CLASSROOM 21 | by Greg Limperis
August marks the U.S. Department of Education’s month-long celebration of the connected educator. What exactly does that mean to you, to me, and to millions of students we educate daily in this world? Well, years ago, I began teaching students before I even knew I wanted to be an educator. Growing up I was a Boy Scout and later on earned my Eagle Scout status. One lesson I took away from the experience: no one ever does anything successfully alone. Earning badges, acquiring skills and gaining knowledge all took help, guidance and collaboration. Through this I increased my skills. In my acceptance speech for Eagle Scout, I thanked everyone who helped make it all possible as do many humble people who also know this secret of success.
For sure, I was growing my connections, but my connections were limited. In a mid-sized city, my reach extended only so far. I could only connect, learn and grow from so many. My inability to cover more territory left me wanting more, and this was one reason I went off to college. To learn more, see more and experience more were great incentives. To meet others with different experiences meant the world to me.
Little did I know that, at the time, I was increasing my connections but still limited to the here and now. I had to connect with people next to me who were living and experiencing the same things as me in the present time.
Nonetheless, it was amazing that this urge forward, this desire to learn from others and share, connect and collaborate brought me to my first real job. Out of college with no goal or plan in place, I became a National Park Ranger. I met people from around the globe. They visited my place of work for a short time and in that time, we connected. I learned from them in ways I hadn’t been able to do before. I developed real and meaningful connections and learned about others from across the world, through their eyes and the experiences they shared.
During this time, one of those connections suggested to me that I might return to school to become an educator. And so it was that I found myself heading back to the place I first began to open my eyes to the world, where I learned to share and help others. I was again growing my connections.
Upon completing my master’s degree in education, I began working as a teacher in a classroom situation that felt foreign. Trapped within four walls with very little connection to the outside world, I was able to learn and share through text and pictures, but it wasn’t the same. Everyone I worked with, taught to, and experienced things with were entirely too similar to me. We all grew up in the same region. We all lived there, worked there, experienced many of the same things. Yes, I had technology 15 years ago in my classroom. And yes, I used it all the time. But I was still stuck within my four walls every day. We could imagine, but we couldn’t truly experience.
As the years went by and technology improved, I never lost my passion to be connected. I constantly sought out ways to grow and learn from others. Four years ago, Steve Hargadon turned me on to the power of Web 2.0 and the ability for all of us to be connected. Once again, I gained back that connected feeling. Then along came Facebook, Twitter, build-your-own social networks, LinkedIn and more. Now, I was connecting in ways I never thought possible.
These connections allowed me to bring knowledge, experience and global awareness to my students I taught each day. More importantly, through these connections I gained knowledge and experiences I never had before. I was learning from others in ways I never thought possible, sharing valuable knowledge and experience.
It’s fitting that we celebrate the Connected Educator in August, but I think it is something that shouldn’t be confined to the U.S. That’s nearly silly when our classroom is so much larger than that. Why not connect and share with the world, on a global scale? Why not celebrate it worldwide? I have nearly 2,000 personal connections thanks to LinkedIn. I have nearly 25,000 people I connect with in one way or another globally, each day. That’s right—globally. I am now a truly connected educator, and I call on you to be one, too. I blog monthly, sharing my insights, thoughts and experiences with others worldwide. I participate in the exchange of resources on a daily basis. I talk live thanks to technology with people halfway around the globe. I learn more about them and they about me in experiences that forever change my life. I don’t see a way that I can continue to teach and to not be connected.
So, I challenge you: connect with others. Celebrate connectivity! Not from the U.S.? Call on your country to join ours and let us all be connected educators, learning from each other daily, learning from others who see things from other people’s point of view. Let’s live, grow and learn together. Let us all become true connected educators.
Greg Limperis, now Supervisor of Instructional Technology for his district, was recently the Middle School Technology Facilitator in Lawrence, Mass., and founded the very popular Technology Integration in Education professional learning network, reaching thousands of educators worldwide. He has shared with others what he knows and they have joined him in sharing their insights as well. Join them in bringing about change using your 21st-century skills.