Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Gospel of Connection

It's 11 am on the weekend.  You are enjoying a late breakfast with your family, sipping your coffee and listening to your children talk about their stuffed animals.

You hear a knock on the door.

You and your spouse exchange glances.
"Are you expecting anyone?" you ask.

You spouse answers your question with a head shake.  You get up and open the door.  You are greeted by a pair of clean-looking men in white shirts, ties and backpacks.

"Good morning to you, neighbor!  Do you have a few moments to talk about the glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth?"

You tell that you're sorry, but you are very busy at the moment.  They smile, thank you politely for your time and move on.

You shut your door and go back to your breakfast.  After the meal, you and your family get dressed and go out for the day to run your errands.  On your way, you pass by a Women's Health clinic.  It's an understated building and the only thing remarkable about it is the crowd.

The building is surrounded by people holding signs that read "Repent, Sinners", "You're Going To Hell" and "Come Back To God."  There are a few members of the crowd who are yelling, but overall, it's a peaceful protest.

As different as their methods are, both of these groups have the same basic goals: bring non-believers under the protection and grace of God.

This is a vast oversimplification of the wide spectrum of Christian beliefs and there are those who argue that neither of these groups are actually Christians.

I'm not arguing that one group is better than another, merely that they have opposite tactics.  The first group tries to convince people to accept Jesus because of the positive aspects of such a lifestyle (joy, love, peace, eternal reward) while the second attempts to scare people into believing out of fear of the consequences (hellfire, damnation, eternal punishment).

These tactics are not dissimilar (although admittedly not to the same extremes as the latter) to the educational philosophies of many educators.

"This stuff is fascinating and will help you to be a more well-rounded person" is a very different statement to students than "if you don't learn this stuff, you're going to fail."  Both of these statements are accurate, but each puts a very different emphasis on the purpose of learning.  Every person who has been to school knows at least one teacher from each camp.

Both types of teachers have varying degrees of success, depending on the students with whom they are interacting.  We know that different students have different needs and, therefore, respond differently to different teachers.

I bring all of this up because I've been thinking about Twitter in general and the connected educator community in particular.

I am very uncomfortable with many sentiments that I see among connected educators that either imply, or state flatly that unconnected educators are bad at their jobs.

"If you're not connecting with other educators, you are doing a disservice to your students" comes from the same school of thought (although MUCH less extreme) as "DO THIS OR YOU'LL BURN IN HELL!"  Both statements use shame and consequence to coerce people into doing something for which they may not be ready.

On the other hand, "Being connected has helped me to become a better teacher.  I recommend it" respects where the other person happens to be in terms of readiness and willingness.

I know that connecting with other teachers on Twitter has helped me to become a better teacher.  I know this for a fact.

I also know that if I had tried to connect even a year earlier than I had, I wouldn't have had the same experience.

I simply wasn't ready.  I needed to be in a position where I was open to the experience, ready to be pushed from my comfort zone and out into open waters.

Perhaps a less controversial analogy than religion would have been the difference between a parent who stands in the pool, encouraging their child to join them, versus the one who throws the kid in and then calls to them to "just swim!"

I believe that most (if not all) teachers can benefit from connecting with other educators from around the world.  I have seen first-hand how ideas that I've gleaned from Twitter colleagues, ideas I never would have had on my own, have changed my classroom for the better.

I want other teachers to reap these same benefits.  But I also understand why they don't make the leap.  I respect where they are.  I feel as though the best way I can convince my colleagues to join me in this amazing life is to demonstrate the ways that it has made me a better teacher.  I encourage them to join me and support them when they take the first steps.

What I will not do is shame them into starting a complicated venture for which they are not ready.

We shouldn't be shaming our students.

Why do we think it's ok to shame our colleagues.

I welcome feedback and your thoughts.


  1. It depends :)

    The "do this or else!" is, I think, a tactic that is a whole lot less effective with diverse cultures or any time a person might have already experienced "or else!"
    It's a *great* way to simply weed out whole groups of people. (I'm thinking of dyslexics, among other people) If you actually can't "do this" then ... you won't be expected to succeed.
    Still, I absolutely do use "or else" for a few choice topics. My pre-algebra peeps who just grab the calculator for -1-5 = ... I tell them because it's true that if they don't slow down and learn to think those through, they will likely fail several exams because they won't be allowed to use the calculators for the part that asks exactly those kinds of questions. Because I reserve that kind of talk fo rspecial occasions... it gets more respect -- tho' I also try to do it when there's somebody who learned that lesson already in the room who can say "AMEN!"

  2. Wow... I was surprised to read you've heard this level of shaming about unconnected educators. In "real life" or online or both? I honestly can't remember seeing or hearing an example of that.

    I'm still often cautious in how I express any enthusiasm about Twitter or any online math resources (or Common Core, for that matter). I mean, I do it, now that I'm not a probationary teacher, because I am hopeful other teachers would get something out of online resources if they tried, as I have, but I am pretty sure a lot of teachers I encounter think it's all super geeky in the sense that it's a specialized, useless waste of time and I should be spending those hours on something else.

    In other words, I think shaming of connected educators is more likely in my community than shaming of unconnected educators... though in fairness, I think most educators I work with are more "you do your thing, I'll do mine" than shaming.

    1. I'm looking for specific examples for you, but here's a great blog from Samantha Bates on the same topic. I'll keep looking.

  3. It seems like a question of motivation; do we motivate with promise of reward or threat of punishment (carrots & sticks). Both of these are extrinsic motivators though. I really like Dan Pink's 'Drive' where he talks about the three things that spark intrinsic motivation are autonomy (control over what we do, where we do it, how we do it, when we do it, who we do it with), a desire for mastery (the reason many folks learn to play an instrument), and a purpose outside our own personal gain (teaching to change lives!).

    Interesting reflection by Justin Stortz; How Being A Connected Educator Killed My Career: The Critical Truth I Missed


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