Many of those who read this will say, "Plurk? What is Plurk?" Plurk was once a happening place where educators met met online and shared ideas. It was before the days of prolific teacher pages on Facebook and #edchats on Twitter were just taking off.
Plurk allowed me to build a PLC (Professional Learning Community) with educators all across the country. We shared technology tools to use in the classroom and lesson ideas. At the time, I was teaching in rural Arkansas, and to hear so many ideas from diverse educators was invigorating and inspiring. Because of Plurk, I got to connect with people like Kevin Honeycutt @kevinhoneycutt (a sought after keynote speaker), Michael Soskil @msoskil (Pennsylvania's 2017 Teacher of the Year), Dyane Smokorowski, @mrs_Smoke (Kansas's 2013 Teacher of the Year), Kimberly Wright @kimberlywright1 a TLI Teacher Leader from El Paseo, Texas....the list could go on and on.
What happened to Plurk? Well, it began to get overrun with spam, people began to drift to Twitter, and it stopped being the "it" place for educators. I personally have never been able to make the connection that others have in Twitter. I miss the idea sharing and the support of other educators I found on Plurk. Just this week @mrs_smoke and @msoskil shared a picture on Facebook from an old ISTE and laughed because one of their badges had a Plurk ribbon. I mentioned in the thread that I missed Plurk.
I realized lately that although the PLC I created on Plurk may be gone, I have been slowly building a new one on Facebook. Many of us that met on Plurk ended up connecting on Facebook, and I'm so thankful to still have those connections. Just this morning my friend Mitch Weisburgh @weisburghm connected me to a great reading opportunity for my students this year. However, I'm starting to make other connections that are getting my creative juices going.
It began by following teacher pages. You know, other teachers, like me who were just sharing links to their blogs. I would get lots of good ideas, but communication was just one way. For the last two or three years that's all I've really done, and to be honest it really hasn't fed my teacher soul. Recently, Facebook suggested some groups that I might like to join, and that's when things began to change. To begin with they are groups that share my same interests...I'm going to be teaching fourth grade next year, and the groups centered around that age group. Also the members of the groups are active. When someone poses a question to one of the groups, the others are diligent to see that it receives some type of response. Seeing this type of collaboration and interaction between teachers has reinvigorated me. For the first time in several years, I've heard about online tools that are new to me, I've been inspired to try new things in my classroom, and I feel a confidence about starting the new school year that I haven't felt in awhile.
If you're looking to connect with other educators through Facebook Groups below are a few that I recommend.
I’ve been thinking about writing this blog since almost the first week I started plurking. Remember that book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? I think I could write a book called All I Really Need to Know to Teach I Learned from Plurk.
There is a lot of talk right now about PLNs. Some say PLN stands for Personal Learning Networks, others say it stands for Professional Learning Networks. I like to think PLN, at least for me, stands for Plurk Learning Network. For those of you not familiar with Plurk, it is a unique social network. It is most often compared to Twitter, but in my humble opinion they are very different. Twitter is a place to talk at people. When I plurk, I’m given the opportunity to talkwith people. As I’ve stated in a previous blog, I wasn’t to sure about Plurk at first. Primarily because there was such a plethora of information, and I couldn’t figure out how to efficiently assimilate it. Believing there was value in plurking, I made the commitment to dive in and make connections. Over the last two months I have discovered ways to filter the information shared, and as a benefit, the knowledge and inspiration I’ve gained has grown exponentially.
Plurk has provided me support and encouragement as I endeavor to daily be a better teacher than I was the day before. I’m introduced to cutting edge educational resources. Already this year my students have been able to Skype with a class in Kansas. We have made connections with schools in Australia, Poland, Turkey, Russia, and a round the country through a project I learned about on Plurk called One Day, One World. This week my students enthusiasm was tangible as we located our partnering schools on Google Earth. In my Language Arts class, my 5th graders had the opportunity to brainstorm ideas (for the classroom newspaper we’re creating) with educators across the country using a website called Wall Wisher. I wish you could have heard the Oohs and Aahs as posts appeared on our Wall Wisher site, and the students realized that another teacher sitting in another state was talking to them live. These are all examples of things I was able to do in my room because I had made connections with fellow educators on Plurk.
The connections I’ve made on Plurk have inspired me to reflect on who I am as a teacher. I remember when I was completing my college career that one of my final pieces was to put in writing my philosophy of teaching. This summer, as I began pouring through the educational articles shared on plurk, I realized I hadn’t thought about what it means to be a teacher in quite sometime. The connections I’ve made through Plurk have inspired me to reevaluate my pedagogical philosophy. One of the key conclusions I made is that as a teacher, as a human being, I desire to inspire those around me. I want to teach my students to reflect, to think deeply, to believe in themselves. I want to ignite a desire within each of them to grow and to learn.
