Questions from Karen Cator - She'd Like to Hear from You

Karen asked in her interview tonight:

  • How do you learn?  
  • How do you think about your own personal learning networks and the places that you go?
  • What are your practices around being a highly-connected professional educator?

She's hoping you will answer here.  :)  

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How do I learn?


This really depends a lot on the context. I learn well from reading text for example, whether that text is written on a chalkboard, my own writing in a notebook, or someone's blog post. I also learn well from listening to people speak about really interesting stuff. I learn the best when I take the time and digest the thoughts and synthesize them into another form. So I have to hear or read some ideas first, and then form my own opinion of the ideas through my (nearly) daily blogging.


How do you think about your own personal learning networks and the places that you go?


I go to a lot of networks. When I saw a lot, I mean A LOT. I have at least 40 or 50 different profiles on different learning networks, and I probably access each of these at least once a month. I'm fairly well connected as well. My "personal" learning network on Twitter for example has about 4000 educators in it. So I think of these spaces as serving different purposes, depending on what I'm looking for. In most of these networks there is a lot of overlap between the people I follow on Twitter, and the people I interact with in the particular network I'm in, but the context is different so we talk about different things.


I'd like the ability to aggregate my social spaces more. I'd like to be able to feed the several dozen Ning networks I'm in for example, to a single location where I could respond to posts, and be able to easily recognize the context the various things I'm reading are in. I don't think what I'm doing is ideal but it is meeting my needs. I have a voracious appetite for information about education as it is clearly my passion.


What are your practices around being a highly-connected professional educator?


First, I have my professional learning network in Twitter. This is where I go to get inspired, to get ideas, to ask questions, and to connect with educators from all over the world. My "department" meetings, when I discuss math education on Twitter (using the hashtag #mathchat), include up to 30 or 40 educators chatting at the same time. When we have a "whole school" staff meeting, I'm chatting with many hundreds of educators simultaneously during our weekly #edchat meetings. It can be a bit overwhelming but I've learned that I can read it all quickly, and then pick and choose the people to whom I respond.


Next, I have my other social networks, which I use much less frequently than Twitter. As I said before, these are context specific, and I'm often happy to leave a question up unanswered for weeks until I get a response. I'm not connecting on these networks for the immediacy that I get from Twitter, but mostly because they tend to be more specialized and include a slightly different set of people.


Finally, I have my blog. I would be lost without the ability to write down and connect with educators through my own personal space. It's not private personal space, it's very public, but it is primarily my space and I'm in charge of what ideas I think about on it. I use my blog to reflect, to consider, and to examine ideas. I love the fact I get comments about what I'm writing and see other people's point of view, and in some cases to even change people's minds about widely held beliefs. I use my blog to challenge the status quo in education.

Sorry I missed it. I love Karen's presentations (and yours too)! :)


How do I learn?

I learn from life experiences, from my networks - both online and face and face, from students, from other teachers, business and political members that I interact with, administrators that I work with and innovative people I come in contact with. I'm fortunate to have a network of people who are organized in a variety of different "spaces". Because we have over 500,000+ teachers in NY, there are plenty of professional organizations to join and learn from.

SchoolLeadership 2.0 is one place I go to, to have conversations and to learn. Classroom 2.0 is another. Future of Education Elluminate webinars are probably my favorite online PD of choice. Intel Engage has an online community as do Google, Apple, Microsoft and many other vendors and companies. If I'm learning about different ways to engage learners using these tools, or instructional approaches I might use a combination of all of these. Other ways that I learn? Reading, writing, reflecting, researching, absorbing media - thinking about the way I'm thinking - conversing, observing, from modeling, from having difficult conversations, teaching, re-teaching and creating. Some of my best learning happens in reflecting, whether it is thinking out loud or with others. And by making mistakes. I learn from those immensely.


How do you think about your own personal learning networks and the places that you go?

I enjoy my personal learning networks. Each brings value to my learning along with a different perspective. Whether it is the teaching and learning of ELLs or the Special Education population, the homebound, the underprivileged, or the not so underprivileged, the thought is, the more I know about a group, the better a decision I can make without bias. There is no substitute for being informed and the spending time in places you have access to. Because of the Internet, these learning spaces are limitless. There are no boundaries and so, no place you dare not go. 


