George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Downside of Being a Connected Educator

The Downside of Being a Connected Educator

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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 post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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caligirl5's picture
caligirl5
7th/8th grade health/fcs educator

Thinking same Elena & just viewed your response. Laura, I tossed out a question as well & should have specifically asked colleagues within my PLN who I have ongoing discussions. Next time I will be more specific. Learning too :)

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Sarah Baughman's picture

Thank you for your post Laura. It is nice to hear that others are as bad at organizing their PLN as I am. I hope one day to have everything under control like in my dreams, until then I will try not to close the tab I wanted to stay open.

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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

Yup, I do the same thing Sarah. Thank goodness for those tabs!

Jeffrey Peyton's picture

I am looking for people like this who realize that being connected has different layers and meaning and I think the CFG is a good rung on the ladder---but leading to where? Over the course of 40 years, as a reformer I have been building a pathway to reform. On the way, I have realized that there are far too many ideas and not enough principles for building upon. But the ones that exist for transforming the learning culture--for that is what we truly should want--are powerful and waiting to be harnessed. We have to outwit the system we are all dominated by, and that will not happen by clicking and tweeting en mass or from a top-down mandate by politicians. It will happen in the spirit of your CFG. A true movement must be engineered. If your CFG is worth its weight, you will please share this document amongst your connected selves, and get back to me. There is a lot of exciting work to do and I have much to share--if you are interested. http://goo.gl/rsF0yv

Red Cherry's picture

Laura. I agree with you ' sometimes we need connections that are more high touch than high tech.'

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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

Jeffrey, I've spent the last 25 years (eek! How is it possible I've been doing this work for 25 years?!) working from the 10 Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools. (http://essentialschools.org) They've never steered me wrong. (You can read them here: http://www.essentialschools.org/items/4)

Red Cherry, a CFG is a Critical Friends Group (http://schoolreforminitiative.org) It's a group of educators who meet regular to look at student work and discuss classroom practice through a lens trust, authenticity and commitment to equity. (To put a bit of snark on it- it's a PLC with the kids at the center rather than the data.)

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Red Cherry: "I'm a new edutopian :)"

Welcome to the site. We're happy to have you join us. :-)

Red Cherry's picture

Samer. Great thanks , very excited to be here.. Really a very rich community to learn from..

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