Finding Your Tribe | Melbourne Instagram Meetup

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Hello, teacher friends!

Have you found your tribe? (Or tribes, even, because there can be more than one for everyone?)

I have, and it’s amazing.

Tribes are those likeminded individuals that you find you share a lot in common with. The kind of people who you can chat to and know that they really understand and that they don’t judge you. Good days, bad days. It doesn’t matter, because your Tribe will always have your back.

I wear a lot of (metaphorical) hats, so I have a Tribes to meet those hats, and I had the amazing opportunity to visit with one of those Tribes yesterday at the Melbourne Winter Teachers Instagram Meet-Up.

You may remember a few months ago when I posted about the first Instagram Meet-Up. It was one of those moments that (as Sarah-Jane reminded me yesterday) you really tell your kids and friends not to do: go and meet random strangers whom you met online in a strange place. So many things could go wrong.

I’m happy to say, they didn’t then, and they didn’t yesterday.

The meet up was organised by Laura (from @littleapplelearning), Sarah Jane (from @thepolkadotapple) and Tess (from @misstessclassroom) and held at BangPop, a Thai restaurant in the city. It was spectacular.

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Okay, so the weather wasn’t so spectacular. Melbourne sure knows how to throw a rain party right when I want to walk around the city. But it’s all good.

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I met up with these lovely ladies: Jem (from Jem’s Bright Buttons) and Paula (from Paula’s Place). I’ve known them for years through Facebook and TPT and I love catching up with them.

We then went down to South Wharf for the meet-up.

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Yes, that is a Duplo bar. Could you think of a more perfect place for teachers to meet? Imagine all the things you could in your classroom with a Duplo wall. I’m already thinking of ways to petition for one.

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All the tables were beautifully set-up by the lovely organisers who added beautiful little details to EVERYTHING, including a wonderful swag bag of goodies that made the event seem almost like a conference. With better food, drinks and a lot more off-topic conversation.

We’re teachers, right? We know how to talk!

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The Photo Booth set-up was super fun and next time I think I just need to drag more people up to it. Of course, that involves being less shy and intimidated by all the amazing people there, but I think I’m getting better.

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The ladies did an amazing job organising sponsors to donate items for the swag bags and prizes (I didn’t win anything but it was super-fun getting a peek at what other people got!). As a way of showcasing and thanking the sponsors, I’ve recording an ‘unbagging’ of the swag bag which is below, so if you want to check it out, go for it. I apologise in advance, apparently I can ramble on!

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It was such a wonderful experience. I loved catching up with Jem and Paula and the other girls I met at the first meet-up. It was also amazing to meet so many new Instagram friends across all parts of Victoria, and even a few from NSW. Teachers are amazing at banding together – stick a group of teachers in a room and you’ll have plenty to talk about!

There’s such a great feeling of collaboration, respect and understanding that came with yesterday and I had an absolute ball.

I can’t wait to see what everyone gets up to in the upcoming term; I’ll be hanging out on your Instagram accounts for sure!

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Face to Face Networking

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One of the most challenging things about teaching, at the moment, is the integration of technology into daily classroom use. Since starting to build my online PLN, barely a month ago, I’ve been inundated with great ideas from educators who do just that – and they do it well.

While I didn’t grow up with technology from a very young age, by the end of Primary School, I had access to a computer at home and I had a blog on LiveJournal just after I turned 13. (I shudder to think about the things I probably posted on that blog!) I’ve always loved using computers to connect and talk to other people, to write and share ideas. It’s a great way to meet and learn from people who live all over the world, which is the driving force behind online PLNs, Twitter chats and other sources of networking.

However, as a relatively new teacher to the profession, relatively young and – dare I say it – naive to the politics involved in teaching, I sometimes struggle with the idea that there are teachers out there who are reluctant to make use of all the amazing resources available to them – mostly free – online.

As a result, just in the last four weeks I’ve found myself presenting web2.0 tools to parents, colleagues from my workplace and colleagues from the local teaching network. For me, it’s a very strange position to be in, not least because I’m absolutely petrified of public speaking (please don’t ask me what I’ve actually said at any of these presentations, because I’m usually so nervous I can’t remember!). But the sad thing is, it feels like if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t be presented at all and I think that’s a detriment to teaching in such a digital age.

