First Steps Toward Becoming a 21st Century Educator

Recently I was asked to write an article for the European Council of International Schools Shortcuts Newsletter about using web 2.0 tools to develop professional learning communities for international school teachers, at an introductory level. Having just finished giving a presentation on that very topic in Qatar, I, of course, had lots to say (not quite as eloquently as others, unfortunately).

As usual, I figured I would share it here… Though if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already developed your very own (and totally fabulous) PLN, so any advice or tips you can add would be greatly appreciated!

The 21st Century Educator: Embracing Web 2.0 Tools in Your Professional Practice

After working as an international school teacher for the past eight years, I am all too familiar with the isolation of teaching abroad – being the school’s only teacher of a certain class or grade level, having limited professional development opportunities compared to your home country, and being without a support network for feedback and inspiration.

However, all of that changed when I started to embrace web 2.0 tools in my professional practice. I went from isolated and alone to supported and inspired in just a few short months! The power of web 2.0 technologies to help me communicate, collaborate and connect with like-minded educators amazes and inspires me. In all honesty, I have learned more in the last year and a half than I had in the previous six and a half years combined.

The development of a personal learning network (or PLN) is absolutely essential for any successful 21st century educator. This interconnected network of learners whom you select based on interests, skills, or experience will soon become an integral part of your daily learning and thinking.

Here are a few tips and tricks to get started developing your own personal learning network:

Join a Social Network

We’ve all heard of MySpace and Facebook, and while those are great ways to connect with friends and colleagues, an even better place to start is a social network with a focus, like Ning. There are quite a few networks on Ning that center around teaching and learning. Here are a few of my favorites:

Set up an RSS Reader

Once you’ve gotten a taste of all the amazing work that is being done by educators around the world, you’ll most likely want to keep up with those teachers you find especially interesting or insightful. The best way to do that is using an RSS reader like Google Reader or Netvibes.

Once you’ve set it up, your RSS reader will aggregate all of the new posts on those fantastic blogs in one place – like an e-mail inbox for websites and blogs. Instead of scrambling around trying to find all the best new posts, just sit back and let them come to you! Another excellent development is the new “shared” feature in Google Reader, which brings all of your address book contacts’ favorite posts into one place in your RSS reader.

For those who prefer listening to reading, Apple’s iTunes Store provides perhaps the easiest way to download and listen to the huge selection of educational podcasts available online – for free, of course!

Attend Amazing Conferences (For Free!)

Over the past few years more and more conferences are either happening entirely online, or offering unrestricted content from physical conferences online, using web 2.0 tools. These conferences utilize social networks like Ning, blogs, wikis, podcasts and vodcasts as a format for presenters to share their work.

Instead of requiring attendees to physically fly to a central location, all presentations are posted in a central place – available anytime, anywhere – for free! Not only is this a great way to learn about new techniques for your 21st century classroom, but you can also see a wide variety of web 2.0 tools in practice. Here are a few highlights for the upcoming school year:

Become a Blogger (and a Twitterer)

Once you’ve gotten an idea of the web 2.0 world in education, you may want to add your voice to the mix. Everyone has something different to offer and there is an audience for every author in the demographic “Long Tail” of global education. In order to really bring your network together, you will need to share your own thoughts and learnings with your PLN.

Blogs and Twitter go hand in hand. A blog is the perfect space for thoughtful reflection, a place to connect your learning and create something new. Twitter is a powerful tool for sharing quick snippets of your thinking, for connecting with others, and for widening your information consumption a little bit at a time.

Develop Personal Connections

There are many free, web-based tools to help you connect with your PLN through video or audio chatting. Many expats already take advantage of the free, and very easy to use VoIP provider, Skype, but there are many more ways to connect to your network. A venture into Second Life could be a great way to meet more teachers and explore new potential teaching tools. Services like FlashMeeting, WizIQ and Elluminate offer comprehensive options for teaching and learning together – with your PLN, and potentially with your classes.

Embracing the power of web 2.0 is as simple as having an open mind and a sense of adventure. There is more to see, hear and experience than one person could ever consume. Take a look around, you’re guaranteed to find exactly what you need, right when you need it!

Note: Of course as soon as I sent the article off, I realized I had forgotten a few key things like social bookmarking, and some helpful books I read before I started. What else am I missing?

Tags: 21stcentury, internationalschool, 21st century literacy, technology, curriculum, development, professional development, training, web2, teachers, ECIS, Shortcuts, PLN, network,

17 thoughts on “First Steps Toward Becoming a 21st Century Educator

  1. Kim,
    This post is timely for me. My NECC group is meeting up this week and I think one of our challenges will be making social networking accessible for newbies since we’ve been sipping the Kool-Aid for a while now. Thanks for these baby steps to get me thinking in those directions again. I think you gave just enough info– enough to stretch without overwhelming your intended audience.

  2. Kim:

    You already noted my one addition, which is the tie in between blogs, twitter, and delicious, all linked through RSS. All three allow for connections and communication between like-minded (and sometimes not-so-like-minded) individuals. It continues to amaze me how “conversations” spill over between what I see my network bookmarking, what they are twittering about, and what one reads in blogs.

  3. Blogging…would you rather…have your staff read blogs or keep their own?

    What’s your first move?

    Perhaps the answer is obvious…but my experience tends to suggest otherwise.

    Oh, precious time, you are an amazing preventer of PLN advancement.

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  7. My experience has been EXACTLY as you write and describe. Thank you for your very helpful post. I have linked this post for people with whom I work to think of it as a “walk-through guide to enter the 21st Century.”

    The fruit is there for the picking. You just have to reach out and stretch a little.

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  9. Susan,

    Thanks! It’s always difficult to strike that balance of interesting enough for people who know a little, but not overwhelming for those that are new. I’m glad this was on target!


    I totally agree – I think the real power in all of these tools is the combination of all of them together. That’s when you really get an idea of what’s important and you can really work together with a wider network to push your thinking forward.


    I think you need to read blogs before you start to keep your own, but that’s just my feeling. I think part of blogging is reading (and commenting) on others. Without that it’s just a journal. But, in some cases, even though teachers might not be getting the full effects of blogging, it makes sense to just start them on their own blog. In the end, I guess it also has to do with personality types. Some people benefit from experimenting on their own, others like to lurk. I try to meet my teachers where they’re at, rather than force a standard on them.


    Thanks! Glad to hear I’m on track here! I love your fruit analogy – so true!

  10. Hi Kim,
    Thank you for this splendid guide Post. I’ll show it to my colleagues in school, I couldn’t explain better to them what to become a 21st century teacher is all about.

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  12. Kim,
    Your blog is very enlightening and has helped me to better understand the steps needed to becoming a 21st century teacher. I am beginning to emerse myself in many of the web 2.0 tools and beginning to introduce my staff to small tools. It will be quite a journey. Thank you for sharing your expertise in the field. I look forward to learning more from you!

  13. Thanks Kim
    Succinct, sensible, achievable.

    I will test your suggestions with the willing at work. Having jumped in the deep end 3 months ago, I am now confident enough to help them with your suggestions. I’ll let you know what they thought of it all.
    Web2.0 the Best Learning since sliced bread…..

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  15. Kim,

    Thank you so much for your blog. Am I very new to the world of technology but feel it is so important in a teaching environment in this day and age. Your blog gave me the baby steps I needed to further understand what I am doing. Without your help, I feel I would be going at this new journey completely blind. Thank you again for sharing your experiences.

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