Starting Down the Connected Educator Path

With Connected Educator Month starting in October, I thought I would spend some time sharing how I started on the path of becoming more connected, what one gains from doing so, and some tips for those who are starting on their own connected educator transformation.

Developing as a connected educator started last summer when I joined Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall’s The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in the Digital Age book club. I knew this was an area I needed to further improve on and embrace, but I had no idea where to start given the many new apps, tools, and social media.

Deciding to join the book club was the best decision I made. It was just the push I needed to start my exploration into connected learning. My hope in joining the book club was to learn a new tool or two. What I received was so much more. I was able to challenge my mindset about how competent I was with technology and found new confidence in my capacity as a learner. The on-line and weekly discussions helped me to see that there were many others starting out just like me. It was also valuable to see the range of levels and experience with connected learning. Despite this range of experience, I never felt intimidated because of the positive and supportive culture fostered in the community.

I cannot remember when it all finally clicked, but I did have several light bulb moments. I learned being a connected educator is not just knowing and using technology in a meaningful and effective way. Connected educators fully embrace risk taking and continually stretch themselves as learners. As we become contributors, we foster trust and build a global community, one that is poised to work towards change. Connected education is not just for the students in our classrooms. Connected educators are able to prioritize learning through their global networks, modeling what it is like to be an authentic learner.

What does one gain from becoming a connected educator? How do I take the next step?

1.       Access to a Wealth of Knowledge:

You will often hear connected educators expressing gratitude for their personal learning network (PLN). This is because connected education allows you to learn what you want, when you want it, from individuals all over the world. Learning becomes personalized to your needs and tailored to your schedule.

Tip: It is often this wealth of information or the abundance of tools and resources that can be discouraging when you’re just starting out. Pick one tool to start with and get to know that one well before moving on.

If you are not sure what tool to jump into, try Twitter. Know it will be impossible to read everything your followers contribute (as much as you will want to). In the interim, select one hashtag to follow so it filters down posts about the topic you are most interested in learning at that time.

Click here for a great guide on how to get started on Twitter and here for a list of hashtags to suit your needs.

2.       Pushes Your Thinking and Promotes Reflection:

Traditionally, educators have often worked in silos. Being connected gives you exposure to diverse perspectives beyond what you would find in a single school or district. Reading and chatting with others about ideas has given me new lenses to  examine my beliefs, values, and practices as an educator. It has allowed me to refine my thinking and approach for the better when working with students and colleagues.

Tip: Take the time to participate in a Twitter chat. In one hour, you will be exposed to more ideas on a specific topic than any number of blogs or books you could read in that same time. You can start by simply observing a Twitter chat by following the hashtag at the designated time. Then I would encourage you to jump in and participate the following week. Or just jump right in from the beginning and start chatting away!

3.       Remembering What it is Like to Be a Student:

When I struggle with a new technology, I am reminded of the frustration of not understanding or the discomfort of working through mistakes. I am also reminded of how fun it can be to play and experiment, and the feeling of success when I master or implement the new tool. Putting ourselves in the shoes of our learners is not only very humbling, but sheds light into what our students experience every day. Embracing this learning process and sharing it with students is also great role modeling.

Tip: If you are struggling with a new tool or want further information on one, don’t be afraid to reach out to other connected colleagues or my personal favorite is to ask a student. I have found either always eager to help. It’s also a great way for students to shine and share their knowledge with the adults in their school.

Becoming a connected educator starts with just taking a simple step of wanting to learn one new idea. What will you learn today?

 Note: As of this writing, the Connected Educator Month Book Club is back! Next month there will be four book clubs, one of which will be The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in the Digital Age. For more details, check out: http://plpnetwork.com/2013/09/19/connected-educator-month-book-club/