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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are You a Relevant Educator?

By Peter DeWitt — September 09, 2014 3 min read
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He LEFT the classroom,” was a comment I heard or read many times. It made it seem as though I somehow would stop understanding the needs of teachers even though I spent my day in the same building. It used to sting a bit, not that it ever came from the teachers I worked with on a daily basis. Perhaps it stung because I worried it might be true.

We often hear that teachers are the ones “in the trenches,” and sometimes forget that principals are there as well. In an effort to make sure that principals don’t forget the classroom in order to do a paperwork, 4 principals did a guest blog about having a #NoOfficeDay.

As leaders leave the building for a central office role, they are at risk of becoming less relevant to teaching, especially in these days of increased accountability and mandates. Sometimes they forget what it is like to be a teacher, and believe some of what the bad policies stand for, or they opt out of fighting against a bad mandate in order to take the path of least resistance with state level leadership.

When we switch from one role to the next, or stay in the same role for years upon years, we begin to question our relevance. I remember seeing an interview with actor/musician Will Smith and he said he went to the gym every morning despite long days on the set because he had to keep up with the “young cats” who were entering into the business.

At some point we question if we are as good as we used to be, and whether we are still relevant for the field. I have to admit, that when this past school year began, I didn’t get to celebrate the first day like I did for the past 19 years, I began to contemplate my relevance.

But...we don’t have to leave our position for another to become irrelevant. We need only to stop growing.

The Relevant Educator

In a new book for the Corwin Press Connected Educator Series, Twitter superstars Tom Whitby and Steven Anderson wrote,

Collaborative learning has always been a significant component of learning within face-to-face gathering. With the advent of technology and social media, the previous limits of time and space, which always limited collaboration in the past, are now removed from the equation."

Educators no longer have to worry about this limitation thanks to social media.

Whitby and Anderson go on to write,

This enables educators to collaborate on a global scale regardless of time or location. The effect this has on professional development for educators has underscored the need for all educators to connect in order to communicate, collaborate, curate, and create for personal and professional authentic learning."

The implications for being connected go far deeper than just the professional development that teachers and school leaders can receive on an hourly basis. Being a connected educator, one who can find greater relevance in our present world, means that teachers and school leaders can model and teach the proper ways to connect to students.

Whitby and Anderson go on to write,

These are not only skills educators need to use, but educators are also charged to teach these same skills to their students. Digital literacy is now an integral part of education for teaching and learning, going beyond the application in an education setting to that of the world of work. Strategies and methodologies used for collaborative learning in education are easily carried over to the world of work, enabling lifelong learning to become more than just words in a school's mission statement."

BOOM! There it is! Let’s practice what we preach.

In The Relevant Educator, Tom Whitby and Steven Anderson dive deeper into the power of social media. They were careful not to write about social media from just the perspective of 2 guys who have a combined 200,000 Twitter followers who started #Edchat, and have some of the largest Professional Learning Networks (PLN) on any of the social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. They both wrote from the perspective of educators who understand that there are thousands of educators who want to be connected but are not sure where to begin.

In this 60 page How To book, Steve and Tom dive into:

  • Connected Learning
  • Social Media in Education
  • School Culture and Change
  • Social Media for Professional Development and Learning
  • Components of a PLN
  • National and Statewide Conferences...some of which are FREE!
  • Social Media Communities that newly connected, or those with a Twitter account who never use it, can begin by connecting to and learning from...

In the End

The beauty of our profession is that every year we have the opportunity to learn and grow. We may teach with the same colleagues year after year, but our students change. As society changes, and you can debate on whether that is for the better or worse, our students come in more and more connected than ever.

For the people who suggest we are all too connected, I will not disagree. Life should be about balance. Not everyone has to walk around 24 hours a day with a Smartphone in hand, but when it comes to teaching and learning, we should not expect students to leave their devices at the door. That will just give them one more reason to think school is too far behind the society they live in.

It is so easy and so worthwhile to connect using social media. There are thousands of people to learn from and with every hour of every day. On the days when we question our relevance the most, we should sit down on our couches or at our desks, strap on our seatbelts for a trip on the information super highway, and connect with colleagues near and far.

Steven Anderson and Tom Whitby certainly offer us an excellent roadmap to take us there...

* Peter is the series editor for the Corwin Press Connected Educators Series.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.