October is Connected Educator Month, so what better time to ask this important question:
What defines a connected educator, and what is the value of being one?
To me, a connected educator is someone who:
- Connects with others to collaborate, problem-solve and think critically about the classroom and education;
- Is always looking to improve his or her practice; and
- Works to collaborate because it is best practice.
Connected educators are also willing to think outside the box, to take risks, and–most importantly–to follow through on their ideas. They can do all of this because they have the support of a personal learning network (PLN).
A PLN is priceless. My PLN is my go-to for questions, ideas, resource sharing and best practices. I go to my PLN to keep up to date with educational technology in the classroom. It is learning on demand, anytime and anywhere.
PLNs come in many forms: face-to-face or in person, in your school or district, across school lines and virtually across the world. In fact, I met a colleague, Nicole Butler (@nbutler912) at EdCamp Pittsburgh in 2015 and we found out that she teaches right across the street from me. This has been a great professional connection because we collaborate on projects with her middle school students.
For teachers who may feel isolated in their classrooms, virtual PLNs are a valuable resource because they allow you to connect instantly with professionals around the world. Virtual PLNs can be found on social media networks such as Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. While all of these are fantastic resources for teachers, I am going to focus on Twitter.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “But Twitter is for celebrities!” Well, I would have to argue that Twitter is an amazing educational resource just as long as you know which hashtags to use. Some of my favorite educational hashtags are:
- #edchat (for all things education);
- #edtech (all about educational technology);
- #elemchat (specifically for elementary education teachers) and
- #pretchat (a hashtag for preservice educators).
I can ask a question to my PLN using specific hashtags and get a response in minutes. Educators have used Twitter in their classrooms to chat with an author or expert; or have created class hashtags to use as exit tickets, to post reminders and to keep parents in the loop. School hashtags can be used to promote a positive presence online. Twitter is a great resource to see what is going on in other schools and classrooms around the world.
Other Online Communities
You can also find virtual PLNs in the community or discussion forums posted in your favorite educational websites. One of my favorite websites and go-to resources is the community tab in ClassFlow. I go there to find out best practices to deliver lessons in ClassFlow, professional development resources, monthly events/observances that I can create a lesson around and tips to make my ClassFlow lessons really energize students. Another neat feature is the section about lifestyle in the community. There are posts there about work/life balance–which can be difficult for a busy teacher.
The community on ClassFlow has helped me to become connected in a way that is different than other social media. Specifically, it connects me with a community of people who use the same technology tool that I do so we can share triumphs, ideas and best practices. Through this community, I was able to reconnect with a colleague that I met in person at EdCamp Pittsburgh, Justin Aglio (@JustinAglio).
Virtual PLNs are a fantastic resource for any educator, whether you are looking for ideas, resources, tools, tips on how to get into a routine, someone to bounce ideas off, or even crockpot meals you can eat all week.
Virtual Connections Are A Real Help
For me, virtual PLNs have not only been a source of quick tips but also long-term collaborations. I met Dean Mantz (@dmantz7) through Twitter, and now we co-host #pretchat, a conversation for pre-service teachers, every other Thursday at 7 PM EST. We have never met in person, but constantly connect through Twitter, Google chat and Google docs. I also met Susan Poyo (@spoyo), a professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, through my virtual PLN. We met on Twitter and were able to connect in person at ISTE in Philadelphia. This has led to a professional friendship, and we are currently working on a publication together.
Making connections outside of our classroom’s four walls is vital to our professional growth. By connecting with fellow educators outside of my geographic area, I have gained new ideas and learned about best practices from all over the world. And these connections move beyond the virtual-through my virtual PLN, I am able to bring guest speakers into my class to show the best practices that we first discussed online.
With the wealth of tech tools available to us, I believe every educator can and should be a connected educator.
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Dr. Samantha Fecich is an assistant professor and instructional technologist at Grove City College, and former special needs teacher. Follow her on Twitter: @SFecich