Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Twitter is the New Staff Room

I used to work in a school that had about forty teachers. Forty teachers, that is, and one staff room. Which meant that teachers from every department shared one big, giant, open room. Now, many years after I left, I realize that, as it turns out, we shared a lot more than that. Today, I find myself missing it, and looking for a close substitute in, of all places, Twitter.

The Great Big Staff Room

Back then, the fact that there were no walls between our desks made it easy for us to know each other, at least on some level. Whether or not we taught the same subject, or even ever had a full conversation, we eventually gained a sense of the people with whom we worked. That happened a little bit everyday, in the bits and pieces that we caught in walking past someone's desk and saying good morning, or happening upon a juicy conversation amongst a gaggle of teachers, or noticing someone's new haircut. It happened whenever we watched each others' reactions to the unintentionally hilarious and exasperating intercom announcements. It happened when someone needed to vent, or to share good news, or bad news, or when something truly dreadful was happening in the world, like 9/11. That staff room gave us, over time, a sense that we were all in this together, whatever "this" was at the time.

Not everyone liked it that way. Some people found the noise made it hard to concentrate, and others felt that it was a place where everyone just whined and complained. Not me. I loved that staff room. I honestly looked forward to walking in there every morning. I didn't love everyone in it, and I'm sure there were people who didn't love me, but I loved the feeling of being a part of something. (And, okay, there were people there whom I loved.)

As teachers, we also shared our craft, and also in a gradual, organic way. My department head and mentor, Maureen Moore, had a rich vocabulary and no-nonsense approach to teaching that definitely left a mark on me over the years. She also supported me and all my ideas so enthusiastically that I couldn't help but grow in confidence as a teacher working next to her. Another huge influence for me was a young teacher named Christie Brown, whose brilliant innovation and early adopting of ed tech is responsible, I think, in large part, for my love of ed tech. And of course, there was Armand Laderoute, a retired principal who replaced me when I was on maternity leave and just never left. He was a master teacher AND impersonator of other people. A nod of the head from him and you knew you were doing something right.

But I don't remember a heck of a lot of intentional subject-specific or cross-curricular collaboration happening, although I'm sure it did, probably more so after I left and the QEP came into effect. Mostly I remember people working together to plan staff events or school events. Certainly the potential for collaboration was there in buckets, because you only had to walk over to someone's desk to get it going. Now that I look back, it seems like I missed out on a huge potential for co-teaching.

It wasn't all about the room...

The subtle yet abiding team spirit in that staff room didn't only come from the lack of walls. It also came from the specific combination of people who inhabited it. I know for certain that it came from those people, because when the people changed, the cohesion changed. As it turned out, not only had we shared a room, but we also shared a common affinity for working together, and including as many people as possible in that endeavour.

Well that staff room's long gone, and anyway, now I work online, so there's no actual staff room for me to bask in. And I am privileged to work with a staff of the most inspiring and supportive educators in Canada, but we almost never see each other. So fortunately, there's Twitter. Dear merciful heaven, there's Twitter.

The Twitter Staff Room

On Twitter, I get to choose who's in my staff room. I can happen upon juicy conversations. I can hear peoples' reactions to things. I can get a sense of people based on their tweets, who's in their staff room, and how they respond, or don't, to me. I vent, share, or listen to others who need to. I get to be there for a friend who needs help carrying a burden.

I laugh at jokes (oh my goodness, so much laughing, just #saidnoteacherever and #overlyhonestmethods alone are enough).

I have people whom I could call mentors, but it's probably more accurate to say they inspire me, and not all in a math teacher way - some for teaching in general, pure and astonishing math skills, communication, ed tech, some just for how they interact with and help others tirelessly.

And now, despite the fact that we're not even in the same country, let alone the same room, I'm collaborating with all kinds of people all the time, and again, not always just about math (okay usually). But #bettertogether is my favourite hashtag, because it speaks to what I think I always believed, even way back in that big room.

And the learning, dear heaven, the learning. That's what I truly love, that I get to keep learning, and alongside other people who love to learn, which, as a teacher, is, I feel, is the first and best thing to live out in full view of my students. I don't mind if they forget the math they learned in my class, but I do so want them to follow their inspirations, do what they love, and share it with the world, so that's what I do. On Twitter.

And there are even some people on Twitter whom I love.

So even though I have fond memories of The Great Big Staff Room, and the people in it, for the time being I'll settle happily into my own little corner of the Twitter Sphere, with my pot of tea, my webcam, and my tweeps. All I'm missing is those intercom announcements. That's another blog post.


  1. I used to work at a very large public high school, and all 16 science staff had one large communal office. We were the most tightly-knit department for very good reasons. I miss that office like you miss your lunch room, and I'm finding similar solace in the MTBoS.

    1. I guess when the school's that big, it's out of the question to have everyone together. As long as there's a way to exist in a group so that there's a way to become tight-knit, it's all good. I'm always fascinated with things like this, that have to do with human social behaviour. Thanks for your comment!

    2. There are staff rooms and staff rooms. That's for sure. I've sometimes felt that I'd like an excuse never to darken the doorway, and sometimes can't imagine a warmer, friendlier space for collaboration. A lot depends on the administration; how well it encourages and celebrates collaboration, and how well it models productive and respectful conversation. I'm happy to say that this year is one of those warm and fuzzy ones. ... but I, too, have found online collaboration to be quite satisfying as well. It's great to select the conversations one participates in, and great that less time is spent on side-bars. There's a wealth of expertise and imagination out there! Guess I may have to check Twitter out - ONE of these days!

  2. Barb, same goes for me. I think it's a combination of the physical setup, the admin as you said, and the actual people. At QAA, we had, for a time, we had 2/5, maybe even 2.5/3. And what online collaboration have you done?!?!? I would love to hear about it!

  3. I was in a school with a very small staff room - we couldn't work there but we could stop and talk and talk we did - often about our project ideas and about the students. In an elementary school we were not is silos - so we did many multi-disciplinary projects. I too, have needed to find my virtual staff room - a place where I could grow as an educator. You are certainly one that always challenges me to think.

    1. Right back at you Susan, you always amaze me at your ability to get right to the heart of the matter, no matter what we're talking about. I am very happy and proud to have you in my staff room!

  4. Most of my online collab ha been done with Reading Recovery teachers. Here in the Yukon many of us are so isolated - for some teachers there are literally no roads between their school and the nearest other schools. So - even if there are 4 or more classrooms in the school, one might have no other teacher working at the same level... Conferring with a colleague in another place to get fresh ideas or a new perspective can be a real boost. At times it's just about knowing what materials and services are available, or hashing out a frustration, too. I've even worked out a few lesson plans for complete strangers.

    1. That's fascinating! It's kind of like my situation, I'm not geographically isolated but I don't have colleagues sitting around me either, and I'm the only one teaching the course I'm teaching. We will talk more about this!