The Power of Being a Connected Educator

A librarian shares her journey from approaching burnout to becoming her school’s technology innovator.

By Nikki D. Robertson

During the 2009–2010 school year, I became convinced I was missing out on something. So many of the educators around me were excited about their role, innovating at every turn and sharing those experiences with the world. I couldn’t help but wonder how they were able to do what they were doing with so much passion. Reflecting on this period of my career, it’s safe to say I was burnt out, but I also realized that feeling would only be permanent if I allowed it to be.

I wanted to learn and to expand my horizons, so I looked for my own PD experiences and discovered Shelly Sanchez Terrell’s 30 Goals Challenge. One of her challenges was to get involved in a Twitter chat, so I attended #EdChat, the first educational Twitter chat.

I was blown away by all the connections I made with superstar educators, and by seeing the amazing things they were doing with technology in their classrooms. One part of the process of becoming a connected educator is the overwhelming tide of emotions you feel. When you first start connecting with these incredibly accomplished educators, it can be intimidating. One night after #EdChat, I found myself thinking “I can’t do this. I’m not capable of being these people.”

After the chat, I emailed these new friends of mine who I had connected with online and said, “It’s been really fun learning from you, but I’m not capable of doing these things.” I sent that off at about 10:00 PM, then got up at 5:00 in the morning and checked my email, wondering if anyone would have replied.

Every single one of those superstar educators, people I admired so much, had emailed me back. And they all said basically the same thing: “You can do this. We’ve got your back. All you have to do is try every day to be a little bit better than yesterday.”

Since that day, I’ve never looked back, and nothing I’ve done has been through my own power alone—it’s been through the power of my tribe, my professional learning network (PLN). For example, our district has really embraced augmented reality and virtual reality, and through my network I’ve been the one to introduce new technology to my school: the WITHIN app for my older kids, along with Discovery VR and 3DBear, which mashes up AR and 3D printing. I’m no longer intimidated by trying new things in my library, and I’m willing to step off that cliff because I know that my PLN is there to help me fly.

Why Every Librarian Needs a PLN
Being a connected educator is important for all of us, but especially for school librarians. We’re usually the only person in our schools with our specific role, which makes finding collaborative networks within your own building challenging, to say the least. In several districts I’ve worked for, I was at the only high school; which meant I was the only high school librarian.

For years, I had no one to brainstorm ideas with. Getting connected via social media introduced me to a world of other school librarians asking the same questions I was wondering about myself. Branching out of your own school, district, or even country will bring the best ideas from around the globe straight into your classroom.

How Librarians Are Reclaiming PD Leadership
Part of being a connected educator is being a PD leader in your own school. Librarians have always been the gatekeepers of technology in schools. Way back when the overhead projector came in, who was the one leading the PD and making sure teachers knew how to change its light bulb? When devices went from rolling around school on a cart to digital platforms and clouds, schools felt they needed a technology person—and some of them forgot that librarians have been their tech advocate all along. Our interest and knowledge regarding technology didn’t necessarily change, but our leadership role in PD did. With all the emerging technology these days, librarians have to step out of the stacks and become PD leaders.

We can do this in large-group presentations, one-on-one meetings, co-teaching, or providing “just in time” PD by recording Tech Tips sessions. With my current schedule, the most effective way for me to model new technology use is to “ride shotgun.” I’ll see new technology come across my social media feed, and my wheels will start turning. I’ll run in the next day to tell my kids about this cool new tech. They’ll ask me what it does, and I’ll say, “We’re gonna figure it out together, and you tell me how it works!” We explore together, and they can’t wait to share their discoveries with their classroom teachers.

Once I get more familiar with the technology, I find an organized way to incorporate it into curricula and then share it with educators on social media. This gets other educators with their own tool belt of ideas to engage on my feed, so the cycle of collaboration continues.

As educators, we’re all in this together. Getting connected via social media launched me to where I am now. I went from being a burned-out educator to being completely ignited—and more on fire than I was when I first started teaching.

Nikki D. Robertson is an educator, librarian, instructional technology facilitator, and ISTE Librarians Network President. Follow her on Twitter: @NikkiDRobertson.

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