Fortuitous PLN

April 19, 2012

Fortuitous PLN – Click Here to read Jeanette’s post.

I met Jeannette James at a #teachmeet and then shared a meal with her afterwards at the #teacheat. We were excited to exchange Twitter names so that we could ‘follow each other’ and continue the exchange of ideas. It has been a long time since that first encounter and I have marvelled at how Jeanette’s enthusiasm for learning and networking impacts what she does as a teacher. Sometimes I just sit and watch and observe how others do this global connection ‘thing.’ I love the energy of it all but I am still discovering my voice and where to jump in.

What about you? Are you like the little guy in this clip just building your passions regardless of whether anyone ever notices the work that you do? Do you find your work interesting, challenging and absorbing? Being a teacher is an intrinsicly rewarding profession but even the most noble amongst us sometimes feels a little isolated.

Pink writes (2009) “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected with one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives”p.72. I loved teaching before I discovered Twitter but I love being connected to others and sharing the journey.

What about you? How has Twitter changed the way you teach?

Pink,D. (2009) Drive. The surprising truth about what motivates us. Canongate Books.


Social Media, Change and Connecting

April 17, 2012

This semester I have undertaken an ‘Individual Research Project’ to examine the effectiveness of web 2.0 for educators wanting to build their PLN. I was curious to see if much research existed in the university data bases on a relatively new topic in education. I was delighted to find a book review by Maree Conway. At the end of her paper was an email address. I took the opportunity to send Maree an email and thus began an on-going conversation. Maree agreed to write a post for my blog which follows. Indeed it is a very exciting journey when we determine to be connected educators. I hope you’ll be as inspired by Maree as I have been. You can follow Maree on Twitter @mareeconway

I worked for almost 30 years in a range of university management positions, and left in 2007 to start my own business focusing on helping people in organisations integrate the future into their strategy processes and think beyond the status-quo.  With that background, I’ve always been interested in how universities change the way they do things – since I led many change processes when I worked in them. A significant potential disruptor for the learning process is social media. I say potential because it has always struck me as peculiar that many university folks still view social media as antithetical to academic ideals, particularly when they have no personal experience of it themselves.

Social media has been so valuable for me in my work that I find it difficult to imagine doing without it now. Social media has allowed me to have access to some amazing knowledge, and to build a global network of people that is my personal learning network – from whom I learn something new every day.

I guest edited an issue of On The Horizon last year on New Media and Learning, which was a first for me, and a great opportunity in terms of my continuing professional development. I got that opportunity from a person whom I’d met on Twitter, and then in person at a conference we both attended. The focus of the issue was to identify ways in which new media, defined broadly and including social media, was being used in universities to respond to the enormous pressure they are facing to change learning experiences are created and facilitated. I’m not sure many can even see much of that change yet; it’s still on the periphery for them, and they seem to not want to pay attention until it’s in the mainstream, right in front of their face. Why they don’t want to see that change or pay attention is the topic for another post!

I wrote a book review for the On The Horizon issue on Connecting Educators with Social Media (edited by Charles Wankel) last year which included many case studies about how social media and Web 2.0 tools were being used in learning. It was a signal of hope for me that social media and its successors would, one day, become an integral part of the learning experience.

Social media shows no signs of going away. The rate of development of new sites and mobile applications suggests it’s here to stay. As reputable and brand universities go online and generate spin-offs (see Udacity by from Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun), and today’s students like my daughter use wikis and blogs, and network online about assignments, lectures and sharing what they know with each other, the social media imperative looms like the Sword of Damocles over universities.

That imperative is to connect students with social media and then see what happens – without attempting to control the outcomes. Universities need to move beyond writing policies that constrain the use of social media to exploring how connecting learners in online learning networks via social media can generate strong, effective and life-informing learning experiences. Much of my work today is helping people in universities get to the thinking space where they are ready to let go and do that exploring.

Finally, I’m only writing this blog post because Clare connected with me online – I put my email on the bottom of the book review, and here we are… There are stories like this everywhere in education today, but our challenge is to find ways to bring them together into a critical mass, so that social media and learning are irretrievably integrated.


Maree Conway, (2011) “Book Review: Educating Educators with Social Media, Charles Wankel (ed.)”, On the Horizon, Vol. 19 (4), pp.350 – 354.


