by Catherine Koos, Head of Holy Trinity’s Lower School
Catherine Koos holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Pennsylvania State University, a M.S. in Math Education from Florida Tech and an Educational Specialist degree in Educational Leadership from University of Central Florida. She serves on the board of the Florida Kindergarten Council.
Education is changing more quickly than ever and teachers are expected to stay up to date on the latest research and trends. We are striving to prepare our students for a world where information creation and discovery are taking place at faster and faster rates. I first started at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy the year the Pineda Campus opened and as Dean of Faculty, I was in charge of professional development for all the teachers. Regularly, I was on computer listservs where educational topics were discussed. I paid for journals that would come in the mail and I subscribed to email digests like ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development). I don’t do any of these things now because I have found that I can find these same resources on Twitter for free and faster than these other methods.
Twitter is not just about celebrities talking about what they had for breakfast! Twitter took me a little while to get the hang of and it can be off-putting to those who don’t understand it. It is the best tool I know of, though, to become a connected educator. I believe being a connected educator is critical to providing our students with the skills they will need to be successful in the future. Now that I have developed my PLN (personal learning network) I can share ideas and resources, collaborate and learn from educators all around the world. At this time, I have more than 3,000 followers and similarly follow tons of others to get global perspectives on things like teaching strategies, educational issues, and the latest research and technologies. It does take time and effort to build these connections, but it is well worth the effort. The value of a vast network of field-tested, in the trenches, active educators is so much more authentic than many other ways I used in the past for professional development.
The access Twitter has provided me is incredible. When my daughter did a report on a famous Floridian in fourth grade, we used my Twitter account to reach out and she did an interview that way. If our faculty are reading a book together, I find the author on Twitter and discuss ways to help implement the strategies more fully with our teachers. If I read an article that I really like, I find the researcher on Twitter and follow them directly. I don’t have to wait until the regular media has picked up an interesting idea. I can find out about it first hand from the actual researcher or author.
Educators on Twitter are extremely “pay it forward” teachers. Many of the initiatives that I have brought to the Lower School were ones I first heard about on Twitter. I first learned about the concept of our parent sharing conferences from another Episcopal school administrator on Twitter. Twitter was instrumental in our wildly popular Innovation Day. I saw the idea on Twitter and arranged for our sixth grade team to Skype with a teacher in England who had done it before. Through the years, we have taken off with the idea and made it our own. This January we are going to do a Create Your Own Adventure Day with the Elementary Division in which students will get to pick the classes they wish to attend. Teachers are busy selecting the lessons they are going to teach that day and the students will vote with their attendance. I am sure this will be a memorable day of learning for our students. Again, this idea came from another administrator I follow on Twitter who did something like it at his school.
When I subscribed to various journals, I often just read the first few sentences of an article to decide if I was going to read it. That is the same way things are on Twitter. Due to the limitation of 140 characters or less, I quickly cull through resources and zero in on those that may be helpful for me. I can ask questions, too, and get back often instant response from around the world.
One of my favorite things to do on Twitter is participate in a live Twitter chat. I co-moderate a Twitter chat on Thursdays at 9 p.m. for independent school educators called #isedchat. The last one I hosted was on the topic of Makerspaces and had scores of educators from around the world sharing resources and ideas on how to use them effectively with students. I first heard about Makerspaces on Twitter and have visited several schools that have them. I remain connected to people from these schools on Twitter. We have a brand new laser cutter due to our generous Parent Association and I am already gathering lesson plans from some other schools who have one. It is wonderful to be able to learn from their mistakes and really hit the ground running with a new initiative.
When I talk to my two children about Twitter, they understand that I am not trapped in the past century. I am thrilled to be a role model to them on good digital citizenship and that if we follow appropriate people who will give us good information, then we are in a position to have a great experience online. I have presented at several national conferences on this topic and have been called in as a consultant to help two other private schools to get their teachers familiar with Twitter. I have found support and encouragement from these connections in what can be a demanding profession.