- Create a professional network that challenges my existing practice, brings in new ideas, and offers support in implementing my vision for my classroom.
- Create a social network of people who can really understand what I do at work and why I do it. These are people who I can care for and who can care for me beyond just classroom practice.
Notice that I didn't say digitally connect, just connect. I think that connection is a human need that everyone seeks at varying levels. The digital medium offers the ability to choose any plugged-in person in the world, not just those who happen to live near you. The physical medium offers a much richer experience of connection (high fives, hugs, voice inflection, shared experiences).
When I think of other teachers interacting with each other in my Twitter timeline, I see both professional and personal connection at work at varying levels. A common thread I perceive amongst many of the most active users is teachers who cannot find the kind of connection they are seeking in their physical school, leading them to not only participate, but immerse themselves in a wider world of people who share their passion and care about them.
Getting back to our weekly #WSUCohort1 chat, my co-facilitator for the topic, Jen @JG0005, started Question #4 by asking about obstacles to creating a connected school. A lot of our discussion focused on teacher discomfort and unfamiliarity with digital tools like Twitter as a major barrier to a digitally connected school.
I asked the question:
Most of the time, I personally do not feel the unmet need for connection at either a professional or personal level. Part of this is due to some degree of introversion and a desire for quiet thinking time, but most of it is due to having my needs met with my face-to-face personal learning network. I spent the past 4.5 years working very closely on every single course with my high school math PLC, I work daily with an all-in co-teacher, I feel very comfortable discussing ideas and concerns with my principal and school counselors, and share a building and district with many other hard-working, passionate adults seeking the best long-term outcomes for our students. More than just pushing my work, these are people who care about me, my family, and other things I am passionate about. Having a classroom right at the busiest intersection of hallways means that my greatest challenge is hiding from all of these awesome people so I can finish my work once in a while. I am overloaded with meaningful, professionally-rooted connections.Probing Q4 more - what about the "satisficing" principle: I am thrilled with my offline PLN so I don't seek it externally. #wsucohort1— Andy Pethan (@rockychat3) February 11, 2016
However, my tweet above set-off a long discussion with a number of interesting points. Jen G @JG0005 looked at the angle of medium:
Kory @korytellers brought up the importance of modeling professional, digital connection with the intention of students using it in their future:@rockychat3 @korytellers and does it have to be Twitter? could there be a couple options? Ts like choice also...#wsucohort1— Jennifer Green (@JG0005) February 11, 2016
Jen @jenhegna, our course professor and fearless tech/innovation leader in Byron, pushed back with some of the unique aspects of the digital PLN that a face to face network cannot replicate:@korytellers @rockychat3 +be their world, whether we like it or not. They need to know how to connect online. #WSUCohort1— Kory Graham (@korytellers) February 11, 2016
@korytellers @JG0005 @rockychat3 My PLN challenges, supports, & encourages me and connects me to awesome ppl not possible thru tradit means.— Jen Hegna (@jenhegna) February 12, 2016
Four days after our Twitter chat, there are still new posts being made on this thread. The topic is a hot button, as it pushes against the entire point of our class -- digital connection between teachers and classrooms. From my own reflection and the torrent of tweets coming at me since Wednesday evening, I do believe that all teachers should be part of a digital community of other teachers.@korytellers @rockychat3 @JG0005 relationships I have made and experiences I have had and brought back to the district are invaluable.— Jen Hegna (@jenhegna) February 12, 2016
I think of it in a similar way to exercise: we all need it, but it meets more needs for some people than others. My wife loves to run, ski, or do anything that involves moving. It clears her mind, makes her stronger, and helps her sleep better. She is a much happier person when she is able to exercise. On the other hand, I only feel this need after not moving for 8 hours straight, and even then, it needs to either be short or part of a game to engage me. I exercise just enough to avoid early death.
For some, Twitter will fill an unmet need for professional and/or personal connection, making it more likely that the teachers will stick with it on their own. For others, this tug does not exist. This doesn't change the importance of modeling professional connection for students, giving students the opportunity to engage with others around the world, or opening yourself to a much wider set of ideas than you could ever see in just your physical network. It just means that it has to become a routine, a chore, a part of the work day, or more creatively a game. If we want to convince other teachers to engage in a social, digital community, we need to consider that many will lack the tug that so many Tweeting teachers have pushing their sails.