Yep, About Five Seconds

The Twitter BirdI like Twitter. It’s an interesting medium for connecting with people, particularly other teachers. Through my interactions on Twitter, I’ve developed some great professional connections. I’ve made important friendships there, too. In fact, some of my closest friendships started on Twitter. My current job teaching at PDS, which I love, came primarily through the connections and relationships that started on Twitter so obviously, I think it’s an important place to be, and I urge every teacher I know to start using twitter and making connections there. It’s been one of the most important tools for my professional growth and development.

But. . . Twitter is a weird medium. By limiting posts to 140 characters, Twitter makes having deep conversations difficult. So while I find Twitter chats interesting and sometimes insightful, I don’t find them deeply challenging. Of course, I’d rather sit down with a great cup of coffee and talk, anyway.

Another thing that makes Twitter weird is the follower/following mechanism. For some reason, those numbers matter to some people. If I’m honest, there are times when they matter to me, too. Then, when I really think about it, I realize that’s kind of silly. I’m there to make connections and to learn. I’m not building a brand, and I’m not interested in making a name of becoming famous. I want to be the best teacher possible for my students, and yet I still have to decide who I will and will not follow.

Recently, Doug Peterson wrote an interesting post about the process he uses in determining whether he follows someone on Twitter. Doug’s is an interesting checklist as he  mentions that one only has about five seconds to make a good impression online. I’d say five seconds is just about right. My process isn’t as well thought out as Doug’s, but I have done some thinking about what goes through my mind when it comes to following folks on Twitter:

  1. I don’t follow every person, or even every educator, that follows me. There are people who do and I think that’s great, but that doesn’t work for me. I like using my “home” stream, and I prefer that it be filled with tweets from people I somewhat know and recognize. I do follow people back, but usually it’s because they’ve engaged in dialogue with me over some idea a few times. If you want to connect with me, I’m open to the idea, but don’t expect me to follow you just because you chose to follow me.
  2. If we meet in person, I’ll usually follow you. Of course, if you don’t share periodically or what you share is of little interest to me, I’ll probably unfollow you at some point. It is what it is.
  3. If you are following me only because you want to sell me something, we might as well end this now. I’m not interested.
  4. If you act like a jerk, I’m not going to keep following you. Life is just too short.

I’m sure I have a few other guidelines, but my Pomodoro timer just sounded so I’m going to stop now. What about you? How do you decide whom you will follow online?


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

My Homework

homeworkSo… This morning, my friend Bill tagged me in a “Homework” blog meme. I have no idea how this whole thing started, but according to Bill, “this meme has an important purpose: To give readers a look behind the digital masks that writers show outwardly to the world.” So what masks am I wearing as I share in this space? Hmm. I guess I need to spend some time reflecting on that. After all, the goal for this blog is to have an open, honest space where I share about my life and professional practice. I’m going to need to come back to this idea in a future post. For now, I have a homework assignment to complete (and papers to assess, too), and I’ve needed to update this blog anyway. (Okay, task number one is complete.)

The second task of my assignment is to share eleven random facts that readers of my blog probably don’t know about me:

1. When I was 13, my dad took our family to Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics. We were in the stadium for the women’s 3000 meter final, and I was less than 50 feet away from the spot where Zola Budd and Mary Decker had their collision.  

2. I am a total chicken when it comes to horror movies. I absolutely refuse to watch them. In fact, I’m still traumatized by the original movie versions of Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

3. I have a crush on Dame Judi and have for a long time.

4. I love teaching 6th grade, which is funny because I always wanted to teach high school seniors and then become a principal. I struggle with a tension between wanting to teach students and wanting to lead a school.

5. I start reading lots of books that I never finish. I feel a sense of shame about it. What is that all about?

6. My wife is a better reader than I am. I love to read, but she’s a voracious reader. In fact, I dream of being able to read like she does. Seriously, she’s amazing. She’s also a better teacher than I am. It’s not a competition; if it were, it wouldn’t even be close.

