Becoming a Connected Educator

Taking Control of Your Own Professional Development

Setting the Stage for Action (Research)

Welcome to Crockett High School!

Home to approximately 1,600 students and 100 teachers, the Crockett Cougars can be found in South Austin often sporting the school colors of brown and gold.

A case for professional development

Teacher effectiveness is the single most important factor affecting student achievement (Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock, 2001). Because of this, high quality professional development for teachers is looked upon as one of the most efficient ways that school leaders can improve student learning. However, many professional development experiences for teachers “consistently violate principles for optimizing learning” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 26).


Professional development must be "more than distinct, independent processes that can be employed to improve instruction. They should be considered part of a comprehensive approach to improve instructional practices" (McQuarrie & Wood, 1991, p. 94)

But rarely do teachers experience high quality PD

It is well documented, especially in public schools, that "professional development often consists of a series of isolated events called workshops that teachers attend outside of the workday" (Zapeda, 2013, p. 38)
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How do we get more teachers to become active learners?

"Organizational learning is more likely to occur in schools where staff are looking out for opportunities to increase knowledge and improve skills and are provided with sufficient resources and time to develop professionally" (Silins, Mulford & Zarins, 2002, p. 634)

My own journey to becoming 'Connected' changed my life

It was a former student teacher of mine who introduced me to Frank Noschese's blog (a physics teacher in New York), and after reading a few posts, I was absolutely hooked to exploring more opportunities to learn and improving my craft. This network of teachers who were collaborating online provided so much support and reflection, both necessary for quality learning to take place. I truly believe in the power of becoming a Connected Educator as a catalyst for teacher growth, and through that growth, improvement in student learning.

But Crockett teachers were not 'Connected Educators'

I interviewed & surveyed 65 teachers in August & September


  • 6 teachers had a Twitter account but only 2 used it for educational purposes
  • 1 teacher had a domain for a blog but with zero posts
  • None of the math teachers were using Twitter or reading blogs
  • 1 English teacher used both Twitter and blogging both inside & outside of her classroom
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And I had to remember to be patient

"The connected, collaborative culture is so different from what these educators have learned and how they have practiced teaching for years. It is disruptive to say the least, and it requires a change in both attitude and practice, as well as a shift in priorities of time to be spent. None of this is easily accepted, unless there is to be a big pay-off. For some the pay-off will not be worth their change and sacrifice."

Research Design & Methods

Research Questions

  • Can becoming a Connected Educator improve access to quality professional development?
  • Can becoming a Connected Educator improve teacher morale?
  • Can online collaboration help improve traditional face-to-face Professional Learning Communities?

Assumptions, Biases, & Weaknesses

  • The teachers who self selected to join my PAR are most likely a special subset of teachers more willing to learn and be creative
  • Developing Connected Educators is far from a linear process and still relatively new to formal research
  • Teachers would rather listen to each other than to me, so my goal was more to just help them get them started on their personal journeys which made quantitative data difficult to collect
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Data Gathering

I collected data through surveys, interviews, informal conversations, and Twitter archives


A breakdown of my 8 participants:


  • All teachers
  • 6 females, 2 males
  • 1 English teacher, 3 science teachers, 4 math teachers
  • 6 White, 2 Hispanic teachers (1 bilingual)
  • Experience ranged from 1.5 years to 12 years of teaching

Results

Emerging Social Media Themes

After coding & analyzing 595 tweets the following themes emerged from Twitter use:


  • Content related original tweets (31%)
  • Content related replies (36%)
  • Sharing resources tweets (8%
  • Asking for help tweets (14%)
  • Social tweets unrelated to academia (11%)
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Discussion

Unexpected Findings

It appears that the feeling of isolation among newly connected educators actually increased throughout the year. While other factors within the school calendar could have contributed to this, it is nonetheless an unexpected result and should be looked into further.
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Recommendations

Self Reflection Activities

Matthews & Crow (2010) recommend further self-reflection, not only on your experiences (as a connected educator), but the experiences of working on a team as well. As a connected educator, this reflection should be posted via a blog or to Twitter

For Future Projects

For future projects involving the development of Connected Educators, I highly recommend giving participants as much autonomy as possible. Turning trust over to educators is long past due within our current professional development system and fears of controlling what teachers learn need to be pushed aside for Connected Educators to be successful.

