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If there is one thing that could be said of what I do professionally it might be that I do get around to many education conferences. This past month I attended two International conferences ISTE14, BLC14 and one Indiana regional conference, the Greater Clark County Schools Conference in Indiana. All of these conferences were outstanding in their offerings to educators. I usually comment on the structure and quality of the conferences, but today I think I need to address the educators who attend these conferences based on some recent observations. What set me to thinking about this post were two separate comments from very different educators.

A short time after attending ISTE14, I flew to Boston for Alan Novmber’s BLC14 conference. It was there that I saw a keynote by Michael Fullan, a Canadian education researcher and former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. From that speech my main take-away was that in education today Pedagogy is the foundation and technology is the accelerator. For me that was a statement that was clear, concise, and right on the money.

After a one-day layover at my home, I was off to the GCCC14. It was the 2nd annual conference created and directed by Brett Clark of the Greater Clark County Schools. I landed in Louisville Kentucky, which is just over the river from my Indiana destination. A GCC educator, JT who was transporting me to my hotel, picked me up. I met JT when he performed the same task last year. He is quite an affable fellow and easy to talk with. On our ride we talked about this year’s conference compared to the last. JT shared a conversation he had with a colleague about the conference. His friend asked if JT was going to be at the “day-long computer training”. Obviously, some Indiana educators did not view the Michael Fullan keynote on livestream. Unfortunately, it is an attitude or a mindset that is shared by more educators than just those in Indiana. Many conferences are viewed as computer training and not education methodology or pedagogy.

It is the way of learning that should be the focus of education conferences and the goal for the attendees. The technology should always be secondary. We should first explore the place collaboration has in learning before we talk about the tools we need to collaborate. We should explore the need and benefits of communication and understand where and how it benefits students in their everyday lives before we explore the modern tools that enable and enhance communication. We need to understand the differences and the effects between lecture, direct instruction and authentic learning before commit to developing a year’s curriculum. Understanding the need for formative assessment is essential to determining what tools we will use to assess formatively, as well as what adjustments we need to make when we get that information. Let us get a full understanding of summative assessment to determine whether to use tools for testing, or tools for digital portfolio assessments.
Conferences should be more about the learning first and then balanced out with the tools to make it all happen efficiently and effectively. These conferences are not about computer training, but about learning and education.

As Chris Lehmann said at the GCCC14 conference, we don’t teach math, English, or social studies, we teach kids. Conferences should not be viewed as computer training, but rather teacher training. They teach teachers the ways of education and all of the necessary, modern tools to enhance authentic learning to attain the teachers’ intended goals. Connecting with the educators from each conference is an additional way of continuing the education discussion beyond the conference. It helps create collegial sources to be called upon at anytime for clarification, validation, new ideas, sources, or just to say hello. It makes no sense whatsoever to meet great people with great ideas at a conference and never to connect with them again.

Educators should come to conferences eager to learn about their evolving profession. It is not a stagnant profession. There are constant changes and developments that happen at a pace never before experienced in education. We need these conferences to offer a balance of pedagogy, methodology and tools for educators to learn, understand, develop, and evolve. We also need educators to connect in order to live the change and not just experience it at an annual conference. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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Have you ever been witness to a time capsule being opened?  If you are not familiar with such events it is very simple. People select items that represent their culture or personal lives, and place them in a container to be sealed up for a long period of time. After a few decades the container is opened up at some sort of ceremony and people look at what was the height of technology, and life, decades ago. I guess we older folks get to appreciate those types of events more than the younger people, because the items in the time capsule usually do not need to be explained to us, as they need to be to the younger generations. I guess the fascination with time capsules is dependent on the apparent and dramatic effect technology has had on the culture represented by the encapsulated items which were selected.

It is one thing to study and talk about how technology and learning has made great strides in the field of medicine, but it is another conversation entirely when one experiences finding blood-letting tools in a time capsule. It prompts a great conversation that is lost in a textbook version of such events. It usually elicits from the youth questions like “What the hell were they thinking?” Of course the field of Medicine has probably developed faster and in more directions than any other field. I used to do a presentation where I would show a slide of a 19th Century operating room, followed by a picture of an operating room of today. The contrast was inimitable. Since this was a presentation for educators I showed a picture of a 19th Century classroom, followed by a class of today. It was the laughter of the audience that was inimitable at that point. There was little change. The upsetting point here is that if I were to do that presentation again, it would probably still hold true for the slow change in too many American classrooms.

