Monday, October 15, 2012

Being Connected Doesn't Matter

It is coming up to the two year anniversary of when I decided to 'get connected'.  In October of 2010, I attended the 21st Century Learning Conference in Chicago.  Two weekends after I returned, I decided to go "all in".  I got on to Twitter.  I began a personal blog. I created a LiveBinder account.  I began to use Diigo.  I found an application that synced all of my stuff to my Google Drive in the cloud. I was using Screenr and Jing.   I tried other things such as Gett and Dropbox.  Polleverywhere seemed like a cool thing. I began to create all sorts of different things in Google Docs. I'm on Facebook.  I connect to people with Google Plus.  I host chats.  I give Elluminate sessions.  And now, let's be honest, I am hooked UP.  (Drip, drip...sarcasm). 

With my decidedly Canadian accent (or at least that's what I have been told--I don't believe it), I could puff my chest out and say..."Pretty impressive, eh?".  I could, I guess.  But I won't.

I think that we need to be cautious when we "get connected".  I believe that it is pretty easy to feel an air of superiority, of being 'more enlightened' than our colleagues who have yet to connect.  In fact, I find that the tone of some chats on Twitter, a number of blog posts, and other online spaces can have a pontificating and even condescending tenor surrounding them because of their being 'hooked up'.  A teacher who is not connected is becoming less relevant.  An administrator who is not connected can't possibly innovate in this exponentially-changing society.  An @ in front of your last name means more than the letters that come after it.  It's as though they have seen the light, and those who are less or disconnected are completely in the dark.

Well, I am a person who is somewhat 'connected'.  Not nearly as 'connected' as others, but definitely connected.  And as 'connected' as I am, I firmly believe in one thing:

I believe that being connected doesn't matter.*

There are outstanding teachers that develop positive relationships with their students and parents, create engaging lessons that maximize interactions between students, and have tremendous skills in developing creativity, critical thinking, collaborative skills, and any number of 'c's that we can think of.  And they don't know a Twitter account from a Blockbuster membership.

There are excellent administrators that create dynamic cultures of inquiry and reflection in their buildings, that engage partners in the process of student learning, that flatten out hierarchies and demonstrably support teachers and students in all facets curriculum, instruction, and assessment.  And to them, a Google circle is something that Mrs. James used for reading in the Kindergarten class.

They are certainly better than I am at what they do.  They may even be better than you.  And we need to be very careful when we begin to judge educators on their degree of 'connectedness'.  If you are on your high horse because you are more connected than someone else you know, I cordially invite you to get off.

Because being connected doesn't matter as an educator.  Not one bit.  There are many 'disconnected' educators that are continuously reflecting upon and finding new ways to meet the needs of their students and teachers simply because they want to do so.  They are introspective, and have the humility to admit that they don't know all of the answers.  They are courageous, and are willing to start things that need to be started, and perhaps more challenging, they are willing to confront and stop practices that need to be stopped.  They consistently ensure that they have the student at the center of the work that they do.  You don't get that from having a Twitter account.

Back to my asterisk...

*Where being connected absolutely matters is when you DO something with the knowledge that you have gained from your Personal Learning Network.  If you think that being simply being on Twitter makes you a better administrator, a better teacher, I disagree.  It is my feeling that is you are connected to a PLN,  you should be able to demonstrate HOW it has made you better.  Others should be able to articulate how you have become better at what you do.  Your students, your parents, your teachers, your colleagues--each of them should have seen some tangible difference in your practices or the way things are done in your school.  Whether it is something that you have learned from a colleague about altering the way you assess a lesson, or using a web tool to do something more efficiently, having a PLN makes you better when you actually do something differently.  Simply having a Facebook account and being on Google Plus does not make any of us better than anyone else.

For people who are connected:

  1. Being connected affords us access to an infinite number of ideas about all things education. We have a responsibility to use this knowledge to make positive changes for the learners in our schools. If we are reading and collaborating and learning about different pieces of assessment, instruction, and curriculum, we need to take the bits that fit and apply them in our own learning situation.  DO something, don't just talk about it.
  2. Looking down upon people who are not connected is both rude and counterproductive.  It is about what you DO, not what you are connected to.  And what is worse, someone who is disconnected and is not changing their practice, or someone who IS connected and is not changing their practice? Something to consider.
One day in the not too distant future, Twitter will be gone and Facebook will be a thing of the past, replaced by the next thing that kids find cool and we adults later occupy.  Regardless of the platform or technology, for me it will never be about how or what we are connected to, it will be how we USE this connectivity to make us better at improving learning in our schools.

At the point at which we move from knowing to doing, only then does our being connected truly matter.


  1. Cale,

    Thanks for the thoughts here...I am reminder of the Allegory of the Cave. Just because you left the cave does not make you better until you brave coming back and teaching those what you have found. Anyone can tweet...but what do you do to share what you have learned. That is where the real power of being connected lies.


