Act One. The scene is a large conference room. Laptops and iPads litter the tables that stretch from one end of the room to the other. Black power cords snake vine-like over and around the men and women in numerous chairs. They seem to wriggle out from the floor and the table legs and the leather attachÃ© cases, in search of outlets.
At rise, we meet our subject of interest, seated back left, third row. She is by no means a principal character, but merely plays a small part in the intricate backchannel chat ballet that will unfold the moment the presentation begins. She positions her fingertips, poised to weigh in on the discussion, and much to her dismay, the stage fright sets in. Without so much as a keystroke, she slinks into the scenery and then disappears out the backstage door.
Act Two. Three months later. Ditch the conference room, keep the laptop. Add an active Twitter account, a handful of posts on her newly-launched professional blog, and a healthy dose of confidence. Our lowly player has catapulted herself into a more noticeable role in a learning community that is a living, breathing protagonist in its own right: defining and redefining its character with every click. She is replying to discussions within her online learning communities, she is writing blog posts, and she is transparently sharing her successes and failures as a learner and as a teacher. She is even starting her own discussions that — to her genuine shock (and secret pleasure) — have elicited responses and taken on a threaded life of their own, leading to others learning from and with her.
With this, her eyes are opened and her approach to the role she plays in this ensemble is no longer self-centered, riddled with worry about sounding uninformed or being cast aside as useless. Now, she sees herself in the part she was truly born to play, a role into which she has been written and with which many can identify. She is connected to every other player in a way that allows her to be a source of knowledge as well as an active participant in the shared learning that occurs.
But, with newfound confidence and involvement comes newfound respect and, consequently, responsibility. Eager, she volunteers to write for the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog. I have credentials, she says. A backstage pass. Experience. A writing degree. I can do this, she says. I have found my voice.
And then suddenly it arrives. The stage fright. Again.
It’s me, Stephanie
Our player is me: Stephanie, a second-year fourth grade teacher and novice player on the teacher-tech stage. I could be any one of the many teachers on a similar journey toward becoming connected educators who value life-long learning not only for our students but ourselves. I would venture to say that we all experience bouts of stage fright at some point in our careers, from directors to actors to understudies. It is normal. Expected, even. We ask ourselves the same questions: What do I have to offer that someone else can’t supply? What good will my opinion do? Hasn’t my question been asked countless times before?
At first, these questions were left unanswered. This collaboration thing was hard. I was plagued with Lurker Syndrome, and I resigned myself to thinking that I’d spend the rest of the year watching and waiting, letting this valuable time slip by without taking advantage of what was being offered. Soon, though, through conversations with educators in my PLN, answers began to surface.
Aren’t those teachers smarter than I am? (Some are, of course.) Won’t they fare just as well without my input? (Maybe, but they’ll be better off with it.) Who will benefit from what I have experienced? (Give it a break; no way to be sure, but someone will!) I began to realize that the journey toward connectedness, toward incorporating technology into my curriculum, has not been about the fear itself, but about how to overcome it, and furthermore, how to help others in overcoming it and fully transitioning into the 21st century educators we were written to be.
I am still faced with stage fright time and time again. But the professional relationships that I have cultivated with those who have a wealth of varied experience, and the conversations that have ensued on Twitter or other online communities, have given me the tools to confront it, to understand it, and to transform it into the kind of learning and teaching that effects change, promotes transparency, and showcases successes and failures.
Finessing the fear factor
Through several conversations and interactions, I know that some of my colleaguesâ€”both in my school and in my PLN–are still struggling with the stage fright. How to stand up to it. How to move past it. And surely there are many other educators who have entered this brave new place called “connected community” with some trepidation. Allow me to share what I have learned in hopes that it helps you to forget the heat of the spotlight and the pressure of a large audience (however difficult they are to see beyond the virtual footlights).
- Start small. And this is true, even if the work you’re there to do is almost done. It is never too late to jump in and it is never too late to learn. In September, when I started on my road to connectedness, I was bombarded with email notifications containing links to discussion themes that in some cases baffled me. I shut down and repeatedly hit delete. I rarely spent time in the community discussion space and certainly was not an equal participant in our shared learning. My presence on Twitter was weak at best. Sound familiar? Try this: pick one. One discussion thread. One task. One tool. Something that appeals to you. That sends that tiny spark. That makes you think twice, if only for a second. Click over. Read. Write. Ask. Reply. Reply again. Trust me when I say that it will be liberating and exhilarating and will give you a sense of worth as contributor of experience, advancer of knowledge, agent of change.
