Being a connected educator means being in conversations that matter

9/19/2013 12:00:00 AM
One of the most important reasons to be a connected educator is that it allows us to have a voice in conversations that matter.  If you are digitally literate you enable your voice to be heard in important conversations on a local, state, national, and global level in ways that were never possible, just a decade ago.  

Have you ever thought…

if only policymakers like our education secretary were hearing from actual educators like [Deb Meier, Chris Lehmann, Angela Maiers, Dennis Littky, Will Richardson, or whomever you admire] maybe they would have a better handle on what our students really need for success?

Instead, we know from media reports that typically, educators do not have the ear of such policymakers.  Sure, there may be a PR event here or there where educators are tossed a bone, but we rarely hear of sustained, ongoing conversations between educators and those in charge of what is happening by those who make the decisions.  

Connected educators know that there really is no good reason for this, and social media is starting to break down those walls. They are doing great work and not afraid to share it far and wide. They are publishing books, contributing articles, blogging, commenting on education stories, connecting in social networking groups, speaking to audiences live and via video (i.e. TEDxEd), and, of course Tweeting about what they are doing.

Unfortunately, it is rare to hear that policymakers are a part of these conversations.  

Last year it seemed that just might change when United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan declared our nation would recognize this work with Connected Educator Month. It will take place this October and is described on the USDOE blog as “a month-long exploration and celebration of online communities and networks dedicated to broadening and deepening educator participation in learning and sharing, and bringing online community and education leaders together to move towards a more fully connected and collaborative profession.”

Duncan is not just talking the talk.  He’s walking the walk. This week he picked up his game and I don’t mean on the basketball court. He actually began following some of education’s most influential Twitterati. I was tipped off when the following came up in my Twitter feed.

My reaction?

Uh oh!  What did I do now? Why is he following me???

He has more than 100k followers, but follows less than 200, so, I looked at his follower list, to see who makes the cut. Was it troublemakers or thought leaders or something in between?  

When I got there, I thought I made an error. Troublemakers? Well, yes, but in a good way. It seemed a mirror copy of my follower list. I was confused. It was all those folks I only wished people like Arne Duncan was connected with and I know almost all these people. How was it I never knew Arne Duncan was one of their Tweeps? Us connected educator types often lament the fact that we don’t have much interaction on social media with those at the education helm.  

Will Richardson summed it up nicely when reflecting after a conference upon hearing from our policy makers, experts in charge of education, etc....
I was struck by how difficult it felt to accept much of what I was hearing because, and this is something that is really concerning me (seriously), few if any of these folks had the network creds to be “trusted.” 
Was Duncan on a mission to change this perception? I wasn't sure and I still wondered what prompted the follow?  

I looked around a bit more and discovered #edchat creator and connected educator extraordinaire, “Tom Whitby” had suggested that Duncan begin dipping his toes into these connected waters and provided him with a list of about 100 Twitterati who had a prominent voice in education.  

I quickly found I wasn’t the only one, scratching my head and thinking, “Heck! If the U.S. Secretary of Education is following me, I better make sure I have some pretty powerful Tweets.”  I also turned to my PLN and said, “Help! What should be my first DM to our Secretary of Education???”  

Twitter was abuzz with all these connected educators starting to realize that we were talking and our country’s head of education was ready to listen.  What did we want him to hear? What don’t we want him to hear? Does this change everything? Whoa!

Noticing the buzz, Whitby Tweeted this

Still, when the U.S. Secretary of education is watching, you can bet educators are going to be on their toes working even harder to have powerful conversations that capture ways we are hoping to make a difference and affect change.


And shouldn't that be what we want as inspiration from our education leader? That push to keep our conversations at high levels... The recognition that he has an ear open to what the real people working with our schools are saying...

That is a start, but as connected educators will tell you, it’s not enough as was conveyed in this Tweet:

Tom Whitby: @ransomtech About as much as you can expect that assurance from anyone who follows you.
Stephen Ransom: @tomwhitby Just thinking out loud here… that following is one thing. Participating is another.

If Duncan takes his participation to that level, it becomes evident that he's done more than join the club, he's actually interacting as a member. What's more he's not doing so because people are yelling, screaming, or mad as hell, but instead he wants to hear and respond to what they have to say.

When that happens, we will indeed be moving toward the type of conversations necessary to enable this country to transform education in powerful ways.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what my first DM to the U.S. Secretary of Education will be, it will be thanking him for hearing us, inviting him to interact, and providing a link to this post.  

I’ll let you know what he says ;)

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

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