From Virtual to Reality

Earlier this week, I attended, and presented at, TeachMeet HIlls out at Gilroy. LOVED IT! This was my fourth TeachMeet, and the second at which I’d presented, but my first since having become more active on Twitter.

I’d attended Domremy College and All Saints Liverpool, Girls TMs last year, and pushed myself way out of my comfort zone to present at Eveleigh in March… but I didn’t know anyone then, and therefore couldn’t embarrass myself too much, could I? At each TM, I loved the energy, the synergy, the dialogue and laughter with people committed to sharing their practice. And mind you, this is always after hours, after some in the general public think we’ve clocked out at 3pm to go home after working half a day.

As some of you may know, I’m in a position where I love the work I do, but am sometimes discouraged by the challenges of doing it… One of my bosses has cheerfully said, “Keep looking for ways to turn those challenges into opportunities!” I am a glass half full kinda girl, so I do keep pushing through, but often after scraping myself off the floor and looking for a new way to approach something – or someone.

Enter Twitter in March… Since the BIG TeachMeet, and then using Twitter for backchannels at a couple of conferences, I was hooked. Vivian Matiello had introduced #ozengchat in the same room where I presented at the big TM, and that became a great way to dip a toe in and meet like-minded educators. Not everyone who participates there is an English teacher, but certainly they are all passionate and dedicated educators who set time aside from their families and leisure to connect, share and support – (every Tuesday night from 8:30 – 9:30).

Over time, I re-tweeted, offered links and support, and entered into a few conversations, I followed more people, and my little network grew. (Not extensively, but comfortably :-)). If you are reading this, you likely already know what I’m about to say, and I found Jeannette James and her brilliant, heartfelt post “With My PLN, I Am” really resonated with me. Same with Daniel Edwards’ post about “The Ten Stages of Twitter”. Out there in the big, wide, virtual Twitterverse are all these dedicated educators who don’t whinge, who don’t complain, who just support, encourage, pass on resources, send a kind word, sympathise, encourage, reflect, and challenge my thinking.

Over the course of the last five months, I’ve found I have more energy, more enthusiasm, can contribute in a more positive manner. I think more broadly, read more professional blogs and literature, and am constantly inspired by the amazing work of others. I don’t feel like I am alone in wanting to improve my own practice, or to see the best opportunities realised for our students…I feel connected, supported, and proud to be part of such a brilliant profession.

Now back to Tuesday night, and the title of this post. When I was young, if the teacher called on me in class, I’d slide under the desk I’d be so embarrassed. But I value pushing myself out of my comfort zone, so plowed ahead.  I had great support from Monique Dalli. I prepared my PK – obsessed over getting it right – tossed and turned, felt sick all day, arrived at Gilroy late, didn’t see signs, wandered around the grounds – and eventually saw the signs at reception. After making my way through the corridors, I snuck into the back of the room where Polly Dunning was presenting (her great post on her experience is here). I tried to sit alone, but was quietly called forward… and here’s where virtual became reality. I felt like I had walked OUT of a cartoon or video game, through some magic bubble, and entered a new space and time… I was sitting next to @karlao_dtn, who was really sweet and humble Karla, and she wasn’t her Simpsonised dp! And next to her, @MalynMawby, and next to her, @Townesy77 for REAL! To my right @ellyconnolly (and a nice guy who seemed quite close to her, who turned out to be her husband Andrew @akwc). And at the front of the room, after months of tweets and support, was @1Moniqued. At the break, I chatted to Malyn (who’s as wise in person as she is online), hugged a bubbling Monique, and introduced myself to, then hugged Matt (@mesterman). Andrew Wharton (@whartonag) even approached ME and was so excited to meet ME in person – who would have thought? I was more nervous than ever going up to present… but shouldn’t have been.  Because everyone there was just there to share practice, and learn from each other; some were Twitter “celebs” (in my newbie experience..), but mainly people were just there to support each other, listen, share and learn. (I’m seriously a bit too old to get so star struck, but then again my experience of an online PLN over the past few months has been an educational lifeline…)

At the TeachEat, I got to talk to Jeannette James (@7MrsJames) who has been a tremendous virtual support in ways she probably doesn’t realise, and Karla, and Simon Harper (@s_harper3 – what a brilliant presentation, Simon – so much time and energy!), Matt, John Goh (@jonqgoh) and Monique. There were others I would have liked to chat to, but there will be other events, I’m sure. I don’t even remember much of what I ate because the conversation was just so good!

I returned to school the next day, floating a bit, and full of optimism and renewed energy to face my challenges, and turn them into opportunities. So if you haven’t been to a TeachMeet, get along to one soon … and if you haven’t experience the great PLN that is Twitter, what are you waiting for? Thanks to everyone who has shared my journey so far – there is truly strength in numbers.