- Gather support. I didn’t even know what PLCs and PLNs were in September, let alone did I cultivate and contribute to one. (They are “professional learning communities” and “personal learning networks,” by the way.) And now, I am not sure how I’ve survived these several years without them. Within these communities and networks, look out for the friendly faces (or avatars). Our Voices editor, with his nudges to get writing, did not let me off the hook, even when I made the excuse of being caught off guard by stage fright and wanted to give up. A fellow Voices writer (Patti Grayson) offered her encouragement and direct support in the comment thread of a blog post we were both following. It happened to be a post about not being afraid to share. These are merely two examples of many that showcase what we can doâ€”together. They are more than just a pat on the back. They are guideposts that seem to say, “I’ve been there. Others have been there. I’ve seen what happens when you get to the other side. Got your back. Don’t give up.” When I find something more valuable than that, I’ll let you know.
- Keep going. In order for the two previous bits of advice to work, moving forward is a must. It takes precious time. And it is hard work. But the feedback, conversations, relationships, and changes that take hold are worth every minute. Make an effort to build upon the simple steps it takes to start. Try new things often and seek support to help you through the learning process. There are many people in every connected community (I am assured by veterans of this work) who are just waiting to help, yearning to offer guidance and share their experiences, and eager to get you to peak performance.
This brings us to Act Three. We’re not the same characters we were when we started. Our roles are being written and rewritten, constantly shifting with each new thing we learn and bring to our teaching. Whether you have been center stage, playing your part convincingly for quite some time now or whether, like me, you’ve been waiting in the wings and are just moving to the edge of the spotlight, there is always time to own your role and deliver your lines.
There is no excuse for stage fright now. In the world of connected educators, Time is always on our side. The learning curtain has yet to close. In fact, it never will. The crowds are cheering and we’re stepping toward the front of the stage.
Latest posts by Stephanie Bader (see all)
- Video Conferencing from Your Classroom - September 13, 2012
- Opening the Curtain on Lurking - May 18, 2012
Thanks so much for this powerful reflection! I know it will resonate with so many teachers. I’m grateful to have connected with you this year. There is so much learning to be done and it’s wonderful to have great community of educators like you with which to work!
I’m a patron of the arts, not a performer, but I love the analogy to theatre that you’ve chosen. The commitment, risk-taking, transparency and transformational qualities of the connected world does seem similar in many ways!
Brenda, thank you for reading and for your kind words. Though the topic may seem trite, I have found that it is something that never really goes away–no matter how seasoned you are as a teacher or as a participant in a connected community. I have built up all the confidence in the world to tackle one thing-such as participating in a Twitter chat or writing this post!-and go to do something else and find I am plagued with the fear again. I sometimes wonder why that is. I have noticed even after months of belonging to a connected community, my colleagues and I still fight this battle and I hoped I could provide some encouragement. Thank you again for your thoughts!
My favorite part of your article was when you said,
“I began to realize that the journey toward connectedness, toward incorporating technology into my curriculum, has not been about the fear itself, but about how to overcome it, and furthermore, how to help others in overcoming it and fully transitioning into the 21st century educators we were written to be.”
Congrats on stepping out and leading the way for others. There are so many people just like you and writing this account of how the transformation can take place will be inspiring.
Thank you, Marsha. And it really is what’s it’s all been about for me. As I’ve found my way in building my PLN and growing more comfortable in a connected community, it has become my mission to be a cheerleader for others to do the same, especially those who are hesitant or nervous. The excitement and power (as Amy mentions below) of the impact it has on you and your learning is overwhelming, but even more for me is the great sense of pride I feel when I see others accomplishing this as well.
I guess I am a bit of a lurker… although I do RT and join in some conversations. I am actually just in the process of re-writing my CV (which I had updated just 2 years ago) and what I am noticing is the exponential impact of even my fledgling, largely twitter-confined, PLN has had on my educational philosophy! It’s powerful stuff!!
Thanks for sharing!!
Amy, thank you for reading! Twitter is such a great tool; I only discovered its powerful capabilities for connection and learning a few months ago and I am still a major lurker there. It amazes me what people know and I am so grateful they are sharing it. It took me a long time to grow comfortable with sending my own tweets, sharing links, and especially participating in chats, but what I’ve learned is no matter the degree to which we are involved, any small thing we are doing is important and is helping on our journey. Keep going!
