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This is the original post that I submitted to Edcsurge. Under the expert editorship of Christina Quattrocchi it appeared under this title Board The Bullet Train: The Culture of Connection

I have been a connected educator throughout most of my 40-year career. My professional life has always been built around personal learning and collaboration. The difference between the 70’s and now is the ability to use far better tools to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create. The willingness to learn and use these modern tools designed for connectedness is a major factor in creating a gap between the connected and the unconnected educator. Reducing that gap should be a goal of every educator.

The value of connectedness, to a professional educator who actively practices it, is quickly understood as it is used. Too often connected educators are the worst advocates of connectedness because of their enthusiasm for what, and how they are learning. They tend to overwhelm the less informed with too much information that would scare off anyone who already views technology as an obstacle to overcome, as opposed to a tool to be learned and used effectively.

A connected 21st Century educator is an educator who is digitally literate, or at least open to learning the technology needed to basically connect and collaborate with others. It requires at the very least the same openness to learning as we ask of our students. It is a life long learning mindset. Connected educators find a value in, or even a moral imperative to share ideas and sources with others. They also trust enough to openly ask for help of other connected educators.

The dynamic of teaching is changing from a content expert disseminating information to students, to that of a learning expert of sorts, acting as a source in guiding students to learn. In this role the teacher often becomes a learner to be a better educator. Connected educators are constantly shifting between the role of learner and teacher. It is part of the mindset of a life long learner.

Connected educators are continually searching out other educators who can help in their goal of professional and personal learning. They seek out and collect and organize these educators as sources for information through social media. Social media being what it is, social, real relationships often result. This is never more evident than at education conferences. Connected educators meet face to face for the first time, and it is as if they were childhood friends. Virtual connections are deepened with face-to-face encounters. Faces and names are connected and acquaintances become friends.

The collection of educators becomes what is referred to as a Professional Learning Network; PLN. Access to one’s PLN is done through social media apps like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Each of these Apps has unique bells and whistles, but they are all designed to connect, exchange information and sources in the way of links to that information on the Internet. This would include: discussions, blog posts, webinars, videos, podcasts, websites, charts, diagrams, panel discussions, and virtual tours. Face to face collaboration can happen anytime with Skype, Google Hangouts, or Tango.

Connected educators find blog posts a mainstay for their relevance in the profession of education. These posts are not just read, but interacted with. Comments on posts question, praise, elaborate, clarify, and refer readers to additional, similar posts. Connectedness takes the educator beyond just the consumption of information to interacting with it. Many interact to a point where they develop their own Blogs.

The amount of education authors, bloggers and speakers enable any connected educator access not only to the ideas of these thought leaders, but also to the thought leaders themselves. It is not uncommon for a connected educator to start out micro-blogging on Twitter, move to posting on their own blog, and then authoring a full-length book.

Connected educators are interacting with the thought leaders who are coming up with the ideas, as well as the first educators who are using these same ideas. These are practicing educators who take the ideas and theories into the classroom. They share the experience first hand with other connected educators with all the successes and shortcomings. The Flipped Class, Bring Your Own Device, Problem/Project Based Learning, Professional Learning Network, 1:1 Laptops were all topics discussed online with connected educators months or even a year before they hit the halls, faculty rooms and meetings of most schools. Some unconnected educators are not yet talking in-depth about some of these innovative education topics.

Relevance is the key to connected educators. It is not that connected educators are better than unconnected educators. However, we as educators find ourselves in a transition period in Education in regard to how educators maintain their relevance. The technology of the 21st Century has enabled educators to capitalize on collaboration and simplify creation. The 20th Century model of how educators stayed relevant continues to be less effective each day. We are in a technology-driven society that is driving things faster and further than ever before capable, and the technology itself continues to advance. Connecting is like stepping on the bullet train, while not connecting is like sitting at the train station awaiting a more comfortable train to ride.

One does not need to be connected to be a good educator, but if one is a good educator, being connected can make him, or her a better, and a more relevant educator. This is not a course that is taken, but rather a mindset. It requires a love of learning, and a trust in other educators to be sharing, caring, and transparent. It is not Utopia; it is the culture of connected educators. It requires participation. Fifteen to twenty minutes a day to start out would work fine. The easiest way to start is with a Twitter account. Twitter will become the backbone of the Personal Learning Network directing you to many other sources. Starting is the key. Once an educator buys in, and starts, the connectedness will soon take over.

The culture of connected educators was not designed. It developed and evolved with the advance of technology, and the evolution of social media. Digital literacy has been a requirement of the connected culture, but digital literacy has now also become a requirement for all educators. “Resistance is futile” is the phrase that comes to mind in this connected revolution.

