'How social media can save teaching and stop educators failing their students'

11th July 2016 at 22:27
social media, twitter, google, teacher, student
Teachers must break out of their comfort zones and connect with other professionals, says pioneer Tom Whitby

Like many people my first foray into the virtual world of connectedness was through Facebook. I connected with family and friends. This led me to consider making some professional connections.

I began my connected collaboration as an educator over a decade ago. I realized as an adult learner that I learned best through collaboration and that collaboration could only take place if I was in some way connected with other educators.

I felt that I had grown to a point where my teaching colleagues, whom I had face-to-face contact with, seemed to somehow no longer have answers to my questions.

It was apparent to me that their own profession was getting away from many of them. They depended too heavily on what was taught about education years ago rather than what was currently being taught. They had no connection to the latest and greatest in education. Their knowledge and experience was losing relevance.

My building connections no longer served me well enough to meet my needs. I needed to expand my collegial base to more educators who were more in tune with education demands of the 21st Century. My building limited me.

Twitter trains teachers

I began connecting with educators virtually on LinkedIn. It was considered a social media application for professionals. I found that I could create groups of educators that had interests in education similar to mine. Educators would come to these groups to discuss topics that we were all interested in, but were not being discussed in faculty rooms or faculty meetings or not even in the provided Professional Development sessions.

My frustration with this however was the time involved waiting for people to get back to me. Discussions were not in real-time. Questions were answered when participants returned to the discussion.

Through LinkedIn I discovered Twitter. Twitter was more in real-time. I followed educators wherever I could find them. I used Twitter only for educators. The interactions took place in real-time, so there was instant gratification. I began to identify which educators had expertise in specific areas. My problem was getting together with the right people who were interested in what I was interested all at one time.

That is why #Edchat was started. I could come up with a topic of interest for discussion that was not being discussed in schools, but had great impact on educators. The topics were well received because they began to be referenced in Education Blog Posts. The Twitter Chat model flourished creating hundreds of education chats here and around the world.

My big takeaway from Twitter was that people were accepted for their ideas and not their titles. Teachers, administrators, authors, politicians, and thought leaders are equals on Twitter.

Through Twitter I was exposed to many relevant Blog Posts. I was amazed that educators were sharing great ideas on blog posts and it opened an entire community of education thought leaders to me.

I followed many of them on Twitter for further one-to-one interactions. I discovered that Blogs were interactive. I could engage bloggers not only to agree, or disagree, but also to expand their ideas.

Social media is ahead of bricks and mortar education

These discussions of great ideas ran through a number of connected venues, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Blog Posts. These connected discussions proceeded any discussions of similar ideas taking place in school buildings. Edcamps, One-to-One initiatives, Flipped Class, BYOD and connected collaboration were all topics discussed and vetted long before they were even recognized in the brick and mortar world of education.

It was through these discussions and interactions that led me to a path to begin my own Blog. That was a scary step that in hindsight helped me grow more as a professional than any other individual step I have taken.

It has forced me to question more, investigate deeper, reflect more thoughtfully, and share more openly. The Blog was well-received and brought requests from many educators for connected face-to-face connected collaboration. This led me to both SKYPE and Google Hangout. This was a further expansion of my connected network of educators, but the ability to see the person I was connecting with was the new dynamic.

One element of my real world connectedness that I was privileged to have, was my attendance at local, state, and National conferences. Most teachers in our education system do not attend conferences because most school budgets do not make allowances for teachers to attend them.

I presented and held office in organizations in order to meet that goal to attend as many conferences as I could. A great benefit of conferencing is the networking done to make real connections.

Each year educators can meet other educators for professional exchanges and if they are fortunate enough to go a second year, they can renew those connections as long as their connections were fortunate enough to attend the second year as well.

Connected educators have no such constraints. They are connecting and exchanging with conference participants before, during, and after the conference takes place. They are also sharing the conference content through their connectedness with educators who could not attend the conference.

Virtual relationships are made face-to face as conference participants actually meet up with their connected colleagues. Social media for professional relationships has added a whole new level to any antiquated model of educational conferencing.

Now, here is why I refer to this connected journey model, which I have openly shared, as “whistling in the wind”. This is what is referred to as a PLN, a Professional Learning Network. I have modeled here how professional connectedness can benefit any educator, yet a majority of educators fail to take advantage of what is being offered.

Busting out of your comfort zone

Is it because they did not get this information in their teacher preparation program in college? Is it because they have no time to spend beyond their workday to make professional advances? Is it because they lack a digital literacy to do the basics of social media interaction?

Is it because they are not what they profess that they want their students to be, Life Long Learners? Is it because they feel that their college preparation was enough to carry them through a forty-year career without needing to learn, change, and adapt to a quick-paced, ever-changing, digital world?

I do not expect anyone to accomplish what I have done in my journey to connectedness. I have been doing it for over a decade. I do expect, however, or at the very least hope that, as professionals, which we claim to be, educators begin their first steps to connecting and proceed at a pace slightly out of their comfort level. Comfort levels are the greatest obstacles to change.

The world we first learned in is not the world that we teach in and it is sure as hell not the world our students will occupy to thrive and compete.

If our comfort zones take precedence over our students getting a relevant education, we are failing as professional educators. The fact remains however that it is a great struggle to get educators to connect and grow.

Most educators will not see this blog post, let alone interact with it to defend their non-connection. Those of us who are connected may need to do a better job of modeling, and speaking to the benefits of connectedness for the sake of our colleagues and our profession.

As I have always said, “If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.”

Tom Whitby is an author, teacher, blogger and founder of #Edchat. This article first appeared on Tom Whitby's website My Island View.

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