Becoming a Connected Educator

The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age
By Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach & Lani Ritter Hall
(Solution Tree, 2012 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Anne Jolly

When I started teaching, “digital” meant “having to do with digits, or fingers.” My technology equipment included a manual typewriter, a purple ditto machine, and a dusty filmstrip projector that I shared with four other teachers. Oh, and the school had a 16mm film projector that worked part of the time.

You can imagine my amazement, then, as technology innovation and the Internet burst on the scene and offered jaw-dropping possibilities for transforming teaching and learning. With grit and determination I gradually began transitioning into the world of the Web, and managed to attain a fair mastery of Web 1.0 and some Web 2.0 tools. But as the age of social media arose, I lagged behind. I still had no real way of knowing how other teachers were using technology and what the possibilities might be, except when I had a rare opportunity to attend a technology conference.

Becoming a truly connected educator

Now Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall have published a book I’ve been waiting for – The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age. I’m riveted by the idea of becoming a truly connected educator – someone who can fit comfortably into the 21st Century and stay up with my colleagues. I just need to know how to get there. What kinds of knowledge and skills will I need? And, am I too old and too far behind to ratchet up my digital skills to a proficient level – and to become a leader in connecting with colleagues?

Those questions rattled around in my head as I expectantly picked up Sheryl and Lani’s book and settled in for a good read. I wasn’t disappointed! By the end of Chapter One, I’d decided that I am, indeed, a good candidate for digital learning and leading. Why? Because the authors convinced me that through online networks, my learning possibilities are endless. I can leverage my learning by drawing on skill sets of colleagues from as far away as Australia. (I’ve just done that! I’ve connected with someone in Australia who is doing the same kind of work I am, and we are sharing work documents and ideas.) By the end of the first chapter, I had set up a Diigo account and I am now using it regularly.

I’m a passionate professional learning community advocate. By the end of chapter 2, I was busily highlighting and noting how I might begin blending connected online learning communities into my work with school-based, face-to-face learning teams. I sailed through chapters 3 and 4, underlining “ahas” and noting how online communities build relationships and collegiality. I enjoyed exploring new digital tools in those chapters and mentally deciding how I might use them.

In the midst of my enthusiasm for the digital “goodies,” Sheryl and Lani introduced a solid foundation of theory and evidence to back up the need for me (and you, of course) to be connected educators – to begin a personal cultural revolution and to be part of the wider revolution that’s taking place around the globe. And they backed up their message with anecdotes and real-life examples.

Digital dizziness – and then relief

I have to admit that Chapter 5 took me a long time. I went through the digital tool categories and tried out some of the tools that could connect me to others, organize my professional and personal life, and provide me with cool ways of doing things. Thankfully I was already using several of the tools mentioned (primarily the result of having worked on a project with Sheryl, who unequivocally insisted I use them). In the midst of exploring, my head began to swim. That’s when Sheryl and Lani pointed out that I don’t need to use every digital tool that comes around – I need to thoughtfully investigate and select tools with a purpose in mind. (Connected educators can download many reproducibles and other book-related content at the publisher’s website.)

And I learned about personal learning networks. These are, first and foremost, about me and what I want to learn. Once I meet my basic needs as a learner, I’ll be better prepared to be a leader. This book gives a detailed description of how to create my own learning community so that I not only expand my own connectedness; I begin to expand my leadership and involve others in sharing and learning as well.

Sustaining the momentum

Like a lot of things I start, dragging myself out of my status quo way of doing things and into the digital age will involve some backsliding. I’ll tend to go back to the familiar way of doing things (for example, running off an article to read and highlighting it manually – followed by losing it –  rather than reading, highlighting, and saving the article digitally). Fortunately, Sheryl and Lani offer help for this problem with information on how to sustain momentum.

Despite my mediocre command of digital tools, I sensed that I had learned something valuable when I turned the last page and closed The Connected Educator. I’ve learned that I am not too old, nor too far behind, to become a connected educator. And all connected educators, including me, can be leaders.

So: my Twitter handle is @ajollygal. Check in with me there. I’ve just started the Twitter community, #STEMworks, if you care to share some ideas and comments inside the Twitter-verse. I’m still feeling my way around, so be patient. But, hey – I’m connected!

Anne Jolly began her career as a lab scientist, caught the teaching bug, and became Alabama Teacher of the Year during her career as a middle grades science teacher. Today, she works with teacher teams nationwide to help them take control of their own professional learning.  Her practical how-to book, Team to Teach, is published by Learning Forward.  Anne also writes STEM curriculum and consults for an NSF-supported STEM project.  Her blog STEM Imagineering appears weekly on MiddleWeb.

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