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This month is Connected Educator Month and I’ve been reading some really incredible posts from educators reflecting on becoming connected. See It’s not a must to be connected – but it helpsl or PD roadblocks control complainace and permission posts about transforming Professional Development with collaborative learners. Tom is probably my favorite blogger of all things related to The connected educator culture. The link will take you to his post about the connected educator culture. The post he made after that one is about having patience with the unconnected. I sure needed to read that one myself!
This blog has become way more than what I originally intended when I started building it over the summer. I never imagined my blog would make it to places like India, Australia, British Columbia and many places across the United States. I want to share my feelings on becoming a connected educator and hope to shed some encouragement to those who are curious enough to entertain the idea. First, a connected educator is one who leverages today’s technology to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create in an effort to improve their practice. All of this sharing can be done in a variety of venues, such as Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and more. This post is about me, so I’ll share my experience.
I connected via Twitter last spring, 2013. I decided to dive into Twitter after realizing that was the social media haven where most of my students resided. I originally thought I would just offer my students another method of contact in hopes that I could also build relationships, make connections with students/parents, find out what’s going on in their lives, and use Twitter as a way to provide positive feedback, inform students about upcoming assignments/projects, etc. I had read of many schools leveraging the power of social media. My favorite example would be New Milford High School where principal Eric Sheninger has become an expert on leveraging the power of social media in schools. See Eric Sheninger’s posts about the use social media in schools.
Before I knew it, I was following a collection of educators who consistently shared tweets, links, and resources on educational technology, Google apps for education, increasing communication with homes, standards-based grading, blended learning, and flipped classrooms. The power of Twitter, for me, was in whom I was following. I was definitely more of a “lurker” than a participator. My personality doesn’t allow me to lurk for long, however. I wanted to engage and start communicating back and forth, even if it was 140-character conversations. My first chat I participated in was #edtechchat. It was really fast, but I learned about Google Forms that evening. You’ll find some parent communication forms on my blog were made as a direct result of that chat. I have since shared Google Forms with my wife, an English teacher, and she’s put them to use in her classroom as well.
Soon my passion for learning more about improvements I could make in my classroom was creeping into my typical evening routine. Over the summer, my wife and I would typically try to relax of an evening, but instead of watching a show, I could be found with my nose in Twitter chasing links and saving resources in my Evernote portfolio. Evernote was also a direct result of becoming connected. I started my Evernote and began sorting links, PDF’s, blogs, etc. into categories in Evernote. I can now easily search by tags I created, such as connectededucators, SBG, math, googleapps, edtech, and more. It didn’t take long until my connectedness had become streamlined. One would think I was consumed and spent the majority of my day on my phone or staring at a laptop. This is not true. I still had a family and I still had a very active 18 month old. My family even decided to sell our house and move 40 minutes away at the beginning of this school year. Talk about busy! I had taught myself to use the power of Tweetdeck, Evernote, and Google Chrome to sift through the constant stream and read, save, and share items that I could find in a short amount of time. Becoming connected had changed me into a self-directed learner and I wanted to help my students become self-directed learners as well.
I would like to share some ideas I’d like to see come to fruition in my district. These are all ideas to increase connectedness, collaboration, sharing, and self-directed learning. At the risk of challenging traditional powers of administration, I’d like to help make these ideas a reality.
- Groups of educators, either by department, school, grade-level, etc. interacting via Edmodo. I see a need to start small, so I’d like to involve other schools so that the educators who have a desire or are at least curious enough to get involved can. I imagine the power of becoming connected will take over and others will eventually become involved.
- More schools leveraging the power of social media. There is an extreme potential being missed by teachers and schools that still put the lock-down on social media.
- Monthly or weekly Twitter chats, again, by department, grade-levels, elementary vs secondary, or by school. The idea of carving out more time to meet face to face is becoming antiquated, ask any principal. There simply is no more time. However, the digital environment lends itself to more friendly collaboration. Not to mention it can be done at your own convenience, often from home. Twitter is built for this, though Google+ or Hangouts could be used as well. Edmodo is the simplest to use and friendly to those who are already familiar with Facebook. Hashtags could be created for easy access to prior chats, discussions, etc. Perhaps #woodcoedchat could be used for a district-wide chat weekly or monthly. And more specific audiences could collaborate via #resavmathchat or something similar. These are just ideas.
All of these ideas require the involvement of educators willing to think outside the box. It also means the traditional style of professional development, herding teachers to the library or auditorium and lecturing to them for an hour, has got to change. Current methods of professional development have created a generation of teachers who are no longer self-directed learners. It really is not the teachers’ fault that they require 1:1 spoon-fed treatment to gauge effective professional development. How many students do you have that require spoon-feeding in order to learn? How many students do you have that are self-directed learners who would prefer to try things themselves instead of listening to the teacher force-feed information to them? Have you ever wondered why? Or who created such a generation of learners? It’s no more the teachers’ fault that they refuse to use the power of connections to learn new tools themselves, than it is the students fault that they require a steady dose of spoon-feeding in order to learn new concepts/skills. Professional development can and should be personalized. No longer should professional development be documented by seat-time, rather work samples, portfolios, and evidence should be treated as proof of professional development.
In closing, I hope this doesn’t intimidate anyone. I fear that I’ve done that in the past and that is definitely something I want to avoid. Connections can be made in a variety of ways. My experience thus far has mostly occurred via Twitter, but there are other ways to become connected. Choose the one that fits you and start learning. If you’ve only got one connection, use them. Connected educators are the most giving group of educators. The very definition of the term infers a responsibility to share freely, give advice, receive criticism, etc. Thank you for reading as I didn’t intend for this to be so long.