7. I could easily eat a box of frozen fruit popsicles every day. Every. Single. Day.

8. I prefer books, movies, or music to sports. I don’t really follow sports. I do have season tickets for University of Memphis football, but they don’t really inspire fanaticism. I occasionally enjoy watching professional tennis, and I like GolTV on nights when I cannot sleep, but I’m not “with it” when it comes to sports. Having said that, I should tell you two things. First, I read Geoff Calkins almost every day. Second, my team is in the finals of my school’s fantasy football league championship. Go team!

9. I’m getting ready to train for another marathon even though I haven’t run my first one yet. How’s that for complexity?

10. There’s a fine line between faith and doubt. I always seem to walk that line teetering from one side to the other. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

11. In another life I’m a performer.

My third task is to respond to eleven questions from Bill:

1. Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black? I’ll have the black coffee, but I’m hoping you have enough sense to serve this.

2. If you were going to write a book, what would its title be? Shut Up And Keep Spinning the Plates (Honestly, I have no idea.)

3. Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.” 5. I’m kind of indifferent in this debate. I’ve never seen a graphic novel turn a reluctant reader into a passionate reader, but some people may find them useful so I don’t have a problem with them.

4. What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth?  I cannot differentiate between my digital and non-digital network any more. I just have a network and those relationships develop in many places. I cannot name just one person either. After all, one cannot quantify learning no matter how hard he might try. Having said that, I admit the folks that immediately came my mind are Michael & Melanie Semore, John Spencer, Bill FerriterHadley Ferguson, Alice Parker, and Jill Gough.

5. How do you feel about the holidays? Stressed.

6. Rate the following movies in order from best to worst:  Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version). Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street (the original), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version)

7. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten? Romans 6:23

8. If you had an extra $100 to give away to charity, who would you give it to? HopeWorks would get the first $100. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital would get the next $100.

9. What are you the proudest of? Debbie and I have been together for 9 years. We will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary next June. I’m crazy about her and our family.

10. What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child? As a teenager, I told a whopper of a lie to my parents. It was a big deal and it was awful. I won’t share the details. I just won’t. It was a day I’ll never forget, but I wish I could. I did other things that were stupid and/or mischievous, but this one haunts me. Now let’s move on.

11. What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on?  What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry? I left a comment on Bill’s blog primarily because he called me out in it. Sometimes Justin Stortz’s posts resonate so deeply in me that I feel compelled to comment.

The fourth task is to create a list 11  bloggers that now have to answer eleven questions from me. Here’s my list:

  1. Stephen Davis
  2. Bob Dillon
  3. Hadley Ferguson
  4. Jill Gough
  5. Yoon Soo Lim
  6. Jennifer Orr
  7. Alice M. Parker
  8. Edna Sackson
  9. Chad Segersten
  10. Justin Stortz
  11. Wanda Terral

The fifth task is to create a list of eleven questions for the above folks to answer:

  1. If you could take a “dream” vacation, what would it be?
  2. Hollywood is casting a biopic about you. Who should be cast in the lead role?
  3. The director changed her mind and has decided to create a reality show about you instead. What should the title be?
  4. What’s your favorite book?
  5. We take a trip to Yolo, one of those fill-your-own-cup frozen yogurt shops. What all do you put in your cup?
  6. It’s a busy night at the karaoke bar. You’ve got one chance to blow away the crowd and leave your mark. What will you sing?
  7. Who or what inspires you most?
  8. What was your favorite class in college or graduate school?
  9. If you could snap your fingers and magically change one thing (only 1) about your job, what would it be?
  10. Name one important thing on your “bucket list.”
  11. What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

So tag–you guys are it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write your response. Go ahead, you have homework.

My 3 “Go-To” Aggregators for Professional Reading

Reading on the iPad MiniI love to read. I also love learning, and I’m pretty passionate about teaching. I love to read about teaching and learning. I’m also a little geeky so I spend a fair amount of time reading about teaching and learning online. Some might consider it work, but I find it interesting and fun. I also like to share what I’m reading and learning especially if  it might help a friend or colleague. I read a lot, and I share a lot–particularly on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I will occasionally share things on Google+, too.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague asked me where I find  the articles about teaching and learning that I regularly read and share. In response to her question, I explained that I rely on several aggregators to collect articles and blog posts for me, but she looked confused. So, I thought it might be helpful to explain what I mean and share my “go-to” aggregators for professional reading and learning.

