What Happens When Teachers Connect
by Terry Heick
Digital and social media have replaced the landscape for education. This isn’t a case of mere impact or transformation–it’s all different now. Everything–the tools, the audiences, the access to content, the data, the opportunity.
And this is a displacing and replacing that will only accelerate as re-conceptualizing of the craft of teaching in light of emerging technologies and global distinctions increases. This doesn’t mean that every classroom and school and district is suddenly forward-thinking, but rather that education–and most critically, it’s students–have already changed, forever altering the tone and context for that education.
Eventually, the systems of education will catch up to this shift–will realize the world’s already changed and that no matter how iconic “School” is, nothing waits for change, It’s kind of like an old Looney Tunes episode, where Wile E. Coyote runs off the cliff and keeps running until he looks down and realizes that he’s running on air and the ground is no longer beneath his feet. Full of enthusiasm, he’s lighter than air; his realization makes him fall.
Teachers As Drivers Of Change
One of the primary movers in the new context for education is technology, and the human element behind the technology that’s behind the new context? Teachers.
When teachers connect, a lot happens, subtle and overt. New pressures. New enthusiasm. New workflows. New challenges. In physics, one thing affects another. When one thing connects with another thing, something happens. In chemistry, this can be even more spectacular. Baking soda and vinegar. Fizz.
When people connect, there are also effects, and though they’re not always positive, they make the alternative–not connecting–seem like a ridiculous possibility.
What Happens When Teachers Connect
They consider new ideas.
What is that teacher doing? What are they using? Why do they believe this? Why do they use that? What can I learn from there? What can they learn from me? What do we share in common?
They have to understand.
When they meet another teacher, their brain can’t help but make sense of this person and their approach and their tools and their ways of thinking. These artifacts may or may not make their way into their own teaching, but the observation and analysis are foregone conclusions.
Further, connecting with other teachers also keeps you honest. You may be able to fool a few teachers that your students practice digital citizenship, or self-direct their own learning, or are doing amazing projects in the community. But you can’t fool them. A connected teacher has to understand–has to walk the walk, or be really good at faking it.
They’re forced to confront the limits of their own knowledge.
A teacher might think they understand project-based learning, but a single tweet or 3 minute YouTube video might help them to see that “doing projects” and learning through projects are two different things entirely. When teachers practice in isolation, this kind of self-criticism is rarely necessary.
They can learn from people with specialized knowledge.
You may be the expert on mobile technology or inquiry-based learning in your building, but then you meet Jamie Casap or realize you know less than you thought you did. Which is good. Now you can grow.
They can choose the terms of the connection.
Is it permanent? Online only? Friendly? Dialogic? Self-serving? Whimsical? When teachers connect, it makes sense that they can control the terms of nature of that connection.
They can practice empathy.
Connected teachers can benefit from empathy for the same reasons students can–making sense of another human being can only happen when you surrender your own agenda, and feel alongside and through another person and their thinking.
They can give back.
Ideally, connections go both ways; they distribute and accept. A connected teacher can give back–and the more powerful their connections and networks, the more powerful their ability to help other teachers.
They have less of an excuse to not change.
A connected teacher can’t say they “didn’t know” or “weren’t aware of” a trend, tool, or idea. (If they do, they may need to re-evaluate the quality of their connectivity.) They may or may not be more willing to rethink their own practice, but ignorance is harder to come by.
They have new knowledge demands.
When teachers connect, their ability to survey, evaluate, curate, and use that information is tested. Their ability to establish an online identity is centered. The tools and practices necessary to establish and grow their professional learning network are suddenly as important as making phone calls to parents or grading parents.
They learn to socialize their thinking.
Or at least see and hear others do so. Connected teachers have an immediate need to socialize their thinking for different audiences for different reasons. Interactions become less about talking your department members into a new idea for improving digital literacy, and more about joining an ongoing conversation that never ends.
They’ll have their thinking pushed.
They may experience peer pressure–to adapt their thinking to “the status quo.” This is neither good nor bad in and of itself (depends on what they’re thinking was, and how the “status quo” impacts it). But this is a kind of ideological peer pressure, where it nothing else, teachers have to think carefully about what they believe and why they believe it.
They adapt, assimilate, reject, or absorb a constant flow of perceptions and possibilities.
Their classrooms can become learning laboratories.
Where else do all these new ideas go?