This past summer, I watched rising first graders co-teach a PD workshop for teachers with their kindergarten teacher @mlsmeg (Meg Franco) to demonstrate why and how to use Twitter and Mystery Skype in the classroom. These six-year-olds may have been the least expensive and best consultants we’ve utilized in some time. And, as a result of their teaching, our educators’ use of social learning media boomed.
Recently, we brought together a group of young people to meet face-to-face with Virginia’s governor. We also live streamed their roundtable discussion across our community and state. However, it came as no surprise when we reviewed the stats to find educators as far away as Michigan had watched the roundtable, too. Why not? We’d watched participants simultaneously sharing comments in our district-sponsored twitter feed #Govtalkedu. What did our kids tell the @governorVa? They see state testing as impeding learning. They want creative outlets to matter in budgets and school decisions. They value innovation and support fund for teachers to try out innovative projects. They all use social media and see tech as key to their learning.
And, just this past week, I watched a YouTube video of a young teen who composed, performed and recorded a song, Never, and shared it with her school as part of a morning broadcast for high school peers. Rachel’s voice sings agency through her writing and her music and this outlet gives her opportunities to share her voice with the world.
What do all these points of connectivity have in common? Today our educators and learners have unprecedented opportunities to find experts and expertise on the web from learning how to operate a sewing machine to solving BC calculus problems. They can participate 24/7 in live virtual venues to ask questions, share resources, and learn from each other. As a result of the rise of a global communication network, the world moves in closer to our schools as students and our educators both develop a sense of learning agency by design as they “search, connect, communicate and make” with an accessibility to global knowledge that’s unparalleled in history.
What do I notice among connected educators?
Connected educators explore beyond the walls of classrooms and schools, past district boundaries and beyond state and national borders. They discover the world outside of books on a school desk, resources stuffed in a box, and pages on pages of curricular standards. They value that professional development doesn’t just happen while sitting through a power point session on reading strategies or attending a conference. And, connected educators see a world of technicolor learning opportunities rather than being limited by the black and white limitations of test-driven instruction.
Connected educators represent the diversity of our profession, a full range of risk takers to even the risk averse.They bring an inventive and entrepreneurial spirit to their work as they see beyond the horizon of what’s possible in the places we call school – even when they have to push themselves to try new approaches. Some are settlers and others are adventurers. Our connected explorers and settlers help others navigate the shoals and rough paths of learning how to integrate new tools, new applications, and new strategies for engaging learners as agents of their own learning. They are key to making connectivity go viral as they work and share with others both formally and informally.
That’s why we provide structures throughout the year to support face-to-face connections through our annual summer Curricula-Assessment-Instructional Institute, the fall Making Connections Conference facilitated by our own teachers and students, optional year-round professional learning tied to five development areas for our learning organization, instructional coaching and digital learning specialist models that provide peer-to-peer connectivity across our twenty-six schools spread over 726 square miles. We value that our educators are connected to each other in every way possible as professional lifelong learners and we want to reinforce that in the work they do.
But, that’s not all we support. A pivot point in our PD came when we began to support teachers to use social learning media engagement as a path to professional growth. Today, our educators can use virtual learning experiences from following educational blogs to participating in or moderating twitter chats as a part of their own learning strategies as well as to meet state recertification requirements for growth and development (ask @beckyfisher73, Becky Fisher, for more info on that.)
Connected educators imagine the possibilities of learning every day in our district. They provide their young people with avenues of influence and learning beyond what’s accessible in the schoolhouse itself. They create communities of learners and learners that span the globe. They themselves virtually share with and learn from others even as they develop a sophisticated understanding of the complexities of an evolving world.
I think though that the biggest shift I see in the learning spaces facilitated by connected educators boils down to one simple statement.
They educate for life, not for school.