Stretch and Support Their PLN

The notion of having students develop PLNs was in part a topic on this past formal Twitter #edchat discussion. It is a really intriguing discussion and Dodie Ainslie peaked my interest when she asked “Is there anyone out there who are facilitating their students building a PLN? how and what are they sharing?”

These simple yet important questions raises many discussion points including what exactly do we mean by a personal learning network. For the sake of this post, I draw my thoughts from George Siemens‘ post on learning communities and learning networks where he defines it simply as multiple learning communities in which an individual functions to grow as a learner:

“a learning network can be defined as the connection of learning communities with the intent of sharing experiences/resources and our ultimate self-defined goal of competency/knowledge (i.e. we define what we want/need to know…and we sculpt our network to achieve these goals).”

With this view on PLNs, the notion of “should teachers have students PLNs” as framed by the edchat is perhaps a less important question than tapping into the natural instincts of humans to connect and to be social. Students enter classroom communities with various nodes in place. How are we connecting these communities? How are we providing additional platforms to create new and extend old learning communities?

The notion of a PLN is an internally driven concept that is sustainable and meaningful because individuals draw on their natural urge to grown, learn, discover, connect, and socialize. Therefore, students enter the classroom with their personal learning network formed and we offer the potential for new nodes via the physical classroom community, the digital classroom community, and the various social media platforms in which they are exposed to by the teacher and classroom.

However, by forcing the creation of an additional node on a PLN, I am not sure how sustainable and meaningful those are to the students PLN. Perhaps, these nodes do not have to be because these are temporary in nature like many, if not all, nodes (i.e. individuals create, join, and drop nodes based upon needs).

So, here are my thoughts on  “Should teachers have students PLNs?”

Students enter with a PLN already in place, so the answer is not in putting our focus on creating one for or with students but in stretching, supporting, and upon what students already bring to the classroom. This would argue for teachers to consider exposing learners to new plafforms and means in which to create learning communities that add to individual personal learning networks . This puts the focus on drawing out their natural instincts to connect and to socialize not the natural instinct of education/educators to control and dictate, which continues to push social media into the confines of legacy mindsets on teaching & schooling

What do you think?

(Like many posts of late, I didn’t go back through this post so forgive the lack of editing and stream of consciousness feel to this)

cc licensed flickr photo by ShellyS:

It is Amazing

A simple trip around the house usually takes an hour or so when Finnian is with me. Everything is amazing, exciting, and energizing to him. The birds soaring into the sky. The breeze moving the leaves. The cars motoring by the house.

While his excited chatter speaks so much, it is the expression on his face that says it all — that sense of pure wonderment and curiosity.

I, on the other hand, go about my day to day activities rarely stopping to be amazed at my surroundings.

These exploratory walks with my son are entry points into a larger world. Sadly, he too will no doubt stop being amazed by these things. He  will simply leverage them to move onto new, perhaps bigger and better, things — new points of entry with all new amazing things.

And so, we have the cycle of learning and growing, a life full of new and old experiences.

I spend a lot of time seeking entry points for teachers and students. While these entry points are not the end result I hope for, they serve a tremendous value: opening the door to those bigger and better things.

This was my reality. In 2001, I can’t tell you how many times I said “amazing”, how many times I stumbled over my words trying to explain my new found world, and how many times I craved the next opportunity.

I wanted to share with the world how great it was to have students discussing online in forums, writing digitally in make-shift blogs (BOHA), and creating multimedia pieces for whomever. I wanted to be around people as excited as myself about a better world for students and education. I found that in the NCTE-Talkies List-Serv. I found that in the weekly MOOs. I found that in an online network of colleagues.

By 2003, the amazing portion was gone and my time online was to broaden, challenge, and deepen my thinking. New people made their ways onto the list-serv talking about the amazing connections and possibilities while unknowingly rehashing conversations that had been discussed for years. Seasoned talkies reminded them of these past discussions but embraced the new ideas and contexts that served to enhance everyone’s thinking. Together, we grew.

What is your Point?

The spread of social media and emerging technologies amongst educators brings with it waves of new educators looking for entry points. Classroom 2.0, Twitter Chats, online conferences, EduBloggerCon, f2f Conferences, etc offer just that. For those that no longer feel that sense of “amazement” around every social media corner, it is time to think back to your entry point. Think back to your first conference, to your first rush of “amazings”.

I for one am a bit jealous by all those just getting their feet wet over the past couple of years because I can’t get that feeling back in that exact context.  However, I continue to remind myself about when that was me and how important it was to experience this with others similar to me. Just as important, I had great people that came before me grounding, enhancing, challenging, pushing, and most importantly embracing me

Ted Nellen and Dawn Hogue among many  did this on what seemed to be a daily basis. Dawn extended a hand but never stopped challenging even my most stubborn beliefs. Ted grounded me and challenged me. He pushed my ideas by pointing to those that came before while embracing the thoughts I brought. He surely didn’t let me get by with just saying things nor did I (nor he) let his breadth and depth prevent me from participating. It was important to me to be challenged by these and many other great educators; it was important that enjoyed my wave of excitement that no doubt bordered on over the top (everything was amazing because it was new). I hope and imagine the same held true for them from those new to the scene screaming amazing and pounding our fists with “new” (the ones they had talked about for years) ideas.

This was what it mean to be part of a community, to be mentored, and to be professional educators.

