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Ten Tips for Becoming a Connected Educator

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We all know that education budgets are getting cut more and more, and that meaningful professional-development opportunities have unfortunately become a bit of an oxymoron in education. Not only can being a "connected educator" help change that, but it can also provide you with ongoing inspiration and support. I'd even go as far to argue that being connected will be the most impactful thing you can do in your career.

So with all of that said, I'd like to provide you with these ten tips on how you can get connected -- starting tomorrow.

1. Embrace Making Mistakes

I've been in so many meetings with educators who talk about the power of making mistakes. We all nod our head in agreement and say that not only is this important for us to teach, but we also need to walk the walk. But when it really comes to us, we hesitate. Why? Because we're afraid. Just with learning anything new, mistakes will be made. It's how you learn from them that matters. Still need convincing? Here are Seven Wonderful Ted Talks on Learning from Failure.

2. There's No Right Way -- There's Only Your Way

When I teach others how to get started using social media for professional development, many request a manual of some sort -- a detailed step-by-step account that tells you exactly what you need to do. There are some guides out there that can help (here's a collection of resources on Twitter I like), but you can't learn how to connect to other educators from a manual. I'd recommend surveying your social landscape and deciding on one social space you'd like to try first. The most important thing to keep in mind is that just because someone is using this social network a certain way, that doesn't mean it's the right way for you. Think of some goals that you'd like to achieve and start from there. Once you get more familiar with the platform, you'll be able to refine your goals.

3. Just Jump In!

I recently heard this playful metaphor of a puppy getting loose for the first time to describe how people should use social media. When loose, the puppy jumps a fence and doesn't look back. No hesitation -- it's running full speed to explore -- and most likely get into trouble. That type of excitement and non-hesitation is needed (minus the trouble) if you're going to dive into social media and really experience it. Make those mistakes, listen, and reflect on how you can use all this to help you.

4. Be Open to Learning Unexpected Things

One of the things I love about being connected is that I'm constantly learning important things that weren't originally on the top of my list to learn. It's kind of like that old saying, "You don't know what you don't know." By being connected, you can be directly connected to some of the greatest and most inspiring minds in education (check out the next tip on how to do this). Just make sure that you're in a mental space to learn things that may not currently be top-of-mind for you.

5. Follow Like-Minded (and Not So Like-Minded) People in Education

If you're in an online community, look at discussions that you've learned from -- who's commenting? Make sure to friend or follow them. If you're on Twitter, you can start by following these lists of inspiring people in Education: Edutopia bloggers, Edcamp Organizers and Great Educational Organizations. On Twitter, you can also search for specific topics; here’s a list of education-related hashtags and education chats. Within your searches, feel free to follow people that you're interested in hearing more from. And if you're on Google+, you can peruse the many education-oriented communities to get your network started.

6. Join the Edcamp Movement

Edcampers are some of the most inspiring and action-oriented people in education. I feel smart (and sometimes incredibly lazy) just being around them. Edcamps are educator-led unconferences -- conferences that have no set agenda. Make sure to follow the organizers on Twitter using the above Twitter list. You can also check out this wiki for a list of upcoming events. Not convinced that this is worth your time? Check out this video:



7. Join a Live Virtual Event

There are so many free online events out there to take advantage of. Whether it be a live Twitter chat (here's a list of them all), a Google Hangout On Air or a virtual conference, they are all great on-demand ways to learn. Side note: Every week, Edutopia highlights upcoming edcamps, webinars, and virtual conferences on this page.

8. Block Out Time to Get Connected

If you don't prioritize this, it won't happen. At the minimum, I'd suggest reserving 30 minutes of your work week -- that's only six minutes a day. And once you get more familiar with everything, you'll actually find that being connected will save you time (no joke!).

9. Be Yourself and Help Others

Many join a social network and think that they need to be "Jane Doe, 7th grade science teacher." I know you're more than just that. Add some personal things about yourself so that people can connect with you. For example, if you have a passion for running, add that, and mention it occasionally. I tend to use the metaphor of a cocktail party to help guide proper interactions in online spaces. The people you like to talk to at a party are people that listen, don't talk about themselves all of the time, and perhaps offer helpful advice. At the heart of social media is the word "social" -- if you wouldn't do something in person, it's probably not right for social networks either.

10. Start Blogging

Once you get a hang of being connected, make sure to share your experience and thoughts with others through blogging. Blogging is a great way to reflect on what you've learned in your personal learning network (PLN), and it's also a fabulous way to give back.

