Monday, October 7, 2013

I am a Connected Educator

I am a connected educator.

I connect in person, through email, over the phone, through Skype, via social media, with collaborative web tools and through the social portions of the websites and blogs I read.

This isn’t extra work. It’s part of the work I do.

As an educator, I care about teaching and learning. I want to know what excellent teaching and learning look like and how to replicate it. I want to know everything there is to know about what makes learning experiences successful and how to design experiences that will be successful in the future. I want to know why one strategy works with a child today, but doesn’t work with a different child today or the same child tomorrow. I want to discern what matters in education, to promote the good and eliminate the bad. I want everyone to learn with purpose, success, satisfaction and pride. I want to fix what’s broken, grow what works, and change the future for the better. I want to learn how best to recover when I fail. I want to make a difference to every child in every classroom at every stage of the educational system. I also want to change the system. I want to examine and redefine our objectives. I want to look closely at all of the places where the needs of a child come into conflict with the needs of our system and advocate for that child. I want to be at the table where this conversation is happening.

I can’t learn or do any of this by myself. If I want to be the educator I believe I should be, I have to be connected.

My work as an educator and my work as a learner cannot be separated. My work and my learning are a single, ongoing conversation that I am having with the world.

For me, all teaching is an act of learning, and all learning is social. This has always been true.

Thankfully, I no longer live in a time or place that limits my ability to have my conversation with the world. Thanks to the Digital Age and the political freedoms I enjoy, my ability to connect to anyone anywhere at anytime is only limited by who is willing and able to connect with me.

Because I am a connected educator, I have had the opportunity to connect with authors and thought-leaders and ask them questions. Because I am a connected educator I was able to connect a Shakespearean actor with a classroom of students who had just read Hamlet to enhance their understanding of the play. Because I am a connected educator, I have been able to teach lessons to audiences made up of people from all over the world virtually.

I connect with people from other continents on a daily basis through Twitter, my blog, Skype and Google+.

If I find a resource that has value, I can share that resource with thousands of fellow educators through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, My Big Campus, and other sites with the click of a button.

Do I connect with the person down the hall? Of course. My local network of colleagues and personal contacts are my first, most relevant network. They know the realities of our shared culture, environment, history and goals. There are advantages in those connections that cannot easily be duplicated.

Today, though, I can also extend my network to include new perspectives, wider audiences, greater expertise, more experiences and richer resources. Through my extended network, when I ask a question, the answers I receive are more diverse and more plentiful. I can also ask my question directly to the people most likely to have thoughtful answers.

As a connected educator, I have chosen to learn publicly. I do this because I believe my learning will never be complete. I do this because I know that the more perspectives I can tap into, the more effective my learning can be. I do this because I can test my ideas against a wider number of world-views and get feedback from a greater number of colleagues. I do this because the people I follow through my networks are likely to share ideas that I never would have come across without them.

Becoming a connected educator isn’t difficult. If you Google “Connected Educator,” you will find an abundance of resources to get you started. You can also find resources on building your PLN (Personal Learning Network). The hardest step is simply connecting. I began with blogging and with Twitter, but there are lively communities of connected educators in all kinds of places.

As a connected educator, I work to develop my networks through the digital tools that are available to me. I use social media, communication tools and collaboration tools to make face to face work possible with people within and beyond my local sphere. My networks aren’t defined by these tools, they are enabled by them. And while each tool provides a different workflow and culture, my use of each is just a part of my larger conversation with the world.

I am a connected educator.

I have friends I have never met in person, but who have changed the way I see the world.

I suspect that I have followers who could say the same of me without my ever having known they were listening.

Sometimes the connections last for the moment it takes me to reply to a tweet, and sometimes they last for years through a series of online collaborations. But each is still just a part of the larger conversation I’ve joined.

Connected educators share what they are thinking and what they have learned in a long-term, asynchronous collaboration around our profession. They share resources they create and discover. They devise projects to enact together. They offer support when members need it and affirmation when members deserve it. They crowdsource information for those who seek it, and they help connect problems to solutions.

As a connected educator, I can affirm and promote what inspires and improves my learning with a like, a retweet, or a +1.

I can engage with people who challenge my thinking through comment sections in blogs and on websites, or through Twitter Chats. I’m careful not to limit my networks to people with whom I agree. I want to learn from other perspectives, or perhaps change the perspectives of those with whom I interact. I find the connected educator community to be passionate, but also civil and respectful.

Even if it isn’t always that way, I can control the tone and quality of the discourse in my networks with a simple unfollow or block. I am a connected educator, but I don’t have to be.

Because I am a connected educator, I feel empowered.

Through my connections:

I define my learning.
I participate in the vital conversations of my profession.
I reach a wider audience with my ideas.
I collaborate with smart and passionate people.
I reach learners I couldn’t otherwise reach.
I find more inspiration and more resources with greater ease.

I am a connected educator. I remember what it was like before I was connected.

Teaching can be an isolating experience. There were times when I felt controlled and limited by my immediate surroundings and resources. There were times when I felt like I was alone in my desire to understand and change a complex system that was so much bigger than me. There was a time when I didn’t know where to ask my questions or when I worried that my questions weren’t welcome. That was before.

Now I am a connected educator.

photo credit: i_aint_got_no_id via photopin cc

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