The personal learning network for educators
The idea of being connected in the Twentieth Century had a very different meaning than it does today. Back then being connected conjured up visions of pinstriped suits and shoulder holsters. Today, being connected brings up visions of computers, Smartphones, and tablets. A general misconception is that to be a connected educator, one needs to be a computer geek, with a vast knowledge of all things having to do with social media. Of course this is a vision that could be overwhelming to anyone who is only familiar with email, word processing and the ability to put a PowerPoint presentation together. Of course educators many have ventured onto FaceBook to connect with relatives and old high school friends, so the connected thing is not a totally foreign concept. Connecting is a process that we take one step at a time. The key however is to continue to take those steps to build and improve a connected network.
Back in the day, for teachers to keep up with what was going on in education, they needed to read journals, attend conferences, and hope that their principal would pass along information to the staff. Often times the latest topics in education were brought to the faculty by way of a keynote speaker on a conference day. Administrators looked to bring experts in for these days of professional development. Principals found speakers through conferences that they attended, as well as recommendations from other administrators. The best informed principals often had the best informed staffs.
The internet and the advancement of social media have changed the way things are done in general. Those changes are not limited to education. As educators we are no longer limited to information provided by principals and journals. We can reach out and connect with our own sources that we develop on our own. As educators we are no longer forced to limit our students to what they can learn from textbooks. We can guide them beyond what those books are limited to through connections.
When I first started incorporating internet sources in my teaching there was resistance from my colleagues. They were satisfied with the text that we were using for our methods classes for teaching English. I began to bring in other sources from websites and blogs. My colleagues asked why I needed to do that. They felt that they had a great textbook that was written by a great author for English Methods class, James Burke and that was enough. I agreed with them in that Jim Burke wrote a great Text for English Methods for teachers, but I did not think it was enough. What I had, that my colleagues did not have, was Jim Burke himself. That is what I provided to my students. Jim has an outstanding Ning site for English teachers, The English Companion. I connected my students to the site of 25,000 collaborative educators and some with Jim Burke himself. This connection brought my students beyond the limitations of the text and their teacher.
The very concept of connecting with others in order to takes one’s self further, is the driving force of connectedness. For us to be involved in the discussion of our profession, we need to be up to date on what topics are driving the discussion. Educators can wait for someone to pass along information to be presented as a workshop topic, or they can be involved with topic as it develops. Connections can be made with the very people who are driving the bus for change. Free discussions, panels, and webinars are offered every day for connected educators to participate in.
Too many educators are overwhelmed by the process. To some, there seems to be too much to learn. To some, there seems to be too much to know about who to connect with and how to do it. To some, there seems to be a negative effect from the bad public perception of Social Media and educators specifically. To others, connections have become an essential part of their profession. To others, spending time connecting with educators and educational sources are changing the way they teach. To others, connectedness has had a profound effect on their profession.
I am a connected educator. It has had a profound effect on what I do, and how I do it. It has taken me to places that I could not get to without being connected. It has taken me to discussions with the leading authors and educators of today. My connectedness has made me a better educator. I am also not the best ambassador for connectedness for educators. I am much too passionate about it. I tend to blurt out all of the great things about it and that in itself intimidates people. When I see the great value in something I become a passionate advocate and that also causes skepticism in some people.
Being connected as an educator is becoming part of the profession of education. Connectedness leads to communication, collaboration, and creation. All of this enables, if not enhances, learning. Learning is what our profession is about. Educators must get over all of the obstacles they are putting up about connectedness. It can be done slowly, one step at a time, but it must be done. We need educators to be connected. I was always intrigued with the other “connected” with the pinstriped suits with bulges under the arms.