One Tweet CAN Change the World

Three years ago, I sat at the breakfast table on Christmas Day reading my Twitterstream.  My family wasn’t up yet, so I figured I’d see what my digital peers around the world were doing.

Nestled in a surprisingly long list of warm holiday messages was a 140-character invitation from Karl Fisch to join a new Kiva lending team that he’d decided to start.  Not knowing a thing about Kiva—a microlending site that pairs lenders in the developed world with entrepreneurs trying to start businesses in the developing world—I clicked through to this post on Karl’s blog to learn more.

Karl’s charge was a simple one:  He asked his followers to lend $25 to an entrepreneur in the developing world and to purchase two $25 Kiva gift certificates to pass on to members of their own learning networks.

Knowing that I wanted to do more to help people in the developing world, I took Karl up on his challenge immediately—lending $100 to a group of women in Bolivia who wanted to start small businesses selling groceries.

And I felt remarkable.

Not only had I helped to change the life of families living in a poor country halfway around the world with nothing more than a simple click, I’d joined a team of likeminded individuals who cared about global poverty, too.

But the story of Karl’s Tweet doesn’t end there.

You see, I spent the better part of the next few days wrestling with the ways that I could integrate Kiva lending into my curriculum.

“I teach South America,” I thought.  “What better way to get my kids to understand what life is like in poor nations than to have them look at the lives of real people that we could loan to.”

So I started tinkering with the idea of having my students identify potential Kiva entrepreneurs to support.  After student groups had found people to loan to, I figured they could write short persuasive speeches arguing in favor of their chosen entrepreneur—knocking another required objective off of my to-do list.

To come up with initial funds, we scheduled our first ever Do Something Funny for Money day—and raised nearly $500 that we could begin lending immediately.

Before we started lending, though, we studied the pros and cons of different kinds of Kiva loans.  We learned about the advantages of loaning to women and of making loans to groups instead of individuals.  We even talked about the strengths of giving Kiva gift cards to other classes to encourage more Kiva lending in schools.

Then, my students used a rubric that I created to think through the strengths of each loan that they found interesting.  They looked at characteristics of individual entrepreneurs, the countries that we were loaning to, and the banks that would be managing our monies for us.

Finally, my students decided on the kinds of loans that mattered to them and made short persuasive speeches to our class before we voted on each loan that we wanted to make.

Since then, my students—both in my regular classes and in my after school Kiva club—have made a real difference in the world, lending almost $6,000 to 146 entrepreneurs in countries on almost every continent.

We’ve also made videos advertising our work—learning about visual persuasion and Creative Commons image licensing at the same time.  We’ve made Google Maps—tracking our impact and learning about the countries in the middle school social studies curriculum at the same time.

We’ve made presentations to other groups of teachers, encouraging them to start their own Kiva clubs—and have even started our own Kiva lending team for kids.

Crazy, huh? 

Look at what just one message in my Twitterstream has led to and it’s impossible to deny that the sharing we do as educators in social media spaces is meaningful.

I think there are several lessons about learning in a digital world waiting to be discovered in the story of Karl’s Tweet.

They include:


Connecting with other educators in social media spaces can change your practice in significant ways.

Before “meeting” Karl online, I had no idea that Kiva even existed.  Even though I hang with a socially active, well educated group of people in real life, no one I knew was microlending—let alone integrating microlending into their classrooms.

And that’s what is so beautiful about connecting with other educators in social media spaces.  No matter how many good ideas your own network of in-house colleagues has, there are always going to be thoughts that you’re missing.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m not trying to say that your peers aren’t as smart as you thought they were.

The challenge of learning from the bright minds that you know at school, though, is that you can only follow their thinking when you’re together in the workroom.  What’s more—because your planning periods are short and scattered throughout the day—you can only reasonably connect with a small handful of them each day.

But if you take the time to join together with other educators in social media spaces, you have the opportunity to look into more minds, more often. I’m currently ‘listening’ to the thinking of a little over 400 teachers in Twitter.

