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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

What Does It Mean to Be a Connected Educator?

What Does It Mean to Be a Connected Educator?

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For many of us, becoming a connected educator transformed our lives. Suddenly, we had access to networks of experts and peers invested in improving education practices and willing to share their favorite tools, resources, and strategies.

It's this culture of sharing that we want to celebrate this October for Connected Educator Month.

So share with us: Tell us your stories about being a connected educator. What has it meant for you? How has it transformed student learning in your classroom? What tools and resources do you rely on most?

Let the sharing begin!

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I attended Podcamp, and out of there and Barcamp grew both Edcamp and I attend Educon every year. Once you see all that is possible and what other teachers are doing, it makes everything seem possible, even when faced with resistance and fear in your home district.
For me, being a connected educator began with looking for solutions to help kids with learning disabilities and how to help them succeed in the classroom. There are so many small problems that get in the way of success, and many that can be handled easily with tech. It can change the whole classroom dynamic for teachers and kids. (For example, using Google Drive for assignments means no one forgets their homework any more, or loses a thumb drive, and even handouts can be there and accessed by kids, making sure no one can forget their homework at school...)
Even in our district, getting teachers to stop being afraid of technology and change, and embrace more of a "give it a go" experimental attitude, is doing more to change the culture, the atmosphere and the community as a whole- it's been amazing. It's not perfect, but the willingness to try has meant all the difference. This connection involves as much people to people connection as it does technology, but making information accessible 24 x 7 removes all the barriers that seem to get in the way before, making so much else seem equally as possible. We're no focusing more on solutions and less on barriers.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Wow! So many great stories here. I'm going to keep my contribution short at this point in time, and simply share my experiences using Twitter. You might hear a lot about the power of twitter and PLNs, but I don't think that you can understand how powerful it can be until you dip a toe in the water. Through Twitter, I started following other educators, who generously shared their thoughts, articles they were reading, blogs they were posting and stories they were following. This broadened my own understanding of different things in education, until I felt that I, too, could contribute - which I did.

Martin Richards's picture
Martin Richards
I train educators to use a coaching approach in their teaching practice

What about Delicious Bookmarks?

Delicious Bookmarks is the official Firefox add-on for Delicious, the world's leading social bookmarking service (formerly del.icio.us). It integrates your bookmarks and tags with Firefox and keeps them in sync for easy, convenient access

I used this resource for organising online materials and interactive resources for five Mathematics courses, and engaging students in suggesting better sites than I had found. Great discussions on what the students regarded as "better".

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I love Delicious and other social bookmarking applications for this purpose- thanks for reminding us all of this. Think how much sharing bookmarks would be helpful among colleagues-but I think many people forget to use this tool as part of their work flow.

Todd Sentell's picture
Todd Sentell
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

One of my proudest teaching moments came when I gave a little professor-type kid the perfect nickname. His existence on Earth begged for a nickname and I believed I was placed on Earth with the one mission of coming up with his nickname. I was profoundly moved by this revelation. I was shocked that it wasn't his real name already.

Anyway, I'd been noodling over my final selections for some time ... weeks ... and the day came when I officially bestowed my decision upon him in class in front of his classmates. Everybody freaked out with its dead-on accuracy. The victim was pleased with it, too. He thought it was perfect.

Later that day at lunch I was sitting at the teacher table and I told my teacher buddy, Gary the math teacher, to look over at the kid and while he was looking at him that I was going to utter the perfect nickname I came up with for him. Gary started looking at him and then he said ... Okay, say it.

I said ... Winkelberg.

Gary breathed ... Good Lord that's perfect. He really is a total Winkelberg!

I breathed again into Gary's left ear ... Winkelberg. I was so proud.


Lessia Bonn's picture
Lessia Bonn
co-founder I am Bullyproof Music

Teaching from a couch. Who'd have thought?

For almost a decade I was too busy being a single mom and teacher to a giant crew of tweens and teens in Santa Barbara to have any time left to reach out to other teachers. I worked with the teachers in my inner circle and town, that's it. But then everything changed.

When we moved up north to the little town of Sonoma, I found myself twiddling my thumbs-- a stranger in a very small town full of mostly retired hippies and wine merchants. I looked into teaching in San Francisco but that felt like going backwards. Meanwhile, Jeff Bridges (his daughter is one of the students I produced and taught) sent me an email out of the blue; "What do you have on your fabulous singing Crew? Anything I can make a movie out of?"

Really? Out of the blue. Here we go again..

You see, my crew of songbirds attached to my SEL wisdom tunes had almost become a show like "Glee" but Glee got their first. Now this. But I'm not a movie person. I didn't have a script. What I had was a full library of super potent SEL tunes with a proven record of opening the hearts and minds of young people that had been recorded by my students in Santa Barbara throughout the decade I lead my songbird Crew. But no plot points attached. Oops. Sorry.

So how else to teach SEL from my new Sonoma couch?

I learned how to pin, I joined teacher sites, I twitter, we have 3 websites, I'm at Teachers Pay Teachers, Songs for Teaching. I LOVE the internet! And btw, I love Edutopia! Best videos and inspiration ever!

I may live in the little town of Sonoma now, but teachers all over the country are using the material I created to teach SEL and empower students. I learned that my material can travel... because of this magical internet, amazing teacher sites, and this brave new world full of connections, and DEEP connections, on all whole other level.

