The Connected Education Echo Chamber
There is a lot of talk these days in education circles about the power of connecting through social media, yet a vast majority of educators have yet to experience the benefits of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) for themselves. They hear people talk about it, maybe a friend has even told them about it, but they haven’t taken the leap yet to see what this “connected education” thing is all about? Why? What are they waiting for?
That’s right, I said it – they’re waiting for you, connected educator. They’re waiting for you, planner of school- and district-level professional development. They’re waiting for the people who are connected to start focusing on spreading the message to others instead of just tweeting about how great Twitter is and hoping that other people will get the message by osmosis. It reminds me of a church, where the members spend their time in worship and talking about how amazing their church is, then sit back and wonder why more people don’t show up. One of the major purposes of using social media as an educator is to spread the word and get more educators connected. If you are not intentionally making efforts to do that, then you are only contributing to this echo chamber mentality.
This summer, I made an intentional effort to help show other educators the power of social media, and I am continuing it during this school year. Three of the ways that I have done this are by starting an educational chat for educators in my area (#Gwinchat), including social media as a part of our professional learning at my school, and by personally encouraging and engaging educators new to Twitter and social media.
Start (or participate in ) a Chat
At the beginning of #ISTE2014 in Atlanta this summer, we hosted an informal “meet-up” with some of the attendees (over 120!) from our county and my school district. One of the goals was to help introduce people new to the conference to Twitter, get them signed up, and show them how to use it to navigate the conference and contribute to the discussions taking place online. Out of these conversations sprung a new idea: Why don’t we host a Twitter chat? Lindsey Brouillard (@lbrouillard) and I agreed to plan and moderate for the first few weeks. After several weeks of planning, we launched on July 30th, 2o14. What a ride it has been! I have really enjoyed the conversations, but, more importantly, it has served to bring in several educators in our county to Twitter and the world of connected education! If you’d like to read the archives, check out the links below.
#Gwinchat has been a great forum for educators in our county to get more connected, discuss important issues, build partnerships to refine our thinking and our practice, and I look forward to it growing and reaching a larger audience both in our county and beyond.
Social Media meets Professional Learning
Most (if not all) schools and districts have clearly articulated professional learning goals for their staff (yes, I know most people call it Professional Development, but I abhor that word! More on that later), but rarely do these goals include helping educators to get connected using Social Media. Most of these efforts are teacher-led and not part of the formal learning process, and that’s a shame. It lends a certain legitimacy to the goal if it is a formal part of the school plan – otherwise, it can be easy for many teachers to ignore as dismiss as “not for me”.
With that in mind, I decided to bring Social Media into our technology-integration professional learning sessions this year. Each monthly session will have some optional challenges for teachers to complete in the following month. I also created, thanks to some inspiration from my friend Sarah Thomas (@sarahdateechur) and others, a gamified structure to host these challenges. Below is a sample challenge from September with the “Join Twitter” challenge. I will post more on these challenges and our yearly professional learning in the future.
I would love to hear ideas on how you are bringing social media into your formal and informal professional learning at your school. This is a HUGE step in legitimizing the idea of connected education. I realize that this is not on the agenda of most districts and schools, but it is our duty as connected educators to push for change in this area. I believe that real change doesn’t occur from the top-down OR from the bottom-up, but from leaders “in the middle” like you and me.
The Personal Connection
Above all, the most significant action you can take to influence other teachers to use social media is to use your face-to-face influence with the people in your school, your district, your community, and your state. Just like the most effective way to get a visitor to your church is to extend them a personal invitation, very few people will resist your sincere, personal story of how using Twitter and social media helps you to be a better educator. It might be the teacher next door, the one down the hall, or the one that works at the other campus. Yep. You know who I’m talking about. It’s him. It’s her. Go ahead and share your learning journey with them, not next week, not in a couple of months, but TODAY! Share how interacting with fellow teachers, reading their blogs, and sharing with others has made you more reflective, thoughtful, and effective than you were in the past. Share the great lesson ideas and conference presentations that you have seen as a result of being connected. Share, and offer to help mentor them in their journey. The waters will be murky. It will take them awhile to feel comfortable, but that’s okay! You have been there too. Be a friend. A mentor. Connect them to #nt2t chat, the TweechMe app, and other resources to help new teachers to Twitter. Check in on them periodically and keep up the encouragement!
Make it your mantra this year to help other educators get connected. Connected Educator Month is coming in October. Don’t wait until then to start the journey of encouraging others – START TODAY!