I was at a professional development conference in Beijing recently.  I had found my seat with the people I knew and then the inevitable happened, as always does at these types of things…the ice breaker/Getting-to-know-you, where we all had to find new seats.  We all know these activities and most of us probably use them in our classrooms,especially at the beginning of the year.  After finding my new seat and introducing myself, one of my new table mates looked at my name tag again and said, “Hey, you’re Brian. I was supposed to find you.” A little confused and slightly nervous, I ask why, and he says, “You know Nick (a former colleague). We used to teach together.” So we talked throughout the conference. We shared ideas and worked together to improve our own lessons. We added each other to social media to stay connected, and I have been following his posts on Twitter. Of course we sent Nick this photo:

Networking is as simple as a random encounter like this one or finding a group of like-minded people online. We all have our interests, and while sometimes we might feel like the only one who shares that interest in our everyday daily lives, ll we have to do is to turn to the internet to find a network of people. As stated in Living and Learning with New Media Report, Rather than simply messing around with local friends, geeking out involves developing an identity and pride as an expert and seeking fellow experts in far-flung networks. Geeking out is usually supported by interest-based groups, either local or online, or some hybrid of the two, where fellow geeks will both produce and exchange knowledge on their subjects of interest. Rather than purely “consuming” knowledge produced by authoritative sources, geeked out engagement involves accessing as well as producing knowledge to contribute to the knowledge network.

Dealing with and creating these networks and personal learning opportunities is how professionals improve themselves and get new and interesting ideas. As teachers, it is vitally important that we also allow students to engage in their interests while connecting those interests to their school work. According to Learning that Connects Educational institutions need to connect young people’s learning to their social lives, their communities, their interests and their careers.

This question was posed in Learning that Connects, which resonates with me. Young people are learning how to organize and how to collaborate online and outside of school. They’re learning complex technical skills, but they tend not to see that as learning that can be connected to schools or civic engagement. So, how do we, as educators, bring the research into educational practice and how can we best support our kids in their learning, given how much the environment outside the classroom has changed? What are we doing as teachers to help build these skills? There are so many different ways people can connect, communicate and create that teachers can’t possibly know and become experts in all of them, but we can help the students build the skills to navigate the complicated world we live in. People are inundated with technology on a daily basis it is important that the students have the skills to be able to use all of this information and technology in the most beneficial ways possible.

“When are you coming home?” is a question I always get from my friends and family in the U.S.  The answer is, “I’m not.” I have a built-in international network that I am constantly engaged with and learning from. As people come and go from one school to the next, the network gets larger and more interconnected. Actually, I found out about COETAIL through this network. Building this network has been valuable for gaining teaching strategies and improving my lessons, and but it has also helped me get feedback about school I might potentially apply to work for, such as the dynamics of the professional community and whether or not the school shares my teaching philosophy.