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At what point in time did schools obtain the power to suspend a teacher’s constitutional right to free speech? I know that social media is relatively new to our modern history, which is reason to give some institutions a little breathing space to catch up to all of social media’s ramifications on our society, but it doesn’t give any institution the power to suspend the constitutional rights of an individual, or to punish in any way an individual who exercises a constitutionally guaranteed right.

I read a post today about a teacher in a New Hampshire school district who was forced into retirement for refusing to unfriend students on Facebook. This is not an isolated incident. As a connected educator I have had many discussions with educators from all over the United States who are fearful of retaliation from their districts for involving themselves openly in social media communities.

I lived in the community in which I taught for 25 years. This is not unlike many educators in our country. At no time during my tenure in that district did anyone call me into an office and instruct me on how to interact with the children of the community. No one told me I could not be friends with children in the community. I was never told where I could, or could not go in that community. I don’t think any administrator would have even considered such a discussion. Yet, these are the discussions some administrators are having with teachers today about their social media communities.

I understand the need to protect children from a range of inappropriate adult behavior even to the extreme, contact with pedophiles. This however is not a reason to suspend every teacher’s right to free speech. Just because there are some inappropriate adults on the Internet, we can’t jump to a conclusion that all adults on the Internet are inappropriate, especially, those who have been vetted and entrusted with children face to face every day. Statistics tell us that our children are more in danger from family, close family friends, and even clergy, much more than people on the Internet. If we really want to protect our children on the Internet we need to educate them early and often, not ban them from what has become the world of today. They need to live in that world. I heard a TV celebrity say recently that parents need not prepare the road for their children, but they must prepare their children for the road.

Social media communities are open to the public where everyone sees all. It is transparency at its finest, and in some cases at its worst, but that is what we have come to expect from social media. We need to learn how to deal with that. There is no fixing stupid. Some people will be inappropriate, but the community will deal with that as it develops and matures. People are still adjusting and evolving in these social media communities. Having educators participating and modeling within these communities is exactly what is needed. The more they participate, the better the communities will all be. We, as well as our children, benefit.

Administrators are quick to use social media as a public relations tool to shout out the accolades of their schools. They have control over that. They do not have control over what others might say about the schools in a social media community. The blemishes are often exposed. If administrators are fearful that their image, or that of the school will be tarnished by people speaking publicly about the school, then maybe these administrators should look at themselves, or their policies. It may be indicating a need to assess a few things. Instead of trying to shut people down by limiting their right to free speech, they might try asking them to speak up. This is where listening skills become very important. This is why transparency is important.

Eventually, someone will take this issue to some court of law. After all, we are a very litigious society. It will be litigated and maybe even travel up to the Supreme Court. I cannot see any court supporting the idea that a person gives up a constitutional right, just because they are employed by some backward thinking school district.

Schools need to better understand the world our children will be living in, as well as the world that we live in today. Social Media communities are not going away. Technology is not moving backwards. It will always move forward bringing us new problems to deal with. We need to deal with the problems and not tell people they can’t use the technology.

It amazes me that I am even writing about this. It is very clear-cut to me. I know however that not everyone looks at this the same way. Before the comments start coming from protective parents and teachers, I need to say that I am the father of two girls. They were brought up using technology. They were taught the good and the bad, as well as how to deal with it. I live what I preach when it comes to kids and technology. I understand every parent has the right to bring up their kids as they see fit. I also believe that every person has the right to free speech. We need to find a way to respect everyone’s rights without denying anyone’s. The world is continually changing and we need to adjust and adapt if we are to survive and thrive.

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I have been involved with Education chats on Twitter from the beginning. I am a cofounder of #Edchat, so over the years I have gotten to know my way around chats. I delight in the fact that there is now a huge list of chats educators may participate in. The weekly chat list abounds with a variety of areas in education that would interest educators from almost any area of expertise. The best part about Chats is that if nothing is meeting your need, you may start your own chat to address it. Here is the current Schedule for the Weekly Chat List.

