FISA Leaders Discuss Assessment, PLNs, Wins, and Self-Care

In this edition of the Roundtable, I joined Darren Spyskma, Brenda Ball, and Tom Williams to discuss changing assessment practices, the power of professional learning networks, recent wins for our learning communities, and self-care strategies. This is our conversation.

Questions That Guided Our Discussion

  • 1:30 – Who are you, and what is your current context in education?
  • 3:30 – What are your thoughts on assessment practices in K-12 education today? What, in your view, needs to change?
  • 13:06 – Despite the challenges of education in a pandemic, what is one win for learning that you are seeing right now?
  • 21:13 – Why is it more important than ever to be a connected educator?
  • 32:08 – How are you finding self-care during times of stress and uncertainty?

Thanks to the Guests Featured in This Roundtable

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Episode 124 – Chanel Johnson

Meet Chanel Johnson

CHANEL JOHNSON is a STEMinist, ASCD Emerging Leader, published author, K-12 Math and Science Program Specialist, instructional tech coach, and keynote presenter based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Pushing Back on Imposter Syndrome

Chanel was only 30 years old when she was hired as an instructional coach, and her age allowed feelings of imposter syndrome to creep in. It was her job to support educators across multiple campuses, and soon she could hear the doubts: why am I here? Do I really belong here?

One day, her supervisor put it to her directly: “If you didn’t belong here, you wouldn’t be here. You have to trust the knowledge that you have and believe that who you are is what brought you this far.” Chanel says she continues to remind herself of that helpful message whenever doubts and fears about her value start to reappear.

Chanel’s #GirlDad: A STEM Legacy

Chanel credits a lot of her love for STEM to her dad, an amazing father who enjoyed showing his daughter how science and STEM affected the world around them. He was a fan of sci-fi movies as well, an affection that Chanel shares today.

Chanel started her education journey with math and science programs, and she’s never looked back. STEM studies continue to thrill her because it’s a field that’s constantly changing, and it’s open to absolutely everyone.

Chanel’s brand is built around ‘STEMtastic‘ because she sees connections between STEM and everything she does, and she’s passionate about sending the message to underrepresented communities (including Black and Latina women) that they belong in STEM work. She’s quick to point out that there’s a lot more work to be done in this area.

Flipgrid Fever

Chanel is an ambassador for Flipgrid and she is always happy to boost this powerful platform. It amplifies some of the quietest voices in our classrooms, and it connects educators around the world. “I can’t stop talking about it,” she laughs.

One of her recent applications with Flipgrid was Character Book Day, which allowed her to dress up as a character, read a book to a group of students, and then share that same video with other audiences. Chanel is also excited about the possibilities that Flipgrid’s AR features afford educators: find Flipgrid QR codes on papers or posters and watch linked videos appear directly on your screen. These are powerful opportunities for living representations of learning.

Chanel’s Professional Learning

“My passion will always be instruction,” Chanel says. Her core passion is learning about new approaches and strategies that support student learning and achievement. Her PLN, particularly on Twitter, has been a phenomenal source of inspiration and learning when it comes to best practices in science and computer science education.

Chanel recently completed a 2-day training for ISTE certification, and she is so grateful for the growth she experienced during that event. She spent a lot of time focusing on the ISTE standards from the perspective of students, and it helped her think through the ways that we frame learning targets and structure activities for students.

A Personal Passion: Singing

“Everything for me is about learning in some form or fashion,” Chanel says. One activity that she’s enjoyed recently is plugging into her local church choir. It’s been a joy to build her singing abilities and share those gifts with others, and it’s really increased her love of music.

Productivity Hacks

Chanel credits her husband for sometimes pulling her plug and saying “Nope, let’s go.” Sometimes we need that guidance to take a break, especially if we have a strong drive for learning, growth, and productivity.

She also gains a lot of value from Microsoft’s To-Do app, which she uses to sync her task list across all devices. She loves the sound it makes when she completes another task, and she doesn’t hesitate to include “take a break” in her list as well.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Chanel’s Practice

Over on Twitter, Chanel recommends giving Christian Padgett @SoontobeEdD a follow. “He’s a young powerhouse in the education field – a master in Math instruction and instruction technology,” she says. Chanel also shouts out Dr. Natalie Henderson @DrNHenderson, someone she credits for teaching her to take care of herself and always explore her outer limits.

One education technology app that Chanel is excited about is called Legends of Learning, a free platform that gamifies math and science for young students. Follow Legends of Learning on Twitter @LegendLearning

Chanel’s book suggestion is Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. This book provides valuable insights on the psychology of individual and organizational change.

When she’s just looking for a fresh take on the news or some juicy gossip, Chanel tunes in to The Breakfast Club podcast, but when she’s looking for something of more substance in the world of education, she listens to The Leading Equity podcast with host Sheldon Eakins. Follow Sheldon on Twitter @SheldonEakins

Chanel doesn’t watch a ton of content on Netflix, but one show that she’s started to watch on the advice of friends is You. It’s got just the right amount of dark and intriguing to keep things interesting.

We wrap up this fun conversation and Chanel gives us the best ways to connect with her work. See below for details!

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Song Track Credits

  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org)
  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

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The Case for Teachers on Twitter

Educators are learners first.

woman holding iPhone during daytime
Photo by Paul Hanoka on Unsplash

“I don’t care about Twitter, and I’ll never go on Twitter,” I heard an educator say last year.

I understand this position. From the outside, Twitter may just seem like more noise, more distraction, more nonsense that doesn’t really add anything to our lives or professional growth.

I’ll also be the first to agree that as busy professionals and leaders of families, we need to be intentional and discriminating with our time. Meaningless scrolling and shallow engagement doesn’t and shouldn’t make the cut.

