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Messages from the Field: What Connected Educators Mean for School Acceptable-Use Policies

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Note: Today's guest post was written by Christopher Rogers. Christopher is currently a Media & Technology Specialist at a K-8 independent school in Philadelphia. Find him on Twitter at @edinterwebs.

I'm fresh into my education career. After transplanting from a business degree into education, it wasn't until finishing my M.S.Ed that I felt dignified enough to be known as an educator. Now, two months into my new position as a Media & Technology Specialist, I'm grateful for the personal learning network I have built (and continue to expand!) through greatly utilizing social technology like Twitter and other connected educator communities These online places keep me sharp on emerging trends and research on technology in the classroom, expose me to new tools for creating dynamic learning experiences, and allow me to seize the opportunity to contact an experienced public seeking advice and feedback.

Working within a small school, the advice and feedback piece becomes critical when there are questions (even worse, device issues!) that I can't readily answer or solve. I trust educators before a Google search. I was surprised, though, when perusing the faculty handbook that the school's policy (set in 2006) forbid me from using social media during school hours. Upon reading it, I immediately wished that we had a policy set that encouraged us to connect for a variety of means, rather than question our intentions. So many opportunities stand in front of us as educators, and I look forward to seeing the effects that our full-scale technology integration will have on this aging policy.

October is Connected Educator Month and there are guides being placed all around the web about the potential of social networking for educators. My personal favorite was posted on the MindShift blog: How to Use Twitter in Your Teaching Practice. This resource curates a number of links advocating the use of Twitter by teachers in connection with students for learning and networking. Other communities in which I continually participate include the National Writing Project's Digital-Is Community and the Educator Innovator Network. Most of their work draws parallels to the MacArthur Foundation funded Connected Learning initiative which seeks to "revitalize the educational process by forging links between students' academic studies, their personal passions, and opportunities to engage with peers who support and share their interests." A newly released short video gives a great visualization of this concept.

The presence of such widely recommended strategies emphasizes a new agenda for school administrators to rework fearful acceptable use policies and school filters that at least,mitigate or evenr block educators from being able to reach and engage with other educators and timely resources through online networks such as Twitter. Let's rework the widely-accepted idea that social media has no space in the classroom. With so many schools still implementing web filters that are so strict to not allow video, we have to recognize the ways in which our disconnect can build walls between curricular and professional development needs, negating the treasures that are freely available through online networks.

So as much as the focus of Connected Educator Month is about the educators themselves, we must not forget the responsibility of school and district-level administrators to enable such magnificent growth and learning for teachers by unlocking (and then encouraging) the development of personal learning networks for on-demand professional development and connecting (locally AND globally) through online teacher communities. I advocate for teachers and administrators to revisit their tech policies within their handbooks. Does it reflect the current way in which your school community utilizes technology? Does it provide principles towards responsible and safe use? How can we begin that conversation to a more forward-thinking standard?

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