Tag Archives: twitter

An Open Secret

For a long time, I maintained this blog secretly and anonymously. Sure, my family knew about it. So did the folks on Twitter. Only one colleague knew about it; another one was able to connect a bunch of random dots that led her to realize it was me behind a pseudonym.

I brought myself above ground over the summer and connected this blog to Facebook. Now, any colleague with whom I’m friends can read it. To my excitement, many do.

I was originally wary of them knowing about this blog for fear that what I write might fall into the wrong hands and be used against me. By and large, though, my colleagues have been very supportive, often telling me they find it to be very inspirational.

In a way, having them in on my open secret has helped me understand, again, that we all started in the same place  – wanting to make a difference in our students’ lives – and we are all trying to get back to that place, where little else about the job matters or adversely affects us. I hope that by sharing this space with my colleagues, I am helping them maintain perspective of what matters most.


Two Years Ago, I Started a Blog

Two years ago today, I found myself one morning staring at a brand new shiny laptop. With visions of celebrity updates dancing in my head, I created a Twitter account. Then, recalling my old blog (dormant for over two years at that point), I decided to create a new one.

Has it yet been determined what the proper term is for the annual blog milestone? Is it a birthday? Anniversary? Blogiversary?

Two years ago today, I wrote this (with grammatical errors!):

Then, today, I finally relented on something I’ve only several years behind, and signed up forTwitter. No longer was I unencumbered by the innocuous blue bird that has basically hastened the downfall of society as we know it. Now I found myself firmly encumbered, a slave to its mish-mosh of links, twitpics, witticisms, and nuances. We’ll see how long it lasts.

Anyway, it brings me to this. I figure, I’m a moderately interesting writer, and I’ve cultivated three passions that seem to spark interest in others: my life as a teacher, my life as a photographer, and my life as a chef (“amateur cook”) is more like it. And here we are. A brand new, shiny blog, that I aim to maintain. Eeks, it sounds like a New Year’s resolution at this time of year, but I’m going to look to get 3-5 posts down each week. And they’re going to be substantive. (I don’t know if I believe that myself, but for now, why not?)

So, enjoy the ride with me. I’ve got interesting things to say about those three facets of my life. That’s how I feel, but you’ll probably close out this window as soon as you start reading.

And then tweet about it to all your friends.

It is embarrassing to reread that and only slightly less embarrassing to bring your attention to it. (And how about the fact that someone else is using my original Twitter handle, @MSR_7?)

At the time, I didn’t realize how Twitter and a blog could exist – even needed to exist – symbiotically. I would love to know what I was tweeting about back then. Nothing important, I’m sure.

The thing is, I never saw this blog becoming what it has become. I never wrote about cooking and I only briefly scratched the surface of writing about photography. Once my focus became education, my writing had a purpose outside of being a diversion for my pompous self-aggrandizing.

My first education-related post was on January 3, 2010. It was linked on one of my favorite blogs and received TWO comments! Man, I was on top of the world.

I floundered around for quite a while, writing about things I thought I knew about. I was writing for myself, quite sure no one was reading. This post was the first time I let myself be angry about the state of affairs in NYC education. Soon thereafter, several of my posts were picked up for newspaper publication. In one (it is maybe my favorite post I’ve ever written) I ate some serious crow for mishandling a situation in my class.

I don’t know when I realized Twitter could be a conduit for people to access my unseen blog, but I’m glad I did. Twitter brought me in contact with many wonderful people – friends who challenge my thinking and inspire me to do better. Many of these folks (like you, perhaps) started reading my blog, commenting, and sharing it. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to pass along something I wrote.

Now, the expectations on my blog are much greater and I treat my small role as someone who influences thought much more seriously than ever. As one Twitter friend said, “You found your voice.”

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amazed that so many people find what I write worth reading… (And no, this is not false modesty. I know I write some good stuff, but I never saw myself as inspiring so many people).

I have been moved by some beautiful comments in the last two years and am so thankful that folks like you have allowed me to be part of your educational journey. I am glad you’ve joined me for mine.

I hope I can continue to provide you with ideas, inspiration, and whatever else you get from reading my blog.

So if you’ve ever read my blog, retweeted or e-mailed a post, made a comment, or tried something in your classroom that you found here, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you. I only hope that I can continue to provide meaningful and thought-provoking posts and do my small part to impact change.