Irrelevant educators may provide irrelevant education. To better educate our kids we need to better educate our educators. It is through connectedness that we can accomplish this most efficiently.

 

What does it take to be a Connected Educator?

Willingness to be digitally literate

Willingness to seek out and connect with other educators.

Willingness to explore and share ideas with other educators

Willingness to develop and maintain a Professional Learning Network of sources

Willingness to peruse, engage, and share pertinent Education Blogs

Willingness to be a lifelong learner in pursuit of relevance

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There have been a great many comments and posts recently on both the successes and shortcomings of the BAMMY AWARDS. I was recognized at the ceremony as a Co-Founder of #Edchat and an innovator in education. There were some blatantly obvious mistakes made at that ceremony, but it should also be recognized that the entire event was set up to recognize and celebrate educators. I do not want to enter the fray on this, but I do need to take issue with one criticism that I have seen in a few posts that I think is off the mark.

If there is one subject I have consistently written about for years, it is the idea of what a modern connected educator is. If there is one thing we should strive for as connected educators, it is collaboration. It shares, questions, refines and improves ideas. Collectively, we are smarter than we are individually. Collaboration makes education more transparent. It enables educators to examine, and explore what is relevant in their profession. It highlights the best and exposes the worst in education. Connected educators are educators who engage in this collaboration with the tools of technology to efficiently maximize their collaboration in ways that were never before possible.

The Bammy Awards were set up to recognize and celebrate that very aspect of education, the successful collaboration of educators. Why then are educators criticizing the Bammys for recognizing connected educators?

Some blog posts were critical that this was a popularity contest with the most popular connected educators. If an educator is a successful collaborator in social media, he, or she will attract a following. That following however is based on the ideas that the educator shares, and not on who likes them personally. There are many educators who have social media accounts, but that does not make them connected educators. I have a list of over 200 superintendents on Twitter. Most have barely tweeted 100 times, and I suspect they were more for PR than for collaboration. They have followings as well, but that is not necessarily based on their collaboration and most are not substantial.

Many of the connected educators at the BAMMY AWARDS, which was probably less than 50 or 60, are educators who do more than just tweet for collaboration. Most of them Blog, some of them have written books, many have done webinars, speak at conferences, and conduct sessions at Edcamps. All of these actions are forms of collaboration, and the result will be a following of educators, who recognize and appreciate the value of each of the contributions of each of these individuals. These connected educators are going beyond what we have now come to expect from educators, doing exactly what we need them to do to improve our profession through collaboration. Why would anyone then question or criticize them for being too popular. Why would anyone want to discount the validation of these educators? The number of followers is the very measure that validates their efforts.

If we did not want educators to be recognized for their ideas and have people publicly stand behind them, we should not put any names on any work. If the rule is to be that we need to collaborate, but not be recognized for that collaboration, then we should all write and collaborate anonymously.  No names on books, posts, speeches or any work that is public collaboration.

Connected educators cannot control their “popularity”. This following or “Popularity” is a consequence of how their ideas are vetted and approved by other educators and in so doing, their names are recognized. This to me is a good thing. I can name the best people who can model what it is to be a connected educator based not just as my opinion, but one born out by other educators as well. It makes no sense to me to say that we need to recognize collaboration in education and then condemn connected educators for being successful for doing it. It is a fact in collaboration in social media that one measure of successful collaboration will be the “popularity”, or following of the collaborator.

We are each entitled to our own opinions on how we measure and value things. I am becoming more and more aware however, that the forms of measurement that we use for things may need to be adjusted, or even scraped, as we change the way we do things. I would offer that advice to both the organizers of the BAMMY AWARDS as well as their critics.

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From time to time I am asked to answer interview questions for some organization, or upcoming conference, so that the interview can be shared with other educators. Many educators are asked to provide these videos as a common practice. It is not as timely, or spontaneous as SKYPE or a Google Hangout, but it is portable and controllable, so that makes it preferable too many people. They can edit and tie it into others and then send it out to their audience, or present it in a gala presentation for all to see.

Unfortunately, not every video interview makes it to the final production for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes only a snippet of a larger version makes it into the final production. For those of us who figured out how to make a video, and took the time to do so, it is always a little disappointing not to make it in the final production. My best takeaway is that I figured out how to use iMovie on my own to put it all together. Of course I should point out that this is but another connected learning benefit.

The organizers of The BAMMY AWARDS recently asked me to do such an interview tape. It was to be a rough-cut video that they would edit to professional status. It would include a quick introduction of myself, followed by my answers to three questions.

