Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why should I be a connected educator?

Book cover image
At EdCamp KS in Dodge City this summer, I won a copy of Matt Miller's book Ditch That Textbook.  Little did I know that my good friends Dyane and Micah would be teaching an online course over this exact book!  So, here I am working through their online course, Ditch That Textbook, in an effort to increase my graduate credits.  Each week we have been challenged to explore and respond to various thoughts and ideas presented in Matt's book.  I feel like this week was a curve ball as Dyane posted our weekly challenge...Create a project addressing the question, "Why be a connected educator?"  When I first started thinking about this question my mind instantly went in the direction of how one becomes a connected educator and where I'm lacking as a connected educator, so I had to put on the brakes and back-track my thinking to the actual question of why someone would want to be a connected educator.

As I think about the reasoning behind being a connected educator, I'm drawn back to my first teaching job.  I was fresh out of college taking a high school English position at a school that serviced the juvenile correctional facility just outside of town.  Most of the students were boys ranging from age 13 to 21.  There was no textbook, no curriculum, and no scope and sequence.  I had to figure out what the students needed most in the area of their English education.  Wow!  What a task for a young twenty-something novice teacher!  I felt like I had been shipwrecked on an island with limited resources and told to survive - Oh, and don't forget to take care of these kids too.  Sure there were other teachers at the school, but they had their own content and classes to worry about.  Sadly, there was no Twitter, Facebook or even Pinterest to help me out.  I truly felt on my own.  This is probably the first key reason for an individual to become a connected educator.  Even though you may work in a building with other colleagues, you still might feel like you are on your own island just trying to survive.  Being a connected educator is like throwing a line out to someone else on their island and drawing you both together so you are not alone.

Once you start connecting with other educators, you open a treasure trove full of new ideas and resources.  You also gain inspiration and encouragement that helps you carry on throughout the school year.  As you continue to connect and develop relationships with other educators, you become more open about sharing yourself with others - your thoughts, ideas, resources, and encouragement.  You may even find yourself in a new situation which allows you to collaborate with another teacher not even in your school district.  In Matt's chapter entitled Be a Connected Educator, he relates meeting and collaborating with his friend and colleague Paula.  They happened to connect through Twitter and ended up collaborating on a presentation that they presented together at an educational technology conference.  As I was reading his story, I was drawn into my own collaboration experience.  I had transitioned from teaching English to being the high school librarian at the same school and again found myself needing to connect with educators in the library field.  I made two connections through an awesome online library challenge called 23 Things Kansas.  It was geared to helping school librarians learn about and embrace technology.  Through this experience, I met Gwen Bartlett and Heather Braum.  We decide to collaborate on a presentation for the Kansas Libary and School Librarian conference.  Like Matt's experience, we had never met in person, but we were able to connect online through our common interests and passions as educators.

No Man is an Island
While I love the idea of connecting for the sake of exchanging ideas and collaborating with other educators, I think one of the most surprising reasons to become a connected educator is to challenge your mindset and perspective.  That's right, it's important to be connected educator so other's can push your buttons, in a positive way, though.  When we stay isolated on our island, we stop growing.  We have nothing challenging our thoughts and ideas.  That is not to say that our thoughts and ideas are wrong, but they can become dated, stagnant and ineffective.  I have always considered myself open-minded when it comes to new ideas and trends in education.  When I first heard someone mention project-based learning (PBL), I thought, "Yes!  Finally, there is someone else who sees the value in projects over exams."  Then I learned what PBL really looked like in the classroom and I had to take a step back to re-evaluate.  Had I not been a connected educator, I might not have even heard about PBL or what it really meant.  I also wouldn't have been challenged to evaluate my thoughts and opinions on project-based learning.  Recently, my challenge area has come in the form of the schools where students choose what they are going to learn.  It seems to be a spin-off of the Genius Hour concept.  If I were not a connected educator, not only would my knowledge and understanding be limited, but I wouldn't be challenged to think more about what these types of schools have to offer students.  I would solely be thinking about how schools like this are hurting students because they are not gaining an educational foundation in reading, writing, and math.  Does it mean that I will always agree with these challenging ideas and thoughts?  No, but it is good for me to be challenged so I can grow as an educator.

What about you?  Are you a connected educator or is it time to kick yourself off the island?

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