Three years ago, I sat at the breakfast table on Christmas Day reading my Twitterstream.  My family wasn’t up yet, so I figured I’d see what my digital peers around the world were doing.

Nestled in a surprisingly long list of warm holiday messages was a 140-character invitation from Karl Fisch to join a new Kiva lending team that he’d decided to start.  Not knowing a thing about Kiva—a microlending site that pairs lenders in the developed world with entrepreneurs trying to start businesses in the developing world—I clicked through to this post on Karl’s blog to learn more.

Karl’s charge was a simple one:  He asked his followers to lend $25 to an entrepreneur in the developing world and to purchase two $25 Kiva gift certificates to pass on to members of their own learning networks.

Knowing that I wanted to do more to help people in the developing world, I took Karl up on his challenge immediately—lending $100 to a group of women in Bolivia who wanted to start small businesses selling groceries.

And I felt remarkable.

Not only had I helped to change the life of families living in a poor country halfway around the world with nothing more than a simple click, I’d joined a team of likeminded individuals who cared about global poverty, too.

But the story of Karl’s Tweet doesn’t end there.


You see, I spent the better part of the next few days wrestling with the ways that I could integrate Kiva lending into my curriculum.

“I teach South America,” I thought.  “What better way to get my kids to understand what life is like in poor nations than to have them look at the lives of real people that we could loan to.”

So I started tinkering with the idea of having my students identify potential Kiva entrepreneurs to support.  After student groups had found people to loan to, I figured they could write short persuasive speeches arguing in favor of their chosen entrepreneur—knocking another required objective off of my to-do list.

To come up with initial funds, we scheduled our first ever Do Something Funny for Money day—and raised nearly $500 that we could begin lending immediately.

Before we started lending, though, we studied the pros and cons of different kinds of Kiva loans.  We learned about the advantages of loaning to women and of making loans to groups instead of individuals.  We even talked about the strengths of giving Kiva gift cards to other classes to encourage more Kiva lending in schools.

Then, my students used a rubric that I created to think through the strengths of each loan that they found interesting.  They looked at characteristics of individual entrepreneurs, the countries that we were loaning to, and the banks that would be managing our monies for us.

Finally, my students decided on the kinds of loans that mattered to them and made short persuasive speeches to our class before we voted on each loan that we wanted to make.

Since then, my students—both in my regular classes and in my after school Kiva club—have made a real difference in the world, lending almost $6,000 to 146 entrepreneurs in countries on almost every continent.

We’ve also made videos advertising our work—learning about visual persuasion and Creative Commons image licensing at the same time.  We’ve made Google Maps—tracking our impact and learning about the countries in the middle school social studies curriculum at the same time.

We’ve made presentations to other groups of teachers, encouraging them to start their own Kiva clubs—and have even started our own Kiva lending team for kids.

Crazy, huh? 

Look at what just one message in my Twitterstream has led to and it’s impossible to deny that the sharing we do as educators in social media spaces is meaningful.

I think there are several lessons about learning in a digital world waiting to be discovered in the story of Karl’s Tweet.

They include:

Connecting with other educators in social media spaces can change your practice in significant ways.

Before “meeting” Karl online, I had no idea that Kiva even existed.  Even though I hang with a socially active, well educated group of people in real life, no one I knew was microlending—let alone integrating microlending into their classrooms.

And that’s what is so beautiful about connecting with other educators in social media spaces.  No matter how many good ideas your own network of in-house colleagues has, there are always going to be thoughts that you’re missing.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m not trying to say that your peers aren’t as smart as you thought they were.

The challenge of learning from the bright minds that you know at school, though, is that you can only follow their thinking when you’re together in the workroom.  What’s more—because your planning periods are short and scattered throughout the day—you can only reasonably connect with a small handful of them each day.

But if you take the time to join together with other educators in social media spaces, you have the opportunity to look into more minds, more often. I’m currently ‘listening’ to the thinking of a little over 400 teachers in Twitter.