1 How has being a Connected Educator helped you in dealing with all the demands of an educator today?

2 Can you give a specific example of how being a Connected Educator has changed your practice?

3 What would you say to a non-Connected Educator to convince him/her of the value in being connected?

I pondered the questions, considered the creativity, checked out the App, found a relaxed setting, gathered costumes, screwed up my courage, and took the plunge. After a few starts and stops, I began to get the hang of it, and I was off on yet another thing that I was doing for the first time as a result of connected learning, and the support and encouragement from my social media colleagues. I even opened a YouTube account to house my production upon its conclusion. My 6 minute and 13 second production was uploaded to a predetermined file-sharing app, so that it could be edited by the BAMMY Staff before the big event.

I attended the Washington D.C. event awaiting the unveiling of the Connected Educator Production before the hundreds of educators in the audience. After all it was a red carpet, black tie affair, so I began to feel as if it was my personal premiere. The video came up on the big screen with the images of education thought leaders giving their answers to the very same questions that I had deftly dealt with. Of course they had no costume changes. That a little something extra that would most likely assure me the creativity award, if anyone were to give one. About three-quarters through the production, I was still on the edge of my seat knowing my digitized face should pop up at any second with pearls of wisdom cascading from my lips to the throngs of applause from the gathered crowd of educators. Then it happened. I did appear on the big screen. My heart stopped for about 10 seconds. Not that my heart stopped working for 10 seconds, but that was how long my appearance was in that very professional, and very impressive production – 10 seconds. My creative informative sage wisdom of 6 minutes and 13 seconds was edited down to about 10 seconds. The worst of it was that no one even knew I had three costume changes.

Of course I asked what happened of the folks in charge, and they had reasonable explanations for the cuts that they made and the pieces that they included. I had no recourse, but to accept my fate and go unrecognized for my video creation. That is when I realized I am a Connected Educator. I do not need an organization, producer, or publisher to share my ideas, works and accomplishments with other educators. I can count on myself to do that. I could also get it to a much greater audience with the added power of my Personal Learning Network and Social Media.

Without further ado, I would like to share with you, the very rough-cut version of “My Connected Educator Interview”. Please feel free to pass it along to friends and colleagues connected, or not. Please take special care to note the costume changes.

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I think everyone has certain phrases, or catchwords that tend to set them off. Some of us, of the more passionate persuasion, have phrases that send us over the edge. I am not talking about the conference clichés like “that’s where the tire meets the road” or “Let’s not kick that can down the road” and the ever-popular “I wouldn’t give your troubles to a monkey on a rock’. I am talking about phrases that are couched in the comfort of country-speak to conceal the true intentions of what the phrase represents. I attended a wonderful Edcamp this week where I shared and learned a great deal, but I encountered the frequent use of two such expressions in more than a couple of sessions.

If you need an explanation of what an Edcamp is, I will make an assumption that you are not yet connected, or at best a newly connected educator. Edcamps started a few years back and have become a growing movement for educators to personalize their learning of their much-needed professional development. The existing models of PD provided by the education system over the last few centuries don’t seem to be providing the necessary elements for success for educators. A growing number of educators have designed a new form of PD called Edcamps. Edcamp sessions are discussions of what the participants find relevant. There is no pre-set schedule of approved sessions. People volunteer to lead discussions on topics chosen by the attendees. There are no vendor sessions. There are only educators. If a session is not meeting an attendees needs they are free to move on to another session.

These Edcamps are a direct result of connected educators efforts. They are organized, advertised, criticized and evangelized all through the means provided by social media as it is used and refined by educators to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create within their own profession. It enables individuals to adjust and refine their learning to meet their specific needs. Connections made at the Edcamps provide ongoing support and a perpetual flow of sources to arm educators with the means necessary for their own learning and that of their students.

Ironically, when this concept was presented to a group of administrators at an ISTE Conference a few years back, it was not warmly received as acceptable alternative to the existing outdated models. The seemingly preponderance of concern was the lack of CONTROL. Administrators had no control, over the learning either as a group or for individuals who have the ability to personalize their learning. It baffles me how we individualize our students’ learning with IEP’s, differentiation, and accommodations, but when it comes to educating educators we strive to control the learning, so the group gets its proper dose. It doesn’t matter that educators learn; it only matters that it can be demonstrated that it was taught and everyone was exposed to that teaching. It is but a check on an administrator’s list. How often do we talk about assessing PD? How often do we study the effect of educator learning on student learning in specific schools?  What support do schools supply to educators to share and collaborate what they do learn in the form of PD?