Plurk has also taught me a few other valuable lessons to take with me into my classroom. These lessons don’t have anything to do with the links posted or the instructional ideas shared. On Plurk when there is something you want to say, you create a post that is limited to 140 characters. This post is called a plurk. After I hit enter, my Plurk becomes visible to my Plurk Buddies. They then have an opportunity to comment on my Plurk. One of the things this has made me aware of is my hunger for feedback. I can’t wait to check back to see if anyone has commented on my Plurk. My desire for feedback has made me think a lot about my students. If I, a grown up, long to hear input about my thoughts and ideas, how hungry must my students be for feedback. As a teacher of writing, this realization has helped me conclude that I must provide my students with more authentic opportunities to share their writing. My students are funny, witty, insightful, and brilliant. Why should I be the only one reading their amazing pieces?
A friend of mine, when describing Plurk, called it 24/7 self directed staff development. I couldn’t agree more. I firmly believe as a teacher, we should be daily striving to do what we do, better. If I, or any other educator, loses that desire, it is probably time to find a new path to journey down. Our students deserve the very best we have to offer. I can’t give them my best if I haven’t invested the time to stay abreast of the best teaching practices currently available. With the connections provided by Plurk I know that I can continually fine tune my teaching practices, so that when my students walk in my door, they will be receiving the very best I can give them.
Reflections from the First Day of School
This week I began my thirteenth year of teaching. Wow, just that statement makes me stop and pause. I know it’s cliché, but it seems like only yesterday I was walking into my first classroom.
This past Thursday was the first day of school for our students. Over the last few weeks, as I prepared for a new school year, I assumed on the first day of school I would be standing at my classroom door greeting each student. Unfortunately the state of Arkansas had other ideas--I was called for jury duty. Due to the nature of the case no one was being excused. I diligently sat in court Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday hoping against hope that I would finally be excused. Wednesday, as I was leaving court, the reality began to sink in. For the first time in my career I would not be at my door on that first day to meet my students. I began to cry.
Those of you who teach, know how important it is to start the year off on the right foot. I knew that first day was a day with my students I could never get back. After moping for a little while, it was time to stop mourning about something I couldn’t change. I had a new goal. How could I make sure my students had the best possible day even if I wasn’t with them?
How do you even go about leaving substitute lesson plans for the first day of school? I began to brainstorm about the possible activities I could have the students do with a substitute. I even asked my friends on Plurk for help.
Our school is in an unique position this year. Due to consolidation, we have students from three different schools coming together for the first time. I, like many of our students, am also new to our building. Because of all this change I’d come to the conclusion that it was important to help the students build relationships with each other, and I wanted to get to know each of them. But how could I accomplish any of those goals with a substitute?
Have you ever had one of those “Ah-Ha” moments? I did on Wednesday. If I couldn’t be there to talk to them, I was at least going to give them the opportunity to talk to me. I asked the substitute to have each student write me a letter. In that letter they could share anything they thought I needed to know about them.
Thursday evening I returned to school after finally being released from jury duty. The students had already gone home from their first day of school, but sitting on my desk, waiting for me, was a pile of hand written letters. I sat down and began to read. Over the next hour or so I made my way through 80 plus letters. As I read I became stunned by the insights I was already gaining about students I had yet to meet. I wondered to myself, “Why have I never given this assignment before?” and quickly realized it would be a new annual assignment for the years to come. There were many letters that chronicled the events of their summer, but there were just as many letters that told me bits and pieces of who they were and how they think.
There was the 6th grader who had the guts to tell his English teacher, “Sorry, I really don’t like writing.” Another student made me giggle when he said, “The nicer you are to me, the nicer I will be to you.
Other letters broke my heart. A 5th grader wrote, “I am not that smart.” And a 6th grade boy, after telling me his aspirations to be a professional skateboarder and how he had repaired a broken laptop without any help, ended his letter by saying, “I’m not real interesting.” I began to wonder how I’m going to inspire these young men. How am I going to help them see themselves for who they really are?
A girl from my 6th grade class said, “I’m sure you are amazing. This is kinda scary since the other school is here. I know it will be an interesting adventure. We always have to be prepared in life and ready for change. As you can see I am a free spirited person.” Another young lady told me, “Literature is my favorite subject. I would love to be an author. I write and draw all the time. I am articulate and smart.”
Then there was the 6th grader who in one breath said, “I am a little smart” and in next said, “I can be creative in lots of ways.” As she expressed her thoughts through the rest of her letter, I could see that she was more than a “little smart,” she was very bright. I knew I had to take on the mission of helping her realize how very gifted she is.
Many students shared excitement about the start of a new school year and their love a learning like one 5th grader who said, “I’m excited to be in your class. I think I will have a good time.”
As I read the last letter a thought began to form in my mind. The vast majority of the letters were written by students excited to be at school, who voiced a love of learning. I began to wonder, what is it that we do as educators that extinguish that passion? How do we keep from quenching their excitement? How can we, instead, encourage them to continue to grow? What can I do to help them learn to love learning?
This summer I was inspired to try some bold and innovative new ideas in my classroom. Although inspired I have also had some trepidation about actually implementing those ideas. Mostly I have been plagued by the fear of failing miserably. After reading my students letters, however, I choose to set aside my fears. They deserve a teacher who is determined to do whatever it takes to foster their love of learning, and I want to be the kind of teacher they deserve.
*Image was created using www.wordle.net
Just a place to share my thoughts about education, technology, and whatever else pops into my head.