What is an aggregator? Collins English Dictionary defines it as “a web application that draws together syndicated content from various online sources and displays it in a single location for the user’s convenience.”¹ In other words, an aggregator grabs articles, blogs, podcasts, or videos from around the web and puts them in one place for me, and it keeps them there until I’m ready to view them. I don’t have to scour the internet checking all my favorite sites. Aggregators bring them to me, and they don’t fill up my email inbox either.

So what aggregators do I use? Here are My 3 “Go-To Aggregators for Professional Reading:

  1. Google ReaderI know. I know. Google is planning to kill Reader this summer. It’s in its last days, and I’m still trying to decide on a replacement. I’ve tried several including Feedly, Good Noows, and NetNewsWire, but I’m leaning more toward Newsblur² or The Old Reader (TOR). My RSS reader is my first stop for professional reading. Through Google Reader and now Newsblur and TOR, I subscribe to over 220 blogs and websites. Honestly, that’s too many, but they aren’t all updated daily. If you don’t use an RSS reader, I suggest you give it a try. You can subscribe to this blog by adding http://feeds.feedburner.com/PhilipCummings to your feeds. My RSS feeds are my first source for professional reading and learning.
  2. Paper.li – I use this aggregator to pull links shared by my professional learning network on Twitter. (I primarily use Twitter as a professional tool.) Unfortunately, as a full-time classroom teacher and a father of four, I don’t have time to hangout online and read Twitter feeds all day. Paper.li allows me to create a daily newspaper that highlights items posted by my network. I don’t manage to read this aggregator every day, but I do read it when possible. (Note: This is one of the reasons I am particular about who I follow on Twitter. I don’t want too much irrelevant, uninteresting, or inappropriate material finding its way to my reading list–even if I choose to ignore it.) Paper.li also works with Facebook, Google+, RSS , and YouTube feeds. 
  3. Zite – If I’ve managed to read my way through my RSS reader and my Paper.li, my last stop is the Zite app on my iPad. In Zite I’ve identified topics that interest me. Zite identifies the content that matches my selected topics and shares them with me in a magazine-like format. Currently, my topic list includes: teaching, learning, educational technology, critical thinking, creativity, reading, literacy, and mindset. I also read articles in Zite related to running, faith, and Memphis. The more you “like” articles in Zite, the better their algorithm becomes at finding content related to your interests.

There you have it. That’s my 3 go-to aggregators for my professional reading. What about you? Do you use aggregators for professional reading and learning? If so, which ones do you use and why? I’d love to hear what tools you use.

———-

  1. aggregator. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved May 05, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/aggregator
  2. I chose to pay for a 1-year subscription to explore Newsblur.

 

My Twitter Story #mytwitterstory

I cannot believe that I am only a few weeks shy of my 3rd Twitter birthday. Or is that my “twirthday?” In 2008, I was working as the Director of Development at a local independent school. I was trying to finish my M.Ed. in school administration and supervision and looking for ways to connect with school alumni, parents, and friends. A few years earlier the school had responded rather negatively to student use of MySpace. At the time, our response had been to send out a big warning and tell parents to keep their kids away from the medium. However, by 2007,  the tide of opinion on social media had changed, and I had led the school to use Facebook as a way of building and establishing relationships for our physical and virtual community.

Angie was a friend on the school’s board. Over the course of several conversations, she convince me to also give Twitter a try. So on December 4, 2008, I joined twitter and immediately started following Angie, her sister, and a few of the people they were following. The tweets were random, usually funny, and well, pretty inane.  I gained a few followers and tried to follow most folks back if they didn’t appear too creepy, but in all honesty I never found much use for Twitter. In fact, I was not exactly sure what I should tweet or even why I should tweet. In early 2008, I was listening to the radio on the way to school and the announcer was talking about how narcissistic Twitter was. The criticism matched my experience and within a few hours I had deleted my account. I saw no value in reading what others were having for breakfast, watching on TV, or thinking about politics. Why did their posts (or mine) need amplification or my (other’s) attention? I shut down the account and quietly walked away. I’d spend my time on Facebook.

