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Beyond the Teachers' Lounge: The Emerging Connection Gap

Mary Beth Hertz

HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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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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Derrall Garrison's picture

Thanks for sharing this important message. Year after year educators like yourself try to share the amazing experiences of connecting and engaging virtually but alas there continues to be no perceptible change in how most educators at least in my district and others that I've talked to approach professional development and learning for their classroom. I was reminded of an image that @shareski shared a couple of years ago and many of us used for our presentations on creating PLNs and the importance of joining the global conversation. But sadly the message is still not being understood by the majority of educators. Somehow it keeps missing its mark. I'm beginning to wonder what it will take to shift a larger amount of educators to understanding how amazing this opportunity is. I had hoped that as Facebook and other social media tools became popular that my colleagues would begin approaching their PD the same as they connect and share while updating their statuses on Facebook, but it hasn't happened yet.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Thanks for sharing Dean's photo, Derrall. I hadn't seen it in a long time! I don't know what will flip the switch--it seems like we've been having that same conversation for years now. I think the problem is not the educators themselves, but the leadership that has fallen behind. What will it take to get THEM on board, I wonder?

EdTechSandyK's picture

Even before social media became a professional learning tool, there were teachers who were always looking to improve their practice by getting as much training as possible, and others who were content with what they already knew. So I do not think the Connection Gap is new, but it does seem as if it is becoming more pronounced because those who are connected online have access to so much more information compared to what we had back in the day when our only sources were face-to-face workshops and professional reading from print-only resources.

That said, I also think we could help more teachers move into the connected camp if the use of social media for professional learning could become accepted and more widely available to them during the school day on their school computers. With access and proper professional development, and more leaders using social media themselves to connect and develop their teachers, connectivity for professional growth would have the potential to become a normal part of professional learning culture. In my opinion, that is when connectedness on a wider scale will begin to occur and make a greater impact on teaching and learning.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Great points!

No matter what, there will always be a gap between those who take initiative to learn new things and those who are content to coast along. This is definitely true.

The fact that many schools block ALL forms of social media makes the gap harder to close. As you state, the leaders in the buildings and districts need to see the value and provide the necessary supports to make being connected and networked a part of school and district culture.

Thanks for your insight!

Michael Walker's picture
Michael Walker
Technology Integration Specialist for Edina Public Schools

Mary Beth,
I read the tweets and posts from that conference with great interest, and was delighted to be able to live vicariously through my network and learn a great deal.
I do agree that a gap exists, but it may not just be from ignorance.
There are many people who I have talked to and have started down the path of being a connected educator who have had to back off due to the fact that there are only so many hours in a day. Because I am not in the classroom, I do have some flexibility to interact a bit more than a teacher with a full class load.
At the same time, I do get up an hour earlier, just to connect, read, learn each day. Then there are the times my wife and kids wish I was more present with them...
I try to encourage people to take 15 minutes a day to stay connected. Some do, others would rather spend time with their family. I then try to filter for them, sending resources that they would find of value, to help them stay connected.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA


I think you touch on something very important. I myself have backed off over the last year. However, the difference between a networked teacher and an non-networked teacher is that a networked teacher can access information at the click of a button, knows exactly where to go, and has the skills to direct information to them, rather than having to go out and find it (i.e. RSS, Twitter feed). Even at 15 min/day or even 30min/wk a networked teacher has so much more available at his or her fingertips.

How kind and generous of you to take the time to send out resources. You are a vital part of your learning community!

Mitch Weisburgh's picture

Dorothy Parker was once asked to use the word horticulture in a sentence, and replied: "you can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think."

The same applies with many people and technology.

Rich Cairn's picture

I saw the teaser for this blog post and came hoping for arguments to help convince more teachers in my real-world networks to join us in the social network world. Yet for those who already feel overwhelmed, just connecting with interesting people isn't enough. How do we overcome this gap? How do I engage teachers beyond first adopters? They don't want to change the world. They just want to do a good job for their students. Why should they take time away from that for virtual community?

We have a History Educators blog and Facebook page with Twitter Feed. See at: We welcome suggestions and feedback! Thanks!

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Thanks for the comment, Rich. In my experience, when it comes to social media, people need to see the purpose in their personal life before it can click in their professional life. The only teacher in my building for whom Twitter has really caught on was already using it to keep up with the Kardashians. She already knew how to use the tool for her personal use, so switching to the professional use was a breeze. Teachers need to see the purpose and function and use of a tool before they can take it to the next level.

I think you are smart to branch out on Facebook, as many people are already there, so they see the value.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

"Why should they take time away from that for virtual community?"

Rich Cairn, this is one of the best questions I've read on this website. It defies the prevailing lemming-like mentality that believes if you aren't a slave to the trappings of so-called "21st Century Innovation" then you aren't serving the needs of your students. Of course this is complete nonsense, but try and convince the dogmatists that.

In my view, "virtual" means fake and phony, so right there, I must consider "virtual worlds" as useless, like I consider video games as useless. I am not enamored with fantasy. I was when I was 12 years old, but that was forty years ago.

You see, adult people need to abandon the Peter Pan-ish frivolity of playing with toys. A child driven society is a failed society. America didn't become great over 200 years with adults acting like children. Now that it is the opposite, we are slipping behind other nations who previously weren't worth licking our boots.

I'll say it again, this entire movement in education is a grand example of arrested development. It's when the term "geek" became a complimentary term instead of one of derision. Adults refusing to grow up, it's that simple. I was hoping that the dire economic situation would compel more people to wake up and take life more seriously, that is, stripping themselves of non-essentials and living a more Spartan existence. But if you have one foot still stuck in retro-adolescence, you'll want to close your eyes and pretend it's not happening while you skip down to the Apple store or Best Buy and plunk down a few hundred bucks for the latest toy.

Knowing the difference between needs and wants, the lost art in today's morally compromised American society.

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