Missouri Educator Pushes Power of Social Media
- Expertise: Social Networking
- Position: Instructional technology specialist
- District: Lee's Summit School District, Mo.
Kyle Pace has been training teachers to use technology since he was a student himself.
Now an instructional technology specialist for the 17,500-student Lee’s Summit, Mo., school district, Pace recalls being fascinated with the computer his mother—a Missouri middle school teacher—received in her classroom when he was a child. His mother brought the computer home during the summer, and Pace taught himself to use it. He became so proficient that his mother, and her fellow teachers, would come to him for advice on the technology, particularly when Pace began attending the middle school himself.
“I informally became the teachers’ go-to person. In the summer, they’d have me come over and they’d say, ‘Teach me how to do this,’ ” says Pace, 36. “So teaching other teachers about technology has always felt very natural to me.”
His skills have only leaped forward in his current job in Lee’s Summit. This school year, he’s helping train teachers to use Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks, or Google laptops, along with Gmail and Google Docs.
It’s all pretty new. But Pace says if he needs advice on any of those endeavors, educators who are further along in the process are just a click away. He has created his own online network of experts whom he can access at any time. Pace himself is seen as a resource for others, speaking at conferences or providing training, using his social-networking expertise. “No one has to feel like they’re isolated anymore,” he says. “That’s the beauty of social networking.”
A former elementary school teacher, Pace says he once felt isolated in the classroom. Though he wanted to push the technology boundaries in his class, he didn’t know others in his school or district who were trying to do the same thing. So he’s making sure that teachers in Lee’s Summit don’t face the same issue. Social networking holds the key to that, he says.
For example, Pace often uses Twitter to find resources for teachers in his district; he calls it “connecting the dots” and helping guide others to new techniques.
Social networking “is still daily guaranteed learning for me to find something that is immediately applicable for my job,” he says. “An awesome byproduct of my networking is helping other people get the information they need.”
He’s encouraging teachers to do the same and build their own personal learning networks online. Pace pushed Richardson Elementary School 6th grade teacher Ashley Tegenkamp to venture onto Twitter, though she had never used it for professional development. He helped her connect with other teachers who have given her ideas for her own classroom, and Tegenkamp then decided to start a Twitter feed for her classroom to keep parents informed.
As educators, we can get narrow-minded pretty fast being in our own little building all the time. With social networking, you get fresh viewpoints and varying perspectives. It opens up your thinking.
Currently, she is following several teachers who “flipped” their classrooms (a process in which teachers have students watch the lecture portion of a class at home on video, then do the homework or more hands-on work, in class), and is preparing to go in that direction with her own class. “Twitter is absolutely pushing me to be a better teacher,” she wrote in an email.
Social networking has also altered the course of Pace’s professional life in many ways. Pace started with Twitter, and he became so enamored of the way he could connect with educators around the world that he began co-hosting Tuesday-evening EdChats on the social-networking site. Pace helps guide those online chats using Twitter’s 140-character posts to discuss a different educational topic every week. Topics have ranged from alternatives to high-stakes testing to the effects of “anytime” learning on the classroom; the chats often spawn in-depth discussions on blogs and other websites.
That role led Pace to like-minded technology educators with whom he began to collaborate. He now speaks at conferences with people like Eric Sheninger, the principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey, about social networking for educators. The aim is to inspire teachers to get outside their comfort zones and connect with other educators online.
Online and in face-to-face presentations, Pace brings his real-world experiences to others, says Sheninger, to help them find ways to surmount technology roadblocks in their own schools.
“Kyle is a practitioner. He works with teachers and is exposed to the budgetary realities that schools are faced with, as well as administrators that embrace a vision for tech integration and those that are resistant,” Sheninger says. “That allows him to be a very powerful resource.”
Twitter also led Pace to learn about EdCamps , a so-called “unconference” movement springing up around the country. The freewheeling professional-development gatherings have no set agenda and are often centered around the use of technology in education. On the day of the event, attendees sign up, often on a large whiteboard, to make presentations. Participants are encouraged to drop in and out of sessions as they determine which are most relevant to their teaching practice.
Pace heard about EdCamps on Twitter and decided to organize one of his own. His first EdCamp, held in Kansas City, Mo., in 2010, drew more than 100 people. He’s since organized two others there, and attendance has grown.
“As the organizer, that’s always a bit of a tense moment that morning when you have that big piece of paper on the wall and you think, ‘Please let there be people who want to have a conversation,’ ” Pace says.
And it all came out of social networking. Pace says it’s unlikely, for example, he would have become a Google-certified teacher without finding out about it online. He would not have connected with Sheninger and others who have given him so many new techniques and resources to pass on to his teachers. And he wouldn’t know that a principal in a school outside Chicago is a few years ahead of his district in implementing those Google Chromebooks.
“At any time,” Pace says, “I can send him a tweet and say, ‘How did you do this?’ ”