An amazingly large number of educators fully see the urgent need and agree that we need to drastically change the system. Get ready for me to go over the cliff at this point. Many say however “WE NEED TO TAKE BABY STEPS”. Why??? We are not babies. We are among the most educated group of people this country has to offer. We hold advanced degrees. We are proven thinkers and learners. Taking baby steps implies a lack of consideration, a lack of understanding, lack willingness, a lack of confidence, a lack of urgency, and most obvious to me is a lack in taking full responsibility for change. Taking baby steps to me means moving slowly enough to gauge the reactions of others. It goes to that “Teacher mentality” of “educators make no mistakes in public”. The fear of failure is often the thing that produces failure. It is a combination of all of this that has allowed the national discussion on education to be taken over by non-educators. The very baby steps educators are taking to move from a 19th century model of education to a model for educating kids for their future has made educators targets and not innovators. Educators are being held accountable only for the shortcomings and none of the successes. If our baby steps take us 100 years to move into the 21st century, we will need to start all over again in the 22nd.

“Comfort Level” is another over-the-edge term for me. It is the one phrase I find to be the biggest obstacle to reform. Learning is not always easy. It can be fun, and engaging, but for many it can be hard. Something that is hard to do is rarely comfortable. When I hear an educator say that there is something that is not in their comfort level, I think that they are saying “that is more than I am willing to learn because it’s hard for me”. That is not a comfort thing; that is a learning thing. We can’t have educators, the very people we need to learn and maintain relevance, not be willing to learn because they find it hard, and not comfortable.

Connected educators and Edcamps are bold steps, not baby steps. Being a connected educator is not always comfortable, because sometimes it’s hard. We need more bold steps to take us forward as uncomfortable as that may be. We need bold leaders to take us forward. We have no time for baby steps because we are not babies. We are thinking, learning, educated educators and sometimes that’s hard and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable however, should never be a roadblock. We need to take strides with confidence not baby steps.

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The latest big thing in education is getting educators connected. The Department of Education is even declaring the month of October as Connected Educators’ Month to place an emphasis on and using, information, sources, and recruitment as key components in supporting a goal of connecting educators.

What is a connected educator? As a generalization, defining anything for educators is always a task, since educators try to make all definitions as inclusive and complete as possible to account for any contingency. It is as if someone can point out an exception to the rule, the definition must be flawed. As a result some bloggers try to qualify definitions in order to accommodate skeptical, or questioning educators. With that in mind, this is my definition of a connected educator. If it does not suit you make up your own. For me a connected educator is one who uses technology and social media to personalize learning for both personal and professional growth.

Of course someone will step up and say that we can do that face-to-face so we don’t need technology. Of course that is true, and that is the way that it was for many thousands of years, but we are no longer living with the limitations of past centuries. With the advent of the printing press, the radio, the telephone, the television, the calculator, the computer, and now the Internet, we have tools to get beyond face-to-face limitations. We can connect globally or locally without concerns for time or space. We live in an anytime, anywhere communication culture. Why would any educator dealing with thinking and learning not use that to his or her advantage, or the advantage of his or her students?

The big picture in being a connected educator is the idea that you as the educator are first connected to the general flow of information, and then secondly, focused on specific connections to drill down to the detailed needs specific to you, or your students’ needs. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are all applications that may be used to connect educators. Like it or not however, Twitter is the backbone of a majority of Personal/Professional Learning Networks for educators. Educators have taken Twitter beyond its intended use, making it a professional tool for collaboration. Approving or disapproving of the application is like approving or disapproving of a hammer or screwdriver. You can hate them all you want, but try building a house without them. Being on Twitter and following 200 sharing educators is a general connection that will meet general needs, and promote great reflection on education. Your Twitter timeline will flow with education sources and information 24/7. Information and sources are simply there for the taking. Using that timeline to focus on educators in your area of expertise will render ideas and lessons beyond general education philosophy to meet specifics in your area of study. If you teach English focus on English teachers. If you teach second grade focus on second grade teachers. There are thousands of connected educators in your specific area of expertise willing to share with you. Your task is to find them and connect.

I referred to Twitter as the backbone of a PLN because it is a constant flow of education sources and connections. You can literally post a question on Twitter and get answers back in seconds, if properly executed to a developed network of educators. To get beyond Twitter educators need to locate and follow Blogs that are in line with their needs. More and more bloggers are becoming our educational thought leaders. The benefit of blogs is that you may interact with the blogger, as well as the ideas in any post. Educators may question, test, and reflect on any ideas put forth in a post.

