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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!

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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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Wilson Davidson's picture
Wilson Davidson
System Behaviour Strategist, Calgary, Alberta

Thanks for posting. I am a huge advocate of twitter as I find it is amazing tool which connects me to many of my passions in life, both teaching and non-teaching. The world of teaching includes, gurus of trauma such Bruce Perry, advocates of aboriginal education, those working with homeless youth, educators working with the marginalized in India... the list goes on. There truly is a world of teaching out there, and social media such as twitter takes us there.

DaNita Bell's picture

Thank you for sharing so much information in this article. I will be referring back to it often so that I can review many of the links that you suggested. My desire is to become a more effective professional educator. I realize that staying connected to other professionals will help me with my reflective practices. These are all components in achieving success as a life-long teacher and learner. I am excited about the journey!

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

So glad that you found it useful. Feel free to reach out to me here or on twitter with any additional help. Like you said, it's about the journey, not the destination :)

Damon Cole's picture

So glad to meet other edutopians here. Got an education blog on investments @ 2013 ways to invest blog

Ricardo Cetz's picture
Ricardo Cetz
Spanish Instructor from Provo, Utah

I think that sharing these kinds of ideas make me a better educator and I can help my students and other educators become better educators. Thanks

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


1. Being a parent doesn't make you a better teacher. Being a teacher makes you a better parent.

2. Those savant students who know as much as you do about the subject you teach sure do keep you sharp.

3. I found out pretty quickly, even though I tried, that you can't fix a kid's learning, behavior, or emotional disorders right there in third period while you're talking about the Battle of Gettysburg. I got some good advice from Lurlene the principal one time on that one when she said ... Fix the behavior; not the kid. You don't have time to do any real fixing, she said. That's the job of their therapist. If their parents care enough to get them one.

4. The five most powerful words you can say to a student, a struggling student or otherwise, are ... I am proud of you. When you say this a lot, and always at the right times, students will improve in their academic skills, and sometimes even their emotional and behavioral disorders seem to lighten. At the same time, as a teacher, your silent mantra should be ... Don't give up. I'm proud of me, too.

5. The moment when their eyes light up and they say this is great stuff and they mean it ... that's it. That's why you teach.

6. You're willing to spend your own money, too. You love to go to The School Box, even online. You love the way the place looks and smells. It's like a toy store for teachers. You feel creative and engaging and dedicated the moment you walk in. The teacher's section at Dollar Tree ain't bad, either. I learned early that kids will kill for stickers. Not other kids. You. They will rush your desk like the Pamplona running of the bulls for a sticker that says they did a good job.

7. The class periods and full days and weeks and months and semesters when their eyes don't light up and they never say this is great stuff makes you wonder why you teach. Lurlene gave me some good advice on that, too. She said ... Don't take it personally.

8. The very best teacher advice I ever heard from Lurlene was advice she freely handed out to needy parents and students, too. Lurlene would listen very carefully to their drama, without interrupting, and then she'd say ... Get over yourself. To a mom, dad, and student, after they got over themselves, they always ended up thanking Lurlene for the good advice and tough love.

9. There are very few teachers and parents who are confident enough in themselves to give out tough love. The ones who are confident enough give it to themselves, too. That's how they back it up.

10. The time spent driving home from school was long enough to go over the day, every day, and figure what I could have done better ... where I truly screwed up ... and sometimes where I did a good job. It was also the best time to grieve, and even weep, for what you saw and experienced that day. I never wore sunglasses while driving until I became a teacher.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Thanks for encouraging people to just jump in. I'm a big fan of the "ready-fire-aim" school of change and find that often educators are so anxious to get things right that they won't take the risk of just jumping in. It reminds me of that moment when you stand on the edge of the high dive, thinking, "ok, I"m going to! I mean..." at a certain point you have to jump and trust that you'll swim well enough to get to the edge of the pool once you hit the water.

finleyjd's picture
Cooperative Education Coordinator, Randolph Technical Career Center. #VTed

5. Follow Like-Minded People in Education

I think that there needs to be a 5 1/2 added to the list. I follow hundreds of like-minded people, but I also follow those that I don't necessarily agree with.

For me, a great deal of the value of social media is to have not only conversations with those I agree with, but also to have authentic dialogue with those that I might not. What it comes down to is ensuring that my growth and development is not limited to a narrow scope of vision. This allows me to take the blinders off and have a "mind-set of discovery."

The excerpts below George Kohlrieser's from "The Power of Authentic Dialogue" really do a great job of digging into this idea a little more deeply

"Dialogue is about shared inquiry, a way of thinking and reflecting. ... It requires a shift in mind-set about what the relationship with the other means. The focus is on understanding the other person, not only on making them understand you. Dialogue is an exchange in which people think together and discover something new. It is the seeking of greater truth. The depth of dialogue brings the participants to a different level, where they come to a deeper understanding of each other."

"In times of constant change and increasing complexity, we need to take into account our growing interdependence, and dialogue takes us there. Dialogue is an important means of developing a culture of collaboration, and creative dialogue can also be used as a means to search for new ideas, ultimately leading to innovations in any field."

"In reality, no one person has 'the truth,' but when people believe they already know everything, they derive no benefit from dialogue. One can have only a perception, an interpretation, or a subjective part of the truth. To move beyond subjectivity, leaders must have the skills to engage in dialogue, to decide, and to act... The ultimate question is whether all view-points, especially opposing or minority opinions, have been heard."

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

@finleyjd -- You make an AWESOME point. And you left me scratching my head a bit -- wondering why I didn't address a bit more in #5.

Needless to say, I completely agree. I think I was thinking that if you're new to Twitter you may want to follow like-minded people first but not necessarily.

Thanks again,

Farah Najam's picture
Farah Najam
Teacher Trainer and write on education

Lots of educators use their free time researching new ideas and connecting with other educators, but there are plenty more that find the process confusing and overwhelming. How much easier would it be to have a dedicated staff person whose job is to bring fresh ideas into the district, support teachers and smooth the way with administrators?

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