Connected Learning: Transforming Teacher Practice

My professors consistently challenge students to recognize the current changes happening in education and to take advantage of new opportunities that improve teacher practice. Throughout my time in graduate school, my interests have always gravitated towards learning about self-motivated professional development, increased student interest, and the use of technology as a means to enhance learning. I am constantly analyzing the ways student production changes in the digital age. We are living in the midst of a brand new wave of educational research, but there are veteran teachers who do not believe there is enough time to update their pedagogy. Some even choose to remain unaware of the valuable information at their disposal.

The biggest pattern that emerges from my research and class discussions have always revolved around the use of technology as an instructional strategy and aid for student learning. Specifically, the topic of connected learning principles in the midst of technological advancement has taken over twitter chats, blogging platforms and classroom discussions all over the nation. Sparked by the current conversation in the digital sphere, my mind began to circulate questions like: How does one use connected learning to elevate their teacher practice? Are there any connections between connected learning and professional development? What does connected learning look like in a 21st century classroom? How does connected learning help engage students with various learning needs? Based on this initial curiosity, my main subject of inquiry evolved into: How is teacher practice transformed through the adoption of connected learning principles?

I have learned that connected learning is about educators taking the initiative, letting go of their fears and truly thinking outside of the box. It’s about changing our views on technology and seeing digital media as a new frontier of opportunity as teachers choose to link their networks together in an attempt to collaborate and discover. We have the power to share opportunities and resources among strangers that in fact have a connection and a shared vision for improved education. It is our job as teachers to model the act of discovery and inquiry in our instruction for students to become makers and tinkerers in a technologically advancing world. My background in Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Mass Media has certainly ingrained in me a passion for making and tinkering, which is the foundation of connected learning in relation to student engagement in the classroom. I am used to playing around with technology as a creative outlet and I have an even greater passion for introducing the possibilities to both my colleagues and students.

The issue most teachers face today is the battle between time and priority. My concern is that veteran teachers remain unaware of the possibilities that both the digital age and connected learning can bring to their teacher practice. Most teachers view professional development as a mere formality on specific days mandated by the school district. Imagine professional development as an effortless part of the daily life of a teacher. With current professional development shaping the teacher’s classroom perspective, the networked teacher can take advantage of technology and maintain student interest while helping students develop crucial skills. Think of the many ways students are easily producing self-directed projects using new media. Every teacher should recognize the changing learning landscape and adopt a passion for creating relevant lesson plans.

If you are interested in learning more about connected learning, check out these valuable resources that I have collected:

 

Christina Cantrill's Connected Learning Infographic

Christina Cantrill’s Connected Learning Infographic

 

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Keep Going and…

As I spend my time applying to jobs and going on interviews, I’m reminded of this poem that my 11th Grade English teacher framed for us days before we were to take our first AP English exam. Today, I remember it fondly for different reasons and it serves as encouragement during a time of uncertainty.

Don’t Quit

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow–
You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out–
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

– Edgar A. Guest

NAMLE: National Association for Media Literacy Education

As a Broadcasting major, and with the help of one of my mentors, I stumbled upon an organization dedicated to media literacy. In an increasingly digital age, this is important to any educator or student learning necessary 21st century skills. The National Association for Media Literacy Education may not be the first resource that pops into a teacher’s head, but certainly a hidden gem when it comes to a forum for discussing current trends in digital learning, communication and inquiry-based critical thinking.

The organization’s core principles include:

  1. Media Literacy Education requires active inquiry and critical thinking about the messages we receive and create.
  2. Media Literacy Education expands the concept of literacy to include all forms of media (i.e., reading and writing).
  3. Media Literacy Education builds and reinforces skills for learners of all ages. Like print literacy, those skills necessitate integrated, interactive, and repeated practice.
  4. Media Literacy Education develops informed, reflective and engaged participants essential for a democratic society.
  5. Media Literacy Education recognizes that media are a part of culture and function as agents of socialization.
  6. Media Literacy Education affirms that people use their individual skills, beliefs and experiences to construct their own meanings from media messages.

Many of the organization’s members are teachers of literacy, English, technology, and media — and unexpected network of educators that collaborate with each other on the topic of media literacy. The next NAMLE Conference will be right here in Philadelphia during Spring 2015.

