Building Capacity for Connected Educators

Below is a summary of how connected educators volunteered “on a tweet” to stream into our school and provide a LIVE professional development opportunity for the Knapp staff.

@KnappElementary teachers participate in an interactive panel on what it means to be a connected educator.
@KnappElementary teachers participate in an interactive panel on what it means to be a connected educator.

As school leaders, it’s our responsibility to expose our learning communities to new ways of supporting each other, including resources that are both physical and human. As I learn from and share with educators all over the world, I’m constantly thinking of how to get more of my PLN’s expertise into my own school, supporting my own students. Earlier in the year we Skyped in 17 year-old Nikhil Goyal as our #KnappCamp back to school keynote, but this session would pull in the voice of the teacher.


As part of our staff In-Service Day, we budgeted time for some remote guests to join our conversations as “connected educator experts” as the @KnappElementary staff continues to build capacity in terms of becoming connected educators.

Earlier in the week, I sent out the tweet to the left. Minutes later, there were seven volunteers from my PLN willing to help out, even willing to sacrifice their prep time or get permission from their supervisor to lend a hand. —A prime example of the “Power of the PLN” happening everyday as educators on Twitter tirelessly support each other.

Our staff was made aware that the late morning professional development offering would be a Google Hangouts panel of connected educators from around the country of those using Twitter to learn and share – our next step as a staff in harnessing the tool.  Resources related to this experience can be found this recent Edutopia article by Ben Johnson on Using gHangouts for Teacher Development.


Overview for Hangout Presenters:

In the days leading up to the In-Service, we laid out the vision for those joining us remotely. We shared that, as a staff, many of our teachers regularly tweet from @KnappElementary – They post updates from classrooms, which is linked directly to our Knapp Facebook and Family Engagement Wiki.  Next steps in using Twitter and other connected tools for our own professional development would be the focus for this 45-minute panel. The gHangout presenters (below) would serve as our experts to inspire and encourage these next steps. As the principal, my staff can only hear my own “social media commercial” so many times, so leveraging the voice of other educators working in their shoes is vital.  Every teacher, leader and parent in today’s schools are at a different place in terms of their proficiency and understanding in using today’s most impactful social media tools.

gHangout Set-Up for Connected Educator Panel

Questions sent out ahead of time for the Google Hangout. We had 10 connected educators joining us on the Hangout, and some of them have been kind enough to include the perspectives they shared during our conversation for your information below. Next time, I’ll do a better job of hitting the record button on the LIVE session to embed the conversation here in the blog! The information and perspectives shared were very powerful, a great teaching tool for the unconnected and an affirmation of the power of social media for the connected. Some great insights from some connected educator trailblazers follow…


1) Please introduce yourself, your role working for kids and how long you have been a connected educator

EM = Elissa Malespina, @SOMSlibrary, Library Media Specialist – South Orange Middle School

MC: Marialice B.F.X. Curran, @mbfxc and I am an assistant professor at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, CT working with teacher candidates.  I’ve been connecting preservice teachers with virtual mentors through Twitter since 2011. 

MB: Melissa Butler, @Angelinashy, 6th-grade Language Arts teacher in a diverse school district in South Orange, NJ.  I have been a connected educator for a little over 2 years

TM: Thomas Murray, @thomascmurray, Director of Technology, Quakertown Community School District


2) Define connected educator

EM: A teacher who can go outside of the school building to find the resources they need. A unconnected educator goes and talks to the teacher down the hall for the answer. The connected educator goes to their PLN on Twitter and Facebook and Google Plus and finds the answer.

How do you do that? Most people would tell you to join Twitter and then go slowly and watch for a little bit, follow people, lurk. A real connected educator jumps in and adds content and gives backs and then people will follow you and you will start really building a PLN.

Many people join twitter and post “Hi- I am new to this – help.” But since no one is following them, they get no response and give up. If you join a weekly education chat, have a blog people follow or write an article for a publication, then people will follow you and when you ask that Hi I am new to this ? People will answer and then RT and get others to answer.

