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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Break Out of the Silo: Become a Connected Educator

By Peter DeWitt — September 01, 2014 5 min read
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In 2002, 4 Dell computers sat in my classroom because our school was poor and we received a grant that required us to purchase “technology.” Computers were not, and still aren’t, a mainstay in every classroom or school. We were fortunate due to our unfortunate circumstances.

I taught in another school before this one, and we had computers there as well, which made me feel as though we were very advanced. The problem was that we did not have internet access at the time, so learning was limited to games on disks.

At least with the 4 brand new Dells we had internet access. One of the additional benefits of our situation besides getting 4 computers for each classroom, was getting a computer lab filled with new Dell computers. The computer lab happened to be right next to my classroom.

Hour after hour, day after day, I watched as no one brought their students to the computer lab to work.

I brought my students to the computer lab from time to time, but I let them play games. Sure, they were educational games, but I could not always keep up with the little hands raised because their passwords didn’t work...or their games froze. First graders often want immediate attention.

When the time in the lab went perfectly, which was a rare occasion, I loved being there. When the computers needed rebooting...or the students needed rebooting...which was often the case, the computer lab was the most dreaded place to be in the school.

I often found that teachers took their students to the computer lab when they didn’t have anything else to do.

A lot has changed since then...I think. Classrooms are equipped with Smartboards, tablets, and other handheld devices. Schools have gone BYOD and wireless network is commonplace in the most advanced schools. Many school leaders proudly announce that their schools have gone 1 to 1.

Unfortunately, sometimes their teachers quietly confess to colleagues that they do not use the devices very often.

Technology is interesting. Some educators love to use it, and it seems to be an appendage that they can easily use throughout the day. Other educators are not as loving, and they hate the word “technology” and think social media is a waste of time.

And then there are a group of educators somewhere in between. They have Smartphones, use their Smartboards from time to time, but they don’t have a need to find the most current tools. Those educators in the middle find the tools that work best for them and their students. They have a few “go-to” apps, and they find a balance between paper and computers.

For full disclosure, I have not always been a fan of technology tools. I liked the shiny gadgets but didn’t use them for anything close to their potential. Like most skeptics when social media came around I thought Twitter, Facebook and MySpace were passing fads...well, one of them was any way.

And then one night I found the benefits of technology and social media. It broke me out of my silo.

Sometimes when I post a blog or attend a conference, I hear people debate technology and social media. There are many reasons for the debate. Sometimes they are just tired of their administrator pushing technology in the classroom without offering any help to guide them. Other times they resist because they are afraid they will do the wrong thing...or look foolish.

I believe that we need to find a balance between using the tools we have always used that work (you decide what that is), and using new tools that involve social media and technology. Our students are growing up in a time when they didn’t have to live without technology like some of us, and it’s a daily part of their lives...they shouldn’t have to unplug when they enter into school. That will just give them one more opportunity to think school is archaic.

The reason why I have become such a fan of technology and social media is because of the connections it has brought to my life. I watch my mom get on Facebook and connect with friends and family, and I get to connect with friends who live all over the world. But something else has happened in the past three years since writing this blog which will forever change me, I met really good people who have helped stretch my thinking.

Connected Educators Series

Recently, I assembled a great group of teachers and school leaders for the Connected Educators Series (Corwin Press). I thought it was important to take the topic of connected education, and break it into it’s finer parts because it is such a vast topic.

Although I came up with the idea and was supported by Corwin Press, the end result turned out to be far better than anything I ever thought would happen. The authors stretched my thinking. How couldn’t they? When you combine former and present teachers with school leaders and throw in the topic of connected education, even a small group of likeminded people can disagree.

Through Voxer, Google Hangouts and good old fashioned conference calls we debated, supported, and created friendships with each other. We questioned the relevance of social media, and discussed why more educators should climb on board. Connecting with others, sharing new resources, learning new ways to teach were just some of the ideas that came up in conversation.

As I look on the past ten months as the books were being put together, I’m amazed at the group of people who wanted to be a part of it, and I’m thankful that the synergy was there every time we talked.

When we all talk about being connected educators, it sounds as though we are trying to be a part of an elite group of educators. Perhaps some people do it for that reason, but most of the educators I connect with on Twitter, Voxer and Facebook all have a desire to strengthen the profession. They want to help people break out of their silos and join the conversation.

Teaching can be a very solitary profession. The adults walk into the classroom with students, they close the door, and spend their day going from lesson to lesson. Of course, teaching and learning is more amazing than that....hopefully. But given the changes we have seen over the past four years, it’s important that we don’t just continue to grow as educators, we need to break out of the silos in an effort to connect with others.

There is so much that is good about our profession, and it’s easy to forget that because of the reforms we are facing, so it’s important that we connect with people who can stretch our thinking, support our new (or old) ideas, and being connected gives us the opportunity to learn from one another.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

DeWitt, Peter (2014). Flipping Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel. Connected Educators Series. Corwin Press. Thousand Oaks, CA.

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.