So You Didn’t Win an Edublog Award. Now What?

I didn’t win an Edublog Award tonight. Neither did maybe 100 other worthy and superb nominees. Neither did everyone who is just starting to blog or is blogging without much of a following.

To all of us I say, “Keep doing what you’re doing! Eddie or not, we need your thoughts in the blogosphere!”

Onward and blogward!

Don’t Vote for Me in the Edublog Awards

Only stuff the ballot box if you want to.

Now that the Edublog nominations are out, many people are going to take to their blogs to say, “Vote for me!” and many others are going to take to their blogs to say, “It is wonderful just to be nominated!”

I am going to take a different approach – the approach that speaks my mind on the whole thing.

Fact: It is nice to be nominated.

Myth: Being nominated is enough (ie. Now that I’ve been nominated, it doesn’t matter if I win.)

However, with that being said, I only ask that if you vote for me, you do it because you feel I am the best choice in the field. Given the quality I am up against, that is asking a lot.

Look, I would be honored to win an Edublog Award, but I’m not campaigning for myself. If people objectively take a look at what I have to offer and decide that my vibe is groovier than everyone else’s, then so be it. But I’m not soliciting votes just so people can blindly push me to the top.

[Full disclosure: I did post a link on Facebook through which my friends and family can vote for me, and I will probably at some point encourage non Facebooked family to vote. However, I am making it a point not to extend those pleas to my personal – and professional – learning network. If I win, it will be because of merit and approval from my peers (including those who do not know me), not because people like me, but because they feel my work is the best choice].

With all that being said, I say this: “May the best teacher blog win, and so too, may the most influential blog post win.” If neither of them happen to have “Mr. Foteah” in their title, then, hey, so be it.

After all, it is an honor just to be nominated, and I can always display those badges with pride.

How to Gain Followers on Twitter (I Think)

A friend texted me the other night and we got around to Twitter. His words, not mine, were: “You seem like a Twitter sensation. Lots of followers and such.” I responded that Twitter is about connections, and he asked, “You just build it through retweets?”

Ah, young Tweeters.

Here were some of my tips:

1. Establish an identity and carve yourself a niche. I am a Mets fan who teaches and has an interest in photography. Incidentally, those were the identifying traits in my Twitter profile for quite a while. Now my profile is much less ambiguous and a lot more focused. It leaves no doubt about what I do and what I stand for: “Elementary teacher of special education. Believer in the abilities and value of all children. Education blogger. I’m in it for the kids.” It wasn’t until my blog and Twitter stream began to reflect these views and little else that I gained more followers. Once I better identified what I was about, I was also able to tether my blog to my educational values, and  since then, I have written some of my best, most appreciated posts.

2. Be a blogger. This means reading others’ blogs, commenting on them, and following up with them on Twitter (either through a credited retweet or by pursuing further conversation). I also suggested my friend start his own blog and try to identify its purpose early on. Like I alluded to above, having a voice on your blog is a plus. I initially conceived this blog to be about photography, teaching, and, wait for it … cooking. Ha! That’s because I started it one day when I was bored and it seemed like a grand idea. Clearly the blog has evolved, and with a consistent, expected message (“inspiration from inside the classroom”), more people are following me and looking to read future posts.

3. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. I went back to my buddy’s Twitter feed to see what he was tweeting. He has a decent amount of sports observations that are very much in the vein of some of the more prolific sports media types. They’re basically ironic, off-color observations. I told him, “You’re not those guys.” I know I had a phase where I tried to tweet in the style of others with millions of followers. Then I realized they also had radio and tv appearances and thousands of views on their blogs, and therefore a greater audience to start with. I didn’t have those things, and I wouldn’t ever if I didn’t do what they do: be individuals. I believe the message and ideas you promote will increase a following more than parroting the style of someone who is more established. Sure, they can inspire you, but there’s a reason we’re the ones watching them on tv.

4. Be thankful you have any followers in the first place. Of course, it is almost laughable that nearly 1,300 people follow me. It always surprises me to see my follower count and I am often amazed at how many people are viewing my blog. We all want more followers – they do the ego good – but, realistically, we have to be glad that there’s anyone who wants to follow us.

