Connected Teachers

3 mins reading

When I was an undergraduate student I once visited a lecturer in their office to ask a question. I don’t remember what the question was, but I do remember walking away without an answer (or at least a sufficient one) and, more importantly, with the distinct feeling that my enquiry hadn’t been welcome. I don’t recall exactly what was said, but the sentiment expressed and felt was that I had no place intruding with a question at all.

This person wasn’t a monster. In fact, I recall this lecturer being very open to friendly conversation with me after I became a sessional tutor 3 years later. They are long since retired now and wouldn’t likely have remembered that early encounter by the time I was a colleague anyway. Nonetheless, it’s significant that I do remember this experience from my days as a student.

Photo by MAGNIFIC EYE on Unsplash
Photo by MAGNIFIC EYE (free use via Unsplash)

The individual I’m writing of here was a particularly dynamic lecturer whose stellar performance was likely as much a draw card for lecturer attendance than the subject matter. But it’s noteworthy – and perhaps fitting – that it’s taken me a lot of mental searching over the past 24 hours to actually recall this person’s name. While I didn’t think of it at the time, this teacher was clearly not connected to their students.

Previous posts I’ve written about making teacher-generated content and building a professional-personal learning network have developed the idea of ‘connection’ as a running, multi-faceted theme. When I shared the video work of Nicolas Gaube as an examplar in a blog about being visible, he revealed that not only is he more connected to peers across the globe, but also his students…

Being connected to your students doesn’t mean being friends with your students. The behaviour of those who fall on the wrong side of that fence can be counter-productive to student learning and generally disconcerting (there are plenty of cases where teachers ceased to be teachers because of this, including some I’ve witnessed firsthand).

Likewise, being connected to students doesn’t mean always being available, but in some cases it might mean being more available. While I haven’t taught in the secondary school setting myself, I dare say things have changed quite a bit in terms of the times that many teachers are in contact with learners. I never knew my high school teachers’ email addresses (if they had one), and the image of one sitting at a computer would never have crossed my mind…

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash.jpg
Photo by Christin Hume (free use via Unsplash)

I’ve witnessed lecturer complaints about getting a large number of emails from university students on many an occasion, though there are solutions. If you’re getting a large number of repetitive queries, then you might need to be doing something different, such as providing more readily accessible information to answer the FAQs before they become FAQs. (And of course if you’re a teacher who dislikes being contacted by students generally, you might need to do some soul searching).

As a teacher who uses various social media channels for student learning, I’m sure most people assume I spend a lot more time online than I do. My reflections elsewhere on the frustrations of using discussion boards and the much greater efficiency of a platform like Twitter allude to the more extensive and deeper connections between students, their peers, and their teachers that can ensue outside an institutionally-provided framework. Imagine the difference between a Week 1 discussion forum post and an intro video by a student reaching out for connection…

The demands of being visible and connected aren’t always easy to negotiate, but shunning the opportunities to better connect will only exacerbate the problem, for all involved. Ongoing transformations in the digital learning arena are seeing more and more options being explored, and connected teachers will remain a pivotal feature of effective strategies. In other words, connected teachers will always be part of the solution.

If the lecturer with whom I began this post was online I would still connect with them, if I could only remember their name…


Featured image: Photo by Sourabh Barua (free use via Unsplash)

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