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Connection is Just a Phone Line

January 30, 2014

I spent last week in Edmonton marking Social Studies 30-1 Diploma Exams. I am not a fan of the exam in any format. However, since my students must write it, I feel it is important for them that I understand what the province is looking for. As well, I find it to be a great opportunity for PD. It has been a while since I last marked the exam. In the time between my marking sessions I have become far more connected than ever before. But, being in a room with 117 other high school teachers demonstrated to me that connected educators are the minority.

Connected Isolation

I like to think of myself as a connected educator. I try to maintain an active digital and face to face professional learning network. I keep a blog and read a wide variety of blogs. I try to incorporate ideas and feedback into my classroom and utilize my connections in a constructive way. In doing so, however, I think I insulate myself. I created a network of like-minded professionals who think in a similar way as I do. As such, I am surrounded by views which often reflect my own ideas. In many ways, this is a very positive thing. I am challenged to continue to push my thinking by those I speak with and gain more insight into incorporating concepts and processes, which I value, into my classroom. But is there a downside to this insulated network? By surrounding myself with people who think in a similar way to me, am I challenged enough?

The Minority

My experience marking diploma exams and speaking with a large number of Social Studies teachers opened my eyes to the number of teachers who are not connected or who are not utilizing tech resources in their classroom. As I write this, I realize how egotistical and entitled it sounds. I am fortunate enough to work in a school which has allocated a great amount of financial resources to developing an environment where technology integration is both encouraged and available. As such, I am left thinking about the heart of the issue. Is the problem that teachers are scared or lack the knowledge necessary to incorporate technology into their classrooms or is the issue a lack of funding and financial resources? I would really like some insight from other teachers about this issue. Maybe it really isn’t an issue at all. I guess it is distinctly possible that connected teaching and learning is not essential to the development of engaged students. I don’t believe that but maybe I’m wrong.

The Disruption

Clayton Christensen, in his book Disrupting Class, wrote about an impending technology disruption in education. His premise was that the development of high speed internet access and access to distributed models of teaching and learning would revolutionize how students access both education and information. Much of what Christensen hypothesized about is taking place. In addition, the changing nature of employment and the skills necessary for individuals to be successful as learners in the 21st Century have changed a great deal. Finally, for teachers in Alberta, the provincial government mandated the use of connected teaching and learning in all classrooms. With all this in mind, is it not our responsibility to make the necessary changes in our classrooms to reflect these realities? Or is that just the view of a privileged, white, male teacher? Do we need to be connected in order to effectively help our students?

The title for this post came from my friend D’Arcy Norman. I asked “what are the benefits of being a connected educator.” D’Arcy responded by saying: “connection is just a phone line – you need to do something with it.” I think he is right. What do you think?

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2 Comments
  1. Catherine permalink

    Being a connected elementary teacher who has ran into similar problems, I think many factors play a role in this, some which you mentioned. I get comments like “I don’t have time for that stuff you do” to “I’m not good at all that tech stuff like you are”. I think it’s important that if this is the road we are going down we need to give teachers support. Give them the PD needed, let them visit classrooms to see it really isn’t that hard to become connected. Fear of the unknown can be a powerful thing and until we give teachers the chance to see it isn’t all that difficult to become connected, that there is nothing wrong with taking small steps and finding a PLN to help begin their journey, we will continue to have this disconnect.

    • Catherine,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I definitely agree that in order to facilitate change organizations must provide support for teachers. I also think that sometimes schools bring people together and expect changes to happen organically. I would argue that school leaders must take a measured, deliberate approach to change within the school. In this manner, leaders can identify core areas of focus, facilitate the development of networks and create supportive systems for the teachers. Then, they need to identify another area and repeat the process. Whole scale, system change is what scares people.

      Thanks again,
      Sean

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