I was away from Twitter for a few months. In the meantime, Twitter grew. From February to June 2009, Twitter use exploded. People, organizations, and businesses began jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, and I started hearing talk of Twitter everywhere. It was inescapable. I started rethinking Twitter and decided maybe my problem wasn’t with Twitter but rather with how I used Twitter. How could I use it differently? I reopened my account and began to be much more selective about who I followed. I wanted to connect with other educators. Within a few days I was following some wonderful teachers from around the world–people like Monte Tatom, Clif MimsShelly Terrell, Tom Whitby, Eric Sheninger, Vicki Davis, Roger Zuiderma, Patrick Larkin, and Jason Flom. I closely watched how they used Twitter and began using it the same way. Tom and Shelly invited me to participate in #Edchat. I did and loved the conversations and added many other educators to my network. I also learned about RSS, social bookmarking, wikis, blogging, etc. Twitter was a learning goldmine!

One of my richest Twitter experiences occurred one Saturday morning. I was engaging several teachers in conversation about learning when Russ Goerend and I struck up a conversation about social bookmarking. Russ had made several videos for his own students about how to use Diigo. He kindly shared them with me and suddenly I understood the possibilities of web 2.0, networked learning, and the cloud. The conversation was career altering.

In a matter of a few weeks I had developed a good friendship with Clif Mims, attended a local Barcamp, and started a new blog. All because of what I was learning online. I quickly became addicted to Twitter and the opportunity it provided for continuous learning. My online connections introduced me to new ideas, new tools, new philosophies, and new methods, and they were always sharing–24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I was so excited by what I was learning on Twitter that I couldn’t quit checking the feeds. (It took a while to find a better balance.)

By the spring of 2010, I had become a Twitter-evangelist. At Dr. Tatom’s suggestion I presented “The Value of a PLN” to the West Tennessee Administrators’ Technology Academy and connected with Jason Bedell to offer a Twitter for Teachers Workshop at TeachMeet Nashville. While there, I met Melissa Smith, Steven Anderson, Nancy Blair, Adam Taylor, John Carver, Shannon Miller, and Deron Durflinger. These connections have developed into real friendships and into other professional opportunities as well. My connections with Clif and Melissa led to an invitation to present at the Martin Institute’s Fall Conference last year and to our first InnovatED workshop in Memphis–both of which led to my current role teaching 6th grade reading in a 1:1 setting at PDS. Honestly, I’m amazed at how much networked learning and Twitter has reshaped my professional landscape.

I have met some incredible people, learned with some amazing educators, and developed some life-changing friendships–all through connecting with others on Twitter. In just the past few weeks, I’ve Skyped into a Visible Thinking study group in Australia, had brunch and talked connected learning with a prominent marketing/blogging guru, and had lunch to discuss project-based learning with a brilliant IDT professor–all because of connections made on Twitter.

So what about you? Do you have a Twitter story? If so, please share and make sure you tweet it with the hashtag #mytwitterstory. You can link to others’ Twitter stories from Dr. Michael Grant’s original post.

Going Deeper, an open response to @intrepidteacher and @theteachinggame

This post is a response to posts by two other members of my PLN. Jabiz Raisdana is an educator in Jakarta, who I have been following on Twitter for some time now. His blog is one of my first stops in my RSS reader. This is a personal response to his post Next Level. However, Jabiz’s post was an open response to Katie Hellerman‘s Getting What I Really Want Out of Twitter and The Connection Challenge. I didn’t know about Katie before reading Jabiz’s post, but I now follow her on Twitter and subscribe to her blog. (That’s how Twitter and blogs work together. Someone you trust shares about someone they admire, and you choose to investigate the new person’s work for yourself possibly making a new connection.) Thank you, Jabiz, for helping me make a new connection. The main reason I am choosing to write my response here rather than on Jabiz’s or Katie’s blogs is because I want to extend their challenge to a broader audience – my readers (not that my blog will increase it by much). Nevertheless, I think this is a great idea so please read the original posts (linked above) and comment there.

