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To answer this question in the very month that the United States Department of Education has set aside to recognize as Connected Educator Month, we need to first examine what a connected educator is. We also need to understand to what it is that educators are connected.

The way information and content is housed and disseminated today has little resemblance to the housing and disseminating of a few short decades ago. Information then was stored in a manner that required some form of physical media. Text was stored in print on paper, and film. Movies were stored on both film, and videotape. Sound was stored on audiotape.  All of this media needed to be stored somewhere until someone needed access to learn from it, or to share it with others. Colleges, schools, and libraries served as hubs of information to give access to specific people for that purpose. That was the model for centuries. Access to information was limited to few, and that often came at a price. There has always been a cost for education and access to information.

The speed at which technology has changed this dynamic is mind-boggling. The conversion of all information and content spanning centuries of history in any form to a digital version took less than 50 years. Access to the Internet is now almost seamless using many different devices. Access is no longer limited to a select few, but rather it is available to anyone who is digitally literate.

Ubiquitous access is one reason why digital literacy is now going to be taught in American schools as we move forward. Students in our school system today will be given the keys to the information lock boxes of our society for their consumption. That addresses the needs of the digital savvy students, but what about the educators who came from another era? Believe it or not, some educators are still pondering whether or not technology tools for learning even belong in education.

There is a growing group of educators who are digitally literate. Some may be techies, but most are self-motivated life long learners. Using technology is less generational and more about learning. Social media and its acceptance in our culture has been a catalyst to connectedness. Social media applications like Twitter and Facebook offer an easy means to exchange Internet addresses of: Websites, Blogs, Videos, Podcasts, Books, Articles, Webinars, Panel Discussions, Skype Interviews, and Google Hangouts. More importantly, it connects teachers with the thought leaders of their profession. These are often practicing educators who have expertise in specific areas of education. Educators can now connect for a first hand account of how to affect changes in their practice in meaningful ways.

Who educators connect with is a very critical consideration. Acquiring numbers of educators who share concerns and interests is essential. Once an educator connects with other educators, they begin to collect them as sources in a Professional Learning Network of educators, a PLN. A connected educator may then access any or all of these sources for the purpose of communication, collaboration, or creation. This connectedness is not bound by bricks and mortar. It is not bound by city limits or state lines. It is not limited by countries borders. The only nagging inconvenience is dealing with time zones on a global level.

In a technology-driven society, things change at a faster rate than ever before in history. Educators who are connected use that technology to maintain relevance in the fast-paced, changing world of education. Being connected is not an add-on or a luxury for educators; it has become a necessity. We must have digitally literate educators, if we want digitally literate students. We need relevant educators in order to provide relevant teaching. We need connected educators, if we are to expect them to be life long learners and to model that for our children. Yes, we really need to have connected educators.

This is Connected Educator Month. There are many connected events taking place online during the entire month. We need to get the unconnected educators to become aware of the advantages and sources available through connectedness. Please share!

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There have been a great many comments and posts recently on both the successes and shortcomings of the BAMMY AWARDS. I was recognized at the ceremony as a Co-Founder of #Edchat and an innovator in education. There were some blatantly obvious mistakes made at that ceremony, but it should also be recognized that the entire event was set up to recognize and celebrate educators. I do not want to enter the fray on this, but I do need to take issue with one criticism that I have seen in a few posts that I think is off the mark.

If there is one subject I have consistently written about for years, it is the idea of what a modern connected educator is. If there is one thing we should strive for as connected educators, it is collaboration. It shares, questions, refines and improves ideas. Collectively, we are smarter than we are individually. Collaboration makes education more transparent. It enables educators to examine, and explore what is relevant in their profession. It highlights the best and exposes the worst in education. Connected educators are educators who engage in this collaboration with the tools of technology to efficiently maximize their collaboration in ways that were never before possible.

The Bammy Awards were set up to recognize and celebrate that very aspect of education, the successful collaboration of educators. Why then are educators criticizing the Bammys for recognizing connected educators?

