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There’s been a lot of talk about 21st century learners, 21st century teachers, and connected classrooms. There’s a daily influx of new technology into your inbox and your classroom feels woefully behind the times even if you’re flipping your 1:1 iPad classroom that’s already online and part of a MOOC. What are modern teachers to do with all this jargon and techno-babble being thrown at them all day long?
Simple. Take a step back. Breathe. And pick out just a small number of things you want to try in your classroom. Whether you’re itching to try a BYOD classroom or simply integrating a HyFlex model, it’s easy to take one digital step at a time, right? No need to try and revolutionize your classroom in one afternoon. That’s a recipe for failure.
In my experience, I’ve seen teachers attempt to integrate 30 iPads into their classroom by handing them out and then trying to figure out which apps are worth using. Integrating something as powerful as the iPad takes months of preparation, professional development, and buy-in by the students. If they just think ‘hey a way for me to play Angry Birds during class!’ then you have a steep hill to climb. So that’s why I’d encourage you, the modern teacher, to tackle each modern method one at a time.
In order to do this, you’ll need skills modern teachers must have. Hence the title of this post. So if you’re ready to take your classroom or digital skills to the next level, read on. In fact, these skills are worth knowing for just about every teacher at any age. So feel free to use it as a sort of checklist for colleagues.
1) Build Your PLN
Whether you call it a ‘personal learning network’ or a ‘professional learning network’ is not important. What is important is that you know exactly how to connect with teachers, admins, and students from around the world. This network can answer questions you have about absolutely anything. Before setting off on any digital adventure, make sure your fellow teachers in your district know what you’re up to and then be sure to connect with similar teachers around the world. So update your Twitter stream, start using Google+, and get to know Learnist.
2) Establish Real Relationships
Whether it’s online or offline, the ability to establish real relationships is critical to any modern teacher. So what do I mean by ‘real’ relationship? Simply put: know more about someone than their screen name (if online) or first name (if offline). Spend some time (digital or in-person) with the people you want to get to know a lot better. Go out for a coffee, have a Skype chat, shoot them an email with some questions. If this person is someone that you think you can learn from, spend some extra time actually becoming a trusted friend of theirs. You’ll be glad you did.
3) Understand Where Technology Fits In Education
As mentioned above, we are simply deluged with new tech toys for education on a daily basis. No exaggeration: the Edudemic email account sees on average 750 emails a week from people wanting coverage or to alert us to some new tech. That’s more than 100 emails a day! Teachers get similar emails from companies, colleagues, and administrators on a daily basis as well. So figure out where technology actually fits in education. That means you need to establish a mental filter that lets you look past the bells and whistles of a new piece of tech and figure out exactly what it does to help you.
If you can’t figure out how a digital tool helps you in under 15 seconds, you don’t need it. Simple as that.
4) Know How To Find Useful Resources
There are plenty of education technology resources out there. Edudemic is just one of them. We don’t bring you every single bit of edtech news to know about. So I’d recommend becoming familiar with RSS readers and social news aggregation tools. For example, you should have a Google Reader account that you carefully curate over time. You should also be trying out Zite, Rockmelt, and perhaps even Digg. While not always education-based, these mobile news readers are indispensable for any modern teacher on the go.
5) Manage Your Online Reputation
Sometimes called ‘digital literacy’ and sometimes an ‘online reputation,’ modern teachers need to know how to manage how they appear online. I’m not talking about not posting scandalous photos on Facebook. I’m talking about making sure your LinkedIn profile is accurate. Making sure you’re on the right social networks (probably don’t need to use Snapchat or Vine to connect with fellow teachers) and not leaving too many digital footprints in different places. For example, if you’re an early adopter of web tools and apps, be sure to close down your accounts if you stop using the service. Remember Google Buzz? Color? MySpace? It’s probably worth the effort to either close down your accounts or at the very least remove your connections to these networks. For example, you can click on your ‘connections’ tab in Facebook to see where you’ve used Facebook to log into other networks. It’s worth trimming back these connections on a regular basis.
6) Know How To Correctly Blog
There’s no completely correct way to blog. You can blog by uploading snapshots of your classroom onto Tumblr or you can blog by sharing your lesson plans and thoughts on aWordPress site. Heck, you can just upload memorable quotes from your day to a Blogger account.
But there is a wrong way to blog (and modern teachers should know what that is). It’s basically sharing too much information online. I’m not talking about over-sharing thoughts on the lessons you’re working on, flipping your classroom, etc. I’m talking about sharing too much information about people who don’t know what you’re doing. In other words, you should upload information about people only when you have their permission and that they know their info is going up. You should simply never share the personal information of students or just about anyone else. Stuff like that. Modern teachers usually know this but it’s worth a quick reminder. Be careful what you blog as it’s nearly impossible to completely delete. Once you hit publish, it might as well be etched in stone. (fun sidebar: ‘etched’ has the same letters as ‘edtech’)
7) Slow Down
Don’t read just the headlines. Don’t speed through a lesson just because it’s nearly the end of the day. Slow down and catch your breath. If you find yourself finishing one lesson but not having enough time to adequately explain the next, slow down. Spend some time figuring out the best ways to augment your current lesson to make it even better. Ask questions, see if technology could play a role, just have fun and don’t feel rushed. This skill is not to be able to ‘drag out’ a lesson but instead to let it breathe enough to the point where students have spent enough time on it to make a lasting impression. Big difference and knowing what that difference looks like is key.
8) Make Social Media Work For You
Figuring out the best social network to use is tough. There is a lot of trial and error. But here’s the thing: you need to simply figure out the best way to make social media work for you. By that I mean you need to curate the list of people you follow on Twitter, manage your friends on Facebook, and follow the most appropriate boards on Learnist and Pinterest. If you don’t periodically trim down and monitor who you’re connecting with on social networks, you’ll face a tough decision of choosing to give it all up or simply use it less. Easier to just regularly manage your contacts and make sure they’re providing useful information and resources.
9) Don’t Be Afraid Of Failing
Like I said in #3, you need to know when technology is right for you. 99% of the time, you don’t need the newest gadget or web tool. But let’s say there’s a great resource that you want to try. This is the time when you need to not be afraid to fail. You need to not be afraid that your students, colleagues, or administrators are going to find fault with what you’re doing. Just believe in yourself and know that you simply can’t go wrong with just trying it out. So don’t be afraid. Jump into trying out new technology with both feet and don’t look back. But if that new technology doesn’t work as you want or at all … don’t be afraid of cutting your losses and moving on.
So to sum it up: half of trial and error is error. You might as well try!
10) Know When To Disconnect
Finally, this may be the most important part of being a modern or connected teacher. You have to know when to disconnect. You need to know when to say that your Twitter stream is feeling a bit too overwhelming and that you need to spend more time managing other aspects of your life. Whether you move onto lesson planning or just kicking back and watching a movie, variety is the spice of life. It’s also critical to not becoming a modern teacher that is completely burned out by this time next year.