Dear Jabiz and Katie,

First of all I accept your challenge and I’m going to connect your work back to me, but first, let me share a little of who I am.

I am a dreamer. I’ve always been this way. While I love people and really enjoy a deep, open conversation that allows me to connect with a friend. I could also sit for hours with my own thoughts and consider all the “what ifs.” This makes me continually restless, but fortunately, I married an extremely patient woman.

Speaking of Debbie, she is the most amazing person I have ever known. She is a beautiful, brilliant, and talented, and I am grateful that I have her as my partner on this journey. Debbie was widowed with three small sons when we married, but we have known each other since middle school. I actually had a crush on her when we were younger and co-starred together in a high school musical. Our youngest is our daughter, who has total control over me.

I have been an educator since January 1999, when I left full-time youth ministry to take a brief interim as a 7th grade English teacher. I was then hired full-time to teach 8th grade English and have been in a teacher or administrator role ever since in both independent and public school settings. Currently, I am serving in both roles. While I am loving being in the classroom again (I really missed it), I am finding it a real challenge to do both roles simultaneously and do them both well. I’m burning the candle at both ends and trying not to neglect my family. I confess I haven’t struck the right balance yet, and two things I have cut back on are time spent dreaming and reflecting and time interacting online. I’ve been “marking all read” and lurking more than engaging in conversation lately.

So what does this dreamer dream? I, too, have dreams of rock-stardom, Jabiz. Okay, not really. I would love to learn how to play the guitar again. I played when I was younger but haven’t practiced for…decades. I used to write lots of poetry and lyrics, and I’d love to write some music and perform for a live audience again. I do love to sing. I also dream of writing a book – perhaps a novel, but I’m afraid it would be rather autobiographical in nature, and I’m still working on the whole “transparency” thing. I also dream of traveling, moving from place to place, seeing the world. In this way, I am really jealous you, my friend. You have lived in places about which I have only dreamed. We are very connected with our extended family (they live nearby) and our local church. While I may talk often of moving to Iowa, Colorado, Majorca, or Patmos, the thought of being far away from those we love is always a cold shower of reality.

Jabiz, if I had to pick a post of yours that most challenged and connected with me, it would probably be Life as an Open Book. It’s not that I completely agree or disagree with your post, but rather how much it left me conflicted. (Full disclosure: I didn’t read the post when you originally posted it, but found it later.) I long to be transparent and known while I also desire to be protected and distant. I am a paradox, and at times, I question my own motives for why I share what I share. (Perhaps this is why I also connect so deeply to what John writes.)

Katie, your blog is new to me, but I have read through the most recent posts and will explore it more later. Your Getting What I Really Want Out of Twitter post resonated with me because I wrote a similar post last fall entitled Rethinking My PLN. You’ve also renewed my interest in a PLN road trip. Maybe we could go visit Jabiz as a start? :0)

I look forward to continuing to get to know you both (and be challenged by you), and thank you again for your willingness to share.

Warmest regards,

Philip

Scattered thoughts from #Educon

Two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend Educon 2.3  at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. In January 2010, I virtually participated in Educon 2.2 and decided at that point that I would do what I could to attend in person this year. By early December that didn’t look possible. Fortunately, I am married to THE most amazing woman, who tolerates my edu-geekiness with a smile and offered to send me to Educon as a belated Christmas gift. It was a perfect gift. My only regret is that she wasn’t able to go with me.