Ning sites are communities of educators with like interests. Joining any of these communities gives access to Blogs, discussions, videos, and groups specific to the needs of that community of educators. Ning sites are a great source for expanding connections

Skype and Google hangouts allow educators to select individuals for specific face-to-face interactions. Educators may connect with authors, experts, speakers, or other educators for personal, or classroom interactions. These interactions may also be recorded in order to be shared later. Making these connections lasting connections should be your goal.

There are several hundred education Chats taking place on Twitter each and every day. Participation in these chats enables educators the ability to exchange, consider, reflect, modify and adopt ideas from educators around the world. These chats are a great place to find, and connect with other educators based on the acceptance of their ideas as opposed to their title. Follow the chat hashtags.

Of course the irony of this post is that if you are reading it, you are more than likely a connected educator. You are also more than likely already familiar with all that I have said. There is however a purpose in sharing these ideas with you. We need to take these ideas to share with your non-connected colleagues. As we increase the number of connected educators in our connected community, we are increasing our knowledge pool. In doing so, we are getting more educators focusing on their needs in education. An idea not shared is just a passing thought. As individual thinkers we may be good, but collectively we are better. Convince a colleague to connect and we all benefit.

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I am participating in the national plan to promote Connected Educators’ Month (CEM) for this year. I was very honored to even be asked to participate on this committee, because I am committed to collaborative learning for all educators. I believe that social media and technology afford our profession the best opportunity to date in order to connect educators for collaboration and exchanging ideas to develop and maintain relevance as professional educators. Technology offers our best tools to enable, promote, and practice life long learning, the very thing that educators hold up as the “Holy Grail” for their students. As I have pointed out in many posts, Life Long Learning should also be the personal goal of all educators, and ideally everyone else in our country as well, even if that reality may be unrealistic.

The leaders of this planning committee have their hands full, trying to orchestrate an effective plan with input coming from more than 30 individuals. Each of the committee members has his, or her own vision of what Connected Educators’ Month should look like. Each of the members has strong opinions, each has a strong personality, and each is a leader in his or her area of expertise. Trying to include everyone’s position in one plan will be a herculean task, but it is certainly doable through collaboration.

My position on the committee is simple. I want to connect the unconnected educator. There are far more unconnected than connected educators. We as a profession are not taking advantage of our best opportunity to date to collaborate and advance our education system for the benefit of our kids and our country. We are not participating in great enough numbers to discuss, collaborate and improve our system. Educators have left themselves out of that discussion allowing the void to be filled by business people and shortsighted politicians.

My fear is that we will place an emphasis on adding content for connected educators and miss out on actually connecting educators. It is my belief that by connecting more educators, we will be adding content by the added participation of more collaborating educators. Adding content for those already connected has a limited impact on the unconnected educators. Using social media to advertise connecting more educators does not target the unconnected. They are not on social media to be affected by the advertisement.

If we are to connect more educators, we need to ask those connected to do more. We need them to model their connections. We need them not only to share their sources with the unconnected, but also to cite how Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or a particular Ning site provided the source. We need administrators to recognize, establish and support the positive effects of connected collaboration. Our professional organizations can give up a few iPad sessions to make room for connected educator sessions. Any conference requiring nametags can certainly have a field for the educator’s Twitter name. Twitter names should also appear on any printed media where educator contact information appears. We need to prioritize the need and the ability for educators to connect. The path to collaboration and connected educators needs to be made easier and seemingly natural. We need to go where the unconnected educators can be found and that is not on connected venues. If we believe in collaboration of connected education for life long learning than we need to promote connections for our educators, who in turn will educate and hopefully connect our students.

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Rock Star is a term attributed not only to Rock and Roll luminaries, but also to anyone who is an exceptional standout in a profession or a skill area. One cannot claim Rock Star status. Usually, others proclaim it, for you. One needs to be recognized by others in order to attain Rock Star status. It is more fan recognition of accomplishment than any real certified proclamation.

Recently, there have been a number of posts dealing with this pop culture adoration of educators at national and local conferences. As long as I can remember we have always had such people at conferences without the Rock Star label, but certainly with all the attention that would accompany it. I remember one statewide conference where Guy Kawasaki was to speak and the line to get in formed an hour ahead of time for a standing room only crowd. That was pure star power. Back then books, magazines, and journals determined the who’s who of the profession, leaning toward the authors, who were tagged as the conference stars. Adding fans to their readership never hurt an author’s standing.

That was then and this is now. What is different? Social Media should be blaring in your head about now. Print media has far less of an impact on our society today, while Social Media however, is having a profound effect. The education thought leaders, who use social media as their conduit to transmit their ideas and opinions to followers, have no control over who or how many followers they have. The only control they have is over the ideas and opinions they put out. If the ideas and opinions are good the following grows.