Some blog posts were critical that this was a popularity contest with the most popular connected educators. If an educator is a successful collaborator in social media, he, or she will attract a following. That following however is based on the ideas that the educator shares, and not on who likes them personally. There are many educators who have social media accounts, but that does not make them connected educators. I have a list of over 200 superintendents on Twitter. Most have barely tweeted 100 times, and I suspect they were more for PR than for collaboration. They have followings as well, but that is not necessarily based on their collaboration and most are not substantial.

Many of the connected educators at the BAMMY AWARDS, which was probably less than 50 or 60, are educators who do more than just tweet for collaboration. Most of them Blog, some of them have written books, many have done webinars, speak at conferences, and conduct sessions at Edcamps. All of these actions are forms of collaboration, and the result will be a following of educators, who recognize and appreciate the value of each of the contributions of each of these individuals. These connected educators are going beyond what we have now come to expect from educators, doing exactly what we need them to do to improve our profession through collaboration. Why would anyone then question or criticize them for being too popular. Why would anyone want to discount the validation of these educators? The number of followers is the very measure that validates their efforts.

If we did not want educators to be recognized for their ideas and have people publicly stand behind them, we should not put any names on any work. If the rule is to be that we need to collaborate, but not be recognized for that collaboration, then we should all write and collaborate anonymously.  No names on books, posts, speeches or any work that is public collaboration.

Connected educators cannot control their “popularity”. This following or “Popularity” is a consequence of how their ideas are vetted and approved by other educators and in so doing, their names are recognized. This to me is a good thing. I can name the best people who can model what it is to be a connected educator based not just as my opinion, but one born out by other educators as well. It makes no sense to me to say that we need to recognize collaboration in education and then condemn connected educators for being successful for doing it. It is a fact in collaboration in social media that one measure of successful collaboration will be the “popularity”, or following of the collaborator.

We are each entitled to our own opinions on how we measure and value things. I am becoming more and more aware however, that the forms of measurement that we use for things may need to be adjusted, or even scraped, as we change the way we do things. I would offer that advice to both the organizers of the BAMMY AWARDS as well as their critics.

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From time to time I am asked to answer interview questions for some organization, or upcoming conference, so that the interview can be shared with other educators. Many educators are asked to provide these videos as a common practice. It is not as timely, or spontaneous as SKYPE or a Google Hangout, but it is portable and controllable, so that makes it preferable too many people. They can edit and tie it into others and then send it out to their audience, or present it in a gala presentation for all to see.

Unfortunately, not every video interview makes it to the final production for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes only a snippet of a larger version makes it into the final production. For those of us who figured out how to make a video, and took the time to do so, it is always a little disappointing not to make it in the final production. My best takeaway is that I figured out how to use iMovie on my own to put it all together. Of course I should point out that this is but another connected learning benefit.

The organizers of The BAMMY AWARDS recently asked me to do such an interview tape. It was to be a rough-cut video that they would edit to professional status. It would include a quick introduction of myself, followed by my answers to three questions.

1 How has being a Connected Educator helped you in dealing with all the demands of an educator today?

2 Can you give a specific example of how being a Connected Educator has changed your practice?

3 What would you say to a non-Connected Educator to convince him/her of the value in being connected?

I pondered the questions, considered the creativity, checked out the App, found a relaxed setting, gathered costumes, screwed up my courage, and took the plunge. After a few starts and stops, I began to get the hang of it, and I was off on yet another thing that I was doing for the first time as a result of connected learning, and the support and encouragement from my social media colleagues. I even opened a YouTube account to house my production upon its conclusion. My 6 minute and 13 second production was uploaded to a predetermined file-sharing app, so that it could be edited by the BAMMY Staff before the big event.

I attended the Washington D.C. event awaiting the unveiling of the Connected Educator Production before the hundreds of educators in the audience. After all it was a red carpet, black tie affair, so I began to feel as if it was my personal premiere. The video came up on the big screen with the images of education thought leaders giving their answers to the very same questions that I had deftly dealt with. Of course they had no costume changes. That a little something extra that would most likely assure me the creativity award, if anyone were to give one. About three-quarters through the production, I was still on the edge of my seat knowing my digitized face should pop up at any second with pearls of wisdom cascading from my lips to the throngs of applause from the gathered crowd of educators. Then it happened. I did appear on the big screen. My heart stopped for about 10 seconds. Not that my heart stopped working for 10 seconds, but that was how long my appearance was in that very professional, and very impressive production – 10 seconds. My creative informative sage wisdom of 6 minutes and 13 seconds was edited down to about 10 seconds. The worst of it was that no one even knew I had three costume changes.

