Thursday, January 8, 2015

The 17th Friday: What Connected Educators Do Differently

This past year I was fortunate to co-author a book with Todd Whitaker and Jimmy Casas titled, What Connected Educators Do Differently.  Working with two gentleman I consider not only giants in the field of education but also two trusted friends has been a true blessing for me. Most educators are well aware of two best-selling books by Todd, What Great Teachers Do Differently and What Great Principals Do Differently. These two long-time classics have impacted hundreds of thousands of educators around the world. It is an honor to collaborate with Todd and Jimmy looking at what connected educators do differently. Below is a short highlight of our book describing the impact of what being connected can do for both your personal and professional life. This preview was published in the January edition of Principal Leadership magazine.  The scheduled release date for the book is February 16, 2015, and is currently available to pre-order on

The jubilation that she had felt during the welcome back to school week had worn off. Gone was the energy of connecting with new faces and interacting with her peers and preparing for the arrival of students who were eager to get back to school after a long summer. She was now alone, in her classroom, removed from the rest of her peers. She was feeling isolated, less effective, and thirsting for some adult personal and professional interaction.

The scenario described above is all too common in our profession, especially for new teachers who have not had the benefit of establishing a community of support.  Teaching has often been described as a lonely profession. In many schools, teachers walk into a classroom 180 days each year, shut their door, and do the best they can. They spend 90% of their day every day with students, deprived of any significant adult interaction. Over time, this lack of connectivity with other professionals leads to low efficacy, less risk-taking, burnout, and high turnover. Sadly, we begin to question whether we can even make a difference. Educators, like any other professionals, need peer-to-peer interactions and reciprocal investments in order to grow and develop. Why is this so critical? Because effective educators recognize the importance and value of making the time to connect with others both personally and professionally in order to avoid these islands of isolation. They know that students who feel connected to a school are more likely to succeed and realize that the same holds true for them as professionals.

Ultimately, we recognize that the success and impact of any personal learning network depends on the investment of time and effort that each individual is willing to commit not only to others, but also to themselves. Creating a personal learning network is a collective effort, but unless each of us is willing to give of ourselves, the likelihood of that investment paying off any amount of positive dividends is dubious. Let us be clear: giving of ourselves does not imply that we are restricted only to giving to others, but equally important, taking time to pause so that we benefit from our own reflection on what we receive in return. These “returns,” or fundamental learnings, are part of building and investing in a Personal and Professional Learning Network. This is often referred to as a “PLN,” with the “P” sometimes representing “Personal” and sometimes representing “Professional.” We believe that both are equally important and think about this as “P to the Power of 2,” or as we sometimes like to call it—a P2LN, so that, collectively, we continue to grow not only personally, but professionally, in our learning network.

Being a connected educator is not a formal title, of course; there is no degree program or certification process one goes through to be deemed a “connected educator.” Our view is that serving as a connected educator is a mindset more than anything else.  In short, we define connected educators simply as ones who are actively and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals. 

Based on our experiences connecting with educators around the world, we have identified 8 Key Behaviors educators do that make the case for them being connected, allowing them to grow and learn—anytime, anywhere, from anyone—so that they continue to serve their schools and their students in the best ways possible.   

  • Recognize it all starts with connecting to—and investing in—a personal and professional learning network (P2LN).
  • Rely on their P2LN to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want, looking beyond the walls of their own classrooms, schools, or districts and beyond the school day hours.
  • Focus on the three C’s so important in the lives of educators: Communication, Collaboration, and Community, consistently looking for new ways to improve in these areas. 
  • Give more than they take and derive just as much joy and energy from the giving as they do from taking.
  • Strive to be tomorrow, today, by making the most of the present while also keeping an eye out to the future. They connect what they did yesterday to what they are doing today—and what they think they may have to do tomorrow.
  • Focus on relationships, relationships, relationships, regardless of the vehicle they are using to connect, even in the midst of daily new advances in technology which allow us to connect in ways that can be considered impersonal.
  • Model the way for others, knowing that the way they behave will have an impact on whether those around them will also strive to become connected. Even if they are connected to thousands of other educators around the world, they do not lose sight of those immediately surrounding them in their home workplace.
  • Know when to unplug and make time to connect with themselves as well as their close family and friends in ways that require intentional unplugging for significant amounts of time. They are passionate about being connected, but know that, like anything else in life, staying plugged in too much can be counterproductive to the ultimate goal of growing and learning.

Getting connected to other educators around the world is actually quite fun once you learn how to go about creating a learning network and begin interacting with members of your network. However, if it were only about meeting new colleagues and having fun, we doubt that anyone would continue along this path for long. What keeps connected educators energized about their learning network is not only the people with whom they connect, but also the ideas they get connected to, ideas that help them get better at what they do.

Regardless of their initial attitudes, connected educators we have met are passionately committed to seeking new ways to connect with educators around the world to improve their own professional lives as well as the lives of the educators with whom they connect and the students they serve. Wherever you are currently on your journey to connectivity as an educator, we encourage you to take the next step; it will be a giant step forward in your professional life.

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