MC: I think being a connected educator means that you are open and willing to embrace change; it’s a mindset.  Being connected allows you to be a co-learner alongside your students as you break down the walls of your classroom and school to connect, collaborate, think critically and act creatively with other educators and students across the country and around the world via social media.

MB: You know that the world is changing…New and emerging Web technologies are connecting our children in ways never before seemed possible. Through blogs, social networking sites, and other Web 2.0 tools, their world is becoming more and more networked. Your students spend time every day in virtual environments.  But schools do not.  Schools have been resistant to these shifts. So I completely believe that to become a connected educator, you must first become a connected learner. Just remember…Kids today seem to have been born with chips in their heads. They’ve grown up with remote control everything, smart phones, constant communication, and instant access to information.  Therefore, I believe that connected learners collaborate online, use social media to interact with colleagues around the globe, engage in conversations in safe online spaces, and bring what they learn online back to their classrooms, schools, and districts.

TM: A connected educator is one with a personal learning network outside the confines of a traditional school hallway or school district.  Connected educators share resources, best practices, and help motivate and encourage, while challenging the thinking of those in their learning network.


3) How does being connected help your students, your staff and yourself?

EM: I have learned so so much from being a connected educator. Twitter and Pinterest are the best PD I have ever had. Better than all of the workshop I have sat in in my 10+ years as an educator! I have learned more in the last 2 + years then in all of my career. In the half hour – hour I spend looking at Twitter and Pnterest a day, I get lesson ideas, displays for my library, great apps, books for kids to read, amazing thought provoking articles to read, great website etc. And don’t get me started on the chats those are just an hour of mind blowingly good information about a topic from connected educators around the world.

MC: Developing my PLN has changed me both as a learner and as an educator.  The best example comes from a blog post in May 2011, High School Skype and Twitter Project Request where I was looking to collaborate with a high school teacher on creating a collaborative project on cyberbullying with my college freshmen.  Through blogging, Skype and Twitter we connected with Beth Sanders, @MsSandersTHS and her high school juniors in Birmingham, AL. Through social media we answered what it means to be a citizen nationally, globally and digitally in a multimedia presentation, #iCit21.  As a result of the iCitizen Project, her high school juniors hosted a #digcit chat on Twitter and we planned an iCitizenship Town Hall Meeting on our campus.  We gathered a panel of experts and livestreamed the event.  The Town Hall began with a Skype session to Birmingham and her high school students set the tone for being leading experts on iCitizenship.  The event generated over 800 tweets and reached Canada, Jordan and Australia.  More information on the iCitizen Project collaboration can be found here, iCitizen: Are You a Socially Responsible Digital Citizen? This collaboration was a life changer for me and has launched me into various projects connecting teacher candidates with other teachers and students around the world.

MB: I teach in an average school district, where technology is just beginning to emerge.  Twitter denies the confines of time, place and space. I am challenged, supported, questioned and answered.  My P.L.N. is

filled with experts in the field that teach me something valuable daily.  If it weren’t for Twitter, I would feel isolated within the 4 walls of my classroom.  Being connected has increased my networking substantially – I have been able to get to know a wide variety of educators from other states, regions,

and countries — many on a personal level.  It has also provided new ideas to inform my local practice — to use and to share with other local colleagues. 


4) Share one example where if you weren’t “connected” your lesson would not have been as successful.

EM: I can think of so so many but one that sticks out is Digital Learning Day. It was quickly approaching and I hadn’t really thought of a way to celebrate. Melissa and I go to Techspo Conference to present on Edmodo, which I learned about the conference from a post a Twitter and applied to present. At the conference I meet Thomas Murray the Director of Technology for Quakertown School District. He tell us that he is going to be in DC for the event and on the live town hall. He tell us he is willing to skype with our students from the event. He then Skypes with our students and they backchannel with him via todaysmeet. None of this would have happened if we were not connected educators.

