A Student Sent Me a Friend Request on Facebook

Most educators can relate to this.  That moment you log on to Facebook and notice that there has been a friend request sent to you by a student.  Every time this happens (and it has happened more times than I can count), it makes me very uneasy.  In previous years, I taught Kindergarten and 2nd Grade.   Typically the requests were coming from former students, but students who were still far too young to even be on the site in my eyes.


Recently, I began teaching fourth grade and tonight my first friend request of the school year has hit my inbox.  Now, I know that I have no control over what these students are doing on the internet at home; however, I recognize that I can play a powerful role in how they choose to use it.


This year, I decided to introduce my students to online blogging using KidBlog.org.  It is an amazing forum for student writers and provides the teacher with a world of privacy settings, as well as the ability to monitor and regulate everything happening on the site.  Why did I decide to switch from our journals to blogs?  Well, that could be a post in and of itself, but one major advantage is that I can begin teaching students about internet safety and etiquette.  Students need to know about privacy settings and the dangers that exist by exposing themselves on the web.  Additionally, students need to know how to properly communicate with one another so that they do not perpetuate the ongoing issue of cyber bullying.


Whether we, as educators, parents, and caregivers, are willing to accept it, today’s world is monumentally different from when we grew up.  Traditional practices need to be revised, and some likely need to be done away with all together.  Whether we like it or not, these students are going to be using the internet and technology for the rest of their lives and we are doing them nothing but a huge disservice if we do not educate them on how to use it and — better yet — how to use it correctly.


We Will Truly Never Forget

I was 16 years old, a sophomore.  The day started out like a typical high school day.  My classmates and I had finished a test and were sitting around talking waiting for the bell to ring.  A staff member walked in and handed a note to my teacher.  At that moment, my typical high school day turned into one that I will never forget.  It became a day that no one would ever forget.


The moment that teacher stepped in with the note, it was evident that something was wrong.  The inquisitive and nosey student that I was, I asked what it was about.  Very casually, my teacher told me that a plane had crashed into the pentagon.  She said it so nonchalantly that my peers returned to their conversations without missing a beat.  I remember sitting in the cold classroom and taking a few seconds to process the information I had just been given.  “The pentagon?” I responded.  “Isn’t the pentagon a pretty big deal?”  I remember my teacher shrugging her shoulders and telling me it was nothing to worry about.  


When the bell rang, I walked quickly to my next class — journalism.  Entering the room, I could tell by the look on my teacher’s face that a plane hitting the pentagon was, in fact, something to worry about.  As we quietly sat down, we were informed of the note that the teachers had received.  That our nation was currently under attack, the worst attack it had ever seen on its own soil.  We were told that faculty had been directed not to discuss the events with students or allow students to view the events on tv.  Fortunately for me, I was in journalism and no memo was going to stop us from watching history.


It was terrifying.  It was heart wrenching.  It was completely unexplainable and unimaginable.  I understand the administrations reasons for wanting to censor the event; however, I am forever grateful for the teacher who switched on the tv, sat down at a student desk, and watched in silence with us.  On that day, we were all the same.  Not just in that classroom, but nationwide.  We were all the same.  We were connected.  We were vulnerable.  We embraced our nation, ignored our differences, and all sat silently in front of tvs watching the twin towers crumble and the horrifying aftermath that ensued.


It has been 12 years since September 11th.  Now, instead of a student, I am a teacher.  Tomorrow, I must face my class of inquisitive fourth graders and attempt to find the right way to explain the importance of the day on our calendar.  But how?  How do you correctly explain that?  It is the same conundrum my teachers and administration faced 12 years ago.  I don’t want my students to know the horror of that day; but at the same time, just like my journalism teacher, I do.  It is a piece of our country, our history.  It is 9/11 and a day we will never forget.

A little upgrade

Went in to school today to get some work done, but instead found some extra fabric and my staple gun. You can’t seriously expect me to get work done if I can play instead. That’s when I spotted this old desk chair across the room.

This old chair kind of made me cringe. There were spots and stains all over it.


A little fabric, a few staples, and voila!


Building My Professional Learning Network (PLN) via Twitter

This is a follow-up post to my previous entry, How Twitter Changed the Way I Teach


I have been a solid Twitter user for a month now and I feel as though I have made a year’s worth of growth as an educator in that time.  As with any new endeavor, getting the ball rolling can be tricky so I wanted to share with you the steps I took to make the most of my Twitter account.


Step one was to stop following all the celebrities I had previously added to my Twitter stream.  I didn’t care what Kim Kardashian was eating (or not eating) for lunch.  I didn’t care where Michelle Branch was sipping coffee that afternoon.  And I certainly didn’t want all of these celebrities cluttering up my new educational tool.  If you’re not a Twitter user (yet), your Twitter stream is much like your Facebook feed.  Think of how annoyed you get with the status updates of some of your Facebook friends.  Eventually, you might realize you have nothing in common with this ‘friend’ and delete or block them on Facebook.  I wanted to see posts that were relevant and meaningful to me.


Step two: Discovering those relevant and meaningful tweets.  I started by following some of the awesome presenters from the e-learning conference I attended, such as @chriswejr and @thenerdyteacher.  These guys clearly knew what they were doing and how to use Twitter to its fullest.  I used them as a springboard.   I followed some of the people they were following that shared common interests with me.


Step three: I searched for hashtags to follow.  Hashtags are a way for people to categorize what they are talking about.  For example, fourth grade teachers use the hashtag #4thchat when they are talking about something relevant to their grade level and want to share their ideas with other fourth grade teachers.  I found this chart of hashtags that was super helpful to me.  I would follow the hashtag and then start following Twitter users who were providing great ideas relevant to my interests.


