It was about a year ago when Mike Martin (@Mike_MPS), then a brand new Director of Curriculum & Technology, asked me to facilitate a professional development session on the value of Twitter in education. It was the first time in the three years that I’d been Superintendent in Montpelier Public Schools that anyone has asked me to lead a session. I was honored.
After I got over being honored, I felt a substantial amount of pressure to get it right. I knew that the teachers attending the session would have different comfort & knowledge levels with technology, but by choosing a Twitter session they also expressed an interest, and perhaps even an optimism about technology. I needed to think about their diverse backgrounds, values, and aspirations as learners. In short, I was remembering clearly what it felt like to be a teacher on a daily basis.
As I prepared my presentation, I consulted others in person. I reviewed concepts, bounced ideas, and thought through possibilities. I found resources online, browsed for images, and selected a means to deliver my presentation (Haiku Deck is amazing by the way). Still I didn’t feel that it was quite right.
All that changed as I waited for a meeting to take place at one of my favorite Montpelier coffee houses, Capitol Grounds. While sitting at one of the tables, I started to scroll through my Twitter feed and I came across a posting by Sheila Soule, Curriculum Director at Washington West Supervisory Union (@WWSU_Curriculum). She had just posted a presentation she delivered to her Supervisory Union on Twitter. I replied to her – not a direct message – and asked if I could borrow some of the ideas she used in my presentation. Sheila gave me permission – also in a reply, not a direct message – and I looked through her presentation. There were concepts that I had missed, tools that I overlooked, and enrichment areas that I didn’t think of. My presentation was improving by the moment in my head. But that wasn’t all…
Since Sheila and I had replied to each other – and this is why I made the point above – the replies were in our Twitter feeds and others could see our exchange. Larry Fliegelman, Principal of Wolcott Elementary (@fliegs) was one of the people who noted this exchange and shared a presentation he did on Twitter as well. In the same way as Sheila’s presentation opened my eyes, Larry’s illuminated blind spots in my work. My own presentation was growing quickly, beautifully, professionally – and all because of Twitter. It was crowd sourcing at its finest.
To just schedule a time for Larry, Sheila, and me to sit down in person would have taken longer than the amount of time it took for them to improve my presentation via Twitter. Now, please know that I believe firmly in the value of meeting in person and building substantive relationships by sitting across the table from people. Education is a human endeavor and body language, tone of voice, and eye contact are the bedrock of what we do as educators. Why do you think I was in a coffee house in the first place?
What this moment taught me was articulated so clearly by Mike when I reflected on this whole experience with him. He said, “Twitter makes it possible for you to connect with people based on the merit of the idea.” Brilliant!
It reminded me of how my dissertation director at Loyola University Chicago often told me that as educational researchers, we stand on the shoulders of those who have done research before us. And our shoulders will bear the next researchers who come after us. Larry and Sheila shared their work willingly and humbly and I was proud to not only share our story of connecting through Twitter in my presentation, I gave them credit for their work.
We share our work, we stand on shoulders, and we connect together. Our connections make us better educational leaders and that translates into better instructional delivery by educators that ultimately benefits the students of our communities.
Brian Ricca is the Superintendent of Schools for Montpelier Public Schools in Vermont, where he is beginning his fourth year of service. He started teaching in Chicago and has been either a classroom teacher or in educational leadership for the past eighteen years. He was recently named an Emerging Leader by PDK International, a global association of education professionals. His work focuses on leadership development, technology, and school system transformation.
This is a chapter from Brian’s story. Tell us yours.