There are so many expectations and responsibilities for teachers in the 21st century. We have to plan lessons and projects that align with the Common Core or state standards that also keep students engaged and excited to learn. There are centers to plan, small groups to teach, objectives to meet, discussions to be had, and of course, all of the testing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were some network of teachers across the world ready to share their resources and help other educators succeed? As I’ve learned over the past year, there is! You can connect with other teachers across a variety of social media and education platforms.
I started my graduate program with a concentration in educational technology in August of 2014. I had three courses with Marialice Curran (@mbfxc). Our first assignment was to sign up for a Twitter account. Honestly, my initial reaction was a mix of confusion and apprehension. Before Marialice, my understanding of Twitter was what I saw on Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” segment. I wondered how this account would ever help me become a better teacher. As it turns out, this was the single most practical assignment of my undergraduate and graduate education. I started to get more comfortable with hashtags and chats and began to compile all of these fantastic classroom resources. Coincidentally, Marialice is also the person that originally connected me with @txeduchat, and I am so grateful to her for that! Twitter is certainly not the only avenue to becoming a connected educator, but it is the one that I’ve found to be the most useful.
The idea of being a connected educator evolves over time, as anything does. Teachers have always had professional learning networks (PLN); now we just have the opportunity to involve so many more people from around the world. Before social media and the World Wide Web, teachers were connected within their schools or districts. Now, a principal from Arkansas can learn with a first grade teacher from Canada and a school counselor from Australia. As a new graduate and grad student, it is so encouraging to know that there are dozens of people willing to share ideas with me or give me feedback on my ideas — and my circle is growing every week.
Being a connected educator is beneficial to all involved. When you’re connected you’re constantly learning new about new tools and techniques, gaining diverse perspectives, collaborating with others, and staying up to date with everything in your field. I think that’s what is so special about the idea of being a connected educator in the 21st century…you can ask a question and within 30 seconds you’ll have three people helping you find an answer. Everyone in your PLN is working toward the same goal. However, to be a true connected educator, you have to share ideas and perspectives, too. When I first joined Twitter I didn’t want to share anything. I didn’t think my ideas were worth it and was fine with just collecting resources to use. After a few weeks, I started to feel like I was missing out on something. The true joy of being connected comes from helping and sharing with others.
There are many reasons to be connected, but I think the most important is the effect it has on your classroom and students. If I can learn more from being connected, can’t my students do the same? I participated in a #digcit chat last year during Connected Educator Month (CEM). High school students from Illinois joined the chat to share opinions and become connected. I also had the opportunity to be a “blog buddy” with an eighth grader in Ohio. Writing and sharing a blog with someone in another state or joining a chat to connect with teachers and students as far away as England seems so much more meaningful than sitting at a desk filling in a worksheet. Those students would never have been given those opportunities if their teacher had not been connected.
To me, being connected on Twitter or Pinterest, or by blogging or using Edmodo is like participating in effective professional learning whenever I want. It gives me ideas, helps me to be more globally aware, and essentially makes me a better teacher. There are endless possibilities for teachers and students to learn in an engaging, thoughtful, and practical way and they are all available at our fingertips.