As I engaged some of my connected colleagues in Edchat last week, we were discussing how the education system pays lip service to asking for innovation in education and for teachers to be innovative, while at the same time putting in place policies and mandates to stifle any such notion a teacher might have.

I pointed out how we are supposed to be teaching our kids how to be effective, competitive, and educated in the world in which they will live, while using tools for communication, collaboration, and creation that will exist in their world.

One Connected colleague pointed out that there is one school, or it might even be considered an education franchise school, that prides itself in the fact that it teaches its students without the use of any technology whatsoever. I guess that school franchise really holds 19th and 20th century methodology in very high esteem. Many of us are products of that methodology, so I guess there is a comfort level for some. I do often wonder why an educator’s comfort level should supersede the real world needs of his or her students.

Looking to the past in education and creating my own mental time capsule, I remember when calculators were not allowed in schools. The slide rule was okay. I remember the blue spirits ditto machine with a hand crank. I remember real Blackboards. I remember fountain pens, the Osmiroid Pen in particular. I remember desks with inkwell holes in the upper right corner. Again I am an old guy and this was my past.

What would go into an education time capsule today? Maybe a “Cellphones Banned” sign. Possibly, Oregon Trail would go in. Certainly those four computers, covered with dust at the back of the room. Definitely we would include the overhead projector that is now 75 year-old technology. Maybe we should also consider putting “sit and get” methodology in the time capsule. Let’s include the idea of teaching in silos as a concept. What about adding the concept of desks in rows. Why not add the idea of a content expert at the front of the room filling the empty vessels of student minds? This might also be the right place for standardized tests. If we were to put all of these things into a capsule to be opened two decades from now, would we ever want to bring any of them back into the class? Maybe, Oregon Trail.

We need to reach out to those who are still teaching kids from the 20th Century perspective. We need them to commit to being learners again. Learning is ongoing and it must be a way of life for an educator. A relevant educator must continually learn to stay relevant. We can’t have time-capsule teaching in an ever-developing culture. At what point will we stop and look at what we are doing and say, “what the hell were we thinking”?

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This year ISTE put on what appeared to me to be the biggest education extravaganza to date. The number of participants was said to be somewhere between 20 and 22 thousand educators. I never verified that number but based on the food lines it seemed likely to be true.

Of course there was apparently a huge number of connected educators in attendance. I say apparently, because in reality I don’t believe it was so many. Many connected educators volunteer to do sessions. Many are also bloggers. A natural gathering place for them to gather, interact, and network is at the Bloggers Café, or the PLN Lounge. Twitter has added a whole new dimension to these education conferences where educators connected to other educators through various Social Media can meet up face to face. This enables real-time collaboration with people who have had a virtual relationship with each other for a while. Even if there were a thousand connected educators meeting at the Bloggers Café all at once (and there weren’t), It would seem to those gathered that the entire conference was connected. Of course this ignores the 21,000 other educators who were not connected.

I guess my take away for this is that being connected networks you with more people to have a good time with, as well as extend collaboration, but a majority of educators have yet to discover this. One would think that would be a lure for more educators to connect, but of course the only people who recognize these benefits are those who are connected. I imagine most of the people reading this blog are connected as well, so I am probably and again spinning my wheels on this subject.

I found this year’s conference to be a bit overwhelming. To me it seemed that many of the events and some sessions were trying very hard to create an atmosphere that was experienced with smaller numbers from previous conferences. That intimacy however, was lost with the numbers of participants this year. There were some invitation only sessions, as well as paid sessions with smaller numbers that I did find more enjoyable, but again, I attend many conferences and do not view them through the eyes of a new attendee. I might be too critical here.