Step four:  Alright, so you are following a bunch of people, but how do you get people to follow you?  TWEET.  I try to make it a rule to tweet at least once a day.  I try to make my tweets relevant and meaningful to the people that I want to follow me.  Tweet links to interesting blogs, articles, websites, etc. that might benefit someone else.  Also, participate in Twitter-chats from time to time.  It’s a great time to bounce ideas around with others, find people to follow, and allow others to find and follow you.


My tweets are 90% education related and the remaining 10% personal.  (Ironically, I got several new education-related followers the night that the Blackhawks won the Stanley cup and I couldn’t keep my excitement from my Twitter stream.)  Show that you have a personality and interests other than education, but remember that many of your followers have you as part of their professional learning network (PLN).  They want to grow and learn from you.  They don’t need to know what your cat is doing every five minutes.


Most importantly, to get followers, you need to let go of your high privacy settings and put a description of yourself.  If I see that someone new is following me, the first thing I do to see if I want to follow them back is look at their interests/bio and look at some of their most recent tweets.  If a Twitter account is blocked, I typically don’t follow back.  Similarly, I need to be able to see something about the person.  It lets people know you’re real.  I know that as educators, we are usually all about the privacy.  So, for myself, I made a distinction.  My Facebook continues to have very high privacy settings and I use it to connect personally with family and friends.  My Twitter, however, much like my LinkedIn, is for professional use.  And if you want to connect professionally with others, sometimes you have to let that guard down a little bit.


That was a very long-winded post about a technology that only lets you type 150 characters at a time.  So go forth, fire up your Twitter, and if you need some help with people to follow — check out who I’m listening to (@LindseySickler).



How Twitter Changed the Way I Teach

Last year, I went to hear Todd Whitaker speak at our local high school.  Todd is an amazing and inspirational speaker.  The kind that gets you fired up to go back to your classroom and your school and make a change.  As he spoke, he told amazing personal stories and made amazing points… and then he said, “If you are a teacher who is not using Twitter, start using it.”  I remember rolling my eyes.  I remember a veteran colleague leaning over and saying to me, the tech savvy newbie, “Should I really figure out Twitter?”  “No way,” I responded, “Twitter is for seeing what celebs had for lunch and I see no possible way it could benefit a teacher.”  That was a year ago, and I am certainly eating my words.

Last month, I attended my first educational technology conference.  Entering the building, there were signs everywhere with a hashtag for the event.  Flatscreen TVs were scattered throughout the foyer, hallways, and meeting areas displaying the event’s Twitter-stream.  Are you serious, I thoughtIt began to feel like one of those “well if you can’t beat them, join them” scenarios, so I flipped through the apps on my iPhone and opened up that one I never use – Twitter.

I typed in the event hashtag to check out the hype.  I expected to find maybe one or two tweets from the event’s coordinators, but instead I noticed that tweets were continuously rolling in from attendees.  They were discussing their thoughts, philosophies, interests, triumphs, and concerns.  They were collaborating.  All of these strangers bound together by a common hashtag and interest in educational technology.  I was both dumbfounded and instantly hooked.  It was a lightbulb moment.  Finally, I was able to say Ah-ha!  I get it, I get what Todd was talking about a year ago.

I have been a solid Twitter user for a month now and I feel as though I have made a year’s worth of growth as an educator in that time.  I have been able to discover amazing instructional ideas, connect with some profoundly talented educators, and team up with an army of people dedicated to improving education.  In my five years of teaching, nothing has ever provided me with such an intense drive to better myself professionally than Twitter has.  So today I say to you those same words Todd Whitaker said to me a year ago — If you are a teacher who is not using Twitter, start using it.

“Oh, you’re a teacher? That must be rough not having to do anything all summer.”

It’s a teacher thing — those summer months.  Anyone else just doesn’t get it.  See, if you’re not a teacher, you are quick to assume that teachers use these blissfully beautiful summer days to lay around, soak up the sun, and do absolutely nothing.  And okay, on some days, that assumption might be right because, honestly, there are some beautiful days we just can’t pass up. But the reality is that those summer months do not signify a two-to-three month excursion of doing nothing work related.


Summertime is when teachers meticulously go over everything they did the previous school year.  We are like football coaches reviewing videotapes in the locker room after a big game.  Like coaches wondering why their mastermind play didn’t work or how on earth their Hail Mary actually did, we are reviewing everything from our curriculum to the posters on our walls.  See, like a coach, our “draft” changes every season.  A well-practiced play, or lesson, that works for one team won’t necessarily work the same way for another.


Summertime, for a teacher, is filled with hours of collaboration, research, and dedication.  We are searching for ways to refine our craft, raise the bar, and keep ourselves a step ahead.  We spend some of those blissfully beautiful summer days tearing apart and rebuilding our classrooms, spending hours debating if that poster or that desk should really be in that location. 


We are spending our money on our job.  Wait, that’s an important one, so let me repeat.  We are spending our money on our job.  We are buying materials, decorations, books, and essentials for the school year.  If you are not a teacher, I want you to think about the last time you dropped a couple hundred bucks on perfecting your work place for your clients’ benefit…without reimbursement.  Teachers do this.  Teachers do this nearly every summer.


I’m assuming that most people would not heckle an athlete in the off-season, an astronaut when they are on the ground, or a soldier at a boot camp.  Why?  Because they are perfecting their craft.  That is what summer months are for teachers, a time to perfect their craft.