Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Limitations of Being a Disconnected Nomad

It seems like just yesterday that I was a disconnected nomad working hard to maintain the status quo and conform to a rigid system commonly known as education. You see, prior to 2009 I was adamantly opposed to even the thought of using social media for both personal and professional reasons. As a building level leader burdened by endless responsibilities, I could not fathom wasting even a precious minute in what I saw as a perpetual time sap. I swore that I would never be on any social media site and became disgusted when friends and family brought up the topic.  As a result I chastised my friends and made sure that the environment at my school was not only free of this stupid entity, but also other forms of distracting technologies that would interfere with student learning.  It was a powerful combination of perception and stigma related to social media that convinced me it was a product of the devil that could only bring about harm and misfortune. Thus I was convinced that there was absolutely no value in using social media in my life.


Image credit: http://becomenomad.com/nomad/wp-content/uploads/Yom-Kippur.jpg

Being a disconnected nomad limited my ability to lead and learn.  We fear what we don't know or understand.  When this happens we make excuses not to do something and in education we resort to blocking, banning, or pretending something doesn't exist.  This is how I saw social media and mobile technology back in 2009. The problem is that the majority of educators in 2014 still feel this way.  The epiphany for me was that I saw a professional opportunity in Twitter to improve communications with my stakeholders. From here I began to lurk and learn, which resulted in no longer being a disconnected nomad.  My problem, as I now often reflect back upon how I used to perceive social media, was that I was not educated on how this tool could improve leadership and learning.  

Here is what I now know and believe.  Social media is just a catalyst for conversation that is contingent upon listening, sharing, and learning. Social media, and technology for that matter, is not and will never transform education. If you are looking to these entities as a silver bullet to solve all the ills in the education world then you are looking at it the wrong way.  However, engaging in conversations with passionate educators has the potential to radically transform professional practice.  Thus the true silver bullet that will transform education for the better are the connected educators who harness and leverage social media to engage in powerful conversations that lead to changes in practice and the building of priceless relationships. These initial conversations then lead to changes in mindset and a push to action. Yes, this is my opinion, but one grounded in evidence of how moving from disconnected nomad to connected leader and learner has positively impacted my professional practice. 

The formation of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) using free social media tools has enabled me and so many other educators experience the immense benefits that are associated with connected learning.  The ability to learn about anything at anytime, anywhere, and with anyone has not only been liberating, but continues to be exhilarating to this day. Social media levels the playing field by providing access to educators from across the globe.  It is up to each individual to decide the level of participation in this space. As far as I am concerned any of the quadrants in the image below are where educators should aspire to be in except for the one where there is no connectivity.


Image credit: http://www.danpontefract.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/digital_learning_quadrants_pontefract.jpg


I offer up this walk down history lane as a call to action.  There still are too many disconnected nomads leading schools and teaching our students who have yet to experience the unlimited potential that connectivity offers. I am in no way saying that these people are not good at what they do, but they can be better. What I am stating emphatically though is that they are selling themselves short by succumbing to fears and misconceptions associated with social media. Help those disconnected nomads you know experience the value of social media this school year. Once they experience and embrace the value of this tool to engage in powerful conversations education will be one step closer to providing students with learning experiences they need and deserve. 

16 comments:

  1. Eric, I really appreciate the honesty of this post. Your current work (and even the evolution of your practice) significantly impacts the work many of us are trying to do in school despite the roadblocks (excuses, excuses, excuses and stupid twitter jokes). I'm all in for this call to action. It's not about me or my school experience. It's about the experience of our students. Working hard to move "one step closer to providing students with learning experiences they need and deserve." Well said.

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  2. Eric I love how you wrote about where you "were" and where you are. These are such exciting times and I truly believe that it is our job to show others the power of being connected. As you so honestly wrote, we were all once disconnected at some point. I am excited about the coming year. Already staff are joining Twitter, using Remind and one staff member is talking about attending an Edcamp. This is awesome and I feel a Tipping Point is near. Thanks as always for leading the charge.

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  3. Lisa/Jon - What constantly amazes me is that "we" would never even be engaging on conversations like this if we were disconnected nomads. We can all point to example after example of how connecting with social media has helped improve our professional practice. Imagine if all educators could experience the value of connected learning firsthand?