The first time I encountered my own popularity in social media was when I did a session in an Edcamp in NYC.  I expressed to my session that I wished we had a few more people. A woman in the back in a sincere voice said that her friend wanted to come to my session, but I was too famous. At first I thought the woman was just making a joke, but she underscored her sincerity. Frankly, I did not get it, but that has never been my issue. I will generally talk with anyone.

I think we all have people we look up to in our profession. At one time we were limited to physical meetings but now with technology tools of collaboration we are exposed to many times more thought leaders than ever before. We can have several people to admire and look up to. Part of the fun at Education Conferences is to see these people in real life. This is just human nature. I am still impressed with most of the people I held in the highest regard when I started out in social media lo those many years ago.

Where things go awry is when followers look onto their Rock Stars as unapproachable. This is not good for anyone. Most of the rock stars are uncomfortable with that, and the followers miss an opportunity to talk and exchange ideas. Whenever I am called a Rock Star, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility. I feel I need to think more before I speak and have something meaningful to say while I am out in public at these conferences.

Of course the other extreme would be the people who want to fault the Rock Stars for having attitude problems, flawed ideas, no sense of humility, and a million other personality blemishes just to diminish their accomplishments.

This pattern of behavior is not going to go away, so let’s get it out there and deal with it. The term today is Rock Star. Next year it could be something else, but there will still be thought leaders and luminaries in the profession, and they will be called something. Some people will look up to them, and others may look for faults. I am just glad that we are in a profession where these people exist. They make us think, react, understand, collaborate, and learn.

I chose what I wanted to do as an educator, and as a user of social media. I have no choice in how people view me, or label me. I have grown to have fun with the recognition. I can also get somewhat of a feel for the social media influence on an education conference by people’s responses to me at the conference. I have several Education groups on LinkedIn, The Educator’s PLN, and #Edchat on Twitter. I also host The #Edchat Radio Show, as well as Blog on My Island View. On top of all of that I am a contributing Editor to SmartBlog on Education for SmartBrief. For this I am often recognized and thought of by some as a Rock Star. Yesterday I was introduced as the “Godfather of Twitter”. (Not my words) I am also thrilled when my wife, who is an education Tech executive, refers to me as her husband @tomwhitby. People get it. Most have a sense of humor. We can’t take ourselves too seriously, or we won’t have as much fun. It is time to get over it. I can say this because I am @tomwhitby Damn It!

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The title of this post probably carries more weight with educators who use Twitter as a key component of a professional learning network than those who don’t. At this point in time there are more educators not using Twitter professionally, than those who do. The “why” of that is what perplexes me to no end.

I recently watched an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers. His book sits unread on my shelf, but, inspired by what I saw in the interview, I am hoping to get to it soon. This caused me to consider where we are going with this idea of the connected educator. A number of education thought leaders have been promoting the idea of connected educators and professional learning networks for years, and although more educators have taken up the cause, we have not yet bowled over the profession with connectedness.

The keystone of connectedness is shared learning through collaboration. Collectively we learn and achieve more than we do in isolation. This has been true forever, but the factor that has moved collaboration to the forefront is technology. Today’s technological tools for collaboration now enable it globally, timelessly, and virtually endlessly. The key factor in good and effective collaboration is connecting with right sources. On Twitter who you follow is always more important than who follows you. It is all about connecting with those who have the most to offer.

According to Gladwell in his interview he cited research indicating that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill or profession. In education terms that would be a teacher with a career of ten years, or an Administrator who was so for ten years. Connecting with educators with that amount of experience in large numbers and in specific academic areas is not easy in many schools. On the Internet however, these connections are more easily obtained.

Contact with experts in education is also made more easily through Social Media. Before Twitter I met a handful of authors at book signings or keynoting at conferences. Today, I contact, and converse with many education authors on a daily basis. There is something to be said for the number of authors created as a result of social media connectedness. Twitter is micro blogging. Many educators Tweet for a while before they find a need, and ability to blog in real terms. That step exposes them to their profession in a way that validates their efforts, ideas, and philosophy, which leads them to authoring a book. This exact path has been taken by at least two dozen of my educator connections. Many of these educators have been elevated, by their followers, and fellow educators, to the “rank” of education thought leader.

With all of this positive connectedness, one would expect that all educators would be jumping on board to connect their own collaboration cars to the train. Well, I have been an actively connected educator since about 2007, and I am still waiting for that fully loaded train to leave the station.

Having discussions about specific topics within education with educators can be very different depending on their amount of connectedness. Those actively connected educators seem to need less relevant background information in order to address a topic. Discussions with the unconnected educators often get bogged down in explanations and definitions before the discussion of the topic can even take place. BYOD and Flipping were connected topics months before they became mainstream. Being connected seems to support relevance because of the ongoing discussion being framed around education. These in-depth discussions may not be taking place the same way in the hallways, or faculty rooms of schools.