I had a wonderful experience and learned much. In fact, I’m still sorting out and reflecting on just what my Educon experience means. Having young children and still recovering from barely sleeping while in Philly, I haven’t had time to stop, sort, and reflect on my experience other than on the few minutes that make up my daily commutes. I have several strands of thought running through my head including the following:

  • the need for more inquiry-based learning and blended-learning
  • moving from a Personal Learning Network (digital) to accountable friendships
  • what does it mean to be a teacher-entrepreneur
  • the need to establish and guard more time to be more reflective and write
  • the need to encourage, promote, model innovation
  • the need to take better care of myself as an educator (holistically)
  • if the arts matter (they do), what am I doing to integrate and promote the arts
  • my desire to better understand expectancy value theory and what does it mean for my classes
  • what is the moral obligation to share and what does that mean for me as a learner, leader, and teacher

I would love to take the time to write a post on each of these strands, but I doubt that will happen. As of this morning I have added teaching four English classes to my Title I administration responsibilities. That said, I plan to let these ideas ferment and grow. Hopefully, I can revisit them soon, and I hope they will impact what happens in my classes. If nothing else, I have at least documented that I am thinking. Right?

For those of you that I had the opportunity to meet in Philly, thank you. It was delightful to meet so many fellow learners. I appreciate the way you have challenged me to think and grow. I look forward to continuing to do so. Feel free to comment on any of these ideas. I welcome the conversation.

I deleted my Twitter lists.

I decided to delete my public Twitter lists. My decision was probably a little rash, but I’m okay with it. In thinking about my dPLN, I’ve decided much of the value that comes from my network is finding and growing the connections organically. When I created the lists, my goal was to provide a short-cut to help other educators find immediate value in using Twitter to connect. Now, I’m rethinking that idea. It seems as though quickly following 200+ educators online that you have no personal reason with which to connect makes little sense. Fo me, the value in my PLN has come from creating real, personal connections through conversations and interactions. It is not simply the impersonal gathering of information and resources. My personal learning network is personal. While a list might provide a short cut to information for others, it also eliminates their need to make personal connection, and I don;t think I need to facilitate that. I know there are many reasons why individuals would create and follow lists, but I’m having a hard time seeing how they are ultimately helpful. After all, one thing my PLN has taught me is that being too helpful can actually do more harm than good.

I’m still going to create a few lists, but for now at least, they are going to be just for me.

What do you think? Am I totally off base? Do you think lists are ultimately helpful or harmful in the growing of a dPLN? What else do I need to consider? I’d love to hear what you think.

Rethinking My PLN

Three recent posts by members of my PLN have had me thinking. First, in September, Mark Schaefer pricked my heart g in his post “Social Media and the Big Conversation Fail.” (That post led to a cool Skype conversation with Mark.) Then, William Chamberlain posted “EdCampKC: A Rather Painful Reflection” in which he revealed his pain that his online connections are not a meaningful substitute for the face-to-face relationships he needs in his building every day. Finally, Hadley Ferguson wrote in “Why We Go to Conferences” about the need to solidify online connections by spending real, quantity time in each other’s physical presence. These posts struck a chord deep within me, and I’ve been stewing over them for some time now.

For the past year I have worked hard at developing an online presence and connecting with other educators online. I have built a personal learning network (both digitally and face-to-face) of folks that have become quite dear to me. Some are here in Memphis and West Tennessee while others are scattered around the globe. I have done this mostly through web 2.0 technologies and a handful of conferences, face-to-face meetings, and Skype phone calls. Most of these folks are professional educators, but not everyone is. My knowledge has grown exponentially and hopefully my practice has improved as well. The number of connections in my network has grown tremendously as well – a situation that is both a blessing and a curse.

What I long for is genuine connection and friendship within my network. I don’t have a personal need for lots of close friends, but admittedly I long for close friendships. I want to connect with educators around the world, but I want several of those connections to be real, primary connections. I want to know and be known in my network not just as a professional, but also as a real friend. I also want to be faithful in my relationships with my family and my off-line friends. So, I’m making some decisions about what I want to do with all of this, and I think I’m going to take a step back.