Of course I asked what happened of the folks in charge, and they had reasonable explanations for the cuts that they made and the pieces that they included. I had no recourse, but to accept my fate and go unrecognized for my video creation. That is when I realized I am a Connected Educator. I do not need an organization, producer, or publisher to share my ideas, works and accomplishments with other educators. I can count on myself to do that. I could also get it to a much greater audience with the added power of my Personal Learning Network and Social Media.

Without further ado, I would like to share with you, the very rough-cut version of “My Connected Educator Interview”. Please feel free to pass it along to friends and colleagues connected, or not. Please take special care to note the costume changes.

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It is most commonly known that the two things we should not open a discussion on at a friendly dinner party would be religion, or politics. These two topics stir up passions in people that may take some over the bounds set by acceptable civility at such gatherings. I have found myself a victim of this social imperative on a number of occasions. That is the price to be paid for being opinionated, and passionate about things.

Among educators, I would suggest that we add Awards and Lists to Religion and Politics as subjects that strike chords in people who cause them to cross over to the wild side. Whenever annual award presentations appear on the calendar the pro and con discussions begin. The merits and flaws of such ceremonies are debated in blog posts and tweets ad nauseam. Lines are drawn placing people on respective sides of what, at the time, seems like a very important issue. Actually, in the scheme of things that are of real important, it is actually a non-issue.

Often, a well-meaning effort to recognize the accomplishments of the few who stand up and stand out, are criticized or maligned to the point where people are discouraged from even suggesting to do such events. The irony is that those same critics of awards may also loudly complain about the lack of recognition for educators in the national discussion of education. I believe that any positive recognition any educators get, for whatever their accomplishments are, helps all educators. We might consider how that rising tide raises ALL boats here.

No criteria can be fair and all-encompassing for every educator in every category for whatever awards that are to be presented. Some deserving people will always be left off the winners’ list, and maybe not even nominated for a myriad of reasons. It is wrong however, to dismiss those who are nominated just because someone else may have been overlooked. (Interject here, if you will, the baby and the bath water analogy)

Lists of any kind are also big targets for many critics. I really do not like making lists of any kind. Some of this might be a result of the voluminous lists handed to me by my favorite list maker, my wife. Nevertheless, lists of things and people are a fact of life on social media. No matter how inclusive one is about the gathering of the list, someone or something is always left off. That is usually the first thing that critics will point to. Often they will name the very person, or thing left off the list that you are already kicking yourself about for leaving off. (Oh the sting of it)

Since we know lists of “Favorites”, or Top Ten, or “The Best Of” will always be with us, let us try to be less critical of the choices. We need to keep in mind that each person draws from a different pool of sources. Any particular list represents the best selection from that author’s pool of sources. Of course we all have better sources, so our choices would be similar, but different, and, of course in our eyes, much better. Don’t knock someone else’s list; just put out to the public your own list. Other people will judge any list’s value based on their specific needs. I both love, and hate lists.

In full disclosure I should tell you that I, and the entire #Edchat team are being considered for a BAMMY AWARD to be presented in Washington D.C. this weekend. We are being recognized for the impact #Edchat has had as an innovative tool for connected educators. The entire Black Tie, Red Carpet event honoring many, many educators will be live streamed. This is the 2nd annual Award Presentation to recognize Educators on a National stage.

If you are unfamiliar with #Edchat it is a weekly discussion of education topics held on Twitter twice each Tuesday. The #edchat Team of educators who make that happen each week includes: Shelly Terrell Sanchez @ShellTerrell, Steven Anderson, @web20classroom, Kyle Pace, @kylepace, Nancy Blair, @Blairteach, Jerry Blumengarten, @cybraryman1, Jerry Swiatek, @jswiatek, Mary Beth Hertz, @MBTeach, and Berni Wall, @rliberni. I hope I did not leave anyone off the list.

Whether we agree with the choices for the BAMMY AWARDS or not, it is wonderfully refreshing to see educators being held up in high esteem and honored instead of being vilified and torn down as has been the trend of late.

