October is Connected Educators Month. The educational blogosphere has been flooded with inspirational stories of teachers connecting and learning from each other all over the globe. Teachers are creating their own Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) using Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, LinkedIn, etc. They share articles, best practices, lesson plans, and the highs and lows of their own teaching experiences.
A PLN doesn’t have to be anything formal. I read specific blogs regularly for inspiration and ideas. I stay connected with teachers via Facebook and we share all sorts of articles and information. I follow other “connected” educators on Twitter.
When I find the time, I go to my PLN to get inspiration, energy, and ideas. This could be at 5:30 in the morning, or in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep. This is the amazing thing about having this kind of network. You fit it in when you feel like it. But this also begs the question…. “Am I really connecting?”
This week has been crazy busy. It was our first week back from Fall vacation. I was beginning new units in my courses and the backlog of projects began to build slowly into a paper pile the size of Mt. Everest. I had team meetings and department meetings. I had my first formal observation. And progress reports are due in just a few short days.
In the midst of my busy week, I tried to use my time as efficiently as possible. On Tuesday I had 3 hours of planning time. I tried to plow through some marking and do a little planning for the following day. I had one hour to go and thought to myself “Yes! This stack is almost done and dusted!” At that very moment, a colleague knocked on my door and asked “Can I talk to you for a minute?” Every fiber of my being was saying “Nooooooo! Go away! I’m almost finished!”
The hour-long chat was a great discussion of curriculum, current problems, and solutions. I quit watching the clock; I forgot the time. The conversation was rejuvenating. In that moment of frustration, of feeling overwhelmed with work and planning, I was able to slow down and see the solution to something that had been plaguing me. Although I didn’t finish my stack of marking, I was thankful for the interruption and the conversation.
Later in the week I had a meeting that I was dreading. If only I had two more hours of solid time. The meeting was scheduled 5th period, I had 6th period free. I usually look forward to collaborating with my grade level teams, but on this day, all of the long list of “to do’s” was making me feel my time could be better spent shut up in my room. Again, this time with my colleagues pumped me back up. When I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed, the problem solving and planning as a team, calmed me down. I left feeling more focused on the 8 days ahead. Through discussion and laughter, my stress level decreased.
What is being a “Connected Educator”? Isn’t it an educator who takes the time to connect with his or her colleagues? We put so much emphasis these days on digital tools, that we forget that the most effective tool in teaching is just being face to face. My digital PLN might make me chuckle sometimes, it might give me incredible new things to try with students, but nothing can replace that laughter of a group which follows the telling of an honest story from the classroom. Nothing can replace a colleague earnestly listening to you as you fight back your tears when you are feeling defeated. No digital tool can replace the face to face discussion you have with colleagues on any number of issues on any given day.
So although I find great value in being a digitally connected educator, I also see the enormous value of staying connected to the educators you work alongside. At your busiest most frazzled moments, take the time to connect with those who will calm you down, lift you up, and move you forward. Find the time in your day to sit face to face and talk. You never know…you just might solve the world’s problems.
How do you stay connected in your busy lives as teachers and professionals? Do you find PLN’s helpful?
Here is a recent post by one of my favorite EdTech bloggers, Jackie Gerstein, on Social Networking, PLN’s, and Connectedness.