My advice to new teachers at the start of the school year


I first posted this in 2011, but I still stand by this advice. There are also some really great comments at the bottom that contain additional advice:

1) Be yourself (unless your “self” is rude, obnoxious, spiteful, arrogant, or similarly unpleasant in which case you should rethink your chosen profession anyway). When I first started teaching I worked very hard at adopting my “teacher persona.” I believe this was a result of some benign advice from an associate teacher or a professor at the faculty of education. The thing is, it’s exhausting and the kids see right through it. I tried to copy the teaching styles of teachers I respected and admired, and I suppose that’s not a bad way to start. It actually helped me figure out the kind of teacher that I’m not. I am not a stern no-nonsense disciplinarian. I am silly, laid-back, and occasionally irreverent. That doesn’t mean my students run amok, but I had to find my own way to “be a teacher.”

2) Dress up. A little. But dress your age. If you, like me, barreled on through your undergrad and straight into teacher’s college and then were lucky enough to get a position the next school year (I know… very lucky), then you’re… what… 23? Wow. You’re not much older than the grade 12s and you won’t look much older. You’re not going to fool anyone into thinking that you’re an ancient 30 something like I am, but when you’re 23, it’s embarrassing and awkward to be mistaken for a student (When you’re 32, it rocks). So, judge the vibe of your school. Some schools are more casual than others, but don’t think you can get away with the board short and flip-flop look that the eccentric, close-to-retirement, history teacher is “rocking” (questionably). If you dress up a little bit, it sends a signal that you think this important enough to dress up for and that helps–but don’t be afraid to out your own stamp on it that says “hey I’m not 32 yet.”

3) Don’t do stupid things. You’ve probably already been so scared by faculty of education lectures and gossipy horror stories that spread through your social foundations class about teachers who did foolish things on social media and were then fired. That’s not what I’m here to do. I do not want you to decide to erase your web presence and ban technology from the classroom because you’re afraid of all the horrible things that could happen to you. We are in an interesting place in our history right now and I suspect 20 years from now (I hope) we’ll all laugh about the angst we were having in education over social media. Rather than trying to eliminate your web presence, create a professional one. Start a professional blog where you reflect on and share evidence of your learning. Get on Twitter and start following other teachers (Not sure how to get started? Go here.). They will be a great support network for you and can help you out when it’s 1:00am and you really can’t hash out ideas with your department head and your girlfriend is sick of hearing about how stressed out you are. Don’t friend students on Facebook (I know some teachers who do and I have the utmost faith that they are extremely professional with their students but I won’t ever advise you to do it), but you may consider setting up a Facebook page for your class. If you teach in the Waterloo board in fact, it’s encouraged. That way you can keep in touch with students in with a medium they use, but they don’t have access to your personal information. Bottom line: never post anything online that you wouldn’t say in front of the class or in front of your principal. If you must vent, save it for direct messages and emails to your friends.

4) Cut yourself some slack. You won’t be a perfect teacher in your first year. Actually you’ll never be a perfect teacher. That’s okay. Think of your goal for your first year as being one of survival and harm reduction. Do as little harm as possible to yourself and your students, and you’re off to a good start in my opinion. If you’re a good teacher, you’re probably going to spend a lot of time agonizing over decisions you made, coming up with different ways you could have but didn’t handle a situation, and generally berating yourself for sucking. You probably don’t suck. Lighten up. Have a beer. Go for a night out with your non-teacher friends (do you still have those?) and don’t talk about school–they won’t get it and it’s not healthy for you to talk about it all the time.

This is hardly an exhaustive list but you probably have enough people giving you advice. Hang in there. Have some fun. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

How I’m using If This Then That

One of the best new tools that I took away with me from this year’s ECOO conference was If This Then That. Thank you, Zoe and Doug for showing me this super-cool site.

This is not the kind of site that I would show people who are fairly new to Web 2.0 tools, but for people like me who are already using Twitter, Evernote, Diigo, Dropbox, WordPress (to name a few), IFTTT just makes a heck of a lot of sense.

IFTTT allows you to create tasks (or if you need some inspiration, you can browse a list of “recipes”) that make different apps work together. For example, wouldn’t it be cool if everytime that @shareski guy tweeted something, his messages would show up in an Evernote folder that I’d created? IFTTT would let you do it! Or I could send @royanlee’s tweets to a WordPress blog dedicated to his awesomeness. Well… that example might be a bit stalkerish as @royanlee and I realized. But, IFTTT would let you do it!

So here’s how I’m actually using it so far:

If a file is uploaded to my Dropbox, then IFTTT sends me a text message. (I have students submit files to me using so I love getting a message telling me when I’ve gotten a file.)

