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!
I am waiting for it to turn into a “waterfall” myself. I just started using twitter and blogging for a class I’m taking, and it is far out of my comfort zone. I write, just not publicly and now I have to. I sure wish the waterfall feeling would come soon! Thank you for sharing!!
Good luck, Barclay! Stick with it! It will help you so much in the long run. Let me know if I can help. Hadley
I truly enjoyed your post. I am presently trying to build my own PLN for my edm310 class. I have been twittering for about a month now. I enjoy reading what other teachers have to share. Unfortunately, I don’t feel comfortable enough to comment many times. Most tweets deal with technology and I am not technology literate. Commenting on technology makes me uncomfortable because I don’t feel like I know enough to share. Through my EDM310 class, I have learned a lot this year. Sadly, technology scares me more than it excites me. I am passionate about teaching and my students. So I know that technology is essential. Do you have any suggestions? I would love to hear them. I was so relieved to hear what you had to say in your post. It made me feel better.
Stacy, Always remember that technology is only a tool to use. It will never make good teachers. Good teachers use technology to enhance their teaching. Keep your eye on your students; use technology to differentiate, broaden and strengthen how they learn. It is simply a tool. Do not let it make you draw back from your passion for teaching. It is a just another tool you learn to use to help them. The best person with technology will never be better than a passionate educator! A dedicated teacher who sees each student and cares about him or her is much more important than someone who has all of the digital tools and none of the commitment to meet every child where they are. Good luck! If I can help. just let me know!
I am a student as well in EDM310 at The University of South Alabama. From the first day of EDM310 I have been out of my comfort zone. I have learned a lot of technology that I can use in the classroom. We have been exposed to so much that it is a bit overwhelming. I feel like to much time can be put into technology and not enough into teaching. I really like your comment to Stacy. I do not think that you could have said that any better “The best person with technology will never be better than a passionate educator! A dedicated teacher who sees each student and cares about him or her is much more important than someone who has all of the digital tools and none of the commitment to meet every child where they are”. Thank you!
#edm310 student.I love the comparison you made between time square to the waterfall. I was not a person who liked computers or interacted with them alot, until I learned of all the connections and different sources that could help me. Once I started learning I was able to build on that and improve my knowledge in the digital world.