Connected, Lurking, and Listening

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The term “most connected” typically heralds those on Twitter who share just as much as they read. They have hundreds, even thousands of followers. They comment often and are heard by many. But when we think of “connected” educators, we often forget those out there listening, watching, and observing the flurry of tweets.

The reality is that not every teacher interacts in a dual or multi-conversational way. There exist a group of educators who silently watch, read and soak in the experiences of others through shared postings, blogs and recorded chats. We call these educators, lurkers.

While ‘lurkers’ are not necessarily sharing ideas, they are still very much connected. They are out there listening, learning and growing, going undetected by most Twitter feeds.

When I joined Twitter, I didn’t share right away. I watched conversations as they occurred while soaking in the shared experiences, ideas and tools. I was learning from teachers that I had never met. I was a lurker, constantly growing in my classroom through the information I received from those that I followed. Like many educators today, I too was silently connected and listening.

For me, being connected was the game changer for my life and career. The knowledge, confidence and educational responsibility that I have owned has been largely due to the conversations that have challenged my thinking.  As much as I was learning, not contributing to conversations kept me from identifying myself as being connected. Often times, the assumption is that being connected is about the number of tweets that you send. Back then, I thought the same.

Last year, while working with the teachers in my department, my beliefs changed. As a math strategist and math department chair, one of my roles was to help our teachers grow in their practice. Armed with my own experiences, I modeled how to use social networks for professional development, shared who to follow and helped teachers to find areas of interest to connect to. I even invited them to participate in chats but they never made it there...so I thought.

One afternoon a teacher flagged me down in the hallway after a night of #smartee (smart exemplary educators), a chat I moderate. She said that she was waiting anxiously for an idea to utilize in her pre-calculus class. She went on to describe how she learned to use socrative discussions during her lesson to assess learning, an idea that was foreign to her prior to the chat. I knew that I didn’t “see” her on the timeline and as we talked further, I found out that she was a regular lurker.

Weekly, she watched the conversations and little by little added new ideas to her practice. Many of my team members did the same. I started to see changes in classrooms, students collaborating and in time we began to have classrooms that were absent of perfect rows. While our teachers did not add to conversations, they did read them. Through connecting with me, they found others to connect to and it showed in the lessons that they created as well as their interactions with their students. Twitter was changing their practice.

Recently, one of the teachers that I mentored called me to talk about a great moment she had in her new school. Her team was discussing grading practices that involved testing students without including a review and retake clause.Teachers would grade student work, ignore signs of non-mastery and move on to the next concept whether students were ready or not. Upon hearing this, she started a conversation about standards-based grading. She convinced her new team to institute changes that would allow students to be remediated until mastery. 

When I asked her where she learned this, she screamed, “TWITTER!” She went on to tell me how she watches chats but doesn’t speak up because she doesn’t always feel comfortable in doing so. She “listens” via Twitter and shares conversations with her peers and that is what being connected is about…sharing.

Looking back on my own practice, I grew just as much from the conversations that I watched as I did from the ones in which I actively participated. Reading through the shared experiences of others, I was introduced to new ideas, strategies for teaching, educational policies and technologies to support learning. When I read and feel impacted, I listen beyond the words on the screen. I envision myself and the learners that I touch interacting in ways previously unimaginable.

For the connected lurker, I imagine that the path to growth is the same. As more educators continue to be empowered in their practice by the words that they read and conversations that they hear, they too will find their path to sharing as well. Until they do, respect the lurkers and listeners out there. For they are many, and they are just as connected as you.

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