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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Beyond the Teachers' Lounge: The Emerging Connection Gap

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

We often pontificate about the "haves" and the "have-nots" in our schools -- the unfair way that schools are funded, the ways in which some of our students are robbed of opportunity while others are awash in it.

What we don't reflect on enough is how some educators are connected to the global community, emerging trends and research, and larger conversations around reform and the direction of global education in general -- and how so many other educators are simply not tapped into that world.

The last few months have opened my eyes to this widening gap between educators who are connected through social media and those who aren't.

An Emerging Species

At a recent conference for a large teaching organization, I was part of a small group of educators who were tweeting and blogging about the sessions and forums we attended. The amazing thing was that we all knew each other through social media, whether or not we had met face to face. Walking into the pressroom was like walking into a reunion between old friends. Not one of us work in the same school, and only a couple of us even live in the same state, yet our conversation flowed easily from topic to topic, from professional issues to jokes to remarks about absent colleagues, some of whom we may never have met in person.

As we sat in sessions, we tweeted what we were learning to our followers all over the world. When we regrouped at lunch or in between sessions, we were struck by how the conversations we were accustomed to having seemed novel to so many of the attendees. We also had a common language and referred to a common repertoire of books, articles and blog posts -- some written by presenters at the conference.

Our learning that weekend was shared with thousands of educators all over the world through our tweets and blog posts. As "press," this was part of our purpose at the conference. The eye-opening part was that just a dozen of us represented most of the tweets and posts coming out of the three-day conference. As a friend of mine stated on our walk back to the subway at the end of the day, "We are like a different species."

Closing the Gap

I am not saying that my fellow press colleagues are any better at our jobs, or any smarter or more qualified than any other attendees. What I am saying is that we are part of a community of learners that knows no walls, that our learning has no boundaries. We can meet someone face-to-face for the first time, draw from the same knowledge base and even continue a conversation that may have spanned thousands of miles. These conversations are also based on current research, and on articles written by leaders in the education world. We take these conversations and this knowledge back to our classrooms and our schools, impacting our students and our colleagues. Teachers who learn together grow together. And teachers who grow together teach children in powerful ways.

This silent gap, should it remain unclosed, will only widen the existing, perceptible gap in our schools.

So how do we get our colleagues to join us in conversation? How do we bridge the gap?

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Jessica Keigan's picture

What a great encouragement for us to venture forth into the vast opportunities that the virtual world has to offer the educational system. I find that my virtual collaboration is the spark that I often need when bogged down in the overwhelming aspects of our profession.

A friend and colleague spoke to something similar (http://transformed.teachingquality.org/blogs/04-2012/5-reasons-find-virt...) and points out the potential for virtual collaboration as we work to implement new policies that impact teachers in a variety of locations across the country.

When I think of the power that a connected and educated group of enthusiastic educators could have on the system, it gives me a great deal of hope. Thanks for reminding me why it is essential to my practice to log on and participate in the larger educational community.

--Jessica Keigan, English Teacher and Member of The Denver New Millennium Initiative

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