We live in an age of fast-paced change and, unfortunately, economic downturn. Most schools and school systems are not able to give us the kind of professional development we need, as often as we need it. But the good news is that we also live in an era of great technological proficiency, where many useful learning tools are available for free --- tools that are safe and fast and easy to use: information-gathering tools, knowledge-management tools and, best of all, tools for collaboration. If we are connected educators and we know how to leverage this ubiquitous technology to connect to other people who share our interests and passions --- to find them, to vet them and to learn from them --- then we possess a powerful means of do-it-yourself (DIY) professional development.
Connected educators understand how to find people who are on our professional wavelength; how to build and efficiently manage a personal learning network; how to gather, analyze and curate what we learn online; and how to then bring it all back to the schoolhouse, where we share what we've harvested with our professional learning communities in an effort to increase student learning. It may be projects we've found, or what we've discovered from reading or connecting with our favorite authors and bloggers, or fresh perspectives we've pulled together by crowd-sourcing answers to important questions about teaching practice and student learning. Connected educators use what they learn to make their local context better.
Connected educators also know how to extend their professional learning communities into the 21st century world of the Web. They understand that there are very powerful easy-to-use social media tools that make it possible to create online communities of practice that attract global colleagues, guest speakers with all kinds of expertise, and educators who may have solutions to problems we're facing and can also benefit from the solutions that we have to offer. Such communities, spanning many nations, time zones and cultures, are unprecedented --- impossible to imagine back in the professional development environment of the late 20th century. They are places where we can co-create new knowledge that results in high student engagement, deep learning and truly expert teaching.
So why is it important to be a connected educator? Because as a connected educator, you're going to develop all the know-how you need to improve the craft of teaching and to grow as a learner. You'll also gain the know-how to empower your students to take full ownership of their own educational experience, to build their own personal learning networks and to be able to learn not only in the classroom and schoolhouse, but from experts in myriad settings and from their own peers in far-flung places around the globe.
Curious about ways you can become connected?
• Join Twitter and use hashtags to identify people and resources that can help you as a professional learner. To get started, read this article by teacher Patti Grayson.
• Find a professional community online; for example, K12 English & language arts teachers are flocking to the remarkable English Companion NING community.
• Sign up for our free connected educator tips. Each week you'll receive an email with a chapter overview and a “Get Connected” activity. At the end of these several weeks, you'll be well on your way.
I like to say that all of us are smarter than any of us. Right now, many thousands of teachers, instructional leaders and administrators are transforming themselves into professionals who will never want to stop growing, improving and serving their students in the most excellent ways possible. Yes, it's hard work. But it's the kind of work that brings new energy, deep satisfaction and the joyous feeling of accomplishment that comes when we change our students' lives for the better.
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is co-author (with Lani Ritter-Hall) of The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age, a visionary approach to do-it-yourself professional learning through online networks and virtual communities. Sheryl is also CEO of Powerful Learning Practice LLC, which she co-founded with Will Richardson. PLP delivers job-embedded, year-long professional development around connected learning to educators and schools worldwide. You can follow her on Twitter @snbeach.