From little things big things grow

April 14, 2012

I had the opportunity to meet Julie Collier in August 2011. I was about to embark on a full-time teaching position at another school but had been called in as a relief teacher in the last week of third term at the school where Julie co-ordinates the Kindergarten to Year 2 programme. That day of teaching was a very special day for me as Julie and I conversed over our passions and philosophies about the way children learn. I didn’t want to leave. We decided to  exchange contact details and meet for coffee. From that amazing moment in time Julie and I have established a friendship. Now we are working together with the goal of finding other educators who might like to join the conversation. You can follow Julie on Twitter @julieapearson

I have been an educator now for over 20 years and have been always searching for new and different ideas to enhance my teaching and learning.  I became inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education in 1998 and have been involved in many different forums here in Sydney and in South Australia ranging from small groups of six or seven to rooms of sixty inspired educators.

I have been co-convening the North West Sydney group of Reggio inspired educators for the past two years. It has been an interesting, challenging, provocative journey and I have gained so much from my like minded colleagues.

However, as we meet to organise our termly meeting, one of the constant questions is “how can we make time to become involved in research, to ask big questions, to dissect our practice”. The challenge lay before us, we have big hopes and from small things, hopefully big things will grow.

We have placed our hopes in a professional learning network on Twitter. Teaching, at times can be an isolating profession so we would like to think that by having a PLN, we can make connections and share with other educators, to offer support to each other, by answering and asking questions, being involved, inspiring and inspired conversations and be encouraged by our teaching and learning.

Having been fortunate to have a “Twitter” friend to guide us and help make the connections, we believe that this is the way forward for our network. We think that our termly meetings are invaluable but having time to share our thoughts and reflections and to provide a forum for continued rich professional dialogue is a way of enriching ourselves personally and professionally.

Our rich, meaningful and continually thought provoking conversations need not only occur behind closed doors every ten weeks or so. There can now be a ongoing times for provocation, times to connect and search for meaning.

In the words of Loris Malaguzzi, learning and teaching should not stand on opposite banks and just watch the river flow by; instead, they should embark together on a journey down the water. Through an active, reciprocal exchange, teaching can strengthen learning how to learn.

Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994), Italian early childhood education specialist. Quoted in The Hundred Languages of Children, ch. 3, by Carolyn Edwards (1993).


The Evolution of Professional Learning

April 3, 2012

Today’s post is written by Rowena Dudgeon, Director of Academic Care and Learning in a school on Sydney’s North Shore. You can follow Row on Twitter. I found her by stalking my friend’s list of people she followed and later had the privilege of meeting Row at a ‘PD’ day. Her Twitter handle (as we say) is @rdudgeon

Please enjoy reading and feel free to add your comments to this post.

When I first started teaching in 1994, I recall my first forays into what was then termed ‘Professional Development’ or PD as it was known. PD came at the beginning of every term on a pupil free day or on a day at the end of each term. These days consisted of some department time where I tidied my desk and glanced over some programs for the following term. The highlight (apart from the free lunch provided by the school!) was listening to a keynote speaker who spoke at the staff for 2 hours about a new fandangled way to engage students in the classroom. There would always be some excited discussion about what we had heard, but then we all took off for the holidays, never to remember or implement any of the key strategies we heard. I loved PD day!

Professional Development also took the form of outsourced PD via external organisations. I recall staff joking that they chose their PD course on what was on offer for lunch. Fridays were also great days to attend external PD courses, because you could always duck out early for Friday night drinks!

Outsourced PD consisted of a staff member applying to attend a course in an area that they needed further training in such as ICT, or in a curriculum area that would provide teaching strategies to improve the delivery of content to students. Often staff were routinely sent to the Annual Conferences or General Meetings of their teaching associations and this would be their allocated hours of PD for the year. On return to school, staff would give a brief synopsis of their PD course to other colleagues in their department at a scheduled department meeting in the hope that the information would be diffused to their colleagues and to be used in their classrooms and somehow this would improve the learning outcomes of their students. There was never any accountability or links to an overall teaching and learning goal – PD was ad hoc and poorly managed.

This all might sound funny and looking back it was laughable, but the cost to the school of this PD was enormous and for very little benefit to staff or students. At its heart, this type of PD never developed a culture of learning in schools, and in fact was completely opposed to good models of teaching and learning.

Professional Development has come a long way since then and even the term Professional Development has evolved to be known as Professional Learning (PL).

Professional Learning in many schools continues to follow the old models of outsourcing and staff being spoken at by someone in the know up the front. However, there is increasingly a shift from this type of PL to a more collaborative and personalised PL that is driven by technology and the uprising of teacher centered PL. Teachers are now connecting, collaborating and doing it for themselves via social media.

