Monday, July 30, 2012

Pinterest: Where Everyone is Pin-tastic

In response to my post "The Unexpected Power of Pinning", I was asked to provide a list of top 10 people to follow on Pinterest. To be honest, at first, I quickly started scrambling to make such a worthy list to be given out for guidance, but in my thought process, I realized something. Pinterest is not like that...and that is one of its major appeals.

How do I say this respectfully? Oh, to heck with respect. I love Twitter, but Twitter is like high school. My daughter recently asked me how many followers I had. By Twitter standards, it’s a pretty modest amount. I don’t leverage as much tweet cred as say some thought leaders in the edchat domain with followings between 20,000-50,000+. Still, it’s many more than my daughter has, so naturally I thought she’d be impressed. But then she asked me how many people I follow (roughly double the number who follow me)...she laughed. She told me it was lame to follow more people than follow you because you appear more popular if you are discriminate about who you follow. I shrugged and told her that adults are different and that we learn from each other, which is the whole point of being connected educators to begin with.

And yet, I found myself researching this later and did discover that on the whole, the most popular of educator voices out there follow a relatively small portion of other educators (some under 3% of their total follower count). There are several valid reasons for this, many articulated in a subsequent blog post I read which explained why one prominent leader was “unfollowing” everyone except those who provided top levels of interaction (sadly, I didn’t make the cut of keepers, but yet, I’m still sympathetic of the rationale). There is simply too much information flowing, and even though at any given minute (or second) if you are following the right people or the right hashtag, you can happen upon something brilliant, so much goes unseen. And even though it is a place of connected people who share like interests, it can feel very much like a party or dance in an overcrowded gymnasium where small groups are gathered swapping the latest information on this or that. If you happen to be in earshot, you might gain something valuable...good for you. If someone happens to hear you speak up and contribute, and gives you a high five and repeats it, you walk away feeling super cool. This, of course, is not the intention of our PLNs on Twitter, but it is the unintentional ramification of the way we connect...all driven by who we follow en masse.

Twitter is a wonderful, bustling and often intimidating place. On a professional level, I cannot do without it, yet many friends I’ve encouraged to follow or get connected have shied away from it entirely.  These same teachers, however, seem undaunted by Pinterest, so what gives? Here are my thoughts...

Many Shelves for Our Many Selves
Whereas Twitter identities seem to be incredibly focused--our tweets, RTs, and tweeps all representative of that identity--Pinterest is conducive to multifaceted individual use. I can collect my vegetarian recipes, dream vacations, and ed tech tools all within one profile and feel comfortable doing it. I treat it as my library with many shelves for my many selves, and it seems that others are doing the same. My Facebook friends (mostly family and social acquaintances) can follow my the non-educationally focused boards while my Twitter PLN can follow my professional boards...and I can choose where to share each pin.

Two Purposes: One for Me, One for You

When I tweet, I do so to share and to have conversations. These are incredibly rewarding, but I struggle with how to keep all the information gained organized. With Pinterest, I can accomplish two in one, building a truly useful and organized collection of resources and sharing with others. We are all starved for time, so efficiency is a very appealing draw for me.

Everyone Has Pin-Cred
Maybe Pinterest will go the way of Twitter with people gathering followers or boards gathering followers to speak to higher levels of credibility and popularity, but for now, everyone matters. Plus, topics are categorized by three different options (pins, boards, and people) so there are easier ways of searching. When looking for resources, I search keywords. If I want to see which schools are using Pinterest in a way we’d like to, I search for schools. If I want to collect ideas on differentiated instruction, I search that exact term. I don’t have to follow one particular person because for now, we are all at the start and sharing in that rare beautiful moment at the a beginning of something.

I’ve put down Twitter a little too much in this post and am feeling a little like a mean girl, so I want to end by saying this. Twitter is a conversation in a way that Pinterest cannot be, or at least isn’t yet. There is no real-time engagement on a topic or discussion stream from a hashtag to watch. There is no centralized strong leadership, which does have a great influence in sharing ideas.

But it is inviting, easy, and rewarding. What it is like, for me, is a space where I can wander through my friends' houses and pick out my favorite things among their collections...and keep them for myself. So no, I do not have a list of top educator Pinners to follow. Everyone on it, sharing ideas through pinning and repinning, is Pin-tastic!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What Does it Mean to be a School Founder?

