The Power of Connections by Dr. Rena Shifflet

Rena Shifflet spent over thirty years in public education as a classroom teacher and district technology coordinator. As an assistant professor at Illinois State University, Rena works with preservice elementary education majors and practicing educators. Her research interests include preservice teacher education, professional development schools, and the use of technology for teaching and learning.

Most college students today consider themselves savvy tech users, connected to their family and friends through whatever device they are currently using. The connections are instantaneous. We want or need something and social media will be there with answers and entertainment as quick as you can press the send button. This works great for anything from finding a ride to sharing a great event in your life. Social media is amazing!

It won’t be long before you will be leaving these hallowed halls to prepare your own classroom. Yes, social media will still be an amazing element in your life, but where will you go for answers and advice about teaching?  Sure you can Google lesson plans and find cute bulletin board ideas on Pinterest, but how do you get specific advice about a unit you are designing or keep up with new developments in the field? Once again, social media is the answer! Only now it’s time to branch out and begin using social media tools in a whole new way, to connect with professional educators. It’s time to develop your Personal Learning Network (PLN).

So what exactly is a PLN?


Richard Byrne defines it as, “A network of professionals with whom you share knowledge and from whom you gain knowledge.” Sounds simple! I consider it to be free, customized, professional development. You choose the ways to connect, the people to connect with, when you want to connect, and what you want to share. Basically, it’s all up to you!

So why do you need a PLN anyway? 

It’s free, 24/7 access to experts! In this day and age of ever shrinking budgets, schools can no longer afford to provide training or staff support for teachers. A mandate comes down from the district or state, and you may be on your own to determine how to make it work. If you’re a connected educator, a quick tweet and you’ll get definite answers, suggestions, and even additional resources or contacts to help. There are also conversations that happen on a weekly basis, Twitter chats. For one hour during the evening you can connect with those who share an interest, whether it’s social studies (#sshcat), science (#scichat), ELL educators (#ellchat), or early childhood (#ece or #prek). Questions are asked and ideas are shared, a great way to make new connections! Cybrary Man has the entire list!

Lifelong learning! Teachers are contributors by nature. If they have an idea, they will share it. If they learn something they consider valuable, they will share it. This quest to continue to grow as teachers is innate in every educator. Those who are connected can reach out to others to ask questions, seek advice, opinions, and even encouragement. Learning happens with every tweet or blog post read or written.

Extend the walls of your classroom! Being connected won’t just benefit you, the teacher; it can also benefit your students. Exciting things are happening in classrooms all over the globe. Teachers are often looking for others to collaborate with and share in the learning. Invitations for such collaborative activities are often posted on blogs or shared in Twitter conversations like #edchat or #edtechchat. Teachers like Kathy Cassidy, a 1st grade teacher is Moosejaw Canada, has her students blogging with students in New Zealand and tweeting on Twitter.  Take advantage of the opportunity to open the world up to your students.

Get  inspired! Todd Nesloney will tell you that his PLN saved his life. He had wanted to be a teacher his entire life but after 7 years of teaching, he was ready to quit. Teaching was nothing like he thought it would be. At the suggestion of a colleague he started using Twitter and soon discovered the power of collaboration! Don’t wait until you’re desperate and ready to give up. Start now building those connections that can support and encourage you through the good and the not so good.  In fact, October is Connected Educator Month! Events are planned all day, every day on all things education, and previous events are archived.  Learn and connect!

Joan Young says:

If you’re not yet connected, please reach out and ask questions, start conversations. We are richer and wiser through our relationships with others. A powerful teacher inspires powerful students who know how to think and to question. And that power comes from the collective wisdom of your network. This is a hard job, and it only gets better when we connect.


Now that you know, what kind of connected educator do you want to be?




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