I read their posts in parking lots when I’m waiting for my wife to pick up eggs in the grocery store.  I read their posts at the breakfast table before rolling out to work.  I read their posts at red lights.  I read their posts when I’m on hallway duty or out at recess.

And every post that I read—like Karl’s Christmas Morning invitation—has the potential to change my practice.  My digital peers—just like the peers in my professional learning team—are constantly introducing me to new teaching strategies and ideas that I’d never considered.

That external challenge—that always on stream of ideas and conversations—is making me a better teacher.

Sharing your ideas in social media spaces can change the practice of other teachers in significant ways.

I’ve never asked, but I’ll bet you that Karl has no idea that his Christmas Tweet had such an impact on who I am as an educator.  After all, it was only 1 of the almost 9,000 messages that he’s posted during his time on Twitter.

In fact, I’ll bet that when Karl posted his message, he didn’t have any single user in mind.  Instead, he was just sharing an idea with his network.  What those of us who have chosen to follow Karl did with his Team Shift Happens idea was completely out of his control once he clicked “Tweet.”

Those are important lessons to any teacher using social media spaces.  While you can always lurk and learn, sharing matters—even when you aren’t sure that anyone else is listening.

Have a great idea for a lesson?  Post it.  Have a provocative thought or a challenging question that you’re trying to answer?  Post it.

Found a resource that you think is going to be helpful in your own work?  Discovered a source of online conversations that matters to you?  Come across a hashtag that is full of great conversations?

Post them.  Always.

Because there ARE people listening and learning from you—and your thinking and ideas have the potential to spark something significant inside the minds of peers that you’ve never met and to change teaching in ways that you’ll never know.

Learning in a connected world is less about what you know and more about who you know.

Let me tell you a little secret:  I’m not a particularly bright fella.  Spend a little time poking through the messages shared in my Twitterstream, and you’ll see pretty darn quickly that almost everyone I ‘know’ online is way, way smarter than I am.

I mean I ‘know’ folks like Chris Lehmann, who is one of today’s most progressive educational leaders.  I ‘know’ folks like Sylvia Tolisano, who does remarkable work connecting kids to the world through technology.

I ‘know’ folks like Will Richardson—who has been pushing new thought around teaching and learning for at least a decade—and Russ Goerend, whose transparent posts about classroom practices influence me greatly.

I look inside the minds of remarkably brilliant people almost every time that I open my Twitterstream, and their ideas—like Karl’s work with Kiva—actively change who I am as a teacher.

That’s Parkour, isn’t it?

Essentially, what I know—which isn’t a whole heck of a lot—isn’t nearly as important as who I know.  As long as I take the time—and have the know-how—to find credible folks to learn from, I can strengthen my own practices and efficiently build my own knowledge.

(Aren’t these the kinds of lessons that we need to be teaching our students, by the way?)

Our students still need teachers to show them how to leverage their social networks for learning.

You know, if you spend any time poking through the Facebook pages of the tweens and teens in your life, it’s not hard to understand why Mark Bauerlein calls today’s youth The Dumbest Generation.

Trying to make sense of the new tools at their fingertips without any real guidance from the adult learners in their lives, our kids do little with social networks that we’d call meaningful.

They know tons about connecting but little about the inherent power of connections.

Which is why Karl’s comment below is so important.  He writes, “It still takes inspired teachers working with and alongside their students to take ideas (whether discovered digitally or not), run with them, and do amazing things.”

I always like to say that our kids can be inspired by technology to ponder, imagine, reflect, analyze, memorize, recite and create—but only after we build a bridge between what they know about new tools and what we know about efficient learning.


Does this make any sense?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that social media spaces are changing who I am as a teacher and as learner in powerful ways—and as long as you’re willing to do a bit of exploring and digital connecting, personal learning networks can change who you are as well.

Great ideas, after all, are only a Tweet away.

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