.

12. “Fear-lowers”

Rating: 2/3

These people usually follow you because they are afraid of repercussions for not following you or of missing out on something you tweeted. Though the motive may seem less than desirable, they are usually little to no threat and may actually turn into positive channels for collaboration once the fear subsides.

Try to reinforce positive interactions and communication with these followers to overcome fears related to not following.

13. “Fame-lowers”

Rating: 3

Some people or organizations follow you in hopes that you will follow them back and build their follower base. You are not obligated to follow them back, and sometimes by doing so, you inadvertently or intentionally provide them with more fame or credibility to those who see following as a sign of support for an account.

Determine whether you want to follow these accounts and whether you want to be identified in relation to their objectives or goals. Many times, if you do not follow back , these will un-follow you in the future.

14. “Phish-lowers”

Rating: 4/5

These followers are trying to lure you into interest in their interests, which are oftentimes negative or malicious. These come in the form of promised followers or other incredible claims that are unlikely to come as the result of a Twitter interaction with them. They use Twitter as a venue for their “phishing” schemes.

It is generally best to block or mute these users in relation to your account. If they engage in the use of malware or spyware in their links of which you become aware, they should be reported.

15. “Foe-lowers”

Rating: 5

“Foe-lowers” are known malicious threats to your account, either because of their interactions with you in another context or because of their track record on Twitter for attacking users and accounts. Do not trust them, and you may want to monitor their interaction as it regards you.

It is advisable to block these users, but it may behoove you not to mute them to monitor their Twitter behavior, especially if it concerns you.

16. “Foil-lowers”

Rating: 3-5

“Foil-lowers” seek to find ways to undermine what your goals on Twitter. They will engage in conversation and develop support to try to question and attack your views or ideas. They do not always do so maliciously but in the spirit of challenging ideas, they sometimes offend and deflate Twitter users, especially when they provide scrutiny without support.

It is best to garner support for your ideas rather than to take on this type of follower with rebuttals which will not win over the challenger. These may also be viewed through the lens that seeks to refine ideas and thoughts and may not necessarily be negative.

17. “Flip-lowers”

Rating: 1-3

These followers can be very beneficial as they add value to your original tweets, flipping them like houses, but they can also sometimes distort the ideas as they mention you in responses. It is important that you are still recognized as the source of the original idea or resource in some cases, but other times, it may be just as beneficial to generate conversation as it is to retain intellectual ownership of the original idea.

Keep these followers engaged as they “flip” your ideas, adding to the conversations. Also, try to purse their ideas, perhaps engaging in Twitter chats and extended Twitter discourse.

18. “Fish-lowers”

Rating: 1/2

This type differs from “phish-lowers” dramatically in that it is not trying to pull you in to a nefarious scheme, but is trying to fish for ideas and resources, often without reciprocating with new ideas or resources to share. These are followers who are collectors on Twitter, and the more that their collections lead to positive actions, the more beneficial they are.

It is good to try to follow up with these accounts and to pursue their interests to provide even more tools, prompts, and resources for developing the social media relationship.

19. “Fuel-lowers”

Rating: 1+

These are among my favorite followers. They are the cheerleaders and champions for your Twitter account. They see what they like on your account and share it readily and often with endorsements or affirmations.

Be sure that you follow these followers and mention them frequently on Twitter when you know that the content of your tweets will appeal to them. They can be your biggest advocates in spreading ideas and resources on Twitter.

20. “File-lowers”

Rating: 1-3

“File-lowers” use Twitter as a filing system, one to pull together ideas and resources. They often create multiple lists (some which might include you) and use organizational methods to keep up with their tweets and followers.  They may or may not benefit you, but they are not followers who ware likely to pose any threat or risk to your account.

Allow these to follow you, and consider finding out from them what their motives are by engaging them in Direct Messages to discover how they might help you to promote and organize your own account.

21. “Fun-lowers”

Rating: 3

Finally, “fun-lowers” are simply users who use Twitter as a venue for fun, light-hearted access to a variety of resources and ideas. Their Twitter feeds are usually eclectic collections of fun, inspirational, and largely entertainment tweets.

These followers pose little to no risk of a threat, and they are also unlikely to do much in the way of promoting your Twitter account or tweets. They may be followed if their interests or sense of humor matches yours; you might be surprised to find their value in their whimsical approach to Twitter.