Every week #edchat offers up five education Topics to choose from on a poll open to all. The Top vote getter is the 7 PM topic, and the second top vote getter is the Noon Chat Topic. Each week however, I need to come up with five new topics that we have not yet discussed in the last six months. It is a chore. One method I use to come up with #Edchat Topics is to bounce into other education chats to see their topics of concern. Often times I just lurk, or I might interject a provocative question on the Topic to stir things up a bit. On occasion I find myself engaging in the discussion, pulled in by someone else’s provocative comment.

Yesterday, I found a chat that intrigued me, and a tweet from an educator that grabbed me, so I bounced in. The Topic was on student voice and students having more of a say in the decisions about their own learning. This is a very relevant topic in education today. What drew me in was an educator’s tweet:

I dont get overly excited about student control bc theyre still kids. They arent capable of knowing whats best. As a long time educator I recognize this to be partially true, and maybe someone needed to say it, but it is also a condition that we as educators have created in the system that may be in need of change. If we continue to say kids are incapable of knowing what’s best, and do not address it, does that condition immediately and completely change on its own when kids become 18? Although I attempted to engage this educator in a dialogue on this topic, the response was that it was a scary thought and barely a consideration because it was a ridiculous idea. With that response I knew I had nowhere to go, so I left the discussion. If it were an #Edchat I probably would have taken it on, but I am a believer in the idea that there is a 10 percent mark of people who do not change their minds regardless of the facts. This educator had all the symptoms.

This set me to thinking down two paths of thought. First, Why do educators, who are set in their ways, and unwilling to open up to a different perspective, engage in chats. It is good to have opposition to ideas. That opposition both tests and strengthens new ideas. It forces compromise or it debunks ideas that have no real foundation. The idea of the chats is to explore the options, and be open to alternatives. If everything worked, as everything should, there would be no need for chats. Let us recognize that change is inevitable in everything, and that it is better for us to control that change than to have that change control us.

The idea of these chats is to explore what we do, and see if we can do better. The idea of collaborative chats is that the participants are varied and many. This offers us a range of experiences gathered for a chat that could never before been done virtually. It is in the sharing of these varied experiences that we may glean the best of the best and root out that which is not working. For any of this to work however, we do need to come to the chat with an open mind willing to explore change.

Of course the more important take away for me from this engagement was that there are still educators out there who believe kids incapable of making decisions that affect their lives. Of course, if we program kids to believe only adults may determine what kids should learn and how they should learn it, we are not creating or even encouraging life long learning. We need to begin programming kids to make decisions from an early age. We as educators need to instruct, mentor, and guide decision-making in students until they can take it on fully on their own. Their decisions need to be real with all the rewards and all the consequences. The decisions need to be gradually upgraded and age appropriate, but by high school our students should be making academic decisions for overall courses as well as in class decisions. We as educators need to get from teacher centric lessons to student centric lessons giving weight to the decisions kids make.

Left to that educator that I encountered in that chat, kids would never make a decision because they are not mature enough to do so. The irony is that we demand mature behavior from kids every day, but we do not credit them capable of mature decision-making, because we rob them of that ability. Decision-making is a learned skill like any other and it is a life skill, yet we limit our children’s ability to make them even in the areas that affect them almost every day. We limit their decisions and turn them out into a society that demands decisions on a daily basis. Who benefits by this process?

 

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A Weblog, or a Blog, as it has become to be known, is a form of writing that entered the scene with the advent of the Internet and personal publishing. It could be described as a digital magazine feature article or a digital news article depending on the content. What makes it unique however is that it is personally published without needing permission from anyone except the author. The author becomes the publisher and determines what will be posted, which is the digital term for being published. The authors of blogs are Bloggers.

Now that we have established what a blog is, what does any of this have to do with Connected Educators? Blogs are having a profound effect on Journalism most specifically, and other industries in general. Blogs are becoming more than just a tool for information. By being able to comment in real-time about a post, the readers become part of the narrative. They give voice to support, objection, clarification, expansion, and validation in their comments. They help to immediately define, shape, and explain topics through their comments. None of this was ever possible in the print media, with the exception maybe of “Letters To The Editor”.  It is that ability and power, which the blogger gives to the audience that connects them.

Thought leaders can express their ideas for immediate feedback, so that they may reflect and adjust. Readers may respond, reflect and often add a blog post of their own. The give and take; reflect and respond; adjust and refine abilities of the audience and Blogger are all part of a collaborative learning experience. Collaboration is the key to connectedness for educators especially.

