Without enough structured time to connect with colleagues, teaching can be an isolating profession. But the digital era has opened a world of opportunities to help educators network with peers 24/7—to compare practices, share resources, and drive innovation in their schools and communities.

This October marks the third annual Connected Educator Month (CEM), an opportunity for educators to leverage online communities to address vital issues in education, forge new connections, and strengthen existing ones.

The month-long series of events was developed in 2012 by the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology as part of the Connected Educators initiative. Last year’s event included more than 300 educational organizations and reached 14 million educators around the world via Twitter.

This year the organizers hope to increase “the quality, accessibility, and connectedness of existing and emerging online communities of practice.” Specific goals include “getting more educators proficient with social media,” “helping schools credential/integrate connected learning into their formal professional development efforts,” and “deepening and sustaining learning among those already enjoying connection’s benefits.”

CEM 2014 is organized with the following seven themes:

  • Blended learning
  • Collaboration and capacity-building
  • Diversity, inclusiveness, and global connected education
  • Educator professional development and learning
  • Leadership for change
  • Student agency, student voice, and the maker movement
  • Whole community engagement (parents, teachers, students, community members)

Participating organizations range from the American Council on Education and the American Federation of Teachers to the Digital Literacy Foundation and Edutopia.

Why is it important for teachers to be connected? In a BAM Radio station podcast, education pioneer Tom de Boor and “The Connected Educator” coauthor Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach discussed the importance of reaching out from inside the classroom walls to form beneficial personal learning networks.

“This idea of being connected, a connected learner, isn’t just about what I know or who I know,” said Nussbaum-Beach. “It’s ‘Do I know what who I know knows?’”

The “true authentic collegiality” that happens online when educators think deeply about what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom can lead to effective change and innovation, she continued.

Someone who’s connected online is “able to connect with people who already have a great deal of wisdom, pull ideas, and incorporate them into [their] own learning,” which “puts professional learning on an exponential track.”

Contrary to being a time sink, de Boor said, online networks help educators save time by providing access to a network of resources that can help them identify the most effective methods or resources. And the more teachers who become connected, the more powerful the group becomes.

The Connected Educators website offers several resources, for educators and other interested parties, for the month of October and beyond.

Nussbaum-Beach’s Connected Educator Month Starter Kit includes 31 days of tips and activities for educators, from using wikis to collaborating with Google Docs.

“This idea of being connected, a connected learner, isn’t just about what I know or who I know. It’s ‘Do I know what who I know knows?’”
This District Toolkit, geared toward school district decision makers, offers advice about making school systems more connected.

A new social media service launched for last year’s Connected Educator Month, edConnectr, uses maps and tags to help educators find like-minded collaborators.

“For educators, finding peers, finding mentors, finding leaders who inspire is vital to stay current and vibrant,” said Mark Sylvester, CEO and cofounder of introNetworks, developer of the edConnectr app. “Teachers have little time for professional development, so the time they do have for networking and collaborating (as a result of connecting) needs to be optimized.”

There’s also an Adopt-a-Colleague Kit to get less-connected colleagues plugged in.

Find the full calendar of Connected Educator Month events here.