If a Twitter search result turns up for @MsBarkerTweets (my teacher Twitter handle… in other words if someone sends an @ message to my teacher account) then IFTTT sends me a text message. This way, a student can “text” me without texting me. You see?

If I create a bookmark on Diigo, then that bookmark also goes to a folder I’ve made in Evernote called Diigo bookmarks. It even imports the tags!

Finally I’m trying to figure out a way to archive Tweets on a WordPress blog for when I remount my Hamlet/Twitter role play with my grade 12s in a month. I had hoped there would be a way to say: If someone on a list called _______________ tweets, send the tweet to WordPress. It doesn’t seem like I can do that though. I can however have each individual Twitter handle sent to the blog.

So that’s how I’m using IFTTT so far but there are so many possibilities to explore. (I do also plan on blogging my ECOO11 reflections soon!) Thanks for pushing me to finish this, Dean. ;)

How are you using IFTTT?

Brevity is the Soul of (t)Wit


I’ve had a busy weekend. I started a podcast and a Twitter experiment. I’ve added a page to my blog with my podcast feed but my podcast is hosted on my website which you can find here. My main purpose for setting up my podcast is to learn about podcasting, but my secondary purpose, which is probably more important, is to share ideas with teachers in short manageable pieces.

My second weekend project is a little more ambitious. Ever since I followed Such Tweet Sorrow last year, I’ve been giving some thought to what I could do with it. I liked the idea of distilling a play down to its most basic components and I also liked the improvisational, real-time, experimental feel of the project. Prompted by a Facebook message from a friend of mine I decided to revisit the idea. A while back @ChrisKevill and I were tweeting about Hamlet and I half-jokingly suggested that we mount a Twitter Hamlet, but then I thought, not very many of my theatre friends are on Twitter. This weekend it occurred to me to approach it from the other direction: how many of my Twitter friends would be into Hamlet? I’m pretty jazzed about the idea of combining social media and theatre. So far I’ll have to wait and see how many responses I get before I can move forward with this project but I have a good feeling.

If you want to read more about this project, check out my Brevity is the Soul of (t)Wit website at

If you want to be part of the project, fill out the “audition sheet.” I’m quite confident I can find a role for everyone!

Reflections on ECOO 2010

The most important thing I learned was that if at all possible, attend a conference with a friend. I know I had a ton of Twitter friends at ECOO, but it was awfully nice to be able to go with my friend Wendy, both for moral support and to have someone to bounce new ideas off of.

The second most important thing I learned is to make sure your Twitter picture accurately reflects your current hairstyle, otherwise people find it very disorienting.

The third most important thing I learned is that wireless WILL cut out at a pivotal moment during your presentation, so use an ethernet cord if at all possible.

I loved the presentation by @royanlee who has become the “it” boy of technology and student engagement (Although I personally feel it’s cheating to bring your students–just kidding, Royan. Well played.). He also has absolutely, hands-down, the best delivery when it comes to dealing with difficult questions. So calm and low key. Remember me when you become the next Will Richardson, okay?

A big shout out to “Pegah the Perfect” who talked to us about her blog.

I also loved @neilstephenson’s cigar box project presentation. Talk about making history relevant! Also, he made reference to St.Thomas and Jumbo the elephant which gets him bonus points since I teach in St. Thomas.

The Pecha Kucha was something I dreaded but turned out to be one of the most positive moments of the whole weekend. I can’t wait to try this presentation style with my students. Thanks to @msjweir who asked me to present. It was great to meet @Grade1 and @peterskillen face to face, and also great to see @thecleversheep, @KimMcGill again.

It’s great to be at a conference like this because these people GET me. I’m not weird or out-there with them. People don’t look at me strangely when I talk about using Wikipedia for research and I don’t have to use my “do you ban paper because students are passing notes” analogy about cellphones. On the other hand, I have to remember that when I get back to my school, some people will wrinkle their noses when I talk about cell phones and cringe when I say Wikipedia is a good place to begin research projects. Baby steps.

And now, I give you the ECOO 2010 Pecha Kuchas, with many thanks to @colinjagoe for rockstar editing.

Why you should be on Twitter


Photo credit

There are a lot of people who have written great posts about why you should be on Twitter ( Laura Walker

Jason Renshaw to name two).

This is not one of them.

Well, not really.

I just wanted to take a moment to post some screen shots from this weekend. I was working on writing a paper for my graduate class on learning theories where I was asked to imagine what education might look like in the future. My plan was to narrate a day in the life of a typical high school student in 2020 and I wanted an idea of what a 2020 math class might look like. I’m an English teacher. I needed help.

