Building a Professional Learning Network to Save You from Admin Island
Careers in education are shifting from being solitary experiences to becoming more connected and social. Gone are the days when teachers were expected to make all decisions for students on their own. Before Web 2.0 tools, educators had periodic opportunities to work with and learn from peers within their own schools, but because of today's technology, educators can connect with others from around the world for the benefit of their students (see Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education).
Using a professional learning network (PLN) can help educators avoid Gilligan Syndrome, which is when one is stuck because one doesn't have good resources to turn to for help and advice. This term is in reference to the television series Gilligan's Island, where Gilligan and his shipmates were stranded for years on a deserted island. Imagine how the castaways might have fared if they had been able to connect with others around the world to ask for advice on how to escape their island. If educators expand their learning networks to connections around the world, the sharing that would occur would make schools more effective for all students.
Administrators can start developing their PLN easily by creating a Twitter account and following other administrators (see our list of recommended administrators). Beginners usually just "lurk and learn," which is fine. The next step is reaching out to others on Twitter. For example, when Jessica Johnson's school began implementing Daily 5/Cafe for their literacy framework, she began contacting others on Twitter who were teaching with Daily 5. She made several great connections with other administrators and teachers that helped her plan professional development and the resources necessary for successful implementation. Johnson and her staff continue to benefit from connecting with other Daily 5 teachers and schools by using the #d5chat hashtag on Twitter.
Once you're comfortable with lurking on Twitter, it's time to make the jump to participating. Start by following a conversation on a hashtag, such as #edchat, #satchat, #cpchat, or #educoach. Put your two cents in and a new relationship with other teachers and administrators is bound to happen. Because of the 140 characters per tweet limit, Twitter connections often lead to further discussions for educators in blog comments, e-mail conversations, Skype calls, and Google+ Hangout sessions (which are similar to Skype, but allow up to 10 participants at a time).
Attending conferences takes on a whole new meaning when you know that others from your Twitter PLN will attend. Gone are the days of just "sit and git" when you are eager to find some of your "Tweeps" to connect with. As for meeting those in your PLN face to face after being virtual friends, plan on attending the same conference and having a tweet up where others who have connected on Twitter come to meet. The four of us first connected on Twitter and have now been presenting together at statewide conferences to teach other educators how to get started using Twitter and other Web 2.0 tools.
What's a Hashtag (#)?
The hashtag symbol # is used before a term to categorize those tweets together and make it easier to search. When you click on a hashtag in a tweet, you can then see all other tweets marked with that keyword. Hashtags are used for ongoing group discussions and for scheduled, live chats. If you are participating in a live chat, it is easier to sign in with your Twitter account at www.tweetchat.com or use the TweetDeck application.
Here are some of our favorite hashtags:
#cpchat (for ongoing "connected principals" discussion)
#edchat Tuesdays at 12:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. eastern time
#satchat Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. eastern time for school leaders
#educoach Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. eastern time for instructional coaches and school leaders
Curt Rees is principal of Northern Hills Elementary in Onalaska, Wisc. Jay Posick is principal of Merton Intermediate in Merton, Wisc. Matt Renwick is principal of Howe Elementary in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisc. Jessica Johnson is principal of Dodgeland Elementary in Juneau, Wisc. Readers can connect with the authors on Twitter at @WiscPrincipal, @PosickJ, @HowePrincipal, and @PrincipalJ, or check out their latest presentation resources to help others get connected online.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 9. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.