Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Slice of Life - Todd Whitaker and Twitter Saved My Life

Tuesdays, for the month of July, are dance class days for Madeline. This is her first dance class and she couldn't be more thrilled. She is in a Creative Dance class for 3 to 5 year old dancers so there is some instruction but I love how the dance instructor isn't overly structured but she does enough instruction that Maddie feels that she is in ballet. Dance class has given me a unique opportunity to observe Maddie as a student. It's a cool perspective to see her interacting with a teacher: moments where she is totally focused and other moments where she just spins around in a circle so she can feel her little skirt flutter. It's precious, really. I have found that I need to hide in the building during dance class otherwise Maddie spends her time looking at me through the glass window, mouthing little tidbits of how she feels to me. Today, I tucked myself in a corner, read Babymouse #2 (how come I waited so long to read graphic novels?), and then still had time to think about where I am at with "things" right now.

It's pretty amazing how having a child changes your filter as an educator. I suddenly run everything through the "would I want my child in that type of school?" and "do I want my child in that type of instructional setting? that kind of teacher?" After a five year stint as a teacher on special assignment and then as an elementary principal, I requested a return to the classroom (motherhood and a dying dad made everything overwhelming). My school district was supportive and honored the request. I knew I'd be rusty, but I never prepared myself for the depths of despair I would experience.

I was assigned to a school where I found the parents and community to be incredibly supportive and welcoming and a staff that was highly skilled and the epitome of professional. It was also a school that had a highly prescriptive reading program, Kindergarten through 6th grade. The reading program did not match my teaching philosophy nor did it match anything I had read from Donalyn Miller's book, The Book Whisperer. When I approached my team and my administrator about my concerns with the structure of the prescriptive reading program, I was told that decisions had been made prior to my arrival and that I was expected to be part of the team. It was a difficult year...I found myself teaching in a way that I hated. I didn't inspire readers or writers. That trend would continue for another year.

I felt that there was some hope the 2nd year at this school when the administrator agreed to a book study for Daily Five and CAFE. At the same time, our school was notified that we were in "Improvement Status" so any hopes of doing something other than the prescriptive textbook were quickly shut down. We were going to do more of the same and everyone needed to be on the same page. Any leverage I thought I had with a National Board certificate quickly evaporated. I didn't have a reading endorsement so my research and experience meant nothing to my administrator. Why didn't I just close my door and do my own thing? Being in Improvement Status meant that every classroom that was at a tested grade level was under intense scrutiny and those not following the script (me) were directed to be part of the team. I threw in the towel. Honestly, a part of me died. Remember the Maddie filter? I remember thinking that I wouldn't even want my own child in my classroom.

When the opportunity to mentor 1st and 2nd year teachers became available, I jumped at it. Not only was it a way to grow professionally but it was also an escape for the dark place I was in. During the spring of 2013, I decided to log onto this dormant Twitter account I had. I don't even recall what sparked the motivation to play around. I decided to see if one of my educational gurus, Todd Whitaker, was on Twitter. He is so I followed him. It was divine intervention that he posted about "Twitter being free professional development" and "Twitter is THE way to expand your professional learning network". I have no qualms with saying that Todd Whitaker saved my life.

Once I embraced Todd's Twitter advice, I began by following Donalyn Miller, my other education guru, and from there the network grew. As a result, I feel the parts of me that I thought had died are coming back to life. I read. I write. I blog (say, what?!). And I tell people I work with about what I'm doing. The PLN that Todd spoke of has, in essence, nursed me back to health. I have a long ways to go, but I'm at a place where I've regained confidence, I feel that I have something to offer professionally, and I have passion, again. More importantly, I would put my own kid in my classroom.

So, my slice of life is a deep and sincere appreciation for those in my Twitter PLN who have opened their arms to me, embraced me as one of their own, and accepted me as I am. 


  1. Isn't that the best thing about Twitter--those people who you look up to actually will have conversations with you. I have learned more in the last couple of years on Twitter than in all the previous years of PD. Plus--you'll find new blogs to read like I just did!

  2. Hi Deb! I apologize that my original response to your comment did not go through. Sometimes my iPhone is a bit persnickety. Grrr...
    I couldn't agree more about what you said about how folks interact with you and the amount of learning that comes with Twitter. It's been an incredible period of growth in a VERY short period of time. I am eternally grateful to everyone and can't thank you enough for stopping by and leaving a comment.