I’m drafting this in the sunset hours of a great man’s life. I am sad, grateful, and inspired all at once, indebted to this man, Mr. Gene Ehlers, for so much of who I am today. Grandview, the school founded by Mr. and Mrs. Ehlers, has been not only formative in my own life but truly transformative in the way I see the world and my place in it. And I am but one little piece of the “together” in the opening lines of our school creed, Together we build our future. How do we begin to thank someone for such a gift as our future?

My thoughts today have led me to wonder what it really means to be a founder of a school. As treasured moments in school life often do, one about the founding of Grandview emerged in response to a child’s striking observation of something illogical. A young student asked as we prepared to celebrate Founders Day, “I don’t get it...what’s the big deal about finding Grandview? It’s right here!” In that moment, it was difficult to explain to him that the “founder” doesn’t get to find anything! The magical part of founding a school is the creation of a place where others can find; the noble part is the relentless, unspoken generosity it takes to support it through its foundation.  

In founding Grandview, Mr. Ehlers created a place where we all feel united in spirit and shared values but where we each find something a little different. For me personally, I found the following while at Grandview:

  • my passion for teaching
  • a home and a family
  • the professional opportunity of a lifetime
  • my voice as an educational leader
  • my first real team, some of the best colleagues I’ll ever work with
  • a network of students who years later still call me Mrs. D
  • my best friend & mentor
  • the childhood chapters of my children’s lives

My children found their own treasures, again collections of who they are today.  At Grandivew, my daughter found her voice as a singer, more accurately, Grandview found it and helped her see it. At Grandview, she found her “siblings”, her best friends who despite distance have the sole ability to love and comfort in times of need. I asked my son what he found at Grandview.  Almost instinctively, he responded, “pride, happiness, friendship, leadership, knowledge and loyalty.” Only these, the most important elements of a successful life, simple treasures indeed.   

I have listed these treasures as they have occurred to me and our family today, but it would be wonderful for others to comment on what Grandview helped them find. Thinking back to that child’s inquiry today, I kept repeating, “What’s the big deal about finding Grandview? It’s right here!” Yes, yes it is. And we are incredibly grateful.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pinterest: Unexpected Power in Pinning

Back in the old days, more or less a few years ago, I would collect shared resources by printing them and filing them into folders for various purposes. Fast forward a year, and I found myself labeling emails into categories, compiling resource lists into wikis, and organizing my favorite sites by Delicious and my notes by Evernote. Despite the clear leaps and bounds I’ve taken, nothing has topped Pinterest for organizing all facets of my life, from classroom ideas to vegetarian recipes. Beyond the curation of content, however, there are a few ways schools and teachers can tap into the power of pinning.

  • Ditch the textbooks for the resource board. Despite popular belief, classes can operate without a hard-cover bound book with chapters. Building up boards with often-free online resources may create wiggle room in the budget for more exciting and interactive tools, like say...iPads?
  • Break down the walls of the faculty lounge. Creating boards where teams can meet and collaborate to build up learning experiences and resources removes, or at least reduces, the frustrating obstacle of shared planning time. A nice example of this practice is W. T. White High School.
  • Market, and dare I suggest it...brand your school. I know that branding is a dirty word in education, but within every school are teachers and administrators who know that something special is going on in there which everyone else should know about. Creating boards which showcase the components of your school’s mission not only helps teachers operationalize the mission but provides parents and prospective families insight to who you are and what your pedagogical philosophy is. One great example of a school doing this is the Cincinnati Waldorf School.
  • Partner with parents and other stakeholders. Parents who want to be involved should have several outlets for participating towards the positive growth of the school. Some parents have time to spend at events, but other parents can offer off-site help by contributing resources and ideas to a planning board.
  • Catch people in the act...of being brilliant. The simple act of capturing pictures which showcase the positive aspects of a school’s culture is an easy way to validate both teacher and student effort. It can be an effective way of motivating everyone to give their best as the recognition is authentic and is repinned by others who learn from the examples beyond the school walls.
  • Get connected perspective. The strongest argument for engaging in social media interaction among educators is the augmenting of our own skill and perspective by connecting with others. Some educators feel intimidated by Twitter, LinkedIn, or other networking sites, but Pinterest seems to appeal to a whole new set of teachers. There is no one-size-fits-all tool for networking or collaboration; the more tools we have to differentiate the approach to connectivity for teachers...the better!

Don’t know where to start? Search a topic relevant to your practice. I have boards for Differentiated Instruction, Ed Tech Tools, Digital Citizenship, Favorite Blogs and I follow many others for tips on technology integration and classroom fun. The absolute best thing about Pinterest is how easy and fulfilling it is to pin, connect, collect, and repin. “Happy Pinning!”