With Connected Educator Month now upon us for the third year, I thought it would be fitting for folks to share their experiences in becoming what we call a "connected educator." I was interested in that "Aha!" moment people get when they go from the unconnected side to the more collaborative, sharing world of connected education, a world where educators share globally, collaborating with thought leaders, authors, administrators, teachers, parents, and even students with less regard for titles and higher regard for worthwhile ideas.
Too often, connected educators are the worst advocates for becoming a connected educator. They tend to overwhelm the uninitiated with a huge list of collaborative accomplishments and a plethora of technological jargon. While their excitement at the discovery of a connected mindset drives their enthusiasm, the unconnected educators in their audience simply view it as complicated, time-consuming, extra stuff to add to an already overloaded agenda.
That's why I asked if anyone in my network would care to simply share his or her story of moving from unconnectedness to connectedness. Here are excerpts from a few of their stories.
Rusul Alrubail: My Journey on Twitter
My journey on Twitter started two months into my second maternity leave. Initially, I created the account after following an interesting conference hashtag about women and motherhood. Slowly, I found myself following educators who were tweeting about things I am interested in: students, education, literacy, writing, edreform, student voice. This led me to the great discovery of Twitter chats, where I met some of my current biggest influencers in education.
Chats at first seemed very intimidating. How do I join one? What if I don't have anything to say? What if no one pays attention? What if I don't have the right answer?
I felt nervous and excited diving into #edchat that first Tuesday afternoon while kiddos napped. However, instantly fellow educators started engaging with what I had to say. I was interested more in the actual "chat" that comes out of a Twitter chat as opposed to having the right answer. Later I joined #profchat, #tlap, #teachwriting, #colchat, and #satchatoc, and met so many educators from all over the world.
Being a connected educator on Twitter breaks down barriers and perceptions, and instead allows you to engage, collaborate, share, and learn globally. By building a PLN, I have support in education outside of my institution that I can turn to for help and inspiration. If I ask a question, I get a few answers almost instantly! My PLN challenges traditional thought and ideologies when it comes to education. A fellow educator whom I now have the pleasure of calling a friend says to "practice what you Tweet." The rewarding part is taking all that knowledge to share and practice in the classroom with my students. Being a connected educator has allowed me to be a better teacher in the classroom.
Mary Coogan: Changes in My Teaching and Learning
I've been teaching 29 years, and it's just recently that I've begun to think we're really changing how education works -- for the better. I love what I do, and I'm excited to learn more through the connections I'm making.
As an "unconnected" educator, I really didn't think I was missing out on anything. My classes were great, my students were great, and I was doing great, too. I'd heard about this "Twitter thing" and found myself with an account (which I didn't use). At the time, I really didn't want people to find me online. Who ever heard of a "digital footprint," and what did it matter anyway? And then I discovered that some of my colleagues, people I trusted, were on Twitter and actually found it useful. They were getting good ideas, and meeting other people online, and it really wasn't so scary. So I created a class Twitter account to send my students reminders about tests and labs and that sort of thing. And the kids liked it, and followed it, and told me how other teachers were using Twitter, and how I could improve my communication.
Last year, our district went 1:1 and purchased MacBooks for the high school. And we hosted a district EdCamp for our spring PD. This summer our school district invited George Couros, Will Richardson, Paul Andersen, and others to a tech conference. And I'm hooked. These opportunities have really challenged my thinking about the way students learn and about the way I want students to engage with the content, and with me.
Teaching is still about relationship-building. That's not different. But now we have access to developing relationships in new ways. And we have access not only to the people we see face to face, but to all sorts of people we can connect with online. Think of the expanded learning opportunities! I'm still learning, and I have a loooong way to go, but I feel like I'm on the right path to achieve great things. And I'm loving it!
Dina Moati: The Mosaic of a Connected Educator
Connected education is global, robust, dynamic, and happening every second. Longing for daily connections made me think, "Now what? How can I make it transpire?"
Then something happened: I joined Twitter and was able to exploit readily available and universal resources 24/7. I found myself being more connected to my powerful "three campuses" college community as well as an array of global educational experts at my fingertips. I realized the world isn't sleeping, and the praxis of being connected can take diverging formats.
Through being globally connected, I engaged in and moderated ed-chats with educators from around the world, I participated and facilitated online PD from the comfort of my home, and it didn't stop there. Connection moved into collaboration.
Being connected enabled me to collaborate with three amazing educators on Edcamptoronto. I was able to spread the "connected educator" mindset to my Educational Support students through linking them with pre-service teachers in the States. They enjoyed conversations with expert guest speakers through video chats.
The juxtaposition of theory meets practice couldn't be more vigorous and transformational. Being connected forced me to think unconventionally, challenge perceptions, and reconsider others' views through a new lens. It empowered me to explore potentials of distinctive growth by challenging the status quo and contextualizing diverse perspectives through real-time conversations on a deeper level.
David Weinberger once said, "The smartest person in the room is the room itself," and social media, whether it is Linkedin, Twitter, or the G+ community, has been that room for me.
Philippa Nicoll Antipas: Happy Anniversary
"The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last October, I attended ULearn, a massive (by New Zealand standards) conference, which draws together educators from all sectors to explore e-learning trends and themes. I was so excited by what I learned there. It made such sense to me that we shouldn't get hung up with the shiny tools of technology if pedagogy isn't shifting to support a new and more meaningful way of teaching and learning.
And I wanted to learn more.
I'd had a Twitter account, but started following the presenters I heard at the conference. I decided to start a blog to help me record and process what I learned. I quickly realized that the way educators use Twitter, to connect and share, was extremely powerful. Through this I found blogs to follow, readings to explore, new ideas to wrestle with.
And I was hooked.
I haven't looked back. Not only has my classroom practice changed, but my whole view of my profession has changed. I am passionate about education in a way that I simply wasn't before. Sure, I wanted to convey my love of literature and the power and beauty of language to students, but now I want learners to think and to be engaged. Now I facilitate professional learning into future-focused pedagogy in my school. Now I'm the secretary for #edchatNZ and I helped organise their first conference. Now I'm planning to run an edcamp in my city. Now I'm a connected educator.
My mind is stretched.
Carol Varsalona: Unconnected to Connected - A Journey
Before July 1, 2013, I was clueless about the wide world of connectivity afforded by Twitter and other social media platforms. True, I had been to conferences and heard Will Richardson and Marc Prensky talk about the internet, digital natives, and a wealth of resources. True, I had always been a fan of integrating technology into literacy lessons. But in truth, I had not taken the leap of faith to enter the world of social media other than friending and viewing comments on Facebook.
With the onset of what I call my "unretirement" as an educator, Twitter rocked my professional world. I became a connected educator, a global citizen breaking down barriers, regions, and boundaries to reach out to educators across the globe. Twitter became my viable channel to be expressive about life, learning, and literacy. It allowed my voice to surface, connect, and collaborate on issues of importance.
Moving from unconnected to connected has been an expansive journey from no exposure, to lurking, to moderating #NYEDChat, to interviewing on live GHOs, to creating and launching three global virtual digital galleries of artistic expressions. I termed my blog Beyond LiteracyLink because of the interactive nature of my journey. Twitter, Pinterest, and GHO have allowed my individual voice to join with the collective voice of connected educators and citizens of the world. My message is clear: Be a risk taker! Move beyond oneness toward togetherness. Connected educators, together we are one!