I loved the fact that connected educators were actively backchanneling sessions and events. Tweets were flying over the Twitterstream as the #ISTE2014 hashtag trended on Twitter. Photos were much more prevalent in tweets than in past years, because that process has been simplified. That picture process has both good and bad aspects attached to it. It is great to see the session engagement. The pictures from some of the social gatherings however, may paint a slightly distorted view of conferencing by educators. It may give an impression that the social events outweighed the collaboration and interaction. The social events were fun, but it was as much a part of networking as any of the conference.

The vendor floor was beyond huge this year. It was quite the carnival atmosphere at times. If anyone would benefit from collaboration at these conferences it would be the vendors. There is a great deal of redundancy in education products. I wish more vendors would take a pass on the bells and whistles of their product and talk more about pedagogy and how their products fit in, as well as how they don’t. That requires an educator’s perspective, and not every product designer seeks that out. Those that do seek that perspective however seem to attract me more than the others.

One vendor had a closed booth with dollar bills being blown around inside. People lined up for a chance to step inside to beat the airflow for the dollars. The attraction was obviously the lure to get folks in, but who paid attention to the product? There were some products that I will address in a subsequent post, which I rarely do. These products were exceptional and should be recognized.

As ISTE came to a close this year, my reflection was that bigger is not always better. I was also mystified by the choices in keynotes. If one was to judge by the tweets about the keynotes, one was somewhat of a miss, one was on the mark, and one left many wondering why it was a keynote at all. I must admit that I did not view the keynotes in the lecture hall, but on screens in the gathering places in the conference. I enjoy the keynotes better when I can openly comment and yell at the screen if I have to. It would seem that I was not alone in these endeavors.

It should be noted that ISTE this year did have people’s Twitter handles on their name tags, an innovation. Of course mine was messed up, but who am I to complain? Now I wish they would take another suggestion and do an unconference, or Edcamp segment in the middle of the conference. This would allow educators to further explore those subjects that they learned about in earlier more conventional sessions. It would also break up the “sit and get” mentality of a conference. It would take as little as an hours worth of sessions.

For as much as we hear that we need and want innovation in education, I would expect to see it first in Education conferences. They are hyped to be conferences led by the innovators in education, but there is little that changes in conferences from year to year. We are still sitting through lectures and presentations with limited audience engagement. We are not yet directing our learning, but attending sessions devised and approved a year in advance. I realize that change is hard and takes time, but our society is demanding that we as educators do it more readily and now. We need to change in order stay relevant. How does an irrelevant education system prepare kids for their future?

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A few years back I spoke at a conference and experienced first hand what a backchannel was. Twitter is probably the best tool to do it. I did write a post on that experience back in November of 2009 and later reposted on my blog, Twitter’s Effect on Presentations and Presenters.

Backchanneling happens when someone on Twitter uses a hashtag to tweet out to followers what is happening at a conference, or more importantly, what is being said by a speaker at a conference session. THE BACKCHANNEL by Cliff Atkinson is a great book source for understanding the process.

ISTE 2014 will take place at the end of this week. The numbers of attendees will probably approach 20,000. Although that sounds like a huge number of people, it only represents a very tiny number of educators nationwide who get to attend such national education conferences. The attendance of connected educators however, has had a great effect on the transparency and sharing of these gigantic education events through social media, specifically, Twitter.

The Twitter Hashtag has played a huge role in sharing out the conference experience. Since most educators will not be attending the ISTE 2014 conference, many who are connected will rely on their connected colleagues, who will attend, to tweet out the happenings of the event. Those tweets will go from the broad events to individual sessions as well. Although ISTE 2014 is one of the most connected of education conferences, backchanneling is becoming evident at even the smaller local education gatherings. It is a key in sharing at local Edcamps

Conferences have taken notice of this new layer of experience and assign hashtags for the conference, as well as some specific sessions. Experienced connected educators in sessions will make up and share a hashtag on the spot at the beginning of the session. To broadly follow the ISTE conference this year, you need only to create a Twitter column on Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to follow the #ISTE2014 hashtag. There will be several thousand tweets coming out with that hashtag to keep you informed of: personal encounters, celebrity sightings, quotes, new ideas, new products, and even social events taking place. There will be pictures, videos, podcasts, diagrams and graphs. All will be tweeted out with the Hashtag #ISTE2014.

