How do you stay current, relevant and up-to-date with the increasing number of initiatives and technologies in education? What Connected Educators do Differently has answers for educators looking to start and cultivate a professional (or personal) learning network (PLN) to stay current and connected. Following are key takeaways from the book and from two other resources that go beyond the basics of starting a PLN.
Connected Educator Defined: “Being a connected educator is not a formal title…we define connected educators simply as ones who are activity and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals” (Whitaker, Zoul, Casas, 2015, page xxiii)
Practical, concise and geared to the novice, the book provides advice and examples on how to start and build a personal network using digital tools. It focuses mostly on using Twitter and is specific to K-12, but the principles are sound and Twitter is a good starting point for learning how to connect and build a network. Within the eight chapters, each labeled as ‘Key Connector’ is a strategy outlining key principles along with examples from each author’s experience. The stories make it an engaging read. At the end of each chapter is an action plan — “Follow 5, Find 5, Take 5”. There are suggestions of whom to follow on Twitter, (Follow 5), a list of resources and how-to strategies for building a network (Find 5), and suggested action steps (Take 5).
Two of the best chapters are chapter 6, “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships” and chapter 8 “Know When to Unplug”. In chapter 6 authors emphasize the value of face-to-face interactions and the strength of in-person connections. In chapter 8 the importance of disconnecting from technology is stressed. The latter is of great value; disconnecting from the screen is not emphasized enough in instructional resources on building digital networks or managing digital information. Developing a PLN can become all-consuming. The reminder is not misplaced.
There are three takeaways: 1) from the book, 2) from Jane Hart’s “The Future of Work and Learning 1: The Professional Ecosystem”, and 3) from a journal article Scholars in an increasingly open and digital world: How do education professors and students use Twitter (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2015).
1. Unique Mindset Required
Expanding one’s professional network, building a PLN or professional ecosystem is a commitment and a choice. It isn’t driven by company or school-initiated professional development, but is driven from within—where individuals seek out learning opportunities and resources online or in-person. It’s a mindset where learning is pulled, gathered and curated based upon a person’s own learning needs and interests, which means each PLN is unique. Along with Mindset is motivation; developing a PLN or professional ecosystem needs both. Not surprisingly, authors emphasize that not all educators are, or will become connected educators.
2. It’s about Relationships
Developing and growing professionally and personally involves connecting and interacting with content—digital and physical, as well as with real people. The online platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or Slack that are used to ‘connect’ educators are the tools, the vehicles that bring us together. Granted, communicating online does require a unique set of skills to build and develop personal relationships, but the personal connection is still central to growing professionally. Jane Hart’s suggests that within a Professional Ecosystem there is a “personal performance support system” and “personal career coach”: people who are central to one’s personal and professional growth.
3. It Takes Time
One of the barriers to becoming a Connected Educator or developing a Personal Ecosystem is time. Authors Whitaker, Zoul and Casas offer a solution, “we must make time” (emphasis added) (pg 9). They acknowledge that most teachers and instructors are swamped, doing more with less. Yet their response is that in order to keep pace with constant change in technology and a society with access to an abundance of information, making time to connect and be connected is essential. And time is often personal time, outside of work hours. Though as all the resources stress, it takes consistent and concerted effort to develop a PLN but it’s worth it. I can vouch for this from my experience.
I recommend What Connected Educators do Differently for people who are thinking about becoming connected, want to build a learning network but don’t know where to start. For those who already have a PLN and want to expand it, I suggest exploring Jane Hart’s site Learning in the Modern Social Workplace. Hart is a model of a connected professional and you’ll be sure to find some inspiration and ideas.
For those wanting a quick fix, want to know how to get started on Twitter, this brief synopsis from the journal article on Twitter offers this pithy advice: “(a) tweet often, (b) follow many other users, (c) self-identify as a professor if accurate, and (d) continue using Twitter over an extended period. Whether one views this advice as gaming the system or legitimate participation in the community may depend on one’s own assumptions” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2016).
- Hart, J. (2013, May 8). The future of work and learning 1: The professional ecosystem, [Web log post].
- Kimmons R., Veletsianos G. (2016). Scholars’ in an increasingly open and digital world: How do education professors and students use Twitter? The Internet and Higher Education, v 47: 3, 1, Pages 1-10.
- Whitaker, T., Zoul, J., & Casis, J. (2015). What connected educators do differently. New York, NY: Routledge.
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