As we begin celebrating Connected Educator Month, it is important to recognize how empowering getting connected can be for many teachers. For some, they find fellow teachers with similar interests and passions. For others, they use social media to stay on top of education news, events and pedagogical trends and tips. And for more and more educators, getting connected helped them to find their voice and connect with other voices in dialogue. Over the past year, many educators have joined social media sites and found their voice not to share teaching tips or connect their classrooms, but to speak out against what they see as attacks on public education, schools and children.
For many, it began in February 2011 with the protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to dismantle the teachers union and it continued with the Save our Schools Rally on July 30, 2011 in Washington, D.C. (The #wiunion hashtag is still going strong.) Teachers began to follow the #saveourschools hashtag on Twitter and many joined Twitter in order to take part in the national conversation about saving public education as we know it. Educators began blogging, commenting and engaging in online discussions like never before. They began using social media to organize in their own cities and states using hashtags and by creating Twitter accounts. Right now, there are “Badass Teacher Association” groups in almost every state using Facebook to organize and connect.
Here in Philadelphia, educators, parents, students and lawmakers converge on the #phillyeducation hashtag to share stories, articles and images of the traumatic budget cuts affecting Philadelphia public schools. More and more Philadelphia educators are joining Twitter, creating blogs, commenting and contributing to national news organizations.
Through the use of social media, teachers across the country are able to connect and collaborate around national public education issues. They have also created a voice for U.S. teachers on a global scale, shining a light for international communities about the de-funding of public education and the failed education policies of both the Bush and Obama administrations. It is not uncommon for Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Diane Ravitch, Randi Weingarten and other high profile figures to be seen interacting with teachers through Twitter. Even the hashtag, #realedtalk, being used by StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s organization is full of tweets from a variety of educators criticizing the organization that founded the hashtag in the first place.
This is not to say that educators are not using social media to improve their teaching, to connect their classes across continents, to follow breaking news and share tips and articles. However, it is a mistake to overlook the impact that connecting has had for educators who have found their voice in the national dialogue around the future of public education. I’m not sure that what has been happening can be equated with the Arab Spring, but I would argue that, on a much smaller scale, educators have been using social media to self-organize and tell the story that is not being told by the media or politicians or the talking heads of education reform.
Mary Beth Hertz (@mbteach) is a K-8 technology teacher in Philadelphia. She has a master’s degree in instructional technology from St. Joseph’s University and is a prolific blogger and tweeter. She maintains a blog, blogs regularly for Edutopia and is a moderator for the weekly #edchat discussion on Twitter. She is also an organizer for Edcamp Philly and is the treasurer for the Edcamp Foundation.