Trying to lead big change sometimes takes small steps. Or at least that's what the U.S. Department of Education appears to be counting on with last week's announcement of August as the first ever "Connected Educator Month."
The month will begin with a two-day online conference centered around the big, technology-driven change the Education Department is pushing for in teaching and learning. But the initiative is really designed to be a "nudge to get over the edge" for teachers who, for whatever reason, have shied away from connecting virtually and in-person with professional colleagues, said Darren Cambridge, a senior consultant with the American Institutes for Research, which is leading the larger Connected Educators initiative with funding from the ED.
"These things, if you haven't actually experienced them can seem (like) complicated, techy stuff," Cambridge said in an interview here at ISTE 2012 in San Diego. "But really, a lot of this is much easier than I think a lot of teachers and other educators think that it is."
The month, which fits within the larger, roughly 18-month-old Connected Educators initiative, will also feature live virtual community open houses designed to connect teachers and administrators to solve common problems in their particular educational niche, contests for the best solutions to those challenges, and the launch of a new series of badges awarded to participating educators.
Karen Cator, the director of the ED's office of education technology, said the response has been far more enthusiastic than expected, perhaps because it already fits in with a culture many educators are trying to launch independently.
"I think there are so many people that see themselves in this kind of initiative," Cator said in an interview. "So many people are already doing things, so it's not a heavy lift. It's just an opportunity to spotlight what they're doing, maybe to try something new that month, maybe to get people more aware of what's happening in their community, connected across communities."