Weekly Reflection: The value of connections

Connect Four on the Bar
Image by bill_roehl used under creatives commons licence

Over the last few days I’ve seen a few pleas for help about the value of being a connected educator.

I define a connected educator as one who uses social media to connect with other educators in their field. The platform for connections is actually relatively unimportant. blogs, twitter, pintrest, facebook, ning, google+, bulletin boards, YouTube there are a plethora of platforms which enable educators to connect with teachers across town and around the country.

To be honest I have no idea what it means not to be a connected educator. Even back in my days teaching English back in Korea 10 years ago I was part of an online community. So to talk about the value of connections to those who see no value is actually incredibly difficult.

Because I’m really passionate about being a connected educator, I’m probably not the best ambassador. I get excited and yammer on about the great things I’ve recently found online which tends to have people politely exiting the conversation.

So I’ll try something different.

On my own I’m a mediocre teacher.

I don’t disclose this as a way to gain sympathy or have people in the comments box tell me that I’m not all that bad. Because the simple fact is I’m second year teacher. I’m definitely better than I was last year and I’ll be better next year than this year. What they don’t tell you a teachers college is that teaching is an ongoing process of screwing up and learning from the screw ups. We’ve enshrined the process in the New Zealand curriculum, it’s called teaching as inquiry.

I often scratch my head and wonder how teachers who are not connected find new ideas to implement in the classroom. I suppose they continue to learn as we did in the past when to keep up with the latest trends educators needed to read journals, weekly PD sessions and conferences.

But here’s the thing. By the time those classroom ideas have been accepted by the editor or the teachers invited to conference the innovations presented have been polished up and time has erased the tough bits. I’ve rarely heard a conference presenter say ‘well for the first six months after we initiated X it sucked so we had do Y and stopped doing Z’ instead we get the finished product all ready to implement in our classroom.

Yet by missing the process of what got the speakers to where they are now, we don’t learn what to avoid, where to persevere and, dare I say it, when to pull the plug. And lets face it, trying to implement those big ideas into a classroom with actual children is hard.

Bloody hard.

Which is where being connected helps. It enables conversations to keep going long after the speaker from PD has left the building and the conference is over. The ideas often come in 140 characters. Small resources that you could use or ideas to stash away for a rainy day through to big ideas to mull over. Being connected enables me to tap into a vast global network of classroom expertise and insight which I can then remix and refashion for my own teaching context. The feedback loop is ongoing and I don’t have to be constrained to learning at a certain time and place.

In New Zealand we recognise that new teachers trying to get to grips with everything need help and support. So we have a induction process into the professional and are assigned a mentor. But the more I think about it, the more it seems unrealistic for professional induction to fall squarely on the shoulders of just one teacher and the period of support should extend for only two short years.

Being connected has enables professional learning and mentoring of teachers to be an ongoing process distributed among hundreds of people from across the planet. Following a few hundred educators on twitter will enable a constant flow of education resources and collaboration 24 hours day. I’ve often heard twitter described as little more than popularity contest to get the most followers. I agree that twitter is a popularity contest but not in popularity but rather of ideas. Good ideas get remixed and shared. Bad ideas don’t get shared.

A network of learners is more than the sum of its parts. It is the process of collaborating with people who share your area of expertise that makes both of parties better. If you teach high school science you can connect other high school science teachers. If you teach juniors, you can connect with other early years teachers. What’s really awesome is when junior teachers collaborate with senior high school teachers and both get something out of it.

Being connected has had a profound effect on what I do in the classroom and how I do it. It has opened up some incredible opportunities for my students and taken me on some amazing journeys. I have been able to help influence policy ¬†and shared what I’ve done to help others. Put simply, my connectedness has made me a better teacher.

There are thousands of connected educators from a multitude of teaching countries and contexts willing to share their expertise with you.

Your mission is to find the right people to follow.

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4 thoughts on “Weekly Reflection: The value of connections

Add yours

  1. Thank you for this, I have just written up one of my reflections for the RTC criteria about being connected and what its has meant for me. It opened up some interesting door, and I have started many a post with “It started with a tweet”, I think it maybe the new “Once upon a time”

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  2. Great post! So relevant to my the thinking I’m doing at the moment which is focused on ‘selling’ the idea that PLNs should replace traditional professional learning programs. Here’s to all the connected teachers out there!

    Like

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