Friday, November 1, 2013

Connected Educator Month: Find Your Voice

Photo Credit: http://goo.gl/Lo9qtK
October 2013 was Connected Educator Month.  Twitter Chats referenced it, the hashtag #ce13 was popular, people reflected on the idea of being a connected educator, and @arneduncan even moderated a chat for #edtechchat at the end of the month!  The official website: http://connectededucators.org/ was, and is, full of lots of information to help anyone become a more connected educator.  Questions such as: "How do you stay connected", " Why is it important to be a connected educator", and "What does it mean to be a connected educator" were discussed throughout the month.  Though I very much enjoy participating in Twitter chats and have come to greatly value the PLN that I have created, I must be honest: it wasn't until the end of October that I began to truly reflect on this phenomenon of Connected Educator Month.  So with the turn of the calendar page to a new month, I felt it appropriate to pause and consider what #ce13 has meant and will continue to mean for me.  I have to warn you, this is a longer entry so be prepared...

Let me first point out that while I have been in education for over 20 years, I have only been a truly connected educator for about 7 months.  That in and of itself is a rather staggering fact in my opinion.  How can I claim to be an educator yet only have found my way to collaboration on a consistent basis in the last several months?  One question that has been considered in chats this past month is "what does it mean to be a connected educator" and many answers have centered around the idea of collaboration.  Collaboration is something that I have been good about "in spurts" as I have become more comfortable in the classroom.  I recall my early years as a teacher and being afraid to discuss anything that I was doing with other teachers.  Why?  Well, the primary reasons for my fear stemmed from
1. not wanting to open myself up to criticism--what if my lesson wasn't "good enough"?
and
2. fear of someone "stealing" my idea--I worked hard on that lesson so why should I just "give it away"?

It was only after I had been teaching 5+ years that I began to feel confident enough in my skills and abilities to actually reach out to fellow teachers for anything beyond test question ideas!  Seriously?!  What a waste of time and energy over the years as I constantly reinvented the wheel!  And the best time to collaborate would have been those early years when you feel like you are just barely able to doggy-paddle in the shallow end.  Unfortunately collaboration was the last thing discussed in my Credential Program so I and many other new teachers missed out on some wonderful opportunities.

 However, the benefits of being a Connected Educator did not begin, or end, with my realization that collaborating "locally" with teachers on my campus was a good thing.  The benefits of being a connected educator really hit home for me in the last week of October with two back-to-back events:

October 25 and 26 were the dates of Fall CUE 2013.  It had been through chance that I was able to attend the annual CUE conference last March (thank you @DianaParadise1).  It was such an amazing experience, I knew I had to find a way to attend  FallCUE.  Fortunately for me, it was held outside of Napa CA.  In addition, I had gotten brave and proposed two sessions with a co-worker.  Both proposals were accepted so we were able to attend the conference for free (not including food and lodging).  WHAT?!?!  I was presenting to my peers.  No pressure there!  Isn't it funny how as educators we are often more comfortable presenting to kids that we are to their parents or our peers?  I can honestly say that through my constant dialogue on Twitter with people around the country, I have built my confidence.  Presenting at a conference seemed a lot less scary than it would have seemed a few years ago.  The experience was so positive, I have submitted proposals to the annual CUE conference as well as Lead3.0 which is just for Administrators.

October 28 was a historical date in education because that was the day that Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, moderated a Twitter chat.  The chat itself (#edtechchat) is one that I rarely participate in because it happens at 8 pm EST which is 5 pm PST, thus nearly impossible for a California mom.  However, on October 28 I made a point of participating to the best of my ability because I believed that this was important.  It isn't often that someone in a position of such authority is able to give the masses a voice.   @shieldsmolly has a fantastic reflection on the event here: http://technoliteracy.org/2013/10/29/what-i-learned-from-arne-duncan/.  I agree with her key points 100% and particularly want to echo her first point that Arne Duncan's presence in the chat meant more than his actual participation.  It was a crazy chat with 1401 participants from all 50 states.  There were over 300 tweets per minute registered to the hashtag for the duration of the chat and the activity continued at an admirable pace for quite a while after the chat as well.  The archives are daunting at 131 pages but well worth the time to peruse if you want to learn from great educators around the country, and around the world.  You can find the archives here: http://edtechchat.wikispaces.com/Edtechchat+Archives.

My aha-moment, my big take-away for #ce13, came during the #edtechchat when I answered the question of what it means to be connected with a simple idea: "It means that I can have a voice."  Having a voice is what everyone wants.  It is what we strive to instill in our students. It is what we want in every aspect of our lives that we feel passionate about.  Connected educators ARE passionate.  That's why they are reaching out in the first place.  They want to improve their craft for their benefit, but more importantly for the benefit of their students.  The voice of educators has been all but silenced with NCLB, SATs, ACTs, STAR, CAHSEE, etc. (fill in your local/state high-stakes test acronym).  As the government, often aided by large corporations, has tried to "get a handle" on education in America, those closest to the issues have been overlooked.  Twitter, blogging, and the internet have all become vehicles that are allowing educators to regain their voice and make it heard.

I certainly didn't expect a direct reply from Arne Duncan during the chat but my thoughts are forever recorded in the archives and other educators have commented on my ideas.  My presentations at Fall CUE  were well received and the conversations have continued this past week with people who attended one of our sessions and want more information.  I have submitted proposals to two other conferences and am confident some of my proposals will be accepted because I know there is value in what I am passionate about.  I have co-founded a Twitter chat (#edleadchat) with two #eduawesome educators: @murriettahector and @PrincipalDurham.  Our chats on Monday nights are a forum to discuss some big issues with education leaders around the country.   It is humbling to have the opportunity to share with people around the globe on any number of topics and find that not only are there like-minded individuals out there but that your thoughts are valued and respected.  There is power in that because as educators find their voice and connect with other like-minded educators, there is much good that can, and will, come from that collaboration.

So,  connect all year long.  Find your voice and use it for good.  Our students are counting on us doing just that.