So I posted this

my tweetAnd here was my first reply:


And then…3(keep in mind, replies that I’ve taken pictures of in chunks read from the bottom to the top)


4It gets better


I know it’s a bit confusing to read those chunks from the bottom to the top but you get the idea right? My professional learning network on Twitter makes me a better teacher. Connectivism at work.

You might also want to check out Why would teachers want to use Twitter?

Why Rodd thinks you should be on Twitter:

Such Tweet Sorrow–follow-up

I talked about Such Tweet Sorrow in my media class today. I had to use a Common Craft video to really explain what Twitter was though since my students still don’t really get it.

So after I did that and explained the premise of STS, and showed them the website and some of the tweets, I got some blank looks. Then N put up her hand and scrunched up her face and said “But what’s the point?”

I laughed. “I don’t know? What do you guys think?”

S, being a bit of a theatre buff, liked the improvisational nature of the experiment while D, arguably the most techy of my students was intrigued by the experiment.

When I said that I thought maybe they were using Twitter because the tweets were kind of like text messages, E frowned and said “Well yeah, but they’re public. Everyone can see everything, and they wouldn’t with text messages.”

She has a really good point. The R and J actors are tweeting very personal stuff that even on Twitter would at least be done as direct messages.

I’m enjoying the experiment, but I don’t think they’re going to hook any teens.


Danika Barker; live

This Friday I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at an independently organized TED event. When Jamie Weir asked me to speak way back in … October?… I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I was flattered, but I also have a habit of saying yes to things when they seem very far away, and then deciding how to make it work later.


Well April 9th popped up pretty fast! Oh, and did I mention I also agreed to present two workshops at our board’s big technology conference the next morning? Why? WHY?

I knew that I wanted to talk about my action research project but trying to figure out how to cram all that into a 5 minute talk was quite daunting. I managed to pick out the highlights–I hope–and tell people why I thought Ning was such a great teaching and learning tool. I made cute slides. I memorized and rehearsed. I picked out my shoes. I believe my shoes were a trending topic on Twitter that night.

The night was a blur! One minute I was suggesting iPhone apps to Paul Finkelstein.


The next minute I was discussing the dubious merits of Fast Eddie’s with Dan Misener (whilst lusting after his iPad).


And then, somehow, I was up!

And the computer running my slides threw a tantrum and had to be rebooted while I tried to make small talk and considered beat-boxing to fill the dead time. Technology glitches aside, I made it through the talk, and I really appreciate all the hard work the tech team did to jump over those impossible-to-foresee hurdles. My Twitter friends were so supportive and kind and thanks to the miracle of technology, my friends and family were able to watch online. So cool!

I felt a little out of my league when I realized I was speaking at the same event as Alec Couros, Jesse Brown, Ray Zahab, Paul Finkelstein, (aw, heck, EVERYONE. Check out this roster of speakers), but what an amazing opportunity to network and be inspired.

Small confession: I was such a nervous wreck, I did a very bad job at mingling. There were so many people I wanted to meet face to face, but as soon I was done talking, I hid in the green room and scarfed a sub. There. I admit it. But I wasn’t alone. After giving a hilarious and engaging talk, Jesse Brown, co-founder of Bitstrips


joined me in the greenroom and we had a great chat about technology in schools, visual literacy, and the surprising positive side of the partial anonymity that social networking creates. He was awesome!

I also got to chat with Kathy Hibbert who I’ve followed on Twitter for a while and finally got to meet face to face. It was so nice to see that I wasn’t the only nervous one! I wish I’d been able to stick around for her talk but I had to be up early to present at Medway early the next morning.

Did I mention that I finally got to meet Jamie Weir face to face? Read her blog here.


She and the rest of her crew should be very proud.

A huge thanks to Jamie, Rodd, Ben, Kim, Sharon, Colin, and everyone else who worked to make Friday night happen. It was a night I will never forget.

Photo of the Day: TEDxOntarioEd Team

And now, here’s my TEDx talk:

Will Richardson is teaching me lots today

Just a short post to say how much I’m enjoying today’s conference. Probably the most interesting part of the day for me was watching everybody start to see the potential of twitter as they started to add people.


I also learned about hashtags which has nothing to do with anything illegal ;) We used it to see all the tweets about today’s conference. Right now people are learning about blogger so I’m differentiating my learning. 

Will write some more later.


It’s Saturday morning and I had a good night’s sleep for the first time in many days.

Just wanted to link this post to some of the things other people are writing about:

Doug spent more time summing up yesterday than I did. He even included a video. I’m glad he included the message from our unions about technology and communication. 

Shannon posted this link to Mike Fisher’s examination of Bloom’s taxonomy and digital technology. It’s an interesting way to sort the different types of technology.

Also Will Richardson replied to my tweet about curling. Just for the record, that’s two replies from Will Richardson. 

I’m a geek.