I have been teaching formally in a school setting since 1995 (it could be 1994, my mind is a little rusty on the actually start date). Prior to this I worked at the Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre, developing programmes for children around the environment, conservation and, well, banana slugs. These amazing gastropods live in our temperate rainforest, breaking down detritus and are either loved or hated! I, of course, loved the slimey little (up to twelve inches long) creatures. I even had the 4 and 5 year olds create their own banana slugs out of bananas, chocolate hoods, raisons, toothpicks and honey (for the slime trail).
I loved teaching students, openning up new worlds for them to explore, discover or even invent. I took this enthusiasm into the science and math classroom, with differing success and definitely different enthusiasm from the students. I learnt to improve my teaching through my administration (evaluations and walkthroughs, although I never really go on side with the “grade eights should always raise their hands to answer your questions”), my mentor teachers (who were amazing and supported me with all my ‘crazy ideas’) and a small group of teachers that I connected through my practicum. That was it. Probably twenty (at the most) educators talking and supporting my learning.
That lasted for fifteen years. Then I discovered Twitter sometime in 2009.
I slowly began to follow friends in education (in 2009, that was difficult to find) and then authors, speakers and researchers. I read the tweets carefully and tried to make an astute comment, carefully crafted and sent it out to the world of twitter. It was like a baby bird, set out on its own, not knowing where it would lead.
I got a few responses back (which made my day: imagine, a great author has sent me a message, my tweet had grown up a little). Then I discovered some chats. #Edchat and #mathchat were probably my first, with the same trepidation as my first responses to tweets by known educators. I followed, made comments, got replies, got followed. My little PLN was growing up. The tweet had wings!
I now use twitter almost like oxygen. I tweet at the beach, on my balcony (never tire of the views), on my couch, watching The Big Bang Theory (trying to sound intelligent, as I watch and tweet). I follow many chats (including a few that I fell into, like #CaEdChat – thinking it was Canada when it was California. No-one minded, though, the conversations spread out across the world).
Eventually, I have moved from a lurker (I prefer watcher) to participant to creator to moderator (with the newly re-started #BCEdChat, the BC is for British Columbia, where I work). My favourite at the moment is the #TLAP chat on the book Teach Like a Pirate.
I look back at my first years teaching and wonder, how much better I would have been if I had the world as a mentor, supportor, evaluator (yes, people evaluate your work on twitter).
The opportunities to learn are vast (MOOC’s, twitter chats, even regular conversations over twitter), where ideas can be formed, let out to the world and take their own place in the twittervers. My PLN is now over 1000 (small for some, but great for me) in my twitter group, dozens in my school and district.
When I was first teaching, the greatest hurdle was the ‘we never get time for collaboration’. That is no longer the truth, as collaboration with educators around the world can happen anytime, and there is always time to learn. I wonder where I would be if there were no banana slugs and my first tweet never came back to me.