This Blog has been co-authored by Dawn Telfer and myself:
We have been co-moderating #fslchat – a chat for Core French and French Immersion teachers for just under a year. We have learned a lot about leadership and running a chat and we wanted to share some of what we have learned (often through mistakes).
1. Who is your audience?
We did a lot of talking and planning before beginning. First, we asked around, contacting FSL leaders such as Sylvia Duckworth or Colleen Lee-Hayes (who moderates #langchat) to find out what chats already existed. We participated in #langchat actually before creating anything of our own. We had a lot of deep conversations about what need our chat might fill, who our audience would be and topics we would like to address.
2. Think About Your Timing…
We planned our first few chats poorly timing wise. In our first few weeks, we were competing with the Superbowl, The Walking Dead premiere and Hollywood awards shows. At first, it was just Dawn and I plus a couple of people. We felt it was embarrassing at first, but we were determined to get it going. We had a lot of anxiety, hoping week to week that people would show up. We polled people to find out what night of the week best worked for them using Google Forms. But the time had to work for us too. We hold it on Sunday nights because it helps to energize us for the week ahead and our kids are in bed!
3. It’s not about you.
It’s about building community. Although we created the #fslchat hashtag, we don’t really feel that it belongs to “us” anymore. We feel like it belongs to everyone who uses it. People use it to share French ideas, resources and asking questions through the week – beyond our chat time. We’re more proud of that than anything else. People are not just there to connect with us- there are lots of great examples of leadership and expertise beyond ours! We welcome guest moderators or even people that want to take over the chat entirely here and there. Most of the topics we come up with are suggested by regular #fslchat participants.
4. You can’t be the smartest person in the room
We actually try responding to the ideas of others and encouraging others through the chat instead of just giving our opinion to our own questions. We certainly feel as though we learn just as much as we teach.
5. Leave room to celebrate, end with energy
We always start with an idea that Jen copied from #educoach. Question 1 is always sharing an “eduwin” – something great that you want to share and celebrate with others. This starts us off in a positive way and is often a sharing session where we gain ideas from each other. We usually try to end with a question related to how developing a “PLN” (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter or participating in #fslchat energizes us for the week.
6. Supporting Similar Chats
A few people have used #fslchat to advertise their own chats. We are really supportive of this, but appreciate a head’s up. Earlier this year, we saw a few chats begin and fail because the audience was too narrow. We have discussed that having many chats on a similar topic does not strengthen us all. It might be a good idea to join a chat that already exists to determine if a new branch is needed. That being said, we have a very positive rapport with #langchat, a similar chat to ours, and often support each other.
7. It’s a huge commitment.
You will be committed to doing this every week. We take breaks here and there, because life gets busy. We strongly recommend having a partner to work with. It really is helpful in planning for the chat. Well planned chats will have a series of questions prepared in advance along with a sense of how much time to allocate to each question. Many chats use the Q1/A1, Q2/A2, … format. A partner can help with the questions and direction of the discussion to keep things on topic, in a timely manner. Until you run a chat by yourself, you can’t really appreciate the importance of that.
8. Disagree Agreeably
This week, Doug Peterson’s blog disagreeing made us think about how to disagree on, or offline. I think sometimes online we don’t model the advice we would give our students, when we teach them to disagree agreeably. Conflict will arise and you will resolve some publicly, but should resolve them respectfully and privately where possible. You don’t have to respond to rude comments that are made to you. Sometimes silence is the best reply.
This is a tough area. Especially in education, we have so many commercial products at our disposal. It’s a fine line between being a supporter of a product and actively being a salesperson for it! Teachers can be especially passionate about or against a particular product. You’ll need to decide whether your chat is going to focus on pedagogy or the tools that someone might use.
Part of the joy and the power of chatting is the openness and general willingness of folks to enter into discussions. Technically, there is no ownership of a hashtag or a chat. If you’re starting something new, it’s a good step to do a Twitter search to see if it’s been used by someone else. You might want to consider entering into a partnership or to choose a different hashtag.
11. Using Students
We have yet to involve students in #fslchat but we recognize that sometimes chats will have students or student ambassadors involved in the discussion. If you plan to do this, you’ll need to consider, in advance, how they’ll participate and how you’ll protect them should anything untoward happen.
12. Asking Questions
When running a structured chat, it is important to have the questions developed in advance. We often begin with a theme and then choose 5-7 questions for the chat. We post resource questions but also mix them with instructional questions. Posting the questions several days before the chat can help followers to ready themselves with examples or links.
We are also aware that we have listeners that tune in each week, but that don’t post. We try and recognize them here and there too. Sometimes we are surprised to hear chatter about the chat from people we didn’t “see” online. It helps to reinforce that the chat is being actively followed, even if the live chatters seem low certain weeks.
We are sure this list will grow as we continue to grow with #fslchat!
Our thanks to Doug Peterson for his two cents!!