Building a Professional Community

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“Who is helping you get better, or – more importantly – who is inspiring you to want to be great?” (Whitaker, Casas, & Zoul, What Connected Educators Do Differently. (2015))

Since the launch of this course (and the creation of this shared blog!), the educators in the UNC MEdX Literacy program have been tapping  into a new kind of professional connection and development: the online professional community.  Have you ever felt alone in your school community, isolated by subject area, ideas for rethinking learning, hierarchy, or optimism for the future of education? As it turns out, you wouldn’t be the only one – there are THOUSANDS of educators just like you who struggle with sharing problems and solutions with like-minded colleagues! The authors of “What Connected Educators Do Differently” are right there with you – and they wrote a book that helps educators connect with one another in ways that vastly exceed the boundaries of our individual classroom walls, Professional Development sessions, and PLC meetings. The online professional community leverages 21st century tools to come together and exchange ideas, problems, solutions, inspirations, learning tools, etc. all day, every day, in real time on platforms like Twitter.

Since launching my MEdX Explorations in Literacy Twitter Account, I’ve followed 160 colleagues in the education field who have helped me engage with discussions of, challenges in, solutions for, and ideas about digital literacy and education in general. I must admit, however, that it hasn’t been the smoothest path trying to tap into such a massive community – I often feel like a minnow jumping into the East Australian Current.

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To get myself started, I began by finding and following educators I’ve had a relationship with either in the past or the present. There are multiple positives to this method: following former teachers, professors, and colleagues helps reconnect you to your roots and the reasons you had in first becoming an educator! It rekindles in you the memories and insights you gained from educators who have made lasting impacts on you, and on the tough days of Dark-tober when you are drained and feeling a bit directionless, those connections to your inspirations feed your soul. At the same time, staying connected with current colleagues who may be outside your school keeps you aware of those who are engaging in this work right alongside you, decreasing any isolation you may be experiencing!

But rekindling former relationships isn’t always enough to push you forward as an educator. If I am struggling with connecting a student to the power of literacy, or if I am needing to bounce new ideas specific to my subject or situation off those with fresh perspectives, it will not do to remain complacent in what formerly “was.”

So after building up my base of core inspirations, I took off in two directions to build my professional community.  My first direction included reaching out and following educators whom I’ve never met, but have encountered in the digital world as progressive leaders of the future of the field. These included Ed.D holders, authors, friends of those already in my community, etc.  This gives me a steady stream (read: fire hydrant) of connections to those on the cutting edge of the educational world – connections who are living and breathing the experience as actual educators.  My second direction didn’t limit my growing community to just educators – those who have a stake in the field of education, be they individuals or organizations, have a lot to say about the field. I have been inspired by the tweets of civil rights activists and non-profit organizations just as I’ve been inspired by teachers in the trenches!

I’m still working to get the hang of this massive, messy community. Often, the experience can be overwhelming – but I am steadily recognizing the power of connected educators!

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