Commitment is good. Connections are better.


Teaching | Thursday, February 2, 2017

Commitment is good. Connections are better.

We can go far when we're committed, but our limitations stop us. We're unstoppable when we're connected. (Public domain image via Canva)

We can go far when we’re committed, but our limitations stop us. We’re unstoppable when we’re connected. (Public domain image via Canva)

Inspiration seems to strike when we don’t expect it, doesn’t it?

I was listening to the radio recently and during a commercial break, they played an excerpt of a speech that stopped me in my tracks.

The speaker, Levi Lusko, dropped this line, this knowledge bomb, and immediately I knew I liked it.

“Commitment is good. Connections are better.”

At first, I wasn’t totally sure why I liked it, but as that statement rattled around in my brain all day, I really started to love it.

Here’s why:

1. As a new teacher, I was pretty isolated. I was teaching high school Spanish at a tiny rural high school in west central Indiana, and I was the only world languages teacher in the whole district. The only one. (There was one benefit — it made department meetings really easy.)

But as a new teacher, it put me at a distinct disadvantage. I had changed careers quickly to education and did my pre-service student teaching experience in my own classroom, not paired with a master teacher. Plus, there were no seasoned veterans in my building or district to bounce ideas off and to ask for advice. There weren’t other new world language teachers to relate to and commiserate with on rough days. I had other teachers I could connect with, but no one seemed to really understand the plight of teaching sophomores irregular preterite verbs. My classroom — really, my school — felt like a silo in many ways. No windows, no contact to people who understood my situation. Disconnected. Isolated.

I finally made some connections and everything changed. I attended my state world language teacher conference and the connections to people and new ideas were like jet fuel for my lesson plans. I visited some classrooms in neighboring schools and got some of my tough questions answered (or at least got to talk about them).

Finding those connections helped me improve more in a year than all the previous years combined. It proved Levi Lusko’s statement. My commitment was there; I wanted to be a good teacher. But lacking certain skills and ideas, I was limited until I could get connected to them.

2. The term “connected educator” gets tossed around a lot these days. It describes one who has lots of connections to others and often refers to making those connections through social media and online.

The reach we have these days is unfathomable. We can hear and read about people who are passionate about new changes in their classrooms. We have access to experts and thought leaders whom we might otherwise hear from once in a lifetime.

To the resistant, I would say that this connected educator community is not just engaging in idle chatter. (OK, there is some of that sometimes.) Rather, what they’re discussing is meaningful and important. This is how education is changed: sharing and discussing new ideas far and wide, supporting others who want to get on board. It’s really something to see when good teaching and learning goes viral. In the end, students, schools and communities benefit.

Commitment is good. But when we share that commitment and recruit others to our big ideas, we are connected, and education changes when those ideas go viral.

3. The traditional way many have taught and learned is in isolation. Sit quietly and do your work. Sit quietly and listen to the teacher. Don’t figure out the answers together: that’s cheating.

The world is becoming more interconnected, and those connections are becoming more global. Now, students don’t have to rely only on what’s in a textbook, a library or the teacher’s mind. They can get virtually any question answered, and by virtually anyone on the planet.

Work isn’t done in a vacuum in the real world. Learning shouldn’t be either. Students need to know how to interact with each other internally and with others externally now more than ever. Those are the skills employers crave in new hires. If kids spend their school days solving small problems by themselves, how will they solve the world’s big problems with others?

Commitment is good, and it’s still a valuable asset. We have to be committed to something in our lives to provide a compass for our life’s meaning.

But connections are better. We are better together. It’s true: the smartest person in the room is the room.

I believe that if we want to see education become what the world truly needs it to be, it begins in individual classrooms. And when we get connected, sharing ideas and supporting each other, we can nudge the world a bit.

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  • Bonnie Campbell says:

    Commitment is good…unless the commitment involves self destruction. Members of terrorists groups commit themselves to a selfish ideology that destroys humanity.
    Connections are better…because people see themselves in others and realize the reality of another’s pain, peace, hope, and joy. Connections allow the committed teacher to see though the surface – color or culture – into the hidden heart of the student who struggles with life.

  • Caroline says:

    I totally agree with the quote: Committment is good, connections are better. I recently was quite disheartened with teaching and was considering leaving the profession after 15 years. An opportunity arose that saw me change schools and my passion was reinvigorated. In my new setting I realised the reason for my loss of passion was I had lost connection with colleagues. The staff had undergone a huge turnaround and the new staff weren’t interested in professional discussions unless it was to complain about student behaviour. What I was feeling was isolated. I now have many opportunities for professional discussion both at school and on Twitter and my Passion has returned.

  • Tammy Wood says:

    Very interesting – but I find it difficult to keep up with all the connections – time is a big deal. So, paperwork and “have too” consumes my time and there is little left over for those connections. I would like to see this change.

  • Chris C says:

    Matt, thanks for sharing this w/ us. A reminder that we are human & social. I read somewhere, maybe it was a tweet, that using tech in the classroom allows you to make connections with our kids. That is so true!

  • Saundra Pitt says:

    “As a new teacher, I was pretty isolated.”
    YES!! When I first began teaching 5th grade, the other two 5th grade teachers’ rooms were nowhere near mine. I was a late hire, and they had worked together for years. They were nice to me, and welcoming, but there was ZERO collaboration. 2 years later, one of the other 5th grade teachers and I relocated classrooms next door to each other– this made an AMAZING difference. We shared ideas, we team taught classes– we were actually a TEAM! We are still next door, and while I no longer teach 5th grade, we still collaborate a lot.

    I have never understood teachers that hesitate to share their awesome ideas. Why reinvent the wheel if someone has a great lesson? I have been fortunate in my new position (elementary STEM) to have several teachers in surrounding systems help me out. Often their lessons and ideas inspire my own, which I in turn share with them.

    Collaboration and Connections are a win-win in my book!

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