7 ways to transform your teaching

Teaching

Teaching | Monday, October 28, 2013

7 ways to transform your teaching

Transform your teaching

The teaching world is a different place. New resources for teacher growth are available. By harnessing their power, you can transform your teaching.

In the last two years, my teaching has come alive.

I’m engaging my students in ways I never did before. I have new ideas I’ve gathered from a strong personal learning network I’ve gathered on Twitter. I’m considering new education concepts and philosophies I never dreamed of before.

In short, it’s not because I’ve turned into the next coming of Jaime Escalante. It’s because I’m tapping into resources — human and otherwise — that have opened my mind and my teaching.

They’re all things that you can do, too. And I’ll bet that they’ll be just as transformative for you as well.

1. Follow other great educators on Twitter.

I know. Education blogs have been making this suggestion for a long time now, and we can’t stop ourselves. But I can’t sing the praises of Twitter enough.

I have access to great educational thinkers and doers. I get to see what Scott McLeod is working on. I follow Vicki Davis’s thoughts on how she’s engaging her students. I can listen in on Alice Keeler’s many conversations about education and Google Docs and actually pick her brain about them (which I have). Stephen Krashen, one of the foremost scholars on language acquisition, is a Twitter regular.

If Twitter isn’t your thing, there’s a quickly-growing community of educators on Google Plus. Plus, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m really enjoying Sanderling, a new hub for teachers and what they’re working on.

If you start following these great educators on Twitter and start connecting with them, you can’t help but improve your teaching and thinking.

2. Participate in Twitter chats.

These one-hour weekly virtual get-togethers of like-minded (and, at times, not-so-like-minded) educators are like free teaching conferences from your couch. Lots of amazing, transformative things happen when teachers participate in these chats:

  • You gather new resources.
  • Your thinking is challenged.
  • You hear perspectives and viewpoints you might never hear otherwise.
  • You meet and maintain relationships with others in the education realm.

Twitter chats are organized around about any educational topic, content area or location you can imagine. And the official list of Twitter chats grows all the time.

3. Participate in your state Twitter chat — and in others, too.

Practically every state has organized its own Twitter chat. State Twitter chats are great for:

  • meeting colleagues in your state
  • having conversations about local topics
  • finding out about events and happenings in your state
  • hearing more local perspectives about education discussions

Being from Indiana, I’ve met lots of Hoosier educators I never would have known through our state Twitter chat, #INeLearn. I also met friend and co-presenter Paula Neidlinger through our state Twitter chat. Over the course of a few months, we met via Twitter, collaborated on ideas, decided to do some conference presentations together, planned our presentation and then finally met in person. All thanks to our state Twitter chat.

4. Read Will Richardson’s book, “Why School?”

These are 14,000 words that will change your outlook on education and, in turn, what you do in your classroom. Will Richardson, a great speaker and educational thinker, wrote: “Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere.”

It’s an ebook available on Amazon, and as of this post, it’s only $1.99.

Here’s the gist: Schools used to have the corner on the information market, so teachers could simply present information and students would take it in. But times have changed. Now information is ubiquitous, and teachers who just present information are playing a role that a Google search can.

For schools to stay relevant, they have to change with the times. Students don’t need to be prepared for a skill-based industrial job like they did once. Many careers are based on decision-making, creativity and synthesizing information. Richardson gives his suggestions for making school relevant again.

They’re gold. They’ve sparked new ideas in me and in teachers all over.

5. Start a blog. Or if you have one, post to it regularly.

Starting this blog, Ditch That Textbook, was one of the best things I’ve done in my education career for lots of reasons:

  • It’s a place to log what I do and try in my classroom
  • It’s a place to unpack and digest new ideas
  • It’s a place to engage in conversation with others all over the world

More importantly, it’s a way to take what I’ve learned and make it available to others. So many in education — and really, in all fields — are information consumers. We find ideas and articles and thoughts that help us online, but we don’t contribute. Blogging publishes it so others can benefit from others’ experiences.

It’s no harder to start a blog on Blogger or WordPress.com or Edublogs than setting up a social media account. And it’s free.

6. Follow other blogs.

According to a Blogging.org infographic, there were 31 million bloggers that wrote at 42 million blogs as of 2012.

A small percentage of those are education blogs, and there are some really good ones. (A good place to start, in my opinion, is Education Rethink, written by John Spencer.)

How do you find them? Educators share links to their favorite articles on Twitter all the time. An easy way to get started is to check out posts to the #edchat hashtag. Find a blog post you like and you may have a blog you want to follow.

How do you follow them? It’s easier than typing their web addresses in every time you want to check them out. Feedly is a great service that pulls in new content from blogs when they publish. Add lots of blogs to your Feedly account that interest you. Every time you log in, it will be like a fresh copy of a personalized, custom-tailored newspaper sitting at your doorstep.

7. Keep an open mind.

Connecting with other educators on Twitter, reading good books and following blogs isn’t going to transform your teaching by itself. In fact, at first some of the new ideas you encounter may kick back against your current beliefs.

That’s OK.

We don’t progress without challenge.

Example: The first time I visited the standards-based grading Twitter chat, #sbgchat, I saw lots of stances on educational philosophy that were against mine. My first instinct was to fight back. My next was to give up and move on.

But I stayed there. What some of these education experts said was the opposite of what I did. I swallowed the pill, listened in and asked questions.

Since then, I’ve changed my stance on homework and redoing work. And I believe I’m a better teacher because of it.

What other suggestions do you have to transform teaching? Leave ideas in a comment below!

(For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links, “like” Ditch That Textbook on Facebook and follow @jmattmiller on Twitter!)

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  • Ken Keene says:

    A thought has occurred to me after reviewing your seven ways to transform teaching through the application of technology. Please describe the time commitment that you have made to Twittering, blogging, website surfing, etc. I assume these items require time in addition to lesson planning, presentation preparation, grading (although you save some time with automated approaches), school administration, etc. I wonder if you have family responsibilities beyond your personal maintenance. Please remember I am really interested in your articles, some of the best I have ever read. But I need to gain perspective regarding how to accomplish all that you have proposed to transform my teaching.

    • Matt Miller says:

      Hi Ken … Thanks for your comments and for your question, which it think many people share. I’m going to write about this more this week, I believe, but here is the quick answer. I usually fit Twitter into the minutes in between things, in lulls in the evening or between classes or during commercials. If I participate in a Twitter chat, that usually takes an hour of undivided attention, but it is always worth it. Blogging usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half per post for me (twice a week). I almost always write my blog posts in the morning before my family wakes up. I have a wife and three children and usually stay away from connected educator stuff from the end of the school day until 8 pm or so when kids are in bed. One day, when my nest is empty or my kids are older and are put with friends, I will probably spend more time connecting. Gotta prioritize, but I find my time to do this just because it makes me a much better teacher and helps others. Hope that answers your question. I plan to have more on Thursday when I write about this again!

  • Tim Powell says:

    Thank you for the effort and thought that goes into each of your posts. I have enjoyed, considered and/ or implemented many of your suggestions. It is a constant struggle to stay ahead of the curve within the constraints of our administrative priorities and our personal limits. I think I’m a better teacher than I was just a month ago but not as good as I’ll be even a month from now. I enjoy the constantly learning and upping my game. Thank you for being a part of that transformation.

  • Matt Miller says:

    Thanks, Tim, for your kind words! We live in exciting times when so much is changing and improving in education. It’s so easy, like you said, to be better in just a month with all the resources that are out there. Thanks for making Ditch That Textbook part of it!

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