In a lot of ways, I consider myself a sponge – I want to learn and know as much as I possibly can (usually in the shortest time span), and I’m willing to put the time in to teach myself. In reality, I know that schools can only provide so much professional development on ICT development, tools and skills – there’s just so much that is crammed into each year, so much time spent before and after school at meetings and planning that it’s just not possible.* That said, I think teachers also need to be willing to put in an effort on their own – and spend 15-20mins researching and playing with the different tools they want to use with their students – and ultimately it’s that 20mins that will the most valuable in the long run.

*Unless of course you volunteer your own time (which I recommend, in moderation) to attend PD that you want to. Or attending something wonderful, like RSCON3 – or simply watching the recordings!

To that end, during our most recent Mini-Network Meeting – a gathering of teachers from local schools meeting together in Level teams to discuss areas of interest – which was held at my school for Level 1, it was decided that we would look at free, interactive resources for teachers. (Ultimately, this also included subscriptions that schools had, classroom resources and blogs.)

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I’ll admit to getting all exciting and pulling together all the links of great sites I’d come across over the last couple of years (and a few from the last few weeks!) and throwing them into a LiveBinder all ready to share. I organised a bit.ly short link for ease of access and made sure we had access to an IWB for the session. During the meeting, I was able to easily show examples of sites, explain what they were, etc. Others we able to suggest extra resources (which were recording and added to the LiveBinder) and we had decent discussion going.

And, I think it went well. It was actually quite hard to judge; these were people I see once a term (if that) and I’m not sure if it was what they were expecting, or whether it was an overload or if they just thought it was a waste of time. Most of the suggestions for additional resources were subscription sites/accounts that schools had purchased, which was fine, and there were suggestions for blogs that one of the teachers followed (I internally leaped for joy at the thought of another local teacher following blogs!).

The feedback I got from my AP was very positive though – and it is nice to hear that from school leadership.

PLN Challenge #5: Blogs

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I consider myself very lucky to have only had positive experiences when blogging, and I do believe that blogs are a great way to connect to other people who share similar interests, to share ideas and extend knowledge and to become a great resource in professional reflective practise.

As part of the Teacher Challenge, Sue Waters’ has challenged us to think about our tips for building a PLN using blogs, so here are some of mine:

  • Dive in – don’t be afraid to post about the topics that interest you. Share interesting facts, reflection and resources. Include interactives and images (to the degree that you’re comfortable with).
  • Explore other blogs – find people with similar interests, people who inspire you, people who can lead you to interesting and useful resources. Include your favourite blogs in a feed, such as Google Reader, so that you can regularly check for new updates. Exploring blogs will also help you develop your own blogging practise.
  • Comment – engage other bloggers. Learning doesn’t have to be a solitary act, and it’s only through making connections that we can extend what we know. It can be as simple as thanking the blogger for writing their interesting post, to responding to a question or sharing similar (or dissimilar) experiences. Remember to be polite (sounds trite, I know, but a little curtesy goes a long way). Also keep in mind that the more you comment on other people’s blogs, the more likely they are to comment on yours!

So, it’s not a definitive list – but I’m learning, too!

If you think I’m missing something very important, please let me know. Chances are I’ve forgotten it while composing this post, but I’m very open to more ideas!

And… good luck with blogging!

PLN Challenge #4: Making Time to Build Your PLN

Challenge #4 of the Teacher Challenge was written and proposed by Sarah Poling.

I’ve since come to recognise that prior to beginning to develop my teaching PLN, that I have actually been involved in two prior personal learning networks over a ten(+)-year span. I started out, as a teenager, actively seeking out other people that I shared a ‘fandom’ interest with (books, televisions series, movies and blog/message board role-playing games). I still dabble in that area, because I made quite a few good friends all over the world and we still share many of the same interests. The second learning network I established was a craft-based on. I’m an avid sewer and I enjoy creating things. I dabble in digital scrapbooking – which itself has a HUGE online community.

I grew up with technology, and while I haven’t been surrounded by it since birth, which is a significant portion of the students I teach, I consider myself a digital native. (In reality, I’m probably somewhere between a native and an immigrant, but I choose to be a native, and behave in such a way!) Technology does not scare me, and I’ll give anything a go online. I’m quite dedicated to my learning networks and communities – I would spend between 30 mins-1 hour on them (at least) every night, and I’m determined to bring that same focus to my teaching PLN.

