Growing Connections and Leaders — Technology and Beyond

A view from the convention center.

As an educational technology faculty member attending the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference, I enjoy the opportunity to meet with lots of colleagues and friends. More interestingly, at these events I always come face-to-face, for the first time, with a number of people with whom I’ve previously connected via personal learning networks, LinkedInTwitter, blogs, and even via old-fashioned listservs.

While it’s always a joy to meet and greet these people, I am always aware that dozens more connected friends and colleagues are probably attending any given conference — I just haven’t met them yet. Today, in fact, I sat down at a table to eat lunch, looked at the woman across the table, noticed how familiar she looked, and realized that she and I are  Twitter followers.

It wasn’t always like this! More than 20 years ago, when I received my first email account, I desperately wanted to meet other teachers who were online.

Oh, I’d meet one here and another one there via electronic mail, but it seemed more like luck than anything else when I bumped into another educator. My husband, then a doctoral student at the University of Michigan (an institution well-known for expanding the limits of electronic communication and networking), suggested that I visit a few places where teachers might go (remember this was BEFORE the world wide web), try to identify a few colleagues, and find reasons to interact with them more than once.

I discovered three teaching colleagues, one in Australia, another in Florida, and a third, an independent school librarian in Boston. With these three I mused — via e-mail communication — how we might find a way to connect ourselves with fellow educators.

Now if you know anything about librarians you understand how really, really good they are at connecting things — information being only one focus of their enthusiasm. Librarians were the original networkers, connecting us in all sorts of ways when the Internet was barely a gleam in the eyes of the folks at Arpanet.

Ellen, the librarian, took the idea and went into action. She called around until she found a small Internet vendor who agreed to host a list for free. She collected some of the original user agreements, welcome statements, and FAQ’s so we could look them over and write our own. And, with me as a helper, she moved heaven and earth to start the Independent School Educators’ Listserv (ISED-L) with the two of us as moderators. We sent out an introductory message on a cold, northeast winter weekend, receiving more than 50 independent school educator subscriptions by Sunday night. Before long the listserv had hundreds of subscribers from around the world, and eventually it connected with thousands more via school networks. It remains that way today, more than 18 years later.

I could go on and on sharing stories about ISED and the colleagues whom I’ve met, admired, and worked with over the years. Moderators have changed, Ellen passed away, and the listserv almost shut down twice but didn’t because the users told us not to close up. But in all these years, it has never, ever, stopped connecting people, even as Twitter, Facebook, and personal learning networks have sped networking up to warp speed.

Most important, however, is the window on the teaching profession that the listserv has provided — so evident at a conference like this one. As a veteran teacher, I’ve come to realize how this ISED window ensured that I developed my teaching and technology skills, helped connect me with information that I needed, developed my networking acumen, and enabled me to observe the emergence of technology leaders over the years. Even more exciting, today I am watching a new generation of young leaders, focusing less on technology and more on the demands and opportunities 21st Century learning.

This morning, after a large keynote session, I ran into a younger technology colleague who joined the ISED listserv years ago. While I’ve known who he was, I only met him face-to-face 12 months ago. Today he’s an administrator, responsible not for tech — though I can’t imagine that he doesn’t keep a seasoned eye on that area — but also for developing a vision for a new campus that will provide all sorts of 21st Century learning opportunities for students. I’ve watched his posts and read his contributions for years on the listserv and on other networking platforms. I know he’s going to do a remarkable job.

To think that ISED-L window lets me observe, time and time again, the entire teaching and learning process!

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