My colleagues Hadley Ferguson, Mike Ritzius and I presented the conversation “A New Species of Educator” at the #140edu conference in New York City. Over the course of 20 minutes, we talked about how being a connected educator can make us feel kind of like aliens. When we talk about our friends whom we’ve never met but have talked to for years online, and explain how much we learn from them, or when we talk about things like “flipping the classroom” or letting students lead their own learning, people sometimes look at us like we’re from another planet.
It’s easy for those of us who are connected to feel different from our colleagues, like we have a leg up or an advantage or that we are in some way “better” than our peers because of the connections we make and the amount of information we have access to. This cannot be further from the truth, however. For those readers who may be familiar with Rogers’ Innovation Adoption Curve, it is fairly apparent that connected educators are at the beginning of that curve when it comes to using technology to further our learning and grow professionally. However, that does not make us aliens.
Instead, as innovators and early adopters, it is our responsibility, as my colleague Mike explained during our presentation, to make this shift to networked learning feel safer for our unconnected peers. It is also this networked learning that exposes educators to new ways of thinking, to a variety of perspectives, and it is our job, as early adopters, to model incorporating new ideas into our practice. It is also important that we share what we are doing, both successes and failures, to show the process we have gone through and to model how we have worked through challenges. This, again, will make it easier for our own colleagues to go through the process themselves, and it will also help them avoid mistakes that we may have made along the way.
Today’s connected educators are using a variety of tools to connect, often finding new uses for these tools, and we have, over the years, built a kind of tribe — a network of learners who speak the same language and share a common culture. However, even over the past year or two, practices like classroom blogging, using Skype in the classroom, using wikis with students and using tools like Edmodo to build virtual classrooms, have been spreading quickly. Obviously, there are still those who are not there yet, but eventually many of these practices will be part of the main stream. Things that raised eyebrows before will be expectations and things that we thought would last will not survive for a variety of reasons.
That said, I foresee many of my colleagues remaining innovators and early adopters for the rest of their lives. However, we need to stop looking at ourselves as different or separate from our peers. We are all on the same continuum, just moving at varying rates. It is our job to build our tribe and spread new ideas. By doing this, we can rest easy knowing that we are not alone in our journey. Do connected educators have all of the answers? No, but we have each other.
Mary Beth Hertz (@mbteach) is a K-8 technology teacher in Philadelphia. She has a master’s degree in instructional technology from St. Joseph’s University and is a prolific blogger and tweeter. She maintains a blog, blogs regularly for Edutopia and is a moderator for the weekly #edchat discussion on Twitter. She is also an organizer for Edcamp Philly and is the treasurer for the Edcamp Foundation.