Twitter and web 2.0 tools such as blogging, and other types of discussion forums such as Edmodo and even Facebook, are changing the PL landscape. Teachers themselves are taking control of their own professional learning and are learning from each other, beyond the school gate and beyond the constraints of articulated, formalized training. Teachers are finding a voice and are leading learning for themselves and among themselves.

The rise across Australia of ‘Teachmeet’, a grassroots, viral, teacher centered and driven, collaborative, Professional Learning Network was born via Twitter. Teachmeet has become an avenue for teachers to explore the rapid change technology is having on classroom practice and pedagogy. Often these teachers are far ahead of their schools (and executive) in exploring new uses of technology in the classroom and strategies to engage their students. I call these teachers ‘lighthouse’ teachers and they often lead the way in generating and diffusing innovation in schools. They become leaders of learning and Principals would be wise to foster the energy and passion of these teachers, as they foster a culture of learning among staff.

PL can no longer be static, but must embrace and respond to the rapidly changing educational landscape. PL cannot operate in isolation and must branch out beyond individual school communities – collaboration both online and face-to-face is key. PL should also not just happen at the beginning and the end of a school term, it should be ongoing and available on a needs basis, hence why a vehicle like Twitter encourages a culture of learning in schools.

How do you see the future of PL? Are you learning more via social media than what your school provides in the way of PL? What social media PL are you involved in and how does it help your ongoing PL? Share your stories of changes you have seen in PL at your school.


The Little Engine that Could

April 1, 2012

Do you remember the story of ‘The Little Engine That Could’? It’s the tale of a small engine with the enormous task of pulling a very heavy train over the hill and into town before morning. There are many versions of the tale and much controversy over who the original author was but the thing that sticks in my mind about the story is that this little engine actually believed he could do the task that some bigger engines didn’t want to do.

In the version of the story that I remember from childhood, there were a few things that enabled the little engine to achieve what he set out to do. It started with a response to the superintendent of the yard who asked the little engine if he thought it was possible for him to to pull the train. As an educator, I believe in guided inquiry. It is my goal to develop independent learners who are willing to have a go. I think more often than not, learning starts with a question, just like the one from the superintendent.

I believe the students that we teach draw on prior knowledge to assess what they are able to do, what they need to find out and what they want to learn. Ultimately the goal is that they will become independent learners but it takes a while for them to get to that stage.

Bandura (1994) wrote “people with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.” So how do we as educators raise a generation of students who have high assurance in their capabilities? I don’t think there is one straight forward answer to that question. In fact I think there are multiple theories and discussions to be had about what we can do as educators to develop our own skills as life-long learners that model a passion for discovery to the students we teach.

I guess in some ways, I too, am like that little lone engine from that old story. On my own it might be possible to have an impact but if I gather a cheer squad around me, develop my professional learning network (PLN) and start a conversation maybe I’ll be able to achieve more than I ever dreamed.

A few years ago, I taught Kindergarten as the only teacher in a classroom with 24 students. I loved my students, the interactions and the discoveries we made. I also looked forward to the end of the day and the opportunity to share with the other teachers in my school about what was happening in their classrooms. My world was small, my interactions with peers was limited, my potential for developing professionally depended entirely on me but then I discovered Twitter and the potential of web 2.0 to build connections with other educators. I currently teach stage 3 in an open learning space with 6 other teachers and 180 students. My co-workers tell me that I got the job because of my presence on Twitter. I don’t know if that is entirely true but one thing is certain “relationships and learning coincide within an active process of education.” (Malaguzzi, as cited in Edwards, C., Gandini, L & G, Foreman, 1998). As we connect and build relationships I believe that learning takes place.

I now feel like that little engine must have felt when he reached the crest of the hill and discovered there was a huge world he never knew existed. I’ve been contemplating the writing of an education blog for quite some time now but I have never wanted to do it on my own. Since Twitter, I have discovered the benefits of collaboration, community and connection. Over the coming weeks I have asked some of my friends, many of whom I met first on Twitter to contribute to the conversation. I hope that you too will jump on board. Please send me an email, or a tweet if you’d like to contribute by writing a post. Otherwise, we plan to be asking lots of questions and we’d love to hear what you think in the form of a comment.

So what about you? Has Twitter been useful to connect you with other like-minded educators? Do you have load you are trying to pull? I’d love to hear from you.

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998) Retrieved April 1, 2012 from http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/BanEncy.html

Edwards, C., Gandini, L & G, Foreman (1998). The Hundred Languages if Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach – Advanced Reflections. London: Ablex Publishing Corporation.