Monday, July 22, 2013

My First Year on Twitter

Has it really been just over a year since I joined Twitter?? Wow how time flies. And this past year has by far been the most exhilarating and enlightening year of my professional career!

Just at a year ago I wrote this blog post for Texas Principal

I had just started getting active on Twitter and had already started learning incredible things and wanted to share the power of Twitter and "how-to" with others.  Little did I know that that blog post would now have almost 27,000 hits.

So what have I learned the past year?  I think the biggest thing that I learned was how important it is to be a connected educator.  Now for some, like me, that's being on Twitter.  But for others it may mean Pinterest or Facebook or EduClipper or blogging or more!  But we must find a way to connect.

Before I was on Twitter I often felt like a lone-wolf.  Sometimes I felt like I was one of very few people willing to push boundaries, or try new things within my classroom.  Or sometimes I just wanted more people to bounce ideas off of.  Now I'm not saying I was "unhappy" teaching.  I just didn't even realize what I was missing.

In early 2012, my assistant superintendent at the time (Troy Mooney) came to me and told me that I needed to be sharing more of what I was doing in my classroom.  He taught me about how to use Twitter for educational purposes.  Oh if only he knew the door he was opening for me.

What did Twitter do for me?

1.  It taught me about EdCamps.  Matt Gomez (@mattBgomez), Jon Samuelson (@ipadsammy) and Amber Teamann (@8amber8) were some of the first people I followed on Twitter.  They were Texas educators who had some amazing stuff to share.  Through following them I learned about EdCamps, and more specifically EdCampDallas.  Had I not been a connected educator I would have never attended one of my favorite all time conferences, and then take back that idea to my district and host an EdCampWaller six months later with over 200 in attendance.

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2.  It opened my eyes to learning.  Through twitter chats like #satchat, #txed, #21stedchat, and #iaedchat I was able to learn from thousands of educators from around the world.  That's where I heard about Dave Burgess' (@burgessdave) book "Teach Like a PIRATE", where I connected with my Teacher Hero Ron Clark (@ronclarkacademy), and where I got tons of ideas that I used in my classroom, and where I met some of the most inspiring people ever....which leads me to

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3.  Connected me with Educators from around the world.  Where else can I connect with and learn from Superintendents, Administrators, Teachers from New York, California, Chile, UK, Australia and so much more.  In a year I've been able to connect with educators from every corner of the earth who have helped me become a better teacher.  I know that I am the teacher I am today because of the ideas and opinions shared by those who are in my PLN (Personal Learning Network).

4.  Recognition.  Now let me preface by saying, I am NOT in education to get awards.  I do not seek out awards.  I get embarrassed every time I am acknowledged for anything.  But being a connected educator has opened up all kinds of doors for me.  Because I became a connected educator I was recognized by the National School Board Association as one of their "20 to Watch" in education for 2013.  Why do I share that?  Because that award alone has opened up so many more doors for me to not only share what I'm passionate about in education, but also connected me with even more incredible educators to learn from.  It also allowed me to connect with @Remind101 and @Sophia who I am now on their Teacher Advisory Board and a Flipped Classroom Certification Instructor.

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5.  Friends.  I think what's been the most awesome part of twitter though is that I've been able to connect with and build REAL friendships with other educators, that in my every day life I would have never come in contact with.  Now when I attend conferences I no longer sit in the back of the session, take notes, and leave.  Now I attend sessions, but also have a group of people I connect with face to face and share things we're all doing.  So much more learning happens then.  I also have a support group I can go to at any time who understands all the crazy things we deal with as teachers.  Thanks to friends I've met on twitter and formed REAL friendships with like @akbusybee @techminock @techbradwaid @kenya75 @duncanbilingual @lackeymartha @kleinerin @techninjastacey @iamkesler @casas_jimmy @ajjulani and sooooo many more that I would seriously be here all day listing them out.   I no longer ever feel alone in my career.  I have a PLN of thousands who help me become better every day.

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6.  Finally, Twitter taught me my voice matters.  I blogged about this a few weeks ago.  But I think the biggest thing I've learned through twitter is that every single one of us has a voice, and all of our voices matter and have something to offer each other.  We are all better together.  But the only way we help each other get better is if we're ALL sharing!  So please, blog, tweet, pin, clip, whatever!  Just share!

Twitter has been a powerful force.  One that I am so glad I was taught.  That's why every training I do, or conference I attend, I'm continually trying to convince people to join twitter!  The relationships and friendship you build and the learning that takes place is irreplaceable.

What has Twitter done for you? Sound off in the comments below!

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Camp Tejas 2013 - "The Main Thing"

A few of my Waller Kiddos

I've just spent the last 5 days at a children's camp in Giddings, Texas called Camp Tejas!  This was my 14th year to attend, and every time summer I go I'm reminded how much of an impact this camp has.

Now I've never had any of my posts be super religious.  I have tried to keep my blogging account one that separates my personal and professional life.  But recently I've been blogging about things that were more personal and this week reminded me that why shouldn't I share every part of my life?

