Have you made the commitment to become a connected educator — a teacher or school leader who takes full advantage of digital tools and virtual networking to improve your practice and better prepare your kids for 21st century lives?

I’m choosing the word “commitment” carefully. It’s easy to find information about the importance of becoming connected — and the necessary “how-to” steps to get there. Need to set up a Personal Learning Network (PLN)? Google those three words and you’ll harvest a great heap of helpful hints.

What isn’t so easy is committing the time to learn how to use the necessary tools — to find the best folks to follow — to not only subscribe to blogs but actually reflect deeply on the understandings of other practitioners. Hardest of all: making the time to connect with education colleagues via Twitter, a Ning, Diigo, Skype, etc. and establish real communication.

Not there yet? For me, it took almost a year before I truly felt “connected” – but as you’ll see below, it’s been well worth the effort. First though, I’d encourage you to take two minutes to listen to an expert. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, co-founder of Powerful Learning Practice, recently made this brief but persuasive video entitled, “Why be a connected educator?”

Thanks to the support of Sheryl and many others, I have learned a great deal. Last May, after writing a reflective post about my PLP experience with my own school team, I was contacted by PLP editor John Norton, who wanted to post my piece in a new group blog written by PLP participants and consultants: Voices From the Learning Revolution (VFLR). I was then invited to become a regular contributor to the blog, which you’re reading right now. You have only to browse a few posts to see that I joined an amazing group of educators who are totally committed to shifting classrooms and schools in ways that put students in charge of their own learning.

True learning communities encourage us to grow

This loose but well connected group within my professional network meets my personal definition of a true Professional Learning Community (PLC). I’ve come to know these Voices folks a bit better than others in my PLN, and we connect more frequently via Twitter or email. We often comment on each other’s posts and we’re making plans to begin a regular Twitter hashtag group where we’ll invite all educators to discuss topics growing out of what we’ve written. I feel a kinship with these VFLR writers, and enjoy learning with and from them. Recently, we found that five of us will be attending the EduCon conference later this month – I’m determined to meet them face-to-face!

Several weeks ago, something very powerful happened to me, as part of this community. I had been through a rough couple of months, and hadn’t submitted anything for the Voices blog in some time. Finally, over the holiday break, I was able to relax and do some writing. I crafted a post entitled “SHIFT: A New Year’s Resolution for 2012“. It was published on January 3rd, and I was hopeful that it would provide some simple, first steps toward change in the new year. It was a brief piece, though, and I admit I was nervous, wondering if it would have any impact.

The day it was posted, I received a direct message via Twitter, from fellow VFLR blogger Marsha Ratzel. Marsha is a profound and creative thinker about teaching. Her VFLR posts (and her personal blog) provide useful, specific examples of the shifted practices within her classroom. Here was her message:

This was huge for me. A brief message, which didn’t take but a minute of Marsha’s time, had an enormous impact. This, I realized, is a critical element in Professional Learning Communities. The support and encouragement we provide to other members of the community makes a difference. As simply stated by Sheryl, “We need more of this.” Teaching is not a zero-sum game.

In an effective PLC, members share freely, learn from one another, push each other’s thinking, and celebrate success within the community. Marsha reminded me that while our personal growth is important, the steps we take together in bringing about change are what it’s all about.

What does all this have to do with making the commitment to become a connected educator? Commitment is hard. Giving up outdated but comfortable ways of doing our work is hard. We all need encouragement to stay on course.

After reading Marsha’s uplifting message, I was encouraged to do more to support others in my PLCs who are working to make a difference. Finding time to read, shift, and share can be difficult, but if we are really committed to transformational change on behalf of kids, we can sure take a moment and let someone know his or her efforts are worthwhile.

Technology opens the door, but it’s the support and encouragement we find in authentic learning communities that connects us.

Image: jscreationzs

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Patti Grayson

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