But what IF Twitter can serve a valuable role in our professional growth and development? What IF Twitter can add to our lives without consuming much time?

Educators Are Learners First

In my view, the case for teachers on Twitter begins with the idea that educators are learners first. The principles of learning that we believe in for our students apply just as much to our learning and growth as they do to theirs. If we’re hungry to learn and grow, it’s wise to build an active Professional Learning Network and engage.

Twitter isn’t the only place to build a professional learning network. But it’s an awesome place to start.

The Learning Activities of a Twitter PLN

1. Collaboration.

Just like our students, education professionals learn best when they learn together. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. When you have a question or you’re feeling stuck in a challenging situation, chances are your Twitter PLN will be able to offer suggestions and resources.

2. Communication.

As David Guerin once wrote, “Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning.” When we write, read, and respond to professional conversation, we’re more engaged. We’re tuned in. We can’t help but learn. And the inverse is also true.

3. Metacognition.

We also learn when we take the time to thoughtfully reflect on our journey. By answering questions like What am I learning, Where am I going, and How will I get there, we gain awareness and greater intentionality about our own learning path. I treat Twitter as a journal, especially when I’m trying a new project or attending an education conference. You too can use Twitter to archive and preserve your own learning reflections for future reference.

4. Visible Learning.

When we make our learning visible, we benefit from feedback, and others learn from our stories. And we can make the learning of others visible, too. When asked why he uses Twitter, principal Chris Chappotin used the word “showcase.” Administrators are especially well-positioned to play this role in their buildings, since they can be in more classrooms and contexts than teachers.

5. Inspiration.

Whether it’s a lesson idea, helpful resource, or a word of encouragement, my edu-Twitter feed is an overwhelmingly positive space. Think of it as constant connection with a cloud of education leaders and mentors. It’s phenomenal.

6. Professional Relationships.

When we engage in professional conversations, we meet others in similar fields and spaces. Twitter is a wonderful place to connect with education leaders and authors, too. It’s as easy as reaching out.

5 Ways to Increase Engagement on Twitter

I believe the number one reason that so many educators try Twitter and then ignore the platform is lack of engagement. Maybe it took them forever to work up the nerve to finally tweet something pithy or valuable, but it’s only crickets in response.

What a waste of time, right?

It doesn’t need to be. By following these five simple strategies, you’ll increase engagement and gain more value from your time on this platform.

1. Use relevant hashtags whenever possible.

If you’re new to the platform, you may regard hashtags as little more than cute decorations. But for many users (including me), hashtags can be a great way to dig deeper into a topic. Think of hashtags as rooms. Whenever you use a hashtag, you’re putting your tweet in that room for others to find. Whether it’s #growthmindset, #goinggradeless, or #formativeassessment, tag your posts so that others can find them topically. With a little Googling, you’ll find the best hashtags to use for your context and areas of work.

2. Tag others whenever appropriate or relevant.

If and when you’re sharing ideas or resources that relate to someone else’s work or area of interest, you’re doing them a service by tagging them. Educators usually like thoughtful tags — especially if it’s an endorsement, shoutout, suggestion, or recommendation aimed specifically at them. I always like being tagged by colleagues in my building, because otherwise I might miss their tweets. And authors usually appreciate being tagged in quotes from their work, because you’re helping to share their message. Again, keep it genuine. But don’t be afraid to connect.

3. Use relevant images, GIFs, and videos.

Make your tweets stand out and get noticed by adding relevant media. Again, this isn’t purely an attention game, but it is about building the kind of engagement on the platform that makes activity worthwhile. You have to be seen to be heard, especially as you get started.

4. Engage in Twitter chats.

There’s absolutely no better way to build connections with other educators than by engaging in real-time Twitter chats. Not sure where to start? Try the weekly #TLAP (Teach Like a Pirate) chat, one of the largest to take place on the platform each week. Or, next time you’re at a large conference, tweet the highlights from your learning at the conference hashtag.

5. Keep it education-only.

Make a point of only following educators, which generally keeps your feed on track with education. It’s incredibly easy to switch between Twitter accounts quickly, so I have my faith, sports, and politics conversations elsewhere. If you’re still not convinced, here are 5 Reasons to Niche Down on Twitter.

The point is, if you follow @RealDonaldTrump, @Yankees, @Netflix, and the like, your feed will get noisy, distracting, and unproductive. My advice? Keep it strictly on education.

A Simple Formula for Getting Started

There’s no time like the present to use Twitter to develop your professional learning. Once you’ve created a Twitter account, how can you go about building a professional learning network? Here are some practical steps.

  1. Start with at least one tweet a day.
  2. Share questions you’re wrestling with, ideas from your learning, or inspiring quotes from your reading.
  3. Use one or more relevant hashtags (like #MSed for middle school education).
  4. Use one or more user handles (think of interested colleagues, figures working in related areas, or authors of your quotes).
  5. Include relevant images whenever possible.

Then, try to follow at least one more educator a day. Not sure where to begin there? Visit @MisterCavey and select Following. You’ll see nothing but educators and education organizations. You can start following them, too.

As I said at the outset, Twitter can facilitate the same learning processes that we seek for our learners: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, metacognition, and relationships. If you’ve been a Twitter holdout, consider this both a challenge and an invitation.

Happy Tweeting! I look forward to learning with you.

Sincerely,
@MisterCavey

Thoughts from My Twitter PLN

As I put the finishing touches on this piece, I asked my PLN how they use Twitter. Here were some of their responses.

First, an educator who teaches in my area:

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And here is a reply from Chris Chappotin, principal of STEAM Middle School and guest on episode 61 of the Teachers on Fire podcast, who I mentioned earlier in this story:

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And this — from a fellow education podcaster:

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