October is Connected Educator Month, which “seeks to broaden and deepen educator participation in online communities of practice and move toward a more fully connected and collaborative profession.”
In response, I have been pondering my own connections.
I have always had trouble connecting. I am somewhat introverted and feel socially awkward much of the time. I have been known to ruminate over every word and can drive myself crazy with self-doubt.
“Still waters run deep,” a college professor once told me after reading one of my essays. He explained that he was surprised by the insight I expressed in my paper because I was so quiet in class. Another professor actually chased me down the hall after we were dismissed. He stopped me and demanded to know why I never spoke in the seminar of ten students. I could only reply with three words, ”I don’t know.”
But I did know. Every time I had an idea to share or question to ask, I felt overwhelming anxiety. My heart would start pounding, my hands would shake, and I would think of all the reasons why anything I had to say was too stupid to share. I would remain in a state of panic until the discussion moved on and the opportunity passed.
I have grown in my ability to communicate, and it is hard for me to imagine that I ever had such difficulty speaking up. I still suffer from what is probably a normal amount of nervousness, but I am no longer paralyzed with fear. I don’t worry—as much—about what others think.
However, my beginning efforts to connect as an online educator presented a few new challenges. For example, I was slow to take to Twitter, and I have rarely participated in chats. As I have lurked, I have thought of things I might want to say, but self-doubt has resurfaced in the unfamiliar environment filled with virtual strangers. I have heard that old voice asking, “What if I say (or Tweet) something stupid?”
My confidence grew over the summer as I participated in Making Learning Connected: A Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (#clmooc). Each week a new Make Cycle was introduced. For example, the assignment for week one was to create a self-portrait. I used an app called WordFoto to produce the portrait that I shared with the G+ community. I received positive feedback, and I was hooked.
Throughout July, we played with new tools and reflected on our makes. I was able to express myself creatively when I shared my credo in Week 4. I began fully participating in the conversation and developed deeper feelings of connectedness.
I never could have imagined that it would lead to the opportunity to speak about Connected Educator Month as a guest on the National Writing Project’s NWP Radio. I felt a rush of nerves when I read the initial email invitation from Kim Douillard, Director of the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP), but excitement was quick to follow as I thought about sharing my experiences.
The host Christina Cantrill and the other guests including Kim and SDAWP Fellows Barb Montfort and Abby Robles made it easy and comfortable. I wasn’t nervous about talking on air. (I even encourage you to listen to the archive of the program at blogtalkradio.com/nwp_radio/2013/09/26/connected-educator-month-is-coming.)
That young woman who couldn’t speak in front of a small group has grown up and has developed the confidence to speak to the world. I have found my voice and am making connections, but I worry about the quiet kids who sit in class without saying anything. I wonder if they experience the painful feelings of fear and self-doubt that held me back. How many of our students have something to say but no way to say it? How can we help our students find their voices so that they too can share themselves with the world?
21st century educators must connect in order to be able to effectively guide students in building their own connections. Powerful tools are available. Let’s use them to communicate and collaborate as we build enriching professional relationships and model what it means to be connected.