There Go My Heroes Part 3: Tanya Avrith

If you’ve been reading my blog, or you follow me on Twitter, or listen to the pod, or have heard me speak recently (so basically anytime I’ve said something for public consumption) you would know that I am in a pretty reflective state these days. I am thinking a lot about my tenure as a teacher, about how I taught and my “style”. I am thinking about how I treated the kids and how I could have done better. I am thinking about the things I didn’t work hard enough for and about missed opportunities. And I am also thinking about how I got here.

A lot has changed for me over the last 18 months or so. But I honestly feel like my path was always leading me here. That path has seen a lot of twists and turns to be sure. I remember breaking down crying my first year because I was so tired. I was coming in at 6:30 and not leaving until 6 and it seemed a lot of the things I was doing weren’t working out. I was spinning my wheels on a few big assignments, and I was arguing a lot with the director of my school about the direction of the technology programs I was in charge of. It was a lot to deal with for a first time teacher, first time department head, first time curriculum designer, first time anything.

As I have been reflecting on everything I’ve done to get here I’ve also been thinking about the folks who helped me along the way. There are a lot of them. From the people who I worked with part time while I was trying to raise a family and go to school at the same time. To the professors who encouraged me and told me that my crazy ideas about video games may not be as crazy as they seem (who knew?) Obviously I’ve thought a lot about the sacrifices my wife and her parents made (we lived with them while I went back to school). We couldn’t have done it without them. I’ve also been thinking about all the educators who’ve inspired me, mentored me, encouraged me, amplified me, and taught me.

This is a series of posts about my educational heroes. This small group of people have had a HUGE impact on my life. The criteria to make it to this list is simple: Would I be doing what I am doing now, without them? If the answer is no, they’re on this list. I can also clearly explain WHY I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now without them, which is important when you’re writing a blog post, they say… I also have EVIDENCE for most of them, which is amazing. I can show you clear examples of them going WAY BEYOND what is expected to help me. That, in my mind is what a hero is. So here we go. These are in chronological order. I think that hones a good narrative for my career and this path I’ve been on.

Tanya Avrith


Tanya is the sleeper of this group. That being said, her influence on my career is the one I am most likely to be capable of replicating for someone else. I hope day I can mean something to someone in the same way what Tanya did meant for me. What I mean, is that for Tanya, what she did was probably just another daily thing. She retweeted a couple of tweets. But for me it was a HUGE wow moment in my career and one I remember so clearly and a story I tell all the time.

My first year was ROUGH to say the least. It was a constant struggle to push the envelope to not get in trouble but be innovative and creative. I was doing a lot of interesting things. I was throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what stuck. I was also just starting to connect to people on Twitter and trying to learn from others. It seems so weird to say, but 2014 was a LONG TIME AGO in Computer Science education years. So much has changed since then. In 2013-14 there was no where near the same resources there are now. So it was all I could do to connect with like-minded people and learn from them. Twitter was mostly a place I lurked and followed folks like Tanya and Carl Hooker and a few others. Then March 27th 2014 happened.

The story actually starts in November 2013 at the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston (interestingly, this is where I met someone else who is getting one of these posts…). I was watching Holly Clark talk about digital portfolios. After the session I wanted to go talk to her but she was swamped with people, of course. A few months later, on March 27th, 2014 I decided to tweet her what I was doing in that realm - which was that every student of mine from Grade Two through Eight had their own website. I created a QR code for each child and attached it to their school picture and filled my wall with their codes. This meant that at any time, any student could scan any code and check out what another student was doing. I gave my younger students a few minutes at the start of class each class so they could go explore some of the old kids websites. It was an incredibly time consuming project, and I am very proud of how great it looked and how well it worked. Tanya retweeted that tweet.

At the same time, I had also replied to Tanya herself with an example of a wall display I had created that was similar to something she had posted. Tanya retweeted that too.

What happened next blew my mind. Even by Twitter standards today, the retweets blew up. I remember tweeting and leaving for home and getting constant notifications and not understanding what the hell was going on. I’m not sure I even fully understood Twitter.

But here is what I took away from this. I was doing things worth sharing. I was thinking along the same lines as all those people I respected and looked up to. I was already doing what they were trying to tell other people to do. I was doing it! This was when I realized I was going to do more. I didn’t know what that more was (I obviously do now) but I knew that I had a voice, and thoughts, and ideas, and that they were worth sharing. I also realized then that if I remained passionate, driven, creative, and spoke with an authentic voice, people would listen to me. That’s obviously something I carried forward to my work now in a HUGE way.

But there is also a much larger takeaway here for others as well. Keep amplifying voices. Keep sharing and collaborating. Just because someone only has 100 followers doesn’t mean they aren’t doing incredible things in their classrooms. An educators follower count on Twitter is not a measure of their quality as an educator. You never know when you’re going to find that thing that lights a fire inside you to do something special. You’ll also never know when your amplification will light someone else’s fire and inspire them to keep going. That’s what happened here.

Tanya, you amplified my tiny voice at the exact moment I needed it the most. You may not have thought anything of it at the time, but it meant everything to me. You do amazing work. I was a fan long before you even knew who I was. Isn’t it amazing what a tweet can do? Thank you.

Mike WashburnComment