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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Making the Most of Connected Educator Month

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate

Connecting educators with online communities to advance their professional learning is the goal of the first Connected Educator Month, a U.S. Department of Education initiative that kicks off today, August 1, and continues through the month. The flurry of keynotes, panel discussions, book chats, and other interactive online events should give participants plenty to think about and, more importantly, discuss with colleagues as they head into the new school year.

"I hope it mirrors what happens in the hallways at conferences," says Steve Hargadon, who is coordinating kickoff events this week and will be involved throughout the month as a facilitator. "Formal sessions have value, but the significant part is often the engaged conversations you have between sessions where you make connections. It's about finding people and building relationships. I hope that's what happens this month."

I caught up with Hargadon by phone for some inside tips on how to make the most of Connected Educator Month. He understands the value of online communities for fostering professional learning. Founder of Classroom 2.0, a social network for educators with 68,000 members, he is a veteran organizer of massive, online education events that are grassroots, inclusive, and reflective of what he calls "peer-to-peer professional development."

Online communities of practices aren't new. During the past five years, they have exploded through the grassroots involvement of early adopters who use digital tools to build their own professional learning networks. Weekly #edchats that use Twitter, virtual events like GlobalEdCon and online communities like Digital IS are among the many new venues for professional conversations and collaboration. Connected Educator Month promises to introduce many more teachers and school leaders to this powerful, personalized style of professional development.

Plan Your Own Adventure

How can you take part in Connected Educator Month? Here are a few suggestions.

If you're new to online communities, this month offers you a chance to "dip in," Hargadon suggests, and see what the buzz is all about. Keynoters and panel discussions will help orient you to hot topics in education. For example, on Wednesday, August 1, learn about "Connected Learning and the State of Education Today" from directors of the Office of Educational Technology. You might want to take part in a book club discussion of Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach's The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age. Or join me, Hargadon, and others for a panel discussion on Thursday, August 2, about "Beyond Top Down: Distributed Leadership and Teacher-Led Change."

If you want to build stronger face-to-face networks, think about attending some online events alongside your colleagues. All sessions will be recorded, allowing you to schedule just-in-time professional development whenever you want it. For instance, you might discuss a keynote by Douglas Rushkoff, author and media commentator for CNN, on, "Program or Be Programmed: Commands for Education's Digital Age." Or tune in together to talk about keynotes by Deborah Meier, a MacArthur "genius" and author of The Power of Their Ideas, or Chris Lehmann, founding principal of Science Leadership Academy.

If you want to contribute to this free-wheeling conversation, take advantage of the opportunity to present your own online session later this month during Learning 2.0. Scheduled for August 20-24 to coordinate with Connected Educator Month, Learning 2.0 is a worldwide virtual event. Hargadon, also founder of Learning 2.0, encourages educators who are new to online communities to submit a session proposal. "It's a highly interactive, inclusive event. Even if you've never presented before," he adds, "submit a session and be a creator." Learn more about submitting a proposal here.

The beauty of peer-to-peer professional development is how it reflects best practices for student learning. "If we want students to be more engaged in their learning, we need educators to have the same opportunity," Hargadon says. That means access to authentic audiences, online tools for collaboration, and digital profiles that reflect engaged learners of all ages. "It's a lovely, logical extension of 21st century education."

Throughout Connected Educator Month, watch for special blogs and features from Edutopia to help you make the most of online connections and opportunities. Share your thoughts about Connected Educator Month events on Twitter by using the hashtag #CE12.

What's on your must-do list for Connected Educator Month? Please share your picks and provocations in the comments.

Photo credit: Veer

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