From a reluctant connected educator:

I collected 45s when I was a kid – not the handguns, but 45 rpm records that came with a single song embedded in the grooves. For 99¢, I could own forever my favorites like “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers or ELO’s “Evil Woman”.

My mom would shop across the strip mall at Longs Drug, and I would head to Tower Records to see what new releases had come out since my last adventure. I’d have calculated how much of my allowance I’d saved, and then pick out the songs I most urgently needed to add to my collection. (Foreigner’s “Urgent” is certainly among them.)

Then, I’d go home and meticulously add the titles to my handwritten list. By the time cassette tapes came out and I’d lost interest in 45s, I’d accumulated almost 500 singles, completely cataloged and alphabetized in specially made record holders spread out around my room.

I understand the need to collect. If you love something, or even the idea of something, you want to hold onto it forever. I have every yearbook for every class I’ve ever taught so that I can revisit the faces of my students. I’ve kept every theater ticket from every play my daughter and I have seen together. When I watch a TV show, I must see it from the beginning and then watch it until the series ends, no matter how many episodes in it “jumps the shark.”

I watch Hoarders. I know no good can come of this. In fact, all of those 45s melted in my parents’ attic after I went away to college. My attic is stuffed full, and I know I’ll never sort through it all – the dust and mold might kill me, anyway.

But, you get the idea. I like to wrestle down and hold onto the things I love. I fear missing out on any little bit of them. So, you’ve got to understand that Facebook and my 400 friends make me near panic. That newsfeed moves so fast! Better to ignore it completely rather than try to keep up with any of it. Apply this same idea to a baseball season, reality TV, books by an author I adore – ad nauseum.

Most battles I’ve lost. Trying to capture every song I’ve ever loved on some form of permanent media is no longer possible. The theater tickets? Kept in a special box a dear friend decorated with Kurt Vonnegut quotations – she totally gets me. And Survivor is the only reality show I watch. The rest are dead to me.

When Twitter came out, I saw it as a cruel joke. I love ideas and learning more about the ideas I love. Twitter is amazing for that – just follow people or organizations that contribute to your understanding of the educational zeitgeist. No problem. Yet, Twitter turned out to be more like Audrey II, the man-eating plant from Little Shop of Horrors. The bigger it got, the more of my blood it required to live.

Photo by Hannah Sneed for the State Journal, used by permisson. Simon Holden plays Seymour in the WHHS production of Little Shop of Horrors.


Photo by Hannah Reel for The State Journal, used with permission. Simon Holden plays Seymour in the WHHS production of Little Shop of Horrors

Yet, the truth of it is, reading the tweets and blogs and studies and what-not from educators and education organizations I find there enlivens my practice and keeps my work fresh. Teaching is hard, and engaging with others, despite the time it takes, seems to lighten the rest of my load. This is something Bill W. understood, and we should not ignore – diverse communities of people with a similar goal make each of its members stronger and more able to meet the challenges of their mission.

My approach to social media

Keep Facebook personal. I try to share my family pictures and such, though when I write or read something I think my teacher friends would appreciate, I post it there, too.

Find a virtual community and dig in. My deep and personal engagement with theCenter for Teaching Quality’s Collaboratory raised me out of the narrow halls of my high school and into the national scene. My professional life has blossomed in the last four years, and all of it is rooted in the inspiration, collaboration, and support I found there. Be brave and put your thoughts on the electronic page. Share with your community your ideas and challenges. Comment on the ideas of others. It will stretch your thinking and help clarify what matters to you around your practice and your profession.

As an individual professional, use Twitter in a regulated, systematic way. Follow only the people and organizations you respect most, and set a time limit for your engagement that compliments your schedule. Some articles relate to your own work or require more concentration. Take advantage of the “reading list” widget of Safari or get set up with Pocket so you can segregate surfing time from reading time. Also, consider your electronic persona. What you tweet and re-tweet combine to make a portrait of you a new follower might explore from your profile. Clarify your goals for your twitter presence and keep that in mind when you interact publically.

As an organization, use Twitter in a broad, consistent way. Follow everyone and Tweet like crazy. Use HootSuite or another program to keep track of it all. Schedule tweets at regular intervals, and don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Your mission is to draw attention to your work, and you want to show up on your followers’ feed at the moment they check it. To push out blogs or studies, pull key quotes from longer works, and include a shortened link and tweet it out systematically. Use programs like Keyhole to keep track of your reach.

Participate in Twitter chats, despite the frenetic pace and the superficiality of 140 characters. I used to hate these, and still do a little, but I’ve found what makes them worthwhile for me. When the facilitator asks a meaningful question, I have a short time to coalesce my thoughts and respond with, essentially, a headline. What results is often the theme of a longer blog post or later exploration into a new direction of inquiry. I’m especially fond of #KyEdChat because of the thoughtful questioning of the moderators and some limiting elements: participants are usually Kentucky bound and it ends after an hour – calming my collector heart.

Blog. I used to feel like I had to read every single blog ever written on my subject before beginning to write. What could I possibly have to say that hadn’t been said before? (My dissertation remains unwritten because of this, too.) Doesn’t matter. Let it go. Repeat information? So what. It is the internet. It is really, really big. There’s room for you, too. And, your English teacher was right: no one has your voice, your experiences, and your insight. Use it to add to our profession.

Become part of your own blogging community. Regularly read and comment on a manageable amount of blogs by others you respect. Let them know how you feel and why, challenge their thinking, and become part of the conversation. You will be surprised by how much it means when they return the favor – and they will.

I romanticize the early part of the last century when a few fortunate souls found their way to literary notoriety, sat around in salons, and exchanged witty banter. Despite her penchant for suicide attempts, and maybe because of them, I admired Dorothy Parker and her time spent lounging around that table in the Algonquin Hotel musing that, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity,” with the only other people she found worthy of her company.

But, this is the thing about being a connected educator. We build our own salons and parlors in the ether. And our meetings there enrich our minds and our souls. Our connections to each other keep us connected to ourselves, reminding us of what we value and what we don’t. Yes, I’d prefer the deep wood of the Algonquin Roundtable, but I’ll gladly accept the modern metal of my MacBook as a conduit from me to you.

@lhill40, @KyNT3, #CE14, #KyEdChat

This blog dedicated to Renee Boss at the Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky

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