7 characteristics of a true connected educator

We are in the thick of Connected Educator Month and, despite all the juggling of tasks and ideas and events and a hundred other things, my mind has been delving into the ‘why’ and ‘so what’ of it all.

I have seen a few folk ask ‘what’s the point –  aren’t we all connected all the time?’ . The fact is, no, we’re not. I have spoken to many educators for whom this month has been a catalyst for dipping a tentative toe into blogging or social networks, digital storytelling and webinars.

And, of course, connecting digitally is just a first, tech-focused step. Being connected is dispositionalthe modern educator must adapt expertise to serve the evolving needs of their learner – and a network can serve to support individual educators more than just immediate support in one’s local school.

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The following ideas were the basis of my session at ULearn14; an abridged version (and livestreamed version) is below.

I drew on the whakataukī  (Māori proverb) below for inspiration:

Kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka – the kumara (sweet potato) does not say how sweet it is

..and here are what I assert are the 7 characteristics of a connected educator:

1.  Strategically using technologies: Learner driven, every time.

We know that effective professional learning, online/offline/blended, is focused on driving progress and achievement for our learners. Effective connected educators harness their networks to locate research, share and test ideas, mentor and collaborate with a focus on learners’ needs and strengths.

2.  Pursues professional inquiry – from ‘sharing’ to ‘shaping’

Clay Shirky’s ladder reminds us that best use of technologies moves from sharing to collaboration to collective action. Gilly Salmon has a similar idea in her 5 stage model. Essentially, sharing resources is useful but limited to an exchange. Mentoring each other over time, shaping thinking, gently challenging and probing – this kind of creative dissonance helps hone and shape our expertise to adapt to what our learners need. It’s easy to push and broadcast information; it is harder, yet more worthwhile, to step towards collaborative action with social intent.

3.  Adds value, asks questions, creates dialogue

It is easy to agree, to praise, to tell colleagues ideas are ‘awesome’, especially in 140 characters on Twitter. I would argue that we need to work as a profession to foster a climate of healthy critique, even in public spaces such as social networks. The risk may feel high – but not as risky for our learners as educators operating in an echo chamber of affirmation and acquiescence.

4.  Filters the echo chamber – asks ‘why’ and ‘should’

Filtering – the great challenge of the modern age in which information can come at us like water gushing from hydrants. So, we filter, make lists on Twitter, join groups in the VLN and Google+ and try to master the flow. But, of course, by doing so, we can find ourselves caught in a bubble of our own making, with no dissenting voices or gently challenging questions. Check your online groups – ask yourself to what extent you are challenged, and challenging of, your peers? How often do we seek ideas from communities outside our own school, outside education even.

5.  Digital citizenship: Walks it, doesn’t (just) talk it

The connected educator is a model for networked practice – or should be. It is tempting to forget that data we share online is persistent, or assume that, in the flurry of noise and the tsunami of tweets, no-one is really watching. But they are. And for every confident, connected educator, there will be ten on the periphery, learning, copying, testing out how to behave at this online edu-gathering. So, let’s model kindness, respect, professionalism, and constructive learning.

6.  Nurtures: Builds a PLN by boosting others

We live in the age of the selfie, the grelfie, the ‘personal brand’. Social media gives everyone a voice, and many exercise that right at great volume, arguably myself included:). No problem there.  But look past the volume to what is being said and refer back to the first point – how will this help my learners? If ‘branding’ is all we model, we do ourselves a disservice – and our learners too. Clickbait may drive traffic to blogs, true, so let’s offer value when folks get there. The most effective educators I see online are those that work for the good of others. Back to Shirky’s collective action again.

7.  Asks ‘who’s not in the room?’

Inclusive practice. Indigenous voices. Educators who are not connected. Introverts. Keep asking: who is not in this discussion? who have we not heard from – and why? How can we engage those on the periphery? How might our own behaviour unwittingly exclude? Draw on the principles of Universal Design for Learning and start from the edges.

The livestream from my ULearn14 session, a master class in social media use for educators looking for the next step:

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