I’m not usually the type of person who tells other teachers what they MUST and MUST NOT do. This post is pushier than usual, because I’m more passionate about this topic than usual. Being a connected educator has transformed my teaching and added so much joy to my life that I want every discouraged and overwhelmed teacher to know: You can become energized once again. You can love your job!
Being a connected educator means creating a personal learning network or community (often called a PLN or PLC.) The people in your personal learning community are those you connect with to share ideas and encourage each other. Some teachers have a lot of people like that in their own schools, but many teachers don’t, and they reach out to like-minded individuals online. Through Twitter or Facebook or blogs or whatever medium they choose, the build a community of people they can share success and failures with and enjoy growing together.
Here the 4 primary reasons why many teachers aren’t connected to a PLC. If you recognize yourself in any of these excuses, I hope this post will help you consider this topic in a new way:
1. I don’t want to spend my free time thinking about school.
I’m not advocating for you to think about school and all its problems and stressors. Don’t spend your evenings and weekends rehashing that argument with a parent, stressing out about your upcoming evaluation, ranting about standardized testing, and complaining about students’ behavior problems.
That’s not what being a connected educator is about at all. It’s about spending some of your free time thinking about topics you are passionate about and ideas that inspire you. And hopefully, some of those topics are related to teaching and learning.
To me, becoming a connected educator is about filling your mind, soul, and spirit with things that motivate and energize you. It’s about connecting with FRIENDS—fellow educators you enjoy talking to about personal and professional things.
When you choose to connect with other educators, you have complete control over your own professional development. You participate in the events you are interested in, and talk about the topics you care about. There is SOME aspect of teaching that still lights a fire inside you—getting kids to love reading, perhaps, or creating a beautiful learning space. Tap into that and discuss it with other teachers who have your same interest.
What could be more exciting and empowering than using your free time to explore a topic you are passionate about?
2. I don’t think it’s necessary/I didn’t know I needed a PLC.
Has teaching gotten a little monotonous? Are your students driving you nuts? Are you bogged down by all the demands of teaching and losing sight of the big picture? Do you often dread or feel ambivalent about going to work each day?
If the answer to any of those questions is YES, then becoming a connected educator is necessary.
Teaching becomes a boring, passionless experience when we’re doing the same thing every single day (and year after year). We start to go through the motions and lose our enthusiasm because the only challenges in our day are the ones we don’t want and didn’t ask for.
The way to breathe new life into your teaching is to tap into your inner motivation and connect with the things, people, and ideas that matter to you. Inspiration for new teaching ideas and improving your practice doesn’t just come out of nowhere: it comes from allowing your mind to drift to possibilities in your downtime, and surrounding yourself with energizing people and ideas.
If you don’t take the initiative to increase your teaching motivation, who’s going to?
3. I don’t have time.
If you try to completely separate your personal and professional lives, then no, you won’t have time to be a connected educator. There aren’t enough hours in the day…UNLESS you integrate the personal and the professional.
When you’re zoning out in front of the TV in the evenings, check in with your edufriends in a Twitter chat, or see what’s new in your Facebook group for teachers, or use Pinterest’s new updated search function to see how other teachers are teaching the content you’re teaching. Listen to podcasts of inspiring educators when you’re exercising, driving, cleaning, or cooking. Attend a conference to meet your PLC members face to face, and bring your family along on the trip so you get extra time with them, too.
Find solutions that work for your lifestyle. Treat teaching like every other hobby or personal interest in your life: look for other people who like the same things as you and spend time together.
4. I don’t know how.
What type of online activities do you enjoy doing right now? Reading blogs? Surfing Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram?
Think about how you can integrate your teaching interests into that. Look for inspiring educators to follow online in whatever form of social media you prefer. You don’t have to do them all. Start with the tool you like best and use most often. If you’re already on Facebook, join us in the Encouraging Teachers Facebook group. If you want to try Twitter, check out my post where I explain how to participate in Twitter chats and the newbie-friendly #teacherfriends chat. And since October is Connected Educator Month, here’s a whole list of ways to connect!
Don’t make the mistake I did when starting out and follow only people that you relate to and can commiserate with. Reading about other teachers’ problems and complaints will not energize you.
Instead, follow people who inspire you and challenge you. Look for the people who push your thinking and see things differently than you. Find the people who are excited about teaching, and as you interact with them online, you will realize that passion is contagious. And who couldn’t use a little more passion in their teaching?
Have you been a reluctant connected educator? I’d love to hear about your challenges and struggles. And if you’ve found effective ways of plugging in with inspiring educators online, please share your favorite resources!