Where do Bloggers come from? At first many education Bloggers came from the ranks of authors and speakers from education. They were comfortable with public exposure and writing, as well as technology, so it was an easier transition. Later, more and more educators began to get comfortable with the idea of blogging as a result of their commenting on blogs, as well as public discussion groups on the Internet. The fact that they were able to write their thoughts in a public venue and have them validated by other professional educators turned out to be a great incentive to go further. This only strengthened the voice of education Bloggers with the experience of practicing professionals.

As the community of education Bloggers grew, so did the audience. Many Administrators, who were leery of public exposure, began to step up and blog. Parents in need of a clearer understanding of the system began to blog. Finally, students themselves, the very focus for which education exists began to join in with their voice. A big contributing factor was the growing use of Twitter as a social Media tool. It is micro-blogging, blogging in small bursts. As people tweeted more and more, gaining a following, they found a desire to say more than 140 characters could express. Blogging applications like WordPress, and Blogger simplified the process of establishing a Blog site. A comfort with writing for an audience, and an ease with technology led to more educators climbing onto the train of connectedness and collaboration.

The result of all of this Blog evolution and proliferation has had a great effect on Education. It has made public the good, the bad, and the ugly of education. It has created that transparency that so many people have talked about. It is openly discussing what needs to be talked about by practicing educators and thought leaders. Blogs are connecting educators with thought leaders and administrative leaders in a way that could never before be accomplished. Education theorists can open their ideas to practitioners for analysis and critique. Practitioners can share their victories and conquests, and hopefully their failures as well. It is through the analysis and reflection of all of this that we can improve to move forward.

To be part of the change, educators need to be part of the process. They need to connect, comment and contribute wherever possible in our connected community of educators. That is where our voice as educators is the strongest. Connectedness is our best chance for positive change that is not mandated, or legislated, but rather collaboratively established.

Blogs offer a daily snapshot of what is happening in education. Blogs offer educators a public platform for discourse, and the ability to comment and affect change in a system that needs to change in order to be relevant in a world of fast-paced, technology-driven evolution. After the Blogs have dealt with the heavy lift, the printed Journals of Education report it. Educators need to connect to better communicate, collaborate, and create in order to more effectively educate students, and even more importantly continue to be educated.

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This post originally appeared on the ISTE Connects Blog.

Back in 2009 I was becoming quite acquainted with the ins and outs of Twitter. I had migrated to Twitter from a heavy involvement on LinkedIn. While on LinkedIn I had founded a very active education group called Technology-Using Professors. The LinkedIn discussions often referred to sources picked up on Twitter. It wasn’t long after that I found myself spending more and more time on Twitter and less on LinkedIn. I did however miss the discussion component that was so prevalent with the groups on LinkedIn.

I began to ask somewhat engaging questions on education in order to start discussions on Twitter. The discussions were at random times when the mood would strike me to start one up. A probing question here, and a provocative statement there would always strike a chord with a few folks. It was however limited to my followers, which was at the time only a few hundred. It was a great experience, but it was limited. The only beneficiaries were those few of my followers who were on the twitterstream when the question was posed.

I was fortunate to have discovered and virtually assembled a number of collaborative, knowledgeable, and intelligent people in my network of connected educators for the purpose of advancing my own professional development. This was my Professional Learning Network, my PLN. I found myself engaging two individuals more than any others, Shelly Terrell from Germany, @ShellTerrell, and Steve Anderson from North Carolina, @Web20classroom. I asked them to help me set up a discussion on education that we could do on Twitter. Of course Steve and Shelly brought along their followers, so pretty soon we were already expanding the audience for our chat.

With the creation of a hashtag, a set time on a prescribed day, and a poll to determine specific topics for discussion, #Edchat was launched. It was not the first-ever discussion or CHAT on Twitter, but it was consistent and successful with an unprecedented amount of participation. #Edchat was often a trending topic on Twitter when the chats were in progress. We were driven to create an archive page so that educators around the world, restricted by time zones, could keep up with the chats. We received many requests from educators in Europe to start #Edchat earlier to accommodate their time zones. We answer the requests with a second chat beginning earlier in the day.

