Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Journey of a Connected Educator & Why You Need To Be One

Okay, I feel like every few months (or year) I get on here and talk about how I'm a bad blogger who doesn't ever post anything ever and how I'm going to get better at it.  Blah, blah, blah...  I'm not making any promises this time.

Anyway, I've been taking a few awesome professional learning courses this summer through my district and one of the options for my homework this week was to write a blog post.  I figured this would be a great time to give you an update on my new life as a second grade teacher and a little bit about what I've learned in the process.

Bear with me, because this is going to be LOOOONG, but I promise, it'll all come together at some point.  

First I have to give you a little background... 

If you haven't gathered from the name of my blog, I was a third grade teacher.  I spent eight years in the same school, grade level, and classroom and only once in those eight years had a change with one team member.  To say that I was in a very stable position would be putting it lightly.  I was very involved (maybe too much so) in my building and had also become involved in things in my school district.  I was very comfortable and really didn't see any need for change.

Fast Forward:  My seventh year of teaching sucked for too many reasons to list.  I decided to put it all into the Lord's hands and pray about the following school year and where the next chapter might be for me.  I couldn't get out the door fast enough come summer break and didn't want to go back.  I knew I'd be making that decision based on emotion and that wasn't a good way to go about such big thing.  God gave me some peace and I knew that I needed to stay at least one more year to figure out the next steps.

The following school year (my eighth) was so much better than the year before in many ways.  I had a pretty good class, a student teacher that was super fun to work with, and I made a couple of new friends in my building.  It wasn't a perfect year by any means, but it was a lot better overall.

Problem solved, right?

Nope.  There was still that part of me that wondered if leaving might be the next step for me.  I wasn't hating it, but I wasn't loving it either.  Part of me was also craving some change and growth and I wasn't sure this was where it was going to happen.  I continued to pray about it and decided to just see what happened next.

I won't get into the whole saga of what actually did happen next, but, to sum it up, some things happened in my building that really made me question if that was the type of school environment that I wanted to work in.  Though it wasn't that bad for me personally, I started to realize that my school was slowly becoming a toxic environment.  I had the most amazing teammates and worked next door to one of my best friends, but outside of a small circle of people, I had become very closed off and isolated from many people in my building.  I didn't know who I could actually trust.  In my own building, I felt like a very UNconnected educator.

Okay, now to jump around a little...

I've always been one of those people who's up on the trends, but not on the cutting edge.  I learned quickly before my first year of teaching that there's an amazing community of teachers online that are ready to share their ideas an expertise and become your virtual friend.  This was back in the days pre-Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, etc.  I made several good teacher friends on the site ProTeacher back during my first year and really came to love connecting with other teachers online.  Over the years that's grown to connecting with other teacher friends on Pinterest, Facebook, Teachers Pay Teachers, blogs, Twitter, and Instagram.

It amazes me to think about how much teaching has changed since I first started back in 2007.  A lot is the same, but there are so many things that make my job a lot easier.  Being connected to others in the education world helps me work smarter, not harder and I'm all about that.

So, why be a connected educator?

I've been reading Matt Miller's book Ditch That Textbook and pretty much everything that Matt says about being a connected educator sums up a feeling that I've had at once point other another.

I've been blessed to work on great teams of teachers throughout the years.  Even if we have different teaching styles and don't always do exactly the same thing, they've all been great people to work with and collaborate with.  I've found, though, that connecting with just my team isn't enough.  It's important to connect with others in both real life and online.

I love getting to go into other teacher's classrooms to see what they've got going on.  I think that's one thing that we sometimes don't get to do enough as teachers.  Remember how I said by the end I was feeling very unconnected at my previous school?  I hated that feeling!  To some of the teachers in my building, it had turned into a nasty competition.  That's not how it's supposed to be!  We need to connect with one another to challenge each other and share how we can be better at what we do.  If I'm a rock star at one thing and you are at another, why not share with each other and encourage one another?!?

Both buildings that I have worked in have been very spread out, so it's sometimes been hard to see what's going on with other teachers.  I am loving the fact that many of my current colleagues have Facebook and Twitter pages for their classrooms.  Sometimes I know more about what they're up to from social media than talking to them in person!  Having that connection with them online strengthens that bond in person when we do actually have the chance to see each other.

Being connected outside of our own "bubbles" is important as well.  I'm a HUGE fan of Instagram and last year I started a separate account to go along with my blog and TpT store.  That account is pretty much exclusively education related and I love it!  I've gained so many awesome ideas through that.  I've been inspired to try new things, found some amazing resources, and made some fun virtual friends in the process.

Another thing that makes it great?  I get to share my own awesomeness with others on there as well!  Matt says the book that it's selfish to keep our ideas to ourselves.  When you think about that, it's so true!  I sometimes wonder how I functioned the first half of my teaching career before Teachers Pay Teachers was around.  That site is genius!  It's the ultimate opportunity to share your awesome, creative activities!  I've always loved being creative and making cute things for my classroom.  My teaching colleague got into selling on TpT a few years ago and suggested that I get into it too.  She noticed what I was already doing and encouraged me to get on there and start selling to others!  She also connected me with several collaborative Pinterest boards where teachers post our own products and awesome finds.  They're just more great ways that we can share awesomeness with others and we don't have to keep those great things to ourselves.

Well, there you have it.

I told you this would be long, but that's my journey in a nutshell.  Making the change in schools and districts has reignited the spark of being a connected teacher and was exactly the refresh that I needed in a lot of ways.  And you know what's also cool?  I've been able to stay connected with my former teaching besties as they've started following my new journey on social media!