I have written a lot about all that being a connected educator has done for me. I have written a lot about how I would not trade it for anything and that I hope others will choose to become connected as well. I have written about how being a connected educator has enabled me to have connected students, which has radically changed the way I teach. And yet, I have not talked about the downfall of being connected much. Not like this, not in this way.
Yet, I think in honor of Connected Educator month (which is a strange month anyway, because aren’t we always connected?), I think it is time to discuss the downfalls, and those things that I deal with from being a connected educator. Because after all, if I am going to encourage others to be connected, I think I need to be honest about all that it entails.
You are no longer private.
Of course, you can edit what you put out into the world, but the truth is, the moment you open up your classroom and your thoughts to the world, people will have an opinion on it. And sometimes, that opinion hurts; other times it is completely false. I carefully pick the words I put out there, but at the same time, my skin has grown thicker, and yet, because I choose to put it out into the world, it seems to carry so much more weight in my life simply because others know what I do.
You can get a big head.
It is easy to think that you are more important than you are because of the validation that comes along with being connected. We are awfully good at praising one another, which is wonderful, but at the same time, it can also lead to a false sense of accomplishment. “I must be doing something amazing because all of these people tell me I am.” What we forget is that we choose what we put out there, and not many share their utmost failures or embarrassing mistakes--thus we look incredible online. That can only grow as more people get connected to us; our ego ticks upward right along with our follower count.
You can get really jealous.
Michelle Baldwin wrote a blog post discussing the identity of teaching and wrote that a problem she had faced was that the more she did, the more she needed to do to feel the same way. Part of being a connected educator means that you are not just comparing yourself to your local colleagues, but to everyone out there. If someone is writing a book, I feel I should write one, too; if someone is keynoting a conference, I wonder why I am not. It becomes this viscous circle of wanting to do more to get more, which is hard to break.
You feel you need to be perfect.
I choose to put a lot of my flaws out there because others need to know I am not a perfect teacher, nor do I think I am. And yet, every time I publish a post discussing my mistakes or screw ups, I cannot help but cringe a bit. Am I really putting this out there publicly? What if it reaches some person that will hold it against me? And yet, I am not perfect. None of us are, but stating that publicly is terrifying.
You lose time from other things.
Yes, I choose to be connected but I am well aware of how my habits have changed. I Vox when I am driving in the car rather than listen to an audio book or podcast. I check Twitter while my husband is driving, rather than speak to him. I read blog posts rather than books. And then, there is the feeling of constantly needing to produce. Although I try to not pay much attention to what my blog site statistics are, I still wonder if they are dipping or if they are stagnant. Being connected can sometimes feel like a job, and not in a good way.
You are perceived in a certain way.
I remember when a close friend asked me where I was going with all of this writing about no homework, no rewards, no grades, and I looked at her confused. Sure, I had written about those things (and continue to), but I didn’t feel like that was all I did. Yet, the perception of me was starting to take shape, and it was feeding itself. I think this can be both a positive thing and a negative one. After all, we can somewhat control that perception, but from my own experience, it is hard to change it once it is out there, and you can feel boxed in.
You may forget about your local PLN, or personal learning network.
When I first became connected, I couldn’t believe the online discussions, collaborations and profound idea-sharing I was having with educators all over the world. Yet upon closer inspection, I realized I wasn’t having those same moments with the people I worked with in my school. Being connected to a global PLN had taken the place of the local connections because somehow the exoticism of the global collaboration seemed like it would be more beneficial, yet this is not ture. Being connected does not just mean that you are connected globally; it also means that you nurture your local connections and include those people in your PLN. Sure, I have had incredible moments online with people I have never met, but I have also had that face-to-face with people I get to work with. Don’t dismiss the local just because it doesn’t seem as exciting.
You think there is a right way.
I used to think that all teachers should be on Twitter, and that they should blog, and that they should engage in a certain way with others because that is what was working for me. But that’s exactly it; those practices worked for me. Being a connected educator does not mean doing certain things or using certain tools. It means being connected, joining together with others. Whichever way you are doing it, is probably the right way for you.
You may become a target.
I was told once that I had a bullseye on my back because I chose to be connected. When I wrote about being bullied by a former colleague, I cannot tell you how many people reached out to me privately to share their stories. The biggest thing we had in common was the fact that we were connected educators putting our work into the world. That does not automatically mean that people who choose to connect will be targets within their districts, but it sure does offer up ammunition if needed.
Don’t take this post the wrong way, I love being a connected educator, but I am not a fool when it comes to the downfall of it all. I struggle with many of these things regularly and yet every time I run into something negative, I consciously reaffirm my decision to be connected. The positive outcomes will always outweigh the negative, but let’s not fool ourselves that being connected is always a magical thing. It can be, but it can also be hurtful, brutal, and time consuming. And yet, I wouldn’t go back to how I used to be; the benefits have simply been too great.