Monday, March 31, 2008

Personal Learning Networks

"You're always only the sharpest right after the test"
This old adage is how I feel as I conclude a pretty intensive semester to finish my M.Ed. in School Leadership. While I'm excited to be finishing my degree, I am not excited about being out of the weekly conversations and direct thinking about leadership. I really enjoyed learning from my professors and colleagues during class. And more than ever, I see how important leadership is in facilitating student learning, achievement, and understanding.

The good news is that Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) will help a great deal to stay engaged with leadership issues...anytime, anywhere. As a teacher and technology coordinator, I see its worth on almost a daily basis as many of my practices have been influenced by things I've learned and people with whom I met in my PLN. Now that I have some time to reengage in my PLN, I can see how even more important my it will be in keeping my mind in the game so to speak.

PLN (for those who may not know) is a fairly recent acronym to describe leveraging the vast internet-based resources to enhance our learning. With the advent of a mountain of tools from Twitter to social networks such as Classroom 2.0 to blogs, educators have a deep well of expertise and experience at their finger tips - really just for the taking. It truly is powerful.

One of my favorite aviation columnists, Rod Machado just wrote about the difference between a pilot's proficiency and currency. Currency in pilot-speak is the legal requirements necessary to fly in a given set of conditions. Proficiency is, according to Rod, a requirement for confidence. I think PLNs (can) build a great deal of confidence for teachers.

First, PLNs allow me to see and learn from others. I'm always amazed that whether in my classroom or in a classroom across the country many of the same issues exist about teaching and technology. These issues transcend classrooms, borders, operating systems, teachers, students, curriculum, and instructional techniques. Despite teaching's isolating nature, PLNs can build a great network of folks who can enter your classroom in a few keystrokes.

Second, PLNs can build confidence by having a worldwide audience to whom questions can be asked anytime, anywhere. Whether the question be technical, educational, or mix of both, input can be sought almost immediately from a wide range of knowledgeable folks. I think this is especially important with teachers adopting technology. A teacher may not be in a situation where there are resources that are readily available. PLNs can serve as a virtual mentor, help desk, and/or sound board.

"We are not helpless" was a resonating quote of a professor who taught in my school leadership program. PLN supports this idea that as educators we aren't in fact helpless. We do have the ability to reach beyond our classroom walls. In fact, we have the world at our finger tips. So while I'll miss my graduate classes, it's good to know that I have a viable and reliable Personal Learning Network.

On a pragmatic level, the questions in our schools are:
  • How do we encourage teachers to develop and adopt their own Personal Learning Networks?
  • Do many teachers know that such powerful networks exist?
  • Are many educators aware of how accessible Personal Learning Networks are to them?

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