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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

What Is a Connected Educator?

By Peter DeWitt — August 03, 2012 4 min read
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Some educators have internet-phobia. Even worse, some have computer-phobias. After all, clouds disappear, networks go down and files get lost. The internet isn’t as secure as the filing cabinet in the classroom and there is less of a chance of a hacker breaking into a manila folder or a briefcase. However, in these days of instant access 24/7, isn’t it worthwhile for educators to try to get on the internet and join the 21st century?

There are people who enjoy writing notes in a notebook or bringing their personal calendar along so they can literally write in dates. Typing e-mails or putting out 140 characters (Twitter) for the world to read is very intimidating and there are many pitfalls if they do not know what to look out for when it comes to the internet. However, all educators, even those who do not like to be connected, need to find a balance. Let’s say they need to find some common ground.

August is Connected Educator Month and if you’re an educator and you do not know what that means, you have some work to do. There are many acronyms and phrases used in our profession, and they do not last forever. The next school year may bring the next fad, but being a connected educator is something very important to our profession because it means that you are using 21st-century skills to engage your students.

I get it! I really do. Everything is coming at us quickly. If it’s not teacher and administrator evaluation it’s high-stakes testing or dealing with severe budget cuts. In these days of major changes in education, keeping up with our peers is very difficult to do, which is why being connected is so important. Educators need a support network.

It doesn’t mean that you have to put down a book or turn off your CD player and it doesn’t mean you can’t disconnect from time to time. Everyone needs to recharge their batteries of sharpen the saw (Stephen Covey). From time to time I like to turn on my record player and relax! However, connecting with other colleagues near and far is a great experience if you are willing to put into it what you want to get out of it. If you are actively engaged in discussions on one of the many social networking tools, you will most likely find a great deal of professional development at your fingertips and you will find enjoyment in being connected.

Connecting with Students
PLN’s - Personal learning networks are the colleagues that educators can count on for information. Whether it’s the teacher next door, the principal colleague in another district or a follower on Twitter, PLN’s provide great educational resources and can be a great support network.

BYOD - Bring your own device. Whether you’re comfortable with a laptop, netbook, tablet or phone, these devices can seriously help any educator. Teachers can find a multitude of apps to use with students. In addition they can find apps to help them stay organized (ex. Evernote).

Administrators can use a tablet to cut down the time it takes to write up a teacher evaluation. I bring my iPad (I bought it myself!) with me and it has cut in half the time it takes me to write up an observation. An extra added benefit is that students see me using an iPad which tells them I’m engaged and current. Here are a few ways to stay connected but to find others, check out this NY Times article.

Blogs - Blogs are about 1,500 words or less and they are easy to read in a short amount of time. Many times they may include links that you can click on to get more information. Blogs offer a variety of topics and there is often some interaction at the end so educators can comment and respond to comments.

Webinars & Virtual Conferences - Imagine sitting in your office or in your classroom for an hour with no distractions (no, that’s not a joke!) and participating in a virtual conference where you can listen to a great speaker and interact with them. Webinars and virtual conferences do that and many of them are free. There is typically a smaller crowd and more of a chance to interact with the speaker.

Grandma’s Rule - There is an old saying...if you want to write something you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read, then don’t put it on the internet. It’s a good rule to live by but be careful how safe you play it. Everyone, even our antagonists, have freedom of speech.

Media Literacy
As much as it’s important to be a connected educator during these times, it’s just as important to pay attention to what you are reading. Whether it’s on-line, on television or in the newspaper, educators need to use their media literacy. Just because it’s in print or on television doesn’t mean it’s accurate or real. Some of us who are old enough can reflect on a time before the internet, when you believed everything you saw and trusted that it was accurate. Unfortunately, we have lost a bit of our innocence and need to understand that not everything we read it true.

Our students need to understand this as well. Being a connected educator means that we not only use the most current devices that make us look engaged, we must teach each other and our students about the responsibility of using these devices (Beware of the On-line Filter Bubbles).

In addition, find a balance. If you like writing notes, try it on a tablet. Sign up for a Twitter account and find some people to connect with and begin a conversation. It feels odd at first but if you put some time into it, you’ll get used to it. Connected Educator Month is not just about those educators who are already connected, it’s about getting educators to try one new 21st century tool. Our students are waiting and we shouldn’t keep them waiting much longer.

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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.