Beginning to become a connected educator often feels like stepping out the door of your safe and warm house and being transported to Times Square, finding oneself like the Naked Cowboy, strumming your guitar in your underwear. The safety and security of your own space instantly dissolved, and you’re exposed to the rush of noise and lights, strangers all around you. I was helping a fellow teacher get started on building a PLN this week and was reminded of how foreign it can all feel. While we can choose how much of ourselves to make visible, just the act of connecting with other educators on Twitter creates exposure. People I know and complete strangers can find out about me. They can follow me, watch me, keep track of what I am doing, and they can do it with very little effort. I only have to google my name to know that I am seen. I make sure that I am wearing more than the Naked Cowboy’s underpants, but to someone new to global connections, it doesn’t feel like much coverage.
At the beginning of building a PLN, you simply assume that you should apply the old ways of getting to know people to this new community and in truth, they can make it feel very uncomfortable. When I meet a new teacher at school, face-to-face, there are standard social functions that naturally occur. We learn each other’s names and what subjects we teach; we find out where we went to school or what lessons were are going to teach next. We expect to communicate regularly, to see and be seen by that person. We greet each other as we pass in the hall. We eat lunch together. We all know how to build relationships in face-to-face communities, but the digital world isn’t like that.
We are used to being seen, but at least initially, in the digital world, you actually aren’t. The people who connect with you by following you on Twitter don’t have any expectations or requirements of you. They are merely reaching out to build their own network. They are hoping that you will be someone that adds value to what they learn; they hope that you share new ideas or ask interesting questions. But, and this is key, they don’t pay attention to you enough to know. They pay attention to their personal stream of information. If you show up there a lot, they learn from you, and at that point, personal connections get made. The source of good information become a real person, one you may meet at a conference or simply communicate online. While the sense is that you are the Naked Cowboy, you are in fact invisible until you want to be seen.
After the fear of visibility, the second worry is just the sheer volume of information that seems to be heading towards you like a massive tidal wave, a tsunami of blogs, websites, conferences, ideas. The idea of keeping up with it is enough to make someone new to the conversation feel overwhelmed and unwilling to even venture forward. “Under a Waterfall” was the analogy I use to explain how to handle both the power and the use of social media.
Twitter and all social media that I use for learning and growing are a waterfall that I step into when I have time. Sometimes it is many times a day; other times, it is a specific time that I devote to it. I step in and let all the wisdom and ideas flow over and around me. I grab what I need; I ask questions; I share. It is a rich and full time while I am in it. And then I step out. I simply don’t worry about what is happening when I am not under the waterfall. The ideas and sharing continues, but I am not part of it. Like the water that flows over the waterfall all of the time, it isn’t water that I thinking about. I just take and give what I can whenever I can.
It may start as Times Square but will quickly evolve into a refreshing and renewing waterfall! Take the time to let it happen!