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One of my reasons for becoming active on Social Media was to engage people of influence in the discussion of education. I soon found out that there were several circles of influence that were driving the discussion, but educators had very little influence in any of those circles and Social Media had even less influence on them. Business people, politicians, and people were driving the education discussion interested in entering the education industry for profit. Educators, whether by choice or circumstance, were not involved in the very reform discussions that were affecting their profession. Although educators are educated and experienced in the area of education, education expertise was claimed and permitted for the most part by those without either.

Many of these people used Social Media to put out a one-way information campaign to support their ideas of reform. It was not a discussion of ideas, but rather a statement of position. Teachers were praised as they were targeted. The public education system was condemned as a failure and alternatives were presented as a better, and cheaper. Standardized testing became a goal in education and an annual Billion-dollar industry in short order.

Educators were openly discussing ways to improve education and continue to do so on Social Media. Twitter is a mainstay for exchanging sources and discussing ideas of educators to improve and expand teaching and learning. Few of the non-educator reformers were actively engaged in these exchanges. The power of Social Media has yet to be discovered or used by many. Recognition of the fact that many education bloggers, authors, speakers, and thought leaders engage in thoughtful discussion and reflection on education in social media is just not a reality.

It was in the face of all of this that I happened upon The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan tweeting on Twitter the other day. I was familiar with his tweeting pattern, since I have been following him for quite a while. I also follow his assistants and PR people. He and his team would often tweet out positive tweets about his initiatives. It was rarely an exchange with educators, but usually a one-way conversation. I was also aware that his follow list included politicians, business people and organization leaders, many referring to themselves as education reformers. He followed few, if any connected educators, which was very ironic, since we are entering the Connected Educator Month in October for the second year in a row. Here is how the exchange went:

arneduncan's avatar

Arne Duncan @arneduncan

  1. As a nation we’re still spending $7-9B each year on textbooks that are obsolete the day we buy them. Why?

tomwhitby's avatar
Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

@arneduncan If you need a list of great connected Educators to follow on Twitter, let me know. I can make it happen. #Edchat #CEM

arneduncan's avatar
Arne Duncan @arneduncan

@tomwhitby absolutely.

@arneduncan GREAT! First follow me,then follow this Comprehensive list of the Most Connected Educators. bit.ly/W818Tt #Edchat #CEM

@tomwhitby Done. Thanks for the suggestion Tom.

tomwhitby's avatar
Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

@arneduncan You are very welcome. 15-20 minutes a day on Twitter will give you the pulse of the connected educator community. #Edchat #CEM

 

The list I provided was a list of about 100+ connected educators that I exchange information with most often from among the 2,500 educators that I follow. Of course I have left off some educators who belong on that list, but that is a problem inherent with any made-up list.

The Secretary did as I had asked; He followed every educator and me on that list. He more than doubled his Follow list on Twitter. Educators immediately responded on Twitter in astonishment that The U.S. Secretary of Education was following them on Twitter. They were wondering why they were selected. Obviously, they were not following me, as closely as I was following them.

It was at this point that I began to see a problem. People were openly questioning whether or not Secretary Duncan was really going to engage educators. They were openly asking what they could DM the Secretary to affect the education discussion. They had expectations of the Secretary that they would not have of anyone else after just entering the culture of connected educators. They were already expecting too much. There is no tweet or comment that could so profoundly affect the education discussion to turn it all around making everyone hug and dance in jubilation.

To make this even more interesting some of The Secretary’s team tweeted me hoping that he hadn’t made a mistake connecting to educators who had a potential of haranguing him. I only hoped that I was right. I would hope that people would give The Secretary time to acclimate to the culture. He has not engaged with connected educators to any great extent and now he is connected to over 100 of the most active and most passionate. It could be the best effort yet to engage connected educators in the national discussion of education reform, or a disastrous conflagration. I am hopeful that the patience of these educators will allow Secretary Duncan to observe, enter and participate in the connected culture with the same respect offered to any other member of that community.

The connected educator List.