I'd like to close with some powerful quotes that came from ASCD's 2013 annual conference on the power of being connected:

"If you are the smartest one in the room, you need a bigger room. That's Twitter." -- Paula White, elementary gifted resources teacher, Charlottesville, Virginia

"Alone we are smart, together we are brilliant. Twitter helps us do that." -- Steven Anderson, educator, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

"Twitter is one of the best ways to connect w/other educators from all over the world for anytime PD. Be the Change!" -- Jimmy Casas, high school principal, Bettendorf, Iowa

Please feel free to use the comments section below for asking any questions you have on how to get started. I'll make sure to respond to all comments. Hope to see you on a social network soon!

Connected Educators
Connected Educator Month is here! This blog series highlights some tips and ideas for educators to consider during and after this month.

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Michelle Baldwin's picture

I love that you all had the chance to connect face to face, and it's so awesome that we can continue conversations through social media after conferences are over.

Great advice for new users! I would only add one more, and that would be to follow people who are NOT like-minded. Twitter and educator networks are often criticized for being "echo chambers." I am very intentional about whom I follow and seek out people who do not agree with me, think like me, etc. I feel that it really provides a good balance to my network.

The Science Goddess's picture

I think it's important to point out to readers here that this statement only applies to the table/people you sat with: "one of the main themes that kept surfacing was the need for more 'connected educators.'"

It's great that a very white middle-class group of Apple users had an opportunity to sit together and have conversations about things in common, but it is not accurate to say that they identified a main theme for everyone at the conference. The commenter above (Michelle) has a good point about the dangers of an echo chamber. At the conference, people at that table were only interested in connecting with themselves. I never saw them reach out to anyone else in the room.

I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is this underlying assumption is that everyone else wants to be like them---or that their privileged approach is right for everyone. There appears to be no room for asking "What can I learn from the fantastic educators I meet who are successful without social media?" There is no reflection to ask "What might I be missing out on?", just a view that teachers not using social media are the ones at a loss. There is enough weight on the backs of teachers without shaming them for not having a Twitter account.

Being connected works for me---although I stay far away from edcamps as possible. (The attitude is too much like the one I've already described. It's neither inclusive nor tolerant, based on what I've seen.) However, I would never suggest that it should work for everyone. I celebrate teaching and learning in all of its many forms.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Thanks Michelle. I think it's very important to follow both types of people (those like-minded and not). As I'm sure you found, people that I follow that have different views from me quite often get me thinking more about different issues.

I think when someone is first starting out, it may be easiest (and be that easy win to get them addicted) if they follow like-minded people but you're completely right! Thanks for reading.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Hi Tara,

I'm sorry you felt that way. I actually met a lot of people I've never interacted with or met face to face in the media room and I'm really sorry we couldn't connect again. It's very important we're constantly networking with as many people as possible.

In fact, that's what I really loved about this conference. I met so many different types of educators from different countries and I came away thinking that ASCD's annual conference is a great place to connect with many that aren't yet connected (and I was constantly impressed with how passionate they were and how well-versed they were with so many education issues/strategies).

I think you bring up a great point re: social media. Social media alone won't make you successful and Twitter may not be a fit for all educators. I just stress that there has to be some way (online or face-to-face) that others connect and learn from. Without that, they stay alone and unsupported. I tried to adapt the post and make it broad enough that it would work for other social networks besides twitter (Google Plus, Facebook, Edu-online communities etc.) but it's definitely a hard thing to do in a blog post.

Thanks for your feedback - I know it takes courage to bring these points up and I myself, will take it to heart, and make sure no one else feels the way you did.


Rolando's picture

I am new to blogs and hoping to gain some great experiences and knowledge from them. I do believe that to be a successful school there should be connections among teachers. Right now in my school district that is the big idea and the goal we are working towards. We have a common planning period and we are in the process of implementing PLCs. I hope to see a positive change from the PLCs.

Cindy Gray's picture
Cindy Gray
Currently studying Curriculum & Instruction for Adults

This blog has so much information! I am going to make note of all the highlighted areas to look up. I am a college instructor and I want to be as connected with my students as they want me to be. I do Face Book regularly, but not twitter. I think now that I have read this, I can see good reasons to tweet. Each point you made was helpful and having the first one encouraging us to make mistakes--marvelous! How many situations have we all been in (or are in) where it's like walking on egg shells? My, so stressful. The idea of trying all sorts of ideas or avenues to experiment with and learn from is good for a newbie like me. I know in doing this I will find ways I can better connect with my students, and be helped at the same time. I am looking forward to using some new ideas with my online students this fall! Thank you.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Glad you enjoyed the blog and I look forward to you getting on Twitter. I'm at @elanaleoni if you'd like to connect on Twitter.

Re: failure. It's funny that you describe it as walking on egg shells -- I admittedly was part of the head-nodders saying failure was ok (and should be embraced and taught!) BUT I wasn't failing. It took a leap of faith through blogging, using social media, and creating a supportive PLN (professional learning network) for me to take the leap. So, I know it's hard!

Looking forward to connecting on Twitter!

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