"A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate." ~ Seth Godin
Last week I attended EdCamp Leadership in New Jersey held in the beautiful (but cold!) STEM Building at Kean University. It was the second EdCamp that I've attended and it didn't disappoint. I attended sessions on BYOD and Branding with Eric Sheninger and a session about what teachers really want in back-to-school PD with Joe Mazza. But the session that really got me thinking was with Tom Whitby on the importance of being a Connected Educator. The discussion led by the passionate Tom Whitby and my own thoughts on being a Connected Educator led me to write this blog post. There are lots of social media tools that help one become connected such as blogging, Facebook and my favourite Twitter. What social media method you choose to become connected is a personal one, but one that is becoming more and more essential. Those new to social media in education will be surprised just how little time it takes to learn something new that will benefit your practice as a teacher or leader. Below are four reasons why you need to be a Connected Educator.
To Learn - I can't tell you how many times I have learned about an instructional strategy or resource from following my PLN on Twitter. The response I get when I've shared is always, "Where did you find that?" Teachers and colleagues are probably now used to hearing me say "From Twitter!" The learning, however, goes beyond finding a great resource or strategy. I learn something new every day from my PLN that helps me in my job. In my Twitter feed I get links to great blogs, articles and advice that has changed my philosophy of professional development. In my previous role as a learning technologies coordinator I was the guy who used to present to a room full of teachers on the latest and greatest. At the time we all thought we were getting and giving the best possible training available. As I reflect on the hundreds of large group training sessions, not to mention the individual PD I have led I'm embarrassed to say they most likely didn't meet the needs of many of the participants. Don't get me wrong; for the most part everyone was very happy and appreciative. But I just can't help but think how much more we could have done, using their best time to learn and in their comfort zone if we had access to social media as we have today. What social media, and in particular Twitter, has done is create a 24/7, 365 days a year model of personalized learning that anyone has available to them at no cost! Even better we can learn from experts and leaders from around the world.
To Collaborate - This past year my school implemented Full Day Kindergarten (FDK). It was a learning experience for us all as the model of FDK was much different than the kindergarten program in the past. The focus was inquiry. Through my Twitter PLN I was able to follow the most fascinating collaborative project called "What Can You See?". It started innocently enough when one teacher noticed her students looking through their classroom window out into the schoolyard. They started to write a list of everything they saw. Then they took pictures of those things to add to their list. Next they decided to find out what other classes saw outside of their classroom window. They blogged about it. They Skyped about it. The made books about it. It grew and grew and grew. An amazing example of teachers collaborating with each other to provide an inquiry based activity that was engaging and authentic. Not too mention it used technology as every teacher and student should. Integrated. The technology didn't drive the project. It enhanced it.
To Connect Students - The "What Can You See?" project connected students to other students around the world. It gave them insight into what other communities look like, what students have access to and what they are learning about. When you become a Connected Educator you can find these opportunities. I would have never found out about the project if I didn't have Twitter and a PLN of FDK teachers. The Connected Educator can also connect students in another way. They can connect them to authors and experts around the world. Again I was lucky enough to see how simply posing a question to an author through Twitter led to Skype interviews with the class. Believe me, authors answer questions from students and teachers on a regular basis. Click here for a great link to authors that have Twitter accounts. This year we saw Chris Hadfield Tweet and Skype from space. He shared the most amazing pictures and taught students about life in space. I only wish I had the same opportunity when I was in school. These are just a couple of examples of students being connected. They have these opportunities because of the power of social media and the guidance of a Connected Educator.
To Stay Relevant - Let's face it social media is not going away. New tools are being created it seems like every day. Tools that can have an impact on the teaching and learning process. An example is a tool called eduClipper. You can think of it as Pinterest for Teachers. Using social media tools provides new ways of curating resources and sharing them with your PLN and colleagues. Connected Educators will also be able to stay current with new strategies and tactics through their PLN. It only takes a minute to learn about a new site or tool like eduClipper and how it can help you as a teacher. Staying relevant helps you stay connected to your students. Everything you learn about through your PLN helps you become a better teacher. It helps your students. Connected Educators will also be able to stay current with the newest tools that students are using. Using social media tools for instruction that students don't use, or like could hinder the learning. Staying relevant in the fast changing world of social media can keep you on the cutting edge and your students will appreciate the innovative technique you use while meeting them in their world.
Being a Connected Educator has enable me to build a PLN where I not only learn something every day, but I can ask questions and find support from teachers and administrators from around the world. Twitter has become the most valuable professional learning tool for me. My only regret is that I didn't have it earlier in my career. If you're reading this blog post and don't have a Twitter account I'm urging you to jump in. It doesn't take a lot of time to build your PLN. You won't regret it. The more Connected Educators we have, the more we can learn. I've seen this quote a number of times on Twitter so I'm not sure who to credit but sums up the idea of the Connected Educator ~ "The smartest person in the room is no longer a person, but the room itself."
I'd love to hear your thoughts about being a Connected Educator. Do you have a story to tell?