Scrolling through my Twitter feed on my iPhone, I connect with counterparts from all over the world. We talk about pedagogy, technology, digital citizenship and endless ways to bring more choice and creativity to the classroom. We learn together so our kids can learn in a way that is conducive to their own learning styles. We embrace that we are no longer the only experts in our spaces, allowing room for students to be creators and curators of their own knowledge.
Much like our 21st-century students, teachers today need to be connected. As we become less isolated within the walls of our classrooms, opportunities to tune in and take learning into our own hands present themselves regularly — if we know where to look.
If you are already on social media for personal reasons, creating a professional presence starts with whom you decide to follow. For example, Alan November of the November Learning Group was my way in. After a professional development day where he spoke to staff about the necessity and power of educational connection, I signed up and started following him. From there, I checked to see who he followed, read their profiles and chose people who I felt I could learn from.
In addition to following people who are leaders in education, I thought about what I teach. I sought out others who teach English at the high school level and news outlets and agencies that would support my learning. After following these people and organizations for a while, I stumbled upon my first Twitter chat, which is where the learning and connection really happens. Through real-time connected conversations on Twitter, I’ve made connections with people who have helped me to take risks and supported my growth as an educator.
Since the discovery of Twitter chats and the growth of my Personal Learning Network, I’ve increased the readership of my blog (a space where I honestly reflect on my experiences as an educator) and networked to get involved in other learning projects, such as writing a book for Corwin’s Connected Educator Series and a blog on Education Week Teacher called Work in Progress. None of these opportunities could have happened had I not connected with educators online.
Students today sense this shift as well. They are watching YouTube and teaching themselves new languages or playing Minecraft and designing whole cities. Gravitating toward the fast-paced world of social media, they connect with friends and share stories about their lives. It’s not a stretch to hope they’ll begin to share what they’ve been learning, too.
Social media may seem daunting if you have never tried it. But once you dip your toe in the water, you’ll find that it’s warm and welcoming. Between Twitter, Facebook groups, LinkedIn and Google Plus communities, you can develop a network that helps you grow as a learner, educator and person. All the while, you’ll be modeling a new way for students to take the initiative in their own learning.
“But I’m not good with technology,” you might say. It can be argued that with just one small lesson or by downloading an app to the phone, we can all connect in immeasurable ways. All it takes is a willingness to learn and a desire to reach more people and find new ideas.
And it doesn’t just have to be collaboration with strangers in faraway places. You can collaborate with your colleagues in a Google Hangout from home, discussing curriculum and shared projects to benefit and expand classroom learning.
We’ve been asking kids for years to work cooperatively and collaboratively. Why not do it ourselves? Google Apps for Education makes it increasingly easy to connect with students and each other at all hours of the day and night. We’re no longer bound by the physical school building. Teachers need to be ready to take this important step, if for no other reason than to remain relevant with the students they are teaching.
Connected educators see the world as it is now. We actively model as learners and facilitators in our spaces, making our learning transparent for students and parents. Only in this way can we begin to shift ideas about achievement and grow with the rapidly changing times.