I read their posts in parking lots when I’m waiting for my wife to pick up eggs in the grocery store.  I read their posts at the breakfast table before rolling out to work.  I read their posts at red lights.  I read their posts when I’m on hallway duty or out at recess.

And every post that I read—like Karl’s Christmas Morning invitation—has the potential to change my practice.  My digital peers—just like the peers in my professional learning team—are constantly introducing me to new teaching strategies and ideas that I’d never considered.

That external challenge—that always on stream of ideas and conversations—is making me a better teacher.

Sharing your ideas in social media spaces can change the practice of other teachers in significant ways.

I’ve never asked, but I’ll bet you that Karl has no idea that his Christmas Tweet had such an impact on who I am as an educator.  After all, it was only 1 of the almost 9,000 messages that he’s posted during his time on Twitter.

In fact, I’ll bet that when Karl posted his message, he didn’t have any single user in mind.  Instead, he was just sharing an idea with his network.  What those of us who have chosen to follow Karl did with his Team Shift Happens idea was completely out of his control once he clicked “Tweet.”

Those are important lessons to any teacher using social media spaces.  While you can always lurk and learn, sharing matters—even when you aren’t sure that anyone else is listening.

Have a great idea for a lesson?  Post it.  Have a provocative thought or a challenging question that you’re trying to answer?  Post it.

Found a resource that you think is going to be helpful in your own work?  Discovered a source of online conversations that matters to you?  Come across a hashtag that is full of great conversations?

Post them.  Always.

Because there ARE people listening and learning from you—and your thinking and ideas have the potential to spark something significant inside the minds of peers that you’ve never met and to change teaching in ways that you’ll never know.


Learning in a connected world is less about what you know and more about who you know.

Let me tell you a little secret:  I’m not a particularly bright f
ella.  Spend a little time poking through the messages shared in my Twitterstream, and you’ll see pretty darn quickly that almost everyone I ‘know’ online is way, way smarter than I am.

I mean I ‘know’ folks like Chris Lehmann, who is one of today’s most progressive educational leaders.  I ‘know’ folks like Sylvia Tolisano, who does remarkable work connecting kids to the world through technology.

I ‘know’ folks like Will Richardson—who has been pushing new thought around teaching and learning for at least a decade—and Russ Goerend, whose transparent posts about classroom practices influence me greatly.

I look inside the minds of remarkably brilliant people almost every time that I open my Twitterstream, and their ideas—like Karl’s work with Kiva—actively change who I am as a teacher.

That’s Parkour, isn’t it?

Essentially, what I know—which isn’t a whole heck of a lot—isn’t nearly as important as who I know.  As long as I take the time—and have the know-how—to find credible folks to learn from, I can strengthen my own practices and efficiently build my own knowledge.

(Aren’t these the kinds of lessons that we need to be teaching our students, by the way?)

Our students still need teachers to show them how to leverage their social networks for learning.

You know, if you spend any time poking through the Facebook pages of the tweens and teens in your life, it’s not hard to understand why Mark Bauerlein calls today’s youth The Dumbest Generation.

Trying to make sense of the new tools at their fingertips without any real guidance from the adult learners in their lives, our kids do little with social networks that we’d call meaningful.

They know tons about connecting but little about the inherent power of connections.

Which is why Karl’s comment below is so important.  He writes, “It still takes inspired teachers working with and alongside their students to take ideas (whether discovered digitally or not), run with them, and do amazing things.”

I always like to say that our kids can be inspired by technology to ponder, imagine, reflect, analyze, memorize, recite and create—but only after we build a bridge between what they know about new tools and what we know about efficient learning.


Does this make any sense?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that social media spaces are changing who I am as a teacher and as learner in powerful ways—and as long as you’re willing to do a bit of exploring and digital connecting, personal learning networks can change who you are as well.

Great ideas, after all, are only a Tweet away.



