Getting connected is vital for educators, but it isn’t the end goal. It’s a means of achieving our greater aspirations.
For many educators, the end goal is empowering all students to create, share and thrive. To do that, said Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who wrote the book that inspired Connected Educator Month, educators first need to become a bit more selfish.
“We’re an unselfish lot,” she said. “We constantly sacrifice our needs and desires for others because it’s for the kids, right? If we’re going to serve the kids, we’ve got to make time for educators to talk to one another.”
She offered the following insights on how educators can help reach the end goal by first investing in themselves — and in each other:
1. Rethink how we “do” school.
“What inhibits deep learning, collaboration and conversation, I think, unfortunately, is the culture of ‘school.’ It’s the way people are siloed in classrooms and kept busy all day with very few breaks. There aren’t built-in times to sit down and have meaningful conversations. When teachers talk to each other, they’re usually frustrated and blowing off steam.
“It’s the culture of the way we do school that makes it almost impossible to get into each other’s classrooms and watch what each other are doing and have conversations about what works and why. More often than not, a professional learning network is something that’s done to teachers — it’s not about building their efficacy.”
2. Provide support for young educators.
“Culturally, education is a profession that eats its own in that we take our youngest, least-experienced teachers and bring them into schools and give them the toughest kids nobody else wants, the least amount of resources and the crappiest furniture, and we say, ‘We’re glad you chose teaching as a profession.’ They’re so burned out, so tired, so overwhelmed. There are so many kids, so much to cover and so little time that teachers are bringing things home to do.
“To have a meaningful conversation at school is a difficult thing to do. Getting online and having a spontaneous conversation is really first time many of them have had a deep professional conversation about teaching and learning outside of college prep programs. That’s wrong. We’ve got to change that.”
3. Help teachers self-actualize.
“To bring value to my local community of practice, I have to have personal value. One of the real powerhouses about connected learning is I can connect with people who are very different than me, who maybe live in different culture, state or country with different values and beliefs. We can have conversation around a common, nonthreatening thing, and I’m going to grow as a person.
“Like Tennyson says, we’re part of all that we’ve met. We’re enriching, growing, improving our efficacy, self-actualizing. Enabling teachers to invest in their own professional learning will in the end allow student achievement to skyrocket. When they’re fulfilled, teachers have something to bring to the table to share with their colleagues and their students.”
Educators often say the students come first. Yet without fulfilled, self-actualized teachers, how can we expect to produce fulfilled, self-actualized students?
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is the co-founder of Powerful Learning Practice and co-author of The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age. Connect with her on Twitter via @snbeach.