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Social media has had an effect on almost every aspect of life in America. Like it or not, use it or not, agree with it or not, social media has changed the way we live our lives in America no matter what the generation is in which we reside. There are some aspects of our culture that are affected more. Certainly News, Entertainment, and Advertising are areas that all would agree have most dramatically been changed with the social media intrusion on our culture. The speed at which that change took place was accelerated by the quick adoption of strategies by those industries to harness the power of social media to advance their respective industries.

Now let us consider the education industry. There are still educators saying things like: We need to prepare our students for the 21st Century.” Students graduating for the last two years began their education IN THE 21ST CENTURY! The time for preparation has long past over a decade ago.

Social Media is a large part of the 21st Century, which is our present. Of course to understand and utilize social media to our advantage as educators, we need to call upon our knowledge of digital literacy. It is the very digital literacy that all educators will be held responsible to teach under the common core. Of course for educators to teach digital literacy and administrators to assess lessons on digital literacy, we must assume that our educators are digitally literate. The last thing we need to improve education would be illiterate educators.

What does it mean to be digitally literate? Trusting the ever-controversial Wikipedia, a product itself of social media, we have this: Digital literacy is the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. It requires one “to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms”.

Understanding the use of technology and teaching it is one thing, using it to advance educators and education is a step further. The idea of connecting educators digitally for the purpose of curating and sharing information, collaborating with other educators, creating lessons and methods for teaching and learning, discussing and exploring mandates and political edicts in a transparent way are all strategies that engage technology in a meaningful way for education. The technology has made what was never before possible, a commonplace occurrence among connected educators.

What is resulting from all of this seems to be different types of educators. Those who are digitally literate and using that literacy to learn and share with other educators. These are the connected educators. Relevance is a primary concern. They don’t want to read about change, they want to lead it, or at least be involved with it. They write blogs and Tweet rather than email. Those educators, who are somewhat digitally literate, but choose to be strictly consumers of information through technology are semi-connected educators. They want to be relevant, but are content with reading about what is relevant. They may use that information in face-to-face discussions. They read blogs and they email. The unconnected educator is more in line with the 20th century model of teacher. Access to the Internet is limited for whatever reason. Relevance in the 21st century is not a concern. Whatever they need to know, someone will tell them. If they email anyone, they will follow it up with a phone call to make sure it was received.

These are the results of the effects of technology on educators that I have observed.

These are just my musings that you may agree with, or dismiss at will. I do however travel in big education circles, and I do engage, and observe educators regularly about education as a profession and as a passion. I think many of my observations are more accurate than not.

October is going to be Connected Educator Month, #CEM. This initiative is so important that it is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of Education. I would urge all educators to take advantage of the sources, which will be provided to connect. Being a connected educator does not happen in a day. It is a mindset. It becomes a great part of who you are as an educator. It enables you to hone in on your needs as a learner. I could not recommend anything else more strongly. If there is one thing that could best advance educators and education, it is teachers and administrators becoming connected educators.

 

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Over the years, as I have discussed collaboration in education with thousands of educators, there is one sentiment, or opinion of collaboration that has popped up among some of these educators that I just don’t get. Many of these educators have expressed to me the opinion that collaborative teachers who share personal sources such as lesson plans, personal websites, or even blog posts are not humble enough. They feel as if sharing on the Internet is like bragging about being better than other educators. They consider it to be gloating. Publicizing personal achievements to appear superior to other educators. That whole mindset seems counter to the idea of collaboration. It actually seems counter to a philosophy of teaching and learning. Maybe that’s why I don’t get it, especially coming from educators.

The whole idea behind being a connected educator is for educators to share sources that will benefit learners. It would be very limiting if the only sources educators shared were those developed by others, but at least they would appear to be humble. Would people really consider educators to be more humble, if they didn’t mention their own accomplishments? I often wonder why teachers are supposed to be humble anyway. What makes being humble so virtuous? Could this be one reason for the reluctance on the part of so many educators to connect and collaborate?

Arrogant, privileged, brazen braggart that I am, I would like to share a part of my accomplishments that I am quite proud of and that could benefit educators who take advantage of my sharing. The #Edchat Radio Show produced by the BAM Radio Network is a weekly show for educators. It is produced in the form of 10 to 12 minute podcasts, so that educators can play it on any device in a form and length that enables educators to take full advantage of time and place.