TM: On Digital Learning Day, I Skyped with the schools of Shannon Miller (@shannonmmiller) in Iowa and Melissa Butler (@angelinashy) and Elissa Malespina (@SOMSlibrary) in New Jersey from the live Event in Washington, DC.  I was able to share with students what was going on during the day, as well as video of the Secretary

of Education, Arne Duncan, Governor Wise, and some of the lessons that were being modeled for educators around the world.  It was also incredible to meet members of my PLN @mrmacnology and @geraldaungst for the first time in person.  A connected network allowed my day to be filled with student interactions from across the country!


5) Share some of your favorite hashtags and why. Also, if you participate in any hashtag chats w/ day/time.


  • #tlchat – I am a librarian and this is an amazing chat every other monday feature rockstar librarians like Gwenth Jones, Shannon Miller, Joyce Valenza and Nikki Robinson. I learn so much from librarians around the world.
  • #satchat – Saturday morning at 7:30 (when I am up which is not every sat) I join in with teachers and admins to discuss a wide variety of topics. Very informative and thought provoking. It is where I meet Joe Maza
  • #njed – Tuesday nights – deals with tons of topics related to NJ education from teachers evaluations to ways to connect NJ educators.


  • I love following #digcit and the #youmatter hashtags, as well as #kinderchat, #1stchat, #2ndchat, #3rdchat, #4thchat, #5thchat and #6thchat.  My all-time favorite chat is #sschat and here’s a link to a blog post after #sschat, #sschat Reflection: Teaching What Matters Most.


  • I connected with @ThomascMurray via Twitter and met Mr. Murray at the Techspo conference 3 weeks ago.  We began chatting about Digital Learning Day and the endless possibilities for our students.  He is the director of technology and cyber learning for the Quakertown School district and their district was asked to come to Washington, DC for Digital Learning Day to showcase their school district’s integration of technology.  He arranged for my students to engage in a live Skype with him from DC, so my student could participate in the celebration virtually.
  • I also was just contacted by Edmodo via Twitter because of tweet I posted form Techspo about my presentation on Edmodo.  They asked me to begin blogging for them biweekly on how I integrate Edmodo into my classroom daily.  These two opportunities would have never happened without Twitter.  The professional opportunities are limitless.


6) Share folks to follow from various areas of education.



This is hard to narrow down since I follow 1,200 connected educators!  But my go-to tweeters are definitely @MsSandersTHS, @MrMusselman, @LLacrosse, @ncarroll24, @mr_avery, @plnaugle, @paulbogush, @jackiergerstein and my new favorite kindergarten tweeter is @LiveFromRoom5.  Without a doubt, you must follow @cybraryman1 – he knows everything about everything! 



7) Share strategies for how you manage social media. When do you access? What has it replaced for you in terms of your own professional development sources from the past?

EM:  At my school twitter is blocked so the only way to access it is from my cell phone. I do tweet during the day about things we are doing with our students but most of my access is at night. When I am home I access  twitter to chat with other and for PD. I also love the buffer app because it looks like I am tweeting through out the day but I am not I schedule my tweets and it then tweets for me.

MC: Twitter is like the ocean – it’s always there which means I can always visit.  Using HootSuite or TweetDeck, you can follow certain hashtags to keep up with the tweets you’ve missed.  Since I have developed my PLN, my interest in professional development opportunities has changed.  I prefer participant driven PD like #edcamps and #playdates rather than traditional PD. 

MB: I access Social Media 24/7.  I tweet from my class about what my students are engaged in almost daily.  Each night I access Twitter for professional development.  My world has changed.  The way look at it is, I wouldn’t want go to a doctor that is not up-to-date with the latest procedures, so why do I want my students coming into my class without me accessing the latest up-to-date best teaching practices.  I believe Twitter allows me to access these resources.

TM: Majority of what I do is from my iPhone.  Utilize the Twitter app.  On my computer, I use TweetDeck.  I’ll tweet and review at all ‘stalled’ portions of the day, especially.  Waiting in line, stuck in traffic, waiting for an appointment, or during times that just fit; such as a great experience with kids, something memorable, when a thought that I want to share runs through my mind, etc.


