An Interview with Educator Lisa Nielsen

Widely published New York City Department of Education Director of Digital Literacy and Citizenship Lisa Nielsen, a.k.a InnovativeEdu,  loves to “keep it real.”  She shares great stories of connected educators moving mountains (virtual and otherwise), building stronger relationships with parents and other members of the school community, five simple steps to get more connected (#1 doesn’t involve computers at all), and more…


Q: If I were an unconnected colleague you wanted to get more involved in connected education, what is the first thing you would send me, show me, or do with me?

Unconnected colleagues are inspired by examples of educators creatively teaching and learning through Internet sites and applications.

Here are some of my favorites.

Q: How are schools using connected educator strategies to build relationships with the school community?  

Parent Coordinators at schools where I work are tasked with strengthening the home-school connection. I am able to help them do their jobs better by using platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Live Streaming.  

Here are some examples.

  • LiveStream
    Principal Nancy Amling at Hudson High School of Learning Technologies in Manhattan, N.Y., connects and coordinates with parents by using live-streaming services to provide the school community with a way to see right into her school even when they can’t be there. They are streaming activities like PTA meetings, morning announcements and more.
  • Twitter
    At The Kurt Hahn School Expeditionary Learning School in Brooklyn, N.Y., Principal Matt Brown goes around the school with his cellphone to catch teacher and student greatness. The feed goes right on the school website. Parent Coordinators can learn how to do this for their schools or support school administrators and teachers in doing so. 
  • Facebook
    Parent Coordinator Sara Cottone of P.S. 46 in Staten Island, N.Y., welcomes parents to “like” the Facebook page she created for them. The page is a terrific vehicle for sharing planning and logistics information as it pertained to a bus strike last year. It also was a godsend as one of the few ways parents could communicate during Superstorm Sandy. The page is also used to update parents on trips, school performances and other events like picture day. The page is interactive, too. Parents can use the page to comment, ask questions and find out information.

Q: What impact has connected education had on student achievement in your experience?  What impact do you think it can have?

Connected education is not just important for teachers. One of the most important things we can do for our students is teach them how being connected can help them achieve their academic and career goals. Just as social media is the 21st century Rolodex, a student’s digital footprint is their resume.  Both give students the power to get them into the school or job of their dreams, or…keep them from it.   

As Will Richardson notes, we need to think about how we will teach our students to be well googled. We also need to support their efforts to be well-connected so that they can achieve their personal success.  

This happens when we teach them strategies like how to connect with experts on Twitter, how to collaborate on projects using Google docs, how to build relationships with industry experts through meaningful blog comments, and how to effectively participate in a learning community in places like Facebook groups.

Q: What are some steps educators can take if they want to get more connected?

Educators just starting out on their connected journey can become intimidated by all the possibilities available to connected educators: “Twitter, and Facebook, and Blogging…OH MY!” It can be overwhelming.  I like to share a simple plan for educators to begin on their journey.  I call it the “5 C’s” for getting connected and I recommend educators start slowly and progress when ready.

  1. Consider: Consider your purpose. Once this is determined and stated, ideas on the best method to address this purpose can be discussed and sought after.
  2. Consume: Pick a platform or two and start reading. You may want to pick a blog or two to follow (see eSchool News 10 education blogs worth following); you may want to check out a learning group on Facebook (like The Innovative Educator) and see what sort of things people are sharing; find and follow a hashtag on Twitter that is aligned to your interests and take a look at who’s talking.
  3. Converse: Join the conversations. Comment on a blog. Reply to a Tweet, respond to a Facebook post.
  4. Create: Is there a blog with which you’ve spent time engaging? Consider writing a guest post. Is there a book or topic you love? Start a group in Facebook book or a community in Google+ and invite others to join.  Volunteer to be a guest in a relevant Twitter chat or Google Hangout related to your area of expertise.
  5. Celebrate: If you’ve made it all the way to 4, it’s time to sit back, reflect, and celebrate the learning and connections you’ve made.

Q: How is connected education particularly valuable for the educators with whom you work?

I’ve worked in leadership positions around digital literacy, citizenship, and innovation since the 90s. In most schools those who spearhead this work are librarians, tech coaches/teachers, parents, and forward thinking administrators.  The thing all these roles have in common is there is generally only one of them in a school building.  Being a connected educator means that educators holding these roles can connect with others around the world that share their passions and interests.

I suggest using Twitter to find these people using appropriate hashtags.  Simply type the hashtag in the Twitter search and select “People” to see who is using it and what they are saying.  Administrators can check out the people who are using #CPchat (connected principal), tech coaches/teachers can see who is using #edtech, teacher-librarians can check out #TLchat, parents can take a look at #PTchat.  There is a hashtag for every position you can think of in a school.  If you want to know what they are, check out Jerry Baumgarten’s curation site at

Q: What do you think should be happening in connected education that isn’t (yet)?

A key change that should be happening in connected education is that our leaders should be participating in and modeling these practices. The existence of connected educators means that leaders can be in touch like never before with those whom they are leading. They should be setting aside some time each day to build these relationships and let educators, parents, and students know that they hear what they have to say and are working to help them achieve success.  

This goes beyond just posting on a Facebook page or Twitter account.  It also means interacting with those whom are taking the time to connect.  It means leading real conversations and discussions in connected platforms and responding to what people have to say.  

There is currently very little of this happening by those in charge at a school level, district level or from those who hold policy making decisions such as local, state, and even national education secretaries and commissioners.  Those in charge must start hearing and interacting with the voices of those teachers, students, and parents who are taking the time to connect and share ideas.  

Know a connected educator like Lisa who has been helpful to you? Consider giving them a CEM badge to say thanks

"In most schools those who spearhead this work are librarians, tech coaches/teachers, parents, and forward thinking administrators. The thing all these roles have in common is there is generally only one of them in a school building. Being a connected educator means that educators holding these roles can connect with others around the world that share their passions and interests. "

About Educator Lisa Nielsen

Lisa Nielsen, author of Teaching Generation Text, is a seasoned public school educator and administrator. As Director of Digital Literacy and Citizenship for the New York City Department of Education, Nielsen encourages educators and administrators to support innovative and relevant learning that will engage students and prepare them for academic, career, and social success. 

She is passionate about supporting students to learning in real and innovative ways that prepare them for success. Her education philosophy is simply stated, “Keep it real. If it’s not clear how what we are teaching is relevant to a student’s life, don’t waste their time!”  She notes that she is fortunate to be able to do  that in my current role where she supports school staff and parents in ensuring students know how to use social media for success with college, career, and citizenship.

Lisa shared two videos which tell us a little more about her: My Bammily Tree – Lisa Nielsen  and Connecting School Life to Real Life