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Thomas Murray: Connected Educator of the Week
What is your current job of position?
I currently serve our nation as the State & District Digital Learning Policy & Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Excellent Education out of Washington, DC. I work alongside and have testifed before the United States Congress, and in partnership with State Education Departments, SETDA, CCSSO, as well as corporations and school districts throughout the country to implement digital learning. My Center for Digital Learning team also oversees Project 24, a digital learning implementation framework offered free to all school districts and Digital Learning Day, one of the top education events each year.
I began teaching 4th grade in the Quakertown Community School District, which is located in Bucks County, PA. After four years as a 4th grade teacher, I moved to business education, where I ran a computer lab and taught everything from digital portfolios to financial literacy.
After two years in this role, I became the middle school assistant principal and then spent three years as an elementary school principal. My last three years in Quakertown were as the Director of Technology and Cyber Education, where we implemented Personalized learning, blended learning, 1:1 and BYOD, and a cyber program for kids in grades K-12, offering complete versatility to both teachers and students.
Describe your educational philosophy and educational vision?
I believe in a high quality, personalized, digital learning environment that is student centered and most importantly, facilitated by a dynamic, highly trained teacher. Such an environment has rigorous expectations for both students and staff and is one that is student-centric. Students feel cared for and their voice matters is a vital part of the learning process.
How do you grow and engage your professional learning network?
I believe that personalized professional learning is a key to unlocking the incredible potential that we have leading America’s classrooms. I personalize my professional learning by connecting with some of the best educators around the world on social media. In addition, I use Voxer, a communication app, to connect with thought leaders who challenge my thinking daily on a myriad of education issues.
What is the greatest benefit of your professional network?
Having recently moved to the Alliance for Excellent Education, the personal benefits of my work have changed significantly. As a principal, I’d head to kindergarten and see the joy and love of learning in the faces of our children. Those benefits were priceless as I watched kids of all ages learn and grow. Their success brought incredible fulfillment.
At the Alliance, we advocate for nationwide student-centered policies and systemic change. From eRate modernization, data & privacy, Common Core implementation and teacher effectiveness, we work to support teachers and students nationwide so that all students can have access to a high quality educational experience and graduate high school, particularly those in underserved areas.
If you blog, what is the focus of it? How long have you been writing? Who is your audience?
I’ve been blogging for about three years and my posts can be found at www.thomascmurray.com. I was honored to be recognized by Common Sense Media (Graphite) as one of the Top 11 Bloggers to follow in 2014. Although my connections might primarily be in the edtech space, my posts aren’t simply about technology integration. I’m also passionate about high octane leadership, personalized professional learning, and school culture. I try to speak from the heart and get to what matters most; impacting the lives of the students we serve.
How do you use social media to connect with other educators? What is your advice to teachers on social media and education?
Personally, I use Twitter, Facebook, Voxer, and Instagram to connect with educators digitally. My advice to educators is three-fold. Start by lurking. Watch the interactions that occur, solicit resources and gain feedback on best practices and current trends. After starting to gain a basic level of comfort, share your learning. Put yourself out there a bit. Write a post (or guest blog), share a success, tell a story of impact with others. Your voice matters. Once you become more comfortable in this space, lead! Every educator is an expert in some area and has talents to share!
What advice in general do you have to teachers today?
Keep kids at the heart of all decision making. It’s very easy to make things about ‘us’, yet it never is about us. It’s always about them. Get connected with others around the world with similar interests and passions to avoid burn out and a trip to lonely educator’s island. Together we are better for the kids we serve.
Describe a teacher who has had a significant impact on your professional learning?
Mark Wieder was my mentor teacher during my first year teaching in Quakertown. He was loved and well respected; the type of teacher kids would come back to visit years later. The Thursday before Easter, in 2001, he was killed in a car accident on his way to visit his son in college. I was the last person to speak to Mark from our team. Mark taught me to have fun. He taught me to never settle for less than I was capable. He taught me to love the kids I serve. His passion was contagious and he taught me to push myself and to always give my all…for our kids deserve just that. I reflected on his impact in my post, One Last Day. I think of him all the time and hope to help his legacy live on.
What book would you recommend to teachers?
One of my all time favorites is What Great Teachers Do Differently by Todd Whittaker. Todd, who has become a friend over the years, gets to the heart of why we do what we do. We can never lose sight of the hearts and souls of the kids we serve.
What educators do you suggest others connect with to learn from and grow?
This depends on the learning space, passions, and interests of a given educator, but those I learn most from include the following people who have all become great friends over the past few years. Want an instant twitter stream of relevant education information? Follow: Joe Mazza (@joe_mazza), Eric Sheninger (@nmhs_principal), Jeff Zoul (@jeff_zoul), Erin Klein (@kleinerin), Shannon Miller (@shannonmmiller), Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby), Rich Kiker (@rkiker), Kristen Swanson (@kristenswanson), Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy), Steven Anderson (@web20classroom), Ben Gilpin (@benjamingilpin), Shelly Terrell (@shellterrell), Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd), Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers), Tony Sinanis (@tonysinanis), Joe Sanfelippo (@joesanfelippofc), Lyn Hilt (@lynhilt), Amber Teamann (@8amber8), Kyle Pace (@kylepace), Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1), Curt Rees (@curtrees), Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), Tom Whitford (@twhitford), and Aaron Becker (@aaron_becker32).
How can our readers connect with you?
On a professional level, I encourage readers to check out the work of the Alliance for Excellent Education, found at www.all4ed.org. Personally, they can connect with me on Twitter at @thomascmurray or through my website www.thomascmurray.com.