Probably the most sought-after tweets will be those coming directly from sessions. Thought leaders in education presenting their ideas and having people right in the room tweet out what is being said, as it is being said. This is sharing at its best. If the vast majority of educators cannot experience an education conference first hand this is not a bad second best.

As a community of connected educators we need to think of our Personal Learning Network members as connected colleagues. Those educators fortunate enough to have any experiences that cannot be afforded to all, and are willing to take the time to share, are truly collaborative colleagues. These hashtagged tweets have a range in the millions. That is a Public Relations Gold for any organization with a success.

Of course there is a downside. If something does not go well, that is tweeted out as well. It could also be a professional setback for an unprepared presenter. The Twitter Backchannel Buzz could affect the subsequent enthusiasm for any future conference by a particular group. It also underscores those conferences that are attended by the connected community of educators.

I have always believed that we as educators have a professional and moral obligation to share. In so doing, we can build a stronger and better profession of educators. If you have never done it, try following the backchannel for this year’s ISTE Conference by following the #ISTE2014 hashtag. If you attend the ISTE Conference, tweet out as much important stuff as you encounter using the #ISTE2014 hashtag. We can engage fellow educators in the conferences, which they have been blocked from because of location, money, or even an unawareness of what these conferences have to offer. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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About a year ago Adam Bellow and I were discussing the possibility and the benefits of doing an Edcamp at the site of the United States Department of Education. Adam had just met with some members of the Department and I was in touch with many of them from the connected educator month committee on which I was serving. Our thought was to have an Edcamp take place in the Department of Ed and have all of the policy makers attend sessions with real, in-the-classroom educators to see, and feel their concerns as educators in regard to what is important in the classroom. We were thinking in terms of #Edcampwhitehouse.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Edcamp model of professional development, a brief explanation may be in order. The Edcamp model is a grassroots movement for professional development. Educators assemble at a location with no set agenda for PD sessions. The day starts early with a provided breakfast while everyone collaborates. There is usually a large board with session times and room assignments for each session, but there are no session descriptions. That is what the breakfast collaboration is for. As educators’ discussions emerge and develop there are usually two types of participants, those who know about a subject, and those who want to know about a subject. Either type may put up that subject in a session slot. Both the experts and the novices then will have an opportunity to discuss the topic. Edcamps are more about discussion than presentations. The discussions involve classroom experiences both successful and unsuccessful. Each session provides a safe discussion for educators to explore their understanding of any education topic.

Both Adam and I thought that this is what the policy makers within the Department of Education need to hear. This is a great way to put educators into the national discussion of education, that so many educators feel has been hijacked by business people and politicians. So, with the help of some key members of the Department of Education, we got the go ahead. The DOE was willing to provide a space and coordination, but the bulk of the organization and planning were to be up to the educators to complete. To me, that meant The Edcamp Foundation under the leadership of Kristen Swanson. The Edcamp Foundation is a volunteer group that helps organize and support Edcamps around the world. This US DOE Edcamp was a perfect opportunity for their leadership. They took on the project without hesitation.

Since the space at the DOE would have a limited capacity, the attendees needed to be limited as a result. The invitations to all went out on social media to enlist interested educators to enter a lottery for the Edcamp attendance. There was a huge response considering it is on June 6, a weekday. The DOE is closed on weekends. Edcamps are usually a Saturday event. The lottery was held and invitations to attend went out. Many educators at their own expense will be making the pilgrimage.

The Edcamp will take place this Friday. I truly hope that the people or surroundings that educators will encounter at this event will not intimidate them in any way.

We are hopeful that most of the participants will be tweeting out their experience. This entire project came as a result of social media and connected educators. It will be that connectedness that gets the experience and feelings of the event participants out to all educators. I look forward to thousands of tweets and many blog posts coming from this event on Friday. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a statement with what educators do, and who educators are to possibly affect change. It is doubtful the President will show up, but at the very least Arne Duncan, The Secretary of Education, should have some level of engagement.

I often say: To better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators. Friday I will say to better affect change in education, we need first to better affect change in our policy makers.

