This is the original post that I submitted to Edcsurge. Under the expert editorship of Christina Quattrocchi it appeared under this title Board The Bullet Train: The Culture of Connection
I have been a connected educator throughout most of my 40-year career. My professional life has always been built around personal learning and collaboration. The difference between the 70’s and now is the ability to use far better tools to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create. The willingness to learn and use these modern tools designed for connectedness is a major factor in creating a gap between the connected and the unconnected educator. Reducing that gap should be a goal of every educator.
The value of connectedness, to a professional educator who actively practices it, is quickly understood as it is used. Too often connected educators are the worst advocates of connectedness because of their enthusiasm for what, and how they are learning. They tend to overwhelm the less informed with too much information that would scare off anyone who already views technology as an obstacle to overcome, as opposed to a tool to be learned and used effectively.
A connected 21st Century educator is an educator who is digitally literate, or at least open to learning the technology needed to basically connect and collaborate with others. It requires at the very least the same openness to learning as we ask of our students. It is a life long learning mindset. Connected educators find a value in, or even a moral imperative to share ideas and sources with others. They also trust enough to openly ask for help of other connected educators.
The dynamic of teaching is changing from a content expert disseminating information to students, to that of a learning expert of sorts, acting as a source in guiding students to learn. In this role the teacher often becomes a learner to be a better educator. Connected educators are constantly shifting between the role of learner and teacher. It is part of the mindset of a life long learner.
Connected educators are continually searching out other educators who can help in their goal of professional and personal learning. They seek out and collect and organize these educators as sources for information through social media. Social media being what it is, social, real relationships often result. This is never more evident than at education conferences. Connected educators meet face to face for the first time, and it is as if they were childhood friends. Virtual connections are deepened with face-to-face encounters. Faces and names are connected and acquaintances become friends.
The collection of educators becomes what is referred to as a Professional Learning Network; PLN. Access to one’s PLN is done through social media apps like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Each of these Apps has unique bells and whistles, but they are all designed to connect, exchange information and sources in the way of links to that information on the Internet. This would include: discussions, blog posts, webinars, videos, podcasts, websites, charts, diagrams, panel discussions, and virtual tours. Face to face collaboration can happen anytime with Skype, Google Hangouts, or Tango.
Connected educators find blog posts a mainstay for their relevance in the profession of education. These posts are not just read, but interacted with. Comments on posts question, praise, elaborate, clarify, and refer readers to additional, similar posts. Connectedness takes the educator beyond just the consumption of information to interacting with it. Many interact to a point where they develop their own Blogs.
The amount of education authors, bloggers and speakers enable any connected educator access not only to the ideas of these thought leaders, but also to the thought leaders themselves. It is not uncommon for a connected educator to start out micro-blogging on Twitter, move to posting on their own blog, and then authoring a full-length book.
Connected educators are interacting with the thought leaders who are coming up with the ideas, as well as the first educators who are using these same ideas. These are practicing educators who take the ideas and theories into the classroom. They share the experience first hand with other connected educators with all the successes and shortcomings. The Flipped Class, Bring Your Own Device, Problem/Project Based Learning, Professional Learning Network, 1:1 Laptops were all topics discussed online with connected educators months or even a year before they hit the halls, faculty rooms and meetings of most schools. Some unconnected educators are not yet talking in-depth about some of these innovative education topics.
Relevance is the key to connected educators. It is not that connected educators are better than unconnected educators. However, we as educators find ourselves in a transition period in Education in regard to how educators maintain their relevance. The technology of the 21st Century has enabled educators to capitalize on collaboration and simplify creation. The 20th Century model of how educators stayed relevant continues to be less effective each day. We are in a technology-driven society that is driving things faster and further than ever before capable, and the technology itself continues to advance. Connecting is like stepping on the bullet train, while not connecting is like sitting at the train station awaiting a more comfortable train to ride.
One does not need to be connected to be a good educator, but if one is a good educator, being connected can make him, or her a better, and a more relevant educator. This is not a course that is taken, but rather a mindset. It requires a love of learning, and a trust in other educators to be sharing, caring, and transparent. It is not Utopia; it is the culture of connected educators. It requires participation. Fifteen to twenty minutes a day to start out would work fine. The easiest way to start is with a Twitter account. Twitter will become the backbone of the Personal Learning Network directing you to many other sources. Starting is the key. Once an educator buys in, and starts, the connectedness will soon take over.
The culture of connected educators was not designed. It developed and evolved with the advance of technology, and the evolution of social media. Digital literacy has been a requirement of the connected culture, but digital literacy has now also become a requirement for all educators. “Resistance is futile” is the phrase that comes to mind in this connected revolution.
Irrelevant educators may provide irrelevant education. To better educate our kids we need to better educate our educators. It is through connectedness that we can accomplish this most efficiently.
What does it take to be a Connected Educator?
Willingness to be digitally literate
Willingness to seek out and connect with other educators.
Willingness to explore and share ideas with other educators
Willingness to develop and maintain a Professional Learning Network of sources
Willingness to peruse, engage, and share pertinent Education Blogs
Willingness to be a lifelong learner in pursuit of relevance