On a recent family road trip to college my daughter asked me to play an episode of the #Edchat Radio show so she could better understand what it is that I do these days. It was any easy request to fill. I had all of the shows on a podcast app on my phone. I connected the phone to the car radio and I became the voice on the radio for the road trip.

The purpose of the show is to share with the audience what transpired in that week’s #Edchat. The 7 PM chat is the one most often covered on the show, since it is the most popular and more heavily attended. However, when the noon chat produces an interesting and lively topic that is covered as well. Each show contains a guest. Sometimes the guest is just a chatter involved in that specific chat, or an author, or an education thought leader. The #Edchat moderator team guests as well: Steve Anderson, Shelly Terrell, Jerry Blumengarten, Kyle Pace, Jerry Swiatek, and Mary Beth Hertz. The constants on each show would be the hosts, myself, and Nancy Blair.

I love working with Nancy. She is an experienced educator, and now an education consultant with expertise in Professional Development. She is the detail person that I am not. She keeps us focused and on target. Nancy tends to smooth out my rough edges with a great depth of knowledge on any given topic.

I should make it clear that this entire project does not benefit us in any way other than a satisfaction that we are sharing the community’s ideas from each chat. There is no money to be had here. The idea has always been to share the #Edchat collaboration in as many ways as possible. We had the #Edchat live, and the #Edchat Archives, the #Edchat Facebook Page, and now we have the #Edchat Radio Show. The complete list of #Edchat Radio Show podcasts is available on iTunes. They are free and yours for the download.

As we drove the highways headed for college, I was listening to the shows with a fresh ear. It had been months since I listened to many of them and I was now listening as a consumer and not a producer. Each show was lively and very informative. What interested me most was how much each of the guests contributed. We had and hopefully will continue to have some of the most informed and collaborative educators who continually contribute the best portions of each of the radio show podcasts.

Of course the best outcome from this family adventure was that my daughter could understand what it is that I do in the world of connected educators. A vast majority of teachers that I taught with for years have no clue what that is. We need to share more of what we as educators do in any form that reaches an audience. If we need to do it humbly, that’s okay. If we can do it with confidence and pride, I think that may be better. I am proud of what I do and I love sharing it. But then again I am an arrogant, privileged, brazen braggart and proud of it.

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I think everyone has certain phrases, or catchwords that tend to set them off. Some of us, of the more passionate persuasion, have phrases that send us over the edge. I am not talking about the conference clichés like “that’s where the tire meets the road” or “Let’s not kick that can down the road” and the ever-popular “I wouldn’t give your troubles to a monkey on a rock’. I am talking about phrases that are couched in the comfort of country-speak to conceal the true intentions of what the phrase represents. I attended a wonderful Edcamp this week where I shared and learned a great deal, but I encountered the frequent use of two such expressions in more than a couple of sessions.

If you need an explanation of what an Edcamp is, I will make an assumption that you are not yet connected, or at best a newly connected educator. Edcamps started a few years back and have become a growing movement for educators to personalize their learning of their much-needed professional development. The existing models of PD provided by the education system over the last few centuries don’t seem to be providing the necessary elements for success for educators. A growing number of educators have designed a new form of PD called Edcamps. Edcamp sessions are discussions of what the participants find relevant. There is no pre-set schedule of approved sessions. People volunteer to lead discussions on topics chosen by the attendees. There are no vendor sessions. There are only educators. If a session is not meeting an attendees needs they are free to move on to another session.

These Edcamps are a direct result of connected educators efforts. They are organized, advertised, criticized and evangelized all through the means provided by social media as it is used and refined by educators to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create within their own profession. It enables individuals to adjust and refine their learning to meet their specific needs. Connections made at the Edcamps provide ongoing support and a perpetual flow of sources to arm educators with the means necessary for their own learning and that of their students.

Ironically, when this concept was presented to a group of administrators at an ISTE Conference a few years back, it was not warmly received as acceptable alternative to the existing outdated models. The seemingly preponderance of concern was the lack of CONTROL. Administrators had no control, over the learning either as a group or for individuals who have the ability to personalize their learning. It baffles me how we individualize our students’ learning with IEP’s, differentiation, and accommodations, but when it comes to educating educators we strive to control the learning, so the group gets its proper dose. It doesn’t matter that educators learn; it only matters that it can be demonstrated that it was taught and everyone was exposed to that teaching. It is but a check on an administrator’s list. How often do we talk about assessing PD? How often do we study the effect of educator learning on student learning in specific schools?  What support do schools supply to educators to share and collaborate what they do learn in the form of PD?

