Do you know that jumping-out-of-your-skin feeling – kind of like having 14 cups of strong coffee - that you get when you are learning something and you are awash in ideas but don’t know what to do with them yet? That’s how I’m feeling right now. I signed up for the Leading Edge Boot Camp through Powerful Learning Practice and have just spent an hour and a half in a small group conversation with Scott Shaw, Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. (This is a seriously cool world we live in. Will was on the road and didn’t have Wi-Fi in his motel, so was sitting outside his car at Starbucks in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin! Definitely life on Mars.) Our topic was personal learning networks and one of the questions that Sheryl has dropped into our discussions frequently is this: Is it okay for educators NOT to be connected?
To try to put my thoughts in some sort of order, I went for a walk. (I agree with Dickens who said, “If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.”) As I passed by one of the houses in my neighbourhood, I heard someone practicing piano and remembered how much I had yearned to play as a small child. However, I lived in the back of beyond; I don’t know if there was even a piano in our remote community. I did find a book, though – I wonder now, where I found it, since there was also no public library and our school was only tiny, one room for the 9 students. In the book was a picture of piano key board and I used to “play” it for hours. It made me think, though: if instead of tweeting and blogging and facebooking right now, I were practicing piano, I’m sure I would not be a better or worse teacher – merely different. Instead of learning widely, I’d be learning deeply and could bring that perspective to my community. And that’s okay.
On the other hand, I’m beginning to believe that it’s not okay for today’s educational leaders to be unconnected (in the unplugged sense). Part of the reason is related to the little girl I was. Today, even in remote communities, children who yearn to learn anything, can. But someone needs to know about the possibilities, and certainly it strikes me that school leaders, at the very least, ought to be immersed in those possibilities if they are going to make key decisions and support magnificent learning in their communities. I am beginning to believe that an educational leader who is not connected is like an English teacher who has never read Shakespeare and hates poetry – he or she can technically do the job, but not with depth or integrity or authenticity. But everybody doesn’t need to know everything – certainly I don’t hold it against my math teacher friend that he has never read Shakespeare, unless you count the Cole’s Notes versions (although I think it’s sad; he thinks my inability to solve complex mathematical puzzles sad, too – and so do I); our communities are richer for our diverse strengths and passions. I have a colleague who is an artist. She has an art studio and brings the most glorious art-infused slant to teaching and learning. I lean on her shamelessly for artistic inspiration. I’m grateful that she dives deeply in a different direction than I do, but I pay attention, when I’m “out there” to bring things to her (I just sent her this link to a Love Lettering project that I found through my Twitter network and am excited to think about what she might do with it!). She and I have been talking about district-wide art experiences to connect and re-vision in our community, and I’m thinking about technology platforms that would bring the idea to reality. I’m also pondering how to effectively connect teachers in our community to some of the work she has done and am following a trail of ideas about matching people like her who are passionate about art to more of our students, and the possibilities in the idea Mimi Ito calls eHarmony for students, “an optimal matching algorithm, for 1-1 virtual mentors.”
So back to Sheryl’s question – is it okay for educators not to be connected? No. But they don’t have to be connected in the same way to the same things (Twitter is definitely an optional connection!). However, our schools, our district, our education systems (via our educational leaders) need to be lit up with connections, face-to-face connections certainly, but also virtual ones; they need to have plug ins and channels out everywhere that allow us to use the diverse strength of the extraordinary educators everywhere, all the time, in ways we have never imagined so we can serve all our children with the abundance that is a click away. (And now I think I’ll take a break from thinking to play on the virtual piano I found!)