Teacher to Network
by Sarah Thomas | 03.15.16
Sarah Thomas is an educator and regional tech coordinator in the Washington, D.C. area.
EduMatch uses the power of social media to fuel connectivity and collaboration on a global scale, linking educators with shared interests across a variety of platforms.
EduMatch is a grassroots movement [that helps] educators around the world connect to other educators with similar interests. We grow, we learn together, we use not all, but many avenues of social media—it’s been a group collaboration, and it’s turned into a family.
Back in September 2014, I was on Voxer with a friend of mine and she said something that made me think of a very similar conversation I’d had with my cousin a few months ago—they were both talking about the different gamification aspects [that could be applied] to math. So I said, “You need to meet, you have similar ideas.”
I wondered if there was something on Twitter that already [connects educators]—I looked around and I couldn’t find anything at the time. So, she and I started talking and kicking ideas around. She was a great motivator and a great supporter of the idea [of EduMatch]—she gave some awesome feedback and after talking about it with her, I went ahead and put it into practice.
The very first person to join, Mark Yeates from Australia, jumped aboard right away. With his encouragement, other people began to sign up after him. I set up a Google form to capture information—from there we just kind of continued to build.
[EduMatch operates across] Twitter, Voxer, Facebook, Instagram, we have Skype, we have a Slack group. The Voxer group has been integral—that’s probably my favorite part because it is so active and there are so many great conversations taking place all the time. The other great thing about Voxer is you get to hear the person—a lot of times things will get taken out of context on Twitter. [Voxer] really helps us understand one another, which is crucial if we’re trying to find solutions in education.
People really bring their A-game on EduMatch. We celebrate our successes, we support each other in our challenging times and every time somebody shares, we all learn. It’s been a time-saver in many ways, too, because people are so open to sharing the resources that they have. It’s made me a better educator because I can bounce ideas around.
[I didn’t become a connected educator], personally, until 2013—that was when my journey started. Even in those short three years, there’s just been such a boom in the level of connectedness and now there are all these different platforms that we educators are using to connect with each other. The educational community is just so awesome, so inviting, so willing to share and so welcoming of one another—I’m very, very thankful for that.
Over the winter break, a few friends and I were in the same Voxer group [outside of EduMatch] and we came up with the idea of holding a Camp Voxer—it was pretty much an EdCamp that was held on Voxer. The thing that was so amazing was that I would not have met anybody in this group had it not been for social media. Social media opened the doors to make those connections. And, once those connections we made, we were able to collaborate on this project together—and it exceeded many of our expectations. I personally expected maybe 30 people to show up, but we had over 500. I’m proud of this one because a lot of people who attended said that [Camp Voxer] opened the door to them get to know each other, and to begin to collaborating on other projects together.
There have [also] been a number of projects that have spun out of conversations we’ve had on EduMatch—people are moving forward with those projects and it’s been amazing to watch.Eventually, we would like to have a conference, so we have a planning committee working on that. I’m always looking for new ways for people to share their voices and their stories—that’s just so important. Seeing how much we all have to offer each other—it’s just been eye-opening to watch it all unfold.
Sarah’s tips for transforming inspiration into action and growing a strong PLN:
- I seriously thought EduMatch was going to flop. I remember in a Voxer conversation I was saying, “This probably isn’t going to work, but might as well give it a shot.” So many times, we have these great ideas that disappear into thin air. We all have those moments of inspiration—the key is to seize those moments, take them and run with them. If you see a need, fill that need.
- Realize that getting connected comes in stages. I was talking to my friend Jessica Raleigh a few days ago, and she made a fantastic point. She said that there are different stages to social media and being aware of how we use it, how we connect with it. The second we sign up for a Twitter account, we’re not immediately going to have all this great interaction and collaboration because it does take time. Just be patient. Educators are a friendly, welcoming bunch, so don’t be shy. Understand that it takes time to have a PLN that’s strong, just like any other relationship—social media is no different.
- Part of branding ourselves and sharing our stories, I firmly believe, is also to uplift those around us. So, when we do start to make these connections and share our voices, then helping those around us share their voices is very important. Reach out to people who are open to the idea of connecting. Walk with them. Start within your own school. We’ve tried Twitter social hour—we got together outside of school [and] anybody who wanted to learn how to use Twitter came and we ate dinner together. We worked to connect people, so it was a really cool event.