NAMLE is just one of many resources available to educators across the country. Teachers should not be sitting in their classrooms, closed off to other like-minded individuals. Let’s come together and make an effort to reach out to others to continue the conversation!

Mentorship/Friendship

I am blessed to come across individuals that easily become mentors in my eyes because I admire their work, ethics and obvious passion. My mentors are people that I look up to — people who teach me how to help others. These relationships are ones I value and they don’t necessarily need to be nurtured on a daily basis. We can go months without communication, but once we do, the reciprocal relationship of give and take come back full force. Many of my mentors are teachers, acquaintances, friends that I meet by chance and interact with based on similar interests.

I’m fortunate enough to have learned from my very first mentor that it’s completely okay to ask for help and to seek out individuals through things like informational interviews, which are opportunities that you purposely set up with a professional that you would like to learn about. Today, I’m going to talk to you about Sherri, my very first professor at Temple University when I was studying the field of Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Mass Media. Boy, did I love the way she taught media. She made our lessons come alive — all with style, professionalism and engagement. I admired her because she gave and deserved respect from her students. Her door is always open whenever I need to make sense of the worries on my mind. Our relationship began in the classroom but it continued as I studied Children’s Media, interviewed at PBS Kids Sprout, networked with children’s media professionals, studied abroad in London and worked at the National Association for Media Literacy Education. She taught me how to embrace creativity in more ways than one. I am studying to be an English teacher now, but Sherri really was the one that guided me towards this path of finding a career where I can thrive. She taught me to be an example in the classroom, to go explore streets and neighborhoods during my pass time, to present myself to others with confidence, to roam around finding bits of inspiration.

Sherri was the one that first introduced me to the Myers Briggs Personality Type test. I’m either an ENFP or an ENFJ — still haven’t quite made a decision about that yet. But, the point is… what college professor takes the time or makes the effort to teach her students about finding themselves?! Sherri does, because she cares about giving her students the tools necessary to live life beyond the principles we learn in class. She even takes the time, every year, to organize a get-together for all of us London students… just because she’s awesome.

Who are your mentors? Who inspires you? Go out and thank them right now!

Reciprocity in a Self-Centered Work Environment

Adam Grant really gave me some food for thought this week. He’s the author of the best-selling book, Give and Take, which divides the working community into two kinds of people. Givers tend to share their resources, advice and help more often than takers, who downright believe in an egocentric dog-eat-dog world. I’m not saying I’m never a taker, but I sure believe in the power of being available to my peers and colleagues. From a young age, my values and principles have stemmed from a desire to be selfless more often than selfish. There are so many instances when stranger has helped me get a step closer to my goals, and it makes me even more motivated to help in any way that I can! Never be afraid to ask for someone’s help and always seek out opportunities to give your help to others. That’s a motto I’d rather live by. It’s definitely easier to take when you’re bogged down with large workloads and deadlines. These stresses are real! But, just like random acts of kindness impacts others in a meaningful way, giving in a dog-eat-dog world has this ripple effect on others. A feel-good motivation to start giving. Check this book out and I promise you facts that will blow your mind. What’s your attitude like at work? What would happen if you help another colleague without expecting anything back?

 

A (Re)Introduction

My first part-time job fresh out of high school was at a local day care just outside of my Philadelphia suburb. I began a love-hate relationship with the cutest babies and the most rebellious toddlers. My time was spent assisting one pre-school classroom to the next and yet I still chose to pursue a Bachelors degree in Broadcasting. The technology world amazed me and, simply put, I found it all to be so freakin’ cool. I learned to edit videos, make story lines come to life, produce television segments, create aesthetically pleasing websites… This was all in the hopes of becoming a production assistant at PBS Kids Sprout, the company located in the symbolic Comcast building in Center City. My dream was so specific. I thought I wanted to work in Children’s Media and those opportunities did come. However, it was when I interned at WHYY’s Public Media Commons that I realized my love for instruction and interacting with impressionable students. It was so rewarding taking these young students through the process of brainstorming to creating journalistic pieces worth sharing.