PS:  Karl’s Team Shift Happens Kiva Lending Project is still up and running.  If you want to join, learn more here

In fact, in the spirit of the Shift Happens project, our Kiva Club is willing to give $25 Kiva Gift Cards to the first two teachers who leave me a comment on this post.  You’ve got to promise to make your first loans with your classes by the end of February, though. 

My kids like to see their gifts being used!

23 thoughts on “One Tweet CAN Change the World

  1. Lisa M

    Amazing! This is what teaching is all about! Your students are lucky to have you!I wish more people would understnad that teaching is not about filling in bubbles, but about letting our students experience the real world as they learn! KUDOS to you!

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Betsye,
    The interest rates are pretty high when you compare them to interest rates here in the US — or in other developed countries. But if you poke around in the lender information that Kiva provides for each loan, you can see the typical interest rate charged in the country that youre lending to — and most of the time, the interest rate offered by Kivas field partners is lower than the typical interest rate charged by other banks in the country.
    That in and of itself is an important lesson for kids to learn.
    Its also one of the factors that we look at when choosing loans. My kids wont use a lender who charges an interest rate that is higher than the average interest rate in the country that were lending to. Thats another good lesson.
    Hope this helps,

  3. Betsye Sargent

    Thanks to you I am going to have my kids to take another look at Kiva. We initially thought it was a terrific project and assigned two of our EarlyiAct club members the task of researching further and then report back to the community service club. They were disturbed to find out the high interest rate the actual lender charged people, and for that reason did not feel it would be a good fit for us. I was reading someone else’s post that tried to explain the reasons behind this. Apparently KIVA gives the money to companies who proess the loans, and these are the ones who receive the interest. 28% on $25 seems a lot. How have you handles this aspect of the project? Do we just accept that as the price of doing business in these countries?

  4. Kent

    I listened to Bill in Indianapolis at the AuthorSpeak Conference in November. His simple KIVA plan inspired me to bring KIVA home to Minnesota with me. Since that time I have 8 sections of 5th grade and the two local Rotary Clubs on board with donations/loans totaling $1200 for our Detroit Lakes KIVA Club. Thanks Bill!

  5. Scott Embrock

    I think this was a fantastic idea. Not only are you teaching students to use social media and networking for an educational purpose but you are also able to help a large amount of people in need. Social media, including twitter, facebook, and blog sites, is essential to not just the educational practices of our 21st century world but it is also an essential piece of many work environments that our students will become a part of in the future. If students are going to be expected to use all of the new and emerging technology when they get out into the working world, then it is our responsibilities as teachers to make sure they are ready. Thank you for sharing your story!

  6. Marsha Lodge

    I also use Kiva in my classroom. Lat year when we studied Africa, the students researched individuals keeping an eye on the organization’s delinquency rate. Our loans have been paid back in one year’s time allowing us to loan again. I show the students the video “Small Fortunes” which can be purchased through Brigham Young University. It explains microfinancing and opens their eyes up to poverty around the world. I purchased the first two loans but this year the students have brought in change from home to purchase more loans. My only stipulation is that they choose a woman to donate to as mentioned in the video, once women have food and shelter for their families they send their children to school so that they can have a better life than their parents.

  7. Marsha Ratzel

    Dear Bill,
    I have been personally contributing to Kiva since July 2008…slowly I’ve been trying to build a nest egg of $$$ that I can leave behind for my children and grandchildren. It’s my hope that by the time I die, that I have thousands of dollars that can be turned over to my grandchildren to manage.
    I cannot think of a richer inheritance I can leave them than the responsibility of picking suitable projects to lend $$$ to. I’m not Rockerfeller or Gates or Carnegie…but I can amass a small nest egg.
    Out of the 20+ loans my $$ have made, I’ve had a 0% default rate…all have been paid back in full. What an amazing track record that is…and I’ve directed some of the loans through Team Kids Care.
    I agree…social media is powerful…and I’ve found that as I make loans and post them to my Facebook page, I’ve found other likeminded people out there. It’s something I think I would encourage other people to try and I support your efforts.

