‘Sharing our Stories: Finding your People – how the #ZAedu hashtag was born!’ A guest post from Monique Franzen

This is a guest post from Monique Franzen @moniquefranzsen.  Monique is the Junior Primary IT Specialist at Bridge House in the Western Cape. She is also a Google Certified Educator and Trainer, and a Microsoft Innovative Educator. Monique has her own technology blog called Teacher Squeaks. After the recent EdtechTeam Google In Education Summit at Parklands in Cape Town, Monqiue created the hashtag #ZAedu as a place where South African teachers can gather on Twitter and share their stories. This post describes her journey to creating the hashtag. South African educators, let’s all starting using the #ZAedu hashtag when we post our stories on Twitter to keep in contact with each other…

Moniqiue says: 

I’m going to steal my opening of this blog from the amazing Keynote speech I was lucky enough to attend on Wednesday:

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Monique.

This opening is important, because my theme today is about sharing our stories. It gets a little personal in this post today, ladies and gents.

The theme of storytelling resonated through Lindsay Wesner‘s Keynote at the EdTechTeam Cape Town Summit. She told us to be brave, even if we didn’t feel like were brave. She shared her own story and the stories told by her students. She encouraged us to share our teaching journeys on social media and to prove to other educators that great, revolutionary education could be possible here in South Africa.

Lindsay rocking the main
stage at the EdTechTeam Cape Town Summit

After the summit was over, I was at a braai with some other teachers who had also attended. My friend, Barbara, and I were wrapping our heads around the idea of sharing our stories – we wanted to find a platform for local teachers to do that. Earlier that day, Barbara had presented a session on using G Suite for Primary Maths and we had been in a conversation with the people attending, sharing hashtags like #gafe4littles and #primaryrocks where they could find more activities like the one Barbara had been demonstrating. We were giving them direct links to social media in order to connect and engage with other educators.

Then it hit me. We needed a hashtag. South African teachers needed a hashtag to rally around, to have a place to share their story and to promote good, local practice. After the braai I did some searching and found out two things:

1) #SAedu was already used, albeit infrequently, by South Australian educators

2) I also found out that back in my early, experimental days of Twitter I had started a list of SA teachers on Twitter. It was called ZA Edu. I checked the hashtag and found that #ZAedu was essentially unused.

And so #ZAedu was born.

I will be the first one to admit that Twitter didn’t grab me in the beginning. I remember saying that Tweeting felt like standing on a box and shouting at a room of people who were having their own conversations. Sometimes it still feels a bit like that to me. In terms of building up a PLN (personal learning network), though, it is absolutely invaluable. The brevity of Twitter, which frustrates me, means that you have to be succinct to get your idea across. Over time I have come to see the value of Twitter more and more, as it allows instant connection with your peers. That is the magical part.

I never really enjoyed school as a child. I found it difficult to connect with other children. My mum kept me going with my very own mantra, that one day I would go to university and then I would find my people. I was the first person in my family to go to university, and I did indeed find my people. Through finding those peers, those people who thought and strived for the same things I did, I also found myself.

The same thing happened to me this week when I attended the Cape Town summit. Even though I was nervous and had to be brave every time I spoke to someone, I felt at home. My crazy ideas were not crazy! Instead of looking at me blankly, they validated my opinion, or, even better, asked a question. I had found my people. Twitter and social media is an irreplaceable way for us to find our people online, too, and hashtags are a great way to filter through the spaghetti tangle that is the internet.

And so Monique found her people.

I hope that we can use #ZAedu as a digital space to share authentic, enthusiastic teaching in South Africa. I know that is happening in other classrooms because I had the privilege to attend the summit. Not all of our SA teachers can go to a summit, so this can be our way of connecting. I want to see what is happening in SA classrooms on that hashtag. I want you to share your bright ideas and madcap methods. Show me the amazing work that your students and colleagues are doing. Sharing these moments with other educators will give them inspiration to be that force of change in their own environments.

As a wise woman once said… we are those that can shape the narrative of education in South Africa.

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