By Will Richardson

To me, at least, one of the most interesting phrases used in the new National Educational Technology Plan was this: “…using technology to help build the capacity of educators by enabling a shift to a model of connected teaching.” Obviously, this implies much more than being “connected” in the we-all-have-access sense. As the plan goes on to say, it means that “teams of connected educators replace solo practitioners” and that “connection replaces isolation.” And if you really want the money quote, here it is:

In connected teaching, teaching is a team activity. Individual educators build online learning communities consisting of their students and their students’ peers; fellow educators in their schools, libraries, and afterschool programs; professional experts in various disciplines around the world; members of community organizations that serve students in the hours they are not in school; and parents who desire greater participation in their children’s education (6).

All of this ties in neatly with the overall theme of the plan, that learning is no longer “one size fits all” for students or teachers. There is an interesting expectation here that the adults in the room will be able to navigate these online communities in ways that will then inform their own curriculum and classroom teaching. And there is also the expectation that in this connected environment, we’re willing to see ourselves differently, not as the only one responsible for what happens with student learning but as the director of many actors in that goal. It’s a role that is much more complex, I think, much more difficult that simply delivering the curriculum, keeping control over the process, and making sure that our students get over the traditional assessments.

Connected teaching as defined here and as we talk about it in PLP is not easy by any stretch. To complicate matters even more, I would suggest that connected teaching requires a level of participation and sharing within these learning communities that may not be articulated very clearly above. And, it also suggests pretty strongly that teachers own their own learning first, that they see themselves as learners in the classroom alongside of their students. Nothing earth-shatteringly new there, but it sounds like we’re finally starting to look at professional learning differently as well:

Episodic and ineffective professional development is replaced by professional learning that is collaborative, coherent, and continuous and that blends more effective in-person courses and workshops with the expanded opportunities, immediacy, and convenience enabled by online environments full of resources and opportunities for collaboration.

The second half of that sentence is all about self-directed, social learning, not about the painful PowerPoint workshops that we offer to our teachers. I’ve recently been working with a district that over the last two years has given over 300 workshops on various tools, but when I asked them to talk about what significant, real change had come about because of those workshops, there was basically silence in the room. I’ve started saying that the only workshop we should offer our teachers is one titled something like “How to Learn Online,” one that gives teachers some context and some strategy for directing their own learning but places the expectation for DIYPD squarely on their shoulders.

That’s what I find really compelling about PLP, that it supports teachers in developing their own learning goals and strategies, yet at the same time gives them a great sense of potential of these online communities as well. Ultimately, this still is about us, about the decisions we make as “solo practitioners.” But we have to have a different frame, a different context for those decisions now, one that helps us understand our roles as truly connected educators as well.

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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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