When I started teaching, being a connected educator meant you were willing to work and collaborate, mainly with other people in your building. There were the occasional opportunities to work with grade level peers from other district schools, but for the most part, you connected in your building. And of course, graduate classes and teacher magazines were helpful.
I learned so much from the people I taught with. Sometimes just being able to bounce ideas around or share frustration about not reaching a student helped lighten the load. I loved when someone saw something and thought I might be able to use it; like the 4th grade teacher who introduced me to a simulation unit on the Westward Movement that was so engaging (probably the #1 thing kids tell me they remember about my class as far as curriculum goes).
When I moved from Texas to Wisconsin, I found a whole new district of teachers to learn with and from, but I stayed connected to those Texas teacher friends; in fact, I often spent hours on the phone with a friend as we bounced ideas around, both of us copying and mailing resources to each other.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and I STILL find value in those face-to-face building and district level connections. I love being able to say to another teacher, “Hey, come look at this,” or “What do you think of this?” We share a workplace and we know the same kids. It makes sense to connect.
However, I can’t imagine that being my only source of connecting. What is a strength (knowing the same kids and working in the same environment) can also be a weakness. Our sameness can keep us from thinking outside the box and we are less willing to rock the boat.
That’s Why You Need to Make Time for a PLN outside your building and district as well. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sold on social media to start with. I saw it as a time sucker, and I procrastinate badly enough the way it is!
But then I joined Facebook, and I reconnected in a different way with many of those teachers from my first school. And then Twitter beckoned, and I joined. Admittedly, I lurked for the better part of a year, but then I saw a hashtag that sparked my interest – #gtchat. As one of only two GT teachers in the district, this sounded like a perfect way to connect with other GT educators.
After that first chat, I was hooked. What an amazing resource! People from around the globe who were interested in topics about gifted education, all talking about the same topic for an hour each week. I bookmarked articles and resources by favoriting tweets to reread later. I asked questions. I shared my experiences. I walked away with more than I ever imagined. I added to the list of people I was following. And I went to them for resources even when it wasn’t #gtchat hour, I just had to add the hashtag, and responses came back quickly. And the best part? They didn’t all agree with me or with each other. I was able to get multiple perspectives on simple and complex issues.
And this past weekend, I experienced something I would never have known about if it weren’t for Twitter – RSCON4 (http://futureofeducation.com). This amazing symposium brought together educators from around the globe to share their “wow” moments. I was thrilled (and humbled) to be asked to present, and while it was a little nerve-wracking, it was a great experience.
I joined as many presentations as I could, and listened to many others after the fact, and there are still others that I need to get to. (Recordings of RSCON4 presentions).
And the beauty of being a connected educator? I’m not keeping all that great RSCON4 stuff to myself. I tweeted out as I listened to presentations. I had side conversations with other presenters looking for feedback on what we had shared. I shared links to several presentations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and via email with my colleagues. Most importantly, I had a student come to interview me for her global studies class today, and her issue was world hunger. In answering her questions I mentioned one of the amazing RSCON4 keynotes, 13 year-old Mallory Fundora and her passion for helping orphans in Uganda (Keynote Presentation).
Being a connected educator helps fuel my passion for teaching. I’ve already volunteered to be part of RSCON5 in any way they need me.
It’s not about having time to connect, it’s about making time.