Not all professional learning takes place on days designated on the Gwinnett County Public Schools official calendar. For more than 20 Gwinnett teachers, one version commences each Wednesday at 8 p.m.
It features hashtags, retweets and participants from across the country who log on to Twitter.
“This is real professional learning,” said Chris Rogers, the local school technology coordinator at Harbins Elementary. “It’s not just people following Justin Bieber.”
Search #gwinchat on Twitter, and results will show questions and answers from sessions coordinated by Rogers and Archer High language arts teacher Lindsey Brouillard. Some of the topics they’ve covered since the chat started in July have been engaging struggling learners, teacher evaluations, professional development and teacher collaboration.
“It’s interesting to hear what other schools are doing, and strategies that are successful,” Rogers said. “I like the chat because it frames these issues we face and does it in a positive light, and it gets perspective from other people and places.”
The chat idea is not new — there are at least 300 across the country — and Rogers and Brouillard reached out to the people who run the #gaed chat, which is about two years old, to not step on their toes. They also said there are issues that are unique to Gwinnett and other areas.
One appreciation Brouillard has for the chat is that it’s a cost-saver for professional learning. She can get information in a fraction of the time, and without spending hundreds of dollars to attend a conference across the country.
“I can connect with experts in the field on grading and testing and get an answer within minutes,” she said. “It’s access, obviously technology has a lot to do with it, it’s brought the world closer to us.”
Each week after the chat, Rogers posts a poll to a web site dedicated to the chat for people to vote on the next week’s topic.
“We pay attention to what’s fresh and what people are talking about and update the poll,” Brouillard said.
Even though Rogers and Brouillard are each in the Archer cluster, they met through social media. Brouillard was a guest on an education broadcast shown through a Google Hangout with other educators around the Atlanta area. The moderator encouraged participants to be a leader with technology and intentionally meet others.
The chat has been a success because it’s reached educators outside of Gwinnett. Rogers said if it was confined only to GCPS teachers, it wouldn’t have taken off.
“One of the biggest goals is to help educators see the value of connecting on social media,” Rogers said. “In a lot of ways there’s some fear in social media. There are a lot of polices and procedures. ‘Don’t be friends with your students.’ There have been a lot of don’ts with social media, and I want it to be more positive.”
Rogers’ principal, Cindy Truett, believes in the chat enough to discuss with district leaders that a certain amount of participation in the chat would officially count as professional development credit — equivalent to attending an in-person session.
So far, that kind of proposal is still in the discussion stage.