PLNs: Throwing a Stone in the Water

I recently facilitated a short after school meeting between the health teachers at 4 different schools by Skype. I’d used Skype previously to hold a meeting for 3 individuals from different buildings to plan a training. My district is pretty geographically spread out so it’s a hassle to travel for short meetings. There were a couple of things I walked away from the health meeting thinking. First, how cool was that? I had groups of three or four teachers meeting in a room at each school. They did the same brainstorming and sharing process we would have done if we’d met but they did it in their own space and used to record their thinking so we could all see it. The process didn’t really change but the tools contributed to a more efficient meeting. It also dawned on me how unusual it is for teachers in our district to talk to each other school to school like this. It’s been eye opening in many ways and some good decisions have been made about making our standards more consistent. Now the question is,  how can I encourage them to continue to talk and work together, even after our work is done this year?

The answer may lie in PLNs only on a smaller scale at first. Brianna Crowley’s article, 3 Steps for Building a Professional Learning Network, helped me think about the broader idea of PLNs.

Although technology is often the vehicle to build connections, a PLN is about relationships. To conceptualize a PLN, envision three layers like the ever-widening rings formed when a rock is dropped into still water. The smallest inner circle represents buddies and mentors; a middle ring holds niche passion groups; and the outer layer comprises professionals and rockstars. The smaller the ring, the closer that group is connected to you in your PLN. (Crowley 2014)

As with any group, the development of a PLN needs to be personal. Everyone has different interests and passions and they’ll only find a PLN useful if they are interested in what they learn through it. I do like the idea of starting with a platform that you are familiar with. It will be interesting to find out what teachers in the groups I’m already working on are using already. If they aren’t, it might be worth starting small and using a tool like Yammer. We already have it in the district. It’s easy to use and could be a good stepping stone. I also like her visual of the rings. It would be easy to help teachers pick one from each ring to start with and ask them to try it out for a month and then report back to the group about how their rings are expanding.

What I’m most interested in right now is the idea of creating a vital, passionate network of teachers across the buildings in our district. It would have to focus on learning. I wouldn’t want it to become a place for gripping or negativity. Montana state has a much more challenging geographic issue but their development of the Digital Professional Learning Network has brought educators together to learn with and from each other. They’ve helped people make connections by using tools such as webinars, video conferencing, online learning for teachers and from that have forged active online communities on Twitter.

We pride ourselves in our district on developing positive relationships and I think using tools like blogs, Skype and Yammer as well as our Kyte Learning videos and experimenting with webinars this year as a place for people to share and learn together would be a good place to get started. It would be amazing to have an active, engaged, collaborative PLN across our whole district. Even if we started with technology I think it would spread to other subjects if people saw the value in it.


4 thoughts on “PLNs: Throwing a Stone in the Water

  1. Karen –
    I appreciated your line here “They’ve helped people make connections by using tools such as webinars, video conferencing, online learning for teachers and from that had forged active online communities on Twitter.” I have met and talked to several teachers now who have grown close to another teacher in their district because of an online connection. Having to find each other participating in a Twitter chat at the same time or chatting during a webinar. Public school districts in the US need to do a better job at connecting the fantastic professionals that make up their teachers/educators. I had to look outside of my school and district to find a group of people who I felt were as passionate about educational technology and power it can have for the students.

  2. Karen I’m really interested in the idea of uniting teachers across a district in a productive PLN and using technology seems like a natural way to do that. I haven’t read anything about the work done in Montana, but I will have to look at that. I was wondering if organizing a weekly Twitter chat and a district hashtag might be a place to start? I read something about that in a previous class and I’ve been interested in trying that since then. Is that similar to what you would do with Yammer? I’m excited to read and hear about what happens this year.

  3. Karen, your post excites me about possibilities for ELL teachers to do this type of work as well. One sentence that stood out to me was, “Everyone has different interests and passions and they’ll only find a PLN useful if they are interested in what they learn through it.” I’m hoping that PLNs can help customize Professional Development in the future to meet more specific needs of a smaller collective to make a greater impact.

  4. Really like the ripple effect metaphor. And I am looking forward to reading what kinds of steps you take to build this community of interest and to promote collaboration. Finally, I am hoping that some of what were work on together plays a positive role in promoting productive PLCs.

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