I have NEVER felt more like a teacher and less like a musician. After joining Edutopia and sites full of teachers, I realize that, in my heart, teaching is my thing. Music is my method. And all those recordings I did of wisdom songs in Santa Barbara?

They are helping empower kids all over the world because of the internet. I've been making little lesson videos with local students of mine (I have a few adorable ones) on our SEL themes and pin pin pin them. Post post post them. Teachers use them. They're free. They don't even have to buy the songs or lesson plans. How amazing is that?

I have never EVER felt more connected! And I mostly do it from my couch. I am teaching more kids these days. Touching more lives. And mostly? From my couch. I may not die a millionaire but I will know I have done some good :-) Thank you, internet-- for being a place where a teacher can really rock and roll!

Stephanie Hoaglund's picture
Stephanie Hoaglund
Digital & Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Speaker

One of my primary roles is to share ideas on incorporating digital tools and social media across the company in order to help families be more connected as they attend online school.

I use social media to create opportunities for families to learn about online education, to meet and connect with others who are also learning to live the "online education lifestyle", and to enhance their overall knowledge about all things affecting their educational life (i.e. research, parenting trends, and technology). In turn, they begin to feel more comfortable with the idea of online education in general, but more importantly, they become more confident with their choice.

I am lucky that my role affords me the opportunity to reach parents and students directly and show them how technology can help enhance their child's learning.

Greg Reiva's picture
Greg Reiva
High School Science Teacher

Over the past 10 years, I have attended and contributed as a presenter at a number of National Science teacher Conventions. My emphasis during these presentations has been the effective implementation of a Project-based Learning models in the science classroom. I have been an advocate, for years, on this methodology employed in the high school and middle school science classroom. Today this learning model has become the most sought after curriculum initiative. It has proven to be a most effective means to get students engaged in higher level thinking. It requires students to ask questions, analyze results and to think more deeply and critically about their discoveries.

Cathy Higgins's picture
Cathy Higgins
Technology Director / Conval School District

I used to use email as my primary means of connecting with other educators. While I still use email on a daily basis in my work as a public school administrator and as a college instructor, I think it's a very different experience when I use Twitter, Facebook, or blogging tools to ask questions, gather new resources, follow trends, and engage in ongoing dialogue about topics of interest.

I find Twitter to be my best means of knowing what's happening right now within the community of people I follow (my Twitterverse). When I first got onto Twitter, I started following others and quickly found that by following their retweets I knew who else I wanted to follow. Before long, I was posting my own tweets and retweets. At one point, I realized I was gathering so many great links to resources that I didn't have time to actually read and absorb and use those resources! I learned how to scale back and balance my time to make it manageable and purposeful for me. Then came a time when I stopped reading Twitter altogether -- I needed a break. I needed some time to reflect and regroup my habits and practices in order to avoid the feeling of overwhelm. I think that is also a common experience -- to step back from high frequency use of a particular social media service for awhile. Now that I'm back into regular use of Twitter again, I realize what a wealth of talent and knowledge is available to me. It's a wonderful to have that availability to people anywhere on the planet!

I think that to be an effective educator today, one must be a Connected Educator through the use of at least one, if not more, social media services. Thanks for highlighting October as "Connected Educator" month!

Clara Galan's picture
Clara Galan
Former Social Media Marketing Assistant for Edutopia

Last June, I followed the same routine that all teachers experience at the end of the school year. I cleaned my office, organized my lesson plans, put away resources, turned in my grades and planed to attend graduation and class parties. But this year was different. I wasn't organizing lesson plans for myself, but rather for a new teacher that would take my place. Saying good-bye to my students of the last four years was not for the summer, but for a much longer period of time. I didn't realize how hard it was going to be (or how many tears shed) to leave, but I knew that it was time to take on another challenge. Sometimes you just know that you're ready for the next step, and this was it.

Being connected online with other educators and influencers in education changed my life as I knew it. After moving to San Francisco a year ago, I began to connect with other educators in my field of second language acquisition and joined online meetup groups to learn about new technologies to integrate into my teaching. The future possibilities for authentic second language exposure and practice were endless for students. In the startup culture of San Francisco, I met many individuals with the same passion for learning who were ready to change the face of education through technology. Through Twitter/#edchat, #langchat, #engchat, Meetup (EdSurge), a variety of online communities, and AngelList I quickly learned that changing the traditional system of education as I knew it was not a mere possibility - but a widely supported reality. Without these online connections, I would had never been exposed to tactical ideas for my classroom, nor would I had encountered the support from other second language teachers. Being that I was in a small school, I was the only foreign language teacher responsible for world languages curriculum development. Many of my new teaching methods and strategies were discovered and discussed through connecting online.

As I became more immersed in the online and offline world of edtech, I realized that my impact as an educator could reach far beyond the walls of my classroom. I dedicated my twitter handle to education and education technology to share resources and learn from other educators. When reaching out to edtech companies, I realized that many of them did not have an educator's perspective or even an educator on staff. I wanted to ensure that engineers and educators could work together to create technologies that truly benefited students! Being in the authentic environment of a classroom is so important to understand students' and teachers' needs. Through being a connected educator, I moved over to social media with Edutopia - an experience that has completely changed my life's direction. I continue to be passionate about education and the important strategies to build students towards success: social and emotional learning, authentic experiences through project-based learning and the 21st century skills of technology integration. I hope to continue expanding my professional learning network and encourage other educators to do so -- to reach the common goal of authentic learning!

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