The Importance of Connected Learning Leadership

At the beginning of our conversation, Emily Vickery cautioned: “I can’t talk about being a connected educator without talking about teacher leadership.” In addition to teaching English at Pensacola (Florida) Catholic High School, Vickery also serves as a “21st Century Learning Specialist” who designs and delivers professional learning for teachers on curriculum design, pedagogy, assessment, learning management and the use of digital tools. “I kind of backed into it — I was a reluctant teacher leader,” she was quick to add. Coming from “a family of teachers, preachers, and farmers,” Vickery swore she would never become a teacher. “I’ll never forget the many hours outside school my mother put in grading her students’ work, and the lifeblood she put into teaching.” Vickery proudly recalled that her mother was “one of the first white teachers to integrate public schools in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1969,” when Vickery was herself an elementary school student.

Vickery’s initial ambition upon graduation from college was to become a National Geographic photojournalist. She had learned to fly while in high school. But, then, she fell in love with whitewater river guiding (and calls her blog “Running The Digital River of Learning.”) It was as a professional whitewater river guide and she found herself teaching people not just how to paddle a raft or a kayak, but teaching a diverse group of strangers how to connect into a highly collaborative team in a short period of time. “I was a teacher,” she realized. She went back to college and earned her master’s in education, then started teaching in 1991 in the very same school her mother had helped integrate in 1969, thus finding herself “teaching the children of my mother’s students.”

Reemphasizing that she had never wanted to be a teacher leader, Vickery recalled that she “passionately backed into it because I so much wanted to make something happen.” In Vickery’s case, she wanted a computer lab in her school. “So I used an ancient technology, the telephone, to find out how to do it, to connect with people who could show me how to find grants.” She started speaking up about her goals, “and I couldn’t help notice the people who started speaking up, too.” When she learned about Teacher Leaders Network, Center for Teaching Quality, Vickery knew she had found what we would now call her PLN. Through email, Twitter, and other media, Vickery understood that teacher leaders have to be both connected educators and connected learners: “While connections are important for improving practice and sharing best practices, I find them extremely important in understanding the ‘shaping trends’ that impact curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and new ways of learning. Moreover, connected networks are increasing in importance as learning is being redefined, remixed, and hacked. Growing interests in learning studios, learning regions, collaborative learning spaces, coding, gaming, and the mobile distribution of opportunity are only a few trends I follow in my professional learning network.”

Don’t just read about her. Vickery’s personal presence comes through in our video conversation. I had originally intended to discard the video, transcribe the audio, and use that as a starting point for a text-only profile of Vickery as a connected educator. But her charisma and enthusiasm come through so strongly that I preserved the video, which is a little longer than usual because she has so much good advice for other teachers and teacher leaders.