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I recently put out a tweet that was meant to be provocative. I often do this to stir things up in order to benefit ye olde creative juices. I tweeted that I recently had a heart procedure done, (which I did) and I did not ask the doctor to use any 20th Century methods or technology to complete the task. I thought it might stir up a discussion of relevance in education as an offshoot of that tweet. That did not happen. Someone asked, based on that tweet, why I thought educators could not be good teachers if they were not connected. My intent was to point out relevance. The idea I attempted to convey was that any profession, especially medicine, can no longer employ technology and methodology of the 20th Century, since we are well over a decade into the 21st. It was the tweeter who attributed a value on a teacher who was not connected. It was the being connected part which that tweeter took as being relevant, but there is more to relevance than just being connected.

Relevance is something that is important to the matter at hand. Of course in education, the matter at hand changes with every topic in the curriculum. Since educators need to be masters of content in their subject area that covers a great deal of ground in which educators need to be relevant. To complicate the teaching profession even further, educators need to be masters of the methodology and pedagogy of education as well. Educators need to maintain relevance in both areas. An understanding of this begins to offer insight into how difficult the position of educator can be.

Education however is based on relationships. There are student/teacher relationships, and collegial relationships. All of these relationships take place in an environment of learning. The idea of what is relevant is not something determined by the teacher, but it should be weighed and judged by the student. It is the student who needs the learning that will be used in the space that the student will occupy moving forward. If the student finds the teacher’s ideas and information irrelevant, it won’t matter how relevant the teacher finds it, the student will move on to something he, or she determines is relevant, leaving the teacher behind.

Will an educator be able to determine when he or she has become irrelevant? Does everyone become irrelevant? How does one maintain relevance? Do educators have a moral obligation to point out a colleague’s irrelevance? Is relevance something that is measurable? Is it fair to include “relevance” comments in an observation? What about irrelevant administrators? Is irrelevance always a generational condition? These are all the questions that are flying through my head that I would love answers to.

Of course being a huge advocate for connectedness, I feel an obligation to point out that collaboration and collaborative learning go a long way in keeping people relevant. It is only part of the answer however. We need to keep an open mind, as well as a mindset to continue learning. There are many, many ideas of the past that are relevant today, but we need to be able to exhibit that in relevant ways to new learners in terms that they understand, because if they don’t understand it, or question its relevance, they will not accept it.

I think awareness is a key to staying relevant. One needs to be aware of changes that happen so quickly in our technology-driven culture. Having a willingness and courage to step away from the comfort of the status quo is essential. Developing an ability to listen more than lecture should be a goal. It will take willingness to be more of a learner than an expert. It will require a flexibility to examine, question and reflect on what we know in order to see how it may, or may not fit in with what we will need moving forward. These are all traits of life long learning. Educators talk about life long learning for their students all the time. It should be a goal for all learners. Educators sometimes forget that they are learners as well. To be better educators, we need first to be better learners.

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I recently read a number of mission statements from randomly selected schools to see if there was some sort of pattern in what schools view as their mission. One thing that many had in common was a distinction between the learners and the educators. I guess that is fitting in the sense of what each shareholder’s position is, but maybe we would be better served if we thought of ourselves as a community of learners one and all. At least in that perspective when a mission statement refers to helping all learners reaching their potential, we are including the faculty and administration in that goal. Yes, it is all about the kids, but will not a more learned faculty lead to a more learned student population?

Then I thought about IEP’s and how they might apply to educators as well. Most schools reserve the IEP, Individualized Education Program, for students with special needs, since they are also a requirement of the law. In my imaginings I wondered:Would we all not benefit by having some sort of IEP for every learner in the building? As long as we are dreaming here, maybe we could even give each learner a say in their learning to help develop an IEP. Initially it would take up some time to do, but once completed it could be easily updated each year. If it was considered a priority, the time would easily be allotted, just as weeks of test-prep time is alloted for standardized tests which are today’s priority. The IEP idea however might have a more lasting positive effect.

If we consider our educators (Teachers and Administrators) as learners as well as our students, then they would also need to have IEP’s. Maybe we could call their IEP an IGP, an Individual Growth Program? Of course this is a big “what if?”, but as long as we are here let’s look at IGP possibilities. Each educator could help devise an individual plan for growth. It would mean creating a starting point with skills and knowledge already acquired. We would need to consider how much personal time and how much school time could be utilized for each learner. We could spell out the responsibilities and provisions of the district, which will be balanced with the responsibilities and provisions of each educator/learner. We would also need to have a means to assess the growth progress. Certificates are measurements of seat time, so maybe proof of accomplishment from observations might be a better indicator. At least it gives recognition and credence that a brain in action is more important than an ass in a seated position.

