My guess is that many of this roundtable's readers are familiar with personal learning networks. But is there a similar awareness among those who design PD for the teaching community? What if administrators were willing to make room for this type of learning within existing structures? And how do we convince them to do so?
I'd like to propose four basic strategies for teacher leaders who value PLNs and want to get the idea across to colleagues and school leaders:
1. Share specific examples of the power of your PLNincluding its impact on your practice and your students' learning. Make it real to them.
A couple of days ago Austin, one of my 9th graders, told me that "every book we read in English this year was epic" (his exact words). Another teacher heard his assessment and asked me how I am able to pick books they love. Bingo! This opened the door for me to tell her all about #titletalk on Twitter, my Goodreads network, and other several other methods for using your PLN effectively.
2. Use your network to assist district/school leaders in solving problems, identifying resources, and promoting successes in your district/school.
The teachers and students in my district look forward to showcasing their technology/project-based learning for the year at a giant event held each May. I always promote this event in my network. When colleagues from my local PLN come to our showcase, I make a point to introduce them to my superintendent and ask them how they learned about our event. Their answer proves the point!
3. Model the use of a PLN and support other teachers interested in growing their PLNs.
As much as teachers love questions, many of us love answers more. If you listen to what teachers need to know and match them with the place/group that has that information, you have your foot in the door. I send a Friday Five roundup of tips and resources to all staff in my district each week. In doing this, I try to model how a PLN can provide valuable "just in time" answers to very pressing issues for teachers. Each week I also try to share something they can be doing to grow their own network.
4. Use your network to connect your students with experts, other classrooms, and others for specific learning purposes. Invite school leaders to witness the exchanges.
One project I hope to repeat this fall is my Election Project, where students discovered their own perspective of voting in a national election by engaging in dialogue with adults using various web tools. Inviting school leaders to the post-election forum demonstrates the value of connecting students to those outside our classroom doors. The countless ways we can and should be making these connections makes my head spin! Our students deserve these types of authentic learning experiences.
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.