Adam Bellow recently asked me if I could estimate how many educators were actively connected. I told him that that would be difficult number to figure out, but I would try. There are millions of people on Twitter, but we were only concerned with the actively participating educators. I looked at two areas where educators hang, Education Ning Communities, and Twitter. I used membership numbers on Nings and Follow numbers on Twitter. The largest Education Ning communities do not exceed 75,000 members, and many educators belong to multiple Ning communities. When it comes to educators following educators, I considered the followers of leading education thought leaders, and not celebrities. Sir Ken Robinson for example is a celebrity followed by more than just educators, but even he only has 186,000 followers. Of the education thought leaders followed by most educators, I could find none exceeding 70,000. That would lead me to believe that actively connected educators would range between 200-300,000 educators. That is but a calculated guess.

The part that really concerns me and led me to my original question is the estimates of total American educators. I looked at the last census numbers for educators and came up with a number of 7.2 Million. I have read posts that claimed 11 million to be an accurate number for education employees. The definition of educator might account for this disparity. Even with the most conservative numbers in those estimates, I struggle to understand why only 300,000 educators of 7.2 million would choose to be connected. Are the education thought leaders of the Twitterati really undiscovered progressive leaders of education, or outliers to be overlooked and ignored by the data readers who are determining the pathway for education today?

Who is determining that pathway? Could it be that the media that we as educators have chosen to voice our ideas and concerns is a media not yet discovered by our colleagues? Could the relevance we count on in the 21st century be dependent on a technology not yet accepted by the very people we depend on to support relevance in teaching and learning? Should we have Administrators mandate compliance? Who will mandate compliance from the Administrators?

The idea of connectedness and collaboration should be a topic discussed in every school in this country and beyond. It is of global interest to connect educators. If we want to educate our kids, we need to first educate our educators, and that must be an ongoing process in our ever-changing, tech driven society. Life long learning is not just a goal for kids in school. It should be a goal for everyone.

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This week I attended another international education conference – the Net.1 Conference (The 1st Annual Nassau Education Technology Conference.)  It was the first of its kind to be held in the Bahamas. There were over 200 educators from the Bahamas and several other surrounding island nations. Often as American educators we are faced with the day-to-day problems of our own system and are unaware of the challenges and real obstacles faced by other countries as they also strive to educate their young. Many of the things that we take for granted are almost non-existent in some other countries.

Poverty in any country seems to be the biggest obstacle to a proper education, but the problems of poverty in a poor country seems to compound the issues almost beyond solution. There is an evident commonality however that could be found in the passion for education in the hearts of all of the educators in attendance. They gave freely of their time to attend an educational conference that offered glimmers of direction, and possible advances in the face of almost daily defeats metered out by problems of distance, isolation, and infrastructure, too much of the first two and not enough of the third.

The Net.1 Conference took place in a premiere school in Nassau, The Lyford Cay School. It is a K-12 school comprised of various freestanding Caribbean-colored buildings. It was situated within a gated community of multi-million dollar homes. It was most definitely not typical of the schools most of the educator attendees represented. Ms. Gaynell Ellis our Bahamian ambassador of good will, a technology visionary, and now a dear friend guided our tour of the community. The school was the obvious beneficiary of the opulence and wealth surrounding it through generous contributions and an active and involved PTA.

I found the faculty members of this school who were the volunteer monitors for the conference to be most proud of their school and their students. The entire conference was a result of the efforts of that staff and foresight of their administrator, Dr. Stacey Bobo. Most notably among the organizers was a husband and wife team of educators from the school, Oscar Brinson Technology Director, and Mindy Brinson (@mbrinson) Technology Coordinator. The conference was built around networking time in order to stimulate collaboration amongst the attending educators. The vision of using instructional technology to advance education in the Bahamas was set during the keynote by none other than the Minister of Education, the Honorable Benjamin Fitzgerald.

A wonderful addition to this conference was the addition of student presentations. Five, 15-year-old students from The Lyford Cay School did two of the conference presentations. The school is made up of 40% Bahamian and 60% international students. This group chose Social Media from a student’s perspective as their first presentation. These kids Texted, Tweeted, Tumbled, and Blogged with some of the best examples of their work out there for all to see. They answered questions, and offered opinions like pros. Of course not spell checking a PowerPoint presentation is almost a universal mistake even among seasoned educators that was overlooked by the audience in light of the quality and effort put out by these kids. I loved it.