What are your practices around being a highly-connected professional educator?

Participating in conversations about creativity and learning, and then trying to determine how to realistically support those environments can be very humbling. The answer always seems to be that it is never enough time or it's never enough money. I try to participate in as many areas affecting education as I can to get a broader perspective of 1) what's going on in classrooms (who are my teachers, who are my students) 2) what's going on in the real world (whether it's financial or legislative) 3) what's coming up that I need to be aware of (and what approach are the leaders taking) and 4) who my audience is (because the child is ever-changing)


Highly connected might mean knowing a lot of different people, or it may mean knowing the people who can make the big decisions. Serving on youth councils, boards of education, business education groups and local museum committees helps give a broader perspective on how we educate. Being aware of what is going on nationally is as important as being aware of what is going on locally. I'm fortunate that I get to travel a bit and I soak up different perspectives and different approaches to problems. There are many different ways of teaching...and learning...and leading. I think it's important to have an understanding about expectations as well. Different communities have different needs. What works well in one place, may not in another. It's easier to see differences when you are physically in a place. Being connected is important but being able to experience many different spaces is important too.


Learn to talk to others about things you feel are important. Highly connected can mean access to many different people. Talk about things that matter. Get outside your comfort zone. If you have an agenda make it clear so people cannot find fault through assumptions. Find a common vocabulary, that's also important. Make sure that you are doing all you can to know as much as you can about your field, and continue to practice questioning. Understand who pays your salary. Know where that money comes from and fight hard for it. Every year I travel to DC to meet with others who advocate about technology. You learn and you grow when you put yourself outside your comfort zone. There is no substitute for being informed. A highly connected professional educator knows that the better you understand the issues, the better you can defend your position on them. The more you share, the more you grow. 

I learn through all different resources (all of the above). However, I think we need to make an important point, learning is grand, but if you don't do anything with what you have learned, what is the point? Having a broad group of ideas and people to bounce ideas off of is important, but you can't ignore your local community. What you learn through your "networks" has to be shaped to the specifics of your local community. What works well in one fashion in one location, may not work the same way in your local community. In terms of education, do all your stakeholders in your community have the same "goggles?" At this period in time, probably not. I think we have a lot of  the answers. It is implementing those answers, taking action, which is difficult.

Thank you very much for having Karen Cator onto Elluminate with you. That was a refreshing and potentially communication-building get-together.

First, answers to the questions, which I'll just breeze through since others have provides such excellent examples of how they go about being "connected educators." I'm similar to David and Bianca, and they've given us some great models.

I use the Ning network I created three or so years ago, Fireside Learning, for deep and lasting conversations about education with a broad diversity of others, along with its interconnection with other networks of similar purpose.

I use Facebook for keeping connected very broadly in smaller, more rapid-fire bits, Twitter for live events and news that's happening in the moment.

Students in my fifth-grade class use educational networking to post assignments and share ideas and reactions with each other. They communicate on the network both inside and outside of school. They share blogs and participate in teacher-started and student-started forums. Current events posts and discussions have become probably the favorite and most-used online communication we do. Also in class students do Problem-based learning projects, which keeps me hooked up to other teachers who do the same. Then we can scout out meaningful ways for the students to share their work and get feedback and to form global connections and understanding. And that is I what I believe is one of our main task as educators now, as we prepare students for the future.

Thank you to John, for asking important questions. Maybe if Karen can hear the questions that arise for us as we ("the connected educators") pioneer our way into the future, she'll get additional insight about the problems we all have to solve together. We're designing a new way to go about education right as we move through each day.

And it takes a collaborative effort to do this. We've found the power of collaborating, questioning, and problem-soling together.

John's questions:

What do you do with what you learn?

Does your learning pertain to the local community as well?

I'll add:

Are you connected both locally and globally?

Are you able to interweave use of "new media literacies" into your ongoing educational setting as well as into your own PD? I mean, are you weaving it in in an integral and meaningful fashion such that you feel both you and your students are growing substantially?

It would be great to hear from a whole lot of people on this one. What might Karen benefit from hearing about, as she helps guide national education policy in the right direction? What have you found that works and is leading to increased learning? What questions are arising? What makes your job as a "connected educator" pioneer challenging?


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