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  4. Well said my friend and thank you for taking that first step of leading the way and helping those disconnected nomads feel less apprehensive about the use of social media and the power it can have in a classroom!!

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  5. Eric, like the book, this post resonated deeply with me. The reason? Beyond the visionary concepts you've made a reality is the idea that you were once someone who was reluctant to engage in using social media to maximize your leadership potential. While I am on the front end of my own personal/professional journey with this (roughly one year into Twitter) and we have only started building capacity among our school community, my mind continues to be blown by the brilliance among us. And I know, for certain, that the influence of others has made me a more reflective, courageous, and assertive learning leader. Your story drives me forward in this thinking. While I read Digital Leadership at the beginning of the summer, I am ready to pick it up again, and with others who are willing to take the brave next step into creating a culture that empowers our future leaders - our students. Thank you for being willing to share your story as much as anything else - it's inspiring positive change for former disconnected nomads just like me.

    - Dennis

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    1. Dennis - embracing the digital world for professional learning is half the battle. The key for all of us now is how to we make connected learners and leaders the majority as opposed to the minority. Thank you so much for reading my book by the way!

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  6. Eric, thanks for the inspiration for this blog post, Embrace the Torrent: 9 Ways to Becoming A #DigitalNomad. Read it here - http://www.mguhlin.org/2014/08/embrace-torrent-9-ways-to-becoming.html

    Warm regards,
    Miguel Guhlin

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    1. I just read your post Miguel. Well done!

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    2. Miguel. Your article is so well done. I enjoyed the way you turned the concept of nomad on its head. I have always had personal and professional educator wanderlust. You article has helped me to identify as an excited nomad.

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  7. Well said Eric. Like you, I have experienced a personal renaissance through socially networked learning. In fact, your blog was one of the first that I subscribed to when I took initial steps towards becoming a connected lurker. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the untapped potential of the "unconnected". What are the strategies, or advice, that you would share with disconnected nomads to get them to stick their toes in the pool of connected learning? Thanks again for the knowledge and inspiration.

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    1. Robert - all we can do is continue to evangelize, model, and educator the non-connected. Words and opinions will never sway the masses, but actions will. I believe that once non-connected nomads can see/hear the impactful changes that have been implemented and sustained in schools that they will make the time, dip their toe in the water, and eventually experience the value for themselves. We can never grow complacent in moving the disconnected nomads into this space. It begins and ends with each of us.

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  8. Great article Eric, thank you! We are a first year 1 to 1 school, and Common Core simultaneously. I understand that you are not a huge fan of CCSS, but you are of supporting teachers to do their best. What do you see as the highlights and hurdles for Common Core? Thanks again. - Steven

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    1. I am a fan of higher standards that are embraced by all. CCSS are just standards, not curriculum. This allows all teachers great flexibility on how they can address these, especially when it comes to integrating technology. CCSS never stopped my teachers from innovating. The major hurdle is the alignment of CCSS to standardized tests and the fact that educators did not help develop them.

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    2. Thank you Eric! You have just walked the talk. This was my first attempt at connecting in this manner, and your simple reply to my off-topic question (because I couldn't find a better place to ask you) has given me insight and encouragement in understanding the power of being connected. I am just beginning to develop my PLN, and I will continue to follow, grow, connect and learn. Thanks again.

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  9. Enjoyed your personal story. Your journey. As a principal veteran now doing work in classrooms and other programs, I observe so much of mid 20th century teaching techniques that are crashing with the opportunities of technology. I wonder sometimes about how the professional development that I know has gone on has not been effective in moving teachers from the way they were taught to what research and practice has shown to be much more effective ways to teach and learn.

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  10. Great post - I really enjoyed this on so many fronts. First was the comment that "social media, and technology for that matter, is not and will never transform education." but that transformation comes from "powerful conversations that lead to changes in practice and the building of priceless relationships." Both of these are possible without technology and/or social media - but as you mentioned, in a much more limited way. Even in the world 'outside' education, the nomad uses connections made possible via technology to augment and TRANSFORM the experience of being a nomad. After more than a year of giving up my apartment/house to become a nomad, I can tell you that as nomads we are very dependent on being connected via social media and other technologies, both to inform our journey and learn about 'best practices' and getting the most out of the journey but also of collaborating and staying connected with education. The metaphor really worked for me ;) http://blog.livinglearningmobile.com/p/about-us.html

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