By Mike Marsee
A lot can happen in 140 characters.
Using messages no longer than this paragraph, an educator can take to Twitter to take part in a discussion that can better them or their schools.
The same place where teenagers chat in emoji-speak and missives fly around the world about the hot topic of the day also has become a gathering place for Kentucky teachers and administrators to share innovations and opinions and get answers to questions through weekly Twitter chats.
“To me, it’s always neat to learn from each other,” said Donnie Piercey, a 5th-grade teacher and technology integrator in the Eminence Independent school district. “We can’t all be in each other’s buildings all the time.”
Piercey started #kyedchat in 2013 as a way of bringing innovative Kentucky teachers together.
After he attended a Google teacher academy in Australia, follow-up Twitter chats gave the group Piercey worked with the chance to share innovative ideas, educational tools and lesson plans.
“I started thinking, ‘It’s cool to do this internationally, but right here in Kentucky we have hundreds of innovative teachers who are dying for a chance to talk to teachers outside their building,” Piercey said.
At about the same time, Erika Bowles, the principal at Longbranch Elementary School in the Boone County district, was participating in the weekly #satchat, an international discussion for school leaders that had started a year earlier.
“That’s a great chat, but I felt like we needed something that was more specific to our state,” Bowles said.
She enlisted a handful of fellow principals to organize what has become the #kyadmin chat.
Educators can participate in the weekly chats – #kyadmin is held on Monday nights, #kyedchat on Thursday nights – using the appropriate hashtag.
Both have become popular virtual gathering places. Piercey estimates that more than 50,000 tweets have carried the #kyedchat hashtag in less than three years.
The conversations continue beyond the weekly gatherings, as educators can use the hashtags to share information at any time.
“That hashtag goes on through the week. You can share an app, a lesson plan, something from a great conference you attended any time, instead of just during that one-hour discussion on Thursday,” Piercey said.
A website for #kyadmin previews the questions for upcoming chats and a Voxer chat offers a venue to keep the collaboration going through the week in a long-form format.
“This allows us to really elaborate and collaborate beyond 140 characters,” Bowles said.
Here’s a closer look at how each chat operates:
Piercey said he tries to maintain “a very conversational tone” on #kyedchat, and his colleague at Eminence, librarian James Allen, said it feels exactly that way.
“It’s like you’re in the same room talking. A lot of times you don’t get to talk to people who are doing the same things you’re doing,” Allen said.
Topics can range from curriculum and instruction to tech tools and are often led by guest moderators who have something to say about a particular subject.
“One thing we’ve always tried to do is keep it very organic. If somebody approaches me and says, ‘Hey, I’m interested in leading #kyedchat,’ I’ll say, ‘Great, how about next week?’” Piercey said.
Another thing Piercey tries to do is maintain a positive tone.
“We never want it to turn into something where people are complaining about something in education. It’s always more, ‘What can we do to make education better,’” he said. “It’s a great digital citizenship model for our students.”
The success of #kyedchat has given birth to other discussions, including the more specialized #kyLchat that Allen helped start for school librarians. And in 2014, a group of six #kyedchat regulars organized the first EdCamp Kentucky, an “unconference” in which participants volunteer to lead discussions.
There have been combined chats with educators from Indiana and Tennessee, and last year, there was a 24-hour #kyedchat marathon using 24 moderators – 18 from Kentucky and the rest from as far away as Australia.
“We were a little ambitious,” Piercey said. “The 3 a.m.-to-4 a.m. time slot was not as active as 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., but we still had some people waking up and chiming in.”
Bowles teamed with four fellow principals to get #kyadmin off the ground, getting representation from all school levels. All of them – plus one more who was recently added – serve as moderators on topics that interest them, along with occasional guest moderators.
“Erika asks us for input on what topics we want to talk about, and we come up with topics and pick dates to moderate,” said Kevin Estes, the principal at Hickman County High School. “When Erika said she wanted to start this chat, I said, ‘I’m the novice one. I’ll be learning on the way.’ Of course, my kids were on Twitter and they had to teach me. Now I know enough to be dangerous.”
The schedule of topics is set well in advance and questions can be posted to a Google document prior to the week’s chat. Bowles said the chats –which occur weekly from Labor Day until spring break – have turned into a solid professional learning network that communicates often beyond Twitter. That network is important, Estes said.
“When you’re an administrator, sometimes you feel like you’re on an island,” he said. “It allows you to reach out and talk to people.”
The #kyadmin regulars took on a project last fall in which they committed to completely immersing themselves in classrooms for a full day and tweeted about it using the hashtag #kynoofficeday. They plan to do it again March 7.
Bowles said the chat’s greatest value lies in how administrators can use it to better their schools.
“It really benefits the kids,” Bowles said, “and that’s what we’re all about.”
MORE INFO …
Donnie Piercey firstname.lastname@example.org
Erika Bowles Erika.email@example.com
Kevin Estes firstname.lastname@example.org
James Allen email@example.com