This is not an exhaustive list of Twitter follower types, and it is subject to some exceptions, as are most categorical lists; neither is its intention to provide a definitive approach to using Twitter. Instead, I hope this will serve as a reminder that followers are equal in importance to those whom one chooses to follow. You can manage your followers in a number of ways, and doing so can help you to more effectively leverage your social media network for growth and learning.

Some tips for analyzing Twitter accounts to determine the types of followers you have would  be to review whom they follow, who follows them, who has listed them, the content of their tweets, and their profiles. Though these may not fully reveal their motives for using Twitter or following you, it will help you to determine how to respond.

Fuhrmanalogies: 3 Word Pictures to Enhance our Understanding of Important Educational Issues

I have discovered over the course of my 10 years as an educator and three and a half years as a school administrator that my best way of making sense of the issues that perplex us is through the use of analogies. Though I will provide the caveat that many of these extended metaphors or analogies fall short when extended too terribly far, they do help me to better explain what I am thinking and typically help me to connect with others in discussion about educational topics without obfuscating the general ideas too much. Having shared a few of these with colleagues and having been thanked for elucidating some issues, I would like to share a few in this venue, not to necessarily answer questions, but to engage us in richer, more vivid conversation about the issues that trouble or challenge us in education.

1. The wooden spoon of evaluation: wooden spoon.jpgOur current evaluation frameworks are much like a wooden spoon. A wooden spoon is designed to be used as a tool to mix many small and independent ingredients into a more delicious symphony of flavors which prove the beauty of synthesis. We want to use our wooden spoon in this way, to blend the components of excellent teaching pedagogy and practices that support the whole learner for the optimal educational experience; however, two difficulties arise with this wooden spoon. First, each of us applies a different approach to the use of the spoon, thereby generating a slightly different mixture from the next. Surprisingly, two people using the same mixing spoon and ingredients could produce very different textures and qualities of products. Second, some have a different experience of the wooden spoon, one associated with a corporal punishment context. Therefore, when teachers encounter the wooden evaluation spoon as a punitive device, their initial impression negatively limits their receptivity to see the tool as a constructive piece of equipment. We must be very careful to apply the use of our evaluation tool with the intention of generating the best mixture of elements to produce the finest educational experience for our students and work diligently to eradicate the notion that the evaluation tool’s primary purpose is to exact punitive measures in response to less than optimal observational evidence.

 

2. The bullseye of assessment:

bullseye

We are charged with the complex task of developing learners who are capable of meeting the demands of standardized assessments in our schools much like an archer is charged with the task of placing an arrow within a bullseye to reach the intended target. We seek the items to put in our resource quiver and are occasionally provided with some that are designed especially for the target. Sadly, as we reach for our arrows, we have found recurringly that the target has either moved or has become unclear. In fact, one might go so far as to contend that the target which we initially intended to pursue has changed to look like that designed for a different weapon. We are aware that the target is a necessary end for our challenge, but through the confusion of target and appropriate choice of weapon to send in its direction, we are taking multiple risks in aiming anything in the direction of the target. We recognize that there may be danger posed to those in the nearby vicinity, yet we are urged to take aim and release whatever we might have available in the direction of a general target without much clarification about how the location of the landed projectile will even be measured or when a judge will be able to do so. The frustration continues until we can more clearly see a static target and be equipped with or equip ourselves with tools that are designed to reach it effectively. Perhaps the target will no longer remain static in many contexts, but we would be far better prepared if we knew this at the outset. We will also be reassured when we discover that someone will be revealing to us our ability to hit the target in a timely fashion.

3. The two escalators of growth and achievement:

escalatorsEscalators have the purpose of raising their subjects to a higher point. In order to meet both growth and achievement improvement, we must imagine that students on one escalator have essentially moved their way up one escalator while being transported upward by a strong core curriculum. On the other escalator, we want to see students moving upward more quickly as we are pushing them up the moving escalator in order to draw closer to the height where the other students are found, to close the gap. We want both escalators to raise students, representing growth, but we want to close the achievement gap by providing the requisite RTI push up the escalator for those students who previously showed lower achievement. Ideally, we would be pushing the students up both escalators to the point at which there is little room left before reaching the top. How can we do this? We must be very intentional in our approaches to the differentiated needs of individual learners, and we must be willing to meet those needs and provide escalation forces beyond the typical school day, helping to address both academic and socio-emotional needs that require more support than the scheduled school day will allow.