Camp Tejas is a camp ground in Giddings that rents out to different organizations, and every year I attend with three churches; First Baptist Brenham, First Baptist Longview, and First Baptist McAllen.  Like I said earlier in the post, I have attended every single summer as a helper for the last 14 summers.  This camp has meant so much to me.  Why?  Because being at this camp allows me to be completely self-less and invest in kids 24 hours a day for five days.  This year about 300 kids from all over Texas attended with us, and the even more exciting part was that 14 of my fifth-grade students were able to attend with me.

This year though I was really torn about attending camp tejas as I have become more and more active in presenting and attending conferences and two awesome ones happened the same week as Tejas; Podstock and Densi.  But God really laid it on my heart that he wanted me at Tejas, and now I know why.

I started inviting my students to attend with me about 4 or 5 years ago, and have brought students every year since (except for last year because during sign ups I was getting married and didn't get the info out to my students in time :(

This year 14 of my students attended.  Now what's so awesome about camp is I get to interact with those students in a totally different environment then I did every day for the last school year.  I also get to spend a ton of time with them getting to know them more personally and getting to really share a personal part of my life that I can't always share at school; my faith.

My faith has always been a huge part of my life.  One that guides every decision I make and is the reason for who I am today.  It is the reason that I have always firmly believed that as educators we MUST connect with students on a personal level.  We MUST get to know them, allow them to get to know us, because that is the ONLY way we are going to reach kids.

This year though at camp was different.  I'm still not quite sure why though.  But this year I was able to bond with my students (and other kids at camp) more than I ever have before.

One boy in particular touched my heart.  He is one that I had spent the ENTIRE year trying to get more than one sentence a day out of him (he just didn't talk much).  But he signed up for camp which still surprises me.  And he followed me around EVERYWHERE I went, but I got to really invest in him this week, and I got to see him open up, and by Thursday he was talking up a storm.  I sat on a bunk with him and three other kids the last night and we talked for almost 2 hours just about life.  You could really tell that some of these boys had never had anyone really care about them in a more personal way.

There was another set of twin boys who were able to attend.  They have always been those "problem children" that every teacher dreaded having in class. But this year my school teaching team and I put a lot of effort into them and really connecting with them.  It still blows my mind that they even WANTED to come to camp, but at camp I got to see those boys bloom in an environment where they were treated with love, respect, and surrounded by people who genuinely cared about them.  It was so great to watch them step up and be men.  And I know these memories are memories they will have for a lifetime.

The coolest part of the week though was night 3. What I love about my church, is that they are so passionate about me bringing my students all the way from Waller, that my church paid for 4 of my students to attend, and two of my teacher friends helped pay for 2 others to attend.  I love that, because my students would have never been able to afford it otherwise (it's $280 per kid to attend).  But Four of my students were in a different Rec group than me.  The 3rd night their leader came up to me to tell me that all four had come up to him during the worship service and asked to become Christians and learn more about their faith.  Wow.  I was blown away...especially since 3 of those were students who wouldn't have been able to attend without the $280 scholarship they each received.  Even now I'm constantly reminded of God's awesomeness.

There are so many more stories like that, and thinking about them now I'm sitting here crying at my computer.  Those kids have touched my heart.  And every year I say that about my students, but it's true.  They are my family.  And camp this week just reaffirmed to me that when we truly connect with kids we can change their lives.  We can remind them that they matter.  That they are important.  And most of all that they have a place in this world.

Saying no to a few professional opportunities was tough.  But if I had to go back and decide all over again, I wouldn't even hesitate.  Camp Tejas would be my choice all over again.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

You Hold the Power

Music is a powerful tool.  I've always been a huge music fan, so much so, that for a while I wanted to be a radio DJ.  I love every kind of music and have over 20,000 songs on my iPod.  I believe music holds the power to change lives, move you to laughter, or move you to tears, to break your heart, to make you smile, to brighten your day.  Music is such a powerful tool.  On my drive home today from yet another conference a song came across my iPod.  A song I have heard many times before, but today just hit me square between my eyes.  The song is called "Forgiveness" by Matthew West (you can watch the lyric video below).  And this song is what has inspired my post today.

Forgiveness.  Such a difficult concept and idea, but one that holds so much power.  We've all been hurt by someone, and in the same way we've all hurt someone.  And when we're hurt our natural instinct is to be angry, cry, or retaliate.  And where does that get us?  Absolutely no where.  In fact, it's in those moments when we're most hurt that we cause the most damage.

We were hurt, so we want that person that hurt us to hurt as well.  And even as an educator, it's not always the other adults in our lives that hurt us....sometimes it's our students!  But when we hold grudges and when we hold onto that hurt we're doing no good for anyone.

Holding onto pain only allows things to get worse.  Even though sometimes it is beyond comprehension, I truly believe that the greatest power we hold is the power to forgive someone.  The power to tell someone, "You hurt me, but I'm going to CHOOSE to forgive you".  It doesn't mean we have to forget what happened, but it means that we're not going to let that pain that we were caused control our actions.

