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The Connected Educator is more than just someone that uses technology in the classroom. The connected educator is a lifelong learner, ready to adapt and use tools available to improve their practice. They embrace new ideas and viewpoints throughout the connected world. Through the development of connected learning communities, the connected educator has an opportunity to improve their practice, encourage the work of others, and build an ever-changing repository of shared knowledge to benefit the education community as a whole.

Becoming a Connected Learner and Educator

As educators of 21st-century learners, we must embrace different models of learning and connectivity that are native to our students. Learning happens for our students in a connected world. The same should hold true for educators. Collaboration between educators of diverse backgrounds and levels of expertise allows for the creation of connected learning communities: an amalgamation of communities of practice, professional learning communities, and personal learning networks. Connected learning communities provide the same benefits of the three aforementioned communities but on a scale not previously achievable due to the connected tools available today.

Building Culture Through Collaboration

Conversations with a community of practice can lead to deep, connected learning. Learning as a connected educator is important to connect with global educators in a globalized world. Educators can make learning relevant for themselves and their students through communities of practice. The focus of connected learning is on a collaborative culture that includes having a shared vision, shared values, and opportunities for inquiry.

Defining the Tools for Connecting

In the past, connecting outside of the classroom was relegated to professional development opportunities and conferences that only a few educators attended. With tools like Twitter and Facebook, teachers are able to participate in groups and chats based around grade levels, content areas, teacher leadership, and more. Bookmarking and sharing sites such as Diigo and Wakelet allow teachers to curate resources around any topic and share with the larger community. Blogging tools like Blogger, WordPress, Squarespace, and more provide teachers with an opportunity to reflect on professional learning with a worldwide audience.

Building Community Through Connections

Educators must have a plan and purpose for how they will build their personal learning network (PLN). Tips for getting started creating a PLN include:

  • Begin with one tool and add others when comfortable.
  • Establish a consistent username across all networks.
  • Find a mentor to help along the way.
  • Choose well-respected and familiar educators, see who they follow, and select connections from their list.

Roles and responsibilities that educators assume in a PLN are: linking, lurking, learning, and leading. Linking and lurking involves staying on the sidelines and being reluctant to share thoughts. Learning and leading members are frequent users who share ideas and help shape the community. The learning and leading roles should commit to bringing those linking and lurking into the action.

Sustaining Communities

While forging ahead in new connected realms, it is important that educators work to sustain these communities and foster growth. Through appreciative inquiry, educators can sustain the initial work begun in new connected virtual communities by focusing on their strengths and asking “what if?” to explore possibilities. Community members can keep a positive perspective on what can be accomplished using the 4-D model of appreciative inquiry: discovering what they feel the group is at its best, dreaming about what it would be like to see those discoveries happen, designing the community to make those dreams happen, and fulfilling the destiny for the community by implementing those designs.

Transformational Leadership Through Connections

Transformational leaders are collaborative, encourage connected learning, and believe in distributed leadership. Distributed leadership is shared throughout the school by many people to strengthen the community. To shift to transformational leadership, traditional leaders have to let go of control in order to move forward. Distributed leadership requires having a shared vision and shared responsibility in problem-solving. In a connected world, solving these problems include making online connections with experts to inform ideas. Being connected allows teams to collaborate outside of the school day in a shared space.

Connections to Leadership

Being a connected educator goes hand in hand with teacher leadership. It is important in leadership to be an effective communicator and collaborator which are also important aspects of being connected. Connected educators build their personal learning networks, or communities of practice, to continue professional learning and build connections outside of their school community.

References:

Hord, S. M., & Sommers, W. A. (2008). Leading professional learning communities: Voices from research and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Nussbaum-Beach, S., & Hall, L. A. (2011). The connected educator: Learning and leading in a digital age. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.