I invited these students to join me at my presentation on how educators are using social media for collaboration and professional development. Not only did their participation offer a great model on connected life long learning, they asked questions and offered opinions that enlightened the adults in the room. Again, I loved it.

As students’ needs merge with the educators’ ability to provide solutions, it is becoming very evident that a change is essential. With the way that the world at large curates, communicates, collaborates, and creates in a technology- driven environment while reaching out globally, choices need to be made. An educator’s choice is to get on board, or get out of the way. Relevance comes with life long learning. Looking to the past to not repeat our mistakes is a fine practice. Living in the past to develop minds for the future may be one of those very mistakes we are looking to avoid.

The steps taken by this small island nation of The Bahamas to provide its educators with the tools to enter and compete in a modern world of collaboration is a sign of the times. Of course that brings to mind, especially to the old folk out there, those visionary words of Bob Dylan… “And the times they are a change’n”.

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Over this last year I have been fortunate to have been sent to many education conferences on behalf of SmartBrief in pursuit of content and guest bloggers for SmartBlog on Education. It is a dream job for a retired educator and an education blogger. The intent is to always keep the educator’s voice on SmartBlog authentic and relevant. In that capacity, I have attended and conducted a multitude of workshops on various education topics. Since I am no longer in the classroom, and have no need to apply what I learn about current teaching methods in a classroom setting, I often attend these workshops as an observer, or even a critical observer in some cases.

In conference after conference, and workshop after workshop I have observed successes and failures in the methods employed by presenters to get their material across to their audiences. Of course my biggest criticism is that too many presenters view the people in the room as audiences, and themselves as some sort of entertainer. Of course a successful presenter is part entertainer, as is any teacher, but more importantly, he or she is there at a conference workshop to educate educators and that is a primary goal. For that goal to be met presenters might be better served thinking of the people in the room as learners, and employ their best skills as an educator. In fairness to most presenters, the best do just that.

Much can be learned as an educator by watching what works with a bunch of teacher/learners. Of course there are some who would argue that these are adult learners and shouldn’t be compared to kids. I used to think that as well, but I am not as sure, after all that I have observed.

I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit. 

According to the article Malcolm Knowles an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.

Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

After considering these principles and observing many of them first hand at these professional conferences, I started to wonder if the reason why these same principles do not apply to kids, at least on the secondary level, is because we prohibit them from happening in our education system. Do we limit our students learning by blocking access to the very things that motivate us as adults to learn?

Can Students be self-motivated and self-directed? As adults some might say we are “pursuing our bliss” therefore, we are self-motivated and self-directed. Are our students bereft of bliss, or are we blocking out their bliss?

At the more successful conferences providing adult learning environments I have observed many things that aided the learning of adults. The best conferences provided Internet access for all. This enabled adults to use varied and sundry laptops and mobile devices. I still revel at the memory of a room full of learners listening to Chris Lehmann at the Educon Conference as he placed notes on a white board. When he was finished with his illustrated point in the conversation, 40 adults stood up and took a picture of the whiteboard with their mobile devices (mostly cellphones) for later reference. Student classrooms might have over 40 students in them but how many are allowed to take pictures of the teachers’ notes?

Of course the resounding positive comments from any of these learning environments is that there is a love of the conversation, as opposed to the lecture. That is common at Educon and it is the mainstay of the most successful Edcamps. Of course that conversation method is not the focus of teaching kids. Most educators focus on direct instruction and lecture as the mainstay for their lessons.

Then there is the cry from a multitude of adult conference learners that they hold teacher-presenters in the highest regard, because they are authentic. They have been in the classroom, and have paid their dues, so to speak. When real classroom teachers talk about education, it is relevant and real. This is a common sentiment among adult conference learners. I guess that relevance is important to the adult learner. When it comes to the kid learners are they even given a smattering of relevance or are we steeped in curriculum some of which may have been around since the mid 1900’s?

Of course the biggest outcry from adult learners at conferences comes when they are subjected to PowerPoint presentations that are text-ladened and read to the learners word for word by the presenter. This is the most egregious of mistakes and often the initiator of an exodus by the adult learners from the room. What alternative do kid learners have given the same set of circumstances?

Maybe as adult learners we need to take a look in the mirror before we resume our role as teachers for kids. In the final analysis, I do not think that there are differences in the way we learn as adults, or kids, but rather the differences lie in the opportunities afforded to learn. If we respected kids more as learners, they might be more self-directed and motivated in their learning. If they are allowed to participate in their learning, they might take more ownership. What learner wants to own something that is not in his, or her interest to own? If we can understand better how we learn best, maybe we can alter how we teach to be the best.

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