At one point I subscribed to almost 250 different blog feeds in my RSS. It was a lot of good stuff, but keeping up and reading that many feeds became oppressive. In trying to consume that much information, I wasn’t able to slow down, reflect, and comment on what I was reading. I also found myself spending way more time-consuming than creating. I want that to change. So, over the past few days I’ve unsubscribed from a lot of great blogs. I’m sure I’ll miss out on some great learning and conversations, and I’ll still check in occasionally, but those posts won’t be in my reader waiting for me when I log in. Instead, I want to spend more of my screen time reflecting and commenting on those subscribed blogs and to those individuals with whom I have connected. My goal isn’t to become a snob, but more to make a deeper connection with a few. If someone reaches out, I’ll still reach back in the hope of making a meaningful friendship.

I plan to take a similar approach to Twitter. If you know me, you know I believe in growing my digital PLN. I follow lots of educators and a smattering of people in other professional fields that interest me. I also like to connect online with members of my local community. I’ve met some incredible, fellow Memphians just by following them on Twitter. Having said that, my Twitter feed has become quite noisy with all the folks following me and my willingness to follow people back. (I don’t follow everyone back, but if I believe you might add value to my learning or I can add value to yours–you’re in. If you’re selling something, you’re ignored. Spammers always get blocked.) My new approach will be to establish a micro-PLN feed through a Twitter list or a Tweetdeck group. I plan to work hard to get to know those I include on a deeper level. My goal isn’t to be exclusive (I’m sure I’ll continuously add and subtract from the list) but to focus my energy on building real friendships where I can. I want to chat, call, and Skype with these folks, make plans to meet at conferences, and get to know them beyond their online personas.

I want to do more writing, so I am setting a short-term goal of averaging two posts a week from now until the end of the year – 12 posts, starting with this one. I’ll still do the occasional In Retro Cite from Diigo, but those don’t count toward this goal. I’ll also continue to share things on my Posterous, but I’m not counting those either.

As for my face-to-face learning network, I’m going to be intentional in those relationships as well. I want to spend more meaningful time with my wife and kids and more focused time with my friends. I’m going to try to silence the smartphone and be fully present in those moments. I also plan to write some personal notes to my co-workers, make a few phone calls, and line up to some gatherings with local friends. Who knows? Maybe we will even have a holiday party this year.

In conversing with Hadley after her post, we talked about the idea of a PLN road trip, and I invited her to Memphis to spend some time and see where I live. I’d really love something like that to happen. I’d love to introduce her to my family, to show off my school, and to tour her around town. I’d  love to deepen that connection and others, as well. (Let me know if you’re interested in a trip to visit and see Graceland, Stax, or the Civil Rights Museum.)

In my former life as a youth minister, I learned that quality relationships only happen through quantity time. I guess it’s time I prioritized mine.

Any thoughts? Do you long for deeper connections? How are you solidifying your face-to-face and online relationships? What are you doing to grow closer to other members of your network? What do you think of my plans? Feedback is always appreciated.

More Than Just Learning, It’s Friendship

(Photo credit: Stuart Seeger via Flickr under Creative Commons license)

By now you might be aware of the nightmare my family is going through as we try to get our refrigerator repaired. It’s a long story, one that is written and ready to post once I receive permission from my bride to release the hounds on Sears and Samsung. Yes, we are still without a working refrigerator, but I digress. The bright spot in this whole ordeal occurred a few days ago when a valuable member of my Personal Learning Network (PLN) offered to have my family over for a home-cooked meal.

Rabbi Akevy Greenblatt is the lower school principal at Margolin Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox Jewish school here in Memphis. It’s a school and community about which I knew very little. Over the past few months, Akevy and I had connected several times via Twitter. I subscribed to his blog and even commented on a few of his posts, but the two of us had never had the opportunity to meet in person.

