I’ve spent the last year really reflecting on what it means to be connected and the implications being connected has had on both my own personal and professional life.
I rarely used the term “connected” prior to 2013. Before this time I worked with, learned from and shared mostly with the people confined by the walls of our school. On occasion, I attended professional development workshops with colleagues from other schools within our city. The person who I spent the most time talking education with was my wife, and colleague (our ELKP teacher), Cheryl.
All this changed in 2013, when I sought to connect with other educators, beyond my home, school and city. Becoming an Apple Distinguished Educator and travelling to Austin, Texas for the ADE Institute was my first step in becoming “connected”. Fast forward three years and one might say I’m very “connected”. But am I?
When my son wakes up in the morning is my phone the first thing he sees or is it my face? When out for supper, am I more concerned about what my tweeps are saying or my friends at the table? When visiting my parents am I truly focused on what they have to say or am I distracted by an email I’m waiting to receive? When enjoying the outdoors while biking, walking, running or skiing am I missing the beauty directly in front of me while endlessly checking my text messages? When sitting across from my wife, enjoying a quite moment am I listening to what she is saying or lost in thought about what I’ll say in my next blog? While sharing on a global level with teachers throughout the world am I missing the opportunities to share with my colleagues and closest friends? As my class connects with others in distant countries are we missing opportunities to build relationships with classes within our own school, board, province and country? When taking on “global ed” projects are we losing sight of the needs within our own backyard? Of all the people I connect with on a daily basis, have I left enough time for the most important stakeholders in my students’ education; their parents? In becoming “connected” have I become disconnected?
I have come to the realization that the more “connected” I am, the greater risk I have in becoming disconnected with those people and places closest to me. Being mindful of the
5Ws (I know I sound like a teacher) and prioritizing and nurturing my closest connections has allowed me establish a balance and philosophy for how I connect.
My family and friends are the people in my life that matter the most to me. They come first. They are my most important connections. I make every effort to connect with them face to face but doing so virtually is using technology as a powerful means to keep in touch.
I am connected to many incredible educators throughout the world. They are my most important “virtual” connections. I have established many close friendships with many. They are my priority when I’m connected “online”.
What do I use to connect with my family and friends? Fortunately, all of my immediate family is in Thunder Bay. I can connect in person. We have family dinners and visits. We meet our friends once a month for supper. We go for walks, hikes, skis, camp and cycle. Failing “in person” visits, I connect with family and friends and the phone and through email. I don’t use Facebook.
I connect with my teaching PLN (personal learning network) mostly through Twitter. I also use Google+. I enjoy visiting the TVO’s “Teach Ontario” education community and the Apple Distinguished Educator community. I also blog and manage a website to share resources and ideas with my PLN. I won’t use Facebook because I don’t need anymore platforms. Voxer? Crazy cool tool to connect… but a time sucker. I had to drop it.
My family and I connect best away from any sort of technology. Family dinners are tech free. We don’t watch a lot of tv or play video games. We enjoy connecting with our natural surroundings by doing many different outdoor pursuits.
Connecting with my PLN is done virtually, online… on my computer or phone. That said, I have had the opportunity to meet many of the people in my PLN at conferences. Funny thing is since a relationship has already established, many of the people I meet “in person” I already feel like I’ve known for years. The next best thing to F2F meeting is a Google Hangout.
The “when” can be the toughest one when trying to balance our connections as there truly never seems to be enough time in the day. Connecting with my immediate family members (my son, wife and dog) happens first thing in the morning. When I hear my son get out of bed the technology goes immediately away. Mornings are spent tech free. Mealtimes are also tech free as connecting with the people with whom we are eating is priority. When I’m exercising and/or spending time in the great outdoors by myself or with friends or family, tech is left at home.
So when is there time left for me to connect and learn with my PLN First off, as stated above, I limit my platforms. Twitter, my blog and website, a little of Google+ and online communities. I connect before my son and wife wake up (usually an hour each morning), when my son is on screens (usually an hour each weekday and 2 hours on weekends) and for an hour or so in the evening when both my wife and I connect online. I am connected during the day at school, in the classroom. I share what we are doing on Twitter 4-5 times a day and sometimes blog with the help of my students. I also squeeze in tweets during “downtime” at soccer practises, at lunch hour, etc.
I believe I need to be connected first and foremost to myself. I need to know myself and my values. I need to make time for myself. I have to make a difference for myself before I can make a difference for others. Being connected to my natural surroundings helps me gain a better sense of myself. If I know myself I am able better able to help and appreciate those closest to me, including my students. In doing so I can teach them to make a difference for themselves, and, in turn, one another. Being connected to both my local and global community is also important as I believe the we are all called upon and have the ability to help make the world a better place.
The reason why I am connected to my “virtual” PLN is actually quite simple. They each make me a better teacher….and person. A single tweet, blog, project or image can challenge my thinking, change my mindset, give me hope, fuel a fire or spark an idea. Because each of my “connections” help me in my learning journey… they help me to grow.
Technology is a very powerful tool. With it, our children can make their world a better place. BUT we must constantly question how we are using tech and understand that our children will follow our lead. I believe our generation has used technology somewhat indiscriminately…somewhat recklessly. Perhaps it’s time we start to teach and model a more thoughtful use of technology; to understand there’s a time for tech and a time to put the tech away, that there’s a difference between engagement and disengagement, from being connected and disconnected and that the real power is in connections.