The Educator's PLN

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Being connected as an educator offers a unique perspective. It is almost as if there are two different world’s in education, and a connected educator must travel within both. Technology in our computer-driven society has enabled collaboration to occur at a level and pace never before available in the 19th and 20th century versions of education. For the modern educators who have embraced the idea of connectedness, the world of education looks very different from it has been in previous centuries.

Regardless of technology, many educators express a curiosity about what it would be like to talk to and engage people from history. How often have we heard the expression “ I wish I could pick his/her brain for ten minutes”? The whole idea would be to collaborate with individuals who in some way have made a mark on history or education. We could all benefit from discussing and reflecting on the successes and failures of valued individuals who have proven their worth in their profession. That is what is done everyday in the connected world of education. It does not involve picking the brains of historical people, but those of education practitioners.

It is social media in the 21st Century that has boosted collaboration to a scale never before experienced. It enables educators the ability to collaborate beyond their own borders and way beyond their local connections to a global reach. Such collaboration forces transparency. Pedagogy, methodology and policy are all topics of discussion amongst educators worldwide. Education is being analyzed and scrutinized under a huge magnifying glass with the results, blemishes and all, being shared globally.

The overall result is that educators are beginning to adopt that which shows promise in education and they are turning away from that which is not effective. The one sticking point however, to this entire picture of progressive education evolution, which I have just painted with words, is that not all educators are so connected.

I have had the good fortune to attend many education conferences worldwide. Some of the most sought-after speakers, keynoters, and authors at these conferences are connected educators. They are the thought leaders in education moving education from its past to its future.

The result of all of this is the separation of education into two different places, the world of connected educators, and the world of the disconnected. The best example of the difference would be in the group’s discussions. The discussions online with connected educators are very different in tone and content when compared to the discussions in most faculty rooms and department meetings. Ideas such as the flipped classroom or BYOD were discussions in the connected world long before the mainstream media began writing about them to alert the unconnected.

There is one irony of all of this two-worlds discussion that upsets me most. When I talk to many of the thought leaders in the connected world of education, who are still practicing educators, I ask a simple question. Are you recognized in your school or district for the value you bring to the connected community of educators? Most, if not all, tell me that their district has little or no idea of who they are or what they bring to the world of education. How is it possible that the value of these educators, and their contribution to education, are not recognized within their own unconnected education world?

It is that lack of appreciation or even a failure to validate an educator’s success that is costing us the brightest and best in education. We have long been losing our newest teachers at a rate of 50% in the first five years of service. Obvious fixes would include more support with effective mentorship programs, as well as a salary more in line with the requirements and demands of the job.

Now, because of the growing world of connected education, we are seeing educators at the top end being lured into the business side of education because they are being recognized as valuable assets to education. That recognition however is coming from private industry and not their own education leaders. The private sector is luring away many of the education thought leaders by doing in the connected world what the unconnected world fails to do, recognize, validate, and reward leadership and innovation. Complacency is not considered an asset in this new connected world of education.

In a world that is being driven by technology at an ever-increasing rate that has never before been experienced, educators cannot be standing still. If educators do stand still, they will rapidly fall behind and become irrelevant. It is not a question of being a good or bad educator at that point. One can have great skills, but without being relevant to the students, how is that educator to be effective? Gone are the days when all learning took place in the rows of the classroom. Self-directed learning is now a way of the world. Educators will be needed more than ever, but the 19thand 20th Century models of educators are not relevant in our latest century. There is a pressing need to get more educators to be connected, self-directed, reflective, inspired, and relevant. We also need administrators to include themselves in this shift. Administrators need to maintain relevance as well. The longer it takes for our two worlds of educators to merge into one, the longer it will take us to reform our own culture and the education system overall.

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