At present I’m using this blog (and my classroom blog), lurking on Twitter and maintain a Diigo account for storing the wonderful resources I’m finding online. I hope over the next few months to become more confident in contributing more on Twitter and on the wonderful blogs that I’m following through Google Reader.

One of the suggestions Sarah had on the challenge #4 post was to figure out what was the best time to commit to a personal learning network. I know lots of people find it difficult to commit time to learning new things at night after work, but that’s my favourite time to do learning. Post-work I love to learn new things, because that’s the time I relax and am enthusiastic about discovering new resources and ideas.

How am I going to grow my PLN?

I’m going to stick with it. I really am – I don’t think I’ve ever undertaken something so powerful and essential to my own personal learning. I already follow a number of fantastic bloggers who are incredibly inspiring, and I’m going to stick with this Teacher Challenge, too, because it’s been a great, thought-provoking experience for me. And it’s encouraged me to post to my blog and explore my beliefs and commitments to my own teaching practise.

How do I stop myself from becoming overwhelmed?

  • Persevere!
  • Proceed at your own pace.
  • I check in to Twitter and Google Reader each day and if there’s an information overload, I save the links of interested until the weekend to explore in more detail when I have the time.
  • Don’t panic if you miss a day of checking in!
  • This is MY choice to learn. No one’s making me do it, and I’m allowed to approach it in the way that feels right to me.

Developing my PLN

… or Learning to Navigate Twitter!

This year I am determined to develop my own PLN to support my learning and teaching practice. As such, I am taking part in the Edublogs Teacher Blogging Challenge “30 Days to a Whole New PLN.” Having tackled challenge #2, I am moving on to challenge #3. (I am working my way up to challenge #1!)

Challenge #3, written by Kathleen Morris, is about using Twitter to build a PLN.

I actually joined Twitter around the time it was considered the ‘next best thing’ since Facebook and it was probably while I was still at university, somewhere near the beginning of my teaching degree. At that point I didn’t use Twitter effectively and somewhere along the lines it got left in the wake of the other ‘important’ things I had to do.

Recently I had a great conversation with @UTess_13 – an Ultranet coach for my region. While we were initially discussing the Ultranet and how to get a group of preps (and their parents) online, our conversation drifted into other online tools and resources and she started to talk to me about how she used Twitter as a professional development tool.

Now, I’d heard of that before, but hadn’t seen it, or been involved in it, and while I followed a few of the same people as Theresa, that wasn’t how I used my account. But I was inspired. And that night I logged on for the first time in a long time, reset my account and made the resolution to use Twitter to learn.

Over the last couple of weeks I have found lots and lots of fascinating and engaging educators on Twitter and I have been inundated with links to resources and articles and ideas. I’ve become pretty good at sifting through the things that I’m interested in (and not so interested in). I’ve been saving links left, right and center and am falling behind on updating my Diigo with them.

Now to answer Kathleen’s challenge questions:

What are my initial impressions of Twitter?

I  am looking at Twitter in a completely different way, so my impressions now are different to my impressions a few years ago.

I think it’s great. I really do. It’s not perfect, and I think to expect it to be would to be doing it a great disservice. But it is what you make it. For me, at the moment, that means lurking and taking in the vast amount of information that is available. And while I’m certainly not a shy personal in online environments, I think lurking is the best way to start with a PLN on Twitter because it can be overwhelming.

The most overwhelming part, from my perspective, is that it seems like I’m late to the game. Everyone seems to know everyone; everyone has a rapport with everyone else… and I’m hiding in the corner trying to think of something intelligent to say!

As a result, I’ve posted sparingly myself, and participated mostly through reading and retweeting the posts that are of interest and importance to me.

Where am I hoping Twitter leads me?

Honestly? I’m hoping it leads me to bigger and better ‘things.’ I don’t want to limit what the ‘things’ are, because I think that limits my experiences. Who I’m following now and the reasons I’m following them may change and I might expand and find other interests. I hope to take the knowledge and resources shared and become a better teacher, a better learner and better connected in the vast community known as ‘education.’

I do hope that I become brave enough to jump into the amazing conversations I’ve seen, in time, and that I don’t make a complete fool of myself (it’s been known to happen)! That’s my big goal for 2011, now that I’ve embarked on this very rewarding journey.

So, thank you to Edublogs (and Kathleen) for the inspiration and the challenge!