Thoughts on: What it means to be a connected professional.

Reflection, Teacher Support

With the advent of the Google Reader closure and my impending departure to the TESOL Convention in Dallas, I am wondering what exactly it means to be a connected professional. I suppose the definition varies from field to field, but within the field of education and ESL, more specifically, there are a few things I think define a “connected professional.”

  • Engaged in conversation. Whether online via micro-blogging sites like Twitter, or in person with your immediate co-workers, being engaged in conversation seems to be a key part of the definition of a connected professional. With technology in mind, Twitter and other social media tools allow teachers to be engaged in multiple conversations simultaneously without needing to be in the same geographical area. While I’m partial to these tools, the good-old traditional conversation with co-workers should not be overlooked. After all, you are serving the same population of students, and communication is very important to understanding and meeting your population’s unique needs.
  • Open to new voices. One of the best facets of utilizing social media with a world-wide learning community is that both experienced/expert teachers and novice teachers can interact and learn from one another. It is my opinion that a truly connected professional is not only open to new voices in the field, but also varying perspectives. All that being said, it can be easy to fall in with an online crowd that agree in perspective (on whatever matter) with yourself. A necessary challenge to being connected and actively participating is to not only expose yourself to new voices, but to engage with them in an amicable and exploratory way.
  • Makes connections between conversations and their own practice. Connected professionals may be bombarded with a constant stream of input with a variety of perspectives, but it is their job to take the information and perspectives presented online and implement them appropriately in their own classrooms. If everything goes back to serving our students, an effective connected professional must take some of what she learns from other voices and reflect upon her own practice. While my perspective would state that varying degrees of participation may indeed contribute positively to an educator’s professional identity, there are voices out there that deem any interaction online not taken and implemented in the classroom as meaningless. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on how best to implement what is gathered from learning communities and implemented their practice. I simply propose that students must always be kept in mind.

It seems clear that simply having a Twitter account or subscribing to an educator’s blog does not make one a “connected professional.” While online, social media tools may be invaluable to a teacher’s self-directed professional development, they are ultimately just tools to be used by the professional. How we use them is what really matters.

 

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Self-directed professional development & learning alone

Reflection, Teacher Support

Self-directed professional development may mean finding topics of interest and reading articles written by professionals. It may mean implementing suggestions in your classroom and reflecting on those experiences. It may mean seeking the advice of your peers and coworkers with regard to specific classroom management techniques or lesson plans. Self-directed professional development may be self-driven and take on many different appearances, but it does not mean learning alone.

I have come to realize that building an online community of peers and fellow learners is invaluable to my professional development. Through tools like Twitter and Google Reader, I am able to stay connected to the field, provide my feedback to pragmatic suggestions (lesson plans and activity ideas), and receive feedback on my own ideas. While I am the master of the direction my learning takes, and I may be physically sitting at my laptop alone, I am not learning alone. With the assistance of online communication tools, my learning community has widened to include people from all over the world. There is something really exciting about brainstorming lesson ideas with people from around the world. Perspective is something gained over time and experience, and I’m not sure I can put a value on the availability of the wide variety of perspectives present online.

I’m thankful for online communities and the support I find within these communities.

 

 

Self-Directed Professional Development

Uncategorized

I have become somewhat enamored with the use of digital media in relation to professional development. The idea that I can create a personal learning network that will allow me to connect and collaborate with teachers around the world from all walks of life and levels of experience using social media and other digital tools amazes me!

During my practicum experience last year where I was paired with a mentor teacher, I really began to appreciate the value of connecting with more experienced teachers within my field. I sometimes feel like teaching can be a pretty isolating profession, unless teachers reach out to others within the field and share their ideas. While this may seem obvious, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of being in the classroom. Having the opportunity to teach alongside my mentor teacher and get valuable feedback from him was an awesome experience. However, engaging in a mentor/apprentice sort of relationship seems like the analog version of an experience that can be so much more fulfilling and enlightening within a digital medium. Having said that, I don’t think that one experience should replace the other, but that having a wider vision of what it means to develop professionally and collaborate with fellow teachers might be more beneficial than engaging in the traditional practicum experience alone.

If collaborating and expanding my ever-changing personal learning network is good for my own education, couldn’t it be said that such a network might benefit my learners as well? This is a line of thought I have yet to dive into, but with the hopes of cultivating learning and creating a space in which my learners can use English freely, I have created a class wiki. I’m sure there will be more meditation on this matter to come.

My mind has been buzzing with these ideas recently, and in an attempt to self-educate I have begun collecting some resources that address the topic of collective learning and self-directed professional development in the digital age. Here are a few of the books I’m exploring now:

Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User Generated Learning by Kristen Swanson

A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking

From Fear to Facebook: One School’s Journey by Matt Levinson