An Interview with Educator Stephanie Sandifer

One of the heroes of CEM 2012, Stephanie shares how she uses her connectedness to save time, the best ways for less-connected educators to get started (and realize immediate benefits), how to give to get, and more…


Q:  What do you say to educators who say they don’t have time to be more connected?

This can be a sensitive issue because this really involves addressing priorities in one’s own professional learning.  I believe that for many of us who consider ourselves “connected educators,” we came into this without knowing that this is what we were establishing.  Many of us just started blogging as a way to share ideas, ask questions, and build knowledge with others.  Over time we found ourselves connecting with a wide range of other educators from around the world, and some of us realized that these connections provided so many benefits to our work and our professional learning experiences.  When I came to this realization I made the conscious decision to continue the activities and behaviors that allow me to be connected to others at this level. 

When I speak to other non-connected educators about this and I do hear the response about not having the time to connect, I try to give them tips for getting started in small steps.  It isn’t necessary to dive into writing lengthy blog posts on a daily basis or hanging out on Twitter all day long.  The best way to begin is to start by allowing for 15 minutes each week to scan a Twitter feed (after creating an account and following people) and interacting with other educators through that resource.

In addition to giving them an easy-to-do tip, I also try to appeal to their need for just-in-time information and help beyond their immediate department or grade level team.  I might demonstrate how I use Twitter (even within just a 15 minute period) to ask a specific question about a current work dilemma and receive responses from the people that follow me.   I may also demonstrate how to use Twitter as a search engine to find current links and resources on certain topics related to current work activities.   This helps them see that 1) it doesn’t take very much time to gather information in this manner and 2) that Twitter (and other social media tools such as Facebook and Pinterest) can be very useful for more than just personal connections with family and friends.

Q: What are the keys to making connectedness worth the time, even a time-saver rather than a time-sink?

My strategies for making connectedness worth my time and a time-saver include:

Posting direct questions to my PLN (Personal Learning Network) at the same time that I begin any online search for information.  In many cases this reduces the amount of time I spend doing research on a topic and often allows me to find solutions faster than by only doing online searches.

Limiting the amount of time “browsing” with no specific focus.  This means that I don’t spend hours watching the Twitter feed.  I jump in and out of the Twitter feed for short periods of time, “favorite” any tweets that look interesting or relevant to the work at hand, and then take time later, when I am in research mode, going back to those “favorite” tweets to explore those resources in more depth.

I use my RSS reader to browse through recent blog posts of the blogs I follow.  I will open relevant posts into new tabs and look at each one individually after I have skimmed all new posts in the RSS reader.  I also make use of the “Mark All As Read” if I have neglected skimming the RSS feeds for several days.

For some projects I may also put together a basic shared doc or wiki page and then share it out with my PLN to invite others to join in collaborative knowledge development.  This is especially useful when trying to gather many different ideas or resources as quickly as possible.  By sharing it out through a shared document or shared wiki page, I am also giving it back to the community as a new resource developed through collaboration.

Q: What do you see as the obligations of a connected educator?  What contributions do you feel you need to make, and what do you get in return?

Personally I see the obligations of a connected educator as being willing to give back to the community freely and as frequently as possible.  I recognize that not everyone can give back every day, and even my own “giving” activity is sporadic, but we should be making efforts to give back as much as we gain from being connected and being part of a larger Personal Learning Network. 

This giving can be done in many different ways and I think each of us gives back in ways in which we are most comfortable.  My contributions include blogging about resources, sharing notes from learning experiences, sharing my session materials freely during and after all face-to-face and online presentations, and by sharing links via Twitter to a wide variety of resources or current news items that I find interesting and relevant to my work.

In return, I feel that I get back similar resources from my PLN and I also gain a growing number of new connections as other educators find my contributions relevant or useful to their work.  Growing those connections isn’t my primary goal, but it is an added benefit because as those connections grow so do my opportunities to meet interesting people and learn more from them.

Q: Why should other schools, districts, and states actively support connected education?

I think it’s critically important that leaders at all levels begin to recognize the value of connected education, and it is equally important that they provide the leadership necessary to help all educators and students become more connected. 

When educators become connected, they bring additional value to their position in the learning environment.  We have seen a movement towards more collaboration among educators on our campuses, but when one or more of those educators becomes “connected” and develops their own PLN, then the campus-level team benefits from the new connection to additional people and resources that can better inform the work of the team.   I describe this as having access to a collective intelligence or an external brain.  We should be cultivating access to this collective intelligence on all campuses by increasing the number of connected educators in all schools.

When educators become connected, the students benefit as well.  Connected educators become exposed to a wider variety of resources, methods, and strategies for enhancing and improving the learning environment and the learning experience for all students.  Connected educators also begin to see value in creating learning experiences that are built on connectedness and this will translate into the creation of a more connected learning environment where students will begin to communicate, collaborate, and create new knowledge with peers around the world.  This global connectedness will increasingly become an essential workplace skill as it allows the individual to tap into a global connected knowledge-base (made up of their peers) and access just-in-time learning or information relevant to current work.


Q: How do you feel connected education will benefit/change education in the next five years?

Connected Education has the potential to make learning much more engaging and more meaningful for all learners, including the adult learners, in a variety of ways.   When we create connected learning communities at all levels from the district offices down to each classroom we are increasing the opportunity for learners to access the information they need at the moment they need it while building a network of peers with whom they can learn with throughout the year. 

As more educators experience this in their own work and their own learning they will begin to understand how powerful this can be for their students, and they will increasingly demand that districts provide the infrastructure and the tools to enable more connected learning on all campuses.  This is already beginning to happen in many schools and districts at a grassroots level with individual educators, but we will begin to see the impact on a larger scale as districts learn to create connected learning communities for professional learning.  This will create a model for those educators who have not yet discovered the value of becoming connected.  As more teachers experience connected learning through a district level connected community, they will become models for their students as they begin to transform the learning experiences in their own classrooms.  This transformation will empower teachers and students to take more ownership of their learning journeys, and in time I believe we will see that this does more to achieve our goals for student achievement much more effectively than our current methods.

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

"When we create connected learning communities at all levels from the district offices down to each classroom we are increasing the opportunity for learners to access the information they need at the moment they need it while building a network of peers with whom they can learn with throughout the year."

About Educator Stephanie Sandifer

Stephanie Sandifer is an educator in Houston with nearly 20 years of experience educating children and adults at all levels, including leadership roles that encompass a wide range of school administration and curriculum/instructional leadership functions. She is the creator of the Change Agency blog, and author of Wikis for School Leaders,  Wikified Schools, and co-author of the chapter on wikis in What school administrators need to know about digital technologies and social media. In the spirit of giving back, Stephanie serves on the Advisory Boards of A+ Unlimited Potential (A+UP), an innovative middle school located in the Houston Museum District, and the SXSWedu Conference.