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Can We Use Personal Learning Networks to Create Real Reform? (#edchat summary)

Betty Ray

Senior Editor at Large
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As is often the case with any large group online, #edchats can be impossibly frustrating for anyone who isn't ADD. With tweets flying everywhere and asynchronous discussions peppered with @,#, and !, it looks more like a cartoon expletive than any sort of useful dialog.

It is to help translate all of this that we've been offering these short summary blogs. But, as I found out this week when our guest bloggers fell through, it becomes a bit like the blind men and the elephant. The summary below is what I got out of it. Someone else probably heard an entirely different set of discussions. Thus is the chaotic beauty, stilted poetry and maddening non-linearity of Twitter.

But Twitter - like the Edutopia community, and Facebook, and myriad other online communities - can also be a powerful tool to facilitate communication within a "personal learning network" or PLN. One's PLN consists of colleagues and contacts around the world who offer support, feedback, and collaboration. Or, one could argue, instigate reform. But how?

This week's #edchat asked this very question: "How can we get our PLN (Personal Learning Networks) to create real ed reform?" Co-moderated by @cybraryman1 and @Digin4ed, this chat set out to find solutions.

--Betty Ray (@EdutopiaBetty)

We started with a discussion of the role our PLN plays in our lives, and how it can be expanded.

@kristenswanson: Reform starts with conversations and relationships. PLNs are the perfect places to start conversations.

@PGRoom209: Ideas that start here can inspire change across the district. My PLN helps me keep up the enthusiasm and have the courage.

@georgewoodbury: It's important to transfer PLN discussions to discussions on our own campus.

The discussion quickly morphed into one of how we can bring more policy-makers into our networks.

@BrianStPierre: pln's are great to grow professionally and hear new ideas... but not sure policy makers hear us any better than before.

@amychim: legislators need to be part of our PLNs.

There didn't seem to be many success stories here. Indeed, this is where the conversation took a more hopeless turn: How frustrating it is to deal with admins who don't "get" it, why they don't get it, and what can (or can't) be done.

However, when someone returned to the topic of PLN and reform by suggesting a grassroots approach, the constructive brainstorming mode kicked in again.

@corriekelly: Reform is like concentric circles. Begin in own class then ripple effect will occur when others see effective change.

@blairteach: To effect real ed reform, our PLN must keep the conversations buzzing - sort of the "squeaky wheel" method of change.

@BrianStPierre: i always tweet live from BOE meetings, as a way to force colleagues onto twitter since they all wanna know the details of these mtgs

@blairteach: Every person PLN members convince to try something new results in another stone moved. Eventually, the mountain will be moved!

@ToughLoveforX: Twitter is free. The web is free. I bet the hard part is that ppl are afraid to risk talking in public.

This last tweet is an exceptionally good point. Technologies enable us to do all sorts of things that were heretofore unavailable either because of expense, or access, or both. Now, anyone with a computer and a modem can connect with anyone else with the same simple configuration. And when like-minds work together collaborations can happen and movements can be built.

And herein lies the strength of social media and our PLNs! As @TheGilch put it, "top-down reform can never work- it needs to be driven by experienced, knowledgeable educators, not politicians."

By this point, the chat was a-chuggin.

@davidwees: One use of PLN in edu "transformation" is to show to politicians what a wide variety of solutions exist

@baldy7: 2010 Horizon report speaks of cloud computing - let's create learning networks in lieu of textbooks and static classrooms.

@blairteach: Sometimes change has to be forced, such as opening a new school w/only access to new equipment/media.

@baldy7: Here's one simple way, let's teach social bookmarking around content and passions in lieu of textbooks

@raysadad Where are the stories on 21st C Learning we generate in our hometown media? Let's reach beyond new media to tell our stories.

@ToughLoveforX: We need to have detailed stories that show replicable results. Nobody is going to believe anything else.

[Editor's note: At this point in the transcript, I feel I need to add a few links. We @edutopia are dedicated to producing exactly what @ToughLoveforX is seeking: Detailed stories that show replicable results. We do this so that teachers can make the case as they need to, so please use these far and wide:

Schools That Work series, Project Learning, Social and Emotional Learning, Technology Integration, Integrated Studies, Comprehensive Assessment]

Then, the brainstorming began to refine and focus itself.

@JustwonderinY: Do we even agree on what the "transformations" should be?

@doctorjeff: Here are my thoughts for turning this into a movement.

@edtechsteve: Here are the fundamental transformations I want: assessment, not testing. Guiding, not training. Creating, not regurgitating.

@hadleyjf: We need to form partnerships to reach out beyond the walls of our individual schools to spread the news

@cybraryman1: How about a "PLN "conference to meet and come to some joint conclusions on what & how to achieve change?

