I work in a district that is wildly dedicated to implementing a project-based learning curriculum, using technology to facilitate the learning process, and practicing strategic teaching and formative assessment every day. I've witnessed the dramatic impact that our efforts have had on students' abilities to research, analyze, discuss, collaborate, and reflect on their learning. They use technological tools in focused ways on a daily basis. They are active learners.
Not too surprisingly, the best professional development I've experienced is pretty similar to my students' learning. I find teamwork invigorating, research revealing, thinking and writing liberating, and discussion necessary for formulating plans and solutions.
And my professional growth dramatically changed my practice when I began using technology for these purposes. Teachers now have access to a mind-boggling range of digital tools. I catalogue some of my favorites in My Web Wardrobe.
But my absolute best 24/7 PD provider is my personal learning network (PLN)the evolving group of people who expose me to research, push my thinking, engage in meaningful discussions, and collaborate with me. I turn to my network for news, advice, perspective, expertise, solutions, and support.
Next year I will assume a position as a Technology Integration Specialist in a school that is shifting to a 1:1 student to computer ratio with a project based learning focused curriculum. Though the PD for this shift has been on going for some time, a variety of initiatives await my attention. For example, I am responsible for the selection, training, and implementation of the best digital portfolio tool for our students. I cannot imagine how I could do this without my PLN. Their advice and expertise has provided me not only with answers, but also with the confidence I need lead my school (and likely, my district) in adoption of student digital portfolios. Although I am on my own in this work, I am not alone.
The more I invest in my PLN (time, effort, willingness to share successes and setbacks), the more I receive. I end nearly every day energized by the power of my network to meet the challenges ahead. I wish more teachers had PLNsand that more administrators understood and valued PLNs, incorporating them as options for required professional development. In my follow-up post, I'll share some ideas for how to advocate for PLNs.
Meanwhile, do you have a PLN success story to share?
Jennifer Barnett is an English and social studies teacher and a technology specialist in Talladega County, Ala. She is a co-author of Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools, Now and in the Future.