History teacher Erin Luckhardt says she may have aspired to a career as a school communicator, but new technologies that make it quick and fun to promote schools on social media didn’t exist “back when” she was launching her career.
Dear readers, Erin is only 30.
It’s amazing how quickly Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and blogging platforms have revolutionized how school communities – and everybody else – connect.
“Social media is empowering,” Luckhardt said. “Traditional media cover the budget angle of schools, but a positive story about student learning or engagement is a 10-second blip on the radar. Social media allows us to tell our own story in a way that can be quickly shared among people with the same interest.”
Erin, who is a technology mentor at Boyne City Public Schools in Northern Michigan, creates many “Tech Tip Tuesday” tutorials on applications of interest to school communicators.
Evolution of a techie
Teaching with technology was not a major focus of her teacher preparation program at Alma College, but then again she graduated back in 2006.
“I graduated thinking that, I could make PowerPoints, so I was golden,” Erin said. “At first we were mostly dazzled by the wow factor.”
It was during her first job teaching social studies at Williamston High School that Erin began embracing technology as a way to make her classes more current, engaging and interactive.
In fact, she checked out the media center’s LCD projector – a modern-day overhead projector capable of displaying computer data – for classroom use almost every day. By her second year at Williamston, the school board purchased an LCD projector for her room.
Erin’s new husband Jon, an engineer, was laid off by a Lansing company. Her mother, Pat Fralick, director of family and community health services for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, seized an opportunity to lure the couple to Petoskey by finding a position for Jon.
Erin was delighted to return to her hometown. (If you’ve been to Petoskey, you understand.) But there were no full-time teaching jobs to be found.
So, she started blogging.
Lucky in Love
Erin’s “Lucky in Love” blog was a smattering of her interests at the time. She and Jon had bought a foreclosure, renovated it, cooked fine meals and – before long – were decorating a nursery. Jon’s family and friends in Jackson and Ann Arbor eagerly awaited new posts, especially after baby Liza arrived.
Soon Erin started using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to help her blog find its audience.
“It was just for fun, but I was learning a new way to communicate and teach,” Erin said.
When neighboring Boyne City Public Schools, on the verge of launching a one-to-one iPad initiative, posted a position to coach teachers on how to integrate the use of technology into instruction, Erin was ready.
She created a blog to showcase the district’s technology strides. She opened a district Twitter account. She helped teachers adapt to teaching with iPads. She loved the position so much that she decided to pursue a master’s in education technology degree through Grand Valley State University.
“It was a great job but it was not a teaching contract,” Erin said. “When a job teaching eighth grade social studies opened in the district, I applied.”
Back to the classroom
American history from the Revolution to Reconstruction may be part of Erin’s DNA. Her father, Mark Fralick, taught eighth-grade social studies at Petoskey Middle School for 30 years. Erin’s older brother Gavin Fralick now teaches eighth-grade social studies at Petoskey Middle School – in the same room where their father taught.
Mark Fralick recently became principal at Boyne City Elementary School.
“Maybe Gavin and I couldn’t help following in Dad’s footsteps,” Erin said. “We weren’t raised in a family that flew to Florida for spring break. We had to drive so we could stop at every battlefield on the way so Dad could tell us the story.”
Now Erin is telling those same stories – but often in different ways.
She’s currently on family leave after the birth of her second daughter, Leela, but when she returns to the classroom next month she will resume tweeting a daily “what we did in class” message to parents of her students.
“Last spring I tweeted photos of an exercise in which I run an imaginary Mason-Dixon Line down the middle of my room to divide the class,” Erin said. “Students argue points from their side of the line.”
Parents who sign up for her classroom Twitter feed appreciate these glimpses. It’s detail some eighth grader wouldn’t share at home unless asked about it.
Erin’s Tips for Using Technology
Whether you’re a teacher or a school communicator, Erin says:
- Twitter is a greatest resource. Use hashtags to align yourself in learning communities. (Her favorite is #ss, a group of social studies teachers who share ideas and answer each other’s questions.)
- Evernote, a free digitized notebook app, has the power to preserve educators’ sanity – and maybe the planet. Each of Erin’s students has a cloud-based account where they store notes and assignments that they can access from any device. In essence, her classes have gone paperless – which makes Evernote environmentally friendly.
- iMovie allows anyone to produce Hollywood-quality videos and trailers. Reducing learning to a percentage is so last century. Use a movie to show what you know, or want others to know.
- Get over the notion that you have to know everything about a software application before you use it. You’ll learn by doing. “Just play with it,” Erin said, “and don’t be too proud to ask students for help.”
- Blog because it will help you connect with other people like you and you will grow as a writer. (“Lucky in Love” is on hiatus but Erin and friend Natalie Kasiborski blog for young moms employed outside the home. It’s called “Working Mom Playbook.”)
- You don’t have to adopt every cool tech tool. Pay attention to the ones you hear multiple people in your learning community recommend, however. Those are the golden nuggets.