Can Being A Connected Educator Distract From Meaningful Work?

I don’t want more friends or connections. What I want is to strengthen relationships with inspiring colleagues I’ve already met online or know in person.

As connected educators, we get a positive jolt when our ideas are retweeted. When we come across an inspiring blog post, we feel great about our engagement in self-directed professional growth. After attending a worthwhile conference, we often feel as if we’ve finally met dozens of our long-lost cousins from the pedagogy family tree.

This past weekend, I attended a wonderful event: The Kentucky ECET2 convening. My Jefferson County (Louisville, KY) colleague and fellow CTQ Collaboratory member Robin “MeMe” Ratliff played a pivotal role in organizing the event, for which I’m grateful.

Fired-up educators shared best practice, critiqued each others’ work plans, and attended breakout sessions. For many, it was an amazing opportunity to network and meet kindred spirits.

But not for me. I spent most of my time cultivating relationships with colleagues I’d already interacted with.

I don’t want more friends or connections. What I want is to strengthen relationships with inspiring colleagues I’ve already met online or know in person. I’ve reached my own connection saturation; it’s now time to transfer the energy of networking and idea swapping into more substanial action.

It’s all about the law of diminishing returns. Too many inputs–the ideas and connections we make online and in person–can encroach on our ability to reflect, to collaborate, and act. Consider Malcolm Gladwell’s essay “Small Change,” in which he argues that social media movements will never be as impactful as activism spawned by face-to-face relationships.

Gladwell’s words spoke to me, as I considered my own most dynamic professional learning experiences. The Bread Loaf School of English, a residential summer graduate program with participating educators from around the world. Center for Teaching Quality’s own VOICE training, in which a cohort of folks meets regularly to learn skills in virtual collaboration and organizing. While the former experience was “in the flesh” and the latter virtual, both relied on sustained interaction with a fixed number of people.

The sustained, professional give and take and build and grow with smaller numbers of colleagues–whether it be in-person, digitally, or a blend of both–is where I want to focus my energy.

For me, this means leading 14 Louisville teachers in the CTEPS (Classroom Teachers Enacting Positive Solutions) cohort through June and hopefully beyond. We meet in virtual and face-to-face settings to build teacher efficacy in leadership and online collaborative skills, designing solutions to local challenges. The project is modeled after fellow teacherpreneur Lauren Hill’s statewide CTEPS cohort of National Board Certified Teachers here in Kentucky. Working with her, I’m seeing the connection between fostering relationships and sustaining real work.

Because my role as a teacherpreneur provides with me time to engage in this type of cohort-based work, I know I’m in a unique position to critique the phenomenon of connection saturation. And significant networking, admittedly, is part of my job. But it could be the job, one that doesn’t feel particularly productive or fulfilling.

We’re all at different points in our journeys as educators; some of us benefit from a kickstart by interacting with others at conferences, leading us to reflect and implement new ideas in the classroom. Others feed off the energy of social media, grateful to engage with positive, solutions-oriented folks in the digital realm, a respite from frustrating colleagues or suffocating school cultures.

As for me, I’d rather reflect on the year 2015 not as the year in which my social media feeds and followers reached new heights, but as a year in which I truly got to know others, collaborating over time and seeing tangible products emerge from our efforts.