What Connected Educators Do Differently

This past year I was fortunate enough to co-author a book with Todd Whitaker and Jeff Zoul entitled, “What Connected Educators Do Differently.”  Below is a short highlight of our book describing the impact of what being connected can do for both your personal and professional life. This preview was published in this month’s January edition of Principal Leadership magazine.  The release date of the book is scheduled for February 16, 2015 and is currently available on Amazon.com.

The jubilation that she had felt during the welcome back to school week had worn off. Gone was the energy of connecting with new faces and interacting with her peers and preparing for the arrival of students who were eager to get back to school after a long summer. She was now alone, in her classroom, removed from the rest of her peers. She was feeling isolated, less effective, and thirsting for some adult personal and professional interaction.

The scenario described above is all too common in our profession, especially for new teachers who have not had the benefit of establishing a community of support.  Teaching has often been described as a lonely profession. In many schools, teachers walk into a classroom 180 days each year, shut their door, and do the best they can. They spend 90% of their day every day with students, deprived of any significant adult interaction. Over time, this lack of connectivity with other professionals leads to low efficacy, less risk-taking, burnout, and high turnover. Sadly, we begin to question whether we can even make a difference. Educators, like any other professionals, need peer-to-peer interactions and reciprocal investments in order to grow and develop. Why is this so critical? Because effective educators recognize the importance and value of making the time to connect with others both personally and professionally in order to avoid these islands of isolation. They know that students who feel connected to a school are more likely to succeed and realize that the same holds true for them as professionals.

Ultimately, we recognize that the success and impact of any personal learning network depends on the investment of time and effort that each individual is willing to commit not only to others, but to themselves. Creating a personal learning network is a collective effort, but unless each of us is willing to give of ourselves, the likelihood of that investment paying off any amount of positive dividends is dubious. Let us be clear, giving of ourselves does not imply that we are restricted only to giving to others, but equally important, taking time to pause so that we benefit from our own reflection on what we receive in return. These “returns,” or fundamental learnings, are part of building and investing in a Personal and Professional Learning Network. This is often referred to as a “PLN,” with the “P” sometimes representing “Personal” and sometimes representing “Professional.” We believe that both are equally important and think about this as “P to the Power of 2,” or as we sometimes like to call it—a P2LN, so that, collectively, we continue to grow not only personally, but professionally, in our learning network.

Being a connected educator is not a formal title, of course; there is no degree program or certification process one goes through to be deemed a connected educator. Our view is that serving as a connected educator is a mindset more than anything else.  In short, we define connected educators simply as ones who are actively and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals. 

Based on our experiences connecting with educators around the world, we have identified 8 Key Behaviors that educators do that make the case for them being connected, allowing them to grow and learn—anytime, anywhere, from anyone—so that they continue to serve their schools and their students in the best ways possible.   

  • Recognize it all starts with connecting to—and investing in—a personal and professional learning network (P2LN).
  • Rely on their P2LN to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want, looking beyond the walls of their own classrooms, schools, or districts and beyond the school day hours.
  • Focus on the three C’s so important in the lives of educators: Communication, Collaboration, and Community, consistently looking for new ways to improve in these areas. 
  • Give more than they take and derive just as much joy and energy from the giving as they do from taking.
  • Strive to be tomorrow, today, by making the most of the present while also keeping an eye out to the future. They connect what they did yesterday to what they are doing today—and what they think they may have to do tomorrow.
  • Focus on relationships, relationships, relationships, regardless of the vehicle they are using to connect, even in the midst of daily new advances in technology which allow us to connect in ways that can be considered impersonal.
  • Model the way for others, knowing that the way they behave will have an impact on whether those around them will also strive to become connected. Even if they are connected to thousands of other educators around the world, they do not lose sight of those immediately surrounding them in their home workplace.
  • Know when to unplug and make time to connect with themselves as well as their close family and friends in ways that require intentional unplugging for significant amounts of time. They are passionate about being connected, but know that, like anything else in life, staying plugged in too much can be counterproductive to the ultimate goal of growing and learning.

Getting connected to other educators around the world is actually quite fun once you learn how to go about creating a learning network and begin interacting with members of your network. However, if it were only about meeting new colleagues and having fun, we doubt that anyone would continue along this path for long. What keeps connected educators energized about their learning network is not only the people with whom they connect, but also the ideas they get connected to, ideas that help them get better at what they do.

Regardless of their initial attitudes, connected educators we have met are passionately committed to seeking new ways to connect with educators around the world to improve their own professional lives as well as the lives of the educators with whom they connect and the students they serve. Wherever you are currently on your journey to connectivity as an educator, we encourage you to take the next step; it will be a giant step forward in your professional life.


  • Jen H. says:

    Each one of these points perfectly describes a connected educator. So glad to have joined this “tribe” of world wide connected educators and hope that the coming years are even better as we all learn from each other.

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Jen – Thank you for your kind words. Getting connected with passionate educators like you around the world has been a game changer for me both personally and professionally. Twenty plus years later as a principal and I still feel energized each day to make a difference! Keep inspiring! – jimmy

  • Sue says:

    This is such exciting news, Jimmy! I enjoyed reading this excerpt and look forward to the book itself. Your anecdote at the beginning, sadly, rings so true. I read educator’s tweets about this all the time. Until the day that all educators can truly be part of a PLN in their buildings, the power of digital connections can’t be underestimated.

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Sue – thank you! It was so rewarding writing and learning from Todd and Jeff. I continue to try and surround myself with the best in order to keep learning. So important to never think “we are there.” Each day is a new beginning. – jimmy

    • scotwright says:

      Outstanding! Right on point! Very good information for ALL educators.

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Thank you Scott. I think some of your comments didn’t publish for some reason, but I read them all. Appreciate your support and kind words. Make a great day! – jimmy

  • Ms. King says:

    To be a connected educator is my wish for all of my colleagues- especially those who are administrators. It has made a huge difference in my professional practice! Thank you for your inspiring work and for sharing it with the world. I’m looking forward to reading and sharing your book. –Sandy @sandeeteach

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Sandy – agreed! What a tremendous benefit being connected can play in one’s personal & professional life. I feel energized and inspired each day by the thousands of educators that I have connected with over the last three years. Keep striving for greatness! – jimmy

  • barry saide says:

    You’re awesome, Jimmy. God bless you for who you are, how you think, how you choose to live your life.

  • Joy Kelly says:

    I couldn’t be more excited for you as you embark on this new journey as an author. So many people will benefit from your passion, expertise, and the personal touch of your professionalism. So proud of you!!!

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Joy- thank you! You are a dear friend and a dear partner. The journey has been enriched by the mere fact that I am surrounded each day by such talented people like yourself and the rest of our office team and staff, both current and past. Feel so blessed to be a part of #bettpride – jimmy

  • Great blogpost, Jimmy! Goes perfectly with my sketchnote: http://imgur.com/CyKKdFM

  • Dr. Sue says:

    Congratulations on the book, Jimmy! What a fabulous way to share your knowledge and experiences to help others in our profession. What I like and appreciate about you is that you walk this talk every day of your life! I cannot wait to see what unfolds for our “tomorrow, today” guy! Proud to walk beside you every step of the way!

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Dr Sue – I sincerely appreciate your kind words and ongoing support. It is so much easier to strive to be tomorrow today when we are surrounded by others who desire to be at their best for kids and staff. Ironic you mention walking the talk. You definitely model that every day in your work. Thanks for being you! – jimmy