This last tweet was met with resounding agreement. The question is where, and when? This was not answered - at least not that I could see. One thing's for sure: There's no doubt that loads of passionate educators will be there, when it happens.

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katherinedouglas's picture

Wonderful blog! Our plc is alive and well--started in the early 90's by art teachers working with students to create studio classrooms for authentic learning and independent artmaking. When we took it to the Internet it really caught fire and we are approaching 1,000 members nationwide.

<< Please join us to discuss successes and problems and the place where idealism intersects with the realities of schools. We believe that online sharing and mentoring can alleviate the isolation that art teachers often experience. >>>>

Choice-based teaching and learning delivers in-depth curriculum in the context of student-centered work. This art teaching concept allows curriculum to be presented in-depth within the context of work chosen by student artists. Given broad responsibilities and high standards, children are able to organize their reality into vigorous images. Classrooms are arranged as studios, and the effective organization of space, time, and materials enables students to create work which is individual and compelling.

This really works and is vibrant because it is for and by teachers. Now if we can just invite someone from the Department of Education to join. Any ideas?

kathy douglas

Joyce's picture
K-5 Art specialist - Washington State

Betty -

Kathy shared your post with the
TAB Yahoo list. I thought I'd share my response with you. I'm intrigued with ways to connect the work we do with the wider learning community as well as the folks who inform policy.

[quote]Think local I make a point to share the reasons for what we do in the Evergreen Studios with my teaching colleagues. These kinds of
conversations are usually informal but when I can discuss a child's
learning via his cardboard thingamabob or the product production and
planning modes of another via her collage, we find lots of
commonality in pedagogy. Our building uses lots of scaffolding
techniques (think lots of pictures, print, and language use in
song/poetry form to open access to second language learners - both
in Spanish and English) and I make note of lots of things I see in
our school newsletter and my website.

Expand the puddle It's been an adoption year for fine arts and
languages in our nest. The district is small, so every
art/music/theater/foreign language teacher is on the committee and
meets together to hammer on curriculum. Since the program is based
on collaborative (?) decision making towards buying textbooks, it's
not a smooth, well fitting process. There are other factors that
make the work less than zippity doo dah (federal failing schools
pressure, budget issues, left brained facilitators, etc.,) but
it's STILL a chance to talk about why we do what we do for kids.

When I convince my principal, he shares his belief with his
principal buddies. He can also "go to bat" for what I do with the
curriculum person in Central Office. When experiential learning is
the topic at his bilingual or supervisory conferences, TAB will be
discussed and more people will seek information.

Act globally In the small, presentations at our state conferences
and gatherings are great ways to get the word out. Invite the art
ed reps from your universities and invite pre-service teachers in to
explore. The art folks at the State Department attend the same
events and will see more and more of our work. They're particularly
apt to attend in person if they're invited and if they can relate
the work we do with the reform movements that swirl around our
heads. Why *not* invite the state superintendent and the governor?
If Arne Duncan got an invitation into every TAB classroom in every
area he visited for official purposes he might begin to notice.
Especially if the invitations were created from note cards that
featured kid art.

What kind of art program is offered to the children of governmental leaders in their schools? Have their teachers been invited to join our discussion?

My own, personal PLC work reached most of my goals this year. I traveled to visit exemplary TAB art classrooms in the Boston area and picked the brains of brilliant people on the TAB Yahoo list. I presented my program at my state art convention in the fall and though attendance was a little sparse because of scheduling, it was well worth the effort.

Next year's list of to-do's includes offering a TAB lesson or two to fellow teachers in my building, inviting the Board to come and share a lesson and some art making, and putting together presentation proposals for our big state bilingual conference as well as NAEA in Seattle. Maybe.

This week's project is to jangle the cage bars of the local
newspaper's education reporter to see if I can get some coverage for
the art program and our May show. Hmmmm. Another art walk after
the show?[/quote]

Joyce Jaime

Ruth's picture

I really enjoyed your blog. We have a Professional Learning Community that is similar to what you blog about. Initially, it was a suggestion given to us because our school was one of the failing schools in America. Not only were we failing but we were becoming masters of failing! Four years later and we are now making AYPs and making growth in all of our subgroups. Having a mandated PLC is one reasons why.

Jaclyn DenOuden's picture

Thank you for this interesting approach to this blog post. It is great to see the interactions that are taking place within the tweets flying back and forth. To be able to see the kind of topics that can be discussed in a PLN with people from different backgrounds sets a great example of the limitless possibilities within these networks. My administrator is looking to start professional learning communities next school year. Could you give some advice as to how promote these beneficial groups for teacher learning amongst the staff members at my school?

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