August 31, 2012

Why become a "Connected Educator?"

I can easily say I did not just wake up one day with the idea that today is the day I become "Connected!"  It was a slow transformation.  I have used technology to make life a little easier for quite a while now.....Okay, I really like the big boy toys too.  Computers, cell phones, remote this, remote that,  you know all the stuff that your spouse looks at with that, "Is this really necessary?" look. So at one point, I joined Twitter.  At first, I was like most newbies to Twitter a few years ago, I followed Ashton Kutcher, Charlie Sheen and Alyssa Milano.  After a few weeks I thought to myself, why am I following people I could care less about (sorry Alyssa, I do care about you). So, in fashion with most people, I dropped the Twitter thing, and didn't really ponder it until about 8 months ago.  I had recently purchased an iPad and happened to be attending a workshop:" iPads for Administrators."  Twitter was only mentioned for about 3 minutes, but I decided to give it a try again and downloaded the app.  Life hasn't been the same since.

While I was fairly slow at building my PLN, I slowly figured out who to connect with and who to avoid (unless I wanted all of that nonsense about who was at what celeb party & then threw up on the "red Carpet").  Somewhere along the line I connected with Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) and Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1).  All of a sudden, a world of digital learning ideas and connections to like-minded thinkers began to scroll down my screen.  I quickly added Eric Sheninger, Alec & George Couros as well as Larry Ferlazzo.  I couldn't believe all of the great ideas and strategies I began to absorb. Videos, blogs and photos flowed into my digital storage device.  My head had filled up in no time (that was no surprise to my wife) and I now needed technology to be able to store all of the knowledge, experiences and ideas that were streaming into me from the twitterverse.   David Culberhouse and Pernille Ripp were great bloggers that shared practical classroom strategies or wonderful visions of how to improve my leadership style.  Then I connected with a few East Coast administrators that truly opened my mind again.

I had read about following hashtags ( # ) and how they could help to organize a topic and make it easier to follow specific conversations.  I found my way to a conversation called #ptchat one evening and I found the chat to be very interesting and along the lines of something I had been trying to push for a while now.  The importance of the parent/school connection, and ideas for improving that relationship.  I found an inspiring young administrator by the name of Joe Mazza.  Joe had been working on his Doctoral degree with a dissertation topic of how social media can help foster the home/school connection.  Through Joe, I connected with Steve Constantino (@SMConstantino), a superintendent from Virginia, as well as Scott Rocco (@ScottRRocco), an incredible assistant superintendent from New Jersey.  That connection was fortunate as Scott lead me to the #Satchat conversation.  This made my usual Saturday morning routine change from watching a bass fishing show before my wife and kids woke up, to another learning opportunity with excellent administrators from around the country.  I was connecting with Brad Currie (@bcurrie5), Bill Burkhead (@NormandinBill), Jessica Johnson (@principalJ) and Curt Rees (@WISCPrincipal) and many others and accessing ideas I hadn't considered or at the very least getting viewpoints that confirmed my ideas.  I am not trying to name drop, just letting you know some of the most influential thinkers and idea generators in education today.  These people are my Personal Learning Network.  Who's in yours?  How far does it stretch?  

If you haven't picked up on a theme at this point, I am not sure you can.  The fact that I hadn't left my couch, bed, or dining room table, and yet was able to connect with some of the best administrators, teachers, authors, and researchers in the field of education, was the greatest growth experience I have gained in all my years of training.  I have read a great deal over my years as an educator, and it is still a fantastic way to learn, but the access and speed at which I was now able to access information, and then to sit and discuss it with fellow practitioners, has boosted my knowledge base and confidence like no learning experience has before. Have I committed myself only to Twitter?  At first, yes.  But over time, I have discovered online magazines like!, Pinterest, and other sites that help connect educators to each other and help pass along information focused on education.

So what would I advise any teacher that is wondering what all of this "Connected Educator" stuff is about?  I would say, give it a try.  Be a lurker, the person who just sits back and watches the twitter chats scroll down the screen, occasionally clicking on a link or a cool looking infographic.  Then, as you develop some confidence, try joining in a conversation with someone you agree with, or just tell them you like their post.  Pretty soon, you will find yourself connecting with other educators, sharing ideas and finding that they thing you have some great ideas as well.  The dilemma we have today is that we now have access to information and ideas from all over the world, but so many people fear the unknown, that they have trouble venturing out into it.  Sometimes it is hard to see the box that you have been living in, when you have never really tried to look out of it.  Step out.......take a look, and give a tweet.  You  may like it!