  2. Cale,
    Thanks! I am a new administrator. I'm embracing all the new parts of my role, and am pushing to not just do what I'm asked, but also contribute from my expertise. I've made some academic contributions. And a lot are just structural supports for technology (blogs, edmodo, data manipulation, google products, etc.). One of my free time activities has been setting up google reader for myself. My title is Resource Teacher and I'm trying to find ways to fill my brain with the latest. So when I am asked for something, or see a window of opportunity - I'm ready to point folks to new thoughts and resources. I have now done exactly what you are talking about - trying to get connected. Google plus, over 75 feeds (largely educational leadership/technology), twitter, blogging reflections, professional weblinks - I've inundated myself. Your post comes right at a time when I've gotten the base structure setup - and it is exactly what I needed.

    I know I need to be connected. There are some tremendous mentors out there that don't even know they are being mentors. My boss is great and I learn a lot each day. But I can absorb more than she has time to provide. And so I read things like this, and I grow. In this case your words are causing my brain to look at my connected network differently. Getting connected is not the goal. Learning from the connection - either through developing my style/thinking, or by taking something specific and applying it to teaching kids - that's the key.

    Your words came at a good time. Thanks for the guidance.

  3. Thanks for writing and sharing these thoughts, Cale. I have had many similar thoughts and questions lately too.

    I can understand people talking excitedly about their connectiveness and the things they learn about and discover. We also like to talk about people we "meet" and connect and develop relationships and rapport with. With this excitement though, I also worry that it can come across arrogant to others who have not taken this route to learning and connecting with people.

    I also see the further pressures ie. once you are "connected", are you using the "best" tools, are you choosing the "right" social media platforms, are you connected with a good network or circle, are you sharing the right way or enough, are you connected enough to have your work shared if you take the time to write about and share the "do" part? etc..

    I truly value what I have learned through the people and the blogs I have connected with through Twitter, as it is the only social media "tool" I use consistently. It is often the 2-way dialogue over time that has been most important to me and the value of my time in "connected" spaces. I don't write or share very often about how that learning or insight affects what I do and advocate for locally, but I know it has in my two years of this connection. Whether I continue with the same time and effort ahead will likely change and adjust...ebb and flow.

    So much comes down to availabe time as well, as is often stated, but it is a reality. As I comment here, I know there are 5 other things I should be doing...

    Thanks again - I really appreciated that you started this conversation and provided this space for me to place some of my thoughts.

  4. Hi Cale

    Like you I tweet and blog and in so doing I have come to appreciate and value the significance and the untapped possibilities of social media within education.

    For me, the @ is one way I can show my “unconnected” colleagues how, though a hashtag interaction, we can continue to re-conceptualize our learning environment.
    The key word here is “continue.”

    The vehicle of the hashtag is not the “lead driver” but one mode of transportation that binds effective drivers – values, norms, skills, practices, relationships – together; it is one of many “reliable vehicles” that can promote dialogue and work directly in improving the power of “teacher human capital” required to transform education.

    The “better than you” picture is absolutely ‘dead on’ as the perfect image. Building our professional capital as educators is not a characteristic of the individual but instead resides in the relationships among teachers and between teachers and administrators. Likewise, the focus is not on which arena (virtual or face to face) is “better” but rather that we encourage and develop multiple participatory patterns that will meet the diverse needs of those we work with and those we serve.

    Great post – thanks for sharing

  5. Hi Cale!

    You have raised some very important points when it comes to being connected but more importantly what you do with that information. I feel this has a direct correlation to Pro D in general. As far as I'm concerned whatever form Pro D takes on, the growth is in the sharing and applying what you have learned not just that you have learned. Being connected or engaging in Pro D activities is only as good as the knowledge passed on and the dialogue that ensues to improve learning.

    Thanks for the great post Cale!

  6. I hear what you are saying, buddy. Being connected means nothing if you do nothing to change your practice or work to crate change in our schools. However, as you have eluded, being connected is critical to creating change and moving education forward. Being connected with your students, parents, and colleagues are, by far, the most important connections we can have. Social media can help with this but is not meant to replace or be better than face to face. We need to be using social media to connect to others so that it enhances our relationships. If we engage in dialogue that is condescending and disrespectful, this does nothing to enhance professional relationships.

  7. Hi Cale, I agree with many of your points here! I must say at times I wonder why we don't have more amazing classrooms with so many "connected educators". I participate and read many tweets which pronounce great ideas and pedagogy, yet if you look deeper there are few that become actions. I asked recently when participating in #satchat (which is Sunday my time) the following...
    Rhoni McFarlane
    Its lovely to talk about this stuff but what are we doing in our classrooms Mon that gives kids authentic learning opportunities? #satchatoc
    I am a big believer that if you don't know better, you can't do better. Twitter provides a great avenue to learn and discover so that we do know better, but if we don't DO better we are certainly not any better than any isolated, traditional teacher.
    Very much appreciate your thoughts.


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