So what does it mean to me to be a connected educator? As an English teacher, I started with the dictionary and confirmed my suspicion that connected meant unified, joined or linked. So far so good. But did the blogsync challenge mean connected strictly in a digital sense or were they seeking broader reflections?
Coffee time. A connected educator for me means so many things. I definitely need to connect with my students. Know them as people, their likes, strengths, (a bit old hat) learning styles. I’ve also learned it’s helpful to connect with family/whanau. One short phone call to give feedback on progress or discuss any concerns is far less scary than I’d imagined. As a parent, these are the interactions I expect from my sons’ teachers. The learning process is a partnership between home and school – has to be. Being connected also means linking with colleagues. I’ve often heard it said in schools (mainly during in-house PD sessions) that we teach in silos and need to reach out more, share ideas, discuss experiences. This segues nicely into being connected digitally and Connected Educators Month which promotes connecting with colleagues around the world.
These ruminations funnily enough took back to the CEM starter kete. Should have started there. Beautifully summarised is the event’s purpose “together we can be stronger and move on the digital technology pathway in a shared, collaborative approach.” Ah. So digital is in fact key.
Onwards then to the Connected Educator Manifesto where previous participants shared their vision on being connected. Here I struck gold in the preamble which clearly states connected learners collaborate online via social media, engage in conversations in online spaces and take what they learn back to inform their classrooms, schools, districts, and the world.
Key here for me was the phrase inform their classrooms. Back to the blogsync schedule of selected topics. Oh yeah there is is – how has being a connected educator affected my work in the education. So if you’ve managed to read this far (yes Chris and Karen – too long I know), here’s the rub.
I became a secondary teacher five years ago. My year training provided a rare (though costly) luxury in that I was able to explore a range of online technologies, immerse myself in the NZC, set up wikis, blogs, make prezis I could use later and generally have a good play. I fully believe that’s where a lot of the angst comes from in New Zealand secondary schools around digital technology. There just isn’t the time for teachers to play, to find out what works for them and their learners. And then if they do take the plunge, there next to time to share.
The other issue we have in terms of informing our day to day classroom activities is access to technology. Now I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here but I’ve had conversations with many teachers working in state secondary schools and most are in the same position. Three-four labs to be shared among 800 odd students. Laptops that can be booked but generally have to be priortisied for senior assessments. BYOD doesn’t ensure level playing fields but is a step in the right direction.
At the weekend I attended a high school reunion. Amongst our crowd were several teachers, all primary bar me. One observed that she felt secondary schools were “slow to get on board’ with inquiry based learning. She’s right but it’s not down to teachers. Many of use still teach in box shaped rooms with rows of desks squeezed in, little or no access to technology other than a data projector and assessment conditions defined by NZQA. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be a connected educator in such environments but it is more challenging.
What I have managed to use successfully includes:
- LMS – wikis, moodle, ultranet
- Facebook groups – for senior revision
- Blog – junior wide reading, used library sessions to set up and then offer ongoing assistance if no computer at home http//:taierihotreads.wordpress.com
- Pinterest and Scoop.it – topic specific information
- Read, write, think – great interactives for writing and detailed lesson sequences
- Quizlet and Spelling City – apps, the year I taught a trial iPad class. Bliss.
- Socrative – app for revision
- TedTalks – all the time, speech topics, creative writing
- Simple Mind and Big Mind – brainstorming apps
- Evernote and Dropbox – apps for document sharing
- Showme and Prezi – topic specific presentations as starters or for revision
Aside from specific apps, sites and online tools, the biggest thing I bring back to my classroom through stepping out of the silo is a sense of purpose and excitement about the possibilities that exist to learn in a connected world. So where to? I’ll keep sharing, keep talking to strangers (drives my kids nuts but it’s in the manifesto so clearly, it’s a good thing), keep exploring and playing. And I’ll definitely keep hoping that one day, the allocation of resources needed to make the visions inherent in the NZC become a reality for all our learners.