Are You a Connected Educator?

By Jen Smith

Like many teachers, I am passionate about changing the world through connecting with our youngest citizens. My motivation stems from wanting the best for my students so they can succeed in their educational pursuits and find their place in the world. My passion drives me to help them develop lifelong learning as part of the fabric of their lives.
But seven years into my teaching career, my enthusiastic energy waned. I remember feeling lost—maybe I was not going to be able to be a teacher anymore.
I was worn out by endless discussions during lunch hour, the team meetings consisting only of student problems, and the lack of time I had to complete all that was required of me. But most of all, I was growing weary of the isolation in my classroom.
I questioned what I could do to make the situation better. How could I reignite my teaching flame that had slowly fizzled to embers? This was the first moment I turned to social media for answers.
Get Connected with Colleagues
To become a connected educator, I decided to join Twitter; subscribe to listservs; and regularly visit blogs such as Edutopia, Mindshift EDU, and Cult of Pedagogy. I soon discovered that social media platforms are filled with collaborative groups of educators who share ideas and want to connect.
My new online colleagues are brimming with passion—they research, write, and publish books; serve as experts in Twitter chats; engage in activism; and challenge the status quo by questioning practices they have always held to be true.
After several months of social media engagement, I found myself no longer alone behind closed classroom doors. My newfound connectedness transported me back to the beginning of my career again as I energetically chatted with colleagues about lesson ideas, sought feedback from educational experts on classroom management strategies, collaborated on unit ideas, and read more than I ever have since attending university.
Everything I read, learned, and discovered from teachers around the world rejuvenated my spirit—and that was just the start.
Get Connected with Students
My next step in becoming a connected educator was to familiarize myself with the concept of digital students. These are the students I encounter in my classroom everyday—they are raised with technology as part of their daily lives and they have access to more information than I could ever hold in my lesson plan books.
I read as much as I could about how to leverage technology to connect my students with other students outside our classroom. This helped me see what my digital students crave and how I can best meet their evolving educational needs.
For me, becoming a connected educator means understanding that my students learn from each other, are already publishing content online, and are interested in having their voices heard by a wider audience beyond the walls of our classroom. This revelation spurred my myopic view of teaching and learning to change—I now see my students as experts, passionate learners, and kids who have a lot to share.
Take Action
What is the first step in becoming a connected educator? Twitter is an excellent social media platform to plunge into connectivity. Searching Twitter for education related topics does not even require an account. However, if you are feeling brave or moved, I encourage you to join Twitter. Search hashtags such as #edchat, #edtech, #geniushour, #spedchat, #tlap, #tlchat, and #cem to participate in the collaboration unfolding.
In my next blog post, I will illustrate how social media is a powerful form of communication within the parent community and the community at large.
Jen Smith is an Instructional Technology Coach at South Middle School in Arlington Heights, Illinois. She has been teaching for more than 15 years in K-8 school districts, has worked as a classroom teacher, a world language teacher, and now as an instructional coach. She was the 2016 Illinois Computing Educators’ (ICE) Outstanding Technology Using Educator of the Year. She is passionate about sharing the good news from inside our classrooms, and raising and educating global citizens. She challenges that teachers—just like other professionals-need to grow, change, and be on the cutting edge of technology to best reach students. Jen is interested in redesigning learning spaces and pedagogy to engage and inspire students in our changing world. Jen is a mom of three cheeky monkeys, a tech enthusiast, and a wife. You can find Jen on her blog and on Twitter @EdTechJenSmith.

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