Teaching

Ditch the “lone wolf” mentality, run with the pack

I tend to be a lone wolf as a teacher.

I am the entire world languages department at a very small west-central Indiana public school district. (Makes department meetings REALLY easy, though.)

Before I started connecting to other teachers around the United States and around the world, my silo was built up pretty strong.

I hadn’t heard the silo analogy until an educational technology conference this summer. A keynote speaker showed a picture of a grain silo and said that many teachers are like this.

We get stuck in our own classroom, our own little existence.

We build the walls up high and don’t let others come in.

I used to be OK with my own little silo. I’ve been the only world languages teacher my entire teaching career, so it’s been easy to stay in my classroom and say, “Nobody else understands what I’m doing. I’ll just do it alone.”

You can’t just do it alone.

You don’t have to do it alone.

First, there is a wealth of resources available to educators online.

I think sometimes of what teaching was like decades ago. The Internet didn’t exist. Filing cabinets stored all the great ideas.

If you wanted to change things up in your classroom, you could innovate on your own, go to a conference for new ideas, buy a book or visit a colleague.

Now there are websites. Twitter feeds and hashtags. Blogs galore. If you want new ideas, all it takes is a simple online search.

Second, there is a wealth of great educators waiting to help you.

From day one, I’ve been constantly amazed by my professional learning network on Twitter. Some of the best and most innovative minds in education make themselves available — almost instantly in many cases — through social media.

I’m also constantly amazed by the volume of great educators in social media. If I have questions or struggles, or if I need ideas or a fresh perspective, I can send a question out via Twitter to the #edchat community by adding that hashtag to my message. In essence, I’m making my question visible to thousands and thousands in the education community.

I’m connecting to education colleagues around the world. As they say, the smartest person in the room is the room.

Third, there are great things waiting to be done with the power of the aforementioned resources and educators. I don’t have to go farther than last week to find a great example.

I met my friend Paula Neidlinger through Indiana’s eLearning community on Twitter (#INeLearn). She teaches junior high language arts at a school a few hours away from mine.

At first, we bounced ideas off each other and others in the #INeLearn chats on Thursdays at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Then, we decided our teaching styles were so similar in some ways that we should team up and present some sessions at upcoming educational technology conferences.

Oh, we hadn’t met each other in person yet.

We gathered information in Google documents. We exchanged ideas on Twitter. We crafted a presentation together on Google.

We were ready to present.

Oh, we still hadn’t met in person.

Since then, Paula and I have presented multiple times and have helped other educators find new tools to use in their language classrooms. All because we connected online.

I’ve changed. The lone wolf is now running around with a powerful pack.

You can, too, and now is a great time. Take advantage of October — Connected Educator Month — and start connecting with colleagues across the world. Here’s The Connected Educator Starter Kit, produced by Powerful Learning Practice for the U.S. Department of Education. It’s a great starting point to get connected.

What has been your experience with becoming a connected educator? Share in a comment!

(For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links, “like” Ditch That Textbook on Facebook and follow @jmattmiller on Twitter!)

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