Being a Connected Educator

As I work with students and teachers, I keep close tabs on my email and RSS feeds throughout the day. It’s not killing time, it’s keeping up, and it’s essential to my work as a school librarian. And I’m just as quick to respond to a request from a colleague thousands of miles away as to help those in my building. And when I have a question, I throw it out to my PLN, educators and librarians across the country and around the world using a vast variety of networks, automation systems, and applications in a diverse range of settings. And the response is always useful, and often thought-provoking.

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It’s what’s called being a Connected Educator, and this is how it’s described  by the eponymous organization: “Online communities and learning networks are helping hundreds of thousands of educators learn, reducing isolation and providing “just in time” access to knowledge and opportunities for collaboration. However, many educators are not yet participating and others aren’t realizing the full benefits. In many cases, schools, districts, and states also are not recognizing and rewarding this essential professional learning.”

I’d venture to say that many school librarians were connected educators before connected educators were a thing.If you’ve worked in this field for more than a decade, I’m sure you can remember earlier incarnations of burning up the bush telegraph, via listservs, gopher-esque discussion boards, or text-based email between buildings or across the state. Then blogs and RSS started cropping up, making it even easier to pull the information you want, rather than just the information you need, or to push your own information to others.

So many youth services librarians work alone — as either the only information professional, or the only teen specialist, in a larger institution. And I hope that our professional preparation armed us for combating this this isolation. I remember signing up for two listservs as a requirement in an introductory class in library school in the late 1990s. I chose one for art librarians (I had majored in art as an undergraduate) and one for newspaper librarians. And I now know ridiculous amounts about working in those type of special libraries, just because of that passive exposure years ago.

Now, my network is equal parts librarians and teachers, with a few academics, authors and publishing types, and policy leaders thrown in. I squirrel away their content via delicious, pocket, and Pinterest. With twitter and gchat, I find myself sharing access to database contents, showcasing awesome student work, and passing along the latest news, sometimes before it even hits the print edition, on a daily basis. It’s all about using connections to make our work easier, richer, and more “real world.”

So, what are you waiting for?

I don’t have enough time to be connected.

If you’re not connected, you might wonder where you fit this in… actually, a well-crafted personal learning environment saves time by bringing the news to you. The most connected educators I know have evolved their own ecosystems for “keeping up.” While lots of my professional community bemoaned the loss of Google Reader, I ponied up the money for a premium subscription to feedly — RSS FTW!. Others have found that paper.li or scoop.it can capture all the link-rich twitter updates they’re after. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can always weed your list of blogs, or individuals you follow in twitter, or press that button to mark all as read at any time. This is your own learning, and there will be no tests to make sure you kept up.

Can you be a connected educator without every being face to face?

I have found my own best connections to be fostered with intermittent face-to-face meetings. It might be the fellow school librarian I see only biennially at the AASL conference, or the academic librarian I see only annually at a state conference, but knowing those people gives their communications a different weight when contrasted with that Canadian teacher whose tweets  I’ve  followed for five years but I couldn’t pick out of a lineup.  But for those of you who might not have the support to get to a national conference, twitter and blogs (and slideshare and youtube) offer great ways to stalk the thought leaders in the field (and learn about some funding opportunities for first-time attendees, while you’re there).

Can you be a connected educator if the connection is only one-way?

It was called lurking on listservs. You can be connected without giving back. You can suck the ideas out of the Internet and never even give credit for that cute programming idea you found on Pinterest. But at some point, you will want to share. It’s inevitable, and it’s karmic.

Without connection, it would have been much, much harder for me to get my National Board Certification. Without connection, I never would have heard about the Google Teacher Academy, which allowed me to “plug in” to the edtech world in a real way in 2007 and help students to create meaningful digital products with authentic audiences. Without connection, I wouldn’t have a fraction as many amazing print and electronic resources to pass along to my teachers and students. Without connections, I wouldn’t have had nearly as many  opportunities for professional growth. And without connections, I’d be out of touch with what both young people and teen services librarians are up to elsewhere.

My wish for teachers and school librarians everywhere? Get connected, or get even more connected. You won’t believe the amazing things that can happen.

Some useful resources on being connected:

U.S. Department of Education. Celebrating Connected Educator Month 2013.

New York Times. What Connected Education Looks Like: 28 Examples from Teachers All Over.

Connectededucators.org

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