Process & Action Plan

Exploring the PAR

  • Adam was the sole person invested in exploring this PAR, interpreting results, developing action plans, and implementing & evaluating progress

Progress of Project

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Research Question Shifts

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Conclusions

Lessons Learned

It was a powerful experience to watch my teachers take control of their own learning and professional growth. I will continue this PAR, in a less official setting, next year for sure, and I can't imagine my desire to get more educators connected will ever end.

Meet the Connected Educators

Steve Kajari

  • 2nd year at Crockett teaching math (2 years prior as middle school teacher)
  • "The best thing becoming a Connected Educator did for me in the classroom is that it stopped kids from asking 'What worksheet are we doing today?' There are better ways to learn math for sure! And Twitter was a great resource for these ways."
  • Purchased new smartphone just to join Twitter
  • Students use their phones & the web to explore & gather info for class
  • After posting the Tweet below, Mr. Kajari was then asked to write a guest blog post for popular middle school math teacher Justin Aion who posted it on his blog
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Kelly Miller

  • 12 year veteran Crockett science teacher
  • Carried 'Connectedness' forward: Got a group of teachers at NSTA tweeting and now they have their own hashtag to share advice and ask questions
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Jenna Saldana

  • The only one in PAR to use Google+. She used it to connect with Mathalicious and said "Being able to connect with what would normally feel like a 'faceless creator of lessons' was extremely helpful for me and my students."
  • Had previously used Twitter before, but only for 'celebrity gossip'
  • Read & consumed the #Alg1chat or #MSmathchat because "I loved seeing the responses of people who cared, even though I'd never meet them, and I got to see how other teachers are teaching in their classrooms"
  • Reflecting on Justin Aion's blog: "I love his blog. It's such a realistic spin on things. I feel like so much of the education stuff out there is said through rose-colored glasses. His is so real. But then he's always reflecting and asking 'How can I do this better next time?' I just felt like I really connected with him. Made me want to be more creative with math. Always made me smile. There's hope."
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Sarah Dille

  • 7th year teaching English at Crockett & English department chair
  • Has separate Twitter accounts for classroom and her parenting blog
  • Expanded her Twitter use to involve students; they used class time to reach out to experts in the field and received responses back from several authors
  • Increased her blogging activity to speak out against the over testing and harmful accountability measures currently dominating public education discourse
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Brittany Kruger

  • Started her own blog, The Algebra Experiment to reflect, challenge, question, and vent about her teaching
  • Felt Twitter & blogging gave her a 'plan for the year' which put her mind at ease with some of the daily details
  • Recommends blogging to everyone, saying "It is an excellent reflecting tool for anyone!"
  • Prefers to read #Alg1chat and #MSmathchat rather than actively participate in those Twitter chats
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Shana King

  • 2nd year science teacher; Teacher of Promise last year
  • Currently writing a grant for her own summer professional development to a workshop in New York for the curriculum called "Modeling Biology"
  • Used Twitter to help her lead the chemistry PLC through several team building and exploratory learning activities
  • Tweeted with other chemistry teachers in search of activities for an accelerated class
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Allison Paris

  • 3rd year teacher & science department chair
  • Used blogs to find lesson plans for AP Environmental Systems class
  • Used Twitter to ask for help with student engagement ideas and used answers to develop an EOC prep day for 9th graders that was more welcoming

Alex Olivares

  • Borrowed & modified a lesson he found on Twitter called "Sometimes, Always, Never" which showed that math is far more than just procedures to be memorized
  • He piloted the increase in use of problem-based lessons in Algebra I, connecting to the creators of the content themselves for help with clarifying questions

Adam Holman

  • Piloted Mathalicious' project-based learning grant
  • Partnered with PERTS lab (out of Stanford research)

Appendix

Google form used as survey for PAR participants