It’s so much easier to be a lurker than a full participant. I think that is why so many people (often including me) choose that option. As you say, besides the fear of “putting yourself out there”, there is time and effort involved in sharing. In my experience, it is always worth the effort.
Tremendously well written article. You have a gift with words.
I agree-being a lurker is so much easier! No risk, little time required, nice safety net. But as the saying goes: no risk, no reward. Time and effort are absolutely factors required and are often the ones I noticed are hardest to yield to. Once some time and effort are put in though, it is always worth it and it shows. It is getting there that is tough! Thank you for your thoughts and for reading!
Thank you for this post. Have been thinking about starting a blog and am definitely in stage fright mode. I needed to read this today.
So glad you found something useful. I was certainly hesitant to start a blog as well as write for this one. I didn’t believe what I had to say would hold any meaning for other teachers. I did not want it to be just a journal, detailing my thoughts, but useful for others as well. Luckily my new-found friend Twitter has changed my mind on this. Once I got up the courage to start the blog and tweet a link to a post, I was surprised at how my readership grew, how others responded to topics I discussed, and most importantly, how much I learned from those who read and took the time to comment! It is a really useful tool and now that we are connected on Twitter, I hope to see some tweets about your new blog posts so we can continue to learn from one another!
First, congratulations on jumping into this brave new world!
Second, don’t think that the fact you are a new teacher means that you dont have anything to share! I got news for you … we more “seasoned” teachers also experience stage fright when we first come across something in this brand new world! I know I did!
The amazing thing about sharing is the fact that no matter how old or young a person is, the journey to become a connected teacher is always the same. … one step at a time! I applause your efforts and shout out to the world that YOU — STEPHANIE — are an amazing teacher!
Keep up the good work!
I loved when you wrote “The amazing thing about sharing is the fact that no matter how old or young a person is, the journey to become a connected teacher is always the same..one step at a time!”
This is so true and what I try to express to my colleagues who think everything technology and connected comes easily to us “young ones” who grew up in the digital age. But, my journey was, has been, and will be, the same as theirs! Taking one step at a time, dipping a toe in the water, and eventually wading in. This graduated approach really seems to calm those teachers with whom I work, assuring them that they do not need to know or be able to do everything all at once.
Thank you for being such a great example and cheerleader for me and for us all!
Hi Stephanie. Many thanks for your reflection, which I would like to share with other educators if that’s OK?:-)
The fear of making yourself vulnerable and putting yourself out there can be paralyzing
I would say though that the ability folk have to decide on the level of relative anonymity they might have online, plus the extra time to think things through can be a real benefit.. it can help avoid the sticky palms, cotton mouth and pounding heart I personally associate with speaking up face to face.
It’s also ridiculously exciting when people leave comments, and, as you say a discussion takes on a life of its own: -)
Thanks for your very open and honest reflection. I am sure it will be an inspiration for others to step in front of the spotlights
All the best. Hazel.
Hazel, thank you so much for your input. I agree that the level of anonymity is certainly calming in the beginning stages of becoming a connected learner, but it is so incredibly exciting when you have the opportunity to meet some of the players in your PLN f2f as I was able to do last winter at a conference in Hershey, PA. As Janet mentions below, the addiction can be hard to resist, and even though I have managed to take a bit of a hiatus this summer, I find myself missing those in my PLN–not just because of their unfailing support and the sense of community I feel when learning with them, but also because of the incredible things they teach me.
And yes, share away!
Great advice, Stephanie. I’ve been working at social media for a year now. The rewards have been amazing. And, I just now feel like I’m figuring it all out.
Now trying to avoid the addiction :).
Janet, thanks for reading. I’m STILL figuring it all out and had to take a step back for a while to digest everything and give myself a bit of a break from the media overload that I was personally experiencing. But, see my comment to Hazel above about the irresistible addiction you speak of!
What a beautiful description of your joining the connected educator conversation. I have been a slow learner, but I’m so happy I stuck with it.
I just read your post as recommended by Sheryl in the book discussion group on The Connected Educator.
I recently told the story of my journey to connection for Connected Educator Month. What an exciting time to be an educator!
Denise, thank you for reading! I am flattered that Sheryl directed you here and I hope my words offered encouragement and a sense that we are all in this together! Isn’t _The Connected Educator_ an awesome book? I loved reading it and it really assisted me on my journey. Though it may sound silly, I am so proud of you for telling your story, too! I am always thrilled to hear word of other once-hesitant learners sharing the message of connected education without fear, but with confidence in knowing that we all learn from one another’s experiences. Keep going!