For over a year I have been excited about being a connected educator. I frequently lose myself in conversations, blog posts, and chats that speak to my diverse interests. As someone who enjoys consuming information and having intellectual discussions, the connections I have made are energizing and valuable. When I first started to connect with others I wanted to share this incredible resource with the world. Like most who get over-excited about sharing a new passion, I went ahead full force. I shared what I was learning with everyone the way the proud emperor displayed his new clothes. Unfortunately, people refused to see the beauty of my “new clothes” of connected learning. After a few weeks I had failed to inspire anyone to try on my connected educator’s new clothing. People were sure I was crazy, but they allowed me to continue my charade and strut around in my birthday suit of connectedness.
Since then I have seen how I cloaked myself similarly to the emperor. I knew better, and everyone else simply did not have the intelligence or foresight to realize the brilliance of being connected. I was wrapped up in how much I was learning and how it was helping to inspire more meaningful, engaging learning in my classroom. I looked at others with a contempt from on high. I, the great, learned, connected educator knew better than those Others. To this day I reflect upon my original experiences and see the foolish emperor.
Connecting means sharing, learning, reflecting, and collaborating. Truly being a connected educator means developing relationships with other people who can help us become better as either educators or as people in general. The more teachers we can get to share and learn from, the stronger education becomes.
There is a movement to expand the isolated pockets of connected educators. Even as the numbers of educators developing meaningful professional relationships outside of their schools expands, connected educators are still the minority. Many of education’s thought leaders, those that are shaping the future of our profession, are connected. Despite seeing more administrators, more teacher leaders, and nearly every major presenter in education as part of the connected educator network, the average educator is still not involved. To the average person in the classroom, the emperor is just a crazy man without clothes. Expanding the small, often clustered collection of educators that can be called connected is, in theory, an amazing movement for education.
Theoretically this is a no brainer.
The problem lies in our definitions of connected, our preconceived notions of teachers that are and are not connected, and the language we use when we talk about other educators. If we use the above definition of connecting, then we ought to push teachers to be connected. Most of us started connecting so that we could learn and improve for our students and ourselves. We sought individuals that pushed our thinking and challenged us to improve.
While we consistently hear the concept that “we are all equals here with equal voices”, many connected educators are discounting the voices of those that are not connected. Like I did, I see many connected educators creating a division between themselves and “the others”. There are statements about “them” that are derogatory and insulting. In case after case we forget that “them” refers to the dedicated teacher down the hall or the principal who has an incredible relationship with staff and students. Somewhere along the line the collective We of educational twitter users decided that Connected meant better, that Not Connected meant stagnant and closed-minded. It sometimes seems that not being on twitter is akin to not caring about your students or your profession.
With this approach, we alienate ourselves from the people we are trying to inspire. If our goal is to improve educators and develop connections among ourselves in the name of helping kids, we are heading down a wayward path. By labeling Others, we start with the preconception that they are already less than ourselves. When we help develop fellow educators’ access to the information, the resources, and the value of connection, they will find what type of connection works for them.
We should be clear that Connected does not necessarily mean “uses twitter.” If being connected actually means that we share, collaborate, learn and reflect through building relationships with others, then it leaves lots of room for choice. Yes, educators can connect through Twitter, but Voxer, Slack, Periscope, live podcasts, Google Hangouts, blogging, Instagram, Pinterest, face to face, and even Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn are viable options. I learn from being connected, not to an app or device, but to a vast collection of people who have a greater collection of knowledge and experiences than my own.
The term “connected educator” is not then a bivalent description, but one that extends along a continuum that allows for learning and improvement on an individual basis. One way is not necessarily superior to another, it is the learning and improving that matter, not the format. We cannot brazenly strut about with the belief that if other people don’t see what we want them to, that they are beneath us. We cannot pretend to be wearing ornate robes.
There is a difference between the Connected Educator and the Emperor– everyone can see our new clothes. The truth is, most of us have developed an amazing wardrobe. It is up to all of us to do more than just show them off, but to find as many possible ways to let others tailor their own. We ought to promote connecting, but we ought to do it in a way that is open, allows people to use their strengths, learn from one another, and forge greater opportunities for education.
Editor’s Note: Put your connected educator strategies into practice during Connected Educator month, October every year.
CUE will once again be a theme leader for 2015.
Brian Costello is in his 7th year of teaching in Southern New Jersey. Brian started his career as an instructional aide before going on to teach Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd Grades. He is an avid writer,blogger, and Twitter user. He recently published his first children’s book, Will McGill and the Magic Hat. Brian speaks at Educational conferences on topics including educational technology, leadership, communication, and professional development.