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Gaining confidence through connectedness

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Confidence, as an educator, is something that is not a skill to be taught. It is not a method to be memorized. It is an attitude. It is a state of mind. It is also elusive to many educators. How do we foster confidence? How do we enable educators to be confident in their profession?

To answer the question of confidence, I rely on my understanding of what I know of my own struggles with confidence. I am only confident in areas that I have a proven knowledge of the subject. I think most people are like that. If one has an understanding of any given subject, then it is easy to speak out on it. Teachers are confident in their subject areas because they have been well versed in the specifics of their subject.

Of course there are exceptions. I find many English teachers are lacking confidence in the area of grammar for instance. Since they lack confidence, they are less likely to emphasize grammar in their teaching, causing their students to be less than confident in grammar as well. And so, the cycle begins. Consequently, we have great number of people hesitant about putting their thoughts in print, fearful of ridicule for grammatical errors. Spelling is another area where many lack confidence. Thank goodness for spellcheck, but that is not grammatical, and a whole other story.

I imagine that every subject area has some aspects that teachers lack the confidence to teach well. This lack the confidence may prevent them from delving deeply into it with their students.

I think the same principles may apply to education as a subject as well. Some teachers may lack confidence as educators to delve deeply into their own profession. That not only has a negative effect on what they need to be doing for success in the classroom of today, but it retards the possibility of innovation in education altogether. Educators lacking confidence in what they are doing will never venture beyond that which they know. Well, that doesn’t bode well for the paradigm shift for which we have all been waiting.

Knowledge is the key to confidence for me. I would like to think that is universal. It would then stand to reason that with knowledge comes confidence. As educators we come equipped with knowledge of our profession from our teacher preparation courses. We are equipped with knowledge about our subject areas from our academic courses. As we began our careers we were confident in our knowledge but we lacked confidence in our experience. Time enabled that experience confidence to secure itself.

As time goes on change begins to become more and more evident. The very things that we were confident about before may be different today. The knowledge that we had may no longer be applicable for today. Methods that we confidently depended on may no longer apply to a culture that has changed by time. While time is an ally of experience, it is the enemy of relevance.

Technology may provide a fix for educators if they are willing to invest some time and effort for the sake of their profession. Some schools have a supportive culture with supportive staff and supportive administrators and progressive, ongoing professional development, and unlimited funding for the latest advances in technological tools for learning. If you are not in one of those schools, however, you need to connect with people who can offer some element of that support. With that connection, you will be exposed to the knowledge in any area needed that will provide the confidence to move forward. The number of connected educators available today offers a virtual cornucopia of knowledge in almost any subject imaginable to those who are connected. The number of connected educators far outnumbers the educators in your building, district, state or region of the country.

Connected educators are a global connection. Connected educators without the impediments of time or space may access boundless sources.

Now here is the rub. Too many educators lack the confidence to try getting connected because they lack the knowledge about how to do it. Some will need to be led by those with confidence to take them there. This requires leaders to be confident. How many school districts have administrators who are the leaders — confident and knowledgeable to lead their schools to connectedness? Maybe teachers need to take the lead here. The Internet does not recognize titles. As we must do with English teachers and grammar, we need to break this cycle. Leaders need to overcome their lack of confidence in the area of technology to lead educators to connect. Teachers may need to step up to lead administrators to connectedness.

If we can get our educators communicating, collaborating and creating collectively, we will increase our knowledge about our profession. We will become more relevant in a technology-driven culture. We will be more confident in the face of mounting opposition driven by business and politics. All of this is possible as we individualize or personalize our learning with professional learning networks. How do we enable educators to be confident in their profession? It all begins with a tweet.

Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He previously spent 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.