And yes, forgiveness is a choice, but for me it's one of those extremely difficult choices.  In the same vain I know that I have hurt others in my life.  And when those people I've hurt have forgiven me and allowed our relationship to rebuild, it's powerful. And you know what?  Sometimes I've hurt someone or been hurt so bad, that even after forgiving them or being forgiven, the relationship cannot be rebuilt, and that's just a consequence of the actions that took place.

Every single one of us makes mistakes.  That's not any kind of excuse for poor choices or poor behavior, but I say it to remind each of us that how dare we choose NOT to forgive someone.  When did we become the perfect person who never makes a mistake?  I know that I continually make mistakes and do things I regret.  But I also know that I am not the person to judge someone else.  I am not perfect.

And even in writing this post, I know there are still some people in my life that I need to forgive for hurting me.  I also know there are people in my life that I need to go and ask forgiveness from, because I know I hurt them.  And it's difficult.....but it's necessary.

Even as an educator we have to forgive daily.  Our students make all kinds of mistakes and it's our job to start each day brand new with each of our students.  I don't ever listen to the stories of my students from their teacher from the year before.  I don't want to be judged on my past mistakes, and so I am going to choose not to judge my students and to allow them a fresh start when they come into my class, and my students know that, and I think it makes all the difference.

So I write this post to encourage you to forgive someone who has hurt you, or even more so seek out someone you know you've hurt and ask them for forgiveness.  It's so very hard, but forgiving someone can heal so much pain.  I also encourage you, if you feel so lead, to share your story below.  Your story of you forgiving someone or having to ask forgiveness.


Written and Performed by Matthew West

It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve

It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word…


It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Help me now to do the impossible

It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible

I want to finally set it free
So show me how to see what Your mercy sees
Help me now to give what You gave to me

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Does My Voice Matter?

I've been toying with this blog post for a while, trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to say.

One thing that keeps coming to my own personal thoughts is the idea of "does my voice really matter"?  Do I have ideas that are worth sharing?  Can I have an impact on anyone?

And the more I involve myself with others the more that I see that there are many of us who feel that way.

I think about the first time I got on Twitter.  When I first joined twitter I said very little.  I was seeing great ideas and tweets shared by other educators and all that kept going through my head was "no one needs to hear what you have to say".  So I sat back and watched.  I watched the interactions take place, the relationships form, and the ideas be shared.  And you know, honestly, that's how I was acting within my own school too.  I closed my door, did my own little creative things behind my walls and kept it all to myself.  Why?  Fear.  Fear that I would be chided.  Fear that I was doing it "wrong".  And even Fear that it wasn't good enough.

Then one day I decided to participate in a Twitter chat...I didn't say much at first.  I just tweeted one or two things.  But that feeling you get when someone retweets something of yours or favorites one of your tweets, it's hard to explain to others.  It's this weird sense of validation.  This kind of way of making you feel like, "maybe I can share something of use".  And so I began to tweet more and more and began to get more honest on Twitter and share my thoughts and ideas of how to make education better.

That lead into blogging.  I have always loved writing, but writing for myself.  Not sharing with others...hence why my children's book that got printed took 7 years after finishing it for me to get the nerve to put it out there.  But blogging gave me an outlet.  And from the first blog post I did I made a conscious decision that I wanted to be completely honest.  I wanted to give a real life glimpse of my struggles and my joys within my classroom.

And from there I began to get the nerve to blog about all kinds of things and not just things that are going on in my classroom.  And now I travel all over the state of Texas speaking, I write blogs that get tons of hits, and I have thousands of followers....why?  Is my "voice" really that moving?

And I realize, we all have a voice.  We all have something about us that makes us stand out, that makes us special, that makes us who we are.  And when we sit there and think "Does my voice Matter?" all we're doing is demeaning our God-given gifts.  We aren't setting an example that is worthy of our students following.  We became educators for a reason; to lead and to teach and to connect.  We all are good at what we do in one way or another, and honestly I think it's kind of unfair to the other educators NOT to share.

At many trainings I do I am always begging teachers to get on Twitter.  Why?  Because I know I don't have all the answers, ideas, solutions....but others do!  And the more people I can convince to blog, tweet, Pin, Clip, or Podcast, the more ideas that are going to get out there that I can borrow from!

So I write this to say to you, YES YOU, you have a voice.  And guess what, it matters.  To who?  To me and to so many others you may never even meet.  So please take the time to share what you're doing in your school, at home, online, in your class, your community, whatever!  JUST SHARE.  Because your voice matters.  There are many of us hungry for new ideas from people just like you.  So start today!

I heard this song driving to my hotel today and thought the lyrics fit perfectly with who I am and sorta this post's a snippet...

I want to Stand out

I wanna stand tall
I wanna be myself even if it means
I won't fit in at all
I wanna be real
I wanna be me
Cause everything I am is who I'm meant to be

I was meant to be free
- Jessie Daniels

Would love to hear comments below OR share your blog with me below so I can have some more great people to read from!  Or better yet if you've never blogged START TODAY and share your post with me!