"YOU'RE getting some of the best ideas in the world from some of the best teachers in the world, who are sharing them real-time." George Couros is a big fan of social media, including Twitter – where the Canadian educator not only has 38,000+ followers, but also follows more than 14,000 educators. The division principal of innovative teaching and learning in Edmonton uses the technology to make valuable daily connections, but he explains it wasn't always the case. "I think when I first started Twitter I didn't have anyone that was sitting and helping me and so I found no use of it — because I followed celebrities mostly and never really followed any educators. "[When] someone actually sat down and helped me to understand it ... that's when the real sort of learning happened." Couros says it's the immediacy of the social media platform that makes it particularly powerful. "I'm not waiting for someone to publish a book that takes six months to write and takes another seven or eight months to publish and the ideas can be outdated. I'm getting [them] from actual, practising educators. "The big things would be: jump in, have some guidance with someone who's maybe done it and then follow educators. If you do that you'll see the value of it if you're willing to put in the time to connect." Technology in Education caught up with Couros on his latest visit to Australia, where he is in high demand as a presenter at education conferences and PD events. His presentation at Victoria's ELH SchoolTech 2013 in Term 3 focused on leading innovative teams. "The idea is kind of working to a place where people aren't scared of change – they're embracing it. "So, looking at the work we've done in our school district (not just with technology but many initiatives), and some of the things we've outlined as being beneficial to teachers ... trying different things with students so that school is much better for them." In a refreshing approach, Couros actively encourages delegates to look at their phones and share their reflections during his presentations "so that more people are learning from each other as opposed to simply learning from me". He adds that, at any PD event, it's unlikely you will see people 100 per cent focused on a keynote speaker but delegates are using their technology to reflect and share their learning as it happens. "There's a lot more learning that happens during the conversation, but also after it as well. "As a presenter, I can go back and look at [the Twitter feed] and learn what people were sharing [and when] ... and that's hugely beneficial to myself; and I think, to me, that's where I do a lot of my learning and I take [it] back to my school district. "If I only spoke and never actually had the opportunity to learn from anyone else, what do I bring back to my own students and our schools? "I think that when everyone shares, my school district benefits and so do others too if they're willing to just look at that conversation," he adds. Couros' role with Parkland School Division sees him exploring innovative teaching and learning with students, parents, teachers and administrators. This includes talking about the notion of digital citizenship and digital leadership with students — which brings us back to the power of social media. "Actually getting students using the technology they have to make an impact and difference in the lives of other people in their community, either locally or globally. "Instead of looking at keeping things offline because of all the negative [coverage] in the media about cyber bullying and things like that, we take a different stance that we want our kids to take a really positive approach to what they do online and work to make a difference in the lives of others. "There's this notion that social media is very 'me' focused. We're trying to get our kids to have a big 'we' focus — the idea that they see themselves as part of something a lot larger." You can follow George Couros on Twitter @gcouros
- This article appears in the Term 4 issue of Technology in Education – a standalone magazine inserted into the November issue of Australian Teacher Magazine. Technology in Education is published every term. The latest magazine is available to download free on iOS and Android devices.