So those are my tips for my buddy and for you (if you’re looking to build your follower count). I’m no expert, but since the summer, I’ve gained about 1,000 followers, and I think the reasons above are the main reasons why.

Thank You, #Spedchat

Three weeks ago, I assumed the mantle of #spedchat moderator, despite having little to bring to the table other than a belief that all students can be successful.

It is wonderful to know I have a place to go every Tuesday night to be with like-minded, forward thinking individuals who empathize with the struggles and triumphs of being a special ed teacher. Everyone has been so supportive of me that the extra time I devote to planning for #spedchat is not a chore, but a joy. I also take great pleasure in knowing that folks come to #spedchat and walk away with a new idea or a change in philosophy. Speaking for myself, I am always amazed at the variety of perspectives and methods employed around the country. The exposure to these ideas motivates me to be better. There are so many incredible, passionate, knowledgeable people out there that it is impossible not to at least feel a smidgen of inspiration.

So, thank you, #spedchat. You inspire me and so many others.

To Be Frank, I’m Fed Up

So here’s the thing. I am not one of those people who feels we need to pat our Twitter buddies on the back all the time, tell them how wonderful they are, compliment their every move and grovel at their every sagacious tweet. I mean, it’s nice to be supportive and cordial and all that, but it’s also important to challenge, question, and argue.

Of course, it’s the way we do these things that defines our online presence and helps shape the perception of who we are and what we are involved in.

I’m going to be vague in the details of what I say, so I apologize for that. I was involved in the very early days of one of my favorite chats, way back when it started up, I guess, a little over a year ago. It was a weekly meeting spot for educators facing similar challenges and a place where we could throw around ideas and debate philosophies. Really stimulating, actually.

For whatever reason, I was away from it for months, until recently returning over the summer. There was now a whole new cast of characters involved, as many of the old guard had drifted away and other passionate people had supplanted them. It started off wonderfully for me. I was glad to be back and meeting new people.

Lately, though, this particular chat/hashtag has been populated by an absolutely insane, unprofessional, unbecoming amount of personal bickering that – believe me – bothers many people other than me. As a result, our weekly chat always winds up having a couple of people engaging in their back and forth while the rest of us try to continue talking about ways to improve our practice and our students’ educational experiences. Being around this has become extremely frustrating.

Oh, yeah. This is productive.

I know I am not the only one who feels these “extracurricular activities” are a waste of time. Not only that, they are sullying the name of this hashtag/chat and, I predict, will drive people away.

The same way a school can not succeed with infighting and attention brought upon personal differences, neither can a vital weekly online chat. People will inevitably grow tired of the incessant ridiculousness, stop believing in the value of the bigger picture, and say “See ya.” I would venture that no one involved in the hashtag/chat wants to get to that point, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it myself.

An analogy: say you have a disagreement with your colleague at work. Are you going to stand in the middle of a packed staffroom and yell at each other? Or are you going to agree on the spot to disagree and then return to your discussion away from the prying eyes and ears of others? When these things happen in public, they become fodder for idle talk, and in the case of this hashtag/chat, that is exactly what is happening. Passionate, caring people – no doubt with good intentions – are allowing themselves to be dragged into petty lunacy that is changing peoples’ perceptions of them. Of course, that is their choice, but let’s never forget that perception is indeed reality.

So, here, I’ll make an open call to everyone. When you are on Twitter, please project yourself the way you would in your workplace. You are a professional and you are an adult. Save your issues with others for the privacy of e-mails or direct messages, because most of us don’t care enough to have our experiences tarnished. I take no sides on these issues because they are not mine to consider, and quite frankly, I have more important things to occupy my time.

I’m not suggesting we all be friends. I am suggesting, however, that we all be civil. And if you can’t be civil, at least spare the rest of us the drama. There are too many people out here who care too much about what matters to be involved in the insignificant squabbles of others.

I submit this respectfully, knowing that Twitter educators are a passionate bunch. I also submit it knowing that some will agree with me and some will disagree. I’m not too concerned. I am most worried about the direction we are going and how to set ourselves back on a positive, productive course.

I am simply asking that you stop the nonsense and allow the rest of us to move forward. You are doing yourselves no favors, you are upsetting other people, and you are harming our hashtag/chat’s credibility. This shouldn’t be about you. It should be about all of us. Do the right thing so we can all move on.