The #Edchat hashtag then took on a life of its own. It went beyond just marking the tweets for the chat. It became a hashtag added to any tweet dealing with education related information. Tweeters realized that they could extend their range of tweets beyond their own followers to the thousands of educators who follow the #Edchat hashtag.

With the success of #edchat and using it as a model there are several hundred education chats active on Twitter today. Education chats have become a great source for connected educators to access and follow thought leaders, and educators who are leading the discussions that are having profound effects on the development of 21st Century education. Beyond the actual discussion of relevant topics, educators can make direct connections with the chat participants. They can add to their PLN’S with educators who have engaged them. Tom Murray and Jerry Blumengarten have created a great source list for the current number of education chats. It was creatively named WEEKLY TWITTER CHATS.

Entering any of these chats requires some strategies. It is impossible to follow every tweet in the discussion and keep a focus on any specific aspect of it. It would be like trying to listen to and follow every discussion at a party with a hundred people. It is not something that can be done literally, so why would we expect to be able to do it virtually?

I approach a topic and devise my own question that answers my needs on the subject. I put the question out fishing for people to engage. I usually pick up a few people and we are off to discuss. I also monitor the chat for things that draw me in. I engage those folks who have their own questions on the subject. The best part of the chats is the engagement, but not everyone engages. There are people who follow the chat and take it all in without ever revealing their presence. They are quiet consumers of information, lurkers for learning.

Chats on Twitter have become a staple for information and contacts. They are great sources of relevant information that educators need to promote change and improve their own methodology. Chats are wonderful sources for connecting to educators with proven worth to add value to Professional Learning Networks. It adds to the many ways educators can now personalize their learning for professional development. In order to provide kids a relevant education, we need to provide relevant educators. A connected educator, engaging in education chats, is one method that enables this much-needed relevance.

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I just finished an #Edchat that I left me with a feeling of not being able to add any authority to the discussion. For those unfamiliar, #Edchat is a weekly Twitter discussion on Education topics. This week’s discussion was based on this statement: There is a strong belief among some educators that poverty is the biggest factor in a failing education system.

It is difficult to have any discussion on this topic without people, including me, entering it with all of the biases built on myths and facts over the years. It is a mixture of biases not just of poverty, but race as well. It is not a comfortable place to be, since we are very aware of how incendiary these discussions can get with just a few poorly chosen words by well-intentioned people not thinking things through.

I am an average white guy who grew up on Long Island, New York in the 50’s in an all-white community that was designed to be just that, segregated. My college experience offered opposition to the Viet Nam War, and supported the Equal Rights Amendment in demonstrations that are now a part of history, and can now be only experienced through video clips on YouTube, or TV newscasts. I was a socially aware, late 60’s college student.

Nevertheless, I entered this Edchat discussion hoping to shed what little light I had on the subject of the huge effect that poverty has on today’s Education. To add to my total lack of credentials, I have never taught in a school that was considered to be in an impoverished community. In all honesty, when I devised this topic for the Edchat discussion, it was my hope that educators from poverty areas would join in to offer a credible voice on the subject.

It has been my experience that poverty comes in two large varieties, urban and suburban and they have both similarities and differences. Each community however, seems to have its own culture. How, and where education fits into that culture varies with every community. All are hindered by poverty and language barriers further hinder some. In a nation populated by immigrants, we are a host to many languages. If educators coming from English-speaking cultures to communities of non-English speaking students, that is a problem for education.

Many impoverished communities must deal with higher crime rates, as well as violence that are expressed with open gunfire. Communities are finding themselves under siege in many instances. How can Kids concerned about getting to school safely, making it through the school day there, and returning home safely, ever concentrate on learning?

The idea that the parents of poor students are sitting home all day without jobs is another myth. That prevents us from addressing poverty as a problem for education, and not as a bad result of some liberal social welfare programs. I was stunned to hear that the average age of fast food workers is 34 years of age. That tells me that people are trying to carry their families with jobs that are minimum wage dependent. How can anyone adequately support a family that way? It is however, the bulk of jobs that are available. Retail jobs, and service positions are also high on the occupation list for the poor. If most poor people are working, but not earning a living wage, that is another problem for education.

