A “Connecting” Educator 8


By, Bob Slane (@BobSlane)

 In The Connected Educator, Learning and Leading in a Digital AgeSheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall have created a haven for educators trying to envision technology use in the classroom beyond “acquiring hardware” and “learning how to operate computer programs”.

“Technology offers constant opportunities for self-directed and self-selected learning. Educators -through connections with each other, new research, and continually evolving content – have opportunities to interact, reflect, and focus without control by experts.”

This book has opened my eyes to how technology can provide professional learning through “connections”, in contrast to simply providing easy access to “content”. It also helps me understand how traditional “staff development” must evolve past “sit and get” and into – self-directed and connected – exploring, sharing, and learning.

The authors describe three components in this new view of learning with and from colleagues: Professional Learning Communities (PLC), Personal Learning Networks (PLN), and Communities of Practice (CoP).

Professional Learning Communities (PLC)

– Local community
– Team focused
– Traditional school-based structures
– Teachers and administrators learn together
– Focus on specific, identified needs of the school/student
– Identifying what works for their students
– Distributed leadership
– Technology tools may be used to connect/collaborate
– Might create a digital footprint for the school showing growth and change

I see the importance of this approach and have worked hard to promote and support PLCs in my building. Recent examples include: a) teams for data analysis and establishment of goals for the school,  b) teacher participation in book studies about inquiry-based learning and reading and writing connections in the classroom to transform their own teaching practices, and c) teachers working in grade level teams to learn about and implement RtI practices. The collegiality and professional growth of the teachers in all of these instances has been spectacular!

Personalized Learning Network (PLN)

“Connected learning is understanding the power of collaborating and acting collectively…But most importantly, connected learning is about building professional networks to help you, throughout your professional career, reflect deeply and prod others to do the same.”
– Global world-wide network
– Individual focused
– Designed by individual to further short- and long-range goals
– Gathering of information and sharing of resources
– Self-directed
– Technology used to connect globally, monitor constantly changing information
– Must master use of digital tools
– Exposed to a great deal of thoughts and ideas

This semester a group of interested teachers in my school will begin to build Personalized Learning Networks by exploring Web 2.0 tools that can be of use in their classrooms. The teachers will learn the use of Diigo and Symbaloo for archiving and sharing useful information about Web 2.0 tools. This approach barely scratches the surface of establishing a PLN, however, it will serve as an introduction into Internet searching and the sharing of resources through social media. It is “dipping ones toes” in the ever growing stream of free resources and interactions available and applicable to any learning community.

Communities of Practice (CoP)

– On-line, global diverse community
– Like-minded individuals with shared domain of interest
– Deepen understandings and interact on an on-going basis
– Systems of collective critical inquiry
– Reflection based on the building of a shared identity
– Collective intelligence developed over time
– Shared domain of interest
– Collective competence among equals who are skillful and talented
– Shared practice or common sense of purpose
– Sustained practitioners.
– Reject the expectation that teachers (or students) will acquire the same body of knowledge at the same time
– Sum of collected knowledge is greater than the sum of individual knowledge
– Move beyond tasks and data interpretation
– Knowledge construction “in a group”

Admittedly, I am in the exploration stages of being “a Connected Educator” and have not reached the CoP level in my journey, YET!

It is certainly intriguing to be heading in this direction. But, it also seems overwhelming both in terms of learning how a community such as this spawns and evolves and in terms of committing the time (and acquiring the confidence) needed to contribute and help nurture this type to the community. I wonder how those “steady contributors” find the time in between all the daily demands of the school day and commitment to family and life outside of work?

My first thoughts about the power of networks and communities were very pragmatic. What “sites” or “tools” are available to pass on to teachers that will be of use in their classrooms. I know this is extremely important to teachers. They need to have things that can be put to use Monday morning. As I have begun to explore and develop a PLN, I am seeing larger issues discussed and questions raised that help formulate thought about education as a whole – deeper insights about the complex world of education and the constant need to adapt, adjust and explore. This is professionally stimulating, beyond the tasks required to get through the day.

A hurdle that I must overcome is the idea that I have to keep up with everything that I start to follow. The information and dialog fly by in a constant stream. I need to learn how to “dip” into it from time to time and “net” useful information as it passes, instead of thinking I can keep up with the constant flood. I know that I will be missing information as my Google Reader advertises the hundreds of data tid-bids of those I’ve chosen to “follow”. However, I am able to conduct searches and consult with colleagues using social media to help with information on an “as needed” or “now desired” basis.

In the past I would read, copy, and save articles or parts of books and retrieve information based on files, folders and piles of accumulating paper. The actual task of warehousing these physical materials at times became daunting.  However, I am learning how to explore electronic media and tag articles using programs such as Diigo which allow me to archive and share at the same time.  Access is quite literally at ones fingertips and amazingly simple to share with others having similar interests.

With each week that passes, my understanding of social media deepens. Finding and gathering information becomes easier and connecting with others and posting thoughts and ideas becomes less frightening. It is invigorating to explore RSS feeds, Web 2.0 tools, blogs, and tweets of fellow professionals excited about and committed to education. If not yet a full-fledged “Connected Educator”, I am certainly a “Connecting Educator”.

Cross Posted at http://principal-ideas.blogspot.com/