Professional Development

The Downside of Being a Connected Educator

October 8, 2014

I have 3 Twitter feeds, 2 Pinterest accounts, 4 Facebook pages, 2 Google+ accounts, a LinkedIn, and (new just this week) an ello. PLUS I'm a community facilitator for Edutopia and I blog on two different sites and comment on about 4 more regularly. I'm connected six ways to Sunday.  But recently, I was working on a challenge for an upcoming student event and I was stumped.  I knew it was missing something but I just couldn't quite put my finger on it.  

So, like all good Connected Educators, I went to my PLN.  I posted the question (with a link to the sticky-wicket challenge) on my various feeds and I waited.

And waited.  

And waited.  

I got nothing.  Total crickets from my PLN.  Apparently, my 2500+ followers, friends, likers and connections had nothing to say on the matter- but I was still stuck.  

I ended up going to my default PLN- my husband- who gave me the feedback I needed, asked the right questions, and ultimately helped me get my ideas shaped up.  He helped me reflect after the fact and make a plan for next time.  He did what a good PLN would do for me- and what my digital PLN hadn't.

I think that sometimes when we talk about being Connected Educators, we default to the digital realm as the primary venue. (Trust me, some of my best friends and colleagues live in my computer.)  But sometimes we need connections that are more high touch than high tech.  Some problems require ongoing collaboration with people we can count on to be at a given place at a given time because it matters to both of us, not just whoever happens to be online at a given moment.

Now I'm thinking about my PLN and my "Connectedness" and I'm wondering, what makes it work sometimes and not others? Why did my PLN fail me?  

I think it was because I didn't know what I needed to know. My question ("What am I missing here?") was too big, too poorly defined, too messy to deal with in 140 characters or over a brief, unstructured exchange of comments.  What I needed- what I was really looking for- was a good, old fashioned, face-to-face Critical Friends Group (schoolreforminitiative.org) like the ones I've belonged to off and on over the years. I need someone (or a bunch of someones) to sit with me and ask me questions until I was really clear about what MY question was, and then talk about that question in a safe, supportive community until I had enough to push my thinking to the next level.  

So, back to this whole "connectedness" thing and what makes it work. So far, I'm thinking:

1. Being connected isn't about quantity, it's about quality.  
2. There are different kinds of connections and that's okay- but know who to turn to for what.
3. Connections can come from unexpected places so keep an open mind- but don't be afraid to trim off connections that aren't working for you. (I'm looking at you ello and Google+)
4. Cultivate a combination of face-to-face and digital connections, and try to make them lasting ones.. Join the board of a professional organization.  Start a CFG.  Arrange a Tweet-up or attend an Edcamp with an eye towards creating lasting professional relationships. 

So what about you? 

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.