The very goal of what most educators strive for is that college education as the pot at the end of the rainbow. Educators see it as a way out for their students and can’t see why the kids drop out. If kids from poor families can hardly support the financial needs of a public school education, why would the goal of an over-priced college education be an incentive to graduate? The financial needs of the family often dictate the direction of the student’s need for education. That is another problem for education.

Research has shown us that nutrition and proper sleep are two components of a child’s home life that will determine his or her success in school. For a number of reasons, tied directly to poverty, this is rarely the case for students in poverty. This is yet another problem for education.

I have always supported the whole child approach to education expressed by ASCD:

Whole Child Tenets

Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.

 

Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.

 

Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.

 

Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.

 

Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

 

All of these are necessary for a student to succeed in school. The first three of the five are a struggle for students in impoverished schools. That is a problem for education.

I do not disagree with the belief that the most important element in a student’s education is the teacher. The teacher however is not the only factor in a student’s education. There is no level playing field here. That is a problem for education.

Educators adhere to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, but before schools in poverty can even get there, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a more-needed consideration. This is a problem for education.

I am the last person who should be talking about poverty, but I do feel confident in talking about education. As an educator it is obvious to me that unless we deal directly with the issue of poverty, we will never address the issue of education in any way to improve it. I have heard it said that if we factor out the schools in poverty, the U.S. education system is very good. A blind eye never works in the real world. If we don’t deal with the real issue we will continue with the real problems. This is the biggest problem faced by education. Nobody is pulling themselves up by their bootstraps in this world of poverty. That is a ridiculous expectation!

 

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I am participating in the national plan to promote Connected Educators’ Month (CEM) for this year. I was very honored to even be asked to participate on this committee, because I am committed to collaborative learning for all educators. I believe that social media and technology afford our profession the best opportunity to date in order to connect educators for collaboration and exchanging ideas to develop and maintain relevance as professional educators. Technology offers our best tools to enable, promote, and practice life long learning, the very thing that educators hold up as the “Holy Grail” for their students. As I have pointed out in many posts, Life Long Learning should also be the personal goal of all educators, and ideally everyone else in our country as well, even if that reality may be unrealistic.

The leaders of this planning committee have their hands full, trying to orchestrate an effective plan with input coming from more than 30 individuals. Each of the committee members has his, or her own vision of what Connected Educators’ Month should look like. Each of the members has strong opinions, each has a strong personality, and each is a leader in his or her area of expertise. Trying to include everyone’s position in one plan will be a herculean task, but it is certainly doable through collaboration.

My position on the committee is simple. I want to connect the unconnected educator. There are far more unconnected than connected educators. We as a profession are not taking advantage of our best opportunity to date to collaborate and advance our education system for the benefit of our kids and our country. We are not participating in great enough numbers to discuss, collaborate and improve our system. Educators have left themselves out of that discussion allowing the void to be filled by business people and shortsighted politicians.

My fear is that we will place an emphasis on adding content for connected educators and miss out on actually connecting educators. It is my belief that by connecting more educators, we will be adding content by the added participation of more collaborating educators. Adding content for those already connected has a limited impact on the unconnected educators. Using social media to advertise connecting more educators does not target the unconnected. They are not on social media to be affected by the advertisement.

If we are to connect more educators, we need to ask those connected to do more. We need them to model their connections. We need them not only to share their sources with the unconnected, but also to cite how Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or a particular Ning site provided the source. We need administrators to recognize, establish and support the positive effects of connected collaboration. Our professional organizations can give up a few iPad sessions to make room for connected educator sessions. Any conference requiring nametags can certainly have a field for the educator’s Twitter name. Twitter names should also appear on any printed media where educator contact information appears. We need to prioritize the need and the ability for educators to connect. The path to collaboration and connected educators needs to be made easier and seemingly natural. We need to go where the unconnected educators can be found and that is not on connected venues. If we believe in collaboration of connected education for life long learning than we need to promote connections for our educators, who in turn will educate and hopefully connect our students.

