It's also ironic in that just about anyone reading this post probably already has grasped its basic message. Perhaps those folks can pass it on, use it to support the cause, maybe even convert someone.
Because I've been so busy, I can't say that I've really missed my usual on-line activity. That would imply an awareness that didn't exist. But now that the fog is clearing, I've begun reflecting on the notion of being a connected educator. That leads me to one direct question:
Why wouldn't you be a connected educator?
I remember my early days as a teacher during the mid-1980s. I was in Lafayette, Louisiana, and I had little contact with other independent school people. Budget and location limited professional development opportunities. Yet I was an inexperienced, hungry teacher craving a steady diet of implementable guidance beyond the general mentoring I received. My primary source of inspiration became The National Council of Teachers of English. I would devour the issues of English Journal. More than that, I looked forward to the quarterly arrival of Ideas Plus, in which teachers from all over shared ideas for lessons. I would study it carefully, making tons of notes and then writing reflective pieces. All the information would then go into my lesson plan book, which was not your typical daily planner. Instead, I had it organized by category and theme (color-coded even, with shapes and numbers that allowed for cross referencing). It helped me grow tremendously as an educator. For years that served as my pedagogical bible.
Now we have such resources available at all times, in all different formats, accessible in multiple ways. It's really quite remarkable how this has blossomed since I began teaching thirty years ago. Sometimes we seem to take for granted the amazing nature of being so connected and the ways in which we have benefited. For instance, even though I haven't felt as connected the past several weeks, online experiences have been helping in my work, whether by referencing ideas picked up in chats or using images someone Tweeted out to make a point in a presentation. So the surface may seem different, but the connections have become deeply rooted. That's true even with people I've never met in person. Recently another head and I exchanged some great thoughts about failure, and I bantered with a dean from MA about his love for Oreos.
So I have to ask again: Why wouldn't you be a connected educator? Well, I suspect my first paragraph is one reason. Life can become crazy busy in unexpected ways. Teaching is intensely demanding work, and there is life outside of school. Plus the first sentence of the previous paragraph is another reason I've heard people express. There's so much that it can become overwhelming.
I accept both of those points as realities, but I do not see them as legitimate excuses. I always have believed that a committed educator's default mode should be one of constant improvement. The work is so important that we must keep learning how to do it better. Plus it's simply good role modelling to be the lead learner. This truism seems especially apt now, when constant flux has become the norm and the ability to learn in new ways is at a premium. To be perfectly direct, I see this as a basic requirement. I ask during interviews how a candidate does this. I'm not interested in hiring anyone who doesn't take advantage of opportunities to grow. That necessitates being connected in some fashion.
Because I believe this, I also feel a responsibility to offer some advice to those who find it too difficult and/or don't know where to start. It's probably old to many folks, but could help those afraid to dive in.
- First, don't think of it as overwhelming. Think of the options as being like a teacher who is incredible at differentiating instruction. You don't have to tap into all the resources. I blog and love Twitter; but I've never used a Google hangout, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Try different things until you find what works for you.
- I'm certain in your school there are people savvy at being a connected educator. Connect with them first. No doubt they want to help. Knowing you, they can help you figure out where to start, help you navigate a path, and provide concrete tips.
- Even though many of us like to use Seth Godin's metaphor about there not being a map, I recommend you develop a plan focused on a few key objectives related to how you want to grow. That can help to determine the best path to follow.
- Similarly, be judicious in selecting those paths. For example, when I show people how to use Twitter effectively, I talk about selective following. Before you follow someone, look at the quality and frequency of their Tweeting to help you decide on its value to you. Plus you have to decide just how many people you can follow.
- You also can let the tool help you. In another Twitter example, I encourage the use of columns set to search for certain hashtags. That highlights information related to what you want to learn. Another Twitter trick is, because chats can be overwhelming, to read just the archive. If you like blogs, use an aggregator such as Feedly to help you follow quality bloggers. That way you don't have to keep looking for new posts.
- Don't try to keep up with it all. Don't read deeply all the time. Skim along the surface and then decide when to dive.
I'm not bulleting my final point because it's not really just friendly advice. If you're not a connected educator, consider it more of an admonition. Why aren't you a connected educator? Could the real reason be discomfort? Fear? Fixed mindset? Whatever the reason, would you accept it from one of your students?