I owe so much to the people I have connected with. I am sure you feel the same way. Whether face to face or virtually, I have been able to connect and work with brilliant people who have challenged me and opened my eyes up to so many possibilities and exciting ways to move my practice forward. I wonder sometimes just how different my career, and life for that matter, would have been if I wasn’t able to make those connections.
I have seen blog posts about why we should use twitter, or why we should blog, why we should join google communities or even why we should join/create a PLC. I am pretty sure they all share the same answer when we get down to the root of it – to make connections. I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. Connecting with other educators opens us up to new ideas and perspectives, it gives you a sounding board for your thoughts and often a cheerleader when you are nervous to take a risk.
So we know we should seek out beneficial connections and we know that there are tools to do so, but my question is how many school leaders are looking to facilitate this in their buildings? In their division? We show something is important to us when we dedicate time to it, so if you are in charge of PD for your staff and this is something you deem valuable, then you probably need to be dedicating time to make it happen. So working from your building out, why not take the following steps to help your staff make meaningful connections.
1. Connect in your building: In our building our teachers work on grade level teams and have time embedded into their schedules to work and plan together, but this doesn’t give them time to connect with others in the building and see or hear about all the wonderful work they are doing. So why not book a sub for a day and cover teachers to get them out and about, or maybe cover their class if you have the time. Another great activity we did was Speed Dating (Thanks to Scott Johnston) where we had groups on a PD day move around and connect with every other group in the building to share exciting lessons and activities with each other. Connecting in our own building is something we take for granted and can be a valuable resource.
2. Connect in your division: We have joked in our building about how we are so willing to spend thousands of dollars sending educators to conferences all over the world, but we don’t book a sub and send a teacher down the road to the other middle school. I am so lucky to work in Parkland School Division, there are so many people I have had the chance to learn from (George Couros, Travis McNaughton, Kelli Holden etc.) and with. These connections are key to me and my learning not only because they are brilliant people, but also because they work in the same area and understand our community and our kids better than someone would outside of our area. Being able to bounce ideas off someone who knows the demographic, the perspectives and attitudes in our community is invaluable. Find ways for your staff to get into other buildings in your area, and you will probably see projects and ideas grow between buildings and across the division.
3. Connect with the world: The tools for this are numerous (Twitter, Google +, Facebook), and in your building you have people who work well with these tools. We can talk about how important this is until we are blue in the face but until we model it’s use and provide time for people to learn how to use the tools, we really aren’t backing up our words. An afternoon of PD spent setting up teachers on Twitter or Google + and introducing them to Twitter lists or Google Communities/Hangouts shows that not only is this something we believe is important, but it is so important we will dedicate this time to get the ball rolling.
I am always bothered when we talk about something as “important” but the session to learn about it is after school. We encourage people to connect on their own time, but that makes connecting pretty much optional, or at least that might be how people take it. We want people to believe in the power of connections, and the best way to do this is to bend over backwards to help make it happen for them.