Why I’m Voting for @PernilleRipp in @GOOD’s Great American Teach Off

When my friend Pernille Ripp told me that she had been selected as one of 10 finalists in GOOD’s Great American Teach Off, I was surprised neither by the news nor her humility and shock. Pernille is a unique combination of ingenuity, enthusiasm, faith, and sense of purpose that makes her a prime selection as a candidate for a prize in which she would be named our nation’s most innovative elementary school teacher.

Pernille has touched my career in too many ways to count. As I recently told her, hers is always a prominent voice in my reflection and planning. I devote time to considering whether what I do as a teacher is in the model of what Pernille does. She is someone I try to emulate because she values the voices of her children above everything else and truly understands that being a teacher is not about the adult’s ego, but rather the children’s.

Though I’ve never been to her classroom, I  have seen videos, photographs, and read about it. I am confident that it is as close to a perfect place for children as I’ve ever known.

Pernille maintains a professional blog that is widely read and distributed, often writing posts that draw comments from some of the most influential and respected members of my personal learning network. Her posts always force me to think. She has a natural and genuine ability to spark thought and debate with her honest insight. She has helped me reexamine my commitment to my profession and the way I conduct business in my classroom. Because of Pernille, I know I am doing better at my job than I ever have.

Who was it that encouraged me to give my kids their first chance to Skype? Pernille. Who was it that encouraged me to try blogging in the classroom? Pernille. Who was it that called me on the carpet for not believing in my kids’ abilities? Pernille.

I once told Pernille how much I wish we could be colleagues. Her reply was simple and true: “We are colleagues.” We have collaborated on learning experiences for our students and professional presentations for our colleagues, given each other support and guidance in diffcult times (both professional and personal), and learned together.

I can think of no better way to sum up my admiration for Pernille as an educator than by sharing a distant daydream I frequently have. I often find myself envisioning myself as a teacher or administrator at a place I like to call “My Dream School”. It’s a place where I get to handpick the most amazing educators I know to come and work together to create the greatest school in the world. It is a utopia that I think about when things seem too difficult or overwhelming.

I can think of no more appropriate first hire for this magical place than Pernille Ripp. She truly understands what it means to be a teacher, what it means to build kids into the young adults they didn’t think they could be, what it means to innovate. She is a tireless professional with wonderful ideas. She is an easy choice for employment at “My Dream School.”

And she is an easy choice for me in The Great American Teach Off.


Voting in the Great American Teach Off begins Monday, October 3 at 1 PM EST. You can vote for Pernille one time every day by clicking here.

10 Reasons Your Students Should Be Blogging

In case you can’t tell by the content of each of my posts this week, my students started blogging on Monday and we are all pretty pumped about it. While I am nowhere near as experienced as some of my inspirations – Greta Sandler, Pernille Ripp, Linda Yollis, and Kathleen Morris, just to name a handful – I have seen enough enthusiasm and possibilities from my students that I feel I can present this list of 10 reasons your students should be blogging.

1. Blogging is a confidence builder. My students are tremendously proud to have their words featured on the internet. There is still a bit of disbelief in their eyes when they open our site and see their name with comments. The fact that they type with their own fingers and have people around the world consider those words important enough to comment makes them feel super special. The more people delivering that message to our students, the better.

2. Blogging is cross-curricular. Blogging is authentic writing and reading. Because it’s authentic, the buy-in is much greater than traditional school experiences in those subjects. But aside from the obvious, blogging helps develop a sense of geography as you learn the places around the world from which commenters and other bloggers write. Comments can be counted, graphed, and worked into word problems (how many more comments did Joey receive than Sandy, etc.) Blogging might even very well become my secret to teaching grammar and the finer points of punctuation that seem to vex students and those who try to teach them. Then there’s the whole digital citizenship element of blogging: students who blog need to learn and be vigilant about internet safety. (I am among the growing crowd that believes we need to embrace teaching technology and how to use it safely, rather than the cohort that only sees the potential dangers).