An amazingly large number of educators fully see the urgent need and agree that we need to drastically change the system. Get ready for me to go over the cliff at this point. Many say however “WE NEED TO TAKE BABY STEPS”. Why??? We are not babies. We are among the most educated group of people this country has to offer. We hold advanced degrees. We are proven thinkers and learners. Taking baby steps implies a lack of consideration, a lack of understanding, lack willingness, a lack of confidence, a lack of urgency, and most obvious to me is a lack in taking full responsibility for change. Taking baby steps to me means moving slowly enough to gauge the reactions of others. It goes to that “Teacher mentality” of “educators make no mistakes in public”. The fear of failure is often the thing that produces failure. It is a combination of all of this that has allowed the national discussion on education to be taken over by non-educators. The very baby steps educators are taking to move from a 19th century model of education to a model for educating kids for their future has made educators targets and not innovators. Educators are being held accountable only for the shortcomings and none of the successes. If our baby steps take us 100 years to move into the 21st century, we will need to start all over again in the 22nd.

“Comfort Level” is another over-the-edge term for me. It is the one phrase I find to be the biggest obstacle to reform. Learning is not always easy. It can be fun, and engaging, but for many it can be hard. Something that is hard to do is rarely comfortable. When I hear an educator say that there is something that is not in their comfort level, I think that they are saying “that is more than I am willing to learn because it’s hard for me”. That is not a comfort thing; that is a learning thing. We can’t have educators, the very people we need to learn and maintain relevance, not be willing to learn because they find it hard, and not comfortable.

Connected educators and Edcamps are bold steps, not baby steps. Being a connected educator is not always comfortable, because sometimes it’s hard. We need more bold steps to take us forward as uncomfortable as that may be. We need bold leaders to take us forward. We have no time for baby steps because we are not babies. We are thinking, learning, educated educators and sometimes that’s hard and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable however, should never be a roadblock. We need to take strides with confidence not baby steps.

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I am planning on attending an Edcamp for leadership next week, which has caused me to reflect upon my administrator/teacher experiences of the past. There was once a time in education, not too long ago, that all discussions about education were led and controlled by those who led and controlled the very schools in which education took place. Building, or district administrators could pretty much control the flow of education information based on their personal education philosophies, as well as their exposure to the latest education ideas and methodology available to them. What was relevant and what was status quo? What was progressive education philosophy, and what was fad or trend? We counted on administrators to lead the way in informing us. That was in fact part of why they were hired and held their positions, to direct the educators below them. That was all part of the system.

This would work very well, as long as the administrator stayed informed, relevant, and was opened to sharing with a faculty open to that direction. This of course was the shiny side of the coin. The other side offered an irrelevant administrator steeped in the past centuries of education and leading the faculty to make no waves in an atmosphere of status quo.

In my career I served under both types of administrators. I thrived under the relevant and struggled with the supporters of status quo. One constant in education however, is that the career lifespan of most administrators is usually short. They move on in order to move up, so waiting them out became the desired answer for the bad, and the dreaded end for the good.

The problem for educators was in not knowing what was good and what was bad. Getting to the outside world of education conferences and collaboration did not come easily to teachers. It was expensive and periodic. Teachers were needed in the classroom, which limited their conference availability. This strengthened the teacher reliance on administrator leadership. There was very little transparency as we have come to know and appreciate it today.

Social Media today has changed this dynamic. An idea in education may come from any educator, regardless of title. Ideas are considered on their own merit and not just by who put the idea forward. Of course it does help if thought leaders support an idea. The point is that the thought leaders are teachers as well as administrators, and authors. It is the open collaboration, and transparency of ideas that test their viability. Teachers and administrators can openly question and discuss things on a scale never before afforded to us. We are not limited to the successes and failures of our own buildings, but we can sample responses and results on a national or even global scale.

