This is an updated version of a post that was originally published on Nov. 26, 2014.
Teachers who are new to social media might feel a bit giddy about the tidal wave of resources cascading through their news feeds. But if all you’re doing on Twitter is surfing for how-tos, you’re missing the bigger picture.
When educators connect, they do more than simply share resources. They become each other’s most valuable resource, said author and former teacher Steve Dembo, who now works with Discovery Education’s online community.
“Any other resource is going to have a finite lifespan, a finite duration of the time in which it’s relevant,” he said. “But teachers are constantly reinventing, and as long as you’re connected to the right people, the benefits you’re going to get from them are basically evergreen.”
To a connected educator, the benefits of cultivating a professional learning network — whether you do it on your own or by joining a ready-made community, such as one of the ISTE Professional Learning Networks — are obvious. Here some of ways our members say getting connected has helped them grow:
1. Find help across the world.
Digital learning coach Kristy Andre spent two years in South Africa teaching at a boarding school for orphans and vulnerable children. Her link to the ISTE community became a lifeline as she faced the challenges of introducing 1:1 devices in a low-tech rural school.
“I was desperate to talk to anybody with technology, and so ISTE was just like my best friend,” she said. “Living internationally you just kind of feel away from everybody, and to be able to be online and to connect with so many people was amazing.”
Between taking online coaching courses and using the ISTE Standards to guide teachers who had never taught with technology before, Andre was able to make a big difference in the lives of the 50 kids at her South African school.
“I didn’t feel like I lost anything by moving to such a rural place. I felt like I was still connected. I felt like I was still up and coming and learning new things just from being a part of ISTE.”
2. Collaborate globally.
Every school, classroom and student is unique, and so is every challenge educators face. Being an active part of a global network increases the pool of potential solutions you can draw from.
“There’s never, ever an educational one-size-fits-all,” said Cathy Cavanaugh, director of teaching and learning for Worldwide Education at Microsoft. “We need at least a pattern to go by to help us kind of find the right size. But that pattern might not be in the room next door the school across the street. It might be on the other side of the world. So connecting educators together in that community helps them to find a similar model that they might be able to build on and improve together.”
The opportunities for collaboration aren’t limited to teachers, either. Plugging into a global community also opens up a world of opportunities for the classroom.
“We’re finding classrooms and people to connect with so that our students maybe in Tustin or in Southern California are suddenly now able to connect with students in another part of the world,” said district technology director Robert Craven. “They can share an experience with them, share some learning with them, demonstrate their knowledge and collaborate together — which is really what we want them doing, right? We want that collaboration on a global scale, and ISTE really helps us do that.”
3. Push the envelope.
Just about every innovation is considered impossible until someone does it.
Communities like ISTE are places where educators come to prove the common wisdom wrong. That’s why more than 87 percent of members say the organization is a vital resource for information about the latest ed tech trends and innovations.
“I think the role for ISTE is to continue to push the envelope, to be able to demonstrate those kinds of things that are possible,” said elementary principal Rosie O’Brien Vojtek. “There are a lot of members who are out there in front blazing the trail. And then are other people who really need to see what is it they’re doing, how they’re doing it and how it’s going to really help students learn better.”
As founder and leader of the 3D Network, one of ISTE’s many niche-oriented Professional Learning Networks, education consultant Nancye Blair Black helps educators explore some of the most cutting-edge educational technologies, from augmented reality to 3D printing.
“We are building a knowledge base, we're holding professional development events, we're even getting together face to face in an effort to empower and support teachers who have, in the past, been working in isolation,” she said. “But now the 3D Network gives those educators at every level an opportunity to join together to build on each other's learning and take this innovation to the next level.”