After my last post asking for feedback on whether or not I should go public about our refrigerator woes, Rabbi Greenblatt left the following comment:

I’m always interested in meeting members of my PLN, so I responded to him on Twitter that getting to meet him would be fantastic and he then invited our whole clan to his home during the celebration of Sukkot. After a few more exchanges to provide me with resources to teach my kids and sort out the details, we finally had the opportunity to meet last night over a fabulous meal. It was wonderful to meet the Rabbi’s wife and daughters and to know that I’m not the only father/educator who gets grief from his family over his obsession with Twitter. I enjoyed the conversation and the stories of the Greenblatt’s  journey that brought them to Memphis. I also appreciated their sharing a little of their religious traditions with us. My oldest son was fascinated with the Rabbi’s library of religious writings. It was a fantastic evening full of great conversation, new learning, and delicious food, and I am so grateful for the hospitality of my new friends.

After returning home, I quickly sent a post to say thank you to the Rabbi for his generosity and received a message from him just as I hit send. It appears we had similar thoughts  at the same time. Funny how that happens.

As I was reflecting last night on our visit, I realized how much the Rabbi and I have in common. Sure, we come from different religions, cultures, and regions, but we are also both fathers, educators, and men of faith who are passionate about our families, our students and their learning. It was good to share a meal together. I hope it happens again soon.

Just today, Jason Bedell wrote a post about the benefits of TweetUps and meeting members of his PLN. Mark Schaefer also posted last night a story that has led him to want to get to know his online connections better. He even offered to arrange some Skype sessions. I totally agree that the face to face meetings and video calls are an important part of our professional learning and networking. While I enjoy getting to know people through what they write, it’s even better to get to shake a hand, look a person in the eye, or simply hear the sound of their voice. Such interactions, however, require time and purposeful planning. I’m grateful Akevy was so hospitable and intentional in making our meeting happen (and Mark’s already put a Skype session on my calendar).

Having said all of that, I’d like to invite you to our next Mid-south EduTweetUp this coming Friday night, October 1. You can see all the details here. If you are in the area, I really hope you’ll come. I’d love to see you and shake your hand.

So what about you? What has been your experience with meeting in person the folks you know online? What are you doing to solidify those connections? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories.

All Patience Exhausted

I’ve been using social media for a few years now. I started with Facebook and LinkedIn using them to connect with people I already knew or had a previous connection. At one point I had well over 1600 friends on Facebook. In December of 2008, I joined Twitter and over the past 20 months I have cultivated new relationships through the service gaining just under 1100 followers in that time. I enjoy the interaction and the conversations on all three social mediums. I have tried to always be kind and respectful and I have used the services to promote and discuss important ideas and issues and to build relationships I value. I have learned a great deal both professionally and personally from these connections, and I have tried to be positive in all my interactions.I’m afraid that is all about to change, and I need your advice.

For the past eight weeks, my family has been without a refrigerator. In October 2008, we purchased a top-of-the-line, brand-name model from a reputable company, one we have had a loyal relationship with for several decades. We had to replace the ice maker about a year ago, but apart from that we have been pleased with the product…until 8 weeks ago. Eight weeks ago, the fridge died. We contacted the company to repair it, they have since tried and failed multiple times. They have failed to communicate. They have cancelled appointments. They have broken promises. We are now 8 weeks out, and our family of 6 still has no working refrigerator. We have spent hundreds of non-budgeted dollars eating out during this time. We have been loyal. We have been patient. We have been kind, and yet the company still doesn’t seem to care about our plight.

I’m done. All my patience has been exhausted. I have tried to keep this matter between my family and the company, but this has gone on long enough. I am ready to go public and I’m ready to get ugly. As a consumer in 2010, I have the power of the social web at my disposal, and I am ready to use it. I’m ready to start my social media ranting now. I’m ready to use my influence to embarrass the company and hopefully hurt their business. I’m ready to take the gloves off. Sure, I will also draft a letter to the BBB, but I don’t think that is as public or permanent as my use of social media will be, and I cannot allow my family to go through this any longer. After 8 weeks, my children deserve a home cooked meal.

I’d like to know what you think. Should I go ahead and make this situation public? I’d really appreciate your feedback. What do you think? What would you do? You can post a reply here or feel free to contact me via my social networks (linked above).

I really wish it hadn’t come to this, but what’s a father and husband to do?