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My youngest daughter just graduated high school in June. She has always been an outstanding student and, as her dad, I welcome the chance to recognize that publicly. One of the high points of one of the speeches given at her graduation ceremony caused a huge round of applause from the audience, which was gathered for the outdoor event. Ninety-Five percent of the graduating class of over 300 students had been accepted to institutions of higher learning. Why would the cheers not abound? This is the exact statistic that politicians, business people, parents, and educators are all calling for in every high school across our land. Percentage of college acceptances has become a component in the way we assess successful schools.

My concern is that if our goal is to educate our students to give them a path to college, how are we preparing those who do not go to college? If they failed on the pathway to college program, have we adequately prepared them for a life short of a college education? That applies not only to those who were not accepted to college, but a great number of those who were as well. Many of those students proud of their acceptance to college upon high school graduation will drop out after the first year. If we have only prepared them for college and that doesn’t work out what pathway do they now step to?

Overcoming the impediments to completing college may not even be within the student’s control. The same politicians demanding a higher rate of acceptance to college are placing impossible conditions on the ability to obtain the money to attend those colleges. The economy combined with the rising cost of education place that very goal of every high school that every student is forced to strive for, out of range financially. If acceptance to college is the goal we can do it. If completion of college is a goal, we need to do much more work. Even with completed degrees in America at an all time high, we only have 30% of Americans with Bachelors degrees. That would mean 70% of America was prepared for a path that they never took. What were they prepared for? Did we offer any alternative programs? What will happen to about 200 of my daughter’s classmates?

Educators may not be addressing the needs of the non-college path students not because they don’t care, but because one thing all educators have in common is at least one college degree. Educators were successful in the education system. They realize and understand the advantages of attaining a college degree, but they may not understand the needs and skills required by non-academics to survive and thrive in a culture that holds college in high regard, but only 30% of its population is able to attain it.

With a majority of our kids not completing college, shouldn’t we consider examining our programs and considering options to address this reality? Should we offer more vocational programs, internships, and apprenticeships? Would educators view this as meeting a need, or would they see it as short-selling their students? Are the views and prejudices of educators concerning the importance of advantages in attending college holding us back? Everyone deserves a chance to obtain a college education, but unless we make considerable changes in financing education, college degrees will continue to go to a minority of students. The preparation for college may not be the proper preparation for a majority of our students, who will never complete college. If college is not a realistically attainable goal, why is it such a great part in assessing schools? Can we continue to cater to 30% of our students without addressing the real needs of the majority?

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The title of this post probably carries more weight with educators who use Twitter as a key component of a professional learning network than those who don’t. At this point in time there are more educators not using Twitter professionally, than those who do. The “why” of that is what perplexes me to no end.

I recently watched an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers. His book sits unread on my shelf, but, inspired by what I saw in the interview, I am hoping to get to it soon. This caused me to consider where we are going with this idea of the connected educator. A number of education thought leaders have been promoting the idea of connected educators and professional learning networks for years, and although more educators have taken up the cause, we have not yet bowled over the profession with connectedness.

The keystone of connectedness is shared learning through collaboration. Collectively we learn and achieve more than we do in isolation. This has been true forever, but the factor that has moved collaboration to the forefront is technology. Today’s technological tools for collaboration now enable it globally, timelessly, and virtually endlessly. The key factor in good and effective collaboration is connecting with right sources. On Twitter who you follow is always more important than who follows you. It is all about connecting with those who have the most to offer.

According to Gladwell in his interview he cited research indicating that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill or profession. In education terms that would be a teacher with a career of ten years, or an Administrator who was so for ten years. Connecting with educators with that amount of experience in large numbers and in specific academic areas is not easy in many schools. On the Internet however, these connections are more easily obtained.

Contact with experts in education is also made more easily through Social Media. Before Twitter I met a handful of authors at book signings or keynoting at conferences. Today, I contact, and converse with many education authors on a daily basis. There is something to be said for the number of authors created as a result of social media connectedness. Twitter is micro blogging. Many educators Tweet for a while before they find a need, and ability to blog in real terms. That step exposes them to their profession in a way that validates their efforts, ideas, and philosophy, which leads them to authoring a book. This exact path has been taken by at least two dozen of my educator connections. Many of these educators have been elevated, by their followers, and fellow educators, to the “rank” of education thought leader.

With all of this positive connectedness, one would expect that all educators would be jumping on board to connect their own collaboration cars to the train. Well, I have been an actively connected educator since about 2007, and I am still waiting for that fully loaded train to leave the station.