Are you embracing these opportunities to connect with those new? Are you taking the opportunity to connect them to past discussions to help build a stronger foundation while also embracing what they bring to the topic? Are we remembering that we are all educators even if we are striving for different points professionally?

How are those of you that have come before grounding, listening, engaging, enhancing, challenging, pushing, and most importantly embracing those new to social media while not making things so personally? How are those of you new to the scene grounding, listening, enhancing enhancing, challenging, pushing, and most importantly embracing those that involved a bit long while not taking things so personally?

I, for one, know that there are those I don’t agree with philosophically but I look forward to sitting down and growing together. So, when you see me online challenging, remember that I’m 1) jealous 2.) more importantly, I’m trying to connect by grounding, listening, engaging, enhancing, pushing, and embracing because we are stronger together.

cc licensed flickr photo by drp:

Take a Learning Community Snapshot

If I walked down your school’s hallway and spoke to ten random educators, would there be consistency in the articulation of the direction/vision of the school? How about the core values and beliefs on teaching and learning? Would there be an understanding of the goals of the school and how individual goals are impacting those broader ones? Is there overall excitement about where your school is going collectively, departmentally, and individually? Do they value the interconnectedness of all three?

Let’s go one step beyond that and add ten random students into the equation. What would happen to your snapshot?

Finally, explore these questions from a random sampling of staff, parents, and community members to get a snapshot of the reality of whether you’re a learning community moving in harmony.

Remember, it takes everyone!

Individuality is vital and I would never want to lose that in education. However, a true learning community understands the importance of being interconnected and collectively owning a systemic direction in which we are all working towards together creatively, analytically, and innovatively.

Is there opposition? Are there individual innovative movements? Yes! Both should be encouraged. Our consistent voice is strong because individual voices, concerns, questions, and challenges are not only heard but utilized to become even stronger.

So, are you having these conversations in your learning community? Are you striving to engage all voices? Are you working towards a collective, systemic movement while balancing the need for individuality?

Begin with taking a snapshot of where you are today and start the conversation around those results. Never underestimate the value of actionable discussion!

Invest in the System

Sitting in Caribou this evening as I waited for my beautiful bride to pick me up, I had a chance to catch up on items in my Google Reader or so I thought as I stumbled upon a recent post by Will Richardson regarding the Britannica Debate on the value of Web 2.0 in education in my Friends’ Shared Items. I started skimming, then reading, then re-reading and finally closing my laptop to reflect upon what I read.

What caused me to stop in my tracks was his statement that “the drive by trainings for every teacher are not the answer. We should be investing in those who do show an appetite for learning, for risk-taking, for reflective practice”  based upon his agreement with a comment made by David Zuckerman on the Britannica site.

This line of thinking that “seems” to support the concept of pockets of excellence or at least should be the focus is troubling on many levels. While I understand the need to encourage individuals that are doing great things, I am much more excited to see communities doing great things.

As Richard Elmore points out, “the single most persistent problem of educational reform in the U.S. is the failure of reforms to alter the fundamental conditions of teaching and learning for students and teachers in schools in anything other than a small-scale and idiosyncratic way”.

By no means am I saying that individual aren’t important nor am I saying that don’t care about the race horses. Individual breakthroughs are outstanding and should be supported as these individuals challenge the status quo of the culture making it possible to continue growing, to have sustained innovation. The key, however, is to encourage these race horses to become connectors NOT JUST mavens and to celebrate when those individual ideas spread throughout the community whereby the individual success becomes a system success.

For me, the investment though is not in those that have “an appetite for learning”; the investment is in creating a culture of learning where this hunger, passion, and commitment flows throughout the community. It is about breaking down the one room schoolhouses in order to become part of one community sharing and growing together NOT fostering a greater knowing-doing gap.

We’ve seen, and still see, this praise, reward, advance, and focus on those that display the qualities we want. It is the sorting philosophy of schools focused on the best and our “brightest” students. It is the organizational philosophy of administrators focused on the “best and innovative” teachers and paying lip services to all the rest through fragmented and disjointed professional development efforts.  These philosophies fail our students, teachers, and educational system.

The easy way is to focus on those that will succeed despite us. It makes us feel great; it makes us feel like we’ve succeeded even though deep down we know this would have happened with or without us.

The most important way and the challenging way is to focus on reculturing the entire school community where knowledge sharing, innovation, risk-taking, and collective identity are “just what we do”.  The “we-we” NOT the “us-them” is true change. It is there that I invest my energy because our ability to reculture the community is how I want to be judged.

[Tags] professionaldevelopment, culture, changetheory, willrichardson, britannica, web 2.0, leadership [/Tags]

Expanding the Boundaries: An ASCD Proposal

At the start of the year, I talked about my hope that educational technologists would expand their boundaries and seek to bring the discussions within the “echo chamber” to the “mainstream”.

Since I never want to be one to only talk the talk, I looked to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development as ideal to begin personally expanding these boundaries.

Thus, David Jakes and I created the following proposal and submitted it to the 2009 ASCD Annual Conference: Learning Beyond Boundaries.

Presentation Proposal

Session Title
WWW.2477.PLC: Expanding the Vision of Professional Learning Communities

Session Description
A challenge that all professional learning communities face is developing a sustained and systemic learning culture where all members are contributing and growing collaboratively. Today, the challenge is in leveraging the power of participatory media to enhance the PLC concept and expanding the community to reach beyond the walls of the local school community. This session establishes a contextual framework for that expansion, with methodologies for making learning independent of time, space and place.