8) Anything else you want to share.

EM: Twitter has changed my life. I get asked to present at conferences via Twitter. I get asked to be interviewed for blogs and news articles because of Twitter. I have had news articles written about me based solely on a tweet that I wrote. I have meet and gotten to know so many great people because of it. And I  learn so much every day.

Brad Currie just posted this Twitter Regiment in his blog and I love it. Does a great job summing up what you should do to become a connected educator:

MC: Don’t be intimidated.  Find someone you like and respect on Twitter, look at who they are following and start reading Twitter bios – this is how you’ll start creating your own PLN.  Look atCybraryman’s Educational Chats on Twiiter and check out some archives of previous chats and you’ll see the value of being a connected educator immediately!  Also remember that Twitter is all about give and take and you need to give as much as you take!

MB: Twitter allows me to broaden my school district.  I have access to other educators around the world with the same struggles and triumphs.  Together we are able to collaborate to make my learning environment the best possible.

TM:  Staff will quickly realize that they do not have time to NOT be a connected educator.  Education is moving too quickly to try and go at it alone.  Tap into your learning network for support, encouragement, and to share the incredible things that you’re doing!  There’s a team of educators out there waiting.  Will you join them/me?

From: Jerrry Blumengarten @cybraryman1 Sorry I got in late to the hangout (I got sidetracked helping a member of my PLN – Personal Learning Network) but I enjoyed helping your staff learn from us.  I feel that every educator or anyone interested in education should join us on Twitter.  We are a global network of passionate educators, parents and students trying to make a difference in education.  I love the fact that we are able to connect to learn, share and collaborate with one another.


Special thanks to those educators mentioned who volunteered their time and expertise to help my staff think deeper on the benefits of becoming a connected educator.


  1. wow! thanks for that tremendous write-up. I really liked it towards the core. Hope you keep putting up this kind of awesome content

    March 3, 2013
  2. DR said:

    I’m curious about the word, “inservice.” That term was used in the last century and even then if was not understood. What does “inservice” mean to you? Is the opposite “outservice?” If so, what does that mean?
    I’m also wondering about another word – professional development. In 2013 we are all focusing on professional LEARNING – not inservice, not training, not pd, but professional LEARNING.
    It may seem like “only a word” but I’m wondering what message it sends.
    Yes, 2.0 tools expand the many possibilities and that is exciting but our goal continues to be to increase educator effectiveness. As we explore both online and f2f learning, let’s remember to focus on the WHY (what is our purpose), then identify the WHAT (academic content, tech tools, collaboration, leadership, teacher evaluation, character education – whatever is happening for the educators in your world!) and then we will design learning (HOW) that STICKS!! Learning Happens!!
    Your thoughts?

    March 4, 2013
    • Joe Mazza said:

      Hi DR: Thanks for writing. The word In Service means something different to all of us depending on where we work and the culture of “professional development” offered. Our aim is to teach teachers how of fish instead and flipping the default on traditional or as you call it, last century’s PD. As leaders, it’s up to us to expose educators, parents, student and admin of the possibilities out there in 2013.

      March 4, 2013
  3. BJ McCabe said:

    I enjoyed reading this Joe. I officially became a connected educator about 3 months ago and love it. I’ve mostly been observing some of the chats mentioned above, but after reading his I’m going to try to participate in them more often.

    Thanks again!

    March 7, 2013
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    August 27, 2013
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  6. Veronica Pena said:

    What a great compilation of expert words uniting in opinion on the promotion of a PLN. As I look to start a PLN in my school this shows a lot of helpful information. To see the support that gathered within minutes shows the power of being connected. The hours it takes to search solo for good resources on your own course is blown out of the water with a PLN resource. I plan to start one within the school I teach at but one day I’m sure it will grow beyond our walls.

    June 25, 2017

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