I decided to continue to graduate school at Arcadia University, where I worked my way towards a Teacher Certification in English 7-12th. My professors, guest speakers, group projects, and classroom observations all served to fuel my interests in education as a career that I would enjoy investing myself in. Student teaching, my most difficult experience in grad school, was a wake-up call for me in so many ways. The work was endless and hard! I faced rigorous challenges on a daily basis, but I loved that my days were everything but routine. I became a teacher and wore so many different hats as an instructor, encourager, counselor, companion and bearer or bad (and good!) news. I’ve grown more in three months than I did in two years of graduate school coursework.

I’m currently applying to jobs all over Pennsylvania, hoping for a chance at my first year teaching. In the meantime, I have also chosen to continue on to complete coursework for my Master of Arts in Education degree and a Connected Learning certificate. Many of my mentors throughout my social network have managed to combine technology, literacy and connected learning, which are subjects that I am constantly learning about in my own professional development. I hope I never stop dreaming or learning, which are two things that usually begin to trickle away towards the end of the first year teaching.

Thanks so much for joining me on my journey as an educator.

Portrait of a Young, Wise Teacher

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“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” My friends and family repeatedly encouraged me with this mantra, and I realize now, looking back, that this saying pretty much sums up my student teaching experience in a nutshell. I’m writing this journal reflection in honor of Mrs. Johanna Parkin, my fearless mentor teacher, who knew exactly how to push me beyond my comfort zone, acknowledge my strengths and confront my once nonexistent confidence. I owe what I have now learned about teaching to her vivacious mentorship! My personality is much more a mystery than one would think. I’m both extroverted and introverted all at the same time, and it takes me a while to lower my guard in unfamiliar surroundings. I’m an observer in uncharted territory, and although it may not seem like it, I’m constantly making mental notes about the people I meet. While Johanna is constantly encouraging me and giving me much appreciated verbal affirmations, I’ve waited until this very moment to express just how much I appreciate her.

I was lost in the beginning. Specifically, my mind was overwhelmed by the conversations, the workload, the different personalities. And when I’m overwhelmed, I tend to shut down inwardly until I explode in written form. How was I going to handle student teaching? This is too much for me! I don’t think I’m cut out to be a teacher. I’m not usually quiet or too reserved. Under normal circumstances, I actually tend to talk up a storm when I’m comfortable. This new student teaching environment initially caused me to become cautious, quiet and controlled. Over the past eight months, however, I’ve managed to change and re-shape my perceptions of what teaching entails. For the better, of course! All because I’ve allowed myself to give in to Johanna’s instruction.

It’s my last day of student teaching, and my mind is scrambling for ways to say THANK YOU. I didn’t really want to go the easy way out and buy her a gift. I’m a firm believer in “it’s the thought that counts!” I finally decided that I needed to say thank you by showing her that I have been listening all those times she was trying to teach me how to teach. It didn’t just go one ear and out the other!

Below is a list of GOLDEN NUGGETS I’ve gleaned from my time in room 204:

  • Teaching is way more than the time spent instruction students in a classroom.
  • It’s worth it to go the extra mile — call parents about the positives and negatives, build relationships with students (joke around with them, ask them about their interests).
  • Realize now that you will not get along with everyone. Never talk about them behind their backs. Respect everyone you meet.
  • Teamwork is everything. Even when it comes to lesson planning. Collaboration is key because you can’t do everything on your own. Make your partner look good, right?
  • Learn to delegate and you won’t go crazy. Students are more than willing to help you out!
  • Make time for yourself! Exercise at the gym daily and enjoy a book that has nothing to do with your curriculum.
  • You don’t need to give extra credit. What’s the point? Teach your students to work hard without “free” points.
  • No. Matter. What. Hold students accountable to their assignments. It let’s them know that you take their work seriously. You can show them tough love and show them you care all at the same time.
  • Grade papers, assignments, exams…. right away! It really stops you from going crazy, again.
  • Take pride in your classroom environment. Make it your home! Make students feel like they’re welcome.
  • Think like a student. Are the worksheets overwhelming? Do they only make sense to you? Tone it down!
  • You never know when the printer is going to shut down. Get your materials printed and ready to go!
  • Think outside the box when it comes to lesson planning… If I’m bored, the kids will be bored!