By Teachers, For Teachers
I’ve told my story a hundred times: “I joined Twitter because I thought it was stupid. Then I realized there were thousands of people already there, sharing their thoughts, experiences, and resources about the teaching profession. I was hooked.” As an English teacher in the teaching profession, I always imagined that the best ideas were well-thought-out essays spanning thousands of words. I wrote by the page, not by the character. But jumping onto social media showed me that ideas about the teaching profession can be exchanged in a countless variety of ways. Becoming a connected educator helped open me up both to a broader world of ideas and a broader span of ways to express them.
Becoming a connected educator literally transformed my teaching, my philosophy, and my whole approach to education. It gave me the qualities of who I am today. Here are some of the qualities every connected educator is likely to demonstrate.
Demonstrates lifelong learning. One of our goals in education is to help our students become “Lifelong learners,” meaning that they make continuous learning a part of their life forever. One way to instill this value is to demonstrate it ourselves, and connected educators are the types of people who get connected exactly so they can continue learning. When students see their teachers continuing to learn, it sets the cultural expectation that they, too, will keep learning and growing in their futures.
Is open to new ideas. It’s easy to get cloistered into our little hovel of routine and familiarity. But a connected educator gets plugged into the broader world of ideas. Being connected means having an open mind and being willing to learn about a diverse array of perspectives and trying something beyond one’s realm of familiarity.
Utilizes technology. In addition to being open to new ideas, a connected educator has to utilize the latest tech tools to establish and maintain these connections. It is impossible to get connected to colleagues across the world without acing some of the essentials of technology. Connectedness and tech proficiency often go hand-in-hand, and one advantageous quality of being a connected educator is learning how to leverage these tech tools to access the ideas, resources, and dialogues you need to make your practice that much more effective.
Is willing to experiment and explore. Many of us develop a comfy-as-is demeanor when it comes to our norms as educators. Once we “Figure it out,” we can be unwilling to develop or change our practices. A connected educator, however, possesses the willingness to flexibly experiment with new ideas. Since connectedness and learning are one in the same, the willingness to experiment with new ideas naturally follows, as it is important to the connected educator to put into practice the interesting, effective approaches PLN (personal learning network) colleagues share.
Values customized and differentiated learning. Becoming a connected educator and developing a PLN means that the teacher values their customized set of people, information, and schedule to access these important resources. As connected educators come to rely on their own customized way of learning, they implicitly begin to value this approach for all learners, becoming more sensitive to the opportunities for customized and differentiated learning for their students.
Is willing to share and be vulnerable. Finally, a connected educator is not merely a consumer of information, but also a sharer of information. Sharing takes courage, and connected educators become more prone to share their own ideas, experiences, and resources with others, developing the comfort and vulnerability necessary to put themselves out there in front of others. Since connected educators have benefitted from others’ sharing information with them, they too recognize the value of their own sharing.
So what comes first: The characteristics of lifelong learning, tech use, openness to ideas and experimentation, value of differentiation, and willingness to share … or becoming a connected educator?
I don’t think it matters. Teachers who demonstrate the qualities listed above are more likely to become connected educators. Connected educators are more likely to develop those qualities. You see the relationship? You don’t first have to have those qualities to jump online and develop your PLN, and you don’t need a dynamic PLN before expressing these qualities in your life. Just do both.
If you’re interested in becoming a connected educator, then there are a few simple steps to follow to help you get started:
Becoming a connected educator is not difficult, but it is an essential part of a teacher’s continued growth. Connected educators tend to demonstrate many of the honorable qualities listed above, and the end result is that students have a better teacher, a better role model, and a better learning experience. These admirable characteristics go hand-in-hand with being a connected educator. So if you’re already connected – congrats and keep it up! And if you’re not, now is the time to develop your connectedness.
Jordan Catapano teaches high school English in the Chicago suburbs. In addition to being a National Board Certified Teacher, he is a published writer, an educational speaker, a leader in the Illinois Association for Teachers of English (IATE), and serves on the school board for a private area school. He also owns and operate multiple websites that assist students with multiple areas of their writing development, including content related to the ACT, SAT, and college application essays, and teaches seminars that provide additional support for students in these areas.