Having discussions about specific topics within education with educators can be very different depending on their amount of connectedness. Those actively connected educators seem to need less relevant background information in order to address a topic. Discussions with the unconnected educators often get bogged down in explanations and definitions before the discussion of the topic can even take place. BYOD and Flipping were connected topics months before they became mainstream. Being connected seems to support relevance because of the ongoing discussion being framed around education. These in-depth discussions may not be taking place the same way in the hallways, or faculty rooms of schools.

Adam Bellow recently asked me if I could estimate how many educators were actively connected. I told him that that would be difficult number to figure out, but I would try. There are millions of people on Twitter, but we were only concerned with the actively participating educators. I looked at two areas where educators hang, Education Ning Communities, and Twitter. I used membership numbers on Nings and Follow numbers on Twitter. The largest Education Ning communities do not exceed 75,000 members, and many educators belong to multiple Ning communities. When it comes to educators following educators, I considered the followers of leading education thought leaders, and not celebrities. Sir Ken Robinson for example is a celebrity followed by more than just educators, but even he only has 186,000 followers. Of the education thought leaders followed by most educators, I could find none exceeding 70,000. That would lead me to believe that actively connected educators would range between 200-300,000 educators. That is but a calculated guess.

The part that really concerns me and led me to my original question is the estimates of total American educators. I looked at the last census numbers for educators and came up with a number of 7.2 Million. I have read posts that claimed 11 million to be an accurate number for education employees. The definition of educator might account for this disparity. Even with the most conservative numbers in those estimates, I struggle to understand why only 300,000 educators of 7.2 million would choose to be connected. Are the education thought leaders of the Twitterati really undiscovered progressive leaders of education, or outliers to be overlooked and ignored by the data readers who are determining the pathway for education today?

Who is determining that pathway? Could it be that the media that we as educators have chosen to voice our ideas and concerns is a media not yet discovered by our colleagues? Could the relevance we count on in the 21st century be dependent on a technology not yet accepted by the very people we depend on to support relevance in teaching and learning? Should we have Administrators mandate compliance? Who will mandate compliance from the Administrators?

The idea of connectedness and collaboration should be a topic discussed in every school in this country and beyond. It is of global interest to connect educators. If we want to educate our kids, we need to first educate our educators, and that must be an ongoing process in our ever-changing, tech driven society. Life long learning is not just a goal for kids in school. It should be a goal for everyone.

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This week I attended another international education conference – the Net.1 Conference (The 1st Annual Nassau Education Technology Conference.)  It was the first of its kind to be held in the Bahamas. There were over 200 educators from the Bahamas and several other surrounding island nations. Often as American educators we are faced with the day-to-day problems of our own system and are unaware of the challenges and real obstacles faced by other countries as they also strive to educate their young. Many of the things that we take for granted are almost non-existent in some other countries.

Poverty in any country seems to be the biggest obstacle to a proper education, but the problems of poverty in a poor country seems to compound the issues almost beyond solution. There is an evident commonality however that could be found in the passion for education in the hearts of all of the educators in attendance. They gave freely of their time to attend an educational conference that offered glimmers of direction, and possible advances in the face of almost daily defeats metered out by problems of distance, isolation, and infrastructure, too much of the first two and not enough of the third.

The Net.1 Conference took place in a premiere school in Nassau, The Lyford Cay School. It is a K-12 school comprised of various freestanding Caribbean-colored buildings. It was situated within a gated community of multi-million dollar homes. It was most definitely not typical of the schools most of the educator attendees represented. Ms. Gaynell Ellis our Bahamian ambassador of good will, a technology visionary, and now a dear friend guided our tour of the community. The school was the obvious beneficiary of the opulence and wealth surrounding it through generous contributions and an active and involved PTA.

I found the faculty members of this school who were the volunteer monitors for the conference to be most proud of their school and their students. The entire conference was a result of the efforts of that staff and foresight of their administrator, Dr. Stacey Bobo. Most notably among the organizers was a husband and wife team of educators from the school, Oscar Brinson Technology Director, and Mindy Brinson (@mbrinson) Technology Coordinator. The conference was built around networking time in order to stimulate collaboration amongst the attending educators. The vision of using instructional technology to advance education in the Bahamas was set during the keynote by none other than the Minister of Education, the Honorable Benjamin Fitzgerald.

