Recently, I began reading the book What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker), Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy), and Jeffrey Zoul (@Jeff_Zoul). I am about two-thirds of the way through, but the authors are confirming that what I am doing is beneficial to my own teaching, my students, and those around me.
I am ashamed to say as someone who earned his master’s in educational technology that I have only recently begun to connect myself with others. I often lived off the idea that I had to be the one to create ideas. I had to learn how to use these tools in unique ways. When my first school entered the world of Chromebooks and G Suite for Education, I felt empowered because I had excellent ideas for utilizing the technology. I mean it was easy to see the benefits of collaboration with Google Docs, being able to create illustrations and slideshows to summarize and retell a book, and incorporate blogging as a way for groups to interact with each other. However, it wasn’t long after that where those ideas were not novelty ideas because others were doing them as well. How could I possibly stay in the forefront of technology when new things come out so quickly?
IT ISN’T ABOUT ME
Last year, when I began to take over the IT side of the school (without any experience in this realm), I quickly realized that I am going to need support. I went to Reddit and found the sysadmin and k12sysadmin communities. As a lurker, I was able to glean so much information, and I learned so much! Particularly in the k12sysadmin group, I could ask questions with tremendous amount of support and without the fear of looking stupid. After a while, I began to wonder why I ventured into this type of digital community. The reason was because I didn’t have anyone around me to support me. I had to reach out to others.
But why had I never done this in education? It was probably because I felt that since I was “trained” that I shouldn’t need the support. If I asked for support or ideas from others, then I wouldn’t be the expert. I guess I felt like I had a reputation to maintain as the “tech” guy.
DITCH THAT RADIO
I don’t remember how I found it, but the Google Teacher Tribe podcast sparked a change in me. I have a 30-minute commute to work, and I decided to ditch the radio (how about a book on that, Matt!) and use that time in a meaningful way. I probably searched for education technology podcasts and thought that this one sounded amazing. After listening to one episode, I was hooked. I spent every day going through the archive of episodes, being in awe of what Matt (@jmattmiller) and Kasey (@ShakeUpLearning) were sharing, thinking that these were two super teachers who had spent years and years doing this! I quickly found out that they were classroom teachers who just wanted to improve their instruction. Their drive to do that and connect with others led them to where they are today. After working through all of these episodes, I continued to hunger for more podcasts to listen to so that I never had to go back to radio again.
Each podcast always had a similar aspect in common: Twitter. The authors of What Connected Educators Do Differently explain the power of Twitter and the ability to connect globally. I couldn’t agree more. In the past two months, I have been able to grow my PLN by just seeking people who could help me improve my practice. I would dare to say that I have grown more in the last two months than the last three to four years, simply due to the fact that I can attend a “conference” whenever I want.
DITCH THAT NEGATIVITY
When talking with fellow educators about Twitter, I often get the eye roll and “I don’t understand Twitter” and “Everyone seems to just be negative on Twitter.” I could definitely understand the first comment. It does have a bit of a learning curve, especially when you don’t have followers, but the second makes me chuckle. I loved what Ryan O’Donnell (@creativeedtech) said on episode 68 of the Check This Out podcast. He and Brian Briggs (@bribriggs) had Matt Miller on as a guest talking about things they wanted to ditch. Ryan’s was to ditch the negativity. We often find ourselves surrounded by negativity from peers, media, and even strangers. However, he mentioned that when you are on Twitter with like-minded educators, you really only see positive dialogue. Those teachers who are negative aren’t really improving their craft, and you won’t find them being active on Twitter. While educators still do have debates and may tweet something that can be argumentative, it is all done with the spirit of improving education.
Being a connected educator has been one of the greatest things I have done for my career. I wish my presence online was already further established, but I know that I need to keep sharing and learning from others. I have people who continue to challenge my ways of thinking, even when they aren’t speaking directly to me.
Even though only a few people will probably read this post, I hope that it encourages them to get out there and share their ideas. If you think you have nothing to share or offer to others, you are dead wrong! Rome wasn’t built in a day, so go ahead and just start!