This places greater pressure on the leadership in education to maintain relevance if they are to lead educators who now have the ability at anytime to call on experts and question authority. Administrators need to better reflect on ideas and involve a more informed faculty in decision-making. They should also keep in mind that the same collaboration of education ideas works equally well in publicly sharing accomplishments and failures. We all need to strive to be better in order to create and maintain positive digital personas based on our accomplishments and positive interactions with other educators. Our world has become much more transparent and in many ways much more democratic. We need more educators exercising their participation in this process.

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The latest big thing in education is getting educators connected. The Department of Education is even declaring the month of October as Connected Educators’ Month to place an emphasis on and using, information, sources, and recruitment as key components in supporting a goal of connecting educators.

What is a connected educator? As a generalization, defining anything for educators is always a task, since educators try to make all definitions as inclusive and complete as possible to account for any contingency. It is as if someone can point out an exception to the rule, the definition must be flawed. As a result some bloggers try to qualify definitions in order to accommodate skeptical, or questioning educators. With that in mind, this is my definition of a connected educator. If it does not suit you make up your own. For me a connected educator is one who uses technology and social media to personalize learning for both personal and professional growth.

Of course someone will step up and say that we can do that face-to-face so we don’t need technology. Of course that is true, and that is the way that it was for many thousands of years, but we are no longer living with the limitations of past centuries. With the advent of the printing press, the radio, the telephone, the television, the calculator, the computer, and now the Internet, we have tools to get beyond face-to-face limitations. We can connect globally or locally without concerns for time or space. We live in an anytime, anywhere communication culture. Why would any educator dealing with thinking and learning not use that to his or her advantage, or the advantage of his or her students?

The big picture in being a connected educator is the idea that you as the educator are first connected to the general flow of information, and then secondly, focused on specific connections to drill down to the detailed needs specific to you, or your students’ needs. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are all applications that may be used to connect educators. Like it or not however, Twitter is the backbone of a majority of Personal/Professional Learning Networks for educators. Educators have taken Twitter beyond its intended use, making it a professional tool for collaboration. Approving or disapproving of the application is like approving or disapproving of a hammer or screwdriver. You can hate them all you want, but try building a house without them. Being on Twitter and following 200 sharing educators is a general connection that will meet general needs, and promote great reflection on education. Your Twitter timeline will flow with education sources and information 24/7. Information and sources are simply there for the taking. Using that timeline to focus on educators in your area of expertise will render ideas and lessons beyond general education philosophy to meet specifics in your area of study. If you teach English focus on English teachers. If you teach second grade focus on second grade teachers. There are thousands of connected educators in your specific area of expertise willing to share with you. Your task is to find them and connect.

I referred to Twitter as the backbone of a PLN because it is a constant flow of education sources and connections. You can literally post a question on Twitter and get answers back in seconds, if properly executed to a developed network of educators. To get beyond Twitter educators need to locate and follow Blogs that are in line with their needs. More and more bloggers are becoming our educational thought leaders. The benefit of blogs is that you may interact with the blogger, as well as the ideas in any post. Educators may question, test, and reflect on any ideas put forth in a post.

Ning sites are communities of educators with like interests. Joining any of these communities gives access to Blogs, discussions, videos, and groups specific to the needs of that community of educators. Ning sites are a great source for expanding connections

Skype and Google hangouts allow educators to select individuals for specific face-to-face interactions. Educators may connect with authors, experts, speakers, or other educators for personal, or classroom interactions. These interactions may also be recorded in order to be shared later. Making these connections lasting connections should be your goal.

There are several hundred education Chats taking place on Twitter each and every day. Participation in these chats enables educators the ability to exchange, consider, reflect, modify and adopt ideas from educators around the world. These chats are a great place to find, and connect with other educators based on the acceptance of their ideas as opposed to their title. Follow the chat hashtags.

Of course the irony of this post is that if you are reading it, you are more than likely a connected educator. You are also more than likely already familiar with all that I have said. There is however a purpose in sharing these ideas with you. We need to take these ideas to share with your non-connected colleagues. As we increase the number of connected educators in our connected community, we are increasing our knowledge pool. In doing so, we are getting more educators focusing on their needs in education. An idea not shared is just a passing thought. As individual thinkers we may be good, but collectively we are better. Convince a colleague to connect and we all benefit.

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