Along with a crisp breeze, a craving for apple cider and donuts, and a lot of misty rain (at least here in Boston), the start of October brought with it the start of Connected Educator Month. As promised in my last post, I have set out to post once a week on a topic related to #ce14, but I have to admit — when it came to writing my first post, I was stuck.
The internal dialogue went a little like this:
I could write about Twitter. But being connected isn’t just about Twitter. I could write about how being connected isn’t just about Twitter! I could write about Facebook. Or Instagram! Or PINTEREST! Why am I so focused on social media? Being connected isn’t just about social media. I could write about how being connected isn’t just about social media!
It usually doesn’t take long for me to land myself in a contemplative, reflective stupor. Before I knew it, my attempt to pin down a topic for my first post had become a lofty attempt to loosely define amorphous terms like “connected” and “network” and even “educator.” *Sigh* I hate it when this happens. (sorta)
When I thought about what it means to me to be “connected” in my work, it actually had nothing to do with the digital technologies and tools I now use to stay connected with my educator networks, which at this point stretch across the country and span the globe. For me, being connected has always been about maintaining lasting relationships with a few key educators who have shaped my professional identity. A few things have helped me stay connected in meaningful ways, but they don’t have much to do with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest…. you get the idea:
I don’t let my teachers disappear from my life.
I still maintain contact with my high school AP English teacher Sarah Zerwin (go check her out on Twitter and follow her blog, which she co-authors with her equally amazing colleagues) and my ELA methods teacher Kim Parker, who lives here in Boston and helped me connect with my current landlord — also a teacher. See how that works? These two people alone, because they are so connected themselves, have helped me expand my networks extensively in the past few years.
I go to conferences.
Which I both love and hate. Conferences exhaust me — I’m actually a pretty shy person at first, and don’t like awkward social situations. However, conferences allow me to reconnect with already-connected educators, like my friend Dawn Reed, a co-author, co-thinker, and friend whose writing on Digital Is and work with the Red Cedar Writing Project never ceases to inspire. Or my ever-on-the-cutting-edge friend Troy Hicks, whose mentorship made my dissertation work possible and who has challenged and pushed my thinking forward. I reconnect with these people (and Sarah… and Kim… and others…) at NCTE each year, and at the same time build new relationships. Some of these are fleeting, to be sure — others will shape and define my career.
At least, I try to. Sometimes I’m better about this than others. Sometimes my hearing gets a little selective. Sometimes I get too caught up in one conversation and forget to listen to another equally (or more) important one. But I place a lot of value on first listening, then talking. This is hard for me, people. I really like to talk. And I often think I’m right, which makes it even harder. But I’ve put a lot of conscious effort over the past 2-3 years into listening first. Listening to the teachers in my dissertation study talk about why they could/couldn’t, would/wouldn’t, or should/shouldn’t use a new digital tool with their students. Listening to the chat trends on Twitter among educators who are already connected. Listening to my new coworkers in an effort to figure out the contextual landscape of Boston Public Schools. Listening again to my mentors from years past — like Kim, Sarah, Dawn, Troy, and so many others — and recalling their wisdom.
So in the end, I decided that for me, “being connected” has little to do with the web 2.0 technologies that I use to stay connected, and much to do with the f2f relationships that have allowed me to curate, foster, build, and listen to the educators who populate my networks.
Certainly in future posts I will share the ways in which digital technologies have helped me enrich and engage these networks. However, it’s also important for us to remember the many ways in which our networks begin with those human connections that mean so very much to our learning, development, and growth as professionals… and as people.