“Well, we’re all connected educators. We’re all online, you know. There’s nothing special about that. What’s the big deal?”
That’s the response I get from teachers who are unclear on this radical new thing called being a connected educator. Apparently, the assumption is that since their classroom is now connected to a larger computer network, they must be connected educators. And sure, on some level, they could call themselves connected.
But it goes deeper than that. Being connected to the Internet for the modern educator, as important as it is, doesn’t make that educator any more special than a school having a copier 20 years ago, a library 30 years ago, or electricity 50 years ago. (I’m not singling out those districts who truly don’t have those amenities — they exist, and they do need help — but they are probably not the norm, and I daresay anyone who is reading this blog post doesn’t work at one.)
An educator who thinks he/she is a connected one simply because of his/her access to the Internet might as well believe he/she is an Olympic weightlifter because he/she has a pair of arms. It doesn’t qualify.
“Well,” some others have argued to me, “I have a Facebook account. I’m on Instagram. I even have a Twitter handle.” (In most cases, the teachers making this argument haven’t accessed their Twitter account since 2015, or think it’s ‘too confusing,’ but never mind.) “I’m active on social media. I’m connected.” Yep, you are. But to whom or what?
Being on social media is necessary to being a connected educator. But how are you using those social media tools? Are they part of your approach to education? Are you using them to deepen your practices or discover new ones? To connect with your students in a meaningful and appropriate way (if your district allows)? Do you communicate with other teachers to share resources, experiences, or to discuss the issues you each are facing with your students?
Or are you doing what the majority of people on social media are doing: posting pictures of food or pets, getting into pointless flame wars over politics, or playing games?
“Well, then, what’s a connected educator?” my colleagues sigh at me huffily, thinking that I’ve got to be the densest or most esoteric teacher who ever came down the pike.
It means you’re making connections with other teachers and with students.
It means you communicate with kids regularly, not just when you give the whole group instruction we all have to deliver with some regularity. It means you let them know that you are there for them, to listen, to support, to clarify, to motivate, to assist. It means you build a relationship with the students you’re teaching — not to be their buddy, but to be their lifeline of sanity and practical love in a world of confusing information and contradiction. It means you use all the channels at your disposal to make that communication work, and yes, that includes technology if you are sensible and practical about it.
It means you communicate with other teachers regularly. Not at your department meetings; not at the PD that your administrators make you go to; not on Friday nights at the local watering hole, and not in your teachers’ lounge (where you’ll hear more pissing and moaning than constructive ideas, a whole lot more often than not). I mean you communicate with teachers who want to grow, who know they haven’t arrived, who would rather light the proverbial candle than curse the proverbial darkness.
How? Use that Internet connection you’re so proud of or that social media you think plugs you into the lives of others. Join that Twitter chat. Find that Facebook group and get in it. Dive into that Voxer group. Make contact with other people who listen to that podcast about education. Look around for that PLN or tribe of teachers that are as passionate about kids and learning as you are.
‘But I don’t have time for that,” my counterparts protest. “I’m too busy. I have the people here at school to talk to. I don’t need that other stuff.”
Okay, I get it. Take care of business. But don’t call yourself a connected educator.
I know it’s hard to quantify educational enrichment, and I don’t want to put myself on any sort of pedestal; Lord knows, I’m nowhere near an educational rockstar, and I’m making up for lost time in my own professional development. But I’d be willing to bet that I’ll be more enriched, ennobled, and empowered as a teacher, by virtue of being more connected the way I’ve just described when I get to my retirement age than my colleagues who aren’t connected. Maybe I won’t be the teacher they make movies about, but I hope I’ll be the one who knows what he has to do in order to get better every day he goes into the classroom.
Editor’s Note: This piece is cross-posted from “Moments with Mike” published on November 5, 2018.
Mike Messner is a social studies teacher at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California and an adjunct professor of history at Skyline College in San Bruno, California. He is also a member of #4OCFPLN, a Voxer-based network of educators dedicated to innovation and revitalization of classroom teaching. Links: Blog Twitter