International teachers need connections to like-minded people, just like people “back home” do, it’s just that our pool of available people is much smaller. It can sometimes be difficult to find groups or individuals who share common interests, so building a network of people throughout the world can ease isolation and loneliness. Moreover, using social media serves as a profound way to validating our professional practice as international educators, especially when your current school lacks that type of community or support.
I have been asked many times during the last 15 months of my COETAIL journey why I am going through this process and what I am learning. My answer is simple, it is not just about staying abreast of the latest technology (although that is an important benefit of the program). The most important things I that I’ve gotten from the COETAIL experience have been: to break out of my lurkurdom, to publicly share and articulate what I am doing within my teaching practice, and to learn and be inspired by others around the world.
The connections and networks built during this process have allowed me to share my ideas and growth as an educator in ways I was not previously confident about doing. Without COETAIL, I probably would not have even started a Twitter account because I’m rather shy and somewhat nervous about online privacy. What I realized through this process is that I actually have the ability to positively shape my online footprint. (Read a post about it.)
The skills I have learned in COETAIL have had direct benefits to myself and those around me. The connectivism concept of learning works over short distances also. When learning to create infographics for Course 3 final project, I showed my wife how to create them. She took the idea and ran with it by creating several for a certification she was working on, which she shared with her PLN and were retweeted by experts in her field.
Networks and connections are amazing sometimes. This photo appeared on the Search Associates Facebook page after the London Job Fair unbeknownst to my wife and I. I only found out about when Facebook told me a friend liked it. I haven’t seen/talked to Marie (the friend) since I left Kuwait in 2009. How she saw the photo I have no idea, but I am glad because without out her “congratulations” I never would have known. I don’t tend to frequent the Search Associate Facebook page! The funny thing is just a couple of weeks ago her husband Terrance Tong @mrtongsis who I met a couple of times in Kuwait when they were a new couple, showed up in my Twitter feed because he followed three people I do know one of them being Lina Farrow, @Mypclassroom. It’s like connections connect us all
COETAIL is about more than technology it is about connections.
When Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, I knew the impact, but I had no idea how bad it would truly be. In Mozambique, 90% of the city of Beira was destroyed and the land surrounding it became an inland sea. Having lived in this amazing country for 4 years, including having both of my sons there, it will always have a special place in my heart.
I knew I needed to connect with friends still living there because many were in the aide sector. Furthermore, I had no doubt that my previous school, American International School of Mozambique, would jump immediately into action as an important part of the recovery effort. Instantly on Twitter the hashtag #Buffalos4Beira was created and I joined countless alumni and former teachers in reaching out to help. Of course I also had a local connection within the comments of the original post because a friend from another international school here in Shenzhen will move to Moz next year to teach at AISM. Together, we immediately started brainstorming ways to get aid from here to there and how to get both our schools involved.
Using my PLN, I shared everything I could on Facebook, Tweeted, Retweeted and spread the word so the world would know about the devastation and how they could help. Thankfully, COETAIL has allowed me to build up a network I would not have otherwise not had, and this gave me the opportunity to share widely, reconnect with former colleagues, and leverage new connections. My PLN became even more profound when support and social action were (are) so badly needed.