When I began my COETAIL journey in January of 2019, I was excited to grow my online PLN and connect with others. I had a small Twitter presence at the time, but the encouragement and inspiration from COETAIL led me to become more active and engaged. I was able to share the exciting things that were happening at my school, and be inspired by the amazing work of others. I was excited.
Twitter led me to Pub PD Europe, and I enthusiastically reached out and became a contact for a Düsseldorf meeting. It was fun to connect with others in an almost real-time way and share discussion about interesting education topics. But I also found that these connections could be draining. It wasn’t that they were not rewarding or interesting, but they challenged me and my social emotional wellbeing in a new way. It might sound strange but it took a strength and energy to create and post content, and engage with others. I found that if things in life weren’t going well, that I wasn’t able to bring myself to engage online.
As I started getting into Twitter last year, I noticed that there were two driving forces for me. The first, and the more noble, was to learn from and share with others. The second was the social currency and validation of others. Each tweet was designed to get the most views, catch the most eyes, and illicit the most likes and retweets possible. It’s not what I wanted my motivation to be, but it’s also a completely normal approach to social media, and something that has been studied. The careful cultivation of an online persona, described as “impression management” by Pounder et al., is a form of searching for external validation. It can lead to unrealistic expectations for yourself, and unhealthy comparisons. In the words of Alfred Adler “To be human is to have an inferiority complex.” and more and more I felt that I was comparing myself to others, with negative effects.
And that leads me to 2020.
In December 2019, my wife Caitlin was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the course of a few days my entire life changed. We had gone from accepting a new job at our dream school, to not knowing what the future held. Over the next few months, Caitlin underwent three different surgeries, and was in and out of hospital for tests and treatments. At the end of January, we learned that she would have to undergo chemotherapy. On top of the crushing news of months of hair loss, nausea, and general unwellness, we had to make the decision to back out of our new job for the following year. To make matters worse, there was a new virus spreading around the world that was particularly dangerous for people with compromised immune systems.
Through January and February, I was in and out of school as I helped Caitlin navigate a foreign health care system, and transported her to and from appointments and surgeries. Our school was incredibly supportive. I averaged between two and three days a week in school, and had difficulty focusing or helping my team in any real meaningful way, but I went in for the kids, and they brought me joy everytime I did. My team was fantastic, filling in and taking on responsibilities, and supporting us with cards and gifts and hugs whenever needed. Also, did I mention there was a crazy virus spreading around the world?
In mid-March, our school moved to online learning in response to COVID-19. It was the news I had been waiting for. Weeks of worrying about going into school were over. It wasn’t until I spent my first day working from home that I really realized how much of a weight that worry had been. It also meant that I was able to be home with Caitlin everyday as the side-effects of her chemotherapy grew steadily worse. Seven weeks later, and our school is slowly re-opening with students returning one day a week, but because of the risk of Caitlin contracting the virus, I am still not going into school.
So that’s been my 2020…how’s your going?
I Didn’t Break Up With Twitter…We’re Just On A Break
In a time where I needed to turn inwards and focus on the here and now, I didn’t have the energy for social comparison. I still wanted to grow and learn from others, but I didn’t have the energy to reach out to relationships that were somewhat abstract or tangential. I can count the number of times I’ve been on Twitter in 2020 on one hand. Luckily, I had an IRL support network that I was able to lean on. While I haven’t been engaging with my online PLN, my in person PLC has been a constant source of support, inspiration and motivation. Twitter will always be there, and I’m sure I’ll be back eventually.
My Learning Community
Through out the school closures, just as before, I have met daily with my grade team, and weekly with others in our school. I spend one and a half to two hours a day with them discussing best practice, sharing ideas, and figuring out how to best meet the needs of our students in this crazy world we are living in. We were born in three different decades, come from three different countries, and have each lived on at least three continents. Collectively we have almost 60 years of teaching and leadership experience in schools around the world. We are a diverse group with a varied background, and it has been an amazing opportunity to learn, share and grow together.
Our meeting minutes don’t do justice to the discussions we have. One of the reasons for my last change of schools was to find a place where I would be able to collaborate and share with a team. There is no substitute for working with a great team.
At some point, I know I’ll get back and reconnect online. Learning through Twitter and connecting with others provided my wife and I with so many opportunities earlier this year as while we were searching for jobs, so I know I’ll be back there sooner rather than later. But for now, the reconnections I’m looking forward to most are with family and friends, as we all sit back and wait for the world to open. Stay healthy out there.