A reflective, collaborative mindset for Connected Educators
I have always been a big picture kind of learner. If I had a picture of where I was supposed to go, I had a reason to learn the various parts I needed to know in order to get there. Once I got there, I would try to figure out if that was the place I wanted to be, or if I could make it a better place. Once I understood what I needed to do as an educator, I worked to put all of the components in place. When I finally got there, it was not all I believed that I was promised, so I worked to make it better.
My education career started in the early 70”s, so the sources I had to work with back then were limited. My collegial support group was about eleven other English teachers. Stretching my teaching experience was limited to what I was allowed to do within the building, in which I taught. I later found that those limitations varied from building to building depending on the leadership and culture of each school. My development as a teacher was limited to the small amount of professional development offered by the district, and whatever courses I could afford to pay for on my own. I discovered, totally by chance, the power of education conferences. My department was told to send one teacher to a statewide reading conference. No one wanted to go and I was the most junior teacher in the department. The choice was simple.
The conference was not unlike conferences today, minus the tech stuff. The overhead projector was the primary presentation tool. What grabbed me the most was the exchange of ideas among the participants, as the presenters led them through sessions. It was mostly “sit and get”, but there were spontaneous gatherings in hallways and dining tables. I was being exposed to ideas not discussed in our department meetings, because our department’s isolation from these ideas prevented us from their consideration. Of course the intent in sending me to the conference was to use me as an emissary to connect my colleagues to the ideas presented at the conference. Of course I was quite able to convey the words, but not the experience.
A key factor in changing what we do is the ability to reflect on what it is that we are doing. To improve that reflection, it is most helpful to know about alternate considerations. What are some choices? What perspective do others have on the same subject? What has worked and what has failed? Are there totally new ideas or methodologies that are being used in education that can replace the old ones? All of these questions come to mind if one has a mindset for continuously learning and improving within the profession. The 70’s were not kind to people of that mindset because the answers to too many of these questions were too hard to find. Collaboration was limited, difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.
Forty plus years later the world looks very different. Technology, which has always been a driving force in America, has advanced to a point where collaboration is easy, affordable, global, and almost ubiquitous in our culture. The very things that slowed change in the 70’s have been eliminated. Collaboration, always a great source of learning has moved up the ladder of learning to get beyond the limitations of just face-to-face experience.
In a recent Twitter exchange with two educators I greatly respect, Dean Shareski, @Shareski, and Bud Hunt, @Budtheteacher they expressed a concern that it would be better to teach students reflection than it would be to promote connectedness. I think when it comes to students I would agree. When it comes to adult learners however, I think that exposure to other ideas through collaboration stimulates reflection. I consider that a key element to this whole connected educator mindset we talk so much about.
After my own reflection on the subject, I see connectedness for educators as an accelerant for reflection. It promotes self-reflection, as well as reflection on education as a system for learning. It also stimulates reflection on the pedagogy and methodology within that education system. The whole idea of connectedness relies on the hope that educators are reflective. If they are not reflective, or lack the vision of the big picture of being connected, then we could have Connected Educator Month, every month for the next twenty years and never affect any change in the system.
Reflection is key to a collaborative mindset. The more we discuss this with our unconnected colleagues the faster we can connect more educators. If we reflected on our need for change and felt that change was not needed in what we do as educators, there would be no need to collaborate and we would continue with the status quo. Although there might be a few educators thinking along those lines, I believe most see a need for, at the very least, some change in what we do and how we do it. The more reflective we are about this, the more we will seek to expand that reflection with guidance, experience, support, validation, sources, and colleagues through the collaboration provided by our connectedness. I see them as separate entities that support each other. The more we collaborate, the more we reflect. The more we reflect, the more we need to collaborate. Being connected, for me, has expanded both my collaboration and my reflection. My goal is to get others to do that as well. Using technology to connect more educators with a reflective and collaborative mindset is the best hope for an education system in need of change.