Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared August Connected Educator Month. To the delight of many connected educators, this was a validation for much of their time spent and their many accomplishments achieved through the use of technology in general, and using the Internet specifically. Many connected educators have gathered virtually to assemble panels, webinars, podcasts and blog posts about all of the advantages of being a “connected educator” and its possibility of transforming education as we know it. You might see where I am taking this conundrum thing.
The problem with this is that the vast majority of educators who are most on board with Connected Educator Month are connected educators. Hundreds of connected-educator communities and organizations have signed on to the program and have offered online promotions for the month. This is a wonderful thing for all of the connected educators who belong to those communities. But, the obvious question: Are nonconnected educators involved or even aware?
Of course, avenues to reach nonconnected educators would be print media, television and radio, and articles in journals, newspapers and magazines. We can only hope teachers have time to keep up with such media. Much of this media requires subscription. There might even be buzz at schools that start the school year before September. Of course, the beginning of the year is the busiest and most hectic time at school. That does not allow for a huge amount of buzz.
This is the time that someone trying to sound cool using connected terms will say something to the effect of, “It is only another example of speaking into the echo chamber.” I never understood how that was supposed to lessen the impact of a good idea. If an idea is put forth to a large group of people who share skills, interests and motivations, how is that idea of lesser value? It is still analyzed, questioned and challenged by a group who theoretically knows the subject best. Participants’ agreement on an idea’s value might come from their experience and not because they share a space with other educators. Ideas are challenged all of the time among connected educators. It is the sharing and collaboration of those ideas that give power to connectedness.
No, to be a good teacher, one does not need to be connected. However, the question is if you are a good teacher and unconnected, could you be a better teacher if you were connected? Shouldn’t we strive to be the best that we can be? It’s not only an Army thing. Being connected offers not only exposure to content and ideas but also the ability to create and collaborate on ideas. Being connected fosters transparency and debunks myths of education that have been harbored in the previous isolation of the education profession. This is the stuff of a true learner’s dreams, and, as educators, are we not all learners?
Let me get to the conundrum. How do we connect nonconnected educators if the only people participating in large part in Connected Educator Month are connected educators? Most Americans have a Facebook or Twitter account. There are millions of people who maintain AOL accounts. In the strict sense of the term, these people are connected. However the term “connected educator” requires a focus for connectedness. It requires the educator to be connected to places and people advancing and enlightening the person personally as well as the profession — education. Of the 7.2 million teachers in America, most are probably connected to something on the Internet. We need to get them connected to one another. If we consider all of the education websites for professional development in education and all of the professional connections on Twitter in terms of a professional learning network, it would probably account for far less than a million educators.
We are not a profession of connected educators. We are content experts with access to content that we are not accessing. We are advocates of ideas with the ability to share ideas that we are not sharing. We are creators without using the ability we have to create for an authentic audience of millions who could benefit by our creations. We fight for the status quo of comfort and compliance. This doesn’t make sense to many of you — those of us who are connected.
If the only people benefiting from Connected Educator Month are connected educators, how do we involve the millions of others? I understand that a certain percentage will never be connected, but those who could be, would be, should be and can be are out there. How do we best connect the unconnected educator in a face-to-face method?
Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He came to that position after 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.