Guest post by Jimmy Casas, principal, Bettendorf High School in Bettendorf, IA, and Jeff Zoul, assistant superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Deerfield Public Schools District 109 in Deerfield, IL.
The jubilation that she had felt during the welcome-back-to-school week had worn off. Gone was the energy of connecting with new faces, interacting with her peers, and preparing for the arrival of students who were eager to get back to school after a long summer. She was now alone, in her classroom, removed from the rest of her peers. She was feeling isolated, less effective, and thirsting for some adult personal and professional interaction.
The scenario described above is all too common in our profession, especially for new teachers who have not had the benefit of establishing a community of support. Teaching has often been described as a lonely profession.
In many schools, teachers walk into a classroom 180 days each year, shut their door, and do the best they can. They spend 90 percent of their day every day with students, deprived of any significant adult interaction. Over time, this lack of connectivity with other professionals leads to low efficacy, less risk taking, burnout, and high turnover. Sadly, we begin to question whether we can even make a difference.
Educators, like any other professionals, need peer-to-peer interactions and reciprocal investments in order to grow and develop. Why is this so critical? It’s because effective educators recognize the importance and value of making the time to connect with others both personally and professionally in order to avoid these islands of isolation. They know that students who feel connected to a school are more likely to succeed and realize that the same holds true for them as professionals.
Ultimately, we recognize that the success and impact of any personal learning network depends on the investment of time and effort that each individual is willing to commit not only to others, but to themselves. Creating a personal learning network is a collective effort, but unless each of us is willing to give of ourselves, the likelihood of that investment paying off any amount of positive dividends is dubious.
Let us be clear: Giving of ourselves does not imply that we are restricted only to giving to others, but equally important, taking time to pause so that we benefit from our own reflection on what we receive in return. These “returns,” or fundamental learnings, are part of building and investing in a Personal and Professional Learning Network. This is often referred to as a “PLN,” with the “P” sometimes representing “Personal” and sometimes representing “Professional.” We believe that both are equally important and think about this as “P to the Power of 2,” or as we sometimes like to call it—a P2LN, so that, collectively, we continue to grow not only personally, but professionally, in our learning network.
Being a connected educator is not a formal title, of course; there is no degree program or certification process one goes through to be deemed a connected educator. Our view is that serving as a connected educator is a mindset more than anything else. In short, we define connected educators simply as ones who are actively and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals.
Based on our experiences connecting with educators around the world, we have identified eight key behaviors educators do that make the case for being connected, allowing them to grow and learn—anytime, anywhere, from anyone—so they can continue to serve their schools and their students in the best ways possible.
- Recognize it all starts with connecting to—and investing in—a personal and professional learning network (P2LN).
- Rely on their P2LN to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want, looking beyond the walls of their own classrooms, schools, or districts and beyond the school day hours.
- Focus on the three Cs that are so important in the lives of educators: Communication, Collaboration, and Community, consistently looking for new ways to improve in these areas.
- Give more than they take and derive just as much joy and energy from the giving as they do from taking.
- Strive to “be tomorrow, today.” They connect what they did yesterday to what they are doing today—and what they think they may have to do tomorrow.
- Focus on relationships, relationships, relationships, regardless of the vehicle they are using to connect, even in the midst of daily new advances in technology that allow us to connect in ways that can be considered impersonal.
- Model the way for others, knowing that the way they behave will have an impact on whether those around them will also strive to become connected. Even if they are connected to thousands of other educators around the world, they do not lose sight of those immediately surrounding them in their home workplace.
- Know when to unplug and make time to connect with themselves as well as their close family and friends in ways that require intentional unplugging for significant amounts of time. They are passionate about being connected, but know that, like anything else in life, staying plugged in too much can be counterproductive to the ultimate goal of growing and learning.
Getting connected to other educators around the world is actually quite fun once you learn how to go about creating a learning network and begin interacting with members of your network. However, if it were only about meeting new colleagues and having fun, we doubt that anyone would continue along this path for long. What keeps connected educators energized about their learning network is not only the people with whom they connect, but also the ideas to which they get connected; ideas that help them get better at what they do.
Wherever you are currently on your journey to connectivity as an educator, we encourage you to take the next step; it will be a giant step forward in your professional life.
About the authors
Jimmy Casas is in his 21st year of administrative leadership. Jimmy has served as principal at Bettendorf High School in Bettendorf, IA, for the last 13 years. Jimmy’s core purpose lies in serving others. Jimmy was named the 2012 Iowa Secondary Principal of the Year and was selected as one of three finalists for NASSP 2013 National Secondary Principal of the Year. He is also the co-founder & co-moderator of #IAedchat, moderating the online discussion chat every Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m. (CT).
Dr. Jeff Zoul currently serves as Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Deerfield Public Schools District 109 in Deerfield, IL. Before serving as an administrator, Dr. Zoul was a classroom teacher for 18 years, teaching elementary school, middle school, and high school English. Dr. Zoul is also the author of several books, including Improving Your School One Week at a Time: Building the Foundation for Professional Teaching and Learning and The 4 CORE Factors for School Success, co-authored with Dr. Todd Whitaker. Please follow and contact Jeff via Twitter: @jeff_zoul