The U.S. Department of Education is celebrating Connected Educator Month in August with an impressive array of keynote presentations, webinars, panels, and a national calendar of events. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is known as an early innovator in the field of online professional learning communities and is the author of an important book in the field, The Connected Educator (Solution Tree, 2012).

I asked Sheryl about her  personal involvement in the month-long celebration — and to tell us something about all the things going on.

 

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach: I’ve been working with the CEM organizers — Darren Cambridge at the American Institutes for Research, Tom de Boor of Grunwald Associates,  Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0, and many others — for several months to come up with ideas that will really put connected professional learning “on the map” during these 31 days. We still have hundreds of thousands of educators in our K12 schools who haven’t focused much of their attention on the potential of the internet to empower themselves as learners and take control of their own professional growth.

A whole lot is going on this month! Here’s some of what PLP is up to. And you’ll find a daily calendar and lots more information at the CEM home page. I’ve moderated several of the first-week webinars. So many energized educators attended . . . it was amazing, really, to see the enthusiasm for connected networks and communities. If you are looking for an archive of a webinar the official archive page will be up very soon on the Connected Educator site.

 

And there’s a book study going on?

Sheryl: Yes, I’m excited about that. USDOE has organized a Connected Educators Book Club, and the book I wrote with Lani Ritter Hall, The Connected Educator, will be the first book study, which I’ll be moderating. I think we’ll have a manageable group size that will make for some terrific conversation and reflection.

We’ll start on Wednesday, August 8th (sign up here) and go for 10 weeks, covering a chapter each week. The real-time discussions will be on Wednesdays at 9 PM Eastern (NYC time), but the club will structured such that you don’t need to attend the real-time sessions in order to participate And if you can only attend some of the sessions, we’re making it easy for you to get caught up any time you’re away.

 

And what’s the Connected Educator Starter Kit?

Sheryl: PLP also helped develop a Connected Educator Starter Kit to celebrate CE Month. It’s written for educators at every level of “connectedness” and loaded with helpful links and embedded videos. (You can read about it here and download it here. It’s a colorful package – a big 10mg file.)

The kit takes a 31-days approach for this special month, giving you one simple way to get more connected every day. It’s freely available so please not only check it out but pass it along to any friend or colleague you think could benefit from getting more connected.

 

What else is up?

Sheryl: These are just a few of the things going on around Connected Educators Month. There’s a lot more happening. Many national organizations and connected education companies are posting related content and staging special events. You can find those on the CEM master calendar and actually add events of your own. There are also several discussion forums, an innovations blog – drop by the Getting Started page to see. I even encouraged my students in the PLP Teaching Online e-course to submit projects that folks can do to connect as part of my curriculum assignments. And it isn’t too late for others to submit their opportunities to spread their version of connected learning.

Another way to keep up is to follow the project twitter feed @edcocp and participate in the hashtag #CE12. PLPeeps and others who follow our work can keep up with all the activities we’re sponsoring by following this thread at the Powerful Learning Practice blog and adding our hashtag #plpnetwork to your TweetDeck or HootSuite or other twitter management tool.

 

This is all great and begs the question: What’s the big deal about being a Connected Educator? Give us your short personal explanation.

Sheryl: It is a big deal if you are committed to meeting the needs of today’s learner.  This is what we say to educators who are considering PLP’s year-long Connected Educator Experience as one way to grow professionally.

New and emerging Web technologies are connecting our children in ways never before possible. Through blogs, social networking sites, multimedia and other Web 2.0 tools, their world is becoming more and more networked and participatory. Your students spend time every day in virtual environments that are highly engaging and encourage creative thinking and problem solving. They frequently participate in games and social media where they routinely acquire and apply knowledge and collaborate with friends.

…but schools are not.

Schools have by and large been resistant to these shifts. Yet, this networked landscape of learning challenges you to re-envision what you do in your school and classroom, or risk growing irrelevance in your students’ lives. At the core of this challenge is how you and I, as educators, realize the potentials of these technologies in our own professional and personal learning practice as educators.

That’s part of the message. The other part is this:

The rise of the internet and social media platforms and tools represents a profound shift in the way we can learn as adults and professionals. For the first time in the history of the education profession, we can liberate ourselves from the strictures of old-style inservice training and PD that’s dictated by someone who is not in OUR classroom with OUR group of kids, looking for teaching/learning answers EVERY DAY.

In The Connected Educator, I describe a three-pronged 21st Century approach to professional growth:

  1. Learning communities that happen face-to-face at school.
  2. Purposeful learning networks where we harvest and share resources.
  3. Global, online communities of practice and inquiry where we dig deep.

Each of these three prongs in an essential element in our professional learning model. Really, I can think of no better way to communicate the importance and urgency of becoming a connected educator than to point folks to PLP’s What We Believe statement.

At the heart of all of this talk about new ways of growing professionally is something I say over and over to all the colleagues I spend time with. I think it’s true, and true in a profound way:

None of us is as good or as smart as all of us.

If we can embrace that idea, we can shift our schools and help our students become powerful learners for a lifetime.

Any final thoughts about Connected Educators Month?

Honestly, I am beside myself with excitement that the United States Department of Education has stepped up to the plate in declaring connected learning to be of critical importance — so important it deserves an entire month of special attention. This is the first time I remember as an educator feeling so in tune with the USDOE around what I feel is best for kids and teachers.

I’ve been close to the CEM organizing process and I am also really impressed with the collaborative and non-controlling approach DOE has taken to what CEM is becoming. Rather than trying to be very linear in organizing events they have allowed the whole CEM experience to   be very MOOC-like (Massively Open Online Course), which is pretty amazing if you think about it.

I am feeling really good about the potential here. This much attention to connected learning could really accelerate the educational shift, and in the positive direction so many of us feel it should go.

Thanks, Sheryl, for cluing us in to some of what’s going on during Connected Educators Month. And for sharing some of your ideas about what it means to be one!

About the author
John Norton is Coordinator of Content and Capacity Building with Powerful Learning Practice and Editorial Director of Powerful Learning Press. He's also editor of the PLP group blog Voices from the Learning Revolution. Learn more about John here.