These word pictures, though admittedly imperfect, should give us some hope that we can make some sense of the daunting issues with which we are confronted in education, and perhaps, through such a depiction, we can begin to arrive at solutions by better imagining the picture that we want to paint for our students and teachers. It is important that we make the nebulous more approachable if we are ever to effectively tackle the difficult issues of education reform.

Inspirational Week as March Begins

Three experiences this week clearly reminded me why it is rewarding to be an educator and important to provide experiences for students whose education is too often limited by life’s circumstances.

Astronomical Aspiration: The first experience that enlightened me this week was the visit to our school by Billy Hix (@billyhix) and his colorful learning experience through the use of his portable planetarium this past Wednesday. Economic limitations often hinder our students from experiencing much of the world beyond their zip code, but Billy Hix expanded their horizons to as far as the outer limits of the universe through the use of some technology that is quite uncommon in most school systems, much less in the homes of our children. He engaged students with stories that made astronomy and Greek mythology come to life, even detailing how the cast of Greek characters interacted in the constellations so evident in the night sky. Additionally, Billy Hix tells his own story of aspiration and its realization in his eventual position with NASA, encouraging students to pursue their positive interests without feeling hindered by others’ limited expectations for them.

hixplanetarium

BillyHixTwitterReplies

The enthusiasm of our teachers and students during and following this event reiterated for me how meaningful an experience can be when those leading it demonstrate how valuable students are and provides opportunities for extending and enriching their educational journey.

Enlightened Shadow: On Thursday, I had another powerful experience as I was encouraged to consider participating in the #shadowastudent Challenge (http://shadowastudent.org/). The pervious day, students in third and fourth grades were asked to submit reasons why they wanted me to shadow them for the day, and through careful rubric-based consideration, I narrowed down the candidates and selected the child I would shadow. I began my day meeting my student as she was dropped off at school (I had initially made plans to meet a different child at her home and walk to school with her, but she was unavailable for the experience). After walking through the front door, we headed to breakfast, and I stayed with her throughout the day until dismissal.

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I really came to this experience with few expectations but was excited to find that the student whom I shadowed experienced many great opportunities throughout the day. I was impressed by her ability to learn autonomously as she engaged in music theory exercises, research, and applied mathematical principles. I was also pleased to see that what we offered as meals were appropriate. What struck me most was the importance of the relationships established and how these shaped her day just as critically as any academic experiences. I am certain that her experience differed from most days in some respects as she artificially escorted her 6’4″ shadow all over our campus, but her friendships and relationships with her teachers revealed how meaningful social connections can enhance and support students and how the absence thereof can lead to equally negative consequences. Hopefully, the shadowing experience has led to another meaningful relationship that I can continue to foster for the rest of this year.

Valued Voices: My third experience that brought me to better appreciate my role as an educator began Friday, as I joined 49 other educators from Tennessee who came together to comprise the first Tennessee Ed Voice Fellows (@TNEdVoice) cohort. We were met by other national America Achieves (@aaftp) fellows, as well as SCORE President David Mansouri (@davemansouri) and Director of Educator Engagement Melissa Stugart (@melissastugart), who helped to elucidate for us the often obfuscated history of Tennessee public education. Marcus Markle, Program Manager for the Tennessee Educator Voice Fellowship, led the events of the weekend, and brought together wonderful voices and ideas that would inspire me and others to share our voices on the issues that really matter to us in education in Tennessee. We had opportunity to hear from panelists, which included Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen (@mcqueencandice), Representative John DeBerry, Educator James Dittes (@Father_Ahab), and ASD Director Malika Anderson (@Malika_TN). We had opportunity to hear from a number of other fellows, whom I will detail in other blog posts, and these were all very informative and greatly enriched me as an educator.

@TNEdVoice

The biggest takeaway I have after attending the @TNEdVoice meeting is that our voices as educators are not only important to represent ourselves, but to advocate boldly for what is best for our students. Though this is not a profound point, it is one that becomes clearer when one has opportunity to engage in conversations with other educators who are passionate about optimal learning conditions for their students and integrity with respect to educational matters. I was touched by so many stories from the experiences of other educators and, vicariously, their students, but, more importantly, I was empowered to take the next necessary steps in advocating for what our schools need with actionable plans and proposed solutions, and I am now even more willing to share my voice to meet this end, not just for my school and school system, but for students throughout Tennessee and the United States. Though I know this proves to be an exhausting endeavor and it will be met with considerable resistance and challenges, I am willing and ready to join others who feel as passionately as I do about bringing the best learning experiences to our students who not only will shape tomorrow, but who are already shaping today.