A wonderful addition to this conference was the addition of student presentations. Five, 15-year-old students from The Lyford Cay School did two of the conference presentations. The school is made up of 40% Bahamian and 60% international students. This group chose Social Media from a student’s perspective as their first presentation. These kids Texted, Tweeted, Tumbled, and Blogged with some of the best examples of their work out there for all to see. They answered questions, and offered opinions like pros. Of course not spell checking a PowerPoint presentation is almost a universal mistake even among seasoned educators that was overlooked by the audience in light of the quality and effort put out by these kids. I loved it.

I invited these students to join me at my presentation on how educators are using social media for collaboration and professional development. Not only did their participation offer a great model on connected life long learning, they asked questions and offered opinions that enlightened the adults in the room. Again, I loved it.

As students’ needs merge with the educators’ ability to provide solutions, it is becoming very evident that a change is essential. With the way that the world at large curates, communicates, collaborates, and creates in a technology- driven environment while reaching out globally, choices need to be made. An educator’s choice is to get on board, or get out of the way. Relevance comes with life long learning. Looking to the past to not repeat our mistakes is a fine practice. Living in the past to develop minds for the future may be one of those very mistakes we are looking to avoid.

The steps taken by this small island nation of The Bahamas to provide its educators with the tools to enter and compete in a modern world of collaboration is a sign of the times. Of course that brings to mind, especially to the old folk out there, those visionary words of Bob Dylan… “And the times they are a change’n”.

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People who know me understand that I have hot buttons that set me off when it comes to certain topics of education. That would actually encompass a huge number of topics including the rights of teachers. As I scanned the news channels last week, I came upon a story covering a teacher strike in one of the urban districts of the U.S. The reporter covering the event kept repeating and repeating a single line during his coverage that just set me off. “These teachers care more about their jobs than they do about the kids”.

What is it that enables people to vilify teachers for placing the security of their families before the demands of their job? Of course the security of a teacher’s family must come before the demands of the job. Doesn’t everyone value their family and want to insure their safety and security as a first consideration in life?

The fact is that here are many teachers who grapple with this very issue throughout their career. Teaching is a noble profession that does require sacrifice on the part of each educator to do right by his or her students. It is that self-sacrifice and “teacher’s guilt” that has enabled some districts to take advantage of teachers in regard to labor issues since the beginning of public education.

As a generalization most teachers do not market themselves well. They do not expound upon their accomplishments. They view that as flaunting one’s self, and that is frowned upon by teachers. They do not like it when any teacher publicly claims credit for accomplishments. They consider it as bragging or showboating. Most teachers are humbled by public recognition. By and large teachers do what they do, not just because the public expects it, but it is they who expect it of themselves. That is their strength and their weakness. It is that very feature in teachers that enables a reporter to repeatedly state: “These teachers care more about their jobs than they do about the kids”. That question tears at the teacher more than it resonates with the public.

People have been convinced that the American Education system is failing our country. Too often we try to simplify complicated issues. There are many, many reasons why our education system needs improvement. An objective analysis of the issues is warranted and should be done. Tax reformers, politicians, and business people looking to profit in an education market however often obscure that needed objectivity. To sell the snake oil, they simplify the problem, and target a simple solution, the teacher. It is a travesty that the very group that is maintaining the best of a system, which is in need of repair, while being maligned and even corrupted by the interference of non-educators, has come under attack. Teacher morale is the lowest it has ever been. Teachers are leaving the profession and youngsters are hesitant to enter it. This will only add to the problem.

Teachers need to take back the discussion of education that has been hijacked by so many non-educators. They need to shout out their accomplishments. Administrators need to lead, as well as call out the praises of their teachers. Superintendents need to claim their leadership positions in education to stand against mandates being imposed that are detrimental to education and educators. We must have our leaders connect and collaborate on the needs and solutions for education and not have them dictated to educators by non-educators who are unaware. Public Education is very much in jeopardy if left to the politicians and profiteers. Timidity is not a virtue in a modern educator.

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