  8. Carol Mikoda

    Did someone tweet this to Malcolm Gladwell?
    Thanks for your energizing words. Two years ago I would have used them to inform my middle school’s advisory group planning, or my eighth graders ELA writing. Now, I’m considering how to present these ideas to my pre-service teachers next semester.
    Carol M.

  9. Adam

    As always you are right on target. I also wanted you to know that your first blog post about Kiva inspired me to share your story with every audience I work with. Over the last year I have shared your blog and Kiva with about 5,000 educators. Thank you.

  10. Bill Ferriter

    Hey y’all:
    I’m really glad that this post resonated. It’s been brewing inside my mind for several days now and I hope that it will help others to see that 140-character messages can pack a pretty powerful punch.
    What’s been interesting to me is the number of different categories that people are putting it into in their own minds.
    Some see it as a piece on global education. Others see it as piece on service learning. I saw it as a piece on the importance of building a PLN.
    I guess it doesn’t really matter, right?
    That is, after all, the central message of my post: If we’re sharing in digital spaces, we’re empowering our peers to find their own meaning in our ideas, and that’s more powerful than trying to slap our meaning onto their minds.
    Anyway…I appreciate y’all stopping by.
    Rock right on,

  11. Sue Densmore

    What a great post.
    There’s only one bit missing – how are the businesses doing? Were those women able to start their business, and has it grown? Is there a way to find out? Because that would be very powerful!
    Keep up the good work!

  12. Kelly Hines

    Bill, this is such a powerful post. Don’t sell yourself short though. You are a powerful force in influencing others through how your share your inspiration, frustration, successes and ideas. Thank you!

  13. Lee Kolbert

    This is pure gold! Thanks for sharing this in such a way that can make sense to everyone. I agree with Colette; your book takes this and all your ideas that much further. Great resource! Merry Christmas!

  14. Bkuhn

    What a great story of the power of digital networks. It’s really an amplification of the “I told two friends and they told two friends and so on…”. A teacher in my District, Jen Whiffin, discovered Kiva about the same time and wove it in very similarly to you with her grade 5 students. Awesome stuff. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Tim Kanold

    Bill, this post is a terrific service to teaching our students the importance of volunteering in the service of others. And I agree that you do not give yourself enough credit for how you integrated Karl’s opportunity into your curriculum. The message is not only about the power of a post – it is about the power of responding with action to a post that has value to you personally. I am pretty new at this whole tweeting thing, but your post today, has placed a direction to our family Christmas “Giving” for 2011.

  16. Bill Ferriter

    Thanks for stopping by, Lyn, Vicki and Karl. All three of you change my thinking on a regular basis.
    This post definitely feels unfinished to me.
    Not only did I leave Karl’s lesson about the role that teachers play in showing students how to leverage social spaces for learning, but I’ve left out the idea that teaching students to leverage networks for learning is essential.
    I’ve got to go back and do some more tweaking on it, but I’m glad y’all think it’s a good start!
    Rock on,

  17. Karl Fisch

    I think there’s a third lesson. It still takes inspired teachers working with and alongside their students to take ideas (whether discovered digitally or not), run with them, and do amazing things. Thanks for doing such amazing things with your students.

  18. Vicki Davis - Cool Cat Teacher

    This is such a powerful blog post and one that needs to be shared! The point is that a tweet can change the world – our world, our children’s world and the world of those we interact with through the Internet. It has happened to many of us who let this powerful tool “in.” If we surround ourselves with inspirational people like Karl, we become inspired ourselves! Great story!

  19. Lyn Hilt

    Thank you for taking the time to detail your experiences with Kiva and sharing your ideas. This is something I’ve been interested in involving our student council with, and I knew there were people in my network already doing great things for others through this service. Your students’ work is inspiring!

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