3. You can grow your own personal learning network. This was something I didn’t really anticipate, but given how Twitter works, I should have. First, if you do decide to blog with your kids, you’ll need to get them exposure by tweeting at #comments4kids. From there, cool people from around the world will comment, reply, retweet, and share their own students’ blogs. You’ll make connections as a neat little byproduct of your students’ efforts.

4. Increased exposure of your students’ talents in the school. Two days ago I wrote about my colleagues’ interest in the student blogs. Blogging is allowing my students to, in a way, show off to others just how wonderful they are. Administrators have also chimed in in the comments section, praising the kids’ work.

5. Authentic writing for authentic audiences. The writing is authentic because kids are writing about whatever they want. Even if I decide to give them prompts or topics to write about, they know teachers and other students will be reading them – not just me. Again, it’s all about their investment, and no doubt knowing you have an audience waiting with baited breath to read what you have to write is something that motivates.

6. Exposure to today’s technology that students might not otherwise get. Most of my students don’t have computers at home, and in many cases, they will not be heading to the library to blog. So, by bringing out laptops in school and putting them on the web, students are getting an experience they, truly, might never otherwise have. That’s a powerful thing. For now the novelty of blogging is fresh, and as long as school remains the only place for students to blog, I imagine it will remain so.

7. Collaborative experiences. I have five, maybe six computers for 11 students. This sounds like a pretty good ratio, but it still means not everyone can blog at once. In the interest of fairness, kids do sometimes collaborate on blogs. Doing this, they need to decide on a topic, take turns, converse, help each other spell, share the computer, and problem solve. And when reading, it is inspirational to hear one voice joining in another on tricky words, or pointing out errors to further understanding.

8. You can build a writing portfolio for each student on their terms. This is a big one. Assume, as in our writing program, that students publish one piece per month. You wind up with a handful of pieces that are, in general, finished and polished. With a blog, you see daily or weekly progression in writing, which is a much more comprehensive display of growth than the published pieces produced in a traditional manner. In fact, I am in some ways using my students’ earliest blogs as a baseline for what they need to learn both as bloggers and writers. My paras are on board, too: the students need to write as independently as they can so that, come June, we can all look back and say, “Look how far we’ve come.”

9. Blogging levels the playing field for kids who don’t like to write in the traditional way. I have had many kids in my career who hate to write. I’ve had some success giving kids the option of using a pen, but there are plenty of students who just find nothing endearing about moving the hand in different shapes to produce letters and words. Stick a computer in front of them, though, and now you’re really speaking their language. Blogging and typing are both writing, and let’s be honest, our world is transitioning to a place where handwriting will someday be obsolete, anyway.

10. Blogging creates instant engagement. Blogging is novel to young learners, and because I don’t assign a value to what they do, there is plenty of motivation to continue. While I have my own motivations for students to blog, in their eyes it’s just something fun. They don’t realize they are doing exactly what I need them to do – writing, reading, learning. Choice plays a big role in this, too. I am able to assess and teach them using whatever they choose to write about.

If you aren’t yet blogging with your students, I hope you at least begin to consider it. If you are a seasoned veteran of student blogging, please tell me what reasons I missed. Why else must students be blogging? Please share in the comments section.

#Comments4Kids is Totally Legit

Students collaborated to write their first blog post.

At the end of the day, we sat as a class (huddled around my laptop because the SMART Board is lacking some components) to write our first blog. Kids were excited to share information about our class. Some were eager to type, others felt more comfortable dictating, and still others just came along for the ride. You can read our first blog by clicking here.

I told the kids that I was going to share it with my teacher friends around the world and maybe some of them would write a note to us, or, in blogspeak, comment. My idea was to hit up some of my closer Twitter friends and ask them if they could find time to say something. I also wanted to make my first foray into the oft-revered #comments4kids.

When I got home, I tweeted that my class worked on their first blog post and would love comments. Of course I added the hashtag #comments4kids. I knew I’d be able to rely on my friends, but it was the kindness of strangers that overwhelmed me. As I write this, there are 22 comments (37 at publication), the vast majority from people I never heard of, from places as far as Scotland or as close as New Jersey.

The #comments4kids hashtag is a must for anyone who is blogging with their students. In just a matter of hours, I collected a variety of comments to work through with my kids, during which we can touch on geography, grammar, and more. What a fantastic tool for making our world smaller and helping kids learn about what happens outside their classroom!