Of course the IGP would need to be revisited and updated each year, but that could also be part of a year-end review. Maybe a day of developing, or updating IGP’s could replace the day usually dedicated to an inspirational speaker followed by almost meaningless “sit and get” workshop presentations that educator/learners sit through in so many schools across the country each and every year.

Imagine a school with IEP’s for every kid, and IGP’s for every educator making it a truly learning community. Of course the IEP’s for special needs students will continue to be highly regulated according to the laws, but IEP’s for the general population of students need not be as regulated. Of course the IGP’s will also be tailored to each educator/learner, so that any special needs for specific skills, or adjustments in attitude may be specifically addressed. This will require closer relationships, more collegial collaboration and a great deal of support from all stakeholders.

Of course this is my own mind fantasy and people will come up with hundreds of reasons not to do it. I could only offer one reason to do it. It is better than what we do now. Yet, for many, it will be a bridge too far. The status quo is easier and safer. It may be less effective, but people live with it without complaint. “No need to reinvent the wheel.” I wonder if that would hold true if the invention of the wheel was oval or square-shaped. That might require some reinvention.

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Educators like all learners have a preferred way of learning. Some think of it as different “styles of learning”, but even that theory of  “learning styles” has been questioned by some. In a profession, which resides in a world where content and information constantly change and evolve at a rapid rate of speed, educators need to maintain relevance in order to create an authentic and meaningful environment for their students to learn and create.

Educators have always needed to master the understanding of at least two fields of endeavor to be successful. First, they needed to master their content field. They are required to be experts of content. Second, they needed to master the field of education with a clear understanding of the latest and greatest methodology and pedagogy available. The 21st Century has now further complicated the teaching profession by requiring an additional third area of mastery, digital literacy. This is required to accomplish many of the necessary tasks in the space occupied by our nation in a computer-driven world. It is the mastery of this third element that educators struggle with today. It is this third element that also directly affecting the evolution of content and education.

The problems stemming from this are many. How do we stress the importance of digital literacy to a group of people, many of whom are digitally illiterate in the modern sense of the term? How do we get educators to remain relevant in their areas of expertise, if their access to content is limited to the methods and tools of the 20th Century? How do we get educators to participate in collaborative learning on a global basis, when they are comfortable with their day-to-day, face-to-face connections with only their building colleagues?

Being a “connected educator” requires collaborative learning as a key to expanding personal learning. It requires at the least, a basic understanding of digital literacy. It requires an understanding of the connected culture in order to reap the full benefits of collaboration. It requires an investment of time that will vary with each individual depending on their learning capacity. Being a Connected Educator is a mindset and not the result of a workshop or seminar for professional development. It is that leap of faith to adopt a mindset for connectedness that will prevent us from soon becoming a profession of connected educators. There will always be some that will keep their feet firmly planted in the 20th century, because, to their way of reasoning, it served them well then, so it should serve them well today.  The two biggest obstacles to change require leaving behind control and comfort zones. This is not easily done.

I don’t even know if the answer to the problem could be solved by top down, or bottom up solutions. It will be more reliant on the culture of each school. To change any system, we must first change the culture. We no longer have a choice about using technology in education, since the education system is part of a society that depends on technology to communicate, collaborate, communicate, and create. The children that educators are preparing for life in that society deserve to receive the most relevant education based on up-to-date information, using the latest methodology, pedagogy, and tools for learning that are available. Little from the 20th century will serve them as well, as that which is in their own century.

We need to help our colleagues be less intimidated by all that is new. We should not put unrealistic time limits on their progress. It is a mindset, and we each will arrive there at our own speed. We must however strive together to get there. Not to attempt to do so is being remiss in our responsibility or our solemn obligation to create in our students the ability to be life long learners through our words and our own actions as life long learners ourselves.

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I have been thinking lately about professional relationships and what role they play in how we learn as professionals, and as people. It would be difficult to learn much in total isolation. We are social beings, so exchanging ideas and opinions is a natural occurrence for us. I think we tend to seek out people with whom we can share things. We have personal relationships to share personal things, professional relationships to share professional things, and casual relationships to handle everything else. These relationships validate, negate, or modify our ideas. We learn from this.

Our culture’s support of these relationships may best be reflected in our support of the Restaurant and Bar industry. I guess these casual, and personal relationships are as much a part of that industry as food and booze. Places of business, and education are where professional relationships mostly reside.  Although many faculty have been known to gather on a Friday afternoon at a watering hole outside the school district limits.

Many of these relationships are very fluid depending on our need to share and learn specific things at various times of our lives. People come and go in our lives continuously. Many of us have people that we refer to as our mentors. A mentor, I believe, is a person who heavily influenced us at specific times in our careers by exchanging, supporting, questioning, and validating our ideas about our profession. All of this is based on trust, which can only be established within a relationship.

Professional relationships prior to the 21st Century were, with the exception of the occasional pen pal, a face-to-face endeavor. As educators, professional relationships were most often within the school building in which an educator worked. Depending on the size and quality of the faculty, as well as the school’s culture, this was a hit or miss proposition for professional learning. If an educator was limited in professional relationships within the work environment, he, or she could attend classes in local colleges seeking out professional relationships with other teachers attempting the same collegial connections. As the rates for taking courses, continued to rise, higher Ed became a very costly drain on a teacher’s salary. Local, statewide, or national education conferences also provided exposure to more professional relationships, but many teachers were not privy to attending these conferences on a regular basis.

I was recently made aware of the principle of 10,000 hours. That is the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to completely master a complex skill. If there ever was a list of complex skills, teaching would be at the top. To make it even more complex it is also a moving target. Teaching today is constantly changing and evolving. In order to stay relevant and up to date, today’s educators need to be in touch with those changes. They need to embrace, experiment, and improve, or reject new pedagogy and methodology in education. They need to absorb and understand new and developing content that pops up every day. Education is not a static profession.

Educators, more than ever, need to be able to take a new idea and “run it up the flagpole”. The responses to that idea however need to come from people who have a clue. The relationships that educators count on need to be with people who are relevant and open to new ideas. This type of educator may not be found in large numbers in all schools across our country. Relationships with people who are rooted in the past will be of little help in a world driven by technology and a need for evolving an education system to meet the needs of kids who will not be living in the 20th century.

If technology is seen as the problem in driving the culture too fast for education to adjust and keep up, it may also be seen as a solution to that very same problem. If relationships are the stuff of better learning, then let technology provide better ways to relate. It is technology that can expand an educator’s relationships beyond the limits of a school, or district, or state, or even a country. Relationships with other educators, without the expense of taking costly courses are made possible. Contacts can be made with leading thought leaders, authors, and renowned experts in the field of education. Webinars are rapidly replacing the lecture halls. Through technology face-to-Face interactions are now possible with multiple people in multiple locations. The potential for meaningful relationships through technology are endless.

All of this is taking place today with connected educators worldwide. It only takes about twenty minutes a day, at any time of day, to maintain. That 10,000 hour goal will be whittled away after a while, but it would go more quickly with more time spent in these relationships which are both uplifting and thought-provoking. Those factors encourage more engagement with each visit to the connected community. Learning becomes self-directed, authentic, and, dare I say, fun.

The big picture of this can be overwhelming to a novice. It is a mindset change that requires understanding the culture of connectedness before a real immersion can take place. Educators need a basic knowledge of digital literacy to get started. This will quickly, and very painlessly grow with continued connectedness. There are several connected communities to help educators get started. The Educator’s PLN is a start. www.edupln.com.

Twitter is probably the best way to experience the need and benefit to connectedness in developing both professional and personal relationships with other educators. Remember that in a group of like-minded people, as smart as any individual is, the group is always smarter. Of course, if you are reading this online, you are probably already connected and all of this makes sense, since